Wednesday, 12 November 2014

I'll See You When We're Both Not So Emotional - The Classics: Part 2.

The Classics

  • Mineral
  • The Promise Ring
  • Sunny Day Real Estate
  • Texas is the Reason
  • Thursday
Recommended Albums

 Mineral - EndSerenading (1998)
Mineral released only the two full-length albums, this and The Power of Failing, both of which you'd be wise to check out. They're of similar quality but I've chosen EndSerenading as this is my personal favorite of the two, but only marginally. This album is characterised by its softer approach.. Take the albums opener, for example. Lovelettertypewriter features barely any instrumentation at all. Just a ethereal guitar lead, Chris Simpson's beautiful voice and his sensitive lyrics. The album soon picks up but it doesn't quite have the same energy. However, it more than makes up for it with its melody, intelligent lyrics and wistful nature.

The Promise Ring -  Nothing Feels Good (1997)

Regarded as one of the pioneers of the second wave of emo music, this album represents where The Promise Ring really began to define themselves. Moving on from the debut, this album is quick to progress on its journey into pop territory. This was one of the first albums to really blend together pop punk and emo music and its influence is still felt today. As you'd probably expect, the music is extremely catchy and upbeat. The production is really clean and it has some truly terrific choruses exuding the ever present sense of sentimentality that their music always seemed to have.

Sunny Day Real Estate - Diary (1994)

Considered to be the defining album of the second wave of emo. Sunny Day Real Estate may just be my favorite emo band of all-time. When it comes to choosing a favorite LP in their discography, I'm spoiled for choice. Diary is undoubtedly the most influential but my ultimate favorite is probably the overlooked self-titled album. Diary is considered to have laid much of the foundations for the emo in the 1990's, alongside Weezer. The album made the genre accessible to new audiences who had previously had trouble getting into the genre. It features a neat mix of elements, from quieter arpeggiated sections to more dynamic, energetic ones. This album hints at all sorts of potential for the band and, in particular, their vocalist Jeremy Enigk, who is perhaps a little less distinctive on this effort than he is on their later albums. Regardless, it's a breathtaking effort for a debut.

Texas is the Reason - Do You Know Who We Are? (1996)

Another emo band whose career was short-lived. The title of the album is supposedly the last thing said by John Lennon before he died. There are a few key features to this album which make it what it is. The first being Garret Klahn's nasal vocals. Thankfully, the strength of his voice is such that the nasal qualities don't become overbearing with the mix of the instrumentation. He's actually quite a warm and inviting vocalist. The lyrics also go some way to strengthening his appeal as the front man. They express a discontent and loneliness that's pretty typical of the emo genre today.  Texas is the Reason never really had a niche. They weren't overly poppy, they weren't that hardcore, nor were they as technical as a number of the other bands around the same era but they were honest, passionate and good at what they did.

Thursday - Full Collapse (2001)
Thursday were one of the first bands to receive mainstream exposure. They charted at #178 on The Billboard 200 and had a couple of popular singles, including "Cross Out the Eyes". The albums success was born of the bands ability to create a well engineered sound, utilising rhythmic bass lines and captivating melodies which weren't too overpowering. What I like about this album is that it isn't afraid to push the boundaries and is rarely ever predictable. I think the variety of vocals on offer, which includes clean singing and understandable screams, makes a real difference to the album, as does the variation in pacing within the songs and the album in general. Fast, crunchy melodies are contrasted with slower sections to great effect.

I'll See You When We're Both Not So Emotional - The Classics: Part 1.

The Classics
  • American Football
  • Braid
  • Cap'n Jazz
  • The Get Up Kids
  • Jimmy Eat World 

Recommended Albums
Luckily for us, this section is chock-a-block with top albums that have stood the test of time. By this stage of emo's development, the genre had begun to mature and diversify, developing a closer relationship to the cult fan base it had acquired during the early part of the 1990's.

American Football - American Football (1999)

Formed in 1997, split-up in 2000. American Football's career may have been short-lived but their impact was lasting and their influence undeniable. Alongside bands like Jawbreaker and Sunny Day Real Estate, a lot of modern emo acts have gone on to take a lot of influence from this monolithic album. I especially love this album for its youthfulness and Steve Lamos' incredibly melancholic use of the trumpet on tracks like "Summer Ends". Mike Kinsella (formerly of Cap'n Jazz), the bands lead vocalist and guitarist, has since gone on to establish himself as a solo artist with his band Owen.

