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Thursday, 15 November 2018

Reviews: The Black Queen, Cerebrum, Atreyu, Sick Of It All (Alex & Paul S)

The Black Queen: Infinite Games (Federal Prisoner) [Alex]

Formed by members of the Dillinger Escape Plan and Nine Inch Nails, The Black Queen make a deliciously dark and intrinsically affecting style of synth wave. Despite bearing the marks of their past projects, Infinite Games, is a new beast indeed - and with both of the aforementioned bands either disbanded or turned into solo ventures, who could blame them for feeling the need to explore captivating musical pathways?

One thing the album certainly is not is a tranquil listen, the title track beginning on ominous synths, slowly increasing in intensity, while Puciato chillingly laments ‘We’re both so full of pain, so I’ll cut mine out of you’. Thrown Into The Dark is in some ways a typical Trip-Hop song, with dense layers of swirling synth work, a distinctive chorus and looping beats – except here, there is a more hypnotic texture, a gothic ambience which makes for an anxious yet beautiful listening experience. No Accusations is made disturbing by its chillingly black romantic poetry, one line ringing out ‘there nothing I want more than to hear you dying next to me’, the deliberately ambient instrumentals serving to encircle you in a depressed atmosphere.

For all the strangeness, every experiment only serves to make you more enticed and morbidly fascinated to hear more. Your Move feels distant, mesmerizing and weird, yet never dull or timid. Lies About You, makes you feel disquiet with its contrast of a upbeat tempo, fascinating sound effects and psychotic wordplay, yet never allows you to turn away due to how much of challenging listen it may prove. Even Impossible Condition and Spatial Boundaries are truly enchanting in their weirdness, and oddities.

Make no mistake, these three musicians have still created a pop album, yet nothing that would feel comfortable in any subgenre you applied to it, or indeed seem in keeping with the typical definition of pop. Undoubtedly an intriguing piece of art, the enjoyment I derive from it either reveals something about my particular tastes, or proves that typically disparaged feelings – fear, discomfort, and confusion – can be utilised to fascinating effects in works which capture those sentiments with honesty and bravery 8/10

Cerebrum: Iridium (Transcending Obscurity) [Paul S]

Cerebrum are a technical death metal band from Greece. They have been going since 2002, and in that time have released 3 albums, Iridium is their first album since 2013’s Cosmic Enigma. The brand of technical death metal that Cerebrum play is fairly brutal, closer to Dying Fetus or Origin than to Necrophagist or Obscura.

Opening track Time Reversal is a great example of this. Dense and aggressive, it batters the listener into submission, using the incredible technicality to increase the brutality rather than adding melody. The level of virtuosity on display here is very impressive, on A Face Unknown we even get a bit of classical guitar, which sounds as good as John Williams or Julian Bream. Cerebrum are also very interesting rhythmically as well. This is another way they show their technicality, Euphoric Control and Astral Oblivion both have overtly complex arrangements and tempos. On these songs the rhythms are closer to Gorguts more challenging work.
The extreme technicality is also on display on the track Cognitive Dissonance, which has a lot of space in it’s mix, there are minimal rhythm guitars, which allows the other instruments to shine through, we also get a cracking solo. The production and mix on the album is also very impressive. There is a decent amount of separation of all the instruments. This allows you to hear what each member of the band is doing, rather than the rhythms degenerating into a de-tuned mess.

Final track Escape To Bliss is an absolute rager, it starts with an insanely fast solo, before blasting the album to an end in a very satisfying way. Iridium is a great album. It will take a little time to get your head around the technicality, but if you give it a few listens, you will get a lot out of it! 8/10

Atreyu: In Our Wake (Spinefarm) [Alex]

Allow Atreyu some respect, they are a metalcore band who lasted, and while their quality may not have exactly always been consistent, works like The Curse and Lead Sails Paper Anchor have identifiable artwork and music which transcends the hefty genre label. Even their 2015 comeback, Long Live, remains a particular favorite of mine, showcasing a significant maturation and passion. All things considered, there was no reason not to set expectations high for their future. However, in trying to sound brash and confident, In Our Wake comes across messy and disjointed: a look made to fail miserably at the hand of utterly bland production elements, and pitiful writing. Openers, In Our Wake and House Of Gold, are probably as exciting as the album gets, with some impressive rhythm work, singalong hooks and excitable tones. 

