August 30, 2019

DJ Dark Flow’s Masterpiece Crate #50: Tool - Fear Inoculum

It is rare that I pass down perfect scores on albums, but when I do, it is entirely earned by the artists through pure ingenuity, vision, cohesion between members, and production value. Tool is one of those bands, and 2019’s Fear Inoculum is one of those albums. This review also serves as my masterpiece series entry number 50, as it fits chronologically after my 49th listed album that I still have to write about, and at the same time shifts my sequential writing order significantly since I have only written a couple of articles in this series thus far (my next article will be about the Nine Inch Nails album The Downward Spiral). My masterpiece crate series will occasionally grow beyond the big 5 0 and my original 49 album collage in my introductory article, but for all intents and purposes, this needs to be done to keep up with the release dates of current albums which rise to this rare occasion.

What can be said of the highest-anticipated metal album of all time after a 13 year gap between Tool's last album, 10,000 Days, and this one, other than its expectations have grown to mammoth proportions since 2006's studio effort. The band's never-faltering fanbase remained as loyal as ever to wait, sometimes ironically and jokingly referring to the next album's release coming "at some point in the next 30 years", but never losing faith that their heroes would return. This year, they have, after many years of sparse updates, delays, evasiveness and snarky comments by members, most notably lead singer Maynard James-Keenan, who grew tired of the all-important question, "When is the new Tool album coming out?" Now fans and the world are at a point that felt nearly impossible to reach, and now in 2019, we have a brand new heavy, progressive, psych, art, metal masterpiece to grace our eyes and ears in Fear Inoculum!

In 13 years, the age of social media, digital streaming, mass shootings, and fear have dawned on our culture and collective consciousness in ways that have infected our psyches and humanity. Tool's 10,000 Days was released the final year before Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world, so it is a clear indicator that a lot has changed in 13 years time. The members of Tool have rolled with these changes. Some have taken this brave new world in stride, but Tool are not bending to the social trends or fear-mongering that exists today, much like in the past as they've been well-known to follow their own direction and see where their spirits take them. As they remain true to themselves, their music shows that as they have not a single radio-friendly song on this album. Not by design, but just a reflection of where the members are at this time in their lives. Suffice it to say, Fear Inoculum is an 86 minute record (on digital), shortened to 79 minutes on CD without its transitional tracks, and overall is a response to the world we live in today. As you introduce fear into your being, how will you respond to it? As you face that which you cannot control, how will you choose to move forward? This is the true intention of their music, as it calls out for people to be more divine than fearful, to stay strong, evolve spiritually, and to be the person that they were meant to be.

Tool also aren't worthy of the simple descriptor of heavy metal music either. Their sound has showcased a more dynamic range and an embrace of other styles of music, such as meditative trance or world, in their catalogue more than any other metal act in the game today. Heady ideas, such as the state of humanity, the spirit, sacred geometry, philosophy, science, and mathematics, coupled with virtuosic performances by all members who sound distinct in their instrument, whether it's bass guitar, vocals, percussion, or lead guitar, all come together in a magical and unusually perfect way when their various albums unspool. Tool also have a talent for marrying the dichotomy of the beautiful with the ugly, as some of their themes feature sexual violence, blood-suckers, the hunger for death on tv, and alien abductions, while other songs contain beautiful humanistic themes such as rekindling communication with the one you love, being in the moment of life, achieving personal enlightenment, and riding the wave, or shall I say spiral. Fear Inoculum is no exception, and actually is a step above the previous monuments they've built in their discography.

In a sense, this album is the rebirth after a decade-plus of quiet incubation and evolution as individuals. What stands apart about this release when compared to previous albums is Maynard's absence of heavy metal screams and aggressive growls. Instead, he sings akin to how he would in his side bands A Perfect Circle or Puscifer, and it creates an atmosphere of angelic excellence and a particularly superb accompaniment to the foundation-building instrumentation in each track. The first song on the album, the title track, is undeniably the most straight-forward cut, and it still clocks in at nearly 10 and a half minutes! It made waves in the music industry as the first 10-plus minute song to ever enter the Billboard Hot 100 chart, as well as their catalog of albums breaking even more Billboard records since they released all their previous studio albums on all streaming platforms ahead of Fear's release. As a single, Fear Inoculum succeeds as an all-encompassing and utterly awesome introduction to Tool for any first-time listeners, and an example of the refined quality of their compositions up until this point, as it performs a completely flawless buildup of guitar, percussion (mallets and tabla), drums and bass guitar, before Maynard's vocals soar in to sweeten the deal and cap the perfected sonic landscape of Tool's architecture.

