November 30, 2012

Between the Buried and Me – The Parallax II: Future Sequence (2012)

Once upon a time there was
A music blog born from the stars
That treated music with fair game,
Yet treated readers with no shame.

And thus they wrote, ‘bout this and that
‘Bout junk food and some indie stuff,
They spoke the truth of deathly rants
And kept the light on in the dark.

Amidst all this there came a man
To enter as a joyful fan
Of music, and its countless faults
Within the world of music folks.

He chose to write of great LP’s,
Of doubtful acts with strong EP’s,
And thus present them to the world
As straight A’s albums, truth be told.

But then out of the blue he thought
‘Why not review something that’s not
So damn obscure?’, and for a change
To try his hand at fortune/fame.

And so he chose to speak of new,
Of BTBAM’s latest attempt
At rocking prog with sci-fi hooks
To keep the listener in loops.

For hours on he sat alone
Absorbing sounds of truth galore
And kept his ears and mind awake
For music there to sink, then sore.

He tried to find meaning behind
The mindless riffs and off-tuned chords
While in the background neurons died
From lack of bashing on them toms.

There were some glimpses of cool thoughts,
Some fleeting hints of genie minds,
Yet for the most part it all felt
Like jumbled notes thrown in a box.

He got so mad he almost screamed
Because these guys have talent, still
But never does this album feel
Like music written from the heart.

And so our cvlt reviewer chose
To go back to the days of old,
Back to the days of Mordecai
And Shevanel taking the hold.

And you, the readers, keep in mind
That not all new is good and gold
And while this year did have its share,
This Parallax won’t rock your boat.

Sonance - Like Ghosts (2012)

Metal / Drone / Sludge / Ambient / Doom - many bands are fond of using a whole bunch of tags to label  their music, even though it doesn't necessarily incorporate numerous elements from those styles. Sonance, however, are one of those bands whose music manages to truly and simultaneously fall into all of these categories.

Like Ghosts, their debut album, doesn't seek to impress you with fancy artwork or clever song titles. Instead, it aims to impress you with its diversity and competence. The two songs on this album total in at around 40 minutes and together they form a musical journey through bitterness, despair and redemption.

Side A starts off with a sharp violin scratch, then immediately throws you in the middle of a horrific noise pit, full of crushing riffage, pounding drums squaring off against angar screaming and tormented howls. Things gradually cool off and you find yourself slowly submerged in some beautiful ambient passages that seem to have taken over the song. But don't get too comfortable, because the band soon locks into another loud'n'heavy part with a thick wall of sound that smashes you into the floor. The music twists and crawls like a giant anaconda writhing in mortal agony and everything feels chaotic and otherworldly. After alternating between unsettling and blissful atmospheres, the record then switches over to Side B. For the most part, the second song focuses on creating a beautiful ambiance but, as you may guess, it is eventually shattered when the band unleashes another flurry of blackened, doom-laden riffs and harsh screams.

At the end of Like Ghosts, you feel burned out and depleted of all energy. It is an album that takes a lot out of you, but it offers a lot back, too. Sonance are very adept at creating haunting, disturbing music that may not be suited to humming along, but which instead focuses on capturing beauty and ugliness inside one single moment.

This is one of the best submissions we've ever received in our email and I'm very grateful I had the opportunity to experience this album. Thanks a lot, blokes!

S O N ▲ N C E

Woods of Ypres - Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light (2012)

I deem Canada to be The Bestest Metal Country of Forever. There are so many amazing metal bands hailing from this icy wasteland that it's not even funny anymore.

My most recent discovery - and you can tell by this that I am the master of being late to the party - is the final album by Woods of Ypres, a Canadian band that's had more line-up changes than Marco has had late-night pasta cravings. The main dude behind the band was David Gold, who was the mastermind behind the band. So when he passed away last year, everything crumbled down and Woods of Ypres had to call it quits. I've only known the band for less than 24 hours and I'm already super bummed out about this.


