Tag Archives: Daniel Anderson

Fear Inoculum Makes the Pieces Fit Again

By Daniel Anderson

For so long, it seemed like a distant dream. Yet, here we are.

Right from the start, the L.A-based band Tool stood as a complete anomaly. In a time where nearly every metal act being spun about on MTV was fusing the genre with an alternative radio-rock sound or even, heaven forbid, hip-hop elements, Tool practically tossed conformity out of the window.

Throughout the mid 90s to the 2000s, they gained notoriety for releasing songs with ambitious, complex structures, ever-shifting time signatures and numerous instrumental switch-ups and passages—all while still having a knack for keeping it all relatively accessible.

Combine that with their abstract and hypnotizing artwork and animated music videos (courtesy of guitarist Adam Jones and artist Alex Grey), and you have the most unlikely combination for success. Though brief in number, Tool’s practically untainted discography has been celebrated to a point that most bands, let alone progressive and alternative metal bands, can only dream of.

With millions of albums sold and accolades from MTV Music Video Awards and Grammy nods galore, it seemed as if time would forever be on this band’s side. Or so we all thought.

After the release of their last studio album, 10,000 Days, in 2006, Tool fell completely silent on new releases from then onward. Even despite the band remaining contractually together, they remained quiet on new material. As the years went by, a new album from them became something of a musical equivalent to a Half-Life sequel: something that would never happen.

That is, until recently.

Earlier this year, it was announced across all social media platforms that the silence would come to an end; their new album was in the works. The months after became a Tool frenzy. Further developments built up even more hype.

Streaming finally became available and album art and the release of the lead single followed suit. Soon enough the time had come—the silence was no more. Tool’s fifth studio effort, Fear Inoculum, had arrived.

With such immense shoes to fill, I had doubts that this group could truly live up to my expectations. To be perfectly honest, this is Tool’s least impressive album thus far. But given their usual standards, I would be remiss if I did not say that there are some fantastic things about it.

For starters, the most blatant elephant in the room is the tracklist: numerically, it is the shortest in their career, yet most of the tracks either border or surpass the ten minute mark. See, Tool are no strangers to long-winded songs, but they are usually reserved for pivotal spots in their tracklists (Third Eye and Wings for Marie being great past examples). With that in mind, it is easy to make the assumption that this was done so to make the album a grand statement.

Upon further inspection, however, this is not so much the case. The opening title track brings just about everything I expected out of a Tool record. From the soft-spoken intro with bongo drums, to the well-balanced production between every member’s instrumental work, to frontman Maynard James Keenan’s blissful yet firm vocals, nothing is out of place here. Best of all, the qualities of this track are blended together in such a way that it makes for a consistently engaging listen. It is a ten minute track that feels nearly half its length.

But in another breath, I do find it somewhat disappointing that Tool doesn’t go too far out of their comfort zone. Slightly worse than that is how the relatively safe songwriting comes at the cost of this track’s memorability, which is something that Tool is normally excellent at incorporating into their progressive metal forte.

Despite these hindrances, I suppose they do not drag down this record’s overall quality that much. In retrospect, two of their most celebrated works Lateralus and the aforementioned 10,000 Days do share a considerable amount of similarity in production and group dynamic, but both still maintain enough nuance to keep themselves unique—such as Lateralus’ tracklist structure being based on the Fibonacci Sequence.

Looking at their progression through that lens, I can tolerate the seemingly meat-and-potatoes approach that this album takes in comparison to its predecessors. Having said all that, I curiously find that nearly every pro and con that I observed on the opener applies to the majority of the tracklist.

Tracks like “Pneuma,” and “Invincible,” despite being decent and enjoyable tracks on their own, do not really lend themselves all that well to inclusion on the album. Even with their compositional difference, they are grounds that this band has tread several times over.

Also, it does not help that the brief, albeit over-abundant interludes on the digital version of this record waste potential room for more decency. Even when there are somewhat memorable moments occasionally (such as Danny Carey’s slick drum soloing on the absurdly-titled “Chocolate Chip Trip), I cannot help but feel that these interludes tainted so much of my enjoyment of the rest of what is offered.

Least of all, without these filler tracks, the album still runs at about 80 minutes in length; they make the experience even more bloated than it already is.

