PYRRHON “THE MOTHER OF VIRTUES”

PYRRHON “THE MOTHER OF VIRTUES”

Back in 2011, I reviewed the debut album, An Excellent Servant But a Terrible Master, from NYC prog/insanity metalers Pyrrhon. I described their music more or less as “avant-garde,” but not to the extent that it would descend into the noise category for the average listener. On that first album, they created a unique blend of technical metal styles that left no doubt about their musical abilities, but was also something you could still enjoy if you happen to prefer the more straight-forward genres.

On their new release, The Mother of Virtues, Pyrrhon have once again brought forth the chaos. However, I’m afraid they may have tipped the scales more toward that noise category with this one, and I’m having trouble deciding if that’s a good thing or not.

I would normally sum up Pyrrhon’s sound as being in the same vein as The Dillinger Escape Plan, but with a more technical death influence … at least when I think of the first album. With The Mother of Virtues, something has changed. The manic desperation and bleak darkness from the first album is still expressed here, perhaps even to too great an extent. The biggest difference I can discern is that there seems to be a lack of focus and articulation in the musical arrangement that was so prominent on the first. An Excellent Servant But a Terrible Master definitely had it’s chaotic noise moments, but they were always very well balanced with clearly distinguishable (if unconventional) rhythmic and melodic phrasing.

That is where The Mother of Virtues is wanting. They don’t give you as much to hold on to throughout a given song. There aren’t nearly enough moments where you can just bang your head along (and yes, I can bang my head to 5/8. It looks ridiculous, but I can do it). My issue is really that there isn’t as much to distinguish each track from the next, and they start to run together a bit.

The other major issue is that the mix is noticeably different. There were definitely some new choices made in the studio this time around, and perhaps that was the intention. Listening to the two albums side-by-side, my personal feelings are that the first album has a lot more clarity and (again) articulation. On The Mother of Virtues, the guitars and vocals seem to step on each other a bit to much, not so much in volume as in shared frequencies. The vocals frequently seem washed out. The low end was also a lot tighter on the first album, whereas it tends to muddy the overall mix on the new one.

It’s obvious that my subjective opinion is that Pyrrhon’s sophomore release doesn’t quite live up to the first one on a few fronts. However, I would still maintain that it’s a very worthy endeavor in terms of artistic integrity and originality. I constantly hear from fans of extreme music that they hate it when their favorite bands start “selling out” and becoming more mainstream. Well, Pyrrhon have essentially done the exact opposite of that on their new record. And while it’s eons away from ever getting play on free radio, I definitely wouldn’t be surprised if they got nominated for some sort of award for musical innovation.

The Mother of Virtues is out now on Relapse Records.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

SAHG “DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR”

SAHG “DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR”

Did you know that Mastodon put out a new album last month? It appears that they moved to Norway, changed their name to Sahg, and retroactively put out three other albums under that name between 2006 and 2010.  What’s that?

Checks imaginary in-ear monitor, a la Jon Stewart

Sorry. I’m being told now that this is actually a separate band that has nothing to do with Mastodon and that the February release of Delusions of Grandeur is the fourth album from the critically acclaimed Norwegian group. My mistake.

But all kidding aside, this is an easy mistake to make when listening to Delusions of Grandeur, because it sure-as-shit sounds like Mastodon in many ways. To the extent, in fact, that it was a real mental distraction for me when trying to review the album objectively.

Please, don’t misunderstand me … this is a really good album. The band is obviously talented, and the writing has a lot of substance. It’s just that their playing style and sound on a lot of this record, especially when it comes to the guitar and vocal treatment, are very similar to what I’m familiar with from Mastodon.

You might not pick up on it right away, but it hit me as early as the second track, “Blizzardborne.” It features a really cool sounding verse with a mournful and airy feel to it, which quickly crashes into a heavier section with a riff and guitar tone that could’ve come right off of Crack the Skye. That theme continues, maybe even increases, on other tracks like “Firechild,” “Walls of Delusion” and “Ether,” which feature that almost atonal, chorused vocals that I are Mastodon’s signature.

To be fair, Sahg totally cop to this influence, as well as to a number of others like Opeth (which you can hear plainly in the little Damnation-era guitar solo in “Blizzardborne” at around 3:45) and Black Sabbath. It’s easy to tell that vocalist Olav Iversen is a big Ozzy fan, as his voice has a timbre that’s fairly reminiscent of early Sabbath, like the album opener “Slip Off the Edge of the Universe.” You even get a taste of some Led Zeppelin on the intro to “Sleepers Gate to the Galaxy,” with its folksy acoustic guitars and pretty, clean vocals (think, “Going to California” or “Ramble On”).

