Showing posts with label Metal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Metal. Show all posts

July 22, 2022

My Top 100 All-Time Albums

DJ Dark Flow Top 100 Albums

After stumbling across an excellent website,, I realized that I could take a crack at putting together a top 100 album list. The resulting list is my top 100 albums of all time from my own personal music journey. 

Are there any albums that you see on here that would make it onto your list? Albums that I may be missing or should be listening to? Decide for yourself and let me know in the comments. Make your own list and reach out to me when you do. Have an awesome day and go with the flow~

November 18, 2020

Earth’s Full Upon Her Burning Lips (2019) is an awesome showcase of doom metal, and probably the ultimate example of metal you can chill to

Earth Full Upon Her Burning Lips AirdriftSignals Music Magazine

Earth, a group that helped to define and form the genre of ambient metal, doom, drone, or stoner metal, has had multiple releases since the early 1990s. Taking elements from grunge and other forms of heavy metal music, Earth's founding member Dylan Carlson was notably friends with Kurt Cobain. Earth's origins in Seattle also explain this emerging hub of hard rock music that continues to be a haven of major and independent music to this day. Their latest release was last year's Full Upon Her Burning Lips, and while I am guilty of sleeping on this instrumental album, Earth has remained a personal favorite of mine, as they defined the perfect form of metal that you can relax to. Full Upon Her Burning Lips builds upon their previous releases and makes for an engrossing showcase of strong and steady guitar riffs and atmospheric drums and percussion. 

Unlike their previous release, 2014’s Primitive and Deadly (another favorite Earth release of mine), this album drops the vocal features and even sheds some members, making this release the most bare-bones of any previous releases, with Carlson teaming up again with longtime percussionist and drummer Adrienne Davies. With some overdubbing by Carlson to play bass guitar as well, this recipe of tasteful percussion and repeated guitar riffs have the ability to grow on a listener and nestle comfortably inside their head long after the echoes of these instruments fade, which is paramount to Full Upon Her Burning Lips's lasting impact. 

The album opens with a fairly long 12-minute march, Datura's Crimson Veils, which plays as more of an Earth standard for those who have come to know their style of melodies. The tones reverberate to the rising cymbals, which builds a noticeably foreboding atmosphere. Before long, this doom metal slowly thumps and washes over the mix in a steady call and response of its drop-D tuned guitar and sparsely chosen percussive beats. It repeats again and again, but eventually cracks the surface with its behemoth orbit of riffs that pay off famously with slow-motion solos, and then returns back to the start. Such is the songwriting style of Earth, as they slowly pay off carefully chosen riffs with a delicious and satisfying answer to the questions their instruments pose. Exaltation of Larks is the most straight-forward, Sabbath-inspired track of the album, and it formed as more of a studio improvisation between Carlson and Davies. 

Cats on The Briar is another example of how Earth uses call-and-response, but this time using multiple guitars that Carlson overdubs, and focusing on a brighter tone and key than the songs that came before. This key change is what makes Cats on The Briar stand out the most of what's come so far. The Colour of Poison hits more slowed-down Sabbath stoner metal vibes with its dark and descending opening. The real meat of this track kicks in a little after a minute in. It's a riff that any metalhead could recognize as one played by any heavy metal band, but Earth still makes The Colour of Poison all their own. Descending Belladonna is an interesting cut in that it was inspired by the group being tasked with performing a live soundtrack performance for the screening of the film Belladonna of Sadness in 2016. Its main riff is fragile sounding, and its bridge sections are designed to fall away into a momentary drone and minimal tempo held by Davies. This song is a character all its own and it likely fixed itself into the atmosphere of the animated movie very cohesively. 

