Metal Monday 20.4.15 – “A fallen time that’s bygone…”

Welcome back, scholars, to another edition of Metal Monday.

After the testosterone driven “Party Hard” of last Monday, it’s time to take things down a notch and slow nod your way along to British gothic metal stalwarts Paradise Lost’s epic lead off track to the classic “Icon” from 1993. Yes, it’s “Embers Fire”. An absolute cracker that’s incredibly difficult to play along with because of it’s tempo. Playing this slow is actually quite difficult without a click (or maybe that’s the speed demon in me, I don’t know). I DO know, and I’ve heard first hand, when a band covers this song and speeds it up ever so slightly it loses it’s magic.

Paradise Lost. “Embers Fire”. Have it.

– Hevy Kevy

First Look: neutronic

With just two tracks out, neutronic, a Chester, UK-based duo, is already establishing itself with a distinct sound — downtempo electronica, elegantly linked vocals and soft beats. Paul (native to the UK) and Iuliana (native to Romania) explore the distinctions between their ranges, vocal timbres and accents against a chilled background.

Their first single, “Closer,” speaks to the delicate balance of a relationship, flawed yet impassioned. “We are closer than they could know,” they declare, an octave apart on the same notes. The slow instrumental build from a minimalist start peaks just before the end, lending emotional shape to the piece.

But the carefully crafted pairing came about through bare chance. In 2012, with a last-minute need for a female vocalist on an original track, Paul heard from coworkers that Iuliana, another colleague, was a singer. Intrigued by what her accent might add to the song, he invited her to record without ever having heard her sing. Iuliana adds, “I was surprised to be asked, but I wanted to give it a try. It was a very new exciting experience for me.”

neutronic2Encouraged by the success of that first joint project, Paul kept Iuliana in mind. He sent her demos — “about 20 in the space of a year” — trying to find their mutual style overlap. “We don’t always agree on what music we like,” Iuliana says, “but when we do it turns out to be very productive.” Indeed, “Closer,” released in January 2015, quickly attracted thousands of listens on Soundcloud and a number of reviews and interviews, and was selected for airplay on BBC Radio 6 Music.

13hourscoverTheir latest track, “13 hours,” available for streaming on Soundcloud and pre-order on iTunes ahead of its official release, proves that “Closer” was no fluke. Against soft, sizzling percussion, vocals swim in and out of sync, voicing disappointment and loss: “Just another nothing I thought would last.” Paul’s gentle tenor and Iuliana’s clear soprano draw together on the final chorus in aching precision: “The dream is over.”

Like their first collaboration, “13 hours” wasn’t made in conventional fashion. “I like the idea of being spontaneous when creating,” Paul explains. He came to the recording session with a rough piece, only the chorus melody written. “I didn’t want Iuliana to have learned it, so she was almost creating the verse melody on the spot.” The vocal takes were done quickly, and Paul added additional instruments and effects shortly afterwards in the studio. The track was completed, start to finish, in just 13 hours, giving the piece its name.

neutronic plans an EP release late in 2015. In the meantime, we’ll have to be satisfied with two tastes from this fortuitous collaboration.

Unappreciated Scholars Review Grade: A

Tracks are available on iTunes and Soundcloud. Follow neutronic on Twitter at https://twitter.com/neutronicuk. Visit the official website at http://www.neutronicuk.com

Metal Monday 13.4.15 – “When it’s time to party…”

I don’t know what the last few weeks have been like for you guys, but for me in my 9-5’er, it’s been a bit all over the place. I was off on Good Friday and the Monday after Easter, so this is my first full week of work after two four day weeks. Even though it’s only one day, it’ll be a bit of a shock to the system. That’s why I decided I needed a boost this morning, and went with this 2001 belter from Andrew WK. Let’s get a party goin’, look this week square in the eye and say “Right, let’s do this!!”.

Note: When I first saw the promo shot of Andrew WK’s record “I Get Wet” from which this song was taken (and can be seen as the backdrop in this video), I was NOT expecting this.

Have a good week!

– Hevy Kevy

Artist Spotlight: Kinoslav Studio Orchestra

1400194203_kso Kinoslava! The Kinoslav Studio Orchestra — a trio based in Illinois and Iowa —released their second album, Kenosis, in January 2015, close on the heels of their first, ICON, just out in October 2014. In between, they bent our ears with a number of individual cuts, an EP, and an EP-length single, astonishing productivity for music of such consistently high quality. KSO’s dark ambient music, featuring Sergei Czerewko on violin, Tom Wakeland on bass, and Tom Janikowski on guitar and keyboards, blends orchestral instruments with electronic sounds, classical riffs with spoken word and industrial noises.

