Music We Love – Grown Below: The Other Sight

Grown Below: The Other Sight album cover

Can doom metal ever escape its self-imposed exile into the wastelands of mediocrity and disdain for anything accessible? A new wave of bands who step out just a bit beyond the confines of Doom are saying an emphatic "Yes."

Grown Below released their first album The Long Now in 2011 to rave reviews by metal fans. Mixing traditional doom with ambient and atmospheric interludes including chilling violin and female vocals, the band created a traditional, yet nuanced sound. With that release, Grown Below announced to the world that sludge and doom could be legitimate forms of musicianship.

With The Other Sight, Matthijs Vanstaen, Lennart Vanstaen, Johan Heyrman and Jolan Chen have further evolved their sound in a way that should appeal to current fans while making their music available to metal fans who desire a little more energy.

This is a very different album than the band's first. Gone are the violins and female vocals. New are brass instruments and a modern guitar sound. All in all, a new and unexpected direction for Grown Below's sound.

The Other Sight continues the story of The Long Now, taking the protagonist to live in a cave of mirrors. His descent into madness drives him to suicide after realizing he is alone and everyone around him are mere "Phantoms" of his own reflection.

A dark story for a dark album. Are the songs up to the challenge? "New Throne" starts us off pensive, growing in power and arrogance and introduces a couple new tricks in Grown Below's toolbox. The song commences with the heavy riffs we'd expect and meanders through atmospheric interludes before ending with horn and trumpet and a bit of high, fast guitar previously unheard from the band.

"My Triumph" continues the pensive mood and incorporates some heavier doom elements. Coming in at thirteen minutes, this song provides ample opportunity for a complete sludge song.

With "Phantoms", we are taken in a completely new and surprising direction. Reminiscent of old God Smack, this song might — dare I say it — be suitable for some airplay. I could definitely hear this song on WAAF in Boston or KUPD in Phoenix. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing pop about the sound. It's just more accessible than the rest, and may be the best song on the album, showcasing Vanstaen's vocal talent to the fullest.

With it's slow build to a straight-out doom payoff, "Reverie" gives us ten minutes of everything Grown Below does well wrapped in a fascinating story. Passionate singing, interesting interludes and heavy guitars. If I could define the band with one song, it would be this one.

The Other Sight isn't the album Grown Below fans expect, but it is most definitely the album Doom Metal needs. I highly recommend it to fans of doom and sludge that want something more than forty-five-minutes of plodding, repetitive riffs and indecipherable growling. For those who simply love good music, and don't care about the genre, this album is sure to deliver something different for your music collection.

Doom is moving in new and refreshing directions. Can it escape the shadows, moving into the fore?

Yes, and Grown Below just might lead the way.

Find more about Grown Below at Facebook and Bandcamp
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New Live Music From Grown Below: Reverie

If you haven’t heard of Grown Below before now, you’re missing out. The Long Now is the best metal album I’ve heard in a long time.

I can’t wait for the band’s next album, which is slated for 2013. Fortunately, the band published a live video of Reverie to give us a preview of their upcoming work.

Music We Love – Fading Waves: The Sense of Space

Fading Waves The Sense Of Space Album CoverFading waves is a one-man band out of Russia. Not the kind where an old guy holds cymbals between his knees, plays the accordion and sings all at once. No, Fading Waves is the post-metal brainchild of Alexey Maximuk, where he arranges, composes and plays all the music with a little vocal help from a studio singer. Maximuk’s latest release The Sense of Space is an atmospheric, five-track feast for the ears, with excellent musicianship and a wide written range of notes.

There’s nothing simple about The Sense of Space. The album builds layer upon layer of melody and harmony, creating complex arrangements. In listening to the album, I found it inspired creativity in my work. It’s the type of music you can put into your headphones before hitting the keyboard, and look up an hour and a half later with work done and no sense of time passed.

Part of the reason this is such a great work album is the groove set by the music. Guitars definitely drive Fading Wave’s sound. Using simple rhythms in the background, Maximuk’s lead riffs provide direction for the songs. He favors a slow, soulful picking style, often playing notes every two or more beats, rather than the typical one note per beat. The effect creates emotional feel that would befit a movie soundtrack.