She Rides an Air of Malevolence instantly feels like a ride with the wicked witch, as Carlson's intricate guitar melodies and Davies' cymbal, maraca, and snare hits make this another strong song that is hard to get out of the head long after it has played. Maidens Catafalque is a dissonant, somewhat messy, improvisational studio cut that wears out its welcome as soon as it's over. The practice of spontaneity in songwriting though cannot be faulted because it still feels held together, despite how loose it sounds. The last trio of tracks strongly wraps up this instrumental earworm of an album. An Unnatural Carousel is a fantastic display of multiple guitar overdubs and Davies' steadily held drum pattern. She has made mention of how unexpectedly difficult it really is to drive a doom metal track at such a slow pace, and for her work on these tracks, there really grows an appreciation for her foundation that she builds. The Mandrake's Hymn lifts its head and feels hopeful as it nears the end and A Wretched Country of Dust goes for the minor key as it bows out, displaying an attitude of masters that are far from done as the curtains close. The riffs are reminders that this isn't the end and there's more good riffs to be found and played over and over again in the future. 

What Earth does in this album released last year is something special. Their brand of impressively slow stoner metal or doom metal is a perfect companion to literally doing or working on anything, which is by no means an insult to their music by itself. The music, when actively listened to, rewards and repeats with carefully formed riffs, melodies, and drum patterns. The music Earth makes is an essential part of this subgenre of drone, doom, stoner, and ambient metal, and anyone who enjoys this album should definitely check out each of their past releases. Here's to a brand new decade and hoping this metal pair stick it out long after their now 30-year career. 

Full Upon Her Burning Lips - 8.25/10

Recommended tracks: Exaltation of Larks, Cats on The Briar, Descending Belladonna

November 8, 2020

System Of A Down’s first music in 15 years, Protect The Land, and Genocidal Humanoidz, brings to light immediate atrocities committed in their homeland

System of a Down Protect The Land Genocidal Humanoidz AirdriftSignals Music Magazine

Now is a pivotal time in world history, which should go without saying. Not only are Americans and worldwide citizens bearing witness to a historic election year, but a once-in-a-century worldwide pandemic has rocked the world. If there could be any more unpredictability, it is that ISIS terrorists from Syria, along with the corrupt regimes of Azerbaijan and Turkey have declared war on the independent Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, committing unspeakable crimes against humanity. These atrocities that are being committed have brought out from hiatus System of A Down, who are releasing their first new music in 15 years. 

To call this a momentous occasion for the sake of the music would take away from the grim reality that citizens of Artsakh (as is commonly referred to by SOAD members and Armenians) are facing. Their press release on their website explains it all. "For over the past month, civilians young and old have been awakened day and night by the frightful sights and sounds of rocket attacks, falling bombs, missiles, drones and terrorist attacks. They’ve had to find sanctuary in makeshift shelters, trying to avoid the fallout of outlawed cluster bombs raining down on their streets and homes, hospitals and places of worship. Their attackers have set their forests and endangered wildlife ablaze using white phosphorus, another banned weapon."

Protect The Land, opens with a straightforward hard rock riff, while Serj and Daron share vocals, "If they will try to push you far away, would you stay and take a stand? Would you stay with gun in hand? They protect the land." It's void of any of the complex songwriting style found in their final twin albums Mezmerize and Hypnotize in 2015, but that’s hardly a reason to balk at SOAD’s just cause for this single. Genocidal Humanoidz takes a more frenetic approach though and is a welcome return to their charged speed-metal sound. It addresses themes of the devil and terrorism and there’s no confusion about what point they’re trying to drive.

This pair of songs arose from a need to drive charitable donations for Armenia Fund, a US based charity organization that is necessary to combat this violence and evil being perpetrated. Whether the band chooses to start making music again remains to be seen, but the Armenian genocide has always been the driving force of System of A Down since the group’s inception. If it were for a just cause, this may not be the last of System that the world will see. Please check out their new music on any music platforms and consider giving a charitable donation through their website. These acts of cruelty should never be tolerated and we’ve progressed too far to keep allowing it with complacency or naivety. Peace.

October 29, 2020

AirdriftSignals EXCLUSIVE: Barcelona-based alternative heavy metal group Obsidian Kingdom discuss their new LP, MEAT MACHINE

Our AirdriftSignals Artist Spotlight Interview series covers this time, Barcelona-based alternative heavy metal act, Obsidian Kingdom, who are promoting their brand new album, MEAT MACHINE!

