Review: Behemoth–The Satanist

Being the intrepid explorer into the unknown that I undoubtedly am, I thought that to fully prepare myself for The Satanist I should get myself into a suitably dark mind set. As such, I turned off the lights, put on the headphones, and pointed my browser at a suitably dark corner of Reddit. Admittedly I also listened to it once or twice whilst in my girlfriend’s dressing gown, but that’s by the by. Point is, I’m expecting a Pulitzer nomination any day now for my commitment to the journalistic cause.

Oh right, the album. So, Behemoth seem to have been a critic’s favourite for a while now and I can’t say I’m surprised to see that this was similarly given universal praise; upon release Evangelion was plastered absolutely everywhere as the be all and end all of extreme metal. Weirdly, outside of magazines and online press, I never came across real human beings that were similarly enraptured with the album, but perhaps I hang out with the wrong crowd (who am I kidding? My cat has excellent taste in music). Personally, I listened to Evangelion many times, mostly because I was confused by all the praise it was getting and wondering if I’d missed something; it was by no means a bad album, but it was largely forgettable with many songs blurring into one. Even after repeated listens. Admittedly at the time I was listening a lot to another blackened-death, experimental extreme (etc. etc.) metal band, Akercocke, and for a quick comparison of the two…let’s just say that I am thoroughly depressed that it doesn’t look like I’ll get to review a new Akercocke album any time soon. When it comes to putting out an interesting extreme metal album in praise of the fallen one, Behemoth are in the shadow of Akercocke (cue hate mail).

First thing’s first, The Satanist is a definite improvement of their sound over Evangelion. That said, the first track, ‘Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel’,  does pretty much sum the experience of listening to the entire album; a bombastic track you could pump your fist to whilst wearing a black robe, head bowed, surrounded by candles (if that’s the sort of thing you’re into). The choral elements, the complementary usage of orchestral instruments, and Nergal’s throaty, rasping roars… It’s all very epic in a less ambitious, or perhaps more restrained, vein to what Cradle of Filth achieved with Damnation & A Day. Said track is the first single, which you can watch here; if you don’t like it, the rest of the album will do very little for you, as it’s one of the best tracks on the album.

Many critics have claimed that the new album might alienate old fans, which I guess might be true if you were only interested in their more death metal sound of older albums, but they were never a particularly clear cut genre job, so if you liked their older albums, chances are you listen to a greater variety of metal than just bands that sound like carbon copies of Cannibal Corpse. With that in mind, if you at least tolerated Evangelion, you’ll at least tolerate The Satanist; the sound isn’t a million miles away, it’s just an older, wiser sound than it’s younger brother.

The only track other than the single that I think is worthy of a standout mention is the last one on the album, ‘O Father O Satan O Sun!’, mostly because it’s significantly different enough from the other tracks to separate itself from the similarity that the album can lend itself to on the first couple of listens (actually, that similarity doesn’t entirely go away, but that’s not necessarily  a bad thing). It feels like you’re listening to a painting of a scene from Paradise Lost; the point where the album steps out of the dark, restrained cave of ritualised worship and out into the fires of the sun to scream at the Heavens. The first and last track aside, the album is a definite ‘grower’; it requires a number of listens before some of the subtleties start to boil to the surface (weird, acoustic, Witold Gombrowicz passage aside). At first I was only listening to the album with a mind to give it a fair hearing, now I find myself putting it on simply because I want to hear those trumpets once again.

Truth be told, I’ve found this album extremely hard to score, because I just cannot make up my mind about it. Many parts of the album I still find rather dull after repeated listens, but there are some moments that standout as being truly excellent; when the trumpets start to sound at the end of ‘Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel’ I still get chills (and I just adore that last track). It is my favourite Behemoth album, but I’ve never much cared for the band, so it’s difficult to take much from that. The album sometimes bores me, at other times it exhilarates. At times I think it deserves a mediocre score, at others, a relatively high one. So, dear reader, if you happen to disagree with my rating, do note that I probably do too. Like Lucifer himself, the album is difficult to judge easily; the character has more complexity than the first glance permits you to see. There are, however, two things I am sure about; firstly, that it is definitely worth more than one listen if you have any interest in the more extreme side of metal; secondly, that I can guarantee you it will make more than one ‘Top 10 albums of the year’ list. If either of those two certainties hold relevance to you, then you should check this album out. If you’re simply holding out for a return to their more death metal influenced sound, then you’ll have to hold out for a while longer yet, I’m afraid.

