Cult of Luna – Vertikal

Vertikal cover art

Artist Cult of Luna
Album ‘Vertikal’
Genre Post-metal
Buy/DL EU / US
Web Official Website / Facebook
Label Indie Recordings (EU) / Density Records (US)
Release Jan 25 2013 (EU) / Jan 29 2013 (US)
Rating Must Listen

The release of ‘Vertikal’ marks the 15th anniversary for Swedish post-metal heavyweights Cult of Luna. It also marks a departure from their long-time label, Earache Records, with the release being handled by Indie Recordings in Europe, and Density Records in the US. The album itself is a concept, heavily influenced by the 1927 film Metropolis (those familiar with the film will notice an immediate similarity between the album’s cover art and the artwork from the film’s poster). The film is set in the year 2026, in a dystopian society ruled by wealthy industrialists, and focuses greatly on the oppression of the workers, and specifically on the son of the master of the city and his ensuing attempts to overcame the classist separations. Great film, and a wonderful concept for a band like Cult of Luna to tackle.

Upon first listen, one of the biggest thing to strike me is how well Cult of Luna captured the feeling of the film with the interlude segments (essentially, the structure of the album is interlude, song, song, repeat) – these segments do an incredible job of setting a tone that’s perfectly in line with that of the film. While not necessarily as heavy, musically, as ‘Eternal Kingdom’, the stylistic progression here is remarkable, and still makes for one hell of a dark, heavy record. There are a lot of varying influences and methods at work here, showing some growth by the band in the 5 years since their last release. This is not an album that can be full enjoyed casually. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy it when I’m just driving or whatever, but there is a lot to take in here. A lot of layers, and a lot of little details that I’m still uncovering every time I listen to it.

To no great surprise, the band has done an amazing job of creating an album that is at moments serene and beautiful, and at others dark and brooding. It’s not a terribly difficult task for a band as talented as Cult of Luna, but it’s impressive nonetheless. This is all laid out over the course of the record, but “Vicarious Redemption” is an undeniable highlight, where the band lays out all of these elements with great success in one grandiose 19 minute exhibition. Very few bands can pull of a track that long and still have it be highly listenable every single time, but it absolutely works here for Cult of Luna. By the time the drums kick in and the song begins to pick up a little steam, you fail to notice that nearly 7 minutes has already passed. If you’ve seen Metropolis, it’s very easy to see the scenes presented by this song, and the album as a whole.

One of the themes present on the record, as stated by the band, is machinery, and nowhere is this more evident than on “Synchronicity”. The song borders on being industrial with how it plods along, sounding remarkably like a factory assembly line. You can very clearly envision the gears turning, hammers clanging against steel, and general dark atmosphere of such an environment. This scene clashes nicely with the much more melodic and serene intro to the follow-up track, “Mute Departure”, the first track on the album to really feature any clean vocals. The song does pick up some momentum and ends up getting a lot heavier, which makes the intro work that much better when placed between the rest of the track and the preceding song.

One of the album’s most triumphant moments to me is the build-up of “In Awe Of”, and how well it leads into the album closer, “Passing Through”. This final track is one of the most haunting songs I’ve heard in quite some time, and it makes really great use of texture (particularly with the way the vocals are layered in). It’s a dark and beautiful close to an album that will no doubt find it’s way on to several 2013 best of lists (I know it’s only January — it’s that good). Existing fans will certainly be pleased, and will, like me, be more than fine with the 5 years it took to deliver such an excellent release. A huge thank you to Density Records for allowing me to review such a great record.

Amenra – Mass V – 99%

My love for post-metal is no secret, but I’m also somewhat picky about it. Most of the stuff that falls into this category that’s more on the “djent” (I hate that word so much) end of things is not my cup of tea. The other tricky aspect for me is vocals. When it comes to vocals in post-metal bands (and most metal bands in general, really), it’s really easy for bands to go wrong in my opinion. Picky picky, I know. There’s a lot of aspects that, to me, make a great post-metal/sludge/whatever record, and it’s hard to get them all together in one release most of the time. This makes for a lot of good to pretty good records, but very few that are really great.

