Saturday, 26 February 2011

Architects - The Here And Now

Of all the types of review there are, none is more difficult than that of the "new sound album". It makes the review become less about the quality of the album and more about questions the listener must answer. What is more important, the quality of an album or the duty of fulfilling expectations? Is it right that an album be measured against its predecessors, or that quality, or lack thereof? Because believe me, your opinion of the new Architects release will depend entirely upon your expectations of it going in. There is, simply put, nothing of the band who wrote Ruin in this album. Even the decidedly more metalcore-influenced Hollow Crown was undoubtedly an Architects album. The Here and Now is not. Indeed, it’s very self-awarely so, the album title seeming to specifically reference the band’s desire to have it heard on its own merits, something that would be much easier were it not stuck in the canon of one of the UK’s best young bands.

Architects’ rise to fame has been a hard one. Despite early tours with fashion icons/sometimes-musicians Bring Me The Horizon, their acceptance by the emerging demographic of metal-aware scene kids was much slower than that of their compatriots, despite their exceptionally tight mathcore chops. The loss of original vocalist Matt Johnson and acquisition of the much more charismatic Sam Carter was just in time for the more accomplished Ruin, which introduced to their formula much more experimental territory, retaining the jagged complexity and backing it up with imaginative sensibilities reminiscent of Isis and Cult of Luna. The follow-up, Hollow Crown, had a much lighter feel to it, exploring both the melodic and ambient abilities of the musical section and Carter’s clean singing abilities. They’re particularly notable for each album being different, but up until now they’ve always been defined by a common Architects-ness, sharing common traits; the quick dissonant chords, the sludgy low end and the exemplary instrumental work, as well as some of the most innovative and interesting songwriting in modern metal. This is why it’s going to be very frustrating that this album seems to be such a dividing line in their career. None of those things are especially evident in this album, though they’re there in very small doses. This is an Architects album in name and personnel only, and let’s get one thing straight, I for one never listened to Architects for their smiles. I listened to them because something about their music resonated with me, and whether or not the new album has something of its own to offer, that Special Architects Something simply isn’t there in this album.

Right, shorn of those preconceptions, is The Here and Now good? To be honest, it’s entirely average. Standard. Utterly unable to stand out from all the other alternative albums out there. There’s nothing about it which grabs the listener, no recognizable reason to care about it in the slightest. Maybe this is them being nice to all the other young bands on the global metal scene by not putting out a record that the rest have to work their arses off catching up with. If it weren’t for the Architects name already being established, no-one would be talking about it. Every song is that frustrating okay, without any flair or drama, and the performances and songwriting are without any particular distinction. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s plain, unmemorable and ultimately without any of the gravitas which defined Follow The Water or You’ll Find Safety. For what it’s worth, it’s easily the worst thing Greg Puciato or Andrew Neufield have ever been involved with, poor sods that they are. I’ve repeatedly heard comparisons to Alexisonfire, for its straightforward, driving melodies and harsh vocal-clean vocal alternation, but that comparison is giving far too little credit to the complexity and intelligence that Alexisonfire display in their music. And, to give them credit, at least when Alexisonfire did a new sound album its failure as an Alexisonfire release was balanced out by its genuinely being a great album, justifying its lack of the band’s previous hallmarks with a host of equally well-executed new ideas. Architects now sound like the bands that popped up in the mid- 2000s which were trying so hard to be Alexisonfire, but just didn’t have the musical aptitude. Either way, I think they sound much more like a sub-par and mildly hardcore-influenced 36 Crazyfists, but that’s just me.

As an album, it’s vacuous and lacking impact, but as an Architects release, it stands within a canon of truly brilliant albums which The Here and Now seems to me to fail to live up to. With this established, what worries me is what happens next. This shift seems dramatic, but not prompted by anything other than where the musicians wanted to go, and that sucks because they’re unlikely to want to go back. And while that’s admirable, and something I have tremendous respect for, and fuck it, it’s not like the old albums are going anywhere, and yes, I’ll go to their shows and sing along to the songs I love, but I’m slightly sad that we’re not getting another album by the version of Architects that influenced me as much as they did as songwriters, and that I enjoyed so very much.

P.S. Holy shit, the new Radiohead is amazing, and I have no idea how much more I’ll appreciate it once I’ve had time to properly take it all in.