8.5/10

-A frustrating beast to pin down; it’s by no means perfect, nor is it the best thing I’ve listened to in a while, but it is sodding hard to ignore. Defiant, explosive, and definitely worth a look.

Gangnam Park…This exists…

Gangnam-Park-608x600You have to admire the time that must have gone into this; remixing the entire Linkin Park album ‘Hybrid Theory’ replacing all the vocals with the vocals from Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’. No, you did read that right, and no I’m not making it up.

 

You can sit through the whole thing HERE.

Review: Alcest – Shelter

For future reference, here is the summary of every Alcest review I will ever write; ‘It’s fantastic, but it’s not as good as Écailles de Lune’. Got that? Great, so, accordingly, Shelter is a fantastic album, but it’s not as good as Écailles de Lune. Feel free to return to whatever it is you were previously doing on the internet; masturbating, presumably.

First thing to note is that was produced by Birgir J….something-something  Sigur Rós. Basically, all you need to know is that it was recorded at their own studio (Sundlaugin, for those into their facts) by the producer who has done a lot of the engineer/mixing work for Sigur Rós, and that it is immediately apparent. Because if Alcest were missing anything, it was the whole dreamy, ethereal vibe Sigur Rós are known for. Oh wait, scratch that, Alcest already had that going for them. So while it is a nice marriage, it’s hardly bold or pushing a brave new frontier, though it does signal a move away from any sort of soft-heavy dynamic present on earlier releases.

So what we have, essentially, is a dreamy, light, sun-bathed album that is probably the album that Les Voyages de l’Âme wanted to be; it is definitely better than Les Voyages…, an album I really wanted to love, but eventually settled for just liking. It definitely has the gorgeous melodies, Neige’s spacey vocals, and the post-rock guitars. So if that’s all you were looking for, huzzah, jackpot! It’s the sort of album that, played on a warm summer’s day surrounded by greenery and the hazy activity of bees, would make for a fond memory to look back on whilst the winter month’s force you to settle for the darker melodies of bands like Swallow The Sun (or maybe that’s just me?). It’s a definite summer-nostalgia album.  But that’s all it is, to be honest. It’s not a standout effort, and it doesn’t have that other-worldly vibe of earlier works that take you somewhere other than your back garden, or the local park.

So here’s why Alcest will always have a fond place in my musical memory. When Écailles de Lune came out, I’d never really heard anything like it. Sure, there were other bands out there that did the whole post rock thing, and if you wanted the shoe-gazey black metal stuff, you wouldn’t have to look too hard (though admittedly, even now, there aren’t that many great bands to choose from). But this was something different. The album cover was gorgeous, any by god did it fit the sound perfectly. Neige said in interviews that Alcest was of his early experiences of an ‘otherworld’, or fairy land. Childhood mental breakdown aside, that album owned that concept. The album sounded like someone had condensed the world of Hero (Ridley Scott does somewhat-generic fantasy; hell, I love it) into pure sound. Yes, it had black metal screams, but they worked magnificently within the context of the album. They helped pull you through this weird, emotional landscape and I will be damned if many other bands even glimpse at the emotional investment that album can produce. So anyway, one warm and starry, summer night in York, I somehow stumbled onto the fact that that night was going to be the scene of a rather spectacular meteor shower. Being the fantastically artsy person that I am, I thought the best way to experience this would be to lay a deck chair flat out, pipe Écailles de Lune into my ears, and watch the stars play out their drama. Now, I’m the sort of person whom Hollywood characterises in horror films as the jerk that arrogantly laughs at the protagonist, mocking them as an utter loon when they try to warn everyone of the impending supernatural danger. You know the guy who works for the mayor in Ghostbusters 2 who gets the Ghostbusters sectioned? That’s me. So, for me, that experience of sitting under the stars listening to songs like ‘Sur l’océan couleur de fer’, whilst debris from outer space burnt up in our atmosphere in front of my eyes, is probably the closest I’ll ever come to a ‘religious experience’. If I’d have listened to ‘Shelter’ instead, that memory wouldn’t even be half as vivid.