Obsidian Kingdom AirdriftSignals Interview

AirdriftSignals: This third LP, MEAT MACHINE, is the first to feature primary female vocals in your songs, performed by one of your guitarists Irene, and the split vocal duties you bring is a welcome transition between the equally pleasing aggressive and tender moments of the album. Can you speak a little about how you came about deciding your latest lineup change and the addition of this contrast to your new songs?

Obsidian Kingdom: Irene came into the band as a guitar player for the “A Year With No Summer” tour. She was under a lot of pressure at that moment because she had played little electric guitar before that, and she had to learn how to perform rather tricky guitar parts in a very short time. In the end, she managed and the tour went very well, but she suffered from a lot of stress due to that pressure – especially because of how poorly I handled my guidance, in my role as eldest band member and coordinator. I think that struggle is latent in most of the songs from the album. When the tour was over, we took to writing what would eventually become MEAT MACHINE. Irene participated a lot in the creative process and, as a consequence of that, she was writing plenty of lyrics and vocal lines, which she sang to us while showing us her ideas. We soon discovered that she had a wonderful voice, so we decided to try. The results were amazing, and we decided that we would split vocal duties - when we were done writing, she was singing five songs and I was singing the other five.

However, when it came to the recording, the shadow of that past strain resurfaced, and even though she performed all of her parts beautifully, she suffered too much from doing it. So by the end of her tracking, she decided it wasn’t worth her while, and she called it quits, much to our dismay. So we were left with a difficult decision: either we kept the songs as they had been recorded, knowing that we would never be able to play them live, or we re-recorded her vocals, although we were already way out of studio time. We went for the latter, which was a real struggle - not only because we had to adapt her lines to my range, but also because some lyrics were too personal and needed to be written over.

That would explain why you think Irene’s parts are “soft” in contrast with mine. The truth is that it was never meant that way, as Irene growled in many of the songs she used to sing. As a matter of fact, many of the growls you can still hear on the record are actually hers. By the end of that process, we found out that her voice was just irreplaceable in two songs, FLESH WORLD and A FOE, so we decided to leave them. We can only hope that she’ll come on stage with us someday to bring them to life.

We drifted for a while without a fifth member and even played a gig with a hired gun. But shortly after that, Victor noticed the vacant spot and jumped in. We’re whole again!

In a sense, this dynamic of heavy and softer quality could be found as early as your first LP, Mantiis, and also in your song Black Swan from A Year With No Summer. Not only this but Obsidian’s interest in electronic experimentation evident from the Torn and Burnt electronic remix EP shows you are absolutely willing to go down any sonic road that makes a great song. Does this speak to a musically diverse set of influences from each of your members?

Yes, definitely. We are five very different individuals who are also very culturally curious and we’re always bringing new things to the table. I know it’s kind of cliché, but we really will listen to ANYTHING as long as it makes us feel something. OK, maybe we’re not too fond of polka or traditional Hindu music, but you catch our drift: rock, pop, classical, electronic, jazz, noise, ambient, drone, folk, hip-hop, punk, trap, hardcore, anything goes. Even metal! Since we are so different, it’s hard to come across a band or album that we all like at the same time, but such a thing has happened with acts like Ulver, Death Grips, Daughters, Deftones, Scott Walker, and others.

But that’s not the only reason why our music is so diverse. When we set out to write a song, we discuss the content first, in terms of emotions and ideas. Once we got that down, we think of the sound resources that will suit those better, and we’d rather choose from a broad palette. We’ve always found that metal is somewhat limited when it comes to emotional range, and maybe not the best genre when you want to express something delicate, intimate, or fragile, for example. So why limit ourselves to a single set of rules? That’s not how we roll.

Obsidian Kingdom Dark Room

I don't mean to take attention away from your absolutely heavy and magnificent tracks, such as MR PAN and MEAT STAR, but overall the balance works very cohesively in this new record. What is your process in how you arrive at different musical junctions in songs such as THE EDGE and VOGUE that have notable stylistic changes?

