Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ensemble of Silence; Hellsteed; Immolation

Ensemble of Silence (Malaysia ): Dark Moon Rising
1. “A Force to Kill” (5:09): For the most part, on here, it is a thrashy guitar sound with semi-growl vocals that takes precedence. Quite a few influences come across, such as that style of melodic-thrashy guitar playing: sounds like a band still working out its musical direction.
2. “Dark Moon Rising” (5:14): Despite the scream/growl vocals, there is quite a bit of that guitar sound described above that pretty much dominates. The band goes for some slower, more melodic moments.
3. “Kiss of the Whisper” (4:47): Once again, the guitar work is the centerpiece. For the main guitar rhythm parts, it is a thrashy style, but there’s a decidedly melodic-metal guitar sound for other parts, like some licks, solos, etc.

Ensemble of Silence is closer to that more successful and commercially viable sound that some Swedish bands have made popular, and which has become very popular amongst U.S. rock bands that play “hard rock” or “metal.” This band sounds like a metal band, but definitely different from the majority of the bands reviewed in this zine.
This is their demo and it’s hindered by the sound quality, but their musical style comes across relatively intact. Having no knowledge of the metal scene in Malaysia, it is difficult to judge, so, if interested, check them out, if you don’t mind that melodic/twin-harmony thrashy guitar sound and would like to hear this band’s take on it.

Hellsteed (U.K.): Bastion of Cruelty
Hellsteed should be pleased with the sound quality on here. For example, the bass is very easy to discern and it’s heavy with a rumble. These three songs are a good representation of their seriousness of purpose.
1. “Bastion of Cruelty” (6:19): The vocals have a definite clenched-teeth black/death metal anger, but with pretty good enunciation. The song is uptempo, but this is not blasting death metal. The result is a song that utilizes its own sound to attract, where the band has to show what it is made of, without resorting to just playing fast: let the guitar convince or dissuade the listener, hear the riffs and see if you like.
2. “Behind Me a City Burns” (5:47): A more straightforward song, easier to remember simply because it emphasizes the uptempo speed. Is Hellsteed “progressive brutality”? Maybe “cold, prog brutality”? Part of the time the guitar riffs lean in the direction of dissonant sounds that underline non-melodic licks. Then they bust out with some headbanging moments. The two worlds coexist and thrive.
3. “Alone We All Die” (5:14): Begins with mellow guitar leading to uptempo, rumbly track with compact riffs that build a frame to a memorable verse, “Life has no reason, no bigger picture, in isolation, alone we all die.” It’s a good way to end the song with such an upbeat guitar part, raising the question as to what else this band is capable of.
So far, it’s got serious songs somewhere between brutality and prog metal. The growling will give the impression of a death metal band, but it’s really not just that, for the musical objective is a combination of several origins. Hellsteed doesn’t sound like anyone in particular. Few bands have the bass this upfront. Despite the framework of black/death metal, Hellsteed’s guitar work has some different elements (could be prog) in it that’s a bit hard to place. There is an integrity to the sound, and professionalism. It doesn’t sound like a bunch of people just recording stuff in their garage. This is not to say that it sounds like a big-budget production, but it’s pretty solid.

Immolation (US): Majesty and Decay (Nuclear Blast)
Of the ten songs on this album (plus an intro and an interlude), it would be acceptable to write reviews for each composition. However, instead, consider these four random examples of the work delivered, and from there, extract the necessary conclusions, since each of these songs is representative of the level of artistic expression at which Immolation functions.
7. “A Glorious Epoch” (4:39): From 0:00 to 1:43 this is hovering doom; the speed and major contortions begin at 1:43 and from there it’s riff upon massive riff building a monolith that twists and turns upon itself. Riffs and licks fly about the place, giving the impression that only repeated listens will clarify just what is happening here.
5. “Divine Code” (3:40): Interspersed with compact sections of speed and blasting, this is an exemplary praxis of that big-riff heaviness that’s key to the Immolation sound. It is framed with several of those contorted tempo changes. The two guitar solos are different, both of them short: one is crisp, crystal clear and fluid, while the other one is circular, simpler. This song does have lyrics and vocals, but the song sounds a bit like an instrumental, though obviously it is not.
12. “The Comfort of Cowards” (5:52): Mr. Dolan’s vocals are very low and gruff, but his enunciation is clear enough that some of what he’s growling can be understood when he’s not growling very fast. When growling slower, he sounds like a diabolical character-monster in a movie. Look at how long this one lasts. As you can imagine by now, it’s fairly representative of the more complex side of Immolation.
10. “The Rapture of Ghosts” (5:21): It sounds like there are at least three guitars very audibly swirling into a bundle of plodding heaviness, with a fast double bass drum balancing the weight. Mr. Dolan’s vocals are pretty deep and there are some crisp guitar licks that appear and disappear, like sparks. Plus, towards the end there is a guitar melody worked and reworked until the song’s finality.

These ten songs all display a serious effort to engage the composition at its multifaceted focus. Those that enjoy guitar work that is challenging and non-linear will find much to explore. Notice, for example, how Immolation actually uses what are called “traditional black metal riffs” (but with a thick/heavy sound) in some places and yet this hardly ever gets mentioned because supposedly Immolation is considered “pure death metal.” Or check out the “melodies” and how Immolation utilizes them, trespassing limits, yet doing it in an intelligent way, the opposite of ear-candy sounds or sounds that pander to the audience’s nostalgia (re-hashing other band’s melodies). As if this weren’t enough, take a few listens to those dissonant, riffs-working-against-each-other-in-harmony elements that impel to the listener to return to the songs: how is it that these riffs work together when they sound like they are colliding against each other?
This album is about feeling and vibe, heaviness and a twisted way of writing songs. This requires more than a couple of listens to understand, but this is not a new situation with Immolation. Of course, this has bursts of speed and blasting, but simplicity and linear songs are not Immolation’s main features: massive riffs, dissonant riffs, quality licks and solos, deep vocals, well-placed speed, capable drumming with carefully done technical elements and lyrics contemplative of the band’s perceived state of the planet.
This is the band whose music will give you hand cramps when you play along on your guitar to what captain Vigna is playing.

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