So yes, Shelter is a great album; it’s bright, beautiful, and highlights like ‘Délivrance’ prove just how perfectly Neige can nail melodies. But with the loss of the black metal influence (and by ‘black metal’, I mean ‘Wolves In The Throne Room’ type affair, not the ‘Transilvanian Hunger’ sort of stuff), Alcest have lost something special, and this direction that they’re heading in risks turning them into just another dreamy pop-rock band, which I personally think will be a travesty, even if it almost certainly wins them a more mainstream fanbase.

8/10

-Judged on its own merits, it’s a great album that shows direction (even if it’s predictable and, in my opinion, the wrong way) and focus, but in the context of the back catalogue, I can’t help but feel disappointed.

Opeth Hint At Direction Of New Material

So with Mikael talking about the direction that the new Opeth album is heading with Decibel magazine (which I found out through Metal Sucks…who found out through Blabbermouth…who discussed the Decibel piece; because actual research and interviews would be too much effort, frankly), I’ve got to admit that I’m not thus far interested. It sounds like they’re building on the sound from their latest album Heritage, perhaps pushing it in a slightly darker direction, but nevertheless keeping with the prog vibe of the 70’s/80’s. With some strings thrown in, because why not?

My main issue with this is is that Heritage was one of the dullest records I’ve ever listened to. I was really quite excited about hearing Heritage after reading about Mikael talking about it before its release. Hell, I even got the special edition CD because yay Opeth doing something new and interesting. I’ve listened to that album a number of times since its release trying to see if it’ll grow on me, and I still couldn’t hum you any of the melodies. In fact, the only part I really remember is the line ‘God is dead’, and that was mostly because I thought it was a poorly executed lyric that didn’t fit the mood of the piece (like the entirety of ‘Go To Hell’ on Blackfield’s appallingly bad third album). It was also one of those albums which, frustratingly, was always going to get critically applauded for being bold, different, and interesting; anyone that thinks it’s wide of the mark ‘doesn’t get it’. Sure it’s different, sure it is a new direction, and yes it’s good they’re not rehashing old material (who said Watershed? I didn’t say Watershed. Did you say Watershed?). Do you know what was an excellent example of Opeth experimenting and pulling it off really well? Ghost Reveries. Hands down, it is easily the best album they’ve done. ‘Ghost of Perdition’ flows and meanders like a Victorian ghost story, with sections that still give me chills every time I hear them; ‘Isolation Years’ is downright haunting, a fittingly melancholic and mellow end to the album; ‘The Grand Conjuration’ is my favourite ‘really heavy’ song they’ve ever done (I mean, the track kicks off like a goddamn tempest); whilst ‘Atonement’ and ‘Hours of Wealth’ are excellent tonal changes yet still feel very much a part of the larger picture. The last minute of ‘Beneath The Mire’ could’ve passed for a Mars Volta interlude (actually, if The Mars Volta could do something as sound changing as work with Mikael, that would be swell, because everything they did past ‘Frances The Mute’ was utterly forgettable and it pains me to see such an excellent band fall that far from grace over the years), and how many death metal bands have ever had that comparison before? I’d go as far to say it makes the massively-overhyped Blackwater Park seem positively formulaic by comparison (and I’ll further irritate you by saying that ‘Bleak’ was the best song on that album).

Here’s the other big problem with the more melodic Opeth; Akerfeldt’s melodic voice really isn’t that interesting. Opeth worked so well because the contrasting vocal styles of his inhuman growl and his surprisingly soft melodic singing made for some excellent hooks and memorable moments. Take away half of the equation and you’re left with one great acoustic album (and ‘Damnation’ was excellent, by the way) and nowhere left to go from there; what makes or breaks a great rock album (because let’s be honest, that’s the way it looks like they’re heading for now) are the vocals. Sorry, but it doesn’t matter how great those guitar riffs are if the singing over it is bad, it’ll just ruin the whole thing (naturally there are exceptions, but Opeth aren’t one of them). I mean, I guess they could try incorporating electronica, but, well, give My Dying Bride’s ‘34.788%…Complete’ a spin and then make up your mind on that one.

I’ll almost certainly end up getting the new Opeth album, but I won’t be holding my breath.

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