My point in all of this is that ‘Mass V’, the long awaited new album from Belgian masters Amenra is absolutely, without hesitation, a really, really great record. The Neurosis comparisons are going to be obvious, perhaps even more so given that this is the band’s first release on Neurot Recordings, and the band has no qualms wearing their influence on their sleeve (they once said that without Neurosis, they “might not have even existed at all”). The fact remains that any band treading these same sludgy waters will automatically be compared to Neurosis, that’s just a given. Rather than emulating the forerunners of the genre, however, Amenra have grown and matured into an entirely separate beast, and this album truly shows that.

The first track, “Dearborn and Buried”, sets the pace for the album, and really shows (as does the entire album, really) how incredibly talented Amenra is as a band – the song is crafted so well that by the time it ends, you’ve failed to notice at all that 9 minutes and 15 seconds have just passed. It’s slow, dark, brooding, and hypnotic, but there’s an intensity and energy here. One that, in my opinion, surpasses anything Neurosis accomplished on their latest album, showing full well what Amenra is capable of. Jumping back a bit to my criticism of vocals, Colin H. van Eeckhout absolutely nails it. When I hear a band like this, performing music that is borderline apocalyptic, I want intensity in the vocals. There’s a full on sense of mania and terror in his vocals, and it plays off of the music so very well.

“Boden” follows, and is an absolutely crushing track. The mood created here is one of tension, and the guitars and vocals blend together in a cacophony of dread. The songs slows pace a bit, with a soft spoken word part, which is then met by an immense wall of doom heavy guitar riffs. This is one of the standout moments on the album to me, and shows just how well Amenra know how to create a scene with music. The following track, “A Mon Ame”, carries on at a much more quiet, droning pace for the first 6 minutes or so, with sparse, haunted vocals barely recognizable amongst the fog. Once the track hits the 6 minute mark, things get heavier for a bit, before slowing back down to another lonely sounding quiet moment, accompanied this time by nearly whispered vocals. As the guitars build back up, it’s an incredibly tense, desolate scene that they’ve laid forth. This is perhaps where Amenra bears the most resemblance to Neurosis, though again, it’s in no way a copycat scenario. It’s simply one great band acknowledging the mastery of another.

In what strikes me as almost a nod to their predecessors, the final track on the album, “Nowena | 9:10” features guest vocals from Neurosis’ own Scott Kelly. After the clean vocal intro, Kelly’s growl provides a great counterpart to the frantic screams of van Eeckhout. The main difference between this track and the other 3 on the album is that once the intro gives way to the explosion of anguish that follows, it never lets up. Where the other tracks had their ups and downs, “Nowena | 9:10” barrels straight through. This is end-of-the-world music, pure and simple. There’s just a feeling of the world burning down evident without any knowledge of the lyrics here, and once you decipher “Novena burns for my brothers at night, a flame that burns the bodies of light” and “Brothers burn, I see the fire in their eyes”, that feeling is cemented.

The final few minutes of the record consist of a crushing repetitive riff and van Eeckhout’s screams, fading out into oblivion. If I had one gripe with this record, it’s that I wish it was longer. Amenra is so incredibly talented at crafting songs that grab you and pull you in that, once this album’s 41 minutes are over, you can’t help but to be left wanting to hear more. All I can do (aside from have it on repeat, which I have been doing quite a bit) is hope that we don’t have to wait another 4 years for a new album. I’ll also keep my fingers crossed for a US tour, as an Amenra live show is absolutely breathtaking. I can’t recommend this album enough (it’s worth mentioning that the vinyl version features different artwork, additional sounds, and alternative mixes), and if you get the chance to see them live, my recommendation is just as strong.