Beyond the guitars, Maximuk uses just a touch of keyboard to provide atmosphere. That touch really sets this album apart from similar bands, and really completes the sound. this is great work from a man who understands subtlety. Drum and bass on the album are pretty basic, with the drums setting simple beats and the bass mostly expanding the range of the music. My only complaint on the album is that the drums sometimes sound thin in the mix, like they didn’t record properly.

On top of the music, the chilling vocals provided by Anastasia Aristova pushes the album over the top. Smack dab in the middle of this post-metal, funeral doom lies great beauty. Not only does the singer’s voice chill you to the bone, but she fits into some pretty heavy music, and really adds depth to the sound. I wish goth and metal bands with operatic singers could learn to do this more.

There’s a lot of post-metal out there. With new greats like Hull and Grown Below setting the bar, it takes something special to stand out. Fading waves certainly hits the mark with The Sense of Space. This album is a must-have for post-metal fans and creatives who want inspiring music to stimulate their work space.

Album Review: Rough Tough Dynamite – End of the World

Rough Tough Dynamite - End of the World album cover

And the Lord said, “When there is surf guitar in the streets. When you hear awesome beats and rumors of beats. When sons turn to their fathers singing fun songs, you will know the end is nigh.” Rough Tough Dynamite’s End of the World EP doesn’t portend Armageddon. Instead it gives us six songs that get you off your butt and onto the floor. We’re talking serious fun here.

Rough Tough Dynamite play their version of modern surf guitar in Phoenix, AZ – about as far from the beach as it gets. Buy hey, these guys hit the waves about as much as The Beach Boys ever did. Infusing the classic, 60s style with a little punk and just a dash of hipster flair, the band created their unique sound as expressed in the six songs on End of the World.

There are two ways to describe this album. One is in musical style. The other pertains more to subjective terms like attitude and intent. There’s a sound and a feel. Even though Rough Tough Dynamite are musically nothing like Relient K, the band’s charming, boisterous lyrics and pop-punk rhythms remind me of the five dudes from up north. Look around and you’ll see ‘Dynamite – let’s hope ‘Dynamite sticks. RTD would be a sucky moniker – are all about having fun. Yeah, they’re talented and smart, but most of that shows up in subtle ways. It’s the intangibles that really shine on End of the World

Musically, ‘Dynamite have their own sound. Primarily driven by energetic drums, they mix in a little keyboard with a lot of guitar and bass. Diamonds demonstrates this sonic concoction to perfection, creating a new and thoroughly-modern melody with a classic feel. 2010s surf at its best. Rather than describing what you’d hear from the band, I’ll let you check out the video below.

End of the World is available on Bandcamp, gratis. Hard copies are five bucks. No music collection is complete without this EP. Get it, play it, have fun.

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Album Review: Anathema – Weather Systems

Anathema - Weather Systems Album Cover

Few things in music surprise me. From time to time, I’ll find a band I didn’t know of, or an older band will release something unexpected. But, true surprises are rare. So are great albums. I don’t mean very-good, or fantastic releases. I’m talking about true greatness. Think Kill ‘em All by Metallica, Operation Mindcrime by Queensryche or Norah Jones’ Come Away with Me. These albums not only stood out as being better than the rest, they changed music, or at least they changed what music could be.

Without any hint of hyperbole, I can say Anathema’s tenth album Weather Systems is truly great. Only time will tell if and how much this superb release will change music, but it certainly shows us what is possible when convention is thrown out the window and dreams are explored.

Anathema – The Beginning and the End (from Weather Systems) by Kscope

It is virtually impossible to define Weather Systems in terms of musical styles or genres. Is it rock? Well, it has electric guitar and loud drums, so yeah. Is it prog? There’s definitely a progressive sound to the album. Is it metal? There’s nothing heavy in the album, but the songs are very much metal in their composition. Is it dramatic? Definitely. Is it theatrical? You bet. Is it symphonic? With layered piano, keyboard and classical guitar riffs comprising most of the sound, the album would certainly feel at home in a concert hall.

