Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Tides From Nebula - Earthshine [2011]

Once your band made a debut and got some attention, the biggest challenge is writing a second album. Especially now, that we are in constant hunger of new music – lots of people will give up on following you if they didn’t like 2nd album. What can you do then? Create something very similar and risk boring the listeners or continue a revolutionary road and risk losing them? The more popular you become, the harder dilemma gets.

Tides From Nebula are surely unbelievably lucky – soon after their first birthday they won a main prize on prestigious Asymmetry Festival, followed by audience prize, stunning record debut Aura and a number of tours with much older famous bands. Being everywhere and praised by everyone they created quite a fashion for instrumental music in Poland and got some attention abroad as well.

Earthshine as a second act has been expected really anxiously for a whole 2010, but got a little postponed due to problems with record company. Yet the band played new songs all the time raising even more excitement. Finally, in early 2011 we got a release date and a name of famous composer as a producer! There was only one question left: better or ‘just’ as good as Aura?

Even though I loved the new songs live, I wasn’t convinced immediately. The first listen: um, already end? 53 minutes and no ‘wow’? The second listen: ok, that’s nice, but that’s also boring! And at last the third listen: OH MY GOD! It’s a masterpiece!

Might be Mr Preisner’s influence or their own decision to divide real fans of the genre from fashion-followers etc. Might be just a natural flow of things. What’s sure is that we get music that at first may seem a bit too calm and boring, suggesting that they drastically changed. But in fact – apart from adding some piano and more ambient electronics – they just took their music bricks and constructed them into more complex structure. At first you see a simple building but when you get closer, you discover all secret passages, little windows, brattices and sculptures.

These Days, Glory Days begins with a clear ambient atmosphere and simple piano followed with characteristic for TFN intensive drum&bass combo. The most visible change is the guitars – developed Joseph Merrick style and constant, but subtle appearance of piano.

The Fall of Leviathan is one of the songs played before the release, and also one of the album highlights. Features major pressure and weight changes – dreamy passages repeatedly broken by guitar ‘walks’ wandering this way to a brilliant outburst. Waiting For The World To Turn Back is a small interlude guitar-chat, leading to massive Caravans. Again, the tale begins with ambient background and joining drums. When the guitars and bass appear all melts into a beautiful Aura-like culmination and nicely evolving curtain. Special thanks to stunning, absorbing atmosphere.

White Gardens is pretty untypical, but has a lot of charm. Sad guitars and lovely strings in the background growing to a slightly raging break. Hypothermia is yet another interlude miniature. Quite unshaped but nice nethertheless. To my surprise, the booklet says that those two short soundtrack-like songs are the only ones written ‘just’ by TFN, not like the rest – signed TFN and Zbigniew Preisner.

Siberia is the longest track planned in a similar way. Its strongest points are once again – subdued basses (cutting out their intensity in comparison to Aura is one of the most regrettable facts to me) and simplified parts of guitars – thanks to that effect they became much lighter and a whole song seems to float (melting Siberia’s snow revenging for polish prisoners from the past?). But be careful! Do not let these calming sounds knock you out!

On Cemetery Of Frozen Ships you’ll be gently woken up by entering drone bass waves and a tiny guitar tale. Yet the best is an amazing acoustic guitar outro reminding of beautiful old times when guitar solo didn’t mean doing all available musical scales in shortest possible time. Accompanied by woozy electronic it becomes pure beauty. Makes you press ‘play’ again and again...

I don’t want to judge whether Earthshine is better than Aura. It’s probably more mature in its structure and composition. It is less aggressive and rebel. The beloved bass is well hidden whereas electronics get more important. But it’s still deeply emotional and perfect for a relax and meditation, no matter what time of day. So don’t give up, listen to Aura while energetic and to Earthshine while peaceful!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Gathering - Heroes for Ghosts (single) [2011]

After a rather mediocre The West Pole I wasn’t expecting much from The Gathering. But two days ago they released Heroes for Ghosts – a song supposed to be an invitation before new tour – and turned my view on their possibilities upside down. You can hate this song for its desperate sweetness or love it with your whole heart – but I can’t think of anybody being numb for it.

What’s so good about it? First of all, they ceased to desperately try to find their shoes after Anneke hid them leaving. Moreover, they seem to have found their even older shoes and come back to 2002-2003. As for Silje who was a bit of a dark character to me – struggling between keeping her Octavia Sperati habits and fitting into the new band – apparently at last she felt a real member of the band and felt its spirit – proving that their atmosphere and success wasn’t just Anneke. This song sounds as if written in their best years and yet it’s no self rip-off or let’s-do-it-the-good-old-checked-way.