The quiet, meditative, reverberating guitar strum of Pneuma inspires chills as their album starts to drift beyond their previously released single, and the reality starts to sink in that we are really here finally, listening to another masterwork by these legends unspool before us. Guitarist Adam Jones's moody introduction is paired with plucky, synthesized percussion by virtuoso drummer Danny Carey before it breaks into a delayed guitar riff and sets off into an arhythmic beat, most likely in the number 7, a common recurring theme throughout the album in both time signature and motif. Pneuma, the ancient Greek word for "breath" and also a term used for "spirit" or "soul", is another example of the common esoteric and heady themes Tool is used to exploring. It's mysterious delayed guitar riff and drumbeat soon burst into a slow-marching, heavy metal presence, with a riff that solidifies Tool's talent for creating gentle and tender soundscapes to flip the switch on and make heavy as hell. Pneuma eventually flows through this movement again and dissolves into an atmospheric synthesized piece, sprinkled with Carey's transportive and entrancing percussion and Jones's slow-building melodies. It's a nearly 12-minute track, but hardly the longest, as there are still three more songs in the body of Fear Inoculum that stretch even further.

Although there are such long runtimes in most of the songs on this newest release, there is hardly ever a dull moment, as captivating melodies, riffs, and instrumentation are strung together to create one epic song after another. Such is heard on the third track of the album, Invincible, as Jones opens with a cool guitar melody that forms slowly and is repeated in the first few minutes and Maynard sings softly and slowly about a "warrior, struggling, to remain, relevant" to a poignant, soft drumbeat. It brings to mind the existentialism of the band itself, as they are emerging after almost 15 years with new music to a vastly changed world. The awesome bass guitar tones that Tool are so well-known for, and crafted by master musician Justin Chancellor, are heard really well on this track, and it's one of the first songs besides their single where all four members sound distinct in their instrument and where all four come together to create an interlocking mechanism of music.

Descending, similar to their title track from their previous album, 10,000 Days, opens with naturalistic sounds and feels like a calm before the storm in a sense. Most all of Tool's songs on Fear Inoculum have a slow and retrospective introduction, but they all build into epic masterpieces and still maintain their own identity within the album. Descending is no different. Also like most other tracks, Adam Jones takes a dive into more guitar solos than ever before on any previous record. It is a sign of personal growth within the band, and each member displays their own personal growth as they have never sounded better, both individually and together. Culling Voices takes a stab at all of the noise of the present world, in politics, social media, and news, and falls on the defiant, repeated line sung by Maynard, "don't you dare point that at me" as the song takes off into another hard rock groove. It's one of the shorter songs on the album, and probably the second-most straightforward song after their single. Possibly due to its somewhat limited framework, it works in this case that it remains on the shorter side, but it has all the necessary foundations of a seminal Tool song.

Chocolate Chip Trip is the first to break the format of all previous songs, and it's probably one of the ballsiest tracks Tool have ever committed to tape. It's purely a Danny Carey composition, as he has become more interested in experimenting with synthesizers and syncopated synthesized percussion. As the name suggests, it's the wildest psychedelic track of the album, as the synthesized atmospheres blend and morph into a repeated mantra of melody and percussion while Carey takes to his enormous drum set to perform a mind-bending drum solo that benefits from being heard in a really good sound system. Chocolate Chip Trip will become known as the song to play for your friends who are on a really good amount of drugs, since it plays as both a feral dance of percussion and also as if it's an extensive and engaging live drum solo at a summer music festival. While different enough to break the mold that Tool have cast for most of this album, it is not jarring, since Tool are no strangers to songs designated to either mind-expansion or psyching their listeners out.