Braid - Frame & Canvas (1998)

This album was released to critical acclaim and is considered a staple of the late 90's emo movement and rightly so. Although this album may lack the youthful energy of their previous album, this one more than makes up for it in its technical melodies which linger in the mind long after the record has run its course. Unfortunately, stresses over money and differences in opinion over which direction the band should take eventually led to their first break-up in 1999, only one year after the success of this album. I'd recommend listening to The Age of Octeen too.

Cap'n Jazz - Burritos, Inspiration Point, Fork Balloon Sports, Cards In The Spokes, Automatic Biographies, Kites, Kung Fu, Trophies, Banana Peels We've Slipped On and Egg Shells We've Tippy Toed Over (1994)

 Cap'n Jazz were such a talented band. Their energy is unrivaled and they have this charming youthfulness about their music which is, at times, abrasive - as shown on the very first song with its chaotic structure and agonised screamed vocals. If you hated school and the people around you when you were growing up, then this is probably the perfect record for you. It harks back to the days of gym class, secretly smoking and not giving a shit. This album is so full of emotion, it's difficult not to get wrapped up in it. Within the space of a 3-minute song, you'll feel every bit of frustration they're feeling, every ounce of discontent but, most of all, you'll be intoxicated by the exuberance and passion of the album.

The Get Up Kids - Something To Write Home About (1999)

Their debut, entitled Four Minute Mile, is actually my preferred choice of the two albums but this is their most well known effort and that's why I have chosen it. The first album had a DIY punk feel to it and is probably the less experimental album of the two. This album features keyboards, for example, and whilst that alienated a section of their fan base, it opened up the door to new fans. The essential features of their style are the same on both albums but the keyboards add an extra dimension to the shape of their music and the production is much more refined. Personally, I enjoy the gritty production of the debut but this makes they catchy pop punk hooks far more accessible.

Jimmy Eat World - Clarity (1999)

Jimmy Eat World begins and ends here, folks. The rest of their discography unfortunately fails to live up to the foundations that this album laid down. This album, with its dynamic instrumentation, is what drew critical and cult success for the band. It's also the album which would go on to have such a massive impact and influence within the emo genre for years to come. The strongest feature of this album is definitely Jim Adkins heartfelt approach as he provides by vocals and guitars. This album has a real mix of things to keep the listener happy. From ballads to orchestras, from fantastic hooks to the excellent drum work. A staple for any emo fans diet. 

Monday, 10 November 2014

I'll See You When We're Both Not So Emotional - The 1980's.

 So, you're thinking about getting into emo but aren't sure where to start? Well, let me do my best to help you out.

Let us begin with a simple definition of the emo genre, generously supplied by Wikipedia:

Emo is a style of rock music characterized by melodic musicianship and expressive, often confessional, lyrics. It originated in the mid-1980s hardcore punk movement of Washington, D.C., where it was known as "emotional hardcore" or "emocore" and pioneered by bands such as Rites of Spring and Embrace. As the style was echoed by contemporary American punk rock bands, its sound and meaning shifted and changed, blending with pop punk and indie rock and encapsulated in the early 1990s by groups such as Jawbreaker and Sunny Day Real Estate. By the mid-1990s numerous emo acts emerged from the Midwestern and Central United States, and several independent record labels began to specialize in the style.

Due to the fact that emo has underdone a number of stylistic changes since its inception in the 1980's, I'm going to have to break this down into sections. We'll start with its origins in the 80's, which includes emocore, "a style of Post-Hardcore that emerged primarily in Washington D.C. in the summer of 1985, as a reaction against the by then stagnant Hardcore Punk scene." Then we'll move into the classic territory which will consist of the genres better known titles. Finally, we'll dig through the obscure in an attempt to secure ourselves some hidden gems laying deep beneath the surface.

