Tuesday, April 23, 2013

About Ben

Thank you for expressing an interest in me. I'm Ben and I run this blog. I exist digitally on this blog and physically in Brooklyn. When I'm not writing about art and music, I'm either creating my own music (poorly) or working in an office somewhere and hoping to go unnoticed. I used to be a bit more of a glutton for visibility, but these days I wish I'd stayed under a rock and kept writing anonymously. If you know me, you know me. If not, I assure you I'm not that interesting.

Recent drinks 4/23/13

Here we are again with another week's worth of drinks. Last week it seems I was big on lighter beers and this week I ended up with a relatively heavy and dark selection. My semester in college ends in about ten days, so expect to see a few more beer posts and definitely more consistency in my musical updates. As always, thanks for joining in on the fun and feel free to recommend some good drinks!

Troubador Magma (The Musketeers)
With a nose like a creamsicle and a large frothy head, this beer has all the appearances of a delicious beer float of some sort. However, this peculiarly mixed Belgian triple IPA is far more refreshing than such a description would convey. This drink has light elements of citrus and tropical fruit thanks to a marvelous pairing of hops and Belgian yeast. I'm not sure what makes this drink so compelling, but it's smooth and perfect on a warm spring evening.

Old Heathen Imperial Stout (Weyerbacher)
As I often do when picking new beers, I completely ignored any relevant descriptors such as style, IBU, or flavor characteristics. When I looked at this beer, I saw that it was called Old Heathen and it had a dude who looks like Garm on the label. To be perfectly honest, this beer rules either way. Whether it's because everything about this beer is as traditionally black metal as a beer can get or if it's because this is just an incredibly well made imperial stout, it's fantastic either way. Pours as dark as you'd expect, with delicious chocolate notes in nose and taste and a surprisingly smooth flavor for an imperial stout. Definitely a good one to show someone who is new to imperial stouts yet has enjoyed the stout style in the past.

Storm King Imperial Stout (Victory)
Victory shows up again in my list due to their accessibility and consistent quality. Storm King's long been a favorite of mine but it's probably been the better part of a year since I've had it. No idea why, since this is an imperial stout with a remarkable level of bite. The head on this beer is nice and thick while the drink is bitter and dark in all the best ways. A perfect beer when locked in on a stormy night, or even just good casual drinking for those of us who like our beers dark and intense. I've heard that the special edition Dark Intrigue is also perfect, but I've yet to run across a bottle of it at a time when I've had the financial ability to justify purchasing it. Grab this guy if you like it heavy and grab its big brother if you're feeling particularly feisty.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Lustre- "Night Spirit" LP (Fallen Empire/Eisenwald)

Fans of atmospheric and ambient black metal probably don't need any introduction to this band or album, but since not all of my readers fall into that category, welcome to a review of Lustre's landmark album, "Night Spirit," which is finally seeing release on vinyl thanks to Fallen Empire and Eisenwald. For the uninitiated, Lustre is a one-man atmospheric black metal project from Sweden. His songs transcend the dreary and often forgettable meandering that tends to typify the ambient reaches of black metal by reaching levels of beauty and serenity not often provided by the genre as a whole.

"Night Spirit" is composed of two tracks that are unified, not quite as one seamless song, but in sound and direction they lead the listener on an unmistakable journey. In many ways, this song is hard to describe with words. Every time I listen to this album (which is usually multiple times a week) I feel like I go on a sort of journey into myself. The density of the guitars and keys paired with the stripped percussion and sparse vocals drives me into a very calm and familiar place. This album feels, more than anything else, safe and timeless. There are a couple percussive key lines that I'm sure some people might poke at as a bit cheesy, but I truly feel it's as effective as any melodic lead I've heard on any other instrument. Each of these tracks crosses the twenty-minute mark and each is equally hypnotic in its effect. The album flows from a low to a peak and back down again. This triangular journey works very nicely, as things get coldest and most intense towards the end of the first song but work their way into an incredibly secure and warm sensation by the end of the second. Much like the album's name, it's something of a musical quest from nightfall to dawn, and it's just as beautiful as watching the shifting of the skies. I really can't recommend this album highly enough; it's easily one of my favorite records of 2013 so far.