Still, even with the shortcomings, this is not to say that there is nothing of substance here—most of it is practically the opposite. The seventh track “Culling Voices,” serves as one of the more subdued and meditative moments on the album and still manages to stay interesting for its length. The fourth track “Descending,” despite seeming like another standard track, brings about some of Maynards best vocal performances on the record.

Then there is the final track (not including the interludes), “7empest.” This track is essentially the kind which everyone familiar with previous material wants to hear. It is the longest at fifteen minutes, and not a second is wasted. You name it: infectious riffs, Carrey’s fiery drumming, aggressive vocals, compositional finesse—this track has it all.

To sum up, Fear Inoculum manages to keep the discography of Tool nearly uncontested by their contemporaries. For the amount of flaws it has, that is not to speak of the tremendous qualities it has. Sure, gone are the days of more iconic tracks like “Forty Six & 2” and “Schism”, but at the very least, I can be grateful that it is still a solid release.

This record plays like a love-letter, and fans such as I are certainly receiving it as one.

 

Anchored in Quality

Art by Sam Haney

Story By Daniel Anderson

As stated in the previously published review, progressive metal has been taking over independent labels recently due to the intricate and pristinely-made sound that bands of the genre typically produce. Bands such as Meshuggah and Periphery set a bar for the genre, known as djent, that many bands have since tried to copycat.

But as is for many genres, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Take Baroness for instance.

While still labeled as a progressive metal and rock act, this Savannah, Georgia based band has taken an opposite approach to the genre than most current prog acts. Instead of attempting to make their sound as clean and precise as possible, Baroness (as well as other contemporaries like Mastodon and Torche) combine the genres of sludge metal, alternative rock, and heavy psych into their sound.

It would seem that they have reaped the benefits from this. Since 2007, every new Baroness release (all color-coded, by the way) has been celebrated by the hard rock and metal communities. Their first two outings, The Red Album and Blue Record, were highly praised for their combination of heavy and compressed production of sludge with the technicality and finesse of prog rock.

In 2012, their double-album Yellow and Green, saw the band going in a more accessible direction. Despite still being well-received, these two remain a bit divisive among fans for going on that route. One could release the single “Take My Bones Away” in the mid-to-late 90s and it would be seen as another Foo Fighters-esque radio rock tune.

With their next release in late 2015, Purple, Baroness almost had a return to form. It served as a middle ground between their first two hard-hitting releases and the accessibility of Yellow and Green. The album was a tremendous success for the band, earning great sales, the adoration of fans and critics, and even a Grammy nod for the lead single, “Shock Me.” 

Because of this, it was no surprise that many, such as myself, were anticipating their newest release, Gold and Grey. And, unfortunately, opinions on the results have been split once again.

Like with Purple, it would seem Baroness is once again attempting to meld heaviness and accessibility. However, the accessibility has been slightly turned up a notch, perhaps not to the same level as Yellow and Green, but it is still a bit noticeable.

Should their approach be slightly tweaked, tracks such as “I’m Already Gone” and “I’d Do Anything” could probably released as pop rock ballads in the early 2000’s. 

Not to mention, there is also the tenth track, “Emmett – Radiating Light,” which comes across a Baroness’ attempt at an acoustic singer-songwriter track (like the poor man’s Mount Eerie or Sufjan Stevens). Yet the boring, deadpan vocals, and its inconsistency compared to the rest of the tracklist could make the listener question as to why the band would include this in the album at all. 

Speaking of which, one of the most irritating detractors of this record are the absurd amount of short, mostly-instrumental interludes it contains. Not only do most of them sound lazily composed, but they contribute nothing to this record in terms of pacing. If anything, these tracks all but kill the flow of the album.

Be not mistaken, this record may be laced with flaws in its tracklist, but that does not mean that Baroness went into this project without bringing some quality to the table.

Tracks such as “Tourniquet” and “Borderlines” demonstrate the fantastic songwriting, soaring vocals and tight instrumental composition that most people associate with this band. The thirteenth track, “Broken Halo,” which is a typical song by Baroness standards, is executed well enough to where it could be placed on the tracklist of Purple.

The eleventh track, “Cold-Blooded Angels,” particularly stands out among the other tracks by showcasing the band at their most dynamic. The track goes through numerous passages and transitions while still keeping up a top-notch vocal performance from frontman John Baizley.

Despite this, the most major misstep on this record prevented me from enjoying this album any further: the production.