Engineered by Janikowski, Kinoslav Studio Orchestra’s complex pieces reveal themselves in layers to repeated listening. “Kurt Schwitters,” off ICON, offers a poignant and complex exploration of the German artist whose innovative work had a history of destruction. The piece references Haus am Bakken (Merzbau #2), an installation piece in a small outbuilding in the garden of his home, which was accidentally burned to the ground years after he fled the residence. “Trucker Dream,” off the same album, starts with an indistinct CB radio clip that gradually, over the course of the piece, becomes more and more audible, but never quite reaches full clarity. “NOAA,” a particularly beautiful 30-minute stand-alone piece, is based over a long weather report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and is, appropriately, atmospheric and changeable, taking the listener on a varied journey punctuated by exquisite strings, retro synth sounds and vibrant bass. On “Dmento,” off the EP Kathedral, a shatter of pizzicato at 9:45 slams into dark, Blade Runner sonics like rain in the desert.

Standout tracks on the new album, Kenosis, include among others “Where Were You,” featuring spoken-word accents and guitar and bass sprawling over relentless percussion, and “Two Heartstrings,” aptly named for its pull on the emotions of the listener, which spotlights Czerewko’s range and skill on violin.

We sat down (virtually) with Kinoslav Studio Orchestra for an interview.

You’ve released a great deal of complex work in a short period of time. When did you start playing together? How did you meet?

Sergei: “I met Tom Wakeland over 10 years ago, and living only three doors away we were bound to meet eventually! I met the “other” Tom three years ago at work — we are colleagues. With private funding by Wakeland and the availability of the lower level of my home, we designed and built a humble recording studio. Wakeland and I go back (musically) most of the decade. The three of us started playing together in October of 2013. We first came together to do some music for the trailer for Tom J’s forthcoming novel, The Crawford County Sketchbook. “A Switchback Melody” — that is still one of my favorite pieces that we’ve done.”

Tell us about your name. The words “kino” and “slava” translates to “cinema glory” in Russian — does the name reflect the cinematic nature of your music, or is there more to the story?

Tom J: “Sergei and I worked together on producing a short video for a non-profit a couple of years ago, and at the end of our working copy we jokingly attributed it to “Kinoslav Productions” or something like that — Sergei is Ukrainian and I am Polish, so our first thought was “two Slavs doing cinema — Kinoslav!” When we ended up playing music together, it was a natural progression, especially as we work for a very cinematic feel to our music. Kinoslava! Cinema glory!”

Sergei uses classical riffs alongside with very modern styles of playing, including an almost textural pizzicato. We’d love to know more about his musical background.

Sergei: “I started playing violin in 1965 — in the 5th grade, then junior and senior high school, and then spent 2 years playing in symphony and chamber orchestras in college. I always wanted to mix old school “classical” with new “experimental” sounds. Should I say — “the best of both worlds”? With trial and much error I had to wait almost 30 years for technology to match my needs and desires!”

Some of Tom J’s poetry is featured on “Where Were You,” off of Kenosis. What can you tell us about this particular work and Tom’s writing in general?

Tom J: “Where Were You is a ‘generational piece’ — Generation X — from my book of poetry worse than it looks. I am primarily a fiction writer, and my first published novel will be out this August from Red Hen Press of Pasadena. I have a hard time talking about my writing sometimes — I have always written, and I guess I would just ask people to read my stuff and find out for themselves: martinipen.com and tomjanikowski.com

Tom W.’s bass playing anchors the sound and often provides a sensory bridge between the listener and the music. What brought him to this style of music and what has he played before?

Tom W: “My bass playing is what it is. I just play. I go for the feel and the mood of whatever we are doing. I started way back, long ago as a kid, playing metal, and even now all of my playing is still just what the immediate need calls for. I don’t think about the genre or style of the music — I just play what needs to be played at the moment.”

Tom J: “Tom is too modest. His bass playing really is the glue that holds us together. When we are composing a piece, sometimes he calls for more keyboard or something beneath what we are doing, and Sergei and I shake our heads and smile at each other, because we don’t need it — Tom’s bass often fills every niche that needs to be filled! You hit the nail on the head by saying his bass is the bridge between the music and the listener, because his playing is what one most feels when they listen to our music. It is an honor and a complete trip playing with him.”