Snag a copy of this while you're still able. I'm still surprised this didn't sell out immediately upon its release, so you should feel fortunate if you haven't already grabbed it. Obtain this beauty and find your own source of inner calm at maximum volume.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Inter Arma- "Destroyer" CD (Gilead Media)

Inter Arma have been one of those bands that existed on my periphery for a year or two without actually making their way to my ears. Call it bad luck or perhaps just having too many great options at my disposal to ever really catch up on every band I'd like to hear, but I just never got around to listening to Inter Arma until just recently. I'm instantly regretting having overlooked these guys last year, because it looks like they'll be making their way into my regular vocabulary with this release.

It's really hard to give a name to the kind of metal Inter Arma plays aside from just victorious and sprawling. The vocalist alternates between being a phlegmy Lindberg-like maniac with a perfect rasp and a bellow that sounds like some ancient warrior calling across a battlefield. "Destroyer" seems to work as both title and description of their musical approach, with the aggressive moments seeming victorious and valiant while psychedelic and spiraling guitars seem to slowly bore into one's skull during mellower moments. The instruments play in and through each other in ways that call to mind some of Mastodon's earlier and more intense albums and there is a constant sense of forward movement as Inter Arma slays everything that gets in its way. I'm not often into music that's this streamlined and well-polished for some reason, but there's such sincerity to this music that I can absolutely get behind this. At times I can't stop nodding my head, even though the opening track is nearly ten minutes long. This is one of the few bands I've featured here that could give some heavyweights a run for their money. This isn't just something that should appeal to the underground--the headlining acts of the metal world should be eyeballing these guys as potential tour mates. Inter Arma has the appeal and the talent, it's just time for somebody to take notice.

With a recent signing to Relapse Records, it seems that this band is on their way to bigger things, so it's only logical to revisit some of this band's earlier works before they become huge. Aside from getting bragging rights for knowing them first, you'll also be treated to an incredible EP that's well worth the cost. Grab it from Gilead Media and hope that you're still in the first 500 orders so that you can get a sweet patch and button.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Eternal Eclipse- "Compilation" CS & Ninjas for Hire/Earthenwomb "Split II" CS (Glossolalia Records)

Today we're examining two separate releases from a small private label that focuses exclusively on local artists from the Willamette Valley region of Oregon. While exclusivity can be a harmful and isolating thing, it can also create a tight bubble in which artists are sheltered from outside influences. In this respect, it's always interesting to look at small musical communities, especially from the standpoint of an outsider. While I can't say I've pinned down an exact sound for this label and its bands yet, it's clear that this group of relatively young musicians is keeping very busy within the greater genres of black metal and noise.

Glossolalia Records' 29th release, Eternal Eclipse's compilation cassette, is a collection of lo-fi black metal misery that is primarily spawned from the mind of just one individual, although there is a rehearsal track at the end with a full live lineup. These songs plod along at a medium pace with shrill vocals that tend to stay low in the mix, but occasionally break through to emphasize particularly intense moments. As with many bands like this, there are some scattered moments of "imperfection," but I feel that these moments really bring out the human nature in the music rather than detracting from it. This isn't technically-focused music to begin with, so as long as the mood is consistent, (which it is), I'm pretty happy. I also am pretty curious if this band's name is inspired by the Edge of Sanity tune of the same name, because that would be pretty awesome, even if the two aren't stylistically similar in any way. If you like your black metal slow and melodic with the occasional shift in tempo, give this tape a shot. It's over an hour of atmosphere and density for only five bucks. You can't go wrong.

Following up the bleak beauty of Eternal Eclipse is the harsh and chaotic split between Ninjas for Hire and Earthenwomb. While I already had a cursory familiarity with Earthenwomb, I had never heard of Ninjas for Hire before obtaining this cassette. I'm not one to rag on a band for their name, but I'm quite grateful that Ninjas for Hire aren't a rap metal or pop-punk group, because their name initially gave me the impression that I might be in for some rather unpleasant listening of the variety that I tend to avoid. Instead, both artists give the specific brand of unpleasant that I relish: harsh black metal with obvious influences from noise artists. Ninjas for Hire blows through their side of the split with a blown out and choppy offering of black metal with punk and thrash influences that reminds me of Bone Awl or Crebain at times. Sometimes the choppiness of the recording can be a bit distracting, but it's all part of the package with music like this and it still works pretty well. Earthenwomb's contribution to this split manages to be even denser, with drums that feel like focused waves of noise instead of actual percussion and vocals that cut right across the music. It's aggressive and hideous, and after the initial shock of the intensity has set in, it's pretty awesome. The space between sounds here becomes the "beat" around which the music occurs, encouraging a more focused listening experience. If you want background music, you'll have a hard time here, but if you pay attention, you'll find some solid and murky black metal.