7empest, which is the most self-referential title in terms of their running theme of the number 7, is also the longest track to finish up the album, running at just under 16 minutes. Its beautiful palette-cleansing guitar melody washes away the trip that Carey took listeners on just prior and prepares them for the mind-melting journey to come. After the meditative, trance-like vibes Jones and Carey conjure up, Adam pulls a left-hand turn into classic metal territory with a Black Sabbath-inspired riff to kick off the magnum opus of the album. The style of this final track pulls from the hard rock and metal sound that Tool was built on, and it has an uncanny vibe of methodology that was featured most prominently on their debut album Undertow. This blending of new and old feels fresh without forgetting what came before, and Maynard's singing also reflects this classic Undertow-style. Ultimately, the 15 minutes and 45 seconds fly by in this straight-up hard rock and metal jam as Jones and Chancellor string together multiple frenetic riffs and melodies that are awe-inspiring and fluid. Maynard's message to fans and listeners to "control your delusions" is the final jewel of transcendental music education that no one would have expected to turn up in a progressive, heavy metal album, but this being Tool, there is no lower expectations to be had. The unforgettable melody in the chorus of instruments in 7empest feels timeless and stays with listeners long afterward.

Fear Inoculum is a DENSE album to unpack, and it is made for those with the patience to unwrap it. In a sense, it is a defiant statement to the world and the music industry at large to respect the pure creativity of artists, as this music serves as an example that music and art could and should follow its own rules, and shouldn't have to fit into the standardized radio-friendly music box. Danny Carey mentioned in an interview with Revolver the pros and cons of having 13 years to form the album, the con being that each song was picked to pieces, scrapped, rearranged, and built up again endlessly, but that the advantage of this amount of time was that they could make the best songs that they possibly could. Its layers show off a discernible maturity for each of the band members, and each track has an inherent accessibility despite their lengths that no self-proposed fan of hard or prog rock couldn't appreciate, yet their sound and mix after 13 years of growth does not sound washed up or tired of being a band at all! After the 13 year absence since 10,000 Days, the work really shows that these 4 artists are at the top of their game, and the reaffirmation of their previous catalog on streaming services breaking multiple records on Billboard shows that their presence will continue to be felt and music welcomed for generations to come.

Fear Inoculum - 10/10

Recommended Tracks: Pneuma, Invincible, 7empest

Note: As I mentioned earlier, this album's full length is 86 minutes, which includes 3 transitional tracks that are included on the digital release. To keep the record at an audio CD length, these 3 shorter tracks were cut in favor of keeping the real meat of the album on the disc. While these synthesized interludes don't necessarily need to be included for experiencing Tool's return, they are interesting for some strategically placed breaks between these long and progressive songs. Overall, it adds to the wonder of the masterpiece that is Fear Inoculum.

August 17, 2019

Various Artists - The Music of Red Dead Redemption II: (Original Score) Review

Just as video game developer Rockstar promised, the original score to their engrossing cowboy western game, Red Dead Redemption II released August 9th, and just as their pedigree for cinematic and Oscar-worthy storytelling captured the hearts and minds of fans across the world, so too does their original score for the game itself.

This is the companion release from their earlier soundtrack version of Red Dead II, which I reviewed and was released earlier in July, but instead of vocalized, bluesy, country-western songs, this release compiles brand new materials and adds another half-hour to its runtime, totaling to a full-length 72 minutes of Western musical progressions and acoustics. It is meticulously crafted by veteran composers and industry musicians and pulls listeners who haven't ever played a video game into a world all its own, and given the saturation of popular music these days, it becomes an absolute delight to listen to a type of music that is so different but supposedly common in the days of the Wild West.

Outlaws From The West is the classic Wild West theme as it has all the reverberating guitar melodies and percussive claps to make you feel like you're in a movie, and is reminiscent of an orchestral Godspeed You! Black Emperor track. Other songs take on a more passive tone, as Blessed Are The Peacekeepers plays with a string section as it complements the acoustic guitar melody and low echoing wails to make a moody and filmlike atmosphere. Other tracks that achieve this quiet cinematic quality include It All Makes Sense Now, The Fine Art of Conversation, Country Pursuits, and The Wheel, while others ring up the tension such as Mrs. Sadie Adler, Widow, Paradise Mercifully Departed, and Icarus And Friends. Again, some even sidestep the classic Western sound in favor of a more New Orleans style of music in songs like Banking, The Old American Art, and American Venom.