Available on CD for $14 from Neurot Recordings

Available on vinyl (2xLP) for $24, also from Neurot Recordings

Balmorhea – Stranger – 95%

I first found out about Balmorhea sometime last year, thanks to the Post-Rock & Beyond room on turntable.fm, and have been absolutely hooked since then. This seven piece band from Austin, TX (what are they putting in the water there?) takes something of a more minimalist approach to the post-rock genre, and they absolutely nail it. There’s so much more to what they do than the standard post-rock band that it’s unfair to just pigeon hole them into the genre – they’re best described as simply an instrumental band, honestly. They incorporate so many instruments that you don’t often see used in post-rock (banjo, steel drums, melodica), and do so with great success. Couple this with their frequent use of strings (the band counts a violinist and double bass player amongst their ranks), and you have something that really stands out from the fray.

‘Stranger’ is their eight release, which in itself is an impressive number, given that they’re such a large band and put out their first release in 2007. To understand the band a little, you need to take a look at influences. Not just musical, as those are the easy ones to pick out, but the influence behind the name. Balmorhea is a little town in west Texas, with a population of less than 500 in an area of less than half a square mile. I’ve driven past Balmorhea, and trust me, it’s pretty isolated. The kind of town that would afford you a spectacular view of the night sky in the desert. Now, you have a bit of an understanding of the idea behind the band. In fact, their last release, ‘Constellations’, pretty much hit that beautiful, isolated, night sky feeling right on the head.

This album is not nearly as sparse as ‘Constellations’, as the band seems to turn their focus back to more earthly influences. The opening track, “Days”, is a sublimely beautiful song, and still has me wondering if some of the background noises at the beginning are instruments or birds chirping. The steel drums in this track are wonderful, and you really can’t help but smile hearing them. It fades out blissfully, and plays perfectly into the following song, “Masollan”. The first half of the song is a beautiful orchestration of guitar, strings, and piano, and when the drums and bass join in around the 2:30 second mark, they fit in perfectly with the rest of the instruments. Absolutely nothing feels out of place here, and Balmorhea continues to prove themselves to be on top of the game when it comes to these type of tracks.

One of the most cinematic moments on the record is the third track, “Fake Fealty”. From the string intro, to the distorted electric guitar joined by the double bass, everything here is done with great effect. You can really imagine this song being used in a scene in a film, and it’s a damn good scene. As pretentious as it might sound, Balmorhea is definitely a band that you experience and feel, rather than just listen to. “Dived” is such a rush of pure joy, that it produces something of a butterflies-in-your-stomach, first kiss sort of sensation. Up next is “Jubi”, one of the easiest song to pull the isolated American Southwest feeling from. Not that it’s a lonely sounding song at all, it’s incredibly peaceful, and has just enough of a twang in the guitars to bring to mind that region of the country. If you’ve spent any time in that area, the vocals near the end may very well remind you of echoing voices in a canyon, it’s a surreal feeling, and is almost ghostly.

The main riff in “Artifact” gives the song a bit of a mathy feel, and the first half of the track really doesn’t fit in with the rest of the album. Not that it’s bad, it’s just a little too chaotic for the overall feel, I think. The heavy use of effects on the second half of the song give it a dreamy, almost shoegaze sound, which is really interesting when paired with the piano. It’s a nice touch, but the first half of the track still makes this song the sore thumb on the album for me. “Shore”, however, is probably the most beautiful song on the album. The title is very appropriate, as the song creates a wonderful soundscape, transporting the listener to a peaceful, remote lake shore. It’s really, really well done, and is a shining example of how well Balmorhea can create a scene through music. The feeling carries over a bit to “Pyrakantha”, but after about 3 minutes, things pick up a little and the serene mood gets a bit more energetic, almost like the sun breaking through a cloud cover. It ends with a celebration feeling, fitting for the picture the song paints.

