Saturday, October 26, 2019

review: Karyn Crisis' Gospel of the Witches

Karyn Crisis' Gospel of the Witches
Aural Music
25 October 2019
Sound: Karyn Crisis (vocalist for Crisis in the 1990s and 2000s; and Ephel Duath 2011-2014) and Davide Tiso (Howling Sycamore; Ephel Dual 1998-2014) return for a second album to follow up the 2015 debut. The main thing that potential customers need to know is that this is, compared to the vast majority of metal albums, a work that stands apart from the music that fits squarely within a particular genre. Overall, this is a melancholic, gothic, dark ambient progressive album. “Progressive,” of course, is not a specific genre, but more like varied ways of doing aesthetics. Expect not a genre, but more along the lines of a pretty unique listening experience.
Production: The production team went for a rather organic electric rock sound in which the instruments have room to breathe and to be heard. The overall production vibe, if anything, has more in common with 1970s progressive rock in the sense of freedom, but the sound is contemporary, not retro.
Instrumentation: Davide Tiso’s guitar work has always often on the progressive and avant-garde side of things, and it tends to go its independent way, shying away from fitting into a particular genre. On this album, that is still true, of course. For instance, this is not uptempo rock power chord music, but there’s a variety of moods, and in some spots, there are some harder-edged moments. For instance, songs 1, 5, 7 and 8 feature heaviness and extreme vocals. On the other hand, in some segments the guitar is a gentle breeze (song 9), a melodic metal vibe (song 2), and in general the guitar is remarkably accessible while maintaining an atmospheric, somber feel.
The second thing that must not be ignored is the unique drumming on the album. The drum sound is very warm to the ear. It looks like Karyn Crisis and Davide Tiso are on the same page with Fabian Vestod (Skinlab). The drums sound real, the cymbals also sound real (kind of noisy, in a good, nice, non-computerized way). Stylistically, what people call world music and tribal rhythm drumming seem to have a good part in how the beats come across. It’s not typical rock/metal drumming at all. Feel, mood, atmosphere, rhythm, and emotion, and heavy and lighter moments, are some of the most characteristic traits of the drumming.
Vocals: Karyn Crisis, as the vocalist for Crisis, had some of the most rabidly furious lyrics that you will ever hear (for evidence check out the 1994 album), and the thing about it is that it sounded real. It was really angry and was obscene because it was raging anger, like a temper tantrum put to music, like on the 1994 album. The screaming, hollering and singing was a compelling form of metal/hardcore at the time. Decades later, in what seems like lifetimes ago, the vocal style features a lot more singing, although there is a little bit of extreme vocals in a few selected spots. On this album, expect melancholic singing, some gentle crooning, but older fans familiar with Crisis will certainly notice that the singing voice has changed yet still sounds familiar in tone and personality. The singing sounds unmistakably like Karyn Crisis.
Songs: This album is song-focused. The only warning that people need to know is that the album requires a bit more patience than genre-specific music. For instance, if you know that an album is technical death metal or thrash, then the listener already knows what they are getting. This is not how this album works. Give it a few spins, and come back to it over the course of a week, but after that, the tunes will make a lot of sense as songs.
Lyrics: Repeated listens do not reveal any prominent profanities, if there are any (The band Crisis has some of most cursing ever, of course) (FYI: This reviewer does not have access to the new lyrics, so this is not a guarantee). This is a contrast with the old days when the music seemed appropriate for adults only. A Karyn Crisis album that metal soccer moms and dads can play in the minivan without worrying about the whole lot of cursing in the music?! That’s a nice contrast. The themes of the album, we could say, are spiritual in nature. The old political rage is still there, but it is expressed in a much more poetic, transformed way. No, there is no obvious ranting and raving as in the old Crisis days, rather love and enlightenment seem at the center of the lyrical themes.
Potential audience: Fans of melodic doom, gothic metal, progressive metal, ambient metal, and post-metal are just some of the people that, if they give the album the time to grow, may find it an interesting work.
Similar bands: While it is difficult to name similar bands, in metal music, here and there, there are bands and albums that have come at somewhat similar vibes. For instance, Tristania’s album Ashes (2005), does in some ways, have some general similarities, if we understand that it was a long time ago, and in a different style.
Assessment: Perhaps the best thing about the album is the balance between making a genre-free unique work and making the music comprehensible to the audience. The album is accessible, and song-centered, not an exercise in attempting to confuse the listener. That is good news, indeed.

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