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Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Reviews: Mono, The Mound Builders, Papa Roach, Static Tension (Paul S & Alex)

Mono: Nowhere Now Here (Temporary Residence Limited) [Paul S]

Mono are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, and are celebrating by releasing their 10th album. The band have made their first ever lineup change recently, recruiting a new drummer in Duhm Majuri Cipolla. There is also a track featuring Takaki on vocals for the first time. The track, Breath, is the only song on the album to feature vocals. All the other tracks are instrumentals, most of which feature many, many instruments, the album also contains electronic elements for the first time. The album has some very quiet moments and some very loud moments, clearly relating to Mono’s traditional theme of darkness and light.

First track God Bless is an intro to the album, the track takes quite a while to fade up, when it does it is simple swells of Brass instruments (these could be real Brass, or electronic elements, lets just say, they sound like brass). Second track After You Comes The Flood starts with a very simple guitar lick, which slowly builds, before it becomes a big riff, without changing the tune from the lick. The riff continues for the rest of the track. Sounds boring? Well it isn’t, it’s amazing. The riff might not change, but the way the riff is played, and the mix of instruments that play it, constantly mutate. The track gets bigger and bigger as it goes along, a guitar solo is added, and that riff just won’t leave your head, man this is huge, and beautiful.

Next we have Breath. The only track to have vocals, Breath is sung by Takaki in a very, well, breathy way. Her voice is quiet, and hesitant, the track feel delicate and fragile, as if it could shatter at any moment. Takaki’s voice is a little like Bjork’s when she is being really quiet (definitely not Bjork when she is being noisy!). In the second half of the track a guitar riff comes in, with some delicate tremolo picking, before it gently fades out. Nowhere Now Here has a very slow, quiet build up of guitar and brass, before a drum fill signals the arrival of a huge riff, this then builds with strings, getting bigger and bigger until it all abruptly stops for a short interlude. After this rest the song comes crashing back in, but even huger this time. The guitar riff is now tremolo picked, and this helps boost the dynamics of the track to a huge, dramatic ending. Far And Further starts with a quiet, constantly repeated guitar lick which is very reminiscent of Philip Glass, for at least the first half of the song, before this starts to get louder. The song, although having the quiet start/loud finish, has such a relaxed, and dreamlike quality to it, it becomes beautiful and cathartic.

Next up is Sorrow, which starts with a slow gentle riff, before the track goes into a beautiful tremolo picked guitar riff, which I think has the a tune which is very similar to the song Can’t Smile Without You (recorded by Barry Manilow, and The Carpenters), I realise that might sound a little strange, but that is what it sounds like to me. The track builds, but always has a dreamlike, ethereal feeling to it, even at the very end where there is distortion on the guitar. The track ends with electronic elements drifting off into silence. Parting is very simple. String swells, with a piano playing over the top. Achingly beautiful. Meet Us Where The Night Ends again builds slowly, till a mid-paced riff arrives. The song is maybe a little more direct than some of the other material on the album, there are less instruments in the mix, and the drumming is more purposeful. Funeral Song is a short interlude made up of brass and strings.

It’s simple and charming, and takes us into the last track Vanishing. The song has an uplifting quality to it, as if the turmoil of the rest of the album has come to a resolution, and it has a blissed out, contented feel to it. It’s a suitable ending to a fantastic album.Nowhere Now Here is a stunning piece of work. It’s beautiful, dreamlike, ethereal, subtle, delicate, huge, noisy, quiet, gossamery and exquisite. This is a beautiful piece of art, every note has meaning and relevance, it gets into your head, and is very affecting. You have to be patient with this album, give it time to grow on you and you will discover something truly amazing. 9/10

The Mound Builders: The Mound Builders (Failure Records & Tapes) [Paul S]

The Mound Builders hail from Indiana, this self titled album is the bands second, seven years after their debut Strangers In A Strange Land. The style of metal served up on The Mound Builders is a mix of doom, sludge and hardcore, there is a similarity in sound with British bands Allfather and Mastiff; whether they are slow or fast, they are always heavy. First track Torchbearer kicks the album off in a great way, definitely one of the highlights of the album. The song has a slow, but powerful beginning, before a cracking up-tempo riff blasts in and we are in huge and bouncy, punky hardcore territory. Hair Of The Dogma has a massive intro, before morphing into a more driving and aggressive hardcore part. The song has a relentless quality that I really enjoy. Third track Separated From Youth has a slower, more measured feel to it. The riffs are a little less aggressive, maybe with a little bit of a stoner vibe to it. Acid Slugs starts slow, really slow, and is massively heavy, with a little bit of an Eyehategod feel to it. Then the track kicks off into a hugely nasty piece of hardcore, with a punky flavour, you could shout Oi Oi Oi during this track without anyone batting an eyelid.