See what I’m getting at? Words cannot adequately describe Weather Systems. It’s not just a bunch of songs, it’s an experience. The album takes you on an emotional journey through hope, anguish, fear, love and loss, with music and lyrics that ebb and flow, creating just the right mood at the right time.

Take Untouchable 1 & 2 for example. The first song begins sweet and hopeful, with classical guitar picking and a soothing voice. As love grows in the song, so does vocalist Vincent Cavanagh’s voice. The effect creates an emotional song with beauty and power. Enter part two. Changing the mood to something somber and introspective, dark piano melodies drive the sound, and Caanagh’s voice follows suit, joining with the stunning female voice of Lee Douglas. In fact, it’s Douglas’ voice that really pushes this album over the top. Her solos are some of the best of many great moments in Weather Systems.

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Will Weather Systems change the face of music? Who knows? But it sure changed me and my expectations. Like Metallica, Queensryche and Norah Jones before them, Anathema have raised the bar, and are the new standard I will judge music by.

Anathema – The Gathering of the Clouds (clip) (from Weather Systems) by Kscope

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Operation Mindcrime – Still Great After All These Years

Queensryche: Operation Mindcrome album cover

Imagine a novel with this opening scene:

Nikki pressed his hands to his head, striving against the heroin shakes. In a steady pour, he watched a limo pull up to the curb. A black window rolled down, revealing Dr. X. Nikki stumbled over.

Taking a white packet from the older, distinguished man, Nikki turned, but stopped short at the parting words from Dr. X. “Kill her.”

The simple words barely registered in Nikki’s mind. “Kill Mary?”

“She’s a risk. Get the priest as well.”

That’s compelling stuff. It’s also the opening to Suite Sister Mary, the climactic song on Operation Mindcrime. Of course, I added a bit extra to give you a feel for the song, but tell me that isn’t great story telling. I dare you.

After twenty-three years, Queensryche’s Operation Mindcrime remains the quintessential concept album. Not only is the story great in it’s cheesy awesomenicity compelling, but thematically far more prescient than any of us could have imagined.

While Operation Mindcrime’s story focuses on street-rat Nikki and his love for the abused nun Mary, the album’s themes tell of corruption and abuse of power. Is anyone out there old enough to remember a time when corruption and abuse of power were more rampant than now?

In a time where it seems virtually every major institution has been, is being, or will soon be rocked by scandal, Geoff Tate’s powerful lyrics ring truer than ever.

For those not familiar with the story of Operation Mindcrime, there is a great wiki on it. The band’s website also has a song-by-song breakdown of the story. For now, just watch this video – and excuse Tate’s failing voice. He’s getting older. Not only is Suite Sister Mary my favorite song, it’s a great story, as is the whole album.

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Haunting Short Film – Carry That Weight

What is beauty? It’s a question I’ve considered a lot recently. Not from a traditional perspective, but personally. More and more I’ve come up with things like football plays — anyone remember Thurmon Thomas running a draw up the middle in the 90s? I see beauty in football. I hear beauty in lots of metal music. Tao Kwon Do is often beautiful. Those things are beauty to me.

At the same time, there’s always room for traditional beauty. My pretty wife. Music with delightful harmonies. Scenic vistas, forests and fields. Simple stories.

Mama’s Gan made this short film based on The Beatle’s Carry That Weight. It portrays beauty in so many aspects that I had to share it.

Candlelight Stories has a great write-up on the video from a different perspective — the author is in love with the woman in the video, or at least her face. It’s worth reading to hear a different perspective on the same video. How about you? What emotions and themes do you see, hear or feel from the film?

Story in Song: Grown Below – The Long Now

Album cover: Grown Below - The Long Now

Genre-defining albums have sprinkled metal’s history with those few releases that transcend what’s been done before. Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All taught us metal could be heavy and still be rock and roll, Quiot Riot’s Metal Health ushered in a decade of hair bands, and Nirvana’s Nevermind killed that decade with a single song. More recently, Amorphis gave us Skyforger and showed us that metal didn’t have to be formulaic and boring. Post-metal needs such a defining moment. Something that will change its direction, surprise and inspire us. Belgian band Grown Below’s debut release The Long Now might provide that moment.