After the brief (and aptly titled) “Islet”, the album closes with “Pilgrim”. Fittingly enough, this song carries a sense of exploration and discovery with it, like setting your eyes on a new land for the first time. It’s hopeful, dramatic, and beautiful, much like the rest of the album. This band continues to amaze me with every release, progressively getting more and more awe-inspiring. For me, this is definitely one of the top releases of the year. The creative minds behind Balmorhea truly know how to compose a great song, and do so with the kind of cinematic flair that I absolutely adore.

Available for $10 in MP3 format on Amazon

Available for $12 on CD or $25 for 2X LP on Big Cartel

Band website can be found here 

Paper Armies – Together – 87%

Together cover art

Paper Armies, the name given to the musical creations of Jason Calhoun, is something of an oddity in the “one man band” world. While a great number of said bands release records rather often (Cloudkicker released three albums in less than a year, Good Weather For An Airstrike has released three albums this year, etc.), Calhoun has released just 3 recordings since the 2009 inception of Paper Armies – 2010’s self-titled debut, a split with Desert of Hiatus in 2011, and this newest EP just released earlier this month, “Together”. 

If you’re already familiar with Paper Armies, you have a good idea of what to expect here. For the uninitiated, however, Calhoun’s music is a little more difficult to neatly label than you would expect. On first listen, you could very easily classify it as simply ambient, but there are layers here, some more subtle than others. Touches of post-rock, shoegaze, minimalist classical, and ambient all combine to make a beautiful release, one that, in Calhoun’s own words, should be listened to “at a high volume in a quiet space”. The opening track, “Together”, slowly builds up in such a way that you hardly notice the fuzz getting louder and louder, swelling like a wave until it quietly fades out. “25,000,000 years” is perhaps the biggest example on the EP of the shoegaze influence, not unlike something that could be crafted by Kevin Shields. The track develops into a haze, leaving you feeling sort of like you’re sitting and watching a fog roll in. The shortest song present, “Removal”, struck me immediately as having a drowned out, underwater feel to it. That’s not to say that the music is lost anywhere, it just truly creates a feeling of being underwater. You know how voices sound very fuzzed out and wobbly when you’re underwater in a pool? Like that. The final track on the EP is the appropriately named, “You Can Feel Unwanted Anywhere”. Starting out with an almost remorseful sounding guitar tone, the track leads into a beautiful, yet lonely feeling, cloud of fuzz and reverb. It’s a perfect way to end the recording, and really wraps up the overall feel quite nicely.

What Calhoun has done here with his latest Paper Armies release is create music that can easily set varying moods, depending on the listener. It can feel lonely for some, comforting for others. Like a dream, or like laying in a field gazing at the night sky. Given the natural beauty of his hometown of Ithaca, NY, I’m not surprised at all that this EP evokes a very “snowy forest” feeling, and does so quite well.

You can name your own price both this EP and the full length ($4 for the split) over on bandcamp – http://paperarmies.bandcamp.com/

Cathedraal/Rings of Rhea/Schematics for Gravity – Split – 88%

Split with Rings of Rhea & Schematics for Gravity cover art

The thing I love about split releases, aside from being presented with the music of at least two different bands, is that they’re fairly unique to “underground” music. You won’t go into your local Best Buy and see a split between Nickelback and 311 or something. It’s a great way for each band to expose themselves to the other band’s fan base, and since most splits tend to be bands with similar sounds, it generally works out well. Heading into this split, I had only heard Schematics for Gravity, though I was familiar with Rings of Rhea. Cathedraal was completely unknown to me, but knowing (at least roughly) what the first two sound like was enough to inspire confidence in me that they would be good.