Heroes are introduced by dreamy electronic and distorted soundscapes, building a very plastic movie-like image, quickly joined by guitars and very subtle vocals. Together they reach first little culmination – very catchy, but not pretentious chorus! The second part gets a little braver instrumentally and Silje does some really nice trick with dynamics of her voice -  kind of the ones we’d think only Anneke is able to do. Coming back chorus expands with violin and introduces a longer instrumental part.

This is one of the song’s highlights – acoustic guitar with a riff giving a train-effect and low trumpet solo. You can feel the pressure growing like in the splendid Black Light District. And here it is – another culmination  - great, highly emotional vocalisation that subdued with dumb drums gives a total eargasm.

But the song slightly calms down. Silje whispers and trumpet&guitar combo slowly help us to reverse. The vocals are a bit outshined (ghost!) and violin&cello take them out. What? 11 minutes and an END? Mind-blowing, I need to play it again. And then one [million] more time.

Any complains? I can’t see why she’s singing “fooling” and officially giving “falling” as a part of lyrics – but well, accents differ, right? And text is very pleasing as well. Please, make more of it!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Blindead - Affliction XXIX II MXMVI [2010]

In a past few years we can notice an increasing interest in making concept album – especially among bands that tend to call themselves ‘ambitious’ and especially among my proud fellows compatriots intending to show their knowledge and philosophy everywhere. Post-metal generally seems less affected with concepts, but last year both Rosetta and my native Blindead fell for it... Well, I guess our boys went for more unusual idea and that’s our subject today.

First of all – this is a long and informative review, so if you’re just wondering whether it’s a good album – try and come back if you’re curious to know something more about it. I’d like to help anybody who’s just enjoying the music, experience its background – lyrical and in general – conceptual.

An idea for Affliction’s concept appeared when the vocalist of the band expected another child and started wondering – ‘what if my baby had Down syndrome or autism?’ – this thought became his obsession for a next few months and since the music the band was making seemed pretty compact and they started to think about getting concept – the topic choice was obvious. Luckily, the child was born healthy and the album noted a huge success both in country and beyond borders.

Shortly summarizing the plot – there is a happy couple having fun and in a few months they receive a baby  slightly differing from their expectations. The story focuses on it, and we don’t really know much about parents – except for the fact, that they can’t bear the sight of their child and get to avoid it and at last – abandon. But is the sick baby just a shell with no thoughts? No, although she’s scared at the beginning, she enjoys some things in the world and she desperately tries to connect with parents and get their love and acceptance. Unfortunately, this type of illness is inexplicably difficult to both sides...

Is metal a sensual, full of sex music? Self-consciousness is desire and is said to be an ‘erotic tale’ and up to the concept – describes a conception of story’s main heroine. The song drives from anxious but yet calm intro to the growing, insane passion perfectly expressed by broken rhythms, mad riffs and growl & screams combination.

After 38 weeks a baby arrives and discovers the unexplainable world and sudden lack of memories:
I'm suspended in a smudgy, fuzzy, vague, obstinate nothingness
I'm swallowed, my world shrinked
And keeps getting smaller like it's trying to devour me
Then again I have a strong sense of assured safety

It is an almost acoustic ballad with recitation (big applause for a low, fatherly calming voice), bells and very atmospheric saxophone line.

My new playground became infected with fear and feeling of loss. The illness shakes the family and parents slowly turn away from their child who is unable to speak of its desires and thoughts. Little girl goes numb.
Rotten world drives me to create a new entity
I dream of coming back to the matrix, to hide
To cuddle
To dream and fall in love with
The warmth and paralyzing unconcern
Music gets painful and more sludge-like intense with its minor scale and a dialogue of growl and childish humming. Despite superficial heaviness of the song, everything is perfectly weighed and keeps balance between heavier and more delicate elements – building a passionate atmosphere without destroying crash effect.

Dark and gray is dominated by piano and multilayered drums accompanied by specially distorted vocals and whispers (recently popular megaphone) + electronic cracks. Conceptually the song extends previous one’s problem – getting lost in one's own reality.