Are your pieces written as a group or individually? If as a group, are they formed through mutual experimentation/improvisation or does one person bring in an idea that others add to?

Sergei: “We write our music together, and a lot of it comes out of improvisation, but usually one of us begins with a melody we are working through, and then we all contribute and expand.”

Tom J: “Yeah, and once again, Sergei or I often play a melody for the other two to hear, and then we let Tom W. lay down a foundation on the bass. He sets a mood, and the melody is developed on top of it.”

What influenced the decision to write about Kurt Schwitters? What is your relationship with/feeling about his work?

Tom J: “I love Dadaism, and associated artists. The story of Kurt Schwitters and Merzbau #1 and Merzbau #2 both being destroyed and then Merzbau #3 never being finished is too tragic not to intrigue a person. The engineering of this piece was influenced by his collage pieces.”

Do you perform your music live?

All: “We have performed live and may do so again, but we are primarily a studio project, as our name suggests.”

What do you hope that listeners will take from your music?

Tom J: “Our music is what we often refer to as ‘bio-soundtrack’ — the soundtrack for living. We try to think of it much like a river, as well, and we hope that people take that away. Good ambient music often is like an audial river — when you watch a river flowing past you, there is a lot of repetition, and that is what makes it so calming or maybe even a little edgy when the weather is bad. Every now and again a fish jumps, a branch floats by, a boat passes, lightning strikes, or an eagle swoops down for lunch. That makes it unpredictable and interesting. The three of us live in a small metropolis of about a half of a million people at the confluence of the Rock and Mississippi Rivers — a dynamic, beautiful, and interesting place to be with urban and wild coming face to face on a regular basis, and we hope our music reflects our geography. We hope it can be calming or edgy, but also unpredictable and interesting.”

Have you had any unexpected reactions to your music that offer you, as the creators, insights into your own work?

All: “The unexpected reaction to our music has been that people have liked it. We began doing what we do just because we enjoy it, and to please ourselves. That anyone else finds it edifying is very rewarding!”

KSO bigAll Kinoslav Studio Orchestra music was available at no cost to the listener at press time. ICON is available on Silent Flow. Kenosis, their latest album, is also available on Silent Flow. Many individual pieces and the EP, including those mentioned above, can be found on Soundcloud. Follow Kinoslav Studio Orchestra on Twitter at https://twitter.com/KinoslavOrkestr. Visit the official website at http://kinoslava.blogspot.com/.

Review: Lay Seige – “hopeisnowhere”

Following on from their 2012 debut EP “Obulus”, and having signed to Lifeforce, March 23rd sees the release of Lay Seige’s first full length record “hopeisnowhere”, and it’s a bruiser.

LaySiege_Landscape2LO

“Irebot” kicks things off in fine style, setting you up for what to expect with the rest of the record. It’s brutal, heavy and technical in parts, but never overplayed. “Glass Veil” picks up the tempo in a welcome way, and we get a bit of a respite from the onslaught during the two minute instrumental title track before the beating begins again with “The Afflicted” through to album closer “A Fictional Sound”

There was one main issue I had with the record, however. It’s excellently produced and performed no doubt, but the slow-mid tempo that dominates the songs on this album tend to slow the pace. This results in some songs that only last four minutes feeling like an awful lot longer. There are moments like in the aforementioned “The Afflicted” for example, where the tempo picks up, but the first minute or so of five tracks in a row start at essentially the same tempo, I doesn’t always entice the listener to continue. This can be seen on more of a reflection of the genre than the band, but I would hope that it’s something that Lay Siege address on their next release. They’ve got the talent to do something great next, hopefully they can act on it.

– Hevy Kevy

Unappreciated Scholars Review Grade: C

“Hopeisnowhere” by Lay Siege is released on the 23rd of March. For more information, you can visit the band’s website.

This Week in History: Depeche Mode – Violator

March 19-20, 1990. On this two day span 25 years ago, a series of events took place that would launch Depeche Mode’s popularity into the thermosphere.

March 19, 1990 saw the worldwide release of Violator, the band’s seventh studio album and first since the massively popular Concert for the Masses at the Rose Bowl in June 1988. The “Personal Jesus” single had been released in late 1989 to massive fanfare. All this just created the spark that would soon start a massive wildfire.

March 20, 1990 was the fuel that would turn Depeche Mode into arguably the most successful “underground” act of all time: it was the day of the Wherehouse signing that was shut down by police in full on riot gear. For a fascinating insight into that day, check out The Wherehouse on www.depechemode-live.com.

