From my point of view, the year 2013 was a strange one insofar as music is concerned. I had much trouble writing about albums I liked – so much trouble, in fact, that I didn’t write much of anything. I felt assaulted by a cold, artificial tide of sound and I could only dive in once I learned how to reconnect to my trance/electronic music years. To be perfectly honest, the year as a whole has been peppered with tracks I loved, grinning sheepishly on entire LPs I struggled with. It’s not that 2013 was a drought year in music, it’s that this blog’s formula was not designed to accommodate it entirely and I was too uninspired to change said formula. In any case, I couldn’t let the year fade into the past without compiling this top 13, just as I tried to do last year. So, without further ado, here’s my top 13 tracks of 2013, in no particular order. I hope you guys find it enjoyable!
We have some old friends back today, with a double feature. I wrote about Colaris’ debut EP – “The Disclosure” – over a year ago, and since then they’ve been very busy, releasing a great LP in 2012, called Renewal and a very exciting split album just this month, with their friends from Ampersphere. Jessie Schmidt, the guitarist in Colaris, was very kind to answer a few of my questions, so here we go, with a mini-interview and a few thoughts I have about their debut LP.
ZaRecords: Here’s my favorite question to ask: what’s the story behind your band name?
Jessie Schmidt:. It`s a fantasy word. We just wanted to have a name which had different sides to it: a kind of positive/negative thing, something cold and dark and something really hot and shimmering, shining. It`s like the common thread through all of our songs.
ZR: Your songs sound more “grown” than “composed” – what’s your creative process? Do you have a distinct pattern for constructing material?
JS: You’re right, man. Most of our songs are written in jam sessions in our rehearsal room.
We love to jam for hours and hours on different parts. We demo them, listen at home and jam again. Sometimes I write small pieces at home but mostly one riff or phrase. I like to jam with my loopstation to create some basic basslines and start to build up different guitar layers over that.
The Renewal LP feels substantially different in layering and general esthetic than The Disclosure EP, it feels much more patient, much more introspective, a lot closer to the wide, reverberating spaces of post-rock than the band’s previous sound. That’s not to say that the music is lacking in vigor, not in the least – the rhythm section is alive with the deep rumble, much like heartbeat, and the guitar is just as fierce and ready to pounce as always, but rather than providing jagged riff structures, the variations have moved to the tone realm, subtly and maturely.
ZR: Do you enjoy playing live, or are you more at home in the studio? Tell me a funny / weird / entertaining story from a concert.
JS: Sure we love to play live, but playing in a three piece band means there is a lot of “Murphy’s law” going on on stage. For example, my looper starts living its own live on stage. The MacBook with the live samples starts living its own live as well. At a show in Belgium there was no time for a sound check. So we had to build everything up and do a fast line check, after the first band had finished. But my whole setup gave up the ghost. We changed everything from amp to cables and cabinets, only to find out that it was only one (!!!) cable which was not correctly plugged into my effect board. You can imagine how “funny” the rest of the show was for me – nervous as hell and totally pissed off. I think it was our worst gig ever.
Managing a tonal range the likes of which Colaris offers takes a lot of machinery, which is obvious from a multitude of photos the band have posted on their Facebook page from various concerts. The sheer number of foot switches, pedals, cables and whatnot which go into their live set is intimidating to behold, and it’s a real feat to manage making all of it harmonize, but more than that, it’s a treat to hear it put to such good use, as nothing sounds superfluous and cheap. It’s very easy for a musician to hide behind a wall of effects which turn every simple not into a cascade of sound and I’m glad to say that I detect no such shenanigans with Colaris. The effects enhance rather than supplement, and that’s truly refreshing.
ZR: Your music seems to have more of a “post-metal” vibe to it – reminds me very pleasantly of bands such as Cult of Luna or Isis. Have you considered adding vocals, or do you feel they wouldn’t bring anything essential to the sound? Do you try and avoid labels like music genre and such, when talking about your music?
