Wednesday, February 18, 2015

New : Winterfylleth - 'The Divination of Antiquity' / Voices - 'London'

English Black Metal is in absurdly rude health these days. Not that often you get to make such self-congratulatory statements but on the basis of these two stonking releases that surfaced towards the tail end of last year the genre's potential for evoking mood and pastoral charm has finally been matched by our musician's talents. Neither of these bands are new of course, Manchester's Winterfylleth being four albums into a resolutely focussed career of nature-loving BM whilst Voices incorporate the compositional backbone of noughties extreme metal stalwarts Akercocke whose nerve-shattering ballast saw them leap forth from the ranks fifteen years ago and proceed to decimate much of the ensuing decade.

BM's capacity for thunderous excess allows for its subject matter to be amplified to such an extent that it becomes almost unbearable, sensations projected onto a widescreen of sensory overload and cathartic bliss to allow for - or in most cases demand - the listener's physical engagement in the matter at hand. This can allow for cartoonish devilry or simple shock value theatrics but in more delicately handled cases provides for an experience that takes you somewhere completely new, allowing you to soak up the highs and lows of an emotional voyage from the epicentre of the action by dragging you out of your musical comfort zone and pressing your face right up against the screen. Winterfylleth's shtick since their inception in the late noughties has been to evoke the savage melancholy of the British Isles via a musical tribute taking in landscape, weather and several centuries of stark folklore. It's been an uncomfortable journey at times, England's fractious relationship with its own heritage leading many to draw lazy parallels between the band's choice of subject matter and perceived regressive political ideas but what's become apparent as they've progressed is that these guys are only doing what most of their overseas peers have done over the years - fashioning the distinct characteristics of their homeland into a brand of extreme metal that transports the listener there and lets them breathe in the air themselves. Varg Vikernes' remark about his pioneering BM project Burzum evoking the sensation of walking through a Norwegian forest comes to mind when 'The Divination of Antiquity' rages forth from the speakers, the band's chaotic assault coming together like a stormcloud hanging over wild green hills fixing to lash the land with rain and hail - the sensation is violent and unsettling yet strangely comforting at the same time, particularly on the title track which underpins the whirlwind blastbeats and raspy vocals with a subdued strain of resonant melody that almost edges into post punk territory (imagine hearing 'Unknown Pleasures' emanating from someone's car window through a February hailstorm and you're somewhere close). They may seem more comfortable at full tilt but the pace slows on cuts like the sombre 'A Careworn Heart' which drops the violence to mellow to an almost defiant sense of melancholy a la Metallica's 'To Live Is To Die', paring down their sound to incorporate solace without detaching the end product from the belligerent rage surrounding it. In fact there's more than a little vintage 'tallica in Winterfylleth's canon - they pace their records like Hetfield and co did back in the 80s, knocking out epic slabs of volatile metal that weave enthralling narratives around intoxicating rushes of raging turbulence. You'll be coming back to this and its predecessors for bouts of late night headphone magic, tuning out life to be transported to the rain-lashed fields of rural Britain to feel the wind blow through your hair as another raging stormcloud beckons. If my Metallica metaphor holds true then these boys should be on the cusp of dropping their 'Black Album' next time they hit the studio - whether that's a good or bad thing depends on your perspective but in any case it promises to be worth sticking around for.

If Voices fit into the same national template it's through the distinct link with the capital that they've chosen to make the central theme of their second release in two years, striding forth from the abstract background of Extreme Metal to plant their flag squarely in the centre of the sprawling metropolis that sets the pace for modern Britain. 'London' isn't so much a critique of the capital's less likeable side as an acknowledgement of it - Akercocke alumni Jason Mendonca and David Gray always had a distinctly metropolitan air to them even when they were belching out odes to vestal masturbation over torrents of bowel-quaking blastbeats in their previous guise and the pair were happy to embody the sort of erudite perverts that hold most of the major positions in the British Arts industry. Here they step into the heads of the corporate financiers, angry virgins and ruthless landlords that roam the city's streets virtually unnoticed, characters key to the capital's mood yet rarely embodied in its musical output. 'London' is basically what a trip through the headspace of your average tube carriage of commuters might sound like, a maelstrom of frustration and disgust barely held in check as the city's inhabitants force themselves to coexist within its imposed behavioural patterns - imagine if a radio frequency could pick up the collective thoughts of your average Patrick Bateman tycoon, bile-filled 4Chan troll and vindictive shirked lover and broadcast them at face-melting volume and you're probably in the right area. Cuts like 'Music For The Recently Bereaved' and 'Imaginary Sketches of a Poisoned Man' take the sensory excesses of Akercocke's finest moments and transport them from dark fantasy into vivid reality whilst that recurrent fascination in pleasures of the flash returns in Metropolitan format in 'Vicarious Lover' and the deliriously unsettling 'The Fucktrance', Mendonca's Royal Shakespeare Co. delivery booming over the proceedings to add a thunderously theatrical edge to an already intoxicating mix. 'London' encapsulates the stripclub coke parties, corporate tax deals and directionless misanthropy that underpin life in the capital today, a lifesblood that the band have decided to embrace rather than ignore to bring their coruscating Extreme Metal into stark focus at the heart of everyday life - it's a move that suits them and will doubtless yield yet more thrilling forays into the sewers of the Metropolitan experience. Match up Voices' commuting soundtrack with Winterfylleth's pastoral weekend retreat and you've got a perfect Metal soundtrack for England in 2015.