The Long Now is a guitar-driven atmospheric album, with long songs that build like symphonies, telling a story with sound and lyrics. They incorporate the best of slow metal styles, and even add some violin into the mix.

Guitars on the album are unique in that there are few rhythms. Instead, Grown Below uses different techniques to get a particular feel to each song and even each song part. For instance, title track The Long Now uses picking through most of the song, creating a chilling effect. Devoid of Age uses more chords with a few rhythms below reverb-heavy riffs.

While guitars on The Long Now are superb, it’s the vocals that really push it over the top. Grown Below uses the prerequisite deep growls to give the album a heavy sound, but adds something completely unexpected – singing. Not just run-of-the-mill singing, but beautiful male and female voices singing harmonies, and just like the guitars, each voice drives a particular emotion or feeling at just the right moment.

With Grown Below, drum and bass play second fiddle to guitar, filling in rather than driving the songs. The bassist and drummer both play competently, but there’s nothing that really makes them stand out. The Abyss is their best song, where a nice bassline teams with a jazz beat, laying a foundation for the guitars and vocals to build on.

Will Grown Below change post-metal forever? Only time will tell. With The Long Now, Grown Below has laid down the gauntlet, and the rest of the world can only play catch-up. While metal fans will surely love this album, I highly recommend the experience that is The Long Now to music lovers of all stripes.

Buy the album here: http://grownbelow.bandcamp.com/album/the-long-now

Track List:

  1. Trojan Horses
  2. Devoid of Age
  3. The Abyss
  4. Minaco II – Nebula
  5. End of All Time
  6. The Long Now
  7. Malklara

Music Review: Hull – Beyond The Lightless Sky

Hull-beyond-the-lightless-sky

It took weeks to figure out what I liked about Beyond the Lightless Sky. I enjoyed the album from first listen, then played it over and over, enjoying it more each time. But what defines Hull? What makes them unique? They’re certainly talented and excellent songwriters, but there are tons of talented bands who write good songs. That isn’t enough to stand out. It hit me while listening in the car that in a genre defined by excess, Hull is, dare I say, measured and consistent. They incorporate many styles and techniques in their music, but never sound gimmicky. When screaming, they scream in the context of the song. Bluesy, acoustic guitar riffs aren’t interludes; they are integral parts of the sound.

Hull is commonly described as stoner metal or sludge metal, but these descriptions do a disservice to the band. While the grooves and long songs may appeal to those partaking in certain natural herbs and Doritos, Beyond the Lightless Sky does not fit into a small subgenre. Instead, it’s more like a heavy rock-and-roll album filled with metal riffs.

It’s not quite clear who does what in Hull. I’m pretty sure Drew is the lead vocalist. His voice ranges from hardcore to death metal, and generally fits the songs well. The engineers often mix him into the background, making an interesting effect. If you’re listening while working, the voice doesn’t disturb your train of thought, but forces you to pay attention when you want to hear him.

Beyond the Lightless Sky is a guitar-heavy album. Drew, Nick and Carmine mix it up a lot. Some songs feature doom-laden riffs with long, drawn-out chords, others include bright solos, and even acoustics. These guys do everything but shred. Like the vocals, guitars have an interesting mix on the album. They are turned up higher than usual, often louder than the drums.

Energetic drummer Jeff teams with Sean in the rhythm section. Jeff does a good job with his crash-heavy approach, but I couldn’t often distinguish any bass on the album. Most songs seemed to be driven by guitars with drum and bass as a fill-in.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that Hull’s moderation makes them boring – it’s quite the opposite. Instead of having a few brilliant moments, Beyond the Lightless Sky impresses from beginning to end, drawing you in and never letting go. Metal fans need to get this album.

Track List:

  1. Earth From Water
  2. Just A Trace of Early Dawn
  3. Curling Winds
  4. Fire Vein
  5. Wake The Heavens, Reveal The Sun
  6. False Priest
  7. A Light That Shone From Aside The Sea
  8. In Death, Truth
  9. Earth From Water