Ultimately, The Music of Red Dead Redemption II is exactly what you'd expect from an award-winning spaghetti Western video game: a revisit of a time we never truly knew in the best possible imagining by seasoned and experienced musicians and composers. It is an excellent backdrop to practically any activity, and it stands as a special musical release of Western music.

The Music of Red Dead Redemption II - 8.5/10

Recommended Tracks: Outlaws From The West, Blessed Are The Peacemakers, Red Dead Redemption

August 13, 2019

Slipknot - We Are Not Your Kind Review

A long heavy metal career keeps careening forward, despite the loss of longtime members on Slipknot's 6th studio album We Are Not Your Kind. Having lost their third original member of the 9 since the inception, Slipknot hasn't found a reason to end their reign on the heavy metal genre, and instead, sound as strong as they ever have, despite hitting some of the same notes of their previous releases.

Opening with an ominous and dark intro track, Insert Coin is one of the few transitional numbers that break up the sonic assault of Slipknot's arsenal. Some of their tracks sound as poppy as they've ever been, with the first full track of the album Unsainted, but Slipknot doesn't let it pull them from their roots. The ensuing tracks don't leave much room to breathe, in typical Slipknot fashion. Other songs that follow this poppy hook in the choruses include Nero Forte and Critical Darling, and they are essential to the songs themselves and give Corey Taylor time in between his rampant heavy metal vox. They also are effective enough to get stuck in listeners' heads without sounding cheesy or watered down after all these years of multiple album releases.

A Liar's Funeral slows down the pacing of the previous heavy riffing and is an example of what Taylor and company are capable of when given time to put together a slower song. This can also be heard in their transitional track What's Next as it drops into their melodic Spiders, as well as their slow-burning and haunting My Pain. The other big hitters throughout We Are Not Your Kind go hard and fast and are more of the same that they've been putting on throughout their over 20 year career.

Despite losing and having to replace 3 of their original 9 members, Slipknot has proven with We Are Not Your Kind that they are nowhere near slowing down, and they have another critically acclaimed album to put up on the wall. As their 6th album shows, they have been solid and able to maintain a steady hand and consistent sound to this day, for better or worse.

We Are Not Your Kind - 8/10

Recommended Tracks: Critical Darling, A Liar's Funeral, Spiders

August 4, 2019

Interview: Cuban Pete

AirdriftSignals: Hey Cuban Pete, how are you doing today?

Busy as usual. Always got something to do whether its artwork or rhymes. Or maybe even 5 minutes with the family if they’re lucky haha.

AirSig: I know how that is... I know you just released a new mixtape that is stacked with guests. How does it feel to release an album full of so many great artists?

Well for The Standout mixtape I am the guest, apart from a couple of tracks I put together. I’ve been using this past year to build up my features on other peoples projects and The Standout is a collection of some of the dopest ones I’ve done.

I’m blessed to be able to work with a lot of great artists from legends to up and coming. It’s been a very well received project.

AirSig: For listeners hearing your voice for the first time, it seems apparent for the title of your album to be what it is. You have a cool and unique style when you rap. How does it feel representing hip-hop from across the pond?

I’ve worked with a lot of US artists and I like standing out on the track. Not just for the voice but subject matter, words and phrasing. Some people don’t venture outside America music wise cos they can’t understand the accent or don’t like the way it sounds. Each to their own obviously but if I can open up just a few heads to the UK sound then I’ve achieved something. There’s a whole scene and history that a lot don’t know about. Especially thanks to waveriders like Westwood pretending Hip Hop in the UK started with grime so he can try and stay relevant.

AirSig: As far as your supporting single (No Wannabeez Allowed) is concerned, you have been involved and worked with some Wu-Tang affiliates in the past and recently. Were there some specific instances that you recall that made you want to make this track?