I didn’t have to wait too long to find out, as Cathedraal leads off the three way split. Aside from finding out that they’re from Paris, I still know relatively little about them – they have all of the areas of online presence, there’s just not a lot of info about who does what, or even how many members are in the band. There’s something about the mystery there that really appeals to me. After listening to the split, to call their brand of chaotic screamo the odd sound on the release is only slightly accurate – they’re not a band that you would typically classify under one of the “post” categories, but it fits very well with the other two bands here. Imagine something along the lines of Envy, and you’re on the right track. Their portion of the release starts off with a very cold feeling, sounding to me like wind blowing through an abandoned factory. The drums and guitar start to fade in slowly, before kicking in full volume accompanied by the bass and vocals. As far as screamo vocals go, this is exactly how I like them. They’re very similar to the vocal style of Tetsuya Fukagawa (hence the earlier Envy comparison), very passionate and emotional. Even though I don’t speak French, I can still pick up on the passion and intensity, which are two very key things to me.

The music works perfectly here, the first song, “Les Chiens Rouges Sont Lâchés”, is a grooving track that, musically, is the closest to something “post” presented in their three songs. The track stomps along before calming down into a swirl of feedback for a bit, then kicks back in with the intensity and speed of a black metal song. The anxiety and chaos here is incredible, and makes for a very tense feeling. This tension carries over into the following song, “Qui Pense Encore à Toi?”, starting out with another solid groove that kicks into hyper-fast black metal mode. It’s something of a formula amongst these three songs, but it works to tie them together well. This track in particular expands on that quite a bit with some wonderful melodic moments. The juxtaposition between the guitar harmonies and the desperate vocals is absolutely fantastic. “La Ville Brûle Depuis Des Jours” starts off with a melody strummed on an autoharp, certainly not something you hear often in this genre. The autoharp continues accompanied only by drums and vocals for over a minute, before the guitar comes in, though it’s very light, distant, and airy. It’s a beautiful beginning to the track, and by the time the bass kicks in about halfway through, the autoharp’s presence fades a bit to the background, which coupled with the faint guitar makes for a very haunting sound. At around 3:30, a layer of guitar comes forward, creating one of the most powerful moments present during their three songs. A brilliant way to end their portion of the release, and to make me want to investigate them further.

Rings of Rhea, hailing from Ukraine, bridge the gap between the other two bands nicely, playing a mix of scream and post-metal, with some hints of sludge thrown in for good measure. They start off the first of their two songs, “Destruction”, with an ominous, quiet intro that slowly builds up to an eruption. The ominous feeling carries throughout the song, with the hoarse screams layered a bit in the background, trudging along at an almost sludge pace before things get a little frantic around the 6 minute mark. The last minute is a fade out of guitars, joined by a light, sorrowful piano melody which fades perfectly into the follow up track, “Creation”. The two truly feel like one track, split into two parts.  The title of this track is very appropriate, as the music builds up and feels like something grand is being created after the frantic crash of the preceding “Destruction”. The only downside here is that after the speed and intensity of the Cathedraal songs, you’re left wanting a bit more. Given the layout of the split, I think that this is less of a reflection on Rings of Rhea in general, and more of an example of on of the ways splits can provide differing sounds.

Where the second part of the split felt a bit lacking, Schematics for Gravity bring the intensity back, though not in the same way as Cathedraal. Things move very slowly here, but there’s a method and emotion to it. These Swedes work very well with the traditional feel and orchestration of post-rock, adding a bit of a metal edge via the guitar tones and screamed, distant vocals. The vocals possess the same element of being layered under the instruments as Rings of Rhea, but I feel like it works better here. Both of their tracks, “Cast in the Same Mold” and “Behind Closed Doors”, have a beautiful quality to them thanks to the way the music and vocals play off of each other so well. They have a strange way of feeling both sad and inspiring at the same way, which to me, speaks volumes about their ability as a band to construct a post-whatever song. “Behind Closed Doors” is the best example of this, of the two tracks, going from a sorrowful intro, to a nearly upbeat bridge, and closing it back out with a hint of sadness. There’s an element of shoegaze in what they do, and I think it works nicely.

All in all, I think this is a great release. I don’t think that the Rings of Rhea tracks are bad at all, in fact I really enjoyed them and they do make for a great transition, they just sort of lack the intensity of the other two bands. Knowing that this isn’t really going to be the style preferred by many readers, this split is a really shining example of the European post-metal scene, with each band contributing something a little different to the table. Interestingly, it seems as though the Schematics for Gravity songs were added almost last minute, as the original album artwork indicates a split between just Cathedraal and Rings of Rhea. Good choice to tack those on!