P.P.S.: The last three weeks or so's 1AAD, and I think a few others I've listened to, have been, in no particular order:
The Decemberists - The King is Dead (Folk-ish Indie)
Isis - In Absence of Truth (Post-Metal)
Dead Hearts - Bitter Verses (Hardcore)
The Middle East - The Recordings of the Middle East (Folk-ish Indie)
Have A Nice Life - Deathconsciousness (Devoted about four days to that one! One of my absolute favourite albums) (Shoegaze/Drone/Post-Punk)
Converge - Jane Doe (Mathcore)
Burial - Untrue (Really arty Dubstep)
Portishead - Dummy (Trip-Hop)
Russian Circles - Geneva (Post-Rock/Instrumental Progressive Rock)
Slayer - Reign In Blood (Thrash Metal)
Immolation - Close To A World Below (Death Metal)
Anaal Nathrakh - Eschaton (Blackened Grindcore)
More Than Life - Love Let Me Go (Hardcore)
Deathspell Omega - Paracletus (Experimental Black Metal)
Opeth - Blackwater Park (Progressive Death Metal)
Orchid - Dance Tonight! Revolution Tomorrow! (Screamo)
Alexisonfire - Watch Out! (Post-Hardcore)

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

1AAD Project - Pig Destroyer's Prowler In The Yard

Okay, here's today's Album of the Day review. This was meant for yesterday, but I had work and got back to late to write anything:

Pig Destroyer - Prowler in the Yard

It puzzles me to this day how a genre as disparate and artistically inclined as grindcore could have such a unified, and such a dull, aesthetic. The colour is green, the lyrical theme is sociopolitical dissatisfaction, the point of reference is almost always Napalm Death. Pig Destroyer offers something different. An American band, perhaps free from the crust punk crutch which overtook the European scene, Pig Destroyer take influence from thrash, grindcore and sludge metal to create a rather more derranged beast.

This, their second album, allowed for Scott Hull (ex-Anal Cunt and central member of Agoraphobic Nosebleed) to really explore his songwriting abilities, and his genius shows through. Despite most tracks being under 2 minutes in length, Hull's sheer playing speed allowing him to pack in great riffs throughout. While not Pig Destroyer's most experimental release - Hull had yet to switch to an 8-string, and Blake Harrison had yet to join as an electronics player - it is probably their best album as far as sheer instrumental albility goes.

Of course, another thing to note is the vocals. J.R. Hayes remains in my eyes the quintessential crazy-person grind vocalist (Though Guy Kozowyk's not doing too badly for himself). His lyrics in particular are warped and Lynch-esque, and capture a prose-like quality with which it tells a fractured story of violence, obsession and insanity.

Easily my favourite grindcore album (Sorry, Exit), this warped and astonishingly well-realised work puts Pig Destroyer up there with Isis and Converge in the upper echelons of the art-metal scene.
Right, after two days of extreme metal, I'm going for something lighter. Next up is The Decemberists' new album The King Is Dead.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

A New Project

Well, it's been a while. I haven't posted in about half a year for a very simple reason - it was only ever any fun writing long diatribes about terrible albums, and I quickly came to find that I couldn't really keep that up without just repeating myself (notice that almost all the negatively reviewed albums were from -core bands). However, this evening I've just come up with a new project to use this blog for.

I don't listen to albums anymore. I don't have the time or the commitment. An 80 GB iPod and - at time of writing - 39.6 days of music wherever I go has left me uninvested in most of my music. Wondering why this is, I looked back to the days before I had the money to buy albums in batches, or the bandwidth to download. I must have spent a good few months appreciating Vol 3. (The Subliminal Verses) or Ascendancy. I listened to those albums all the way through, sometimes over and over, and I built up a relationship with them over time. Do I do that now? Do I fuck.

So I'm imposing a challenge of myself. Each morning, I'm going to pick an Album Of The Day. I have to listen to it twice before listening to any other music. The first time, it has to play from start to finish, missing no tracks, uninterrupted. The second time, I can skip around on the album and repeat songs, but I have to listen to the whole album. After that, I can listen to other music, but I have to have listened to the album one other time before the end of the day. Finally, if at all possible, I have to write a little something about the album by the end of the week. Not a long, drawn out piece like before - though I may do one if the mood strikes me - but something which encourages me to really pay attention to the album. I may add extra rules at a later date.

So here's today's album:

Akercocke - Antichrist.

So Akercocke sound like a band that could only exist as a hypothetical - "What if Opeth were Anaal Nathrakh?" - and certainly it's a hypothetical I would probably dream up. Their latest album (Well, I say latest, this was released in 2007) shows this off with gusto. The foundation of their sound is blackened death metal, but Akercocke pepper their music liberally with elements of progressive rock, electronic music, new wave and even jazz influences. Fortunately, they know what they're doing with both death metal and non-death metal, and this experimental approach leads to some utterly brilliant sections - the opening of Axiom, the telephone-processed bit of The Promise, and the haunting outro Epoch.

However, to talk too much of these sections would be to diminish the brilliance of their extreme metal sections. David Gray's blast beats reach Origin speeds, Matt Wilcock and frontman Jason Mendonca get many opportunities to show off their considerable shredding talents and the bass and electronics section integrate themselves with style and taste. The songwriting on display here is especially praiseworthy - where introducing all these experimental elements could make an album feel scatter-shot, uncommitted and unfulfilling (See: Iwrestledabearonce) here they all compliment each other with a degree of elegance and subtlety too rarely seen in extreme metal.

Despite the aforementioned vow of chastity, I can see this album getting a few more plays in the days and weeks to come.

Right, let's see how long this can keep going.