Anyway, Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light instantly hooked me and made me love this band without even having any knowledge about their previous stuff (which is obviously something I will be working on during the next weeks). Woods of Ypres' music borrows from melodic black metal and doom metal, combining tremolo-picked riffs, melodic surges and some flat-out rocking moments into one outstanding and highly atmospheric package. David Gold's clean, double-layered vocals are simply outstanding, having a certain warmth to them that make you feel cozy and comfortable, even when he's singing about always being second-best, loving but not being loved back, dying and becoming nothing and other equally sad subjects. In fact, the lyrics are nothing short of poetry and are one of the main selling points of this band. Some of my favorite bits are these:

(When) nature comes collecting, it doesn't care at all about you
Nature comes collecting, it doesn't care at all to know you
(When) nature comes collecting, it doesn't care to hear your story
Nature comes collecting, and only wants you for your body
(Keeper of the Ledger)

Life... life... so life is precious, after all 
Respect the body, for it is all you really are
Life... life... so life is precious after all 
Protect the body, for it is all that keeps you on
(Death Is Not an Exit)

A moment of silence... but not one moment more
The dead are to be forgotten, we are here to be adored 
In the bleak life and modern times, under grey skies and electric light
Mortal men are living gods, more real than any god ever was
Adora vivos - our people are civilized...
Love the living while they're still alive 
Adora vivos - our people are civilized... 
We shouldn't worship the dead
(Adora Vivos)

David Gold's emotional and deeply personal lyrics are backed by various violin, cello and piano arrangements, which also offer extra layers of melody to every song, further weaving a tapestry of ambiances that left me speechless and teary-eyed upon first listen. Okay, maybe that's too much, but there is no denying that these songs have some miraculous power over me. I think this album will become my rainy day music. 

I'm really glad I ignored my instinct to blow off this album based solely on the cover art (which is pretty bad) because if I hadn't, I would have missed out on what has now become one of my favorite 2012 releases. And it came out on the 13th of February, which also happens to be my birthday. Yay.

November 29, 2012

Tumbleweed Dealer - Death Rides Southwards (2012)

Tumbleweed Dealer is a sweet new band from Montreal (fucking Canada again!) which was born when some dude got high, found a guitar nearby and was probably on a late-Earth binge. What comes out of all this is a debut EP consisting of three instrumental songs that evoke the burning sun, the hot air and the drowsy atmosphere of a Southern summer day.

The Earth comparison rises because Tumbleweed Dealer employs the same recipe of using clean, twangy guitars to create sunny, country-bluesy drones that are perfect for baking under the sun in a hammock, with a cold drink in hand. I'd even be willing to go out on a limb and say that Death Rides Southwards is a bit more focused and put together than Earth's latest output, which can be pretty hit-and-miss sometimes.

Tumbleweed Dealer have started working on a full-length album immediately following the release of this EP so, needless to say, I hope they manage to score some Pineapple Express-grade weed so they can write more sweet tunes like these. My expectations are very high. HEYO! Get it?!

You can stream and buy this EP on a pay-what-you-want basis at Moshpit Tragedy.

November 28, 2012

Mutilation Rites - Empyrean (2012)

Mutilation Rites (I could have sworn there was a Les Legions Noires band of the same name, too) is a young band from NY who plays black metal infused with some doom/death and crust elements. Clocking in at 35 minutes, Empyrean isn't the most meaty debut album ever recorded, but it has nonetheless some nice ideas, harsh tremolo-picked riffs and some really tortured vocals working in its favor. I didn't include the album cover art at the top of the post because it's some boring, random, run-of-the-mill, black and white drawing of some galactic vortex or something. Instead, take a look at the band members. More specifically, at that dude on the right. Look at that fucking hipster! He looks like Iron&Wine's father or some shit.

So I guess what I'm saying is if you want to hear black metal played by dudes who look like this, give Empyrean a shot. It's not bad.

Farsot - Insects (2012)

It's November again, which can only mean one thing - I'm freaking out because 2012 is almost over, list-mania is upon us and I realize once again that I have managed to listen to a fraction of all the awesome music released this year. Which is why my write-ups might become shorter for the next month or so, because I will be too busy listening to a lot of shit I've never heard before. 