All three bands have bandcamp pages with pay what you will releases, while Cathedraal and Schematics for Gravity provide links to download the split. Both bands also provide a mediafire link so you can grab the whole thing at once.

Cathedraal:   http://cathedraal.bandcamp.com/

Rings of Rhea: http://ringsofrhea.bandcamp.com/

Schematics for Gravity: http://schematicsforgravity.bandcamp.com/

Grab the whole thing via mediafire: www.mediafire.com?r9pya000enak4e9

The Littlest Viking – The Littlest Viking – 88%

the Littlest Viking cover art

Southern California’s The Littlest Viking return with the self-titled follow up to their 2009 debut, “Labor & Lust”, and pick up right where they left off, showcasing the super guitar work of Ruben Cortez and Christopher Gregory’s speedy, complex drumming. The duo hasn’t slowed a bit in these 3+ years, kicking things off with the aptly titled “Give Me Motorhead”. The driving rhythm and thrashy, d-beat guitar riffs are a great wake up call, one that crashes headfirst into the fun, dancy “Slap Bracelet Wounds”. This track has a very late 90s/early 2000s DC feel to me, calling to mind bands like Q and Not U and The Dismemberment Plan (the latter especially in the final minute of the track). I’m certainly not saying this is a bad thing, in fact, I think it’s one of the things that really sets The Littlest Viking apart from so many of their math-rock peers. These post-hardcore influences pop up elsewhere on the album, most notably in some of the tracks that feature vocals, like “Picadilly Palare is a Real Boner Drag”, “Puppies Forever”, and “Mary-Louise Parker Has AIDS.. A Lot”. The last of those three features a nice juxtaposition in vocal styles, bouncing back and forth from a more chaotic, yelled vocal style to a clean, duet style featuring accompanying female vocalist Denise Mutuc.

“Return of the Mack (Redux)” is my favorite track on the album, starting out with a quiet, fuzzy, almost shoegaze feel, which leads up to a great mix of math and post-hardcore, and the best usage of vocals on the album. I’m not just saying that I like it because of the nod to Mark Morrison, either. Things get a little thrashy again on “I Hope There’s a Glory Hole in Hell”, a rowdy track that stops rather abruptly, as if it didn’t want to crash into the bouncy, dance party feeling of the following track, “My Little Brony”. Gregory’s drumming really stands out to me on this track, not because of any one moment, but throughout the course of the song, he really shows what he can do, and does it well. Too often people think that faster drumming equals drumming, not realizing the skill it takes to pull off some of these time and rhythm changes. “Free Metal Pat” closes things out, and does so wonderfully. The gang vocals layered over the reverb heavy guitars that bring the track to an end are really well done, and leave you looking forward to what these guys will pull off next.

That said, one of the downfalls of this album to me is that you’re left wondering what these guys could pull off. It seems like they haven’t yet really hit their full potential, and the flashes of that here left me wanting more. It’s a very solid release, though, and hopefully we won’t have to wait another 3 years to see how the band progresses further.

Grab the MP3s for $10 from the Mountain Man Records bandcamp – http://mountainmanrecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-littlest-viking-2

Vinyl (including digital download) is $11 from Mountain Man Records – http://store.mountainmanrecords.com/product/the-littlest-viking-s-t-12-lp-pre-oreder

Niño Koi – La Pequeña Muerte – 94%

La pequeña muerte cover art

One of the greatest things to me about the ever-expanding genre of post-rock is the seemingly nonstop discovery of new bands. In most cases, they’re not even really “new”, just new to my ears. Case in point, Costa Rica’s Niño Koi, and their newest release, “La Pequeña Muerte”. Being wholly ignorant of any post-rock scene in Latin America/Central America at all, this an absolutely wonderful discovery.  One of the main things you’ll notice about this album (their third, as far as I can tell) is the bass. Not that it’s overpowering in any way, but that the songwriting is done in such a way that the bass is often it’s own instrument. Bassist Chris Robinson doesn’t necessarily always follow along with the drums, and even when he does, the bass sound stands out. This is a really nice touch to me, and reminds me a bit of Maserati, in that regard.

