Archive for September, 2014

John Luther Adams: Become Ocean

Posted in Album Reviews on September 29, 2014 by lukesreviews1014

In an effort to try to expand the boundaries of music covered on this site, here is a review of the newest release from contemporary composer, John Luther Adams.

John Luther Adams has a long history of composing for a variety of mediums including television & film, theater, orchestra, acoustic instruments, and electronic instruments. His music has always been profoundly influenced by nature, and this new work bears no exception. Become Ocean is a 42 minute piece for large orchestra and uniquely intoxicating. Right from the start the listener can easily imagine themselves floating in the middle of the ocean. Alone, but neither frightened nor anxious, the listener simply drifts in this sea of notes and harmonies as if they are trying to lose themselves.

I think John Luther Adams has a remarkable way of illustrating the profound reasons why he’s inspired to write into his works and connect those influences with the listener. Become Ocean experiences these contrasts of being very serene and peaceful one minute and then apocalyptic and foreboding the next. Yet all the while, it always sounds absolutely lovely. For being 42 minutes long with no gaps or breaks like a traditional album, I still find myself completely captivated by this piece.

John Luther Adams was recently awarded the Pulitzer Prize for this work. It was premiered in 2013 by Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony. The same conductor and orchestra performed the piece recently in the 2014 at the Spring for Music Festival in Carnegie Hall. This album has also been recorded in surround sound and will be released later this week through Cantaloupe Music.

Luke Helker

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New Singles from At the Gates & Job for a Cowboy

Posted in News on September 24, 2014 by lukesreviews1014

Within the past week, there have been two brand new singles from what I believe to be two fairly groundbreaking bands.

In one corner we have At the Gates, one of the pioneers of the swedish death metal style that ended up influencing countless bands in America. They’ve recently released “At Ware with Reality,” their first release in eleven years! The album of same name will be released around October 28, 2014 through Century Media Records. If the rest of the album sounds similar to this single, then I think we have noting to fear. The track is abrasive, melodic, fresh, and exciting. Basically, everything that already defined At the Gates. Below is a video link with the audio of the new single.

In the other corner we have Job for a Cowboy, in my opinion, one of the bands who set the template for how death core (at least in America) should sound. After only two years and a minor lineup change, their new single “Sun of Nihilism” sounds like it could honestly be a completely different band. There’s still the signature death core sound that the band have sculpted for themselves over the years, but there is also a slightly progressive, new sound. The tempo has slowed down a little and the song sonically has a doom element to it. To be honest, if it weren’t for Johnny Davy’s vocals, I would not have known that I was listening to Job for a Cowboy. Below is a video link with the audio of the new single, which will be released on the album  Sun Eater, set to be released November 11 through Metal Blade Records.

As far as evaluating how the singles fit into the context of the entire album, I’m not terribly worried about how the new At the Gates record will sound. They’ve always been a very consistent band throughout their career. However, Job for a Cowboy has arguably had some peaks and troughs in their career, making their new album particularly intriguing to me.

I’ll be very interested to see how these albums sound in their entirety and I’m equally interested in your thoughts and opinions on what you’ve heard already so please feel free to share your ideas below. Thanks.

Luke Helker

Sick of it All: The Last Act of Defiance

Posted in Album Reviews on September 24, 2014 by lukesreviews1014

For a band that has been around since the early years of when hardcore punk music was taking shape, it’s amazing to believe that Sick of it All are still making really decent and relevant hardcore music in 2014. I don’t mean that to be negative at all. I’m simply saying that here we have a band that that originally form din 1986, released their first album Blood, Sweat, and No Tears (a ground-breaking album and phenomenal debut record as well), and have not let more than 4 years pass by without releasing another record. This totals out to eleven studio records to date including The Last Act of Defiance. This, in my opinion, helps to support the claim of this group being one of the more consistent and influential hardcore punk bands in general.