Definitely. Theres a lot of fakers on the internet claiming the W for clout or monetary gain. As someone who isn’t a Wu affiliate but works with a lot of official heads I just wanted to put forward where I stand on the whole situation.

I’m a member of Ghetto Government Officialz (G.G.O.), which is a collective put together by Hell Razah from the Wu Tang offshoot group Sunz Of Man. I’d be classed as Wu family at most but I try not to push that angle cos I’m not a dickrider. I represent my team C75 Live first and foremost as well as being a member of G.G.O., T.E.S.T. Squad, and Official Gorilla Army. I'm also signed as an artist to F.N.B.G. Records (Fear Nothing But God) and have an excellent manager in the shape of Surraya Hafeez who always gives me valuable advice.

AirSig: How did you get involved some of the Wu affiliates? Did you work for or with Protect Ya Neck Records?

I didn’t work for them directly, more for artists signed to or distributed by them when I was asked by Ol Dirty’s godbrother Menace O.B.E.Z to join his Team O.B.E.Z. collective. I was introduced to a lot of connections through that and although I’m no longer officially part of that team I still have friends I met through it that I still work with and meet new connects all the time.

I did artwork for Zu Ninjaz which led to me doing all the artwork for the supergroup East Coast Killa Beez. I do artwork and merch designs for Krumbsnatcha and his Mind Power Entertaintment label. Done a lot of work with Solomon Childs. Hell Razah of course, or Heaven Razah as he’s now known. As well as many others.

AirSig: Your release is found on the Bandcamp site for C75 Live. As far as I can tell, that is your creation. Is there anything you can tell me about how C75 Live came to be, and the idea behind it?

Yes the bandcamp I use for the music as part of the main site

When I started out it was originally just doing custom clothing. Mainly graffiti style art on caps, jackets, sneakers, etc. I called it C75 Designs. C for Cuban and 75 for the year I was born.

I did a lot of work for rappers that led to collabs and me finally taking the music side more seriously when I realized I had made some great connects that could help me push it. I named the music side C75 Live, cos it rhymed mainly.

Both sides of C75 helped push each other but due to me not having time to constantly update two sites I combined them both under the C75 Live name.

Art + Music = C75 Live

AirSig: Speaking of working with rappers' designs and getting into the game itself, who were your musical inspirations growing up?

I started in Hip Hop looking up to Eric B & Rakim, KRS-1, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, moving to Brand Nubian, NWA, Redman, De La Soul, Wu Tang, Boot Camp Clik, Biggie, Pac, etc. UK heads like Blade, London Posse, Son Of Noise, Gunshot, Silver Bullet, Katch 22, moving to TaskForce, Moorish Delta, and too many to name. I've always listened to a wide variety of Hip Hop from UK to US to Aus, East coast to West coast to down south, breakbeat to funk to bass.

And of course graffiti visually captured me. I grew up with comic book art which meshed well with what I saw in the Spraycan Art and Subway Art books. That also influenced my own work when I studied fine art and fell in love with pop art and artists like Basquiat.

I started customizing my own clothes when I started drawing on my own sneakers in a quiet period at my job at the time. Over time I honed my skills and ended up having my work in the hands of Inspectah Deck and Cappadonna.

AirSig: Even though The Standout is your latest release, is there any other work that is hot off the heels of this album that you are excited about, or any announcements you would like to make for your fans?

I’ve always got projects in the works. About 5 I’m working on at the moment that I need to order so I actually get one finished this year.

I’m working on a solo album ‘Camouflage Karma’ entirely produced by Spion Liape, a collab album with my T.E.S.T. Squad brother OneMike who’s based in Nashville right now, a collab album with my Gorilla Army brother D.Original Mr.Blue, and ‘There’s A War Goin’ On Outside’ which will have a very Wu feel to it both musically and guest wise. Also I have an album with C75 Live producer B.Dvine on beat duties and me on the rhymes which is only in the beginning stages.

Another project I have in the works is ‘West Mids 2 North Beast’. Because I work with so many artists from overseas I wanted to do something strictly UK. I moved from the West Midlands to the North East in 1995 and this album represents both of those sides of my life from the features to subject matter.