It took a few listens before I was finally able to hear Delusions of Grandeur for what it is. It is a very enjoyable stoner/prog/hard rock/metal record with very decent production quality from a talented band. The vocal performance is competent and diverse enough to hold the listener’s attention through the album. The guitars, while perhaps not stylistically original all the time, drive everything really well and come in for some pretty sweet solos at times. On the whole, the bass and drums don’t really stick out to me, except on occasion. The drums just sort of do exactly what you’d expect them to do during those points when you choose to focus in on them. And the bass, typical on probably a majority of records in the hard rock/metal genres, is there but you have to listen for it to hear it due to the utilitarian way it sits in the mix. It has no real personality of its own, for the most part.

Prior to listening to Delusions of Grandeur, I was not familiar with Sahg, so I honestly can’t say how this album compares. Objectively, my conclusion is that this is a really good album and definitely worth a spot in your collection if you’re into the stoner, progressive rock … or Mastodon, for that matter. All I’m saying is that if you are at a Mastodon catalog listening party, and there’s a chance you could slip Delusions of Grandeur in between Blood Mountain and Crack the Skye, only the geekiest of the music geeks present would pick up on it right away. A bad thing? Not necessarily. I just think Sahg needs to try a little harder to find a unique voice so people won’t be able to accurately sum up a description of their sound by naming another band.

Delusions of Grandeur is out now on Metal Blade Records/Indie Recordings.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

NUMPH “THEORIES OF LIGHT”

NUMPH “THEORIES OF LIGHT”

Theories of Light, the independently released full-length album from Italian melodic rockers Numph, is a refreshing, somewhat familiar, addition to my preliminary favorites list for 2014 (though it was technically released in November of last year, and I’m just getting to review it now). Despite their oddly onomatopoeic name, which sounds to me a lot like the noises you’d expect to hear Homer Simpson make when chowing down on a giant pizza, the music on Theories of Light is very articulate when conveying the band’s versatility and tasteful songwriting style.

I would term the overarching stylistic format on Theories of Light as melodic, semi-progressive rock; a fairly broad spectrum definition, but I’d rather not box the band as specifically this or that beyond what those phrases indicate. There are a number of different styles present in the music, from mid-’90s grungy rock to sludgy stoner grooves to melodic metal to ambient shoegaze, and then some. Fans of bands like Riverside, Söen, Porcupine Tree, Tool and even Pink Floyd will be right at home with Theories of Light, and listeners can expect to hear a fairly well-incorporated amalgamation of these influences on the album, especially when it comes to Tool. This is what I was referring to earlier when I said this album sounded “somewhat familiar,” as there are a number of tonal choices made with the guitar and bass, as well as rhythmic and vocal cadences, that could’ve come right off of Lateralus or 10,000 Days. That is not to say I feel that the similarities are deliberate, but possibly a subconscious element in the writing process.

Numph certainly have their own unique voice as a band. The writing is very song-oriented wherein the music serves as a frame for the lyrics. The musicianship itself is more than proficient, though no single instrumental element tends to step forward beyond the boundaries of what is tasteful and meaningful within the context of the songs. The guitar doesn’t own things any more than the drums or the vocals, so don’t expect the “progressive” elements in Numph’s music to come from a lot of wanking and noodling (though there are several very well-done guitar solos). You’ll find, instead, that there is a highly cooperative and musical approach, which indicates a highly cohesive band dynamic (at least as far as recording goes).

Tonally, the palette utilized on Theories of Light is very satisfying. There is an evenness to the overall mix that allows each element to breath openly, even on the mp3 versions of these tracks. The dynamics are generally subdued, given that much of the music is laid back. However, the compression on the peaks is fairly transparent, making for a very good and organic sounding overall production value.

On top of all the positive points related to the production itself, I’m always happy to find bands of this quality that are also producing their own music. I always find that there’s an intangible, yet very real element that makes these productions just a tad more enjoyable to me. Not that bands who have labels behind them work any less hard, but I just have a personal affinity for bands who are willing and able to invest the time, money and work into creating something that is really their own. Theories of Light just happens to be one of those fortunate instances when the music is also genuinely good.

Theories of Light is out now.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

JAMES LABRIE “I WILL NOT BREAK EP”

JAMES LABRIE “I WILL NOT BREAK EP”

When I reviewed James LaBrie’s release of Impermanent Resonance last year, I gave it high praise for a couple of reasons. Namely, that he and his band put out a very listenable metal album that, while a departure from his work with Dream Theater, was not without many of the merits you’d associate with similar performance and songwriting quality.