The Last Act of Defiance is another simply the latest installment to the Sick of it All. Similarly to how I described the recent Cannibal Corpse record, because this band are so consistent, most fans will enjoy what they hear and overall, there are not very many surprises to be found other than ‘wow, these guys are still coming up with fresh and cool ideas.’ Songs like “Sound the Alarm,” “Losing War,” and “Facing the Abyss” are absolute head crushers, while others like “Get Bronx” are worthy being described as some of the best material the band has ever released. Like most of their older material, the thematic elements of their lyrics are deeply rooted in politics and violence. Sick of it All shows us a band continuing to ride a wave that has allowed them to maintain a strong level of popularity through a new label and a slightly newer sound than when they began their journey over 30 years ago.

In a world full of copy-cats, complacency and stagnation, it’s always nice to not only see new bands discovering new ground, but for old bands to maintain some level of relevancy through fresh, stylistic changes of their sound without straying too far from their roots. Sick of it All are definitely a band that can epitomize what a consistent career looks like. They are a highly influential group and their lasting musical impressions can never be overshadowed or forgotten. I have a very strong feeling that this is not the last album we’ll see from this band. Not by a long shot.

Luke Helker

The Contortionist: Language

Posted in Album Reviews on September 20, 2014 by lukesreviews1014

In grand scheme of progressive metal as it’s evolving in 2014, I have to say that a vast majority of it is extremely impressive. I think we’ve started to drift away from labeling everything as djent and the bands are writing more progressive music again. Some bands have developed their sound so much that they hardly sound like their previous material. I feel The Contortionist can fit into this category and with their new album, Language, we see a dramatic stylistic shift in the music that is very fresh and exciting.

Now, they’re not reinventing the wheel by any stretch of the imagination, but sonically, I feel as though I’m listening to a completely different band. Admittedly, I had a hard time getting into the band on their first album, Exoplanet, but started to pay more attention to them when Intrinsic came out (at this point I’ve revisited Exoplanet, which has really grown on me). Now, four years later and three albums in we have Language, an awe-inspiring journey of lush soundscapes and majestic vocals with the occasional brash of aggression an chaos to stir the pot.

Every member of the band is at the top of their game on this record especially, Michael Lessard, the band’s new vocalist. Formerly of Last Chance to Reason, Lessard replaced Jonathan Carpenter back in March of 2013. There have also been further shifts in the bands lineup. Christopher Tilley, who played bass on Intrinsic, is not featured on this new record. Instead, Robby Baca covers all of the bass parts on this album including the guitars, as he has always done in the past along with Cameron Maynard. Jordan Eberhardt performs a bass solo on “Thrive” so I’m wondering if he’ll fill in the void for the upcoming tours or if he is just a late-but-still-new addition to the band. Additionally, Carpenter did all of the keyboard parts as well as singing on Intrinsic, so the band now features Eric Guenther on the keys.

I’m not sure who wrote all of the lyrics for this album, but it seems to continue with the science-fiction theme that Carpenter strived for on the previous records. Also, I think the real contribution to the bands drastic change in sound can also be contributed to the fact that the band worked with a new producer on this record for the first time. The producer was Jamie King, who has worked with bands like Anathema, Between the Buried & Me, and Kill Whitney Dead in the past. I think he’s solely responsible for making these new songs sound as monumental and as dense as they come across on record.

The album kicks off with “The Source,” a very spacious tracks with some vocal harmonies floating in the atmosphere. A nice opening to “Language” parts 1 (Intuition) and 2 (Conspire). From there the listener is past the point of no return as keyboard sweeps and melodic guitars swirl around your head and you can’t help but by completely entranced for the entire duration of the record. Tracks like “Thrive,” “Primordial Sound,” and “Ebb and Flow” will leave you breathless and wanting more. The thing is though, there really isn’t even a dull moment on this record or a second where you don’t think ‘man, that’s cool.’

