Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Metal Roundup - Nile, Alcest, Cynic

So I was lucky enough to stumble into the local record store during an underground metal clearance sale, and you know I hit that something fierce.  Specifically, I left with the following three CDs, all of which are well worth your time and attention:

Nile - "Those Whom The Gods Detest"

I'm a big fan of Nile, though I only had one of their CDs before now.  Fact is, "Annihilation of the Wicked" was so fulfilling, and I've been listening to it for so long that I never felt a need to buy any of their other albums.  But I broke down yesterday and picked this one up.  For the uninitiated, Nile is a technical death metal band from Florida (cookie monster vocals, super-fast brutal riffs, blast beat drums) that is well known for their fascination with ancient Egypt.  Their lyrics (surprisingly intelligible for tech-death music) tend to use some aspect of Egyptian history or religion as a jumping off point for some suitably grisly death metal song.

On "Those Whom The Gods Detest" Nile expands their use of traditional middle-eastern instrumentation and acoustic passages to great effect.  Furthermore, they've begun branching out conceptually into Islam and Persia, with "atmospherics" to match the lyrics.  The music is predictably great Nile.  As far as I can gather one Nile CD is as good as the next, but there's just nobody else doing death metal this epic.

Alcest - "Ecailles de Lune"

Alcest is basically a one man project from France that marries atmospheric black metal with shoegaze music, of all things.  It's a delicate combination of buzzing guitar drone, acoustic accompaniment, and clean, mellow vocals.  Alcest's secret weapon is vocalist Neige's ability to let loose with some of the most effective black metal shrieks I've ever heard.  What makes it special is that the shrieking (and buzz guitar) is buried rather low in the mix, so that the instruments surrounding it bring out some very complex emotions.

This is night music, the kind of thing that you put on in the late evening while you're winding down, light a few candles, and relax.  "Ecailles de Lune" is a meditative, soothing listen that makes me feel nostalgic for a mythical past that never existed.  Interestingly, I now read that Alcest's music is Neige's attempt to evoke his childhood memories of visiting a far off "fairy land".  I'd say this qualifies as a success.

Cynic - "Traced in Air"

For many years, Cynic was a legend in progressive metal circles.  Their 1993 album "Focus" was a visionary blend of technical death metal and jazz that turned those genres on their heads, just in time for the band to break up.  Thankfully they reformed over a decade later and released a proper follow-up.

As with some of my favorite records by Tool, Protest the Hero, and King Crimson, "Traced in Air" is one of those platters that succeed at a very difficult task.  There's a real trick to making progressive music that flows, and isn't just wanky and awkward.  Cynic make this stuff sound natural, like it's just water off a duck's back for them.

It's brain expanding stuff, and compelling, though it definitely starts feeling "wandery" after a while.  Yet at a surprisingly brief 35 minutes, "Traced in Air" never quite wears out its welcome.  This CD is just long enough to give my brain a place to play, and the mystical album art makes it an even more fascinating trip.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Offspring - "Days Go By" Album Review

I've been meaning to write about the new Offspring album for several days now, but there's a problem.  See, every time I try to write about it, I want to listen to it, and when I listen to it, it's so catchy that I can't concentrate on writing.  So I'm going to grudgingly press stop on my CD player and tell you that yes, the Offspring are still a band.  Also, and more surprisingly, their new album is really damn good.

Most people lost track of The Offspring after "Americana", which means that not enough people heard the excellent follow up "Conspiracy of One".  Fortunately, these people also missed "Splinter", a frustrating follow up with 2 or 3 great tracks, a lot of filler, and some total garbage.  After "Splinter" came the generally crummy "Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace", and the less said about that the better.

Honestly, I'm shocked the band didn't call it quits after that record, but we fortunate few who still care have finally been treated to "Days Go By", an ear-pleasing bouquet of melodies that just lights my heart on fire.  Perhaps that sounds weird when used to describe The Offspring, but they've been edging this way for a few records now, trading raw decibels for versatility.  On "Days Go By", the band is artistically invigorated, and cranking out earworms like there's no tomorrow.

There are a few songs with the classic Offspring sound (fast, loud, lots of woah-oh's), so you can check those boxes as you hear them.  But the album's best tracks come from the band going off on tangents, like the latino-dub-rap of "O.C. Guns".  There's another love ballad ("All I Have Left Is You"), and it's a good one this time.  Of course there's the once-each-album naked attempt at a crossover hit, and this time it's "Cruising California (Bumpin' In My Trunk)".

Punk scene people are predictably crying sell out, but firstly they're wrong, and secondly they're about 20 years too late.  The Offspring have always been kinda goofy, and if you've got a problem with that, they don't need your money.  So yes, they do rip off two separate Katy Perry songs in two different tracks (I'll let you spot them).  Whatever works.

Meanwhile, Dexter Holland's gift for melody reaches new heights in some great pop tracks. the title track "Days Go By" is a joyous, life-affirming anthem that is impossible to ignore.  "Secrets From The Underground" is an optimistic ode to the recent political unrest (Tea Party, Occupy, etc): "There's something rising up / Not one, but a million who have had enough".  Oh, and I had a great laugh at "I Wanna Secret Family (With You)", where a married man drunkenly revels in his love for a stripper.

It's like night and day comparing this to The Offspring's last record.  In an effort to sound mature on "Rise and Fall", they only managed to sound stodgy and old.  "Days Go By" dispells any doubt I have about the group's future.  The dark clouds have dispelled, and the band has managed to evolve without ever losing their playful edge.  No, it doesn't sound like "Smash" for a single minute, and that's fine with me.  As a bone thrown to the old-schoolers, there's a gorgeous re-recording of "Dirty Magic", one of the band's best early songs.  Totally necessary, if only because it will sound better on my next mix CD ^_^

Oh, and the record closes with some great heavy shit just in case you were missing it.  "Divide By Zero" and "Slim Pickens Does The Right Thing And Rides The Bomb To Hell" make a double feature that will will light your ass on fire.  "Slim Pickens" is a song so good that words fail me.  I just can't even articulate how much it makes me want to bounce around and sing like a gibbering idiot, mostly because just thinking about it has gotten it lodged in my brain again, and now my CD player is calling again.