These guys are definitely on the “rock” end of post-rock, rather than the familiar ambience of most post-rock albums. That’s not to say those elements don’t exist here, because they certainly know how to create a mood, it’s just that when it comes down to it, Niño Koi really know how to rock. The opening track, “El Último Rey de Talamanca”, starts with a very spiritual feeling, in the form of a wind instrument that I can’t quite put my finger on (didgeridoo?), then a stomping beat courtesy of drummer Fabrizio Durán. The bass and guitars join in, briefly sounding like an ode to Joy Division before as the distortion and speed pick up, before an explosion of cymbals and drums really kicks things into motion. The stops and starts present in this track really show that Niño Koi fully understand how to work well with space and volume, using both to great effect. Chanting and further wood instruments, this time in the distance, lead into the following track, “Unio Naturalis”, which starts out energetic though pleasant, and leads into a frenzied cacophony of guitars, bass, and drums before finally calming down into a beautiful melody, as though you were waking from a nightmare. The final part of the first act of the album (the album itself is broken up into three parts, via the brief interludes “I” and “II”) is  “¿Adónde Está la Noche?”, a track that makes great use of some of the “traditional” post-rock elements by crafting a pleasant, bright scene which segues nicely into the first interlude.

The next act begins with “Giulietta Guicciardi”, which is easily the most “post-rock” sounding song on the album, to me. It’s a beautiful track, named for the Austrian countess and one time student to whom Ludwig van Beethoven dedicated his “Piano Sonata No. 14”, featuring several samples of a woman speaking in French, which fit in rather nicely with the feel of the track. As the song draws to an end, things begin to seem a bit darker, concluding with ringing bells that carry a rather ominous feeling.  The top track on the album for me, “Mátalos a Todos”, starts with a wave of feedback, a Charles Manson sample, and a solid, driving drum line, and delves into a rather somber mood, with a sparse bass line and clean, jangly guitars, before picking back up a violent intensity that is accompanied by air raid siren like guitars. An explosive barrage of drums and guitars follows, briefly bordering on a post-metal chug, just before slowing back down, without losing any intensity, into a wail of fuzz-laden guitars. It’s a really well crafted song, and the abilities of the band are displayed here magnificently.

The next track, “3:00 A.M.” starts off with heavily distorted feedback and a driving bass line, that when layered with the spoken prayer, really serve to create an eerie mood, the kind that you’d more expect to be found on a metal album. This feeling continues throughout the track, with some really dark piano notes, joined by some frantic sounding guitar. It seems almost like something that would grace the score of a horror film, and really leads you to think that this was crafted with some sort of scenario in mind. Think running through the woods, chased by some unseen presence. Good stuff.

“El Sueño de la Razón” follows, and has an almost schizophrenic sound – the instruments are occasionally joined by bursts of electronics, which, when combined, create a strange, uneasy feeling. Given the title of the song, I can’t help but think that it’s inspired by the Francisco Goya carving, “El Sueño de la Razón Produce Monstruos”, or, “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters”. If you’re familiar with the artwork, or do a quick search for it, this piece makes for a good companion. While not as heavy as the preceding track, it’s every bit as dark. “Pequeña París” makes for a great album closer, starting off well organized and calm, and devolving into occasional frenzied bursts of guitar and drums, before ultimately winding everything down. Guitarists Mauricio Fonseca and Federico Salas really do some great work with the usage of effects on this track, and it’s a really excellent example of how to close out an album.