These bands and this label are all pretty busy, so keep an eye on all the pages I've linked to throughout this review. This label has new stuff coming out pretty regularly, and almost everything they release is up for free on their bandcamp page, so it's completely risk-free.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Amiensus- "Restoration" (Self-Released)

Today we're going to examine the first full-length album from Minnesotan symphonic black metal group Amiensus. "Restoration" is currently only available as a digital download, but it's already got my attention in a serious way. If you're into well-produced, intricate black metal with equal parts majesty and malice, you're reading the right review. Somehow this group of musicians, many of whom are full-time students, managed to wrangle in Ken Sorceron from Abigail Williams to mix and master this beast. I'm guessing it's because he noticed just how great these guys are at writing compelling and melodic tunes.

Like the recently reviewed Autolatry, I feel there's a unique sense of technicality and precision to Amiensus's brand of music. Rather than simply falling into one set of sounds, there are elements from many styles within the greater "extreme metal" umbrella that are so well integrated that the song have an organic yet impossible to describe feeling. I could list bullet points of many reputable artists whom I'm sure Amiensus listens to and enjoys, but it still wouldn't quite do the final product justice. Many of the songs' choruses tend to be mid-paced with layered clean vocals and complementary guitar and keyboard lines following beneath, but that's about the only constant here. While the keys pretty much stay in the "symphonic black metal" territory, it works well enough to prevent me from criticizing it in any way. The songs range from contemplative to balls-out aggressive, which is good. I find that albums like this can tend to buckle under their own weight, yet I don't find myself feeling impatient halfway through. Instead, the band place little surprises throughout that keep me rather content, like the pensive and dark "I Am." Also, it's a small thing, but I'm giving these guys big points for enunciation. I can understand almost every lyric here, and that's pretty awesome. While I don't feel this album has reinvented metal (nor do I really expect any band to do that anyway), I can definitely say it's got enough variety and character to convince me that Amiensus is worth watching.

"Restoration" can be found on Amiensus' bandcamp page for a measly five bucks. They're also currently recording a full-length as well as a split EP with the highly talented Oak Pantheon, which should be monstrous if this album is any indication. Keep an eye on these guys, I expect them to get some serious attention in the near future.

Recent drinks 4/15/13

Forgive all the delays, dear friends and readers. As some of you may have noticed, I disappeared for a week to attend my cousin's wedding in California. I drank a handful of great beers there, but basically took minimal notes and don't really feel I could write anything sufficient on them. I may post my abbreviated notes soon for your consideration anyway, but in the meantime, here's a bit of what I've enjoyed at home in the days before and after my trip.

5 Golden Rings (The Bruery)
This surprisingly sweet golden ale tastes as if it has far more than five rings of pineapple sitting in each sip. An element of nutmeg or cinnamon is definitely present, but the pineapple juice is a dominant flavor that makes this drink more like a cider than a Belgian style ale. While I wouldn't go for this every day, I definitely was in the mood for it when I consumed it. This is the first I've had of their 12 beers of Christmas, and I'm definitely excited to see what they come up with later this year.

Vitus (Weihenstephaner)
I'm not going to lie and pretend that I didn't totally buy this for its name. I mean, I'm not the king of doomsters, but I love St. Vitus, which is exactly what I'm listening to while I drink this. The beer's got a massively foamy head, yet a really light body. The yeasty and sweet, almost banana-like flavor of this beer caught me off guard, but it's definitely up my alley. I'm so frequently shying away from lighter beers or anything "wheat" heavy, but I clearly need to change it up, because this one is deceptively tasty.