THE EDGE and VOGUE are both songs about extreme mental states, about characters at the brink of madness. They are very emotionally unstable and they try to convey a sense of volatility, danger, and impending breakdown. We wanted to reflect that lack of balance and serenity, so we chose weird song structures, quirky sound effects, and jumpy riffs. This anxiety and unpredictability runs throughout the whole of MEAT MACHINE, but maybe especially so in those two songs.

When listening to the new record, there is obviously a focus and metaphor for the physical plane that we live in, but not always (more on that in the next question). Personally, it gives me the feeling of social economics and humans as livestock (or living stock) in this system we all live in, which you could actually call a machine. How did you arrive at the concept of MEAT MACHINE as an album and MEAT STAR as a music video?

It all comes down to a simple question, one we asked ourselves at the very beginning of the creative process: who are we now? And why are we doing this? We soon found out that the answer was eluding us. We tried to narrow down our identity and found that many of the things that we were focusing on had to do with our flesh and our physicality. We found that behind the thin façade of our personalities, our meat was always demanding as if it had a will of its own. The traits that we chose to define ourselves by had to do with things like our sexuality and our emotions, which ultimately are a set of chemical responses meant to help us survive. We also found out that many of those things didn’t depend on our will, but rather were a kind of automatism that we had to deal with. The body is a meat machine. And the way we relate to each other, the way we choose to use and abuse our power over other individuals, to give them pleasure or to make them suffer, makes the world another meat machine as well. We thought that it was a poetic concept that condensed our current fears and worries, and one into which the audience would easily project theirs.
Of course, there is something resembling social commentary, but the real goal of the album is to portray the struggle of the quest for identity in a mechanized and apparently insensitive universe. That is exactly where spirituality comes in, at the very doorway of nihilism. Themes like faith, transcendence, and true callings are tapped into in songs like MEAT STAR or MR PAN. There is also a strong underlying theme that binds together most of the songs in the album, and that is how our subconscious energies shape the material world we inhabit. So it’s not all meat in the end… But we wouldn’t want to get too intellectual about it. We wanted to write an album that you could feel, not one that you had to think about in order to understand it.

Yes. MR PAN, which is a track inspired by the legend of the god Pan, as well as the symbolism used in the MEAT STAR music video point to an influence in ancient folklore as well as the concept of magick as proposed by the mystic and magician Aleister Crowley. How has this mythology and philosophy (Thelema) influenced your group’s work?

I myself am very keen on the work of Frater Perdurabo and Thelema. As you very observantly have pointed out, this influence is especially patent in the MEAT STAR video, which is vaguely based on the Ritual of Abramelin and the concept of the Holy Guardian Angel - the idea that one must undergo a demanding process of withdrawal and self-resignation in order to unveil one’s true purpose in life. A rite of death and rebirth. Furthermore, many other characters and scenes in the narrative were drawn after the archetypes of the Major Arcana from the Thoth Tarot. And to top it off, the cinematography is reminiscent of that of Kenneth Anger, whose fondness of Crowley is well documented. MR PAN is also a song about reaching transcendence and a purer knowledge of the universe, but this time through altered mind states, hedonism, and self-immolation; it’s a much more Dionysian song. This of course relates to The Great Beast as well, but to be honest we had in mind other modern shamanistic icons when we wrote it, such as Carlos Castaneda or Jim Morrison.

Based on your origins in Barcelona, Spain, you have toured throughout many different regions of the world over the years. How have you felt your music has been received in relation to your contemporary touring bands that have gone on tour with you? How have you found other regions and fans taking to your music and how are their responses?

It’s hard to say… We tend to tour with bands that also dwell in the fringes of Rock and Metal, or who are innovative in some way, so our audience tends to be very open-minded in terms of music, which we, of course, appreciate very much, but at the same time, we always seem to be the oddball on the bill. So far we’ve found great acceptance in places like the UK or The Netherlands, probably because they have a bigger tradition in experimental and progressive music. The audience in Germany tends to be a little bit more conservative in their taste in Metal, which doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate what we do. Performing as Obsidian Kingdom, we’ve never played anywhere outside of Europe, but we’re dying to find out what they think of it in other places in the world. The music video of MEAT STAR recently won the “best music video” award at a cinema festival in Chile, and we’re getting great feedback from the United States as well, so we’re guessing there are a lot of people out there who probably love our art as well. It will happen.

