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Monday, 10 June 2019

Reviews: Biffy Clyro, Artificial Language, Jesus Chrüsler Supercar, Of Man And Machine (Alex, Sean & Liam)

Biffy Clyro: Balance, Not Symmetry (Warner Records) [Alex]

Ah, Biffy Clyro. Of course, I’ve known about them for a long time. Who hasn’t? For music fans of my generation, the singles off Only Revolutions and Opposites have become notoriously memorable. Yet lately I have been delving deeper into their back catalogue. From the rawness and occasional utter strangeness of albums in the vein of Blackened Sky and Infinity Land to the fantastic qualities of Puzzle, Biffy have always gone about making music in their own way. Even when their music has adopted a more accessible angle, as on 2016’s Ellipses, they have kept their sense of identity. That’s without mentioning the six B-side collections which show yet another side to their creativity. Praise aside, a movie soundtrack feels like a perfectly logical progression for Biffy given how fruitful their experiments with theatricalism and light and shade have been in the past. We still know little still know about the film, yet the music stands on its own terms, proving intriguingly multifaceted and different. Balance Not Symmetry is a stimulating if occasionally muddled showcase of how the Scottish three-piece both within and outside the boundaries of traditional rock.

Opener, Balance Not Symmetry, is in many ways a quintessential Biffy song. A powerful guitar riff precedes a huge chorus and an equally strong bridge. We don’t have to wait long until the album explores some new territory though. All Singing All Dancing is one of the most chirpy and cheerful anthems the Biff’ have ever committed to record, bearing all the exuberance suggested within the title. Different Kind Of Love proves a humble yet wonderfully paced acoustic ballad, the clever backing vocals, and subtle instrumental embellishments, adding a few delightful touches. Spiralling into yet weirder territory, Sunrise opens on a psychedelic note, before becoming a retro-infused homage to the ’80s and then suddenly launching into a stint of strong-willed intensity. Carrying on a determination to be different, Colour Wheel and Fever Dream are two sides of the same coin, both ambient pieces, the former takes on a blissful and comforting tone, while the later strays into anxious and spine-tingling terrain. I point this out as, while there is some familiarity to be found, the ease with which the soundtrack utilizes contrast by playing with the qualities of colour and mood, suspends the listener in a state of fascination, even if they may be bewildered at times.

While I can foresee opinions being divided for a long time over Balance, Not Symmetry, I would argue that the second half is somewhat more cohesive and focused than the first half. Tunnels and Trees seems to open the second act with ascending instrumentals, rising and falling dynamics, and a cosy usage of changeability. Aside from the lyric ‘don’t get shirty with me’ which takes me out of the song for a few seconds, Plead serves as a unique, beginning on a smooth and pleasant note, before adopting a huge and bombastic aura, bridging two of the many musical personalities on show throughout. The Natural’s is one of my absolute favourite moments, the use of strings and the overarching triumphant feel of the track, reminding me of earlier favourites like The Captain or Mountains. In keeping with Biffy Clyro’s fondness for strong love songs, Touch is truly sentimental in its aspirations, while Jasabiab feels decidedly Beatles-esque, largely owing to the luscious harmonies and 60’s style strut. Aside from the beautiful piano ballad which closes the record, the second to last track, Following Master serves to tie all the ideas together into one incredibly dramatic, theatrical piece, rounding off the ambition which the movie experiment thrives on.

There is a lot more I could have said here, and I would urge anyone who hasn’t looked into Biffy beyond the singles, to give Balance, Not Symmetry a try. I truly hope that the film lives up to the dramatics, emotion and detail of the music 8/10

Artificial Language: Now We Sleep (Self Released) [Alex]

After impressing gloriously with The Observer in 2017, I only expected the best of Artificial Language’s next project. Strangely, the five-piece do not have nearly as strong a media presence as their contemporaries, yet their name often appears alongside Haken and Leprous in discussions of modern prog. Poignantly, I get the feeling that we will be seeing a growth in that trend. Playing with gorgeous soundscapes, Now We Sleep proves an immersive and deep spectacle of progressive music.
Occupying a place between looming and blissful, a light humming of strings, followed by chirping of birds, followed by precise acoustics, opens The Back Of My Mind. We soon surge into a huge composition as a plucking of violins accompanies striking guitars and drums, and the vocals float in on a wave of atmospherics, both serene and dramatic. 

Moving in crests and nadirs, the opener once more accustoms us to that grandiose, splendid nature which comprised so much of the debut’s charm. Spiralling in constantly ascending and descending patterns, the piano and electric guitar phrases of Endless Naught are anything if not inspiring. Still, the occasional pause or subtle change does not go amiss in creating effect. Incidentally, the amount of detail and colour these musicians succeed in utilising in a short measure of time is remarkable. At two minutes and 50 seconds, Pulses transports the listener through stints of uplift and sadness. Further From The Surface is the perfect companion anthem its enormous sound conjuring images of beautiful natural landscapes, all in the space of three minutes. Everything is perfectly measured and timed, as to become inspirational, yet never drawn out or patronising. 