Ultimately, Niño Koi have created an incredible album, and have more than proved themselves worthy of notice on the world stage. I’m delighted to have discovered them, and am really looking forward to what the future holds for these wonderfully talented musicians.

Availabile for $1 (or free, through a band-provided link) on their bandcamp page – http://ninokoi.bandcamp.com/

Neurosis – Honor Found In Decay – 89%

(IamHop note: Please welcome ShanexEdge to Postrockstar! Shane is one of our go to guys for all things post-metal/doom-metal/heavy but he is also well versed in all things post-rock)

Having had a good bit of time now to listen to “Honor Found In Decay”, the newest offering from Neurosis, I’ve really had a chance to let the album as a whole soak in. Part of this is getting over the initial excitement of a new album, and hearing it for what it really is. Being a band that always pushes the boundary of post-metal/drone/doom/whatever a bit, Neurosis push themselves a bit here, though perhaps not as much as the band lead people to believe. After all, in the trailer for the album, Steve Von Till claimed “Our legacy can only be assured if we continually burn down the past and plant seeds in the ashes.” Still, it’s a move forward for the band, releasing what I feel is their most intimate album so far.

The opening track, “We All Rage In Blood”, to me is easily the weakest track on the album. From the cheesy synth to some of the most bored sounding vocals Scott Kelly has ever delivered, it doesn’t really set a good tone for the rest of the album with the way everything just sort of seems pieced together. “At The Well” follows up with a nice, dark intro, which definitely draws to mind comparisons to Swans, especially given the crooning vocals. The rest of the track treads familiar ground, though it begins to pick up pace, and by the end of the track, you’ve all but forgotten about the slow start. The standout track on the album, “My Heart For Deliverance”, is probably some of the best music the band has ever written. Everything you know and love about Neurosis is explored, and expanded upon, in this track. From the droning intro, to the melodic tones the begin to emerge about a quarter of the way through the song, to the spoken word sample (“we follow the earth, the earth follows the stars, the stars know their way, and though the body dies, the stars will reign like the waves of the sea and the breathless wind”) that leads to one of the most crushingly atmospheric moments of the album, this is a very dense, classic Neurosis track. I don’t like to throw the word “epic” around, but this track, to me, can only be described as such.

Another classic Neurosis element can be found in the tribal drumming that features heavily in “Bleeding The Pigs”, a track that also features some great layered vocal work – nearly unnoticeable due to the similarities between Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till’s vocals, but it adds a nice, almost haunting element to the song, which I think makes it that much stronger. “Casting Of The Ages” is another nod to Swans, perhaps even more so than “At The Well”, with the quiet, almost delicate intro crashing headfirst into a wall of distortion that carries out the rest of the track. The near-shoegaze levels of fuzz at the end of the preceding track are quickly tossed aside by the relentless drumming of Jason Roeder that kicks off “All Is Found…In Time”. The stomping guitar riff that features prominently in the first half of the song eventually gives way to more delicate guitar work, creating a very spacey feel before the rapid-fire drumming kicks back in. The keys in this song are very subtle, but they’re present enough to create a great atmosphere. The abrupt end leads to the album closer, “Raise The Dawn”, which is a bit of a disappointment to me, as a closer. If it were elsewhere on the album, it would be a solid, drone-heavy track, but the bring the album to an end, it just seems a little lacking, although Scott Kelly’s growl of “All the rest have fallen / Returning the sun” delivered over a near-blues riff is a nice touch, and a bit of a nod to the band’s tenacity.

All things considered, it’s a good album. Not quite as strong as I was expecting, or had hoped, but it works fairly well. Aside from the few shortcomings I’ve mentioned, I think it still stands as a solid piece of their discography. Of course, like all things Neurosis, it’s incredibly dense, and provides the listener with a lot to process. The true test of the album will be time, and peeling back all of the layers contained within.

CD available for $14 via Blue Collar Distro – http://www.bluecollardistro.com/neurotrecordings/categories.php?cPath=1030_1031_1137

Available in digital format on Itunes.