Your past albums have displayed a strong aptitude for switching up styles, as this album does no less. A couple of the genres for example in past albums I have found intriguing and very satisfying were your dive into drone metal with April 10th as well as your heavy black metal beginnings. Do you ever see these stylistic choices coming about in your future work?

It depends… When we wrote Mantiis we had absolutely no idea what we were doing in terms of style. Just to give you an example, the trumpets in Last of the Light were included at the very end of the recording, like a last-minute arrangement for a part that felt dull at the moment. Or Genteel to Mention, which is a rather folky tune, that started off as a generic post-rock song. However, when we started to work on A Year With No Summer, we had previously decided that we would delve into the territories of drone, dream-pop, shoegaze, and the like since we wanted to give the album an ethereal and ominous vibe, and those styles felt perfect for that. That was our first serious attempt at electronic beats as well, which you can hear on songs like April 10th or The Polyarnik. With MEAT MACHINE, it was both pre-determined and spontaneous. On one side, we knew we wanted a rabid record, with an abrasive production, so we were certain that we would fall into Metal, hardcore, and crazy synths at some points, but on the other hand, we left enough room for the album to be whatever it wanted to be. That’s where weird and wonderful things started to happen.

Obsidian Kingdom Mask

And not to get ahead of the present moment and album, but I just think it’s important to note how impressively Obsidian Kingdom has evolved over the years. You never know when a new electronic remix album might drop, unless of course....?

Putting together Torn & Burnt was great fun back in the day since we got to hear the interpretations of our own songs by some of the electronic music producers that we were crazy about. On the touring cycle, we even played some of the remixes instead of the actual songs live. But since we mostly play rock music for a rock audience, I think that remixes are still perceived as a rarity and a b-side, and more often than not they’re not worth the effort you put into them. Come to think of it, it’d be really hard for me to point out more than five remixes in the history of music that were actually better than the original songs. We’ve also produced remixes for other bands ourselves, for bands like Cult of Luna or God Seed. So you never know… We might do it again!

Speaking of electronic music, in a previous interview with Heavy Metal New York you mention that you guys wanted to make an electronic record this time around. This style is easily heard on FLESH WORLD as an example and also the synth work in the middle of VOGUE and the end of WOMB OF WIRE. As a fan of electronic music, I see synth work as a fantastic addition to any genre. With this in mind, and your tendency to experiment, such as your use of an e-bow in A Year With No Summer, do you and the members have any plans to expand Obsidian Kingdom’s arsenal with even more and possibly unique instruments and instrumentation going forward?

Yes, our first intention was for MEAT MACHINE to be a full-on electronic album that you could dance to. We pre-produced the songs for a whole year and when we showed them to our producer, he found them boring and utterly uninteresting, and invited us to do it all over again - which we did! We kept some of the ideas, and the tempos, but as you can hear now, it certainly doesn’t feel like an electronic record, however much electronica it might have in it. I guess we weren’t there yet - we shall keep on trying. And as for the future, who knows? Most of the time, we come across those little tools by sheer accident. For example, I got myself an e-bow after touring with Sólstafir, who were using it a lot in their album Ótta. I thought it was extremely cool and I shamelessly copied it. But they probably copied it from The Smashing Pumpkins as well, because I know Addi loves them, ha! Also, one of the effects that you can hear throughout MEAT MACHINE is an auto-whammy pedal that I brought only because it is called “Ricochet”, and we had misused that word in an early version of the lyrics for THE EDGE. Accidents are really the salt and pepper of experimenting. 