For most, if not the complete duration, this album is absolutely plagued with a jarring amount of technical flaws. On the opening track, “Front Toward Enemy,” the guitars and the bass are mixed together in such a way that they sound as if they are falling over one another. Also, the drums get so lost in the mix that the cymbals are really the only parts that are noticeable.

Even worse, the vast majority of these tracks suffer from the same or similar issues in production. Perhaps the worst case of these drums comes about with the final track, “Pale Sun.” Not only is it unfulfilling for an album closer, but the cymbals near the end of the track border on being white noise.

On some tracks, the opposite issue is also present. With the third track, “Seasons,” the drums finally become noticable, but that comes at the cost of the guitars and bass, which are consequently buried beneath them. The latter is also drowned out significantly on “Borderlines.”

Issues with this album’s production could potentially continue for another few paragraphs, but underlying all of this is the most frustrating aspect to me: 

Baroness has never been known for being the best-produced band out there. The difference here is that the muddy and compressed mixing of previous efforts was a part of their charm. Purple, for instance, has a level of production that is almost as messy as what can be heard on Gold and Grey. But unlike this new release, Purple at least had a slightly gruffer approach in overall composition, so the mix compliments the album well enough.

Sadly, this is not the case for Gold and Grey. To have decidedly grimy production is one thing, but to dial it to a higher degree for a selection of songs that simply do not fit well with it is completely unnecessary.

This album could have been good, maybe even great when accounting for its highlights. What a shame that its greatest fault is something that could have been so easily prevented.

Standout Tracks:Tourniquet,” “Cold-Blooded Angels,” “Borderlines”

Score: 6/10   

Tracklist:

  1. Front Toward Enemy
  2. I’m Already Gone
  3. Seasons
  4. Sevens
  5. Tourniquet
  6. Anchor’s Lament
  7. Throw Me an Anchor
  8. I’d Do Anything
  9. Blankets of Ash
  10.  Emmet – Radiating Light
  11.  Cold-Blooded Angels
  12.  Crooked Mile
  13.  Broken Halo
  14.  Can Oscura
  15.  Borderlines
  16.  Assault on East Falls
  17.  Pale Sun

Listen: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_kqi3ECPn2xHvZh4_pKWD-DxvdQAKcT3QQ

 

The Door to Doom is Now Wide Open

Art by Sam Haney

Story By Daniel Anderson

The nation of Sweden is quite well versed in metal.

From Meshuggah to Opeth, Entombed to Amon Amarth, Bathory to Ghost, metal music has thrived in this country for decades. However mainstream or underground the names may be, the genre has remained popular nonetheless.Yet throughout this country’s layered history in the genre, few Swedish metal bands have ever been as revered as the doom-laden Candlemass.

Forming in 1984 in Stockholm by bassist and sole consistent member Leif Edling, Candlemass embarked on a distinct metal movement during the mid to late 80s, doom metal. It typically is not a very extreme form of the metal genre (some might even call it simplistic), but extremity is not what it needs to focus on. This genre is familiarized by its slow tempo, titanic riffs, and thunderous volume. In doing so, the overall sound produced gives off an ominous presence: one that gives the listener a sense of impending doom (hence the name).

Around the time of the band’s hay day, the genre of doom metal was viewed by many as a bastion of a sound that had been existent since the 70s (thanks to Black Sabbath, of course). Contemporaries such as Trouble, Saint Vitus and Pentagram had jumped onto the bandwagon of Sabbath worship.

Candlemass, however, changed that notion with albums like Epicus Doomicus Metallicus and Nightfall. Instead of the familiar stoner riffs of the decade prior, the band opted for grand production and a dramatic new sound for the genre— vocals and all. They had essentially turned doom metal into opera.

From then on, Candlemass kept turning the wheel for their newly updated genre (which they dubbed “epic doom metal”). Though this did not come without its faults. The band has consistently picked up and dropped its members like jacks, and hiatuses  were certainly not unheard of.

Despite all of that, Candlemass persisted. Time and time again, the band kept releasing albums which mostly garnered warm reception from critics and fans. But after their 2012 release Psalms for the Dead, Candlemass fell silent with their streak of albums.

There was no complete studio silence, though. In that time, they released two EPs, Death Thy Lover and House of Doom. However, with their fifth vocalist, Mats Levén, they lacked the truly operatic voice which had helped give the band its identity.

