Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Gojira—Magma

There’s a word that gets tossed around a lot when metal bands get a hair cut, add clean vocals, and layer the sound a lot; ‘mature’. This album has all the features of an album that critics would describe as ‘mature’. Whether or not Gojira have ‘matured’ (not that their previous efforts seemed immature), or are simply venting some emotions in a one-off experimental phase, it’s certainly something of a tonal shift for the critic-favourite French outfit. gojira_magma_artwork

‘Magma’ is pretty accessible and relatively straight-forward. It has catchy melodies and sing-along choruses, but it’s not really breaking any ground. On my first listen the album mostly passed me by, but once you get hold of some of the hooks you’ll find one or two tracks are definitely worth adding to playlists for future listens. The sad thing is, most aren’t.

Honestly, I never really got Gojira. They have some great songs, but I don’t think I ever understood what all the fuss was about. I don’t think this album is going to change my view on that, but I do like it. And I can’t get the goddamn chorus for ‘Stranded’ out of my head.

The album has a pretty dark undercurrent (the Duplantier brothers did lose their mother to an illness during the album’s recording, which might go some length to explaining the mood), but coupled with that is the sense that the album thinks it’s more intelligent and daring than it actually is. None of the songs are that interesting.

One of the biggest changes puts a notable chink in the armour of a band (rightly) hailed as exuding lot of talent: Joe’s melodic vocals are really nothing special, and if pushed, a bit crap. They lack any personality, and end up sounding pretty flat in most of the songs they appear in. Now, it’s arguable that that is sort of the point, but given that Mario stated in an interview that Joe’s lyrics were ‘very deep’, it seems a weird choice to opt for heartfelt lyrics if you have every intention of singing them in a very deadpan style. Perhaps if someone like Jonas Renkse had handled the melodic side, it would have pushed the songs into more interesting territory. As it stands, it feels more like a swing and a miss.

The use of melodic vocals also throws light on the lyrics. Caveat: I usually expect metal lyrics to be a bit crap. I can only really think of a handful of bands whose lyrics are actually worth taking the time to sit down and read; Cradle of Filth and Tool are two that immediately spring to mind. Tesseract’s ‘Altered State’ was a good example of lyrics that were punchy, didn’t read like a Russell Brand monologue, and exuded an intelligence without being pretentious (so, didn’t read like a Russell Brand monologue). Gojira’s lyrics are just, for the most part, tacky. Take

You are now, high
In the sun, burn
You’re away, alive
On the moon, round
—from ‘Magma’ , Gojira

or

Time to open your eyes to this genocide
When you clear your mind you see it all
You’re receiving the gold of a better life
When you change yourself, you change the world

—’Silvera’ , Gojira

for example.

Why pick on Gojira’s lyrics and not, say, Ingested’s? Well, because for a lot of heavier metal bands, the lyrics are primarily just a vehicle for the growls, grunts, and screams (case in point: who the fuck knows what Anaal Nathrakh sing about? Dave Hunt could be screaming about the benefits of paying attention to interior design for all anyone knows and it wouldn’t affect their sound a jot); Gojira always gave the impression of being a bit more high brow, and I always take that as a bit of a package. To explain, take Ingested’s (rather brilliant) ‘Surpassing the Boundaries of Human Suffering’. The artwork features a great carnivorous plant defiling dismembered female corpses, and features tracks such as ‘Intercranial Semen Injection‘ (which is probably my favourite death metal track title of all time) and ‘Pre-Released Foetal Mush‘.  It would be silly to then expect the lyrics to be a nuanced examination of Germaine Greer’s ‘The Female Eunuch’, and I don’t think the band members would ever intend for them to be anything other than silly, horror movie style gore-fests (because otherwise, that would be pretty worrying…). Gojira, on the other hand, wrote an album inspired by a French 1970’s film of the same name, ‘L’Enfant Sauvage‘, featuring a thoughful, symbolic album cover. Magma’s album cover is similarly symbolic, and the move towards a more atmospheric sound suggests artistic experimentation over ‘This’ll sell a bunch of records’. Hence I don’t think it’s unreasonable to look a bit more at otherwise glossed-over features like the lyrics.