JS: Julian and I have a huge metal background. He listens to a lot of black metal and doom bands like Rorcal, The Tuins of Beverast, Paysage d’Hiver, Addaura, Alda or Ash borer. I played in several metal and hardcore bands before. But i`m also addicted to old ’70s psychedelic and progressive bands like Pink Floyd, Mike Oldfield, Camel or Tangerine Dream. We don`t avoid any genre labels, we are happy with our sound and that we create the music that we have in our hearts and minds. Speaking just on my behalf, I don`t want to use any vocals for our music – it is based on personal experiences, feelings and impressions of life. It also offers a lot more space for each instrument to unfold.
The music takes a certain frame of mind to enjoy, it takes a bit of work to unfold, which I find pleasing. There’s quite a bit of tension being allocated between the three instruments in a very balanced way, a very fair distribution of eloquence. I can see why, with such a tight system, it would be hard to imagine integrating anything else – there’s really no need. The album washes over the listener quickly, compressing time, and the record name shows just how good of a choice it is – one feels refreshed after an attentive run-through of this LP.
ZR: What’s your relationship with the music industry nowadays? Do you follow a more traditional model – record label, contracts etc. – or do you rely on digital distribution, self-promotion and so on?
JS: We love the “Do it yourself” way. It means a lot more work, but it`s a passion thing. We released our first EP by ourselves. It`s easier to make some hand numbered CDs or to use different artworks when you’re doing it all by yourself. But releasing vinyl by yourself is too expensive, so we decided to work with WHOOAAARG and Revolvermann Records for the “Renewal” 2×12.
Currently we are working with Revolvermann Records and Puzzle Records together for our upcoming split. Both are small labels and really really nice guys. For the split we will also have European distribution via Broken Silence Music.
ZR: Thank you so much for your time and detailed answers! I really hope to meet you guys live one day!
JS: Sure, we’d love that too!
I hope you guys enjoy the interview, but especially the LP. Here it is, all of it, off Bandcamp!
It’s been a while since I last “discovered” a metal band that made my blood boil; Animals as Leaders and White Walls were both last year’s thrills (I mean this strictly in the chronological sense), and I’ve been craving some new, carnivorous, brutal beast to observe. Sure enough, Gojira lumbered into my musical biosphere, and they are mighty.
This is definitely a failing on my part, but I’ve never really associated France with metal as a genre, unless one counts Noir Désir, which I don’t, really. As far as I’ve heard, the district of Auvergne really has a thriving rock, post-rock and metal scene, but I guess most French bands don’t manage to break out on the international scene… or I’m just ignorant. Regardless, I was surprised to learn that Gojira were a French band, given that their lyrics are in English, and their sound has a ferocity and precision I’ve encountered before mostly in Scandinavian acts, such as Cult of Luna. This music is tectonic, rumbling, truly massive, giving the impression of patient imminence and barely contained brute force. If I were to use just one word to describe this remarkable album, it would be “density”. The word occurred to me from the very first play-through, but I’ve been having trouble explaining what I mean by that. I will try my best though:
When I think of progressive rock, for example, I expect the musical structures to be very fluid, to shift and reconfigure themselves easily, airily, even in the most somber moments. It’s just the nature of the genre to encompass a “perpetuum mobile” sort of aesthetic, to play with lopsided, challenging structures which don’t have enough mass to remain grounded for long – but this is all implied in the very name of the genre, I doubt I’m saying anything new. L’Enfant Sauvage manages to present an entirely different overall effect, without ever resorting to mindless, tedious repetition for the sake of a “heavy” atmosphere. The notes just cluster together in such a way as to give the impression of tremendous volume packed in a very small space. The music is partitioned in furious little packets of aggression, succeeding each-other with a particular brand of relentlessness, a predatory focus, highly dynamic, without being flashy. One after the other, the riffs tear through the air like stalagmites and stalactites growing in high-speed – cold, jagged and hard, a geological maw closing in around you, unbelievably heavy and dense.
L’enfant sauvage conjures up images of diluted sunlight cascading through narrow siphons in the roofs of caves where wild bears roam and large bats go to roost, without any of it being romantic. They take the romance out of the forgotten, savage places, they take the lovecraftian horror out of the dark corners of the Earth, and they show them bare, in their depopulated, primeval brutality, and it’s beautiful, really. There are cold, damp grottoes in the human psyche which are just aching to find themselves reflected in the dangerous waters these riffs churn and knead.