Overall, a really strong release for this band. They’ve already proven themselves worthy with the past two records, so I’ll be interested to see how everyone reacts to this record. I think it’s one of the better records to have come out this year and a great new progressive metal record to throw into the archives.

Luke Helker

Cannibal Corpse: A Skeletal Domain

Posted in Album Reviews on September 19, 2014 by lukesreviews1014

Once again, one of the most consistent bands in the entire genre of metal pumps out yet another ferocious record. If you are still or have ever been a fan of Cannibal Corpse, then I have no doubt that you will dig this album. From “High Velocity Impact Spatter” through “Sadistic Embodiment” and the title track, all the way through “Hollowed Bodies,” this album doesn’t disappoint and doesn’t let up either.

While you have to agree that the overall sound of Cannibal Corpse has definitely changed over the years, I would still say that it hasn’t affected the overall song output for the band. Songs like the aforementioned, plus “Headlong into Carnage” and “Icepick Lobotomy” are among some of the strongest in the band’s career. I also believe that production is the biggest factor in the shift of this band’s sound. Much like many other bands who have been going strong for 25+ years, the technology almost forces you to change as well and refine your sound to keep the songs sounding fresh even if you haven’t really changed the structure or style of what is being written.

Overall, there really isn’t much else to say other than it’s an incredibly strong record for this band and I guarantee any fan of this band causal or obsessive will grasp on to this record. I don’t particularly like to write short articles, but this band and this album are so consistent, there’s not much else to say, which is a good thing. There are no surprises. No tricks. Just straight-forward, undiluted, brutal, death metal.

Luke Helker

Opeth – Pale Communion

Posted in Album Reviews on September 10, 2014 by lukesreviews1014

Few progressive bands have been able to match the accomplishments nor boast a back catalog as impressive as Opeth’s. Their long-spanned career has garnered them legions of loyal and dedicated fans. In fact, very rarely will you ever find a prog rock or prog metal fan that doesn’t like at least a few albums by Opeth. These swedish titans, under the musical direction of Michael Akerfeldt, have an extremely diverse and rich musical style that has recently been expanding. The release of Heritage in 2011 found the band drifting away from the metallic edge of their music, and in some respects, created some distance and uncertainty with their fans for perhaps the first time in their career.

Ever since Heritage, we’ve seen Akerfeldt dip into his pool influences, which are mainly UK progressive rock groups like Genesis and Marillion incorporating those elements in Opeth’s music. The result, is a much lighter sound to what listener’s fell in love with on Blackwater Park and Ghost Reveries. Nonetheless, a majority of the fans stuck with the band, accepting the experimentation and wishful fora return of the heavier element of the band’s music. With the release of Pale Communion, there is still an extension of the lighter, more “prog-rock” style to the sound as opposed to the “prog-metal” sound that used to define the band. As a result, it seems as though some of the fans are a little weary of the Akerfeldt’s musical directions.

To be honest, I think all of the negative publicity following the release of this new album is very unjustified. Michael Akerfeldt has always marched to his own drum and wrote the music he has wanted to play and that is one of the defining characteristics of Opeth’s early music that allowed the fans to really gravitate towards the group in the first place. So why all the hate? Just because it’s not as heavy means it can’t be as good. The compositional prowess of Akerfeldt still has yet to diminish in my mind and I find the songs on Pale Communion refreshingly brilliant. Tracks like “Cusp of Eternity”, “Moon Above, Sun Below” and “Voice of Treason” are all labyrinths of sound and texture that leave the listener requiring multiple listens in order to absorb everything. Other tracks like “Eternal Rains will Come” and “Elysian Woes” still, in my mind, stand as testament to why this band have reached the pinnacles of success that they have, despite the fact they may not be as heavy as they were previously.

Every band or artist needs to experience trial periods of experimentation in order grow and learn as a musician or as a band in this case. I’m very confident the harrowing growls of Michael Akerfeldt are not completely out of question for the future and I honestly think the next record will be a perfect blend of the old and the new aspects of what this band have been creating.

Luke Helker