My other main problem with the album is that there are only a handful of tracks that stand out on their own. The opening track for example, ‘The Shooting Star‘, sort of works within the context of the album, but I doubt anyone is going to go out of their way to play it on a Spotify playlist; indeed, many of the songs feel like that. You don’t mind it coming on when you play through the album, it’s not bad, but it’s not great either. In this respect, the album is odd. The songs are tight, self-contained, and tend to stick pretty rigidly to one idea at a time, but if you take most of the songs out of the context of the album, they’re very ‘meh’. They don’t feel like they should need to be heard in context, but they do.

It’s an album that’s most certainly worth a listen, but I’d be surprised if more than one or two of the tracks end up as fan favourites, and after a while, when you do choose to listen to the album again, you’ll probably find you select those couple of tracks (like ‘Stranded’) and skip the rest without feeling like you’re missing out.

7/10

Review: Columns—Please Explode

columnspleasexplodeI’d been getting kind of down about the spate of recent releases in the heavier side of metal recently. So much so that I’d been clawing through my hard drive and reminiscing about albums I bloody loved. That, and listening to Slaves over, and over, and over again (seriously, I could listen to Johnny Craig’s vocals pretty much for the rest of my life without getting sick of them -but I’ve already talked about Slaves HERE).

So I was pleased as punch to come across Columns, a band that renewed my faith in all things disgustingly heavy. ‘Please Explode’ is a non-stop tour de force of pure fucking greatness that makes me happy inside every time I put it on. It reminds me a lot of Ion Dissonance (this is a really good thing), though the vocals are closer to death metal than hardcore. But it shares that ballsy aggressiveness of grindcore that I just can’t get enough of. I get reminded of Dillinger Escape Plan and Napalm Death every now and then too(again, hoo-fucking-ray!), mostly in terms of the attitude; that ‘if this music was a physical object, it’d be a knife covered in smaller rusty knives dipped in sharks’ sort of vibe.

Besides, when you have song titles like ‘Bear Molester’ and ‘Mudfucker’, you get a feeling that it’s going to be something special. Deathy-grindy-angry specialness (I English good, yes?). The album is a whirlwind of anger, and it is easy to get caught along for the ride (and fun too). I really hope that I get the chance to see these guys live, because I have a feeling that it’ll be fantastic; it’s the sort of album that sounds great on CD, but comes into its own in a live atmosphere. This is the music that circle pits are made of.

Available now (get it), on Relapse Records (get it), you can stream the whole thing on their bandcamp page (seriously, why are you not right this second getting it?) HERE.

9/10

Review: Deezer

OK, so instead of your typical CD review, this is a ‘my experience using’ Deezer post, the relatively new music streaming platform that contends as Spotify’s biggest rival. Now, I’ve never bothered with Spotify (or any other streaming service for music -I do have Netflix and up until recently used Love Film until Amazon made it so unbearably crap that I couldn’t justify having an account any more, so I’m not wholly against paying for a decent streaming service) except for a month or so when I was checking out the linux beta, which amusingly seemed to have a bug where it never played me any adverts; and I still stopped using it. The only reason I’ve been using Deezer is because I get the premium for mobile free with my EE contract, and I have to use my phone to listen to music on my walk to and from work; I would still be using my beloved Creative Zen X-Fi (the first one, the second one had a touchscreen that was so appalling it made it practically unusable) but Creative opted for making the software so shit it makes iTunes look bearable, and the player just won’t play nice with any other software (trust me, I’ve tried).

When I say ‘review’, what I really mean is ‘here are a list of things that are obviously bad about Deezer and I haven’t the slightest clue why they haven’t addressed these things yet’. I should make clear that I don’t really use the browser/non-mobile version; but as far as I can tell it’s not significantly different (and for the sake of openness, I’m using the Deezer app on Android on a Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini).

Off the bat, I should say that their collection is alright, they have enough in their catalogue in metal that it isn’t just a collection of the major label spaff, but it still isn’t as extensive as Spotify. So there’s that. They also have some odd ommissions; for example, they have a lot of Anathema, including the latest album (reviewed here) but don’t have Weather Systems (for the record, Spotify does). However, unless you listen to a lot of underground metal, you’ll be able to find enough to keep you happy on car rides or for general listening; for anyone really into their metal—unless you listen to very mainstream metal exclusively—Deezer will not replace your music collection… or at least, it wouldn’t for me (again, for openness, my current collection contains 1,900+ artists / 2,100+ albums, which is increasing weekly due to being on press lists for new albums).