Gojira’s fifth album – L’Enfant Sauvage (The Savage Child – not “wild”, mind you, that doesn’t quite cover it), instantly became one of my go-to metal albums for those times when you need your music to remind you just how formidable a feat it is for life to rise up against the ataxia and weight of the Earth. In other words, running or writing as if you’re jotting down your last words, that sort of thing. I hope you’ll enjoy these samples as much as I do. See you soon!
The scarcity of information I can dig up about What The Blood Revealed is matched only by my unwillingness to truly bring out the Internet-scouring tool set and the patience that comes with it. It’s not necessarily that I can’t be bothered, it’s that there’s really no need or relevance I can associate with trivia when it comes to such a band as What The Blood Revealed. According to their MySpace page, they’re from Scotland, there are four of them, and they’re unsigned. The part about them being unsigned is obviously there due to the fact that MySpace is basically dead as a dodo. In fact, the band released their first LP just this month. It’s called Harbour of Devils, and it’s a very robust, menacing collection of musical brilliance with a metallic gleam. Oh, and the first time I heard about them was on a great compilation called “A Cheery Wave From Stranded Youngsters #1”, where they share the bill with a number of post-rock and post-metal bands, including the mighty Double Handsome Dragons. That’s all the trivia I’ve got; onwards!
I hesitate to call this music post-metal (a genre made up of names such as ISIS, Callisto, Cult of Luna, Russian Circles and so on), because I’m not really sure about the “post” part as of yet. It’s damn good metal, some of the best I’ve ever heard, but I don’t think the lack of vocals warrants the inclusion in any of the “post” categories. The music follows such brilliantly articulated patterns that one can almost hear the would-be vocals in one’s head, as if by the overlap of the different instrumental parts, more and more musical lines can make themselves felt, without actually having been recorded. This kind of tight structure, with such level of intricacy is not a thing I get to enjoy very often, so I must say I was completely blown away by this album, with its absolutely relentless ability to demonstrate build-up and catharsis, and control of diverse and wonderfully eloquent musical textures.
This is fast, harsh, vigorous music, but I wouldn’t ever go so far as to call it brutal, like I’d be more than willing to refer to some of ISIS’ stuff, for example. No, this album is made up of thoroughly controlled and dosed elements, all working in perfect unison on an intense hunt for release, apotheosis, all the way to utter exhaustion. The music is so often like a battle, so cinematic, the songs themselves seem like fantastic stories captured in an overall narrative weave of awe inspiring proportions. There’s a slight bit of melodrama there, but not much, and not annoying in any way – just enough to give an ominous, slightly sinister mood to some of the tracks, which, combined with an otherwise very bright, larger-than-life style makes for a wonderfully balanced, engaging record.
Harbour of Devils made me feel very focused… more dense, I should say, which is, I suppose, why people first came up with the term “heavy metal” – it’s music that makes you feel like your atoms are more densely packed, sometimes to such a degree you end up feeling like your skin is prickling with energy – what I like to think of as a musically induced form of radioactivity. I still can’t get this album out of my system, the riffs haunt me when I’m not listening to them, and fuel me while I am. Mighty, savage music, with exquisite control of buildup, that’s all I can say. Enjoy!
Hi everyone. Sorry about the gap yesterday, the past few days have been positively grueling, as I’m trying to organize a creative writing workshop under the patronage of the magazine I write for. Whenever multiple people are involved in a project, I’m sure you’ll agree, all hell breaks loose. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it unfortunately means I can’t always find the energy and time to pursue such a personal endeavor as this blog. In any case, I hope one day late is better than never.
Yesterday I wanted to write therapeutically, since I woke up with the sound of my neighbors dropping some sort of lead ingots or dead bodies on their floor, my absolute favorite morning alarm. It was a desperately bleak day (there’s nothing quite as dark and soul-draining as December rain) and I thought Cult of Luna’s “Eternal Kingdom” would be the perfect album to ride through the day. This is probably the “hardest” music I’ve chosen to write about so far, uncompromising, harsh, completely furious, with veins of serenity and breathtaking beauty irrigating it every once in a while. This gives me the chance to tell you a nice little ghost story and talk about one of the principles which governs my taste in music generally.
