Showing posts with label sludge metal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sludge metal. Show all posts

Thursday, June 20, 2019

video review: 'gold & grey' by baroness

Okay, this was a disappointment, but really, what perplexes me is how much critical acclaim certain mainstream establishments are still giving this thing. Either their systems are concentrated ass, they got a superior copy, or they're talking crazy - or all three.

Anyway, I want to knock off a quick indie project that gave me a lot to say, then back to routine - stay tuned!

album review: 'gold & grey' by baroness

So throughout the course of my reviews but especially in the past couple of years, I've gotten comments surrounding how much attention I pay to the production of albums I review. And even beyond my lyrical or thematic criticisms, I'd argue production is probably some of the least recognized part of discussing music, or at least serves as a strong differentiating factor between the casual listeners and the diehards. And believe you me, if I could ignore bad mixing or mastering or simply was able to tune out where it was average instead of possibly great, it'd probably make my life as a critic a lot easier... but when you hear a project where the production approach matches what the artist is intending, you can find something really rare and special, especially if it's not overdone.

But I'll admit the 'overdone' question is a loaded one, because sometimes an album's mood and vibe is created as much by a producer as the compositions themselves, and finding the proper balance can be incredibly tricky, especially if you're taking risks behind the boards. Which, inevitably, takes us to Baroness, the veteran heavy metal act who delivered a few genuinely excellent albums and yet had to claw their way back from near disaster to deliver the phenomenal Purple in 2015, which damn near had a shot for my year-end list even as their single 'Shock Me' absolutely made it. But one of my main criticisms of Purple was rooted in producer Dave Fridmann, who I knew most for his work with The Flaming Lips where I could respect his commitment to massive atmospherics, but also was embracing an increasingly blocky, blown-out sound heavily reliant on clunky compression. And it's tough to pinpoint the exact moment where things started becoming obtrusive - I'd argue it was Embryonic in 2009 - but by the middle of the 2010s it was starting to actively detract from the compositions, and it did prove to be a small blemish on Purple. So when a lot of the buzz around Baroness' follow-up Gold & Grey was linked to how the production issues were now at the forefront with Fridmann handling production and mixing and where more than just critics were noticing... yeah, that was scary. But hey, it's Baroness - they're a genuinely great band and I was excited to see how new guitarist Gina Gleason deliver, so maybe Gold & Grey would turn out just fine?

Friday, April 7, 2017

video review: 'emperor of sand' by mastodon

So I have no idea how this is going to be received. Thus far, things seem to be good, but certain audiences can be fickle...

Anyway, I'm not done with metal, as we're finally heading back into black metal territory... stay tuned!

album review: 'emperor of sand' by mastodon

I wish I liked Mastodon a lot more than I do.

Now that's a loaded statement to open up a review of a record that's already sparked some controversy among critics, but it's necessary to provide some context here. Suffice to say I came to listen to a lot of Mastodon's material late, and furthermore I came from the more meticulous, prog side of metal, not as much sludge or the hard rock the band has increasingly embraced in order to pull in mainstream appeal. As such, when I revisited their discography again before this review, I came away convinced that I still do like and appreciate this band for their relentless shredding and oblique songwriting and knack for melodic song structures in the face of increasingly complex ideas, but I never found them as captivating as I wanted - a group I respect a lot more than I outright love.

And more than that, the complex, relentlessly visceral and bestial albums I did really like - Leviathan, Blood Mountain, especially Crack The Skye - seemed to be in the opposite direction of Mastodon's current progression. As such, while I was more forgiving of Once More 'Round The Sun than some critics for some stronger hooks and cohesive melodic experimentation, I was concerned that the group would eventually start to hit diminishing returns in simplifying their sound and approach for a mainstream rock audience, especially if the hooks didn't come together as strongly. But hey, it's still Mastodon, and they've won enough goodwill with me to dig in deep, especially if the writing and melodies cam through - did Emperor Of Sand pay off?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

video review: 'purple' by baroness

And there we have it, the last of the album reviews before the lists begin. Wow, that was quite a run...