  •  The 80's.
  • 3 - Dark Days Coming (1989)
  • Beefeater - House Burning Down (1987)
  • Dag Nasty - Can I Say (1986)
  • Embrace - Embrace (1987)
  • The Hated - Every Song (1989)
  • Ignition - Machination (1989)
  • Jawbreaker - Unfun (1990)
  • M.I.A. - Murder in a Foreign Place (1984)
  • Moss Icon - Hate in Me (1988)
  • Rites of Spring - Rites of Spring (1985)
  • Social Unrest - Before the Fall (1987)
You may also be interested in tracking down notable bands who heavily influenced the emocore movement of the 1980's. I'd recommend starting with every LP released by Hüsker Dü released between the years of 1984 and their demise in 1987. Pay particular attention to Zen Arcade (1984) and New Day Rising (1985). Once you're done there, move straight on to Minor Threat. Since they never released a full-length album, grab yourself a copy of their compilation, Complete Discography (1989). As the title would suggest, this is an all encompassing release which features their key tracks. Finally, Black Flag. They were a prolific band back in the 80's so don't worry about getting their entire back catalog just yet. Simply head on over to Damaged (1981).

Music in 2014 - Best Of.

I haven't had the chance to listen to too many albums this year but here are the ones that have really stood out for me.

Grouper is the sole project of singer/songwriter Liz Harris. On a personal level, this is the most surprising addition to the list because I was never that keen on her previous material, in particular, the revered Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill. Despite the fact that it had been compared to classics from yesteryear that I do love, like the British artist Cocteau Twins, I couldn't get into its unusual style. This album could then be seen as a gateway for me to explore the rest of her extensive back catalog, including revisiting the aforementioned album. Whilst there are some similarities between this album and a couple of previous ones, this feels more personal to me. The combination of the lyrics and melancholic piano, the only instrument to feature on the entire album, are what really appeal to me. Lately I've been exploring a lot of ambient music which relies heavily on keys, so getting into Ruins was a much easier transition. That and I'm always on the look out for material to sleep to, something which I've found this album is great for because it's very gentle and tender. Liz's hushed vocals, which can be a little difficult to hear at times over the piano which has a tendency to drown her out, are generally perfect to sleep to.

Eight years. That is how long it has taken for this album. Jakob's previous album, entitled Solace, is one of my favorites across any genre, let alone within post-rock. Potentially, this album could be every bit as good as Solace but, for now, I'd say Solace is still top dog. This album was actually due to come out earlier than 2014 but one of the bands guitarists sustained a hand injury which prevented them from completing it earlier and also from touring extensively. In fact, I bought a ticket for a gig they were supposed to be having in the UK but, of course, they had to postpone due to said injury. When I had first heard a preview of the title track, I had expected that this album would see a change in style since it's a fully ambient song with none of the usual trademarks of a Jakob song but that isn't the case. Sines is a continuation of Solace. Whilst the bands material has remained much the same throughout their career, which spans sixteen years, Jakob are so adept at what they do, that those crescendos still manage to sound so moving and profound to this day.

Ne Obliviscaris - Citadel

 Citadel is the Australian progressive/melodic death metal bands sophomore LP and it's causing as much of a storm as their debut did. There is talk that the bands album could chart in Australia and it would be the first truly underground metal album to do so in years. If you've heard the debut, entitled Portal of I, then you'll know what to expect from this album. Essentially, it's more of the same but I'm not complaining. If you're new to Australia's next big thing, then there are few outstanding features on the album you ought to be aware of. The album features harsh vocals in the form of screams. Usually they feature separately from the clean vocals but they occasionally double up to create a dynamic and fascinating atmosphere. The clean vocals, provided by Tim Charles, are truly exceptional. As is his use of the violin, a component of the music which features sparingly throughout, which is both beautiful and haunting. The album is complex and diverse. Once again, the perfect production maximises the components of the album and draws them together expertly.

Rome - A Passage to Rhodesia

 Rome are a band who opened the door to both martial industrial and neofolk for me. Masse Mensch Material was the first of their albums I heard and, since then, I've gone on to explore the rest of their discography, finding a lot of joy along the way. Rome are a band with many strengths, none more so than Jérôme Reuter's ability to turn potentially overpowering conceptual ideas into songs you care about. He's a fantastic storyteller and vocalist to boot. Long-time fans of Rome will not be strangers to Rome's fascination with conceptual albums, mostly dealing with conflict and war, but newcomers may be put off by how enveloped the album becomes in telling the story of Rhodesia. Not to fear, the musicianship is such that, even if you find the lyrics a little overbearing, the music itself will more than make up for it.