Next up we have the fastest track, and my favourite song on this album; Star City Massacre. Star City Massacre is an absolute blast of hardcorey thrash, so much fun, head banging is mandatory with this song! Regolith has a looser, stonier feel to it, the tempo (possibly a 6:8) is relaxed and lazy, which works well after the speed and fury of Star City Massacre. Broken Pillars brings back the sickeningly heavy and slow again. The song pounds the listener into the ground in a delightfully nasty way. Final track Vanished Frontier is a pounding, unremitting mid-paced song that has a unstoppable feel to it, seriously, don’t stand in front of this track, it will run you down! It’s a great way to end a really enjoyable album. The Mound Builders is a great album (and band!), it has a lot of variation, but still feel like a coherent whole. The songs have depth to them, and feel like there has been a lot of work and care gone into writing and recording them. Highly recommended. 8/10

Papa Roach: Who Do You Trust? (Eleven Seven Music) [Alex]

Those of you who read my end of year lists in 2018, will know that my lack of hope in mainstream rock to produce anything substitutive, is thankfully ignorable due to the diverseness of the genre. Papa Roach is, of course, a charting act of the Nu-metal era. Characterized almost entirely by the ‘Cut My Life Into Pieces’ meme, their brand of angst has not exactly held up gracefully. Yet give them this, their later years have seen them at least trying to mature and adapt. However, they always lacked the creativity, and Who Do You Trust? Is yet another example of them straddling the line between guarding that acerbic Papa Roach attitude, and desperately trying to stay relevant.

Take one of the singles, Elevate. Attitude-ridden rapping pervades and a spike of lead guitars on the chorus tries and fails to lend some edge, all while a meandering beat, trap synths, and millennial whoops make this the pastiche of those charting acts, mislabeled as ‘rock’. Then there's Not The Only One, a song dictated by a semi-tropical acoustic guitar part which feels placated from a stock of generic riffs. Perhaps the most noticeable thing here is Shaddix’s signature ‘’I was screwed up/ I was angry at the world/ I was a loser’’ lyricism, showing up in an anthem apparently penned to inspire hopeful defiance in the youth!

Speaking of the defiance theme let's discuss Renegade Music. Does that sound like a Rage Against The Machine title? Well it should, because in trying to cash in on the idea of political anger, Papa Roach appropriates a number of rebellious lyrics, displaying none of the insight which would be required to drive a compliment anywhere beyond a backhanded: ‘really sticking it to da’ man there I see, how is the trend-chasing going?’ Finally, we come to the title track. To be fair, Who Do You Trust? has a level of stomp and power to at least keep you hooked for the duration, yet is nothing to get excited about or sell you on the album as a whole. In this particular case, they released the heaviest track as the first single for calculated and clever reasons.

Overall, Who Do You Trust? will likely not just be forgotten and shrugged off by cynics who never cared for Papa Roach in the first place, but by fans who feel let down. While it is very easy to point and laugh at a song like Last Resort, the small age group of people who got into music by watching Kerrang will be all too familiar with Papa Roach, and may even defend them for the dirty, angst-ridden appeal which they undeniably possess. Forgive me those of you who can identify with the new material, but it is hard to see how anyone will defend the 2019 incarnation of Papa Roach, 20 years from now. 2/10

Static Tension: Ashes To Animation (Buried By Sky Records) [Alex]

Calling themselves progressive grunge rock, Static Tension certainly embraces a wide variety of influences: A facet which displays itself across their first full-length album, harnessing the rawness of Nirvana, the weirdness of Tool, and just a touch of the disquiet capitalized on by elements of the industrial metal movement. Ashes To Animation certainly has the hallmarks of a debut, the production quality being decidedly dirty, definitely championing the unfiltered nature of grunge in that respect. Yet I would be a fool to ignore the experimentation and shifting dynamics imbuing this release and showing limitless promise for the future of this Ohio quartet.

Kindling begins the album on a discomforting dirge, the resonant acoustics, and the hypnotic vocals already enticing the listener with candid curiosity. Bury My Body then rips you out of the elusive state, with a trudging yet driving riff, steering towards an epic progressive crescendo. No Return is equally as dark, the stonerific, sabbath-esque riffing creatic one atmosphere, contrasted with the mellow ambiance of the chorus. We never stand still for long, as we hear solos reminiscent of classic rock, vocal passages inspired by alternative, and guitar parts with the crunch and distortion of underground metal.

One of the most unique parts across this entire experience is the morose mellowness of In Spite, which despite remaining relaxed for most of its run length hooks us in with the macabre nature of the imagery and the intense, burning feeling which swells, in the steady climb towards the final few moments. Not that Static Tension needs to rely on huge payoffs. The following piece Absence is composed entirely of gentle guitar musings, proving simple yet effective. Got To Give takes advantage of the unpredictability which pervades the debut, staying unsettling as it sways from seconds of nuance and introspection to anger and zeal, without feeling unnecessarily jarring or alienating.

Serpentine dials the prog up a notch, a wildling and precisely plucked guitar part proving how skill, as well as emotion, factors into the musicians ambitious genre fusions. In condrum with progressive stylings, the anthem is ever shifting, later developing into a throttling gallop, reaching spectacular heights with a euphoric lead solo, all before gracefully spiralling back into its original form. By contrast, Blank Silhouette pays homage to the stripped down melancholy of grunge, paying homage to the father's of the Seattle sound. The two tracks alone demonstrate the promise held by Static Tension as an act who can bring together two contrasting genres into reconciliation, under one name.

Like I hinted earlier, this is not a flawless debut. In some respects it can be seen as very amateure. Yet aside from establishing a core idea, it makes an effort to experiment, play with dynamics, and subvert typical genre conventions. The end result is an incredibly dark, yet intriguing record, which leaves your ability to predict the sound of future albums narrow, and the possibilities wide ranging and diverse! 7/10

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