Yet at the same time, they carry the same problems as the weaker points: Varkatzas’ clean vocals and Miguel’s guitar are overly sterile, and the changeable nature sounds more chaotic than coherent. At around the 12-minute mark, any promise this album initially possessed suddenly falls off a cliff. Nothing Will Ever Change and Blind Deaf & Dumb bring to life an awful emo scream-rap hybrid, while insultingly generic riffing and electro effects rips away any unique identity or character. Terrified and Safety Pin are ridiculously cliché, lyrics in the vein of ‘I ruined everything that’s perfect’ holding none intended emotionality. Meanwhile, the instrumentation remains compressed to the point of sheer inaudibility, until the final few seconds which see deafening guitar solos roar in, presumably for the sake of an epic finish. As the album comes to a close, moments like Paper Castle, Anger Left Behind and No Control do utilize decent choruses, which would probably be quite powerful if they had competent production or an intriguing songwriting to complement them. 

We finish on Super Hero, which could have admittedly been pretty, had Atreyu not tried to make it as grandiose as possible, chucking everything they could at the song in a desperate attempt to make up for the dire lack of suspense, virtuosity or ingenuity throughout the main run length. Like I made clear, this album is an utter mess. Yet that’s strangely not my main gripe. It’s not messy in a way which screams of the band reaching for the stars and falling short. Rather, every idea, every so-called experiment feels hackneyed and betrayed, either by the squeaky-clean production, poor composition or terrible lyricism. Hardcore Atreyu fans, In Our Wake, is best listened to with a hot water bottle and headache relief tablets at your disposal 2/10

Sick Of It All: Wake The Sleeping Dragon (Century Media)

Still waving the flag for shouty, angered punk long after many have written it off as a dead genre, Sick of it All have lost none of their angst, discontent or aggression. True, they haven’t strayed far from the in-your-face hostility of Built To Lost or Call To Arms. Instead, they succeed by being the best at what they do and remains one of the last barricades in defense of American Hardcore. With most of these songs barely spanning the two-minute mark, there is a focus on ferocity. You know the idea, a fast riff, a galloping rhythm section, meaningful lyrics, all wrapped up in a succinct few minutes of unfiltered vigour. It’s a method which is about five decades old, yet deserves all the praise and tribute it has inspired. If the music itself doesn't give me much ammunition as a reviewer, the lyrics more than make up for that. Time to get political again! Not that it's always divisive. Anthems like That Crazy White Boy Shit and Robert Moses Was A Racist are staunch in their condemnation of racial hatred, while The Snake, Mental Furlough and To The Wolves, are powerful songs of solidarity with those undergoing mental health struggles. 

Concepts which you would hope bridge sectarian divides, even in today's landscape. That said, Lou Koller and co, make no secret of where they stand politically. Bearing lyrics as vague as ‘Oh say can you see, oh can you see me’ Self Important Shithead could theoretically be about anyone with a towering ego if it were not for said tower proudly flaunting the name of our shithead in chief. If that were too subtle, however, Bad Hombres, Wake The Sleeping Dragon and Deep State are unequivocal in their attacks on Fake News, Nazis, and Right-Wing politics, the former passionately declaring ‘Ignorance will build that wall, someday its gonna fall!’ When they're not sticking it to ol’ Cheeto Benito however, they're taking on animal abuse on Bulls Anthem (albeit, with a little help from Tim Mcilrath of Rise Against), lamenting wealth disparity as on Work the System or calling out media dishonesty as on The New Slavery. While Wake The Sleeping Dragon lacks any huge hooks, a staple on earlier albums, it has no lack of passion, and stays brutally relevant, in an age where protest music is more needed than ever 6/10

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