Sun Kil Moon - Benji

I'm a massive fan of Mark Kozelek. Whether it's a part of Red House Painters, a collaborative work or even his own solo material. I love his voice, his lyrics and his honesty. I considered his earliest works as Red House Painters frontman untouchable until I heard Sun Kil Moon's Ghosts of the Great Highway. This album is vastly different to that in its execution and particularly in relation to its lyrical style. Ghosts of the Great Highway felt like Red House Painters under a different name but not Benji. Mark is still nostalgic, still morbid and still singing about personal tragedies but I find the approach, in general, is a lot less serious. Whilst some of the songs hit key features in his usual repertoire, others highlight the mundane nature of life, the things he has done and seen throughout the course of a typical day. The songwriting is bare bones storytelling style but that's alright by me.

The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream

I really enjoyed Slave Ambient when I first heard it but I put it down for months and forgot it existed. I was looking through a list of albums that had recently come out when I noticed The War on Drugs had a new album out, Lost in the Dream. I decided to check it out and memories of the first time I had heard them came flooding back. Since hearing this album for the first time, I've been hooked on them in general. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that. Whilst Slave Ambient is indeed a very good album, this effort has taken them onto a new level. I imagine there will be no issues with longevity when it comes to this album. It has since acted as a gateway for me to check out more heartland rock, including Bruce Springsteen who I had managed to ignore for 27 years. The album feels very personal. As I understand it, vocalist Adam Granduciel had some trouble readjusting to life after touring and went through a break-up. "Suffering" is a great example of the power of this album as Adam unburdens his soul to us.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Veldt - Afrodisiac (1994) 4/5

Despite originating from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, The Veldt would probably have felt more at home in the heart of England during the early to mid 1990’s. Whilst bands from the British Isles and Ireland were gaining a lot of publicity for their shoegazing ways, The Veldt were sadly overlooked, despite being around during the height of the shoegaze movement. In spite of their obvious talents, The Veldt, one of the few predominantly black alternative bands, were disgracefully swept aside due to the colour of their skin. Thankfully, before their demise, The Veldt released one of the most underrated shoegaze albums of the entire movement, let alone during the 1990’s when bands like Slowdive were coming to prominence. Despite this, the band were actually a hit in the UK when they toured alongside Cocteau Twins. Their layered approach and emotive vocals were considered a real treat to shoegazers in the UK just as much then as they are now with me.

As you might be able to tell from the title of this dazzling full-length debut, “Afrodisiac”, is at times a startling and eye opening commentary on the troubles of the black community and women’s rights at the time of its release. Songs like “Revolutionary Sister”, in particular, are evidence of this with the lyrics presenting a anti-misogyny message. “Afrodisiac” is unlike any of shoegaze album for many reasons, not only because it deals with such hard-hitting concepts and themes. One of the main differences between The Veldt and your standard shoegaze band is co-creator Daniel Chavis, the bands brilliant vocalist. Whilst most shoegaze bands during this era would employ their vocalist to use indiscernible vocals, Daniel Chavis’ uniquely shaped words are clear and concise, a major factor which contributes to the success of the album.

Not only this, but The Veldt’s influences also play a huge role in the shaping of the bands psychedelic and soulful sound. Daniel himself is inspired by none other than Prince. His collaboration with the layered, spiralling guitars is a wonderful high point on the album, though there are many to speak of. Amongst their surprising influences are also the likes of the inspirational and supremely talented Jimi Hendrix. The band also have some more “standard” influences, such as their close friends A.R. Kane, one of England’s few predominantly black alternative bands of the 90’s, and the likes of Cocteau Twins and Echo and the Bunnymen, all of which spearheaded, at some stage or another, England’s pioneering alternative, post-punk and shoegaze genres and sub-genres. With influences such as these, it would easy to expect The Veldt not to be able to live up to such standards, but they most certainly do.

Whether it’s in the clean brand of vocals imposed on the listener by Daniel Chavis, or the psychedelic nature of the bands melodies, The Veldt ooze just as much class and talent as any of their influences. Although the band do adopt certain techniques from the aforementioned, they do impose their own on their style, particularly through the soulful passages, spearheaded by the vocals. Areas of the music, like the drums, can resemble that of other bands, like Cocteau Twins, during songs like the melodious “Daisy Chain” and some of the upbeat passages remind me of the infectious A.R. Kane style, which also incorporates some of the more interesting influences in the shoegaze movement, from dream pop, to trip-hop and funkier alternative dance. Unlike most bands, The Veldt also have a really crisp production to their songs, meaning that all elements are audible and aren’t buried under the glorious fuzz of the guitars, which still exists on this album. Ray Shulman, who worked closely with A.R. Kane helped out in that regard, offering his expertise to the project.