Given that it is on mobile, and I have no intention of utterly raping my data allowance, I only really use the app when I’m connected to to WiFi; then I just sync a few albums for offline use. This is the one feature I like about Deezer, though I think if you pay for Spotify you get the same thing. It also has Last.fm scrobbling which is nice, at least for me (helps me keep track of what I listen to -which is sort of necessary when you listen to so much new music and occasionally write about it).

The player itself is relatively straightforward, and does contain an equalizer if you want to play around with sound; on the downside the equalizer is buggy as fuck, and constantly messes with the sound levels across tracks, so it’s not worth having on (unless you love the thought of having to keep changing the volume whenever a new song comes on). The player also has a frequently annoying habit of skipping tracks mid song—regardless of online or offline streaming—for no discernable reason. On the few occasions I have streamed tracks using my mobile data, I have had a less than fun time. For reasons unknown, songs will fast forward (lengths vary unpredictably), even producing a sound as if you were physically pushing a vinyl round quickly like some sort of dickheadish DJ. I can’t think of a single reason why this would happen or exist as a possible feature (like, if your signal crapped out and it couldn’t buffer properly—but why skip forwards, and how would that help?). And on the lock screen, the player only seems to appear properly at random. For a general music player it’s garbage.

On the one occasion I did try streaming from the desktop (I was on my own in the office), I tried out the ‘Flow’ feature (to note, it also exists on the mobile app). ‘Press play, sit back, and enjoy non-stop music based on your taste’. So I did, and after a few tracks it started cutting all the songs off after the 30 second mark. Look, I know that I’m not paying for the full-whack premium version, but just throw in a few ads like Spotify, or like it should be doing for the free version (‘Discovery’ option) of the Deezer account. But no, if you have a mobile account like I have, Deezer puts you in some sort of purgatory, so the desktop version is unusable (unless you really like only hearing 30 seconds of songs?). And there’s no option to ‘Top up’ my subscription; I either pay full whack for Premium which covers web and mobile or create a separate account to stream free with ads on the desktop; WHO AT DEEZER DOES THIS MAKE SENSE TO? Christ, if you’re trying to sway users that would otherwise just stream music on Youtube (which is what I’ve resorted to doing in the office), you should be doing the exact opposite of what Deezer is doing.

deezerad
Notice the total lack of genre information, or explanation of why the editor (Nantarika) recommends the album. Assuming you listen to more than one general genre (like ‘pop’), or only like certain genres under a more general genre category (i.e. you listen to death and doom, but hate power metal) this is really unhelpful if you want to pay attention to recommendations.

So what about discovering new music on the mobile app (some of this applies to the desktop version too)? Well, that’s pretty badly thought out too. Deezer’s main unique selling point is that it features ‘editors’, who can recommend music. It gives the platform a human touch. Which would be nice if you were given a single reason to give a flying fuck what they thought …yes, I get the paralells to all music journalism ever, but at least in a review you’ll get the author explain why they like or dislike something (in theory, anyway). Nearly every single recommendation Deezer has pushed my way has been ‘Peter recommends album X by band X’… and? BUT WHY DID THEY RECOMMEND IT?! Maybe if I spent a very long time analysing everything an editor has recommended or has listened to, I might be like ‘Hey, Peter’s recommended this and I know he has good taste, so I’ll give it a try’; but who in their right mind is going to go to these lengths, especially given that Deezer has many editors? I want a snappy summary, not a recommendation for an album I have no clue about from someone I also have no clue about with no clue about why they’re telling me to give it a listen. For a main selling point, it’s a ridiculously wasted feature with no real point as it currently stands.