Check out : 'The Divination of Antiquity' and 'Vicarious Lover' for the best of both worlds.

Monday, February 09, 2015

New : Pinkshinyultrablast - 'Everything Else Matters'

Shoegaze seems to have touched parts of the globe that other more traditional forms of guitar music can't quite reach, dream pop spores carried across continents to find a home in the least likely of locations. Like Black Metal, Techno and the various modern permutations on abstract instrumentalism, the shoegaze sound crosses over because it's all about feeling man - you don't need lyrics to convey the sensations on show here, just a fuzz pedal and a wild imagination. St Petersburg's Pinkshinyultrablast sound like they've come straight out of a random band name generator for fluffy cloud hopping indie rock but don't let that put you off as their debut 'Everything Else Matters' comes strapped with enough crystalline charm to blow the cobwebs off even the most seasoned shoegazer and make the local competition seem decidedly....well, orthodox (Hahahaha!! Oh dear!). The most obvious reference point here is Asobi Seksu's weightless second wave shimmer, the tracks building on a solid foundation of sugary riffs and lofty effects pedal to skate across the skyline with consummate grace and this is certainly a lot more streamlined than you'd expect from your average bunch of rookies. The vocals recall Liz Frazer at her flightiest but the band are locked into a punchy formation of potent guitar pop and when they choose to put their foot to the floor there's enough wind in their sails to knock you flat on your arse. They may stick to more recognisable fare with the likes of 'Glitter' and the sumptous 'Umi' but elsewhere they let their imagination run wild, tracks like the sprawling 'Metamorphosis' unfolding like Battles locking horns with Lush, the bass pulsating like a rubberband heartbeat as the guitars crash around the place like giant pink thunderbolts. And in true MBV style they've apparently flirted with near bankruptcy in putting the record together so you get the sense that we're dealing with a bunch of preciously talented studio nerds here. Whether they can cut it live will provide confirmation on whether we're dealing with a long term relationship or a quick fling but this is a thoroughly promising start - its title may conjure up awkward memories of the moment where Metallica officially entered a world of suck but 'Everything Else Matters' harbours no less ambition than Hetfield and co in stadium mode. These Russkies are going places and 2015 is already gonna have to try pretty damn hard to top them in the newgaze stakes.

Check out : 'Umi', a double shot of gorgeous with a foamy head of effects pedal.

New : Beat Spacek - 'Modern Streets'

If you've been following the podcast over at recently then you'll be aware that Matthew and myself have basically adopted a fervently parochial outlook for 2015, focussing our attention on the French indie scene rather than simply dishing up further coverage of bands already covered in the international press (generally with better researched and more articulate praise I shouldn't wonder). It's a principle we've agreed to stick to for as long as it suits us which means bands from outside the French/Francophone circuit will doubtless get a shout out if their record makes us stand up and pay attention - as for the rest of it, I'll be doing my level best to knock out write ups to keep track of the everflowing stream of bitchin' music passing through my senses on an almost daily basis.

This noble intention was adopted back in January when no-one in their right time bothers releasing a record seeing as the majority of us are broke as a joke after Xmas/New Year and probably still caught up in the musical hangover of the previous year. But fear not as those lovely people at Ninja Tune came to the rescue yet again with this bombastic newie from Steve Spacek, one half of nimble fingered bass nerds Africa Hitech who wrecked my tiny mind with their last LP '93 Million Miles' a couple of years back. I hadn't stuck that on in a while and listening to 'Modern Streets' sent me back for a spot of beat nostalgia - Spacek does his thing in the same dub 'n' bass register across both releases but his more recent stuff takes Hitech's sound out of the club and into the winter night, replacing strobes with streetlights as he chronicles the languid bus trip across town as opposed to the delirium out on the dancefloor earlier in the evening. The cover of 'Modern Streets' reminds me of traffic lights viewed through the clarity that several beers and a side salad of chemicals brings to the urban night rambler, not quite the comedown but certainly the start of the inevitable descent. And that's no bad thing because this isn't a depressive record, it's a slab of contemplative dance music destined for the wee small hours in the wake of a bit of a mad one - the beats skitter across the surface like the fidgety twitches of a bedbound clubber and the low-end throb underpinning it all caresses your temples like a boxing coach bringing you down from match night. According to Ninja Tune's website Spacek created most of this on I-Phone/I-Pad apps which taps into my imagined narrative of this record being made on the move, the sensations of nocturnal urban Britain seeping directly into it like bass booming out from car stereos or intrusive hiss seeping forth from teenagers' headphones on the night bus. He keeps his vocal contributions to subtle intrusions rather than out and out grandstanding, slipping between the chords with a mellow House delivery that reminds me of Kele's sumptous 'Trick' LP from last year - indeed, if that record soundtracked the preparation stages for a night of dancefloor bravado and stolen smooches then 'Modern Streets' provides the perfect counterpoint for the evening's closing stages (and we all know what happens then). Stick '93 Million Miles' between the two and you've got a cracking night out. Ninja Tune have hit another home run here and Spacek might just have won January with this wee beauty. Smokin' stuff!

Check out : 'Inflight Wave', gliding smoothly up above the streets and houses.