The Standout is available now on C75 Live's Bandcamp page. You can read my full review of the album. Support Cuban Pete's music and stay tuned for more related news on C75 Live.

Cuban Pete - The Standout Review

The Standout is the latest mixtape release from C75 Live, hosted by Krumb Snatcha and featuring UK emcee Cuban Pete throughout its sprawling 16 tracks. As if independent hip-hop wasn’t raw enough, true fans and hip-hop heads may rejoice: this release has everything, with multiple servings of professionally rolled hip-hop joints combined with a multitude of vocal talents to make Cuban Pete's The Standout a decorated and glistening collaborative effort.

The album's opener is a sharp cutting signal to all the freeriders in the industry who are trying to be something they're not to sit down and take notes, as Cuban Pete and company school the wannabes to a lurid, hard-hitting B. Dvine beat. It's a tough and head-banging opening to an album full of surprises. The album doesn't let listeners off easy either, as Altered Beasts contains a spinning and scratching frenzy that kick-starts the Cuban Pete led militant track. The beat is seductive, like most the production featured throughout, and it has a cool demeanor and flow by Cuban as well as Bobby Fuego and Chief Rocka. Supa Cypha is the first of several stacked posse tracks and speaks volumes as multiple accomplished emcees pass the baton without ever dropping it. It's a seamless track that is tough on weak minds and packs on the aggressiveness. As the track fades, Krumb Snatcha takes a moment to shout out Cuban Pete before None of Y'all Better, a mixtape track by B. Dvine, and a previous entry in Dvine's Process of Illumination mixtape released in February. Its dark fantasy vibe embedded in the beat with Dvine's, Odd Thomas's, and Cuban Pete's verses set to remind wannabe rappers that they can't match their pedigree.

Project Wars is the next track, an epic 8 minute cut with 20 emcees, including but not limited to Solomon Childs, Karnage, Menace OBEZ, Ju Muny, Dasunofsam, and Young Dirty Bastard, and it flexes its muscle over the assaulting beat. Respect Mine breaks the chain of tracks that have defined The Standout mixtape thus far with an old-school feel-good vibe while City Pulse takes a transportive, almost Cannibal Ox-like turn with a funky siren-fueled swagger and smoothes out the rough cuts of The Standout's previous onslaught. Iron Winds pulls up and let's loose in this one, which leads right into a B. Dvine remix track by DJ Modesty, Dominate Breakloops, as he produces and cuts on it. It's the same team of rappers from None of Y'all Better, and the three prove their solid chemistry here. Whatever makes another funky beat altercation to listeners' ear drums and Jokers Wild gets dangerous with chilling Heath Ledger Joker samples. Ju Muny takes over with the old-school banging Heart Pain, giving a horrorcore, Gravediggaz-like vibe. Cuban Pete and Mavz also bring the heat.

Feelin So Good cuts in with yet another hip-hop stylistic choice, rocking a smooth R&B hook, and Turned On Me focusing on the hard feelings and truths that come out of betrayal. Workin' puts an asterisk on the grind that Cuban Pete's been putting in, as The Standout and C75 Live are living examples of his hard work and dedication up until this point. Tower Rich, another track released on The Process of Illumination under the alternate name Doing Me, opens with B. Dvine's verse, with CB and Cuban Pete dropping supporting lines about staying in their own lane and finding success within their own channels. The mixtape ends with the Mavz produced beat for Ju Muny's Immortal Kombat, featuring a final 11 emcee lineup. All rappers get a precious number of bars to kill the beat, and their energy is full of fire and gives The Standout a prestigious climax.

Cuban Pete's latest mixtape is a star-studded and polished example of what hip-hop can do, both musically and lyrically. It's a mixtape that is worth the repeated playthroughs and gives listeners all kinds of melodies and verses to chew on. Its cast of guests and producers elevate The Standout to a high level of hip-hop stardom, and The Standout does exactly what it's named to do.

The Standout is now available on C75 Live's BandcampC75 Live is another great place to get the latest news and media for everything Cuban Pete related!

The Standout - 9.5/10

Recommended Tracks: Altered Beats, Whatever, Turned On Me