Speaking of which, we were thinking of doing some more podcasts, since they're fun and we love hearing ourselves talk. Thing is, they are also very time-consuming and we'd rather record new episodes only if there's positive feedback about them. And by that I mean if there's anyone who actually listens to our drunken ramblings. So please let us know in the poll at the top of the page if a new episode of the TZEEEAC Podcast is something you'd be interested in. Thanks!

As for today's post, it's 1 AM and it's the third night in a row when I can't sleep, so I might as well listen to some music from 2012, right? I have chosen Insects by German black metallers Farsot for my nocturnal listening, and it's pretty damn good. Over the course of some long-ass songs, these guys foretell a future in which mankind has finally given in to its destructive instincts and blew the planet apart with their nuclear weapons and reality shows, leaving whatever is left of it to be ruled by insects, the sole survivors of the apocalypse. I don't know what the cover art has to do with all of this, but okay. I guess the music falls in the atmospheric black metal category, given its hypnotic, repetitive riffs and discreet, subdued drumming. I'm not really sure what compels me to listen to it, as it seems pretty standard fare. Must be the tight execution and the no-frills attitude of the band members, who seem perfectly content with keeping it pretty down-low and not making too much of a racket. 

This must be the kind of black metal librarians listen to. 

November 26, 2012

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call Of Pripyat

When taking a break from my music, steampunk literature and artsy European cinematography, I enjoy the fine polygonal madness of videogames. It’s surely a deadly habit, because it contributed to my slow transformation from the handsome high –school quarterback to the chubby 19-year-old chain-smoking misanthrope that I am today. Anyway, since Chester had the guts to break the ice and post a videogame review,  I might as well do the same. It’s not that I admire my fellow critic wannabe to such an extent that I follow and copy his every move, but I felt the need to try something different. So here it is, folks. Hope you enjoy it and expect more randomness in the future, because I have some pretty good books I wanna share with ya guys.

I was in rare form.
 S.T.A.L.K.E.R., as a series, is a rare gem.  The first installment, Shadow of Chernobyl, was called by the videogame community a ‘’flawed masterpiece’’ : great setting,  intriguing storyline, a well crafted atmosphere and majestic post-apocalyptic landscapes, sadly overshadowed by the countless glitches and bugs, retarded enemy A.I.  and  klunky weapon mechanics.  I felt content with it, but not fully satisfied.  The second installment in the series, Clear Sky, fixed the afore mentioned issues but lacked story and depth, which was a real bummer for me because it basically exchanged one problem with another.  Then Call of Pripyat was released, and boy was I fucking happy with it.  

Call of Pripyat takes place in and around the deserted city of Pripyat, which was evacuated after the first explosion of the Cernobyl nuclear plant. Yep, you heard me right. During the epilogue of Clear Sky (which is a prequel to Shadow Of Cernobyl), we learn that a second explosion has occurred which turned the whole area surrounding the plant into an endless wasteland plagued by  aggressive mutants and dangerous anomalies which, oddly enough, spawn valuable highly-radioactive artifacts that are in high demand all around the world.  No one knows what actually happened, but no sooner than later, the newly born Zone quickly drew the attention of scientists, government and military officials and, the main focus of the games, the stalkers.  Every stalker has his own purpose of coming to this dangerous area, be it in search of adventure, to escape the authorities or to pursue their get rich fast schemes.   
Gotta pick up some milk on my way back home or my wife will kill me.

This time around  you play as Major Alexander Degtyarev, an agent for the Ukraine Security Service and, supposedly,  a former experienced stalker, explaining his above average knowledge of the Zone. You are sent undecover  to the plagued wasteland to investigate the dubious crashes of five STINGRAY military helicopters and find out what caused the said malfunctions.  At the start of the mission, you are dropped near a stalker camp with a basic stalker suit, a poorly maintained AK-47, a weak and ridiculous looking pistol which is as threatening as a chopstick-wielding midget and a few cartridges of ammunition in order to prevent you from being singled out as a goverment operative.  Obviously, during the course of the game you can go from being dog food to the fucking baws of the Zone, but that takes patience and a careful management of resources.  Unlike its older brothers, CoP benefits from giving you a wide range of decisions to make, all leading to one of the multiple endings.  Listening to the epilogue at the ending telling you how one decision or the other affected the Zone and the people you encountered will make you feel proud or ashamed, depending on how lawfully good or ruthless and mischevious you have been. It’s all up to you.