So, It Feels Like Misunderstanding When she ceases to care about chaos and searches for peace.
Kingdom of me
Kingdom of purity
It's my paradise asylum!(...)
Delusional perspective falling apart!
It began with furious, chaotic rage again (aww, those massive drums!) but later on literally pictures a fight for inner peace – combo of ambient and sludge soundscapes that eventually conclude in numb calmness.

That evolves to light, a bit behind-the-curtain acoustic guitar melody and sound of children playing. The melody gets stronger and subbed with drums as the vocalist introduces meaning:
I wish I knew how to travel in time…
I wish I knew how …
Music shows us some beats and we are just about to think ‘wow, trip-hop?’ But All My Hopes And Dreams Turn Into is a song about disappointment and it must later reach a point of raging post-metal reproach - “No one wants to be alone” and every child wants just love. Rapid change reminds us that Blindead is above all a post-metal band.

Affliction XXVII II XXIX is a great grower - rising from calm, regular spoken part, through touching bridge: ‘Well, I shall have to stay here forever and ever’ to desperately sad and intense culminating point. Lyrically – it’s the end of fight for being normal, the end of fight for gaining parental love. It’s the end.

Affliction XXIX II MXMVI is special in many ways. There are few people who have the courage to speak of so called ‘mentally disabled’ in our society – especially now, that abortion or euthanasia are considered as a solution to this ‘problem’. Blindead tries to speak for children who are very often almost immediately emotionally and physically abandoned by their parents. Moreover, they do that without interfering to religion, ethics or politics. They simply ask: people think those kids feel and think nothing – what if it’s otherwise?
The album is accompanied by a short story Rhythm written by Piotr Kofta and outstanding artwork by Katarzyna Sójka. The story is a kind of a ‘diary of autistic girl’ whereas graphics are supposed to resemble sick children’s drawings. All packed in a hardback digipack and pretty cheap (7-8euro in Poland) which is a nice surprise for a young band=)

The parts of the story are also spoken on the concerts, which  involve visualisations and short films. Quite honestly, Blindead is one of the most interesting live performers I’ve seen. And now, they got involved in another project – a film My Little Bess that grew from the pieces designed for concerts. Check out!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Gespenst - The Saint [2011]

Once in a while I come across the albums that seduces me from the very first notes. Some of these get a lot of attention at the beginning and are later reminded still with some pleasure every now and them. The others are impossible for me to reach 10 full-record plays a day, but touch me so deeply that every listening session becomes special and well-cherished. Undoubtedly Gespenst’s The Saint belongs to the second group.

As their pages say: Gespenst are two brothers from Kuala Lumpur who are obsessed with music and very much influenced by modern post-rock bands, heavy soundscapes and ambient sounds.
This January they released a short album The Saint that with a bit of luck, further great records and fan-support can guarantee them an important position in post rock world.

The opening The Saint presents high level post rock since very beginning – shaking and staggering riffs, ambient background and main melody switching from keys to guitar. Lesson well learned – a small explosion in the half of third minute and shapely ending put the level pretty high for rookies;) Immortal is introduced by charming, delicate riff that gets subbed by original, a bit oriental drum and resolves seemingly in many different ways, each led by another instrument, that yet manage to compose well-fitting entirety.

I can’t tell for sure what kind of keyboard instruments were used in Little, but this minimalistic duo with spoken part just takes my breath away. In fact it could as well last half of the real time and be a beautiful piano piece, but guys decided to expand it by adding drums to the second part with a surprisingly (or not) huge success.

Compared to complicated beginning and almost peaceful Little, Ghost seems almost ascetic with its simple, movingly sad melody and classic post rock vision. Yet it’s so overwhelmingly beautiful that it’s impossible to forget it, especially in the version with additional strings that increases a feeling that you just discovered a fair Mono follower... no, not follower, a band that can continue the task, develop post rock and lead it into totally new areas.

Finishing Epilogue welcomes you with a spoken part of poem and carries to an end in atmospheric passages focused on vibrating keys accompanied by subtly coming drums and less noticeable guitars of a very cello-like sound.

I must say that The Saint keeps surprising me with every play and so it touches me even more as I get to remember more and more motives. Unless I decide to overdose, I guess I should get delighted by it for many more months and years. Coming down to earth - I spoke of the record as it is presented on bandcamp, but you can get more songs from soundcloud.

If your heart isn’t closed on fragile beauty and loves something more than intensive screaming and guitar-raping, please try and fall in love.