Unlike those two bands however, The Veldt are more aggressive, particularly in relation to their drumming. The bass drum, for example, is very prominent throughout the album and there is a raw quality to the drums which contrasts well with the beautiful vocals and sweet melodies of songs like “Dusty Blood”, a song which really hammers home the aggressive feel to the album in contrast to those from the likes of A.R. Kane and the like. Aside from the astounding amount of catchy songs, including “Soul in a Jar”, The Veldt’s main quality is certainly the vocals. Daniel has a great range, a really affecting, emotive voice. He’s able to easily capture the essence of the catchier songs, as well as embody the pained soul of songs like “Heather”, a really romantic song and a homage to A.R. Kane, apparently. This song also features a really unexpected introduction to the saxophone, which adds a really suave and sophistication feel to the atmosphere of the song, giving it a bluesy touch amidst the harsh environment of the guitar effects pedal produced shoegaze. Both blissful and calmingly soulful, “Afrodisiac” is one of shoegaze’s finest forgotten gems.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Red House Painters - Down Colorful Hill (1992) 5/5

Red House Painters - are a band who have greatly influenced my listening habits over the past year or however long it has been since I first discovered them. Since discovering this San Francisco, Californian based band, spearheaded by the industrious singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek, I have never managed to find a band within the same genre who managed to capture the same levels of emotion or move me as much. This, one of the most influential bands in the genre of slowcore, a truly horrible genre name, have, to some extent, shaped the way I listen to music, making me pay far more attention to lyrics than I have ever done in my life due to the fact that I find myself so often relating to the pained expressions of lost love and melancholy that Mark Kozelek so grippingly writes about. He himself has expressed in interviews the fact that he finds himself unable to listen to his earliest albums due to the painful memories they evoke.

Although obviously not to the same extent, each time I sit down to listen to Red House Painters’ debut, entitled ‘Down Colorful Hill’, I feel past feelings of anger, hurt and regret just as I did the day that took hold of my life. The lyrics to songs like ‘24’ I find particularly stressful to listen to (especially when coupled with the wonderful music video for the song), though this is what draws me back to Red House Painters time and again. I don’t know what it is about my nature but I love torturing myself through listening to the most depressed music, watching the darkest films and generally immersing myself in the most wicked forms of art. Listening to ‘Down Colorful Hill’ is like stabbing myself in the back as I betray my mind and put myself through the sheer torment of listening to those aching acoustics and that wonderfully dismal voice, expressing the most downtrodden of lyrics.

I find it rather amusing that, having taken a break from writing reviews for depressed metal musicians, I find myself sitting here writing reviews about depressed non-metal musicians and music. I’m drawn to it somehow. However, that isn’t to say that there isn’t any other emotion expressed via this groundbreaking record because there is. Despite the style of Kozelek’s voice, which is infiltrating due to its sombreness, there are some rather “upbeat” moments to the instrumentation, most noticeable I find on the self-titled track, ‘Down Colorful Hill’. Though the lyrics may express challenges ahead for the fragile human being in the story, there is an uplifting quality to the repetitive and rhythmic drumming, as well as the acoustics, which are normally so wrapped up in the dark and dense atmosphere that they can never usually get to that light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how hard they try. The atmosphere on this particular song signals a change in the albums direction and although ‘Japanese to English’ changes the momentum a bit, the strangely upbeat ‘Lord Kill the Pain’ swiftly moves back to that fragile state though this time through the lyrics and not the instrumentation.

The lyrics, in particular, are very striking to me. The song pinpoints things, albeit unintentionally, that have occurred in my own life once again, even to the point of getting the names in my own personal story right! I have a lot of respect for what Kozelek has done with this album, particularly when taking into consideration the ever impressive lyrics. He captures all those fears and desires I had as a mixed up teenager in a troubled relationship with seemingly mountainous problems that somehow dissolve over time. Though the lyrics may seem to suggest a rather irrational form of angst and despair as their main influence, one has to keep in mind that these seem totally justifiable at the time, so I always try to place myself in his youthful shoes, though it isn’t hard seeing as this album never fails to transport me back to a time when the emotions on display here are entirely applicable to my existence. Not only does he hit the nail on the head with the lyrics but his voice has a brilliantly juxtaposed warmth and cold texture to it. He expresses the delights with a burning passion and the downs with a cold, harsh reality. I adore Kozelek’s voice. It’s marvellous alongside the simplistic acoustic passages, gentle bass and probing percussion.