In fact, the lack of information on Deezer is crazy. It won’t even give you a genre to go by (or if it does, it hides it in such an unintuitive place that I’ve never once been able to find it over the past two or three months I’ve been using it). It’ll recommend bands, or albums, or songs (i.e. non-editor recommendations) and doesn’t give you any information about what genre it’s from. Nothing. I know this is weird, but I don’t have an infallible knowledge of every single artist on the planet mapped out in my head, so if I’m recommend album X by band X, I would at least like to know what sodding genre it is. Sometimes it might say ‘Because you listened to Y’, but those are few and far between. It gets worse. If you’re flicking through bands on your own, you still get no indication of genre. Literally the only thing you have to go on is similar artists (and, very rarely, a band bio—THAT STILL DOESN’T USUALLY ALLUDE TO A FUCKING GENRE) and hope that you recognise one of the similar artists. Does nobody at Deezer even use their own mobile platform to explore new music? The desktop version includes genres, so why doesn’t the mobile?

You can ‘Explore’ by genre (e.g., Rock–Metal/Hard Rock), but that’s all you get genre wise. And once you have that list, you get no further breakdown of all the results that pop up, which is fantastically fucking useless if you want to see, for example, what death metal albums they’ve most recently added to their collection. Or you can explore by charts, which is only useful if you want to see how popular Ed Sheeran is. Can you view charts by genre (i.e. ‘Top albums in metal’ or ‘Top artists in metal’)? Can you fuck. It’s the most popular artists across the entire site or nothing, which is only useful if you listen to popular chart music, and otherwise renders an entire section of the app a colossal waste of time for everybody else. This is simple stuff, and it’s mind-boggling that they don’t have this functionality.

So, for a platform that is all about discovery, it’s borderline completely useless. Deezer feels like it was made by people that have never had to use it, which is about as damning as you can get. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m essentially getting the premium version as a freebie from my phone contract, I would certainly not be using it. Don’t bother.

 

Review: Anathema—Distant Satellites

coverAnathema have been one of my favourite bands for a while now, principally because they seem intent on pumping out masterpiece after masterpiece, especially counting from A Natural Disaster onwards. After Weather Systems, probably my favourite album of the past two years, the expectations on what the new album would be like were mixed. On the one hand, their winning streak suggested it was going to be similarly brilliant. On the other, I was quite ready to be spectacularly let down by a slip up. Hey, even great musicians make mistakes.

Like Septicflesh’s preview of Titan, I wasn’t overwhelmed with This is going to be another perfect release. Like Titan, their choice of single to preview, in this case ‘The Lost Song, Pt. 3’, felt odd. Unlike Titan, however, once you listen to the whole album, the song makes a lot more sense. It fits. Admittedly, it’s still not the greatest track on the album, but it works very well within the mood of the album as a whole.

To get it out of the way, I’m not sure it’s quite as good as Weather Systems, but it is still VERY. GODDAMN. GOOD. It’s more of a moodier piece; lots of piano, more of a reliance on subtlety and nuance than the more obvious contrasts on Weather Systems. That’s not to say you don’t get the big guitars and soaring vocals (and, as always, the vocals are faultless; I could listen to Lee Douglas for the rest of my days and never tire of her voice), but the album as a whole has a more melancholic tone. It doesn’t beat you over the head with it, it’s more a poetic exploration; I think the track ‘Ariel’ makes for a nice summary of the album.

Distant Satellites is very noticably an Anathema album, using the style they’ve grown into over the past couple of albums since their ‘comeback’, though I think it’s most comfortably recognised as the spiritual successor to A Natural Disaster. The tracks ‘Firelight’ & ‘Distant Satellites’ remind me a lot of ‘Are You There?’, though I’m not entirely sure why. The album generally would have really suited the venue they played in their recent live release, Universal, come to think of it; an ampitheatre beneath the stars (surely playing live anywhere else after doing playing in that sort of environment would just feel like a comedown?).

Despite the mood being more focused than their previous release, it never gets dull or repetitive. Their lyrics can get a little … not clichéd, more simple; they won’t blow anyone away is what I’m getting at. They’re not terrible, it’s just that if you were going to find a fault in the album, that would be the most obvious area to come under fire. But I never got the sense of ‘Haven’t I heard this song earlier?’, or ‘Really, another piano then guitar kicks in job?’, which is always the risk you run when you go for one over-arching mood; it’s difficult to stretch out an emotion for an hour or so without it seeming gratiuitous.

Anathema’s latest is a fine addition to their catalogue, and one that I will undoubtedly be listening to a lot this year, as well as shoving it in my Top 10 for this year in December.

9/10