Once he was outed, the band once again needed someone to take the mantle of vocals. Much to the surprise of their fans, the original vocalist for the band, Johan Länqvist, decided to take on that role once again.

Thus, we now have Candlemass’ twelfth studio album, The Door to Doom. And what an excellent return to form it is.

With so many lineup changes in their discography, one might expect a band such as Candlemass to act dysfunctional, especially considering how long they have been doing this sort of thing.

Yet that is not what is on display here. Straight from the opening track, “Splendor Demon Majesty,” it becomes clear that Candlemass can still offer the devilish and melodic guitar lines, crushing production, and ominous vibes that made them beloved in the first place.

Längqvist’s vocals, while obviously aged, have fared much greater than most other long-running bands. Take the new recording of the track, “House of Doom,” for instance. While the excellent instrumentals have not changed much since last time, the more operatic tone that the vocals on the new version bring forth make the comparison between this and the original version seem like day and night. With one simple change, this band become instantly more recognizable.

The third track, “Astorolus – The Great Octopus” is perhaps the most outstanding example of fresh offerings on this album. While not as occult as many of the other songs in their discography, the Lovecraftian lyrics of an oceanic monstrosity certainly fill in the gap of ever-present evil just perfectly.

But most notable of all, this track features a winding guest guitar solo from the legendary Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi. Just knowing that this band has garnered the attention and collaboration of one of heavy metal’s most essential forefathers goes to show how far Candlemass has come since its inception.

However, straightforward doom and gloom is not all that is brought to the table here. There are several moments throughout this album which show that the band also has versatility under its belt. Instances such as the intro to the track, “Under the Ocean,” which has a psychedelic vibe comparable to that of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter.”

That same vibe takes complete control on the fourth track, “Bridge of the Blind.” This track is a nice change of pace, basically acting as an acoustic interlude.

The track “Black Trinity” contains the moment most atypical of this band, however. It starts out with some of the heaviest and most distorted guitar licks on the album, almost like an Electric Wizard track. But then there is an eerie drum break starting around the four-minute mark, including what sounds like a pair of maracas in the background. Needless to say, this moment sticks out like a sore thumb, but in an interesting way.

One more important thing to note about this album is the mixing. Make no mistake, this album is as heavy and hard-hitting as any frequent metal listener would expect. The sheer emphasis on the drums and guitar distortion help this album sound even more monstrous than it already was. It is not exactly as heavy as something like, say, a High on Fire record, but it more than gets the job done.

In essence, The Door to Doom is the album that long time listeners of Candlemass have been craving for years now. It blends the new and the old of the band into a seamless recording. Plus, given that a good majority of the tracks abide by doom metal standards, it also makes for a good album to engage new listeners with.

One thing this album is not, however, is a sequel to their debut, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (despite what some fans claim). Then again, it does not need to be. By now, this band has gone through so many different phases and lineups that making something entirely reminiscent of their earliest works would be futile. Candlemass has remained a surprisingly consistent band when it comes to sound and style, but the subtle changes they have made along the way have kept this band from reaching their permanent expiration date.

Late-career highlights are certainly not unheard of for metal bands, but only a band like Accept can match the consistency that Candlemass has had past their prime. For a band that has been around for 35 years, and with fairly little change to the sound of their repertoire, it is quite amazing that Candlemass can still bring about great albums in this great of a volume.

The Door to Doom is the newest evidence of this claim.

 

Standout Tracks: Under the Ocean, Astorolus – The Great Octopus, Black Trinity, House of Doom

Score: 8.5/10

Kid A inspires listeners almost 20 years after release

By Daniel Anderson

The decade, century, and millennium were all heading to an anticipated closing point. Around the same time, a certain alt-rock band living near Oxford University was becoming increasingly exhausted with their own work. For Radiohead, days were long and tumultuous.

Touring over a year for their groundbreaking third project OK Computer did not exactly help with that, either. This led to lead singer Thom Yorke suffering a near-mental breakdown by the time the tour was over.

But the band knew, much like everyone else, that a year passing is a time for change. And with a once-in-a-lifetime experience such as the beginning of the 21st century, Radiohead knew that their britpop sound of the 90s just could not last. It was time to take a different approach.

