Monday, October 19, 2009

Converge - Axe To Fall

This time they are built for war
Being active since the 1990s but gaining prominence not just from the hardcore scenes but the metal scenes all around the world during the new millennium with 2001's mathcore monster Jane Doe, Converge knows what they want in a new record and we all love it every time. The only thing we can do about it when we wait is just never expect anything and enjoy everything during initial listen. It's been the case when Converge signed on to Epitaph Records where mostly constructed of punk. With You Fail Me (2004) and No Heroes (2006), they treaded different grounds with left turns including the AmRep/NeurIsis induced You Fail Me title track and the doom and thrashtastic "To The Lions" from No Heroes.

Seven albums later and almost two decades long of intensity and traveling the world, Converge has something new out for us to drool over. A recent case just weeks before the release (or the full stream at the band's own MySpace) the review watermarked copy of Axe To Fall was leaked onto the internet for a lot of people to keelhaul over. Even if downloaded by the masses, Converge finally made something that not only make the owning of the album well worth it but made the most engaging record I have heard this year.

Official music video, probably NSFW
I can safely say that if you have listened to past Converge albums, you can say it's an amalgamation of them and then some. Combining the technicality and unpredictability of Jane Doe, the ferocity of You Fail Me, and the extreme metal tendencies of No Heroes (along with nuances of 1998's When Forever Come Crashing), they wisely balanced their use of what they have learned in the past to make an effective product while still following their of tradition of following experimental paths. Odd that some of these songs sound similar to songs on their previous two albums. The benefit of this is that these songs feel more developed than their older pieces. It includes the out-slayered Slayer-esque "Cutter" ("Vengeance","No Heroes" and "Black Cloud"), the grooved up "Slave Driver" ("Lonewolves"), and the fast "Losing Battle" ("Heartless").

Besides some great familiarities, the album continues to take different directions outside the main sound spectrum. If you have listened to the stronger bands on singer Jacob Bannon's Deathwish Inc. label, you can hear some pure influences of Disfear and label alumni Trap Them on "Wishing Well;" death' n' roll more bastardized. Apparently enough the differed songs consists of the more slower tempoed epic tracks than usual to balance out the overall heaviness to create a more varied and open album. "Cruel Bloom" brings a folkpocalypse sound with seemingly distanced brooding/depressing piano and acoustic guitar while providing an almost ethreal like feeling with the guest vocals including Neurosis' Steve Von Till. The finale "Wretched World" tries to set the listener on a ethreal (it even sound like a credits song to an epic RPG that was cut for not being overcompressed J-Pop or some obvious reason) journey of layers upon layers of drums, vocals, and guitar helped by members of Genghis Tron, The Red Chord, and Cave In.

The most intriguing thing about Axe To Fall is the high amount of guests that contributed to the album. They range from just doing backing vocals for one line (Himsa's John Pettibone on "Cutter") to almost full contribution to writing the song (ex. 3/4 of Cave In on "Effigy"). Besides people of metal/hardcore bands such as Tim Cohen of 108 and Blacklisted's George Hirsch, Converge brings in members of indie rock groups including Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor and lone female anagramed musician "The Rodeo" which even if unexpected is exciting that Converge will try someone else that doesn't shout for once.

With each Converge album, production gets better and better. Maybe No Heroes is a bit less just with the weird inaudibility of guitars and bass in places but it's good that Converge learned their lesson with this new outing. Being produced, engineered, and mixed by guitarist Kurt Ballou at his own studio, he makes the album powerful and as well as dirty. Guitars are now audible with cutting riffs and shiny leads, bass can give hope to conventional metal production that the instrument still matters and the drums have a very loud scooped feel while steps back in terms of giving the other instruments a chance. Vocals are just harsh as usual with Jacob's incomprehensible barks of destruction which says to any new listener that it's not about trying to understand what he is saying but to understand the feeling of his performance. Mastered by Alan Douches give a good amount of loudness to the intense album but at occasion passes the distortion mark which makes me question his skills.

Although with a minor fault, it's very small when compared to the larger than life sound that fills this album. I can say indeed that Converge's Axe To Fall is one of the albums to listen to of 2009. Fun for everybody because it's plain awesome. Don't waste your time downloading it from a blogspot, go freaking buy it!


Axe To Fall is available now!

Official Converge Website
Official Converge MySpace

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Baroness - Blue Record

Color Me Blue
The Georgian sludge metal scene has gained some prominence within extreme metal. Built up from the NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) influences of Eyehategod, England's doomy Black Sabbath and even New York's Swans, the Georgian scene has turned into a characteristic entity while still praising the evil yet Southern rock grooves. Throughout the second half of the decade, there were lauded releases from bands like Atlanta's Withered (Foile Circulare, 2008), Savannah's Kylesa (Static Tensions, 2009), and most notably Atlanta's Mastodon (Crack the Skye, 2009). It's though not all perfect in the world of downtuned drugged bastard music. Some including me thought Mastodon's over-ambition for an almost pure progressive sound has caused them to stray away from their roots too obviously (which I felt made the record good yet very underwhelming). Is it because of their rise to major labels (Relapse Records to Reprise Records) to appeal to less metal nurtured audiences or just want to separate from being pidgeonholed in a scene? Who knows?

One band who recently had some press in magazines such as Spin and most commonly being the cover story on US extreme metal mag Decibel (November 2009) is Savannah's Baroness. Rising to prominence with their First (2004) and Second (2005) EPs and as well as a split album with Unpersons (2007) and being praised with the debut LP Red Album (2007). Their mix of progressive rock and sludge metal can make a first time listener question Mastodon clone but by multiple listens of their previous work and their latest LP Blue Record, Baroness makes excellent strides in creating what they are.

Jake Leg
With a gaze of the beautiful cover art by guitarist/vocalist John Dyer Baizley, you can expect a great and wondrous journey. Starting from the beginning of "Bullhead's Psalm" to the end of "Bullhead's Lament," they deliver their A game to the best of their ability with every song. For fans of the group, Blue can be considered simply a very well refined Red Album; although not a reiteration of their 2007 debut. The most obvious difference from the previous work is how Baroness keeps momentum on making hook after hook after hook throughout the 45 minutes without droning out on being boring. They provide a sound that can be appreciated to a larger audience but they do it so well and effectively that the "sold out" issue is nonexistent.

Guitarist/vocalist Pete Adams replaced former guitarist Brian Bickle a couple of months back and I questioned if Baroness can still do it without it's former lead guitarist. By listen of Blue Album, I had my question answered with a yes. Pete contributes so much harmony vocals especially in "The Sweetest Curse" and the folk acoustic "Steel That Sleeps The Eye" where it's better to have both John and Pete sing/shout at the same time instead of just having one doing the responsibilities. Besides his voice, he can make very good clashes with John on twin leads with very noticeable support by bassist Summer Welch and drummer of Brian Bickle, Allen. When the album is best as is when all the elements are crunched up into one five or so minute song. The spectacular results are well established in the "The Birthing"-esque "Jake Leg" and the mid-paced galloping rhythms of "A Horse Name Golgotha."

A Horse Called Golgotha
Even with an outro, the penultimate song (The Gnashing) truly ends the album with great build up to the climax with elegant melodies, rhythm shifts, and well thought out patterns. Everything felt engaging and well made and nothing felt like filler. Is it best metal album ever? Probably not but I can say Baroness' Blue Record is one of the best metal (if not general) records of 2009.


Blue Record out now on Relapse Records!

Official Baroness MySpace
(features Blue Record stream)
Official John Baizley MySpace