Violator would go on to become a multi-platinum smash. Depeche Mode have continued to release an album and tour every four years (give or take), the most recent being 2013’s Delta Machine. They are frequently included in annual lists of “Most Successful Tours”. And they are my favorite band of all time. In fact, if not for Depeche Mode, I might have had a drastically different life. Violator isn’t my personal favorite Depeche Mode album, but I still love it and I’m glad that it helped bring some much deserved attention to an amazing band.

For a much more well written piece on Violator, please check out David McElroy’s “Classic Album” piece.

Review: Bad Guys – “Bad Guynaecology”

To call Bad Guys a comedy band is kind of doing them a disservice, but to say that some of the lyrics of their songs could be potentially heard on a new Spinal Tap record wouldn’t exactly be inaccurate either.

This four piece straddle the fine line between punk and stoner metal pretty well, and while some of this record stutters, it’s mostly good stuff.

BANDPHOTO-2

The tone is set by opener “Crime”, a story of how the simple act of stealing a toy can change a young man’s life. Stuart London doesn’t sing so much as dictate the lyrics, but in his own unique way. This streak continues with “Prostitutes (are Making Love in my Garden)” which is not a thinly veiled metaphor. It’s about a guy that faces the rare dilemma of prostitutes making love in his garden. Hate that. “Zoltan” completes a hat trick of killer tracks to start this record, which at this stage of my listening, promised an awful lot.

Where the band are less successful, and where the wheels started to loosen for me, is when they flex their muscles into tracks like “Fabled Succubus” and “No Tomorrow”, the latter clocking in at a far too long eleven minutes. They just lack the punch established by the first three tracks, and my favourite song on the album “Motorhome”.

A record of mixed successes, but the good here way outweighs the bad. If Bad Guys can streamline their sound, maybe even play their punk card a bit more, the next record could be quite something.

– Hevy Kevy

Unappreciated Scholars Review Grade: B

“Bad Guynaecology” by Bad Guys will be released on 16th of March 2015 and can be pre ordered on the Riot Season Records bandcamp page, where you can also stream “Crime”.

Quick Hits 03.11.2015: iVardensphere’s Fable, Ryan Culwell’s Flatlands, Email Newsletter

iVardensphere’s Fable Destroys

I’m late to the iVardensphere game, but what an introduction through Fable, the fifth album from the electronic tribal industrial project. Thanks to the guys at http://www.idieyoudie.com for the tip.

Fable is what might happen if Recoil and Juno Reactor hooked up to make a record – except there’s no copycat ripping off here. While similar in style to those acts, iVardensphere stands alone with Fable. It’s an electro-tribal journey that even pulls in some metal inspired vocals on “Black Lodge”. I’d say this is a must listen for fans of most genres.

Unappreciated Scholars Review Grade: A

Ryan Culwell’s Flatlands

Ryan Culwell is going to be compared to Bruce Springsteen. That’s not fair, though, because Ryan Culwell’s ability to tell his personal stories is not easily matched. Having seen Ryan with The Parlor Sessions in Nashville, TN, I had an idea of what to expect going into Flatlands. It’s a gritty sort of country sounding record that will let you know exactly what it was like to live in the barren Flatlands of Texas. Ryan’s voice is a treasure, and his songwriting is quickly becoming some of my favorite.

Unappreciated Scholars Review Grade: A+

Email Newsletter Contest

The next issue of the Unappreciated Scholars Email Newsletter will be delivered to your inboxes on Friday. All who are subscribed to the newsletter prior to it being sent will be entered into a drawing. The winner will receive a choice of the new Twilight Fauna/Old Thunder Bloodlines on standard edition cassette + download or a download of Sister Machine Gun’s return EP The Future Unformed. Giveaway is open to all, but non-US winners are only eligible for the digital version. Also, a Bandcamp account is recommended.

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Review: [debut] (Postcards from Berlin, 2015)

debut-postcardsIt’s possible that the name of Gareth Thomas’ musical project, [debut], is intended to denote the reimagining of his ‘band’ with every new album, fresh cast and new direction (Thomas calls it “a collective venture with a revolving door of talent”. It’s an admirable goal, but his new release, Postcards from Berlin, seems heavily laden with the last 35 years of musical history. If this is a debut, perhaps it’s the debut of an unlikely supergroup composed of the ghosts of many musicians past.