Being an (sortakinda) open-ended FPS, you have the whole Zone at your will to explore, admire and,  eventually, fill up with piles of dead bandits, stalkers, soldiers and mutans who had the guts to cross you.  The area divided  into three major playable areas (hubs) known as Zaton, Yanov , and the city of Pripyat itself, each with its own surroundigs and shit to do. While Zaton and Yanov are large rural/industrial/portuar areas and are, consequently, more open and relatively safer, making your task of escaping angry hoardes of mutants easier, Pripyat is more a of a closed area, giving you a feeling of claustrophobia and suffocation.  How can you feel safe from those horrible radioactive shitheads when you’re surrounded by tall buildings with smashed windows and open sewer entrances? Shiiiit, man. 

The Zone itself offers some of the most impressive and absolutely beautiful landscapes in videogame history – endless steppes with lonely, crooked trees in the distance, abandoned factories, partially demolished houses,  empty gas stations who haven’t enjoyed the company of a car for a long time, shadowy apartment blocks whose only friends are the piles of concrete that have fallen near them due to their advanced state of degradation, empty infirmeries and so on. It’s a shattering and heartbreaking simphony of desperation, loneliness and uglyness. It shows what horrors man is capable of and it is even more shocking since the game is set in a near future.  The stunning lightning effects, carefully paced ambiental music and weather dynamics all make for an eerie and mysterious atmosphere, encouraging you to explore the Zone and unravel all of its secrets.

 The game world isin’t that hard to traverse, and it usually won’t take you long to get from one end of the map to the other... if you ignore all the bloodthirsty mutants and don’t get easily distracted by the surroundings, like me.  Once you do that, you can seek shelter in one of the three major stalker camps. Before taking a well deserved rest, you can stick around and admire how natural and realistic the place feels.  Stalkers are people first and treasure-seaking maniacs second, so you’ll often see them enjoy a warm camp fire, drinking at the bar, sharing stories, eating, telling jokes or playing the guitar ( I once heard a stalker playing Smoke on the Water :) ) .  

The camps, besides being a safe haven for traumatized stalkers, provide you with medical kits, ammunition, anti-radiation drugs and food.  A new addition CoP brings the ability to customize and upgrade your weapons or armor at the local technicians.  The upgrades can vary from increasing the weapon’s accuracy, firing rate, and how much damage your armor can take from bullets or enviromental hazards before it degrades. You’ll have some tough decisions to make, and choosing between an armor that provides protection against radiation but is weak in combat or viceversa will influence the game experience.  You’ll also find out that not all upgrades are available from the start, some taking different kinds of tools (or loads of vodka, dependending on the technician J ) which are pretty hard to find. The gunplay is, well, satisying for those who seek realism in combat.  You’ll find out that the guns empty really fast, so you’ll have to preserve your ammunition and resources. Of course, nothing comes cheap in the Zone, so in order to obtain even the slighest sense of safety you’ll have to invest loads of cash. One way of obtaining money is to search for arctifacts in anomalies using your detector and sell them to the local trader. It’s not as easy as it sounds because, hey, there are three or four types of detectors and they don’t come cheap either.  Make sure to buy a good artifact dector early on, otherwise you’re fucked.  Also, take food with you on long raids. Stalkers are people too, you fucking bastard.

Did I tell you that hilaaaaaarious story when I almost got killed by a bunch of mutant dogs?
GSC managed to create a great game, with superb atmosphere, story and gameplay. Sadly, all good things come to an end and I almost cried when I found out that the studio closed its doors and canceled the much anticipated S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2.  On the bright side, they left us three masterpieces and gave me hope in the dying game industry which has been in the past few years overloaded with mediocre pieces of shit that lack depth and passion. Thanks a bunch, guys.  You are my heroes.