Although it can be difficult to accurately define the tone of Now We Sleep, I would make a case for it being elusiveness and mystery, as you never truly know what’s hiding around the corner. The Wild Haunt excellently demonstrates this theory, the changes in the mood from mellow to anxious, settled to maddened, scattering any notions of predictability or shallowness to the winds. Trail Of Lights is grippingly blissful in its instrumental fluttering, and elevated harmonies. Carrying on the bizarre yet fascinating trend, There’s No Bottom To This begins on a wonderfully strange synth line before igniting, impressing the listener with dramatic sway and weighty passion. On a different note, Keep Yourself Hidden has a traditionalist, noir-esque flavour, turning out different yet weirdly charismatic. These well-timed discrepancies in songwriting keep anything from becoming laborious, behaving towards the listener’s expectations, the same way you’d expect a fox to behave to a rabbit - with cunning and savageness. 

To finish with a contemplation on the band’s name, an artificial or constructed language is one which is consciously devised. Many people have termed music as a type of language, and while that’s a debate for another time, if true, it would be a language Artificial Language are fluent in. Poignantly, in conveying meaning and emotion the music here excels, in detailed and precise fashion 9/10

Jesus Chrüsler Supercar: Lucifer (Dr Music Records) [Sean]

Yah know what rock and roll needs? No, I’m not talking about Led Zeppelin rip offs, such a thing is a temporary fix at best. Yah know what it really, and I mean REEEEALLY needs? A big ‘ol dose of BOSS HM-2, that's what! Y’see kiddos, back in the wee moments of the 90’s, Entombed may (or may not) have realised that the inevitable saturation of Swedeath was destined to happen. That, or they all uttered in unison “Fuck it, I wanna get laid and play groovy riffs”. And thus, death’n’roll was born in the form of the rough, rowdy and purist polarising Wolverine Blues. Fast forward to 2019 and fellow Stockholm sadists, Jesus Chrüsler Supercar (lol). Proving that genre has FAR more to offer than whatever Chris Barnes feels like covering, Jesus Chrüsler Supercar brings buzzsaw riffs and booze soaked swagger on their third album, Lucifer. Let’s ‘ave it then!

It doesn’t take long for Jesus Chrüsler Supercar’s formula to establish itself. Thick as fuck guitars plugged into the GREATEST PEDAL EVER MADE, groovy riffs, stompy drums and all led by Robban’s whiskey wetted vocals. A straightforward, no frills approach here ladies and gentlemen. With the Swedeath element providing the foundation, first and title track Lucifer get the foot ‘a tapping and the head ‘a bobbing. Ripping solos only add to the overall bar brawl feel of it all, and a solid start indeed. Flesh’n’Bones is more of the same, albeit with d-beat drumming. It’s essentially a nastier Motorhead, though that’s hardly a criticism. It continues on Never Sleep Again, it’s simple, tight and chunky as all hell. Some harsh vocals are thrown into the brawl and ALL the bar stools of flying. High Times For Low Crimes really brings the adrenaline, somehow meatier than all that came before. Inferno era Entombed is an obvious reference point and still sound boss, the slightly sludgier approach greatly enhancing the already brawny sound a thousandfold.

Boogeyman puts further emphasis on the harsh vocals, whilst Suck On My Balls (fuck subtly, eh?) employs the subtle us of a way pedal, though it’s still very much that same satisfying flavour of pure bloody beef. That is until the tempo slows to a drag, doom vibes in full force and providing a much needed bit of variation. More ripping solos later, Out Of My Head adopts a sterner disposition, not sounding a million miles away from like something off of Wolverine Blues. The rest of Lucifer flies by without deviating too much from it’s core sound, but never loosening its grip on my jugular. Then the closing track happens and a curveball is thrown, via the hilariously named You Can't Spell Diesel Without Die. Bell chimes lead us in, the buzzsaw (mostly) traded for doomy blues. It fits seamlessly into their oeuvre, it’s Sabbath/St.Vitus vibes providing ending Lucifer on an unexpected high. More of this, lads!

I now it’s only rock and “death’n’roll, but I like it! Totally excellent puns aside (admit it), Lucifer is one hell of a fun listen. Sure, I could busy myself with how many notes Archspire can vomit per second (and I sometimes do, they’re great), but deep down all I crave for is good riffs, catchy songs and a cold one to match. Jesus Chrüsler Supercar are one such band and Lucifer is one such album, oozing metallic machismo via a hearty blend of tight songwriting, solid musicianship and all the dirt than can ever be offered. 8/10

Of Man And Machine: The Void Architect (Self Released) [Liam]

It's gritty. It's heavy. It's in your face. It's exactly what we need in the Metalcore scene at the minute. Hailing from Colorado, Of Man & Machine are here to reinvent Metalcore for your pleasure. From start to finish it's a heart-pumping, headbanging frenzy of Metalcore madness. The mix of Vocalist Michael Mitchell's growls and cleans with the destructive guitar & drum work of Jake Stern, Daryl Martin & Harde Eddison are fantastic. With the ground-shaking gutturals and the Matt Heafy sounding cleans the band are untouchable. Just pounding out riff after riff, chug after chug, but not sounding like any other band. The band has their own unique sound and it helps to stand out. Stand out tracks The Storm & Death By Fate are just great tracks. In all honesty, I'm in two sides that it has no chorus'. On the one hand, a catchy chorus and really sell a song or album. But it doesn't need any. It has its own take on the genre. And frankly, it works a charm. 7/10

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