Cult of Luna are a Swedish band treading the threshold between metal, hardcore, progressive rock and shoegaze, with remarkable relentlessness and predatory grace. Save for the mighty ISIS, I’ve never heard a band compress so much anger, so much intensity into their music, thereby transcending these emotions and offering an intense cathartic experience for a listener such as myself. In fact, Cult of Luna, ISIS, Callisto and a very select few others are playing in a league of their own on such a level that critics have felt the need to invent a new genre to describe their particular brand of music. I’ve heard the term post-metal arise about these bands, and this is a discussion which I don’t really want to get into, since the semantics and musical history behind such a debate would boggle the mind. Suffice to say “metal”, the genre which built itself around the concept of expressing intense emotions ranging from fury to brotherly closeness between friends, doesn’t quite cover this level of expression, but provides the roots, mainly through the sludge-metal and doom-metal sub-genres – that is to say repetitive, heavy, downtuned, atmospheric, gloomy and drone-driven metal focused more on rhythmic complexity and/or subtlety than on technical prowess and showmanship.
This background, with the inspired addition of harmonic layering and modular, progressive structure gives birth to the sound Cult of Luna employ. They wield sound as a protean weapon, both sharp and blunt, crushingly heavy and dazzlingly elegant at the same time, tantalizing for the mind and overwhelmingly energetic for the heart. The successive peaks they reach in most of their songs, the unrelenting ability to escalate again and again, until there seems to be no more space to increase the onslaught and tension, only to step it up another notch, this is the kind of thinking which defines Cult of Luna and places them, for the moment at least, at the forefront of this nascent genre.
Eternal Kingdom is an album born out of a certain serendipity. The band had secured a rather unconventional rehearsal and creative space – an abandoned insane asylum. It is there that they found the journal of one of the patients, a schizophrenic man who had written down some of the visions and perceptions his mind was generating. Reading these, trying to make heads or tails of them while surrounded in that particularly eerie atmosphere inspired the band to create this album and, a bit later on, an audiobook. Eternal Kingdom is without a doubt their most cohesive and impressive effort, reaching levels of expression their previous albums had only hinted at. The album feels somehow unhinged, unbound, disjointed and strangely coherent all at the same time. The quiet is always a bit quieter and eerier than one would expect and the “noise and the fury” are always a bit too intense for comfort. But it isn’t always about comfort, is it? If the goal is to express the panicked, paranoid, shattered mirror of reality an ill man had to live through, comfort has nothing to do with it, does it? And Cult of Luna pull it off splendidly.
This kind of music illustrates one of the things which draws me so much towards this particular brand of metal – the scintillating contrast between brutality and fragility, between asperity and elegance, between noise and harmony. Managing this kind of duality is tremendously difficult in general, and a particularly successful attempt, I think, stands as the definition of the word “grotesque”, which I find to be one of the most fascinating concepts I can discover in music.
The Tiger Lillies achieve their own brand of grotesque by contrast between scathing social satire and child-like melody and harmony. There, the grotesque lies in the contrast between the lyrics and the music more often than not. Here, the lyrics are mostly inaccessible to the ear, as the growls make it very difficult to distinguish words – the source of this odd feeling is the unbelievable superimposition and succession of the raspy, harrowed voice and guitars with the smooth passages, airy, dark and colossal. The music shifts from claustrophobic, frantic riffs of positively intimidating weight and might to roomy, captivating areas of calm, misty weaves of sound, to such an extent that it feels like every other song on the album is a trip through the walls of a hurricane, through the “eye of the storm”, and back out again. For me, listening to this music feels like dousing myself with water – scalding, then ice-cold, then scalding again, awakening every pore, every sense, keeping me on my toes like nothing else, provoking me, enticing me, infuriating and purifying me to no end. It’s the music I turn to when I need to punch through a rut, to clear my head of all distractions and fight for focus.
I realize Cult of Luna won’t ever be everyone’s cup of tea. This is a kind of expression with a sort of uncontrolled, frothing-at-the-mouth passion behind it which can drive a lot of people away. If someone had presented me with this band ten years ago, I would’ve ran screaming. In spite of this, however, Eternal Kingdom has become one of my favorite albums and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone with a harder edge to their musical tastes. Thanks for listening and see you tomorrow!