White Monkey Tripel (Victory)
As someone who has been known for introducing multiple friends to Victory's stellar Golden Monkey beverage, I pretty much was obligated to purchase this beautiful bottle of beer. The beer's amber color is rather accurate for the Belgian tripel style, yet this drink has such complexity that I'm finding a few varying descriptors that all are relatively fair. Since I'm aware that this was aged in oak barrels that once held chardonnay, I can certainly pick out elements of white wine, yet they aren't overwhelming. There's also a bit of mild mango flavor and a slight sugary bite of some sort that I can't quite put my finger on. The bottle indicates that this version is slightly more playful than the original, and I agree. I'm definitely enjoying that there's a lot going on here, but for some reason I can't see this being an every day drink. Instead, much like champagne, I feel this is a special, rare type of drink to be enjoyed from time to time. It's a limited release, so grab it while you're able.

That's it for this week's post. If you want to keep up with my current drinking that might not be featured here (or if you want a sneak peek of things to come), you can add me on Untappd or follow me on twitter. Both of these are full of my thoughts on various drinks, and the twitter account also features rants about awesome music and why being a student is bittersweet. Thanks for reading!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Eitarnora- "Tall Grasses and Black Ash" CD (Lakedeer Recordings)

Eitarnora are a drone-heavy folk duo who seem to exist in a beautiful little bubble, separate from the rest of the musical world. These two musicians seem to find peace and solace in gentle, natural forms and use their music to create a blissful space in which they can reflect. In this beautiful little realm, Eitarnora creates a landscape of mid-afternoon clouds and rolling hills with grass playing in the wind, beautiful yet isolated, which seems to be the way Eitarnora prefers to exist. While the twosome utilize a broad variety of instruments and even a couple guest appearances over the course of these five songs, there remains a very stripped down nature to this glistening hybrid of drone and Americana. All the spaces are filled in by gentle tones, yet none of it is overpowering or invasive, and it works wonderfully, being both personal and massive at the same time.

I find the music here goes through moments of melancholy without fully immersing itself in anything negative. Instead, it's the moments of introspection and calmness that come from progressing beyond the melancholy that really stick with me as a listener. Endless fields stretch out before me during some songs, like opening track "Feet in the Earth," while other songs retain a sense of solitude, like dust floating in thin light beams in an old forgotten attic. The nice thing about these relatively soothing songs is that they never make their way into the territory of dull background music. While many similarly calm albums can fade into the distractions of everyday life, Eitarnora's gentle presence is still strong, hovering in the periphery of one's conscious thoughts, with layer upon layer of sound revealing new sonic and mental territories with each repeated listen. This space is perfect for silent reflection, meditation, and even just relaxation. I've been listening for a few days now and it has been a stellar soundtrack for both rising in the morning and readying myself for sleep. Any time I want to find a piece of nature's beauty in the midst of the flat city in which I live, I know I can turn to this mellow gem for a soothing escape.

This album is currently available for preorder from Lakedeer Recordings, with an official release of midnight tonight. 100 copies of this CD will be available, 20 of which are special editions which will contain a 3" CDr and DVD-r recording of a live Eitarnora concert, as well as a vial of dried grass and black ash. Check out a sample of the second song, "Plains Dance" from Eitarnora's bandcamp or a sample of the gorgeous "You Are Mine" on Heathen Harvest if my kind words haven't already convinced you of the worthiness of this album. Immerse yourself in pure beauty and enjoy.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Terzij de Horde- "A Rage of Rapture Against the Dying of the Light" CD (Self-Released)

Terzij de Horde look like such sweet, mellow guys in their portrait inside this CD. They look more likely to help stoke up a fire in the winter and put on some tea than to create chaotic and conflicted black metal. Of course you know that stirring up chaos is exactly this group's goal, and they certainly succeed at it.With each of these four songs, Terzij de Horde creates something that is bold and unique yet completely familiar, as if this music comes from such a deep place that all of us could hold it in our collective experiences.

Musically these guys lash out like a hydra, with elements of hardcore, crust, and sludge latching onto their relentless black metal assault. Stillness is not an element one will find here, but ferocity is pouring out of every sound. Opener "Prometheans" is noticeably shorter than the other tracks on this album, yet it sets the pace properly, starting at a crawl that builds up to a bloodthirsty hybrid of textured riffs and breakneck drumming. Vocalist Joost sounds like he has long since given up anything human and replaced it with the entirety of nature's wrath towards humanity's destruction. These guys are also clearly well-read, as evidenced by the list of "inspirations" for this album (all are novels rather than musical works) and the fact that they took their own moniker from a line from a famous Dutch poet. It's pleasant to see that their literary hobbies make for great lyrics. In black metal I rarely pay attention to the lyrical content of a band, yet these guys made it actually a pleasure to read along as I listened. This album as a whole is good for repeat listens due to its relatively short length, and I can only imagine how vicious these guys would be in the live setting.