Whilst the first two songs, particularly ‘24’, were extremely emotive due to its intensity and emphasis on darker thoughts and feelings, are suppressed by their darker state of mind, the album switches to a more soft expression of emotion during the course of the self-titled tracks ten minutes plus (which also happens to be the longest song on the album, therefore dwelling on the lighter transitional period for a prolonged period of time before becoming more focused on the pain of life once again on the confused and hurt sounding, ‘Japanese to English’). As song like the aforementioned highlight, Kozelek was and always will be a brilliant lyricist. He captures so much in the short space of his songs. Each and every track of this album has at the very least one or two lines which are extremely quotable in reference to things that have occurred in my own life, making this one very special album to me. Whether he’s talking about how life dealt him a hand much different to the one he expected at a young age, or how he never realised his dreams, it isn’t difficult to at least empathise with what he’s getting at and therein lies the beauty of Red House Painters - they feel real. ‘Down Colorful Hill’ is a truly brilliant debut album consisting of remixed demos that fully deserved to see the light of day in this sort of format. Wonderful.

Svafnir - The Heathen Chapters (2008) 50/100.

Lately I’ve been running into a lot of neofolk/metal crossovers, including this here band, Svafnir, a Pagan metal band from Germany. This project, spearheaded by Alexander Suplie, is one of those type of acts that generally irritates me as they try desperately hard to bridge the gap between metal and non-metal sounds. As with ambient black metal bands, this sort of mesh of genres is so deeply satisfying when it’s done correctly but, the majority of the time at least, it ends up falling flat on its face only to embarrass everyone concerned. Whilst Svafnir aren’t short of talent, this debut full-length, entitled ‘The Heathen Chapters’, comes across as a mostly filler-type album, one which is seemingly constantly building to something much bigger and greater than it ever achieves, though that isn’t to say it isn’t possible in the future to achieve such heights. First and foremost, there needs to be more in the way of metal material for this to succeed as a metal album. It is almost entirely NOT a metal album, bar the occasional blasting of atmospheric black metal riffs or doomier growled vocals but these aspects are so few and far between, they’re barely worth making a note of.

As I said, acts like this who, on the surface of things, seem to be fully fledged metal bands and interesting to boot, tend to annoy me as they persistently miss the opportunities presented to them. Pagan metal, which tends to be very closely related to black metal, goes very well when mixed properly with folk music. In fact, it’s almost always the case that the two sub-genres of metal are intertwined due to their strong bonds and ties. However, many bands, including Svafnir, tend to place too much emphasis on one aspect of their style and not enough on the other, as is the case with ‘The Heathen Chapters’, an album which could be viewed as an ode to fellow extreme metal acts such as America’s Agalloch, a band who have on occasions got the mixture of harsh metal and gentle folk right. So much so I’ve even heard people stating this is next in line to Agalloch’s “The White” EP, one which has garnered much success since its release.

As an Agalloch fan, I must admit to be one of the only long-time fans who doesn’t particularly enjoy the oven fodder that is “The White” EP. It feels like a cheap gimmick in order to rake in money during the process when there’s a period of quiet from the band as they’re concentrating mostly on writing and preparing for a new full-length album. As with most of the fully instrumental songs on this album, of which there are a few, “The White” EP felt like a series of dull filler tracks which were supposedly meant to be admired for their outstanding natural beauty. I feel this is pretty similar to how Svafnir have acted on ‘The Heathen Chapters’, an album which uses all the clichés and cheap marketing tricks in the book to pull in a crowd of over-excited folk fans. Songs like ‘Zweige sich im Winde wiegen’ are prime examples of what I’m talking about. Although the occasional vocal blast may appear on numerous songs, the vocals were never set out to be the main talking point of the album - that, assumedly, is meant to be the work of the acoustics which, in fairness, can be emotive and lush, as on songs like ‘Shadows in the Water’, though the song isn’t developed too well towards the middle and end, though this doesn’t entirely surprise me.

