Sunday, 21 December 2014

#367 Bunker 66 - Screaming Rock Believers

Within my music taste, I like to think everything has a place - at least as far as the metal-spectrum, still my primary residence, goes. For every grandiose and atmospheric record which passes through the speakers on my desk, there is likely to be a filthy slice of rock n' roll which is every bit as welcome to my ears. Every mind-altering, spirit-elevating record is balanced neatly by something a little more down to earth. Sometimes, like today, you just want to listen to a gnarly old-school serving of loud guitars and pounding rhythm - and there's definitely nothing wrong with that. Often, as will be the case in this review, d-beats are involved, and that... that makes things all the better.

Bursting into life with "Seduce Me Tonight" - a cover from Celtic Frost's less than worshipped "Cold Lake" record, Screaming Rock Believers is a brave, brave album. Lots of bands might be tempted to cover Celtic Frost. Many have, in fact - but by covering such an unexpected track, Bunker 66 instantly prove that they don't exactly do what every other band does. They may worship the old-school, but the record feels distinct and character-filled, standing tall in its own kingdom rather than trying so hard to be something else. The sped-up, rampaging cover-rendition, as it happens, far outstrips the original, and sets the tone for the rock-gone-crazy sound of the record as a whole. Generally, the album isn't one which is overly worried about genre and style based lines in the sand: it is very clearly free from restraint creatively. Consequently, it offers everything from fantastically catchy clean choruses, right through to filthy blast-beat fuelled sections which carry more than a whiff of extremity. The album feels all the more of an achievement for doing this, too - it takes everything from almost glam-style sections right through to a hearty black metal influence, but rather than carelessly cramming them together, it actually comprises a record which takes these disparate elements and crafts a smooth and rewarding record to listen to. 

A friend of mine described Bunker 66 as being "stadium metalpunk". In many ways, this album offers reasons to think so. The accustomed filthy approach to song-writing by the band is of course very much intact - don't worry about that; the songs on here are definitely as good as their last full length - Inferno Interceptors. Many of them rush along at high tempo, d-beats at the ready, and all the while accompanied by Thorne's distinct and enjoyable vocal style, offering the "classic" Bunker 66 sound. This time, however, the tracks often come across as a little more creative; the formula is spliced and spiced-up by an even more tangible rock influence, easily earning Screaming Rock Believers its name. The slow, catchy sections very much earn their place, often serving as the most fun-filled, memorable sections of songs, and bringing a swaggering rock n' roll sleaze, and a couple of very enjoyable sing-along choruses, to the proceedings. Songs like the title-track are a great example of "good old rock n' roll" being adopted fruitfully by the underground of today, with results which I absolutely approve of - bands like Bunker 66 and Midnight have proven that. It's a direction which was slightly unexpected in this case, but extremely enjoyable to listen to.

Bunker 66 have proven that they have what it takes to make a solid second-record. Often, when a band only has one full length, it is to the detriment of their presence in one's mind. The record might be fantastic, as Inferno Interceptors was, but nonetheless, it is only one album. With Screaming Rock Believers, the band have renewed and reaffirmed their absolute legitimacy, and certainly managed to re-enter my regular listening, rather than being a very occasional indulgence. I'm sure I've finished many reviews along these lines by now, but it's truth doesn't depreciate for it; there's no school like the old school. 

This is an 8.5/10.

Bunker 66 on Bandcamp
Bunker 66 on Facebook
Bunker 66 on Metal Archives

Sunday, 14 December 2014

#366 Mesmur - Self Titled

I try to listen to as much music as I can. No matter how well versed you become in a genre - or rather, how well versed you think you are - there's always more. There are constant surprises and new directions to explore. As the year winds down in December, I find myself pondering what the tone of the year as a whole has been for me, in terms of my listening. One genre which sticks out for me is Funeral Doom - I entered January knowing little besides Ahab, and as the months have passed, I've done my best to take more and more on-board, both of death-doom and funeral doom. I bring this up because I hope I'm now sufficiently equipped with background knowledge to review a funeral doom record coherently. The one I have in mind is the self-titled début by United States band Mesmur.

I open by saying that Mesmur do what a funeral-doom band ought to do. This becomes immediately apparent as the listeners find themselves engulfed in mournful, wailing lead-guitar and thick, crushing rhythm, united with clear but thoroughly appropriate production, erasing any worries of the record having the "shaky start" that some débuts do. It is, to state the obvious, both funereal, and doomy - and at that, very well executed. The record is a thorough manifestation of what makes the genre good. It is sorrowful with sincerity, but also otherworldly; it lifts you out of yourself with sonic vastness. The combination of percussive intensity with rolling, reeling riffs creates in the listener the mindset of being underwater - a surreal, sepia reality incongruent with the trappings of the mundane. Emotional content is heightened with evocative lead-work and tastefully restrained keys, which do absolute justice to the record's vision, opposed to being some sort of unwelcome visitor. The juxtaposed claustrophobia and vastness of early Ahab colliding headlong with the emotional depth and heart-rending melancholy and majesty of Evoken, if that gives any kind of comparison. The song-writing skill showcased throughout the album's labyrinthine catacombs of sound is impressive, and delivers immediate enjoyment as the songs progress, much in the way one enjoys beholding a well-crafted object of any sort. 