The turn of the century had passed, and the effects that britpop bands like Oasis and Blur on music as a whole were fading rapidly. Enter a genre on the rise that would have untold amounts of influence on both Radiohead’s next project and the soundscape of the 21st century itself: electronica. This was the place where Yorke knew to start.

It took quite a bit of effort for him to convince his fellow band members Jonny and Colin Greenwood, Phil Selway, Ed O’Brien, and his producer, Nigel Godrich, of his new vision. But alas, in the midst of autumn in the year 2000, the fourth project of Radiohead’s discography had been unveiled: Kid A.

By this time, Radiohead had learned their lesson about aging in music. So the band made the bold decision of stripping Jonny of his guitar and took the next step into the ice-cold sound that OK Computer had started.

Take the opening track “Everything In Its Right Place” for example. Using only the accompaniment of an electric piano and eerie distortion effects on both the background and Yorke’s signature, nasly vocals ensures the listener of what exactly they are in for.

Even more unsettling is the constant repetition of the track’s title in a relatively monotone fashion. It gives off an immediate sense of Orwellian control, like it is merely an automated response.

Almost every track on this album has a level of production which gives off a looming sense of powerlessness. Track #5, “Treefingers,” is an ambient instrumental track which only uses heavily processed samples of Ed O’ Brien’s guitar to give an ominous yet sedating ambience. It is like an out-of-body experience made sound.

The disjointed transition between this track and the track proceeding it, “Optimistic,” gives an effective wake-up call effect to the listener.

The experimental element of the album is undoubtedly what kept critics and fans of Radiohead’s previous discography divided for some time, but this album does not entirely reside in the electronics department. Track #3, “The National Anthem,” takes both a Talking Heads and jazz-inspired route which includes an instrumental overload near the end, like the sound of someone having a panic attack being translated into a horn section.

Despite this, there are parts in the album that seem to reminisce the melancholic instrumentations that their previous work had hailed. In fact, track #4, “How to Disappear Completely,” could be very well fit on previous efforts such as “The Bends.” It is a seamless contrast opposed to the rambunctious nature of the track prior.

Of course, moments like those could only keep the spotlight on for so long as the band still maintained focus on harnessing their new sound.

Track #8, “Idioteque,” turns the dial up on intensity. It combines an Aphex Twin-esque IDM aesthetic alongside lyrics that seem to convey an apocalyptic situation or a world in panic, “Ice age coming/Ice age coming/ Throw it in the fire/Throw it in the fire.” All of this occurs while still strangely having a pseudo-beat set against it, like a Danse Macabre for the modern age.

The particular 9th track, “Morning Bell” contains varied instrumentation such as the ambient synths similar to that of “Treefingers” mixes in a high-pitched guitar solo,, which oddly doesn’t feel too out of place. This is accompanied with lyrics which give such strange instrumentals the feeling of being in a daze, “Clothes are all over the furniture/Now I might as well/I might as well/Sleepy jack the fire drill/Run around around around around around.”

It is unusual to think that a project like this would not cap off with a track that cultivate so many prior elements of the album such as “Morning Bell.” Rather, the listener is treated to a much more dreary closer on track #10, “Motion Picture Soundtrack.”

At this point, the band has unexpectedly ditched the electronics, as if they were finally released from the technological imprisonment that the album consistently alludes to. Only two instruments are used on this song: a confused yet elegant synth harp section, and a pedal organ. Both of these, combined with Yorke’s most human-esque vocals on the album, leave off on a note of sorrow and ambiguity.

In essence, “Kid A” is a project that, while still having a tremendous influence on artists today (Danny Brown’s “Old” for example), is not really meant for every audience. As clean and haunting as the album sounds, the constant distortion can prove to be difficult to listen to for the impatient. Also, the pretentious reputation that Radiohead has earned among critics and listeners throughout the years because of albums like these does not really help much either.

For as bold of a move as this was for the time, there are certainly moments scattered throughout this album that have not aged so pristinely. The title track, for example, will probably not be seen as the most cutting-edge thing the band has put out. But that is a rather minor fault in comparison with the rest of this absolute monolith.

As for those who do enjoy a more icy and sound, they’ve probably already listened to it more than once. Saying that “Kid A” is a musical gold mine in the 21st century would be a severe understatement.

Verdict

Instrumentals: A-
Production: A+
Vocals/Lyrics: A
Variety: A
Overall Grade: A+

Favorite Track: Idioteque

Least Favorite Track: none