The vocals, that is the growled vocals, are extremely poor. They sound like a cheap imitation of Opeth’s vocalist, Mikael Åkerfeldt, who does tend to have a strong voice. The clean vocals are decent but too infrequent/placed low on the priority list within the songs that they feature in, like on the aforementioned song where they’re whispered and barely noticeable for the most part, completely overshadowed by the genuinely melodious nature of the acoustics when they’re not afraid of expressing themselves and are too busy on practising their impersonation for the most timid sounding structures the world has ever seen. It isn’t a case of the album being so poor to the point of being downright offensive, it’s simply a case of being far too mediocre that it winds me up having to sit through this album several times over just to get a firm grasp on how and why it’s so mediocre. At least the production is good enough for me to hear how mediocre this album is. That at least was a bonus! This album features a few decent acoustic sections but the album is far too repetitive, lacking in a captivating atmosphere and largely forgettable to get worked up over.

Circle of Ouroborus - Veneration (2007) 60/100.

I suppose it was stupid of me to expect an experimental band to continue along the same lines of their full-length debut but this is exactly what I expected of ‘Veneration’, the sophomore full-length and of Finland’s Circle of Ouroborus. ‘Shores’, the full-length debut of the Finnish duo, was a strange mixture of all sorts of genres, including black metal. However, their sophomore is by far more simplistic in terms of instrumentation, song writing and direction. In basic terms, Circle of Ouroborus have taken the melancholy and solitudinous nature of ‘Shores’ and backed it up with rather simplistic neofolk full of emotion and melody.

This particular album came as a huge surprise to me, as you can imagine, since I hadn’t expected such a drastic change in style over the course of the two albums, especially when taking into consideration the fact that ‘Veneration’ was only released a mere few months after ‘Shores’, an album which seemed to have ties to genres like post-punk, so much so that the album included a rather unusual cover of a famous Joy Division song. ‘Veneration’, despite being completely stripped down, still manages to come across as full of character and life, using nature and a natural feel to the atmosphere as its main influence. This is shown well throughout the course of the album but particularly on songs such as ‘The Shadow of a Star’, a song which uses what sounds like a bongo, giving the atmosphere a very natural, tribal feel, as if the music were ancient.

This song also includes what sounds like a tambourine and gentle keyboards, evoking natural and mystical imagery in keeping with the rest of the album. Each of the eight songs flow well and usually into one another which, whilst making each a consistent ode to nature, the album can tend to feel like its dwelling too much on certain aspects and not enough on motoring forward, though this does give the album a sustainable direction as it never alters its own course. Although the band itself is very experimental, pushing their own personal boundaries with each of the albums I have heard of theirs, the album itself is a regular bout of neofolk, not particularly forging its own characteristics. ‘Veneration’ can tend to amble on by with its slow tempos and clean style but, like any nature based documentary, whilst it seems like there is no movement on the surface of a particular ecosystem, life is bustling beneath the surface and everything is moving at a mile-a-minute.

Although I wouldn’t suggest that this album is quick footed on its underbelly, there are certainly a number of things occurring at once which should keep your average listener satisfied, though I daresay this is an album which could only be described as “perfect background music”, for when you’re especially busy and don’t have time to fully concentrate on the piece, or even when you’re simply in the mood to relax, this album is perfect! It isn’t very challenging though and despite the bands experimental nature, metal acts churning out decent neofolk albums isn’t unheard of. They date back as far as Ulver’s early days, an album which I imagine has quite a bit in common with this particular one and with the bands movement through the genres, too. Circle of Ouroborus, much like acts such as Ulver, have continually, it seems, moved through the genres and kudos must be awarded to the two Finnish musicians for making each of their albums that I have personally heard interesting, fresh and reliable.

Songs like ‘Raise The Horns’ are excellent examples of the bands reliability when it comes to making music. The song is very simplistic and, at stages, quite repetitive, but it forges out some truly breathtaking melodies generated by the soft synths and acoustics. Not only this but Circle of Ouroborus indicate their adaptability when it comes to the vocals, too. The vocals on the debut were strange, eerily sung ones which were in keeping with the instrumentation, which was also eerie and strange. As on the debut, the vocals here are in keeping with the atmosphere and mood of the album, setting up a perfect partnership between itself and the instrumentation, again as shown wonderfully on ‘Raise The Horns’. The vocals, much like the music itself, are soft, gentle and moving. They sweep across the soundscapes with the help of the melodies generated by the acoustics and the synths. Although the album can become quite “samey”, it still has its own moments of joy, although this sophomore isn’t as impressive, memorable or, strangely, accessible to me as the debut despite its more straightforward approach.