In a genre of monstrously long records and double-albums, at only 52 minutes, Mesmur's début is a short but sweet affair compared to some. Nonetheless, it feels whole and complete; not a tentative toe dipped into murky waters, but a fully formed realization of vision. It's over before you expect it to be, perhaps, but it does not feel stunted or withered as a work. The creative integrity which shines through in the production, musicianship and song-writing makes it an immediately appealing record. The feel - in terms of atmosphere and immediate musical gratification - of the record is sublime. The melodies themselves aren't always immediately accessible, but not in a sense of them lacking anything - the music is simply quite intricate. There is out-of-the-box thinking afoot, and the record becomes a densely populated, difficult to fathom affair compared to something more simplistic; I realised after several listens that I had been basking in the atmosphere, but still wasn't certain where specific songs began, or ended. The music delivered is music which you feel more than music for you to know. While I listen to the record, its quality speaks volumes, even if I can't fully remember after several listens. I don't see this as a problem, however. The album absorbs you, like a vision, keeping you for 52 minutes - it exists as a whole in my mind, and while each part is definitely itself a superb track, the five united are how the album presented itself to me foremost, and I would suggest that that is how it is best digested.

Mesmur's self-titled is a very strong first appearance by the band - a record which truly embodies the genre it stands-for, delivering what you'd expect, and what you'd want - but more importantly, delivering it well. Very well indeed. At the time of me writing this, there isn't a particularly tangible amount of attention being paid to the band. It won't be long, however, until the metal community encircle this gem, and give it the appreciation it is almost certainly due.

This is an 8/10.

Mesmur on Facebook

Thursday, 4 December 2014

#365 Horrendous - Ecdysis

It's nice to see a band tangibly grow - to see an album which has really managed to make people turn their heads with interest. How familiar with the feeling you are tends to be tied to how long you've been into metal - it takes a few years to delve into the currents and flows, to see where things are going, and to know where the lines between vacuous and justified hype lie. I'm never entirely sure if I'm there, yet. The point being, on the subject of bands which have been trailing a considerable wake of hype and acclaim, I'm something of a latecomer to the work of Horrendous - discovering their début record "The Chills" in light of the acclaim surrounding it, as opposed to originating any sort of hype around it myself. So too, in many ways, for their second work; Ecdysis - in fact, while the record came out mid-October, I've only properly listened to it in the last few weeks. I have, however, been aware of it for longer than that, and now, the time has come to see if my listening experience matches the outright impressive amount of hubbub the record has created throughout the metal community.

Every concious choice of an artist, or a group of creators, as a band is, has an effect on its audience. The first thing which is likely to strike anyone about Ecdysis isn't musical at all, in fact, it's the fact that the band's logo is left off the album's artwork. There are two paths I could take here; first off not reading very much into it - after all, perhaps the logo just didn't lend itself to being superimposed over the artwork the band settled upon - and that's eminently plausible. However, if I read more into it - wrong as I may be - we see an album which visually shrugs away the conventional "artwork and logo" format which typifies metal releases; something which reflects the fact that likewise, sonically, Ecdysis is no ordinary death metal record. Whether or not this is true, it sets the scene rather well for the album's music. "The Chills" was a superb old-school death metal work, and an inspired one, at that. Ecdysis is not quite "more of the same" however - instead, the album represents an expansion of the penchant for ingenuity and experiment on the part of the band - delving deeper and more sprawlingly into the seeds of unique atmosphere and fantastic composition planted by The Chills, which in this record have grown into twisted, unearthly trees.

The beginning of the record introduces the development extremely well; the uncanny, almost underwater feel of the music immediately plain. Horrendous' first record had this feel too - one of outright Lovecraftian difference, but is even more pronounced here. The atmosphere is bolstered by - created from, to a great extent, in fact - the wailing, distinct lead-guitar, harmonies and melodies which the band not only saturate the record with, but justify doing so by the dreamscape which results - while there might be a lot, it certainly isn't too much. It could seem tempting to assume that other elements of the music might suffer for this, but the resultant creation is not actually something rendered unwieldy or unbalanced by the lead-heavy playing - quite the opposite; when the record outright indulges in pure riff-based playing, the listener is urged to relish it even more - and solid riffs they are indeed, reflecting the refreshing song-writing which goes into the album. Ecdysis smoothly traverses everything from traditional, Swedish death-metal inspired passages right through to others which feel, my finite knowledge perhaps showing, like something genuinely exciting and new - certainly, I can't think of a band who have made a record which sounded quite like this one before, and the record is made all the more exciting for it. The record manages to capture being fresh without falling into the pitfalls which always cling close to blazing a trail. It's substantial but not over-long, atmospheric without being over the top, and innovative without having to flirt with gratuitous craziness.

Ecdysis takes a few spins to work its magic - or at least, it did for me. It's quite an incomprehensible record, initially, but with each spin it reveals fresh secrets. Even the first spin, however, will give the listener a taste which they will find themselves racing to delve into again, and of the marks of great records, being able to do that is certainly among them. What's more, there are plenty of other underlying signs that Ecdysis is a legitimate contender to be among the best albums this year, some of which I have tried to express above... and while I probably can't convey that seamlessly in words, I would suggest that the album itself might.

This is a 9/10.

Horrendous on Facebook
Horrendous on Metal Archives