So, first up is the Top Ten Worst Hit Songs of 2015, which will be dropping later today - stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

album review: 'purple' by baroness

So here's something that really bugs me about the state of modern music criticism and journalism: the culture of clickbait. It's frustrating to me that lists will always be my most viewed videos, or where I display an extreme polarity of opinion, or that when I try to give an honest and thorough opinion, positive or negative, that might differ from the consensus, it gets branded as done so in order to 'draw views'. Trust me, if I wanted to game the system and draw in views, I'd keep my review videos at roughly half the length and they'd all be ranked lists of each song from least favourite to most.

And sadly nothing draws clicks faster than tragedy, and that's why I was very hesitant to open up a conversation about American sludge metal band Baroness... because inevitably, once you get past the great one-two punch that is Red Album and Blue Album and through the fascinating, if overlong double record Yellow & have to get to the bus crash. It's the point where many would be right to wonder if Baroness would survive, when three of the members were badly injured, two eventually leaving the band. And yet they would start touring again with new members and before long a new album was announced on their own independent label, reportedly a brisker affair than their last double album that was more of a return to their metal sound.

And believe me, I was optimistic. Not only is this sort of rebirth narrative always great to see, but Baroness are an impressive metal band, with an impressive skill for writing unique melodies and some thunderous tracks. What intrigued me more was that like Cage The Elephant, they had swapped out producers, John Congleton for David Fridmann, who is most well-known for working with The Flaming Lips. And while I had some very mixed feelings about this - Fridmann has been known to go overboard on the compression and loudness - I had hopes that Baroness would still deliver with a fresh lineup - was I right?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

video review: 'once more 'round the sun' by mastodon

Finally got a chance to get this out, took entirely too long. Damn solid album, but still took too long.

Okay, next up is Robin Thicke - let's see if this is as much of a disaster as I'm expecting. Stay tuned!

album review: 'once more 'round the sun' by mastodon

Okay, here's a trend among some music fans that really pisses me off: when they say they 'hate' or 'can't stand' or 'won't listen' to an entire genre of music except one or two artists. And believe me, this is a lot more common than you think - how many people have you encountered who say, "Oh, I hate rap, but I listen to Eminem or Drake"? Or "I can't stand country... but you know, Luke Bryan or that band that did that 'Cruise' song, they're alright'? Or "I won't listen to metal... but you know, AC/DC and Metallica are good, I like them."

Now this tends to happen to metal more often than the other way around, mostly because to some extent, metal and harsher music in this vein are still somewhat considered as 'outsider' genres, particularly with the decline of rock radio. Metal doesn't have the vast mainstream culture-defining appeal of hip-hop or EDM or even country - at least right now - and that means the genre tends to get cherry picked by folks who only catch the few metal songs that crossover onto mainstream radio, or some token appreciation for the greats. And in my opinion, it's absolute garbage, mostly because it's a position taken out of ignorance. How the hell do you know you can't stand metal until you hear more than just what might cross over? How do you know you don't like the rest of the big four if you 'only' like Metallica? How do you know you don't like Nightwish or Within Temptation if you 'only' like Evanescence? There are plenty of entry points into the metal genre, and it's infuriating to see the genre marginalized and treated reductively by people who won't go further out of their comfort zone.

So why rant about this at all? Well, for the longest time, the 'beach-head' metal band that got accepted by the indie, Pitchfork-reading crowd was Mastodon - and the more I think about it, the more this band becoming the critically accepted jump-on point makes little sense. Sure, they're critically acclaimed - and they deserve it - but Mastodon land on the border between progressive metal and sludge metal, two genres that aren't exactly easy nuts to crack with time-signature bending melodies, punishingly heavy tones, and complex drum and guitar progressions. And also on that note, Mastodon are goddamn nuts, and I mean that as a high compliment, a band known for free-association lyrics and concept records that are absolutely bonkers by most conventional standards of storytelling. 

And yet that seemed to change a bit with their 2011 album 'The Hunter', their most accessible album to that date... and also their least interesting. I'm not calling the record bad, because there were certainly plenty of moments I really liked, but the choice to opt for a mid-tempo pace, simpler melodies, and much cleaner vocals saw a lot of their songwriting come into sharper view on that record, and, well, it lacked a certain punch for me. What made early Mastodon records so striking was the word choice - it lent the albums a certain primal rage to use such precisely chosen words, and with The Hunter, the shift here just didn't click for me as well. But with interviews suggesting that the new album was going to be circling back to some of their older material with their newest album Once More 'Round The Sun, I was curious to see how the album would turn out. Did Mastodon manage to recapture their former success?