Postcards from Berlin may please current [debut] fans, and possibly some fans of 80s dark pop and 90s goth pop. The album opens with one of its strongest tracks, “Not the One,” with its opening piano riff that immediately recalls Nine Inch Nails, followed by a nod to Ultravox’s “Vienna.” The song is dark, sleek and catchy, though, like many other tracks on Postcards, it fails to mount to a defined climax. Ultravox caught our hearts with the final, triumphant “It means nothing to me.” “Not the One,” lacking this denouement, builds, recedes, builds and recedes without ever reaching a clear destination.

Cinematic strings and synth pads weight many of the tracks, possibly reflecting [debut]’s past involvement in film and television soundtracks. Sometimes, as on “Everyday I Love You More,” the large symphonic sound (reminiscent of, but less effective than, Pet Shop Boys) seems out of proportion to the song. The patch choices could be broader; as is, they lend a canned, heard-it-before quality to much of the album. In addition to the abovementioned artists, the album brings to mind variously Depeche Mode, Everything but the Girl, Evanescence, All About Eve, and Fuel, for starters. Some musical allusion, of course, provides a hook for connection with an album; Postcards is so rife with references that it risks appearing a pastiche.

On “Come Around,” the sound is theatrical at best, with the pushed-front vocal sounding like a stage musical; at worst, it’s Casiotone. An attempt to introduce dubstep sounds in “Open Your Soul” doesn’t quite come off. And despite website evidence of a careful writing process, the lyrics on many of the songs are so weak as to actively detract from listening enjoyment. Particular offenders: “Don’t hate on me” in “Come Around”; “I wandered lonely through the night” and “I can’t live without your love” on Everyday I Love You More.

gareth_thomas11The album closes with its best track, “Passion” — this track was (wisely) the one selected for inclusion on the fourculture fundraiser album. Although still plagued with some Casiotone elements, “Passion” features an appealing piano riff and a bit more shape than some other tracks. In a brilliant Kickstarter move, Thomas promised to fill Postcards with “the voices from all the pledgers” as a virtual choir. Each pledger was to mail Thomas a single note that he would then blend into a choir. A choir sound was used to pleasant, if not monumental, effect on “Passion”, though our demo copy lacked liner notes so we can’t be certain it was the Kickstarter choir.

In all, we must deem Postcards from Berlin a well-produced disappointment, a patchwork of familiar scraps into a smooth, faceless whole. Postcards was to have been “a collection of songs inspired by the city. Songs filled with the coldness of Eastern European winters, soaring pianos of classical eras gone by and a raw industrial edge that only that city can inspire,” but we could detect no trace of the Berlin provenance. The album is (mostly) not unlistenable, but it could have been much, much more.

Unappreciated Scholars Review Grade: C

Album is available on iTunes. Follow [debut] on Twitter at https://twitter.com/debutsounds and hear recent sounds and samples on Bandcamp. Visit the official website at http://www.debutsounds.com

Review: Night Falls Last – “Deathwalker”

As peculiar as it sounds, when a metal band are firing on all cylinders, I can’t help but smile. It’s like your football team scoring in the last minute to win the game. Night Falls Last had me grinning from ear to ear, for it’s full duration. I know smiling isn’t very “metal”, but really, what is “metal”? A conversation for another day…

I digress. Back to the topic at hand. Night Falls Last kick ass. It’s that simple. Remember when Lamb of God were really killing it around the mid noughties around the time of “Ashes of the Wake” and “Sacrament”? Yeah, they’re that good. They might not display the technical proficiency of the Adler brothers, but they surpass current LOG in terms of pure intensity and the ability to write a cracking tune.

The album starts as most metal records do, with a short instrumental that builds to a circle pit inducing belter, in this case it’s “Invasion” that leads into “Fear the Machine”. “Detonate” has a chorus I could imagine a huge crowd shouting along to in between the heavy as all hell verses.

Titular track “Deathwalker” is the centrepiece of the record, and will probably become the band’s calling card. It perfectly encompasses everything that the band can do.

The band closes out with the triumvirate of “Rise”, “And”, and “Fall”. Rise clocks in at a whopping nine plus minutes, but it absolutely flies by, “And” is pretty much a drum solo that bridges the gap into “Fall”, which closes the album in fine style.

Night Falls Last have here a savage record that is borne from the ashes of the so called “New Wave of American Heavy Metal” style of metal, but have created an album that stands up to any of the landmark releases of that period.

– Hevy Kevy

Unappreciated Scholars Review Grade: A

“Deathwalker” by Night Falls Last was released October 2014, and can be downloaded via the band’s website.

Listen to “Fear the Machine” below:

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