Impermanent Resonance was one of the better releases I came across in 2013, and to start off the new year, LaBrie has put out a nine-track EP entitled I Will Not Break featuring the album version of the title track, as well as two other tracks from Impermanent Resonance: “Unraveling” and “Why.” The EP also features three demo versions of songs off of LaBrie’s 2010 release, Static Impulse, which are more or less rough cuts of those tracks featuring vocals by the band’s keyboardist Matt Guillory in place of LaBrie’s. In addition (and get ready now), I Will Not Break includes dubstep/dance version of three more tracks from Static Impulse: “I Tried,” “Over the Edge” and “Euphoric.”

I understand some of you might need a minute to recover after reading that last bit, so take your time. One question keeps coming to my mind when listening to this album: “Why?”. As I have established in earlier reviews, I usually don’t see the point in bands releasing albums with remixed versions of their earlier work. Is it just an attempt to make more money without having to go back into another full album cycle? Or are they testing the waters to see if putting out music in a different style is actually more lucrative?

In this case, LaBrie has also re-released three songs from his recent full-length with no apparent purpose. My impression has always been that you release singles in advance of the album as a teaser to get people geared up to by the whole thing when it comes out. What’s the point of putting out the same songs people already bought after the fact? I can kind of understand the three demo tracks with alternate vocals, which were apparently only ever released before in Japan. But  dubstep remixes of metal songs? Really? That could be crossing a bit of a line. To a lot of metal fans, it’s kind of like serving veal at a PETA fund-raising dinner. Expect some cocked eyebrows, at the very least.

Anyway, I Will Not Break was released in January so you can check it out if you are so inclined. The only songs I can really recommend are those from Static Impulse and only if you are curious about what they sound like without LaBrie singing. If you already have the last two full-lengths, there’s not much point, unless you have a secret, guilty love of dubstep. If this is the case, I hope you get herpes in your eyes.

I Will Not Break is out now on Inside Out Media.

Rating: 1/5 Stars

TOWERS “II”

TOWERS “II”

I have a feeling that one night in America a few years ago, a drummer and a bass player were sitting around in a basement getting drunk after band practice. The guitarist and singer had already gone home, and they had a very sophisticated conversation that probably sounded something like this (*insert various fart and belch sound effects where appropriate):

Bassist: …that’s what I’m sayin’ man. Screw those guys. Who needs ‘em. You and me are the backbone of the band!
Drummer: Yeah! Like why do they get to be up front gettin’ all the glory and the chicks? I work my ass off up there, and I always have to sit in the back and listen to those guys bitch that it’s too slow or too fast or they aren’t “feeling” what I’m playing.
Bassist: Always tellin’ me to turn down on stage and mixing me down in the studio … I’m not taking it anymore man.
Drummer: Yeah dude! I say this is the band right here! Drums and bass, brah! It’ll be totally brutal ‘n heavy!
Bassist: Fuck yeah, man! I will be the singer too, cuz singin’ is fuckin’ easy!
Drummer and Bassist: Gwwwhaaaabaaphhhh!

And so the band TOWERS was born, and they decided to record two albums worth of material right there in that very basement, the second of which is creatively titled II. Now, obviously, I’m greatly exaggerating my conjecture as to the formation of this band, but I just can’t help but imagine a somewhat comical scene in cases when a drummer and bass player somehow thought it would be a good idea to create a band by themselves. If you are Victor Wooten and Mike Mangini you can probably get away with it, but barring that level of skill, it seems very unlikely that you’ll ever produce anything very interesting.

The music on II is basically what I expected from a record that came to me with the labels “psych-garage” and “cavernous experimental explorations.” That is to say that it’s primarily sludgy, dark and droning stoner rock. The general theme seems to be the “effect” of the music, rather than a focus on creating music in the normal sense. There is really no ear for instrumental melody apparent on most of it, and the performances are not the sort of thing that can easily hold my attention. The barking vocals, which are prevalent throughout most of the record, are fairly burdensome as well (like a bad impression of High on Fire). I can see the appeal of the music, though. It would go great as a sound track to some weird independent foreign film about living in the sewers under a city that was hit with a nuke 60 years ago.

The album has a couple of brief moments where it almost seems like they might turn things around, most notably the beginning to the song “In the Room of Misfortune” which sounds, over the first two minutes or so, like it might build into something. Unfortunately, that climax never hits, and it’s just more of what you already heard on the first three songs. For me it might be because I’m subconsciously waiting for the guitars to kick in, but the reality is that there’s a lot more that can be done with just two instruments than what we get on this album. When you become aware of this, it’s hard to be interested by an album like II. If you decide to change the norms of your musical format for the sake of creating your own particular artistic vision, you need to make sure you’re returning that value in another form or most people will be very aware of the hole you left.

II is out February 11 on Eloian Empire.

Rating: 1/5 Stars