What I spent my hard earned cash on recently.
The Ocean – Heliocentric
On releasing Precambrian, The Ocean had a whiff of the future about them. Delivering punishing post-metal reminiscent of Cult of Luna but stretching into more old school prog territories, referencing the likes of Pink Floyd. With Heliocentric they take a fairly radical turn, apparently into more post-hardcore territory. The fact that, with new vocalist Loic Rossetti, Heliocentric demonstrates a preference for clean vocals, although significant, isn’t really a concern here. It’s the fact that they’ve had to employ some fairly hackneyed melodic techniques to accommodate them. Now sounding like a less mature Oceansize, the band may view this as a personal progression, but it the grand scheme of things, this ends up sounding like the faux-boundary pushing of the likes of Between the Buried and Me. There are some rousing moments here, and hints at former glories, but nothing that really grabs the listener screaming “we have just rewired you brain!”, which is what I was hoping for. This is the sound of a band finding its feet with a new sound, and I commend them for it, but The Ocean have been around for quite a while now, and they should be sounding like a band well and truly in their stride. Heliocentric is part of a pendant of complementary albums, the second to be released late 2010 – we can only hope that they saved all their real creativity for the second half.
Cathedral – The Guessing Game
Unlike The Ocean, Cathedral are a band branching out into new, progish areas and sounding like they’ve been doing it all their lives. Cathedral’s sound may not be new any more, but they’ve always managed to make music that sounds totally out there, and The Guessing Game is the most ‘out there’ record they’ve released in a very long time. This is not an album for those new to Cathedral unless you happen to be a veteran with lengthy, noodling old school prog. But this isn’t simply prog revisionism, nor is it merely Cathedral ‘doing prog’, this is a pretty bold artistic statement and one that will see them revered as metal revolutionaries for another decade to come. Dorian and team feel as fresh as ever, and in terms of maturity and damned right assuredness, they’re so far ahead of the pack they almost everyone else may as well just give up.
The Dillinger Escape Plan – Option Paralysis
Perhaps the title of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s 4th full length album is indicative of their state of mind when they recorded this album. Throughout their career Dillinger have broadened their palate to include whatever damn well suited them and be damned with the rest of you. Managing to shock and confound on every single release, the seemingly endless diversity of the musical form was once again before them like giant smorgasbord for them to indulge their sonic crapulence. Option Paralysis describes the state where you have so many options available to you that you are mentally unable to act on any of them. In The Plan’s case, they appear to have been paralysed, for the first time in their career, into standing still, which is sad, because although Option Paralysis is a good album by any band’s standards, it lacks the elements of surprise and obstinacy that has really defined Dillinger’s career to date. I’ll forgive them for this hiatus from creativity, but the next release better damn well be a marshmallow vindaloo of an album.
Barren Earth – The Curse of the Red River
With Opeth sounding like Opeth while managing to sound utterly different with every release, Barren Earth sound like Opeth trying to not sound like Opeth. A mix of doomy death and through-the-ages prog, Barren Earth’s sound is Technicolor and cavernous. Referencing 70’s prog in a more literal sense than Opeth, complete with synth solos and folkish bits, there’s a distinct air of Dream Theatre. Unfortunately, for almost every instance of proggy goodness, the unsubtly arranged and delivered death vocals spoil the party – Curse… sometimes has a whiff of Nu-Metal about it. It’s like the DM vocals are there purely to qualify this album a progressive death record, but this is akin to remixing a King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King with hip-hop interludes. There are moments of pure Death here, but they mostly sound like Opeth, with a bit of Morbid Angel thrown in. It grates to the extent that I simply don’t enjoy listening to this, an album that otherwise I’d really love. I don’t rate albums but if I did, it Curse of the Red River would get 2/10 as a (prog)-death album, and 8/10 as pure prog.
Ludicra – The Tenant
Whether the kvlt like it or not, Black Metal is evolving. That doesn’t mean hardcore crossovers and progressive dabbling, but developing its monolithic core around creative minds and thus spewing a more paisley misanthropic ooze. So here we have San Francisco’s Ludicra and an oestrogen inflected black masterpiece called The Tenant. Ludicra mix tempos and melodies not usually associated with BM, but somehow obviously belonging to BM as if they merely discovered them in some corpse infested basement. The Tenant is at times mournful, others unsettlingly aggressive, managing to inject melody and riff hungry groove, evoking anything from Burzum to Megadeth to labelmates Worm Ourourboros. The female element is apparent, straying from the lowbrow bludgeoning of much of the genre, softening edges where they need softening, but tearing ragged maws to redress the balance – this is not ‘softer’ just more balanced. Regardless of genre, The Tenant is an accomplished record as you’ll find this year, and one that simply radiates class and creativity. Black Metal it is, through and through, but of a new sort, not progressive, just a progression.