Terzij de Horde is currently writing a new album that will surely shred our collective faces off. In the meantime, grab a shirt and CD directly from the band (or download it for free if you're a bit poor today). If you're lucky enough to live anywhere near them, they'll be playing with Ash Borer and Fell Voices in Amsterdam just a couple weeks. Don't miss these guys, they're destined for some serious attention in the near future.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

World of Metal and Rust- "Industrial Noir" CDr (Self-Released/Depressive Illusions)

Some of my more frequent readers may remember my review of the now-defunct black industrial artist Mara. For those who enjoyed Mara's last breath, World of Metal and Rust is born from Mara's ashes. Cold factories and grey industrial skylines have always scattered the landscapes in this man's music, but here the electronic elements and darker atmospheres which I had touched upon in my previous review are now a dominant force. Gone are elements of depressive black metal, and in their place is a slow, monotonous mechanical emptiness that creates an even bleaker environment.

The sounds created here vary from hypnotic to absolutely terrifying. Mechanized percussion fuses with fuzzy and cold synths to generate pure atmosphere. I feel like this would serve as one of many soundtracks to the end of the world. The sky is mostly black and red swirling into each other, with some substance that might be either ash or snow falling from above. The streets are littered with vehicles, papers, and peoples' belongings that they left behind along the way. Few survivors remain in this wasteland. This is in many ways exactly what the name of this project evokes, and the sound is well suited. Many songs here seem to contain two or more separate compositions that complement each other rather than one solid song per track, but I feel it works nicely. The album flows quite well from song to song and the atmosphere is consistently heavy. The ominous nature of the music might make extended listens difficult for some folks, but I feel that listening all the way through creates a perfect sense of dread and despair that chills me to the bone in the best way possible. I must reiterate that nothing here really makes it into "metal" territory, but everything here echoes cold detachment. This is perfect misery and self-hate.

Copies of this release come in a DVD case with full artwork and a labeled disc. You can purchase it digitally from the band or it you can purchase a physical copy for 6 EUR from Depressive Illusions, who also released the Minblod album I recently reviewed.  Only 33 CDs are available, so grab it quickly. Keep up with the band through its blog and be up to date on any future releases or plans. There's already a new demo posted, so it's worth checking out.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Autolatry- "Of the Land" CD (Self-Released)

Snow, nightfall, and the woods are trademarks of classic black metal albums. Many bands intentionally evoke these elements in lyrics, album art, and absurd song titles. Some bands, like Autolatry, barely need to mention the colder, more natural side of black metal for it to shine through everything they do. While New England may not have the regional clout of Scandinavia, cold weather seems to run in Autolatry's collective bloodstream. With this brief EP, they show that they can hold their own with a unique brand of progressive black metal that seems culled equally from American and European influences, all with crisp, precise production, partially courtesy of the studio brilliance of the legendary Morrisound Studios.

"Of the Land" is a collection of four songs that reflect upon different aspects of winter in New England. Opener "Mountain" sets an aggressive and compelling precedent, and though it's my least favorite track on the album, it's still an impressive and enjoyable tune. Every member of the band showcases something unique here, with the drums being particularly on spot throughout the whole album. I find these tunes straddle a territory occupied evenly by Cormorant and Enslaved, with a healthy dose of tech-death influence that adds a certain aggression without sacrificing the black metal aesthetic. The riffs run the gamut from technical to textured and the cold atmosphere is relentless, even when the songs find their way into chunkier, more American death metal influenced territory. Autolatry's creative insanity works its best when they're moving at full-speed, with the occasional stop-start dynamic there to create the perfect tension for the band to break through. A lot of rawer black metal groups don't sound like they'd translate well live, but these songs sound both majestic and stage-ready, which is a nice balance since these guys always seem to be either on the road or gearing up for it.

Snag a copy of this album directly from the band and bask in icy technical mastery or download it for the price of your choice. They're currently working on a full-length entitled "Native," and I can safely say that it will be massive. Keep an eye on these guys before they take over the metal underground and be sure to get their stuff before it becomes rare collectors' items.