The world and your fans are very much looking forward to your upcoming world tour next Spring. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that we can all go out and celebrate and listen to you and others performing live again. Are there any bucket list items that you still want to see Obsidian Kingdom accomplish either while touring, collaborating, or creatively?

We are a very ambitious band, and of course, we always want to play bigger venues, before broader and more engaged audiences, in the best territorial extension possible. In terms of art, we dream of doing great things as well, although, in all honesty, I have to say that we’ve already done a great deal of them! We’ve played in museums (twice!), composed film scores, and commissioned paintings. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to fulfilling three basic needs: creating something that makes others feel (and hopefully appreciate newer meanings to life), having fun in the process, and making enough money to keep on doing it all over again. For as long as that happens, we’re happy. Oh, and I’m not calling it quits till we play in Japan.

Is there any other insight about your latest work you’d like to share with the world?


MEAT MACHINE can be purchased or streamed on all music platforms. Read our full review and stay tuned for more Obsidian Kingdom in the near future! 

Stefan Walczak Obsidian Kingdom MEAT MACHINE Red Vinyl

Amorphous and constantly reinventing heavy metal-alternative rock group Obsidian Kingdom drop their third genre-smashing album, MEAT MACHINE - Album Review

Obsidian Kingdom MEAT MACHINE Album Artwork

Obsidian Kingdom are no strangers to change, as we have seen from our exclusive interview with them. By their third full-length LP, they have proven themselves as masters of reinvention with a talent for displaying a wide swath of genre sensibilities. It all started with their debut maxi-single, Matter, a 5-track black-metal ode to the elements. Their follow-up EP, 3:11, showed a tighter production quality with 3 massive songs, but still treading familiar waters. What really set Obsidian Kingdom apart was their full-length debut, Mantiis, a sprawling single song concept album subdivided into 14 tracks that go from theatrical, to hard rock, to heavy black metal, and back, all with elements of electronic music and other styles. What it did essentially was take the overarching genre of heavy metal and lit it on fire. A Year With No Summer was no different. Released in 2016, the group blended more elements of drone metal, electronic atmospheres, and alternative rock. Now, just a month ago, MEAT MACHINE defines Obsidian Kingdom as their own trailblazers. 

It can’t be more apparent than in Rider’s opening lines of the album, “Can you feel now? The currents have changed, a thin leak through, the rattling of teeth,” from the opening track THE EDGE. It’s not even a minute in its runtime before it performs the album’s first impressive change, as guitarist Irene steps in to soften the heavy blow. "A wrenched heart," she sings, "could not bear, to keep me quiet, or hold us close, a trace drawn, across the wet floor, a body dragged like a corpse." The track then flows right back into its original groove. Songs such as these are plentiful in MEAT MACHINE, and they offer the listener a widening spectrum of sounds as the album plays out. THE PUMP follows with grandiose arena rock and heavy metal vibes, and it becomes apparent that these songs are designed to be delivered in their full glory when played live. "Relentlessly, we feed, THE PUMP, and it keeps growing on and on, all our lives," Rider sings with frenetic desperation. "Your body is not a temple, is not holy, is just food for THE PUMP, food for THE PUMP." The Pump in this instance takes on the role of all machinations that people willingly give up their energies to, that of which never seems to satiate, and it's one of the many cogs that keep this record spinning. 

Obsidian Kingdom MEAT MACHINE CD Booklet

The bleating heart of MR PAN's synthesized intro speaks of horror film scores and makes for an atmospheric place setting of the track's themes. Pan, the ancient god of the wilderness and the natural world, has been used in folklore to help others in revealing the world for the way it really is, and it's the perfect vehicle for Obsidian Kingdom to transport listeners into the nether realm of momentary bliss. The song takes effective stabs as a fluctuating heavy metal rocker, with guitars that soar and take listeners along for an epic ride somewhere undetermined, yet utterly satisfying. NAKED POLITICS, the first song of the album to depart from the heavy metal stylings that the group is known for, takes a detour into alternative rock, as Rider chronicles the feeling of endlessly playing this superficial game of life, pushing our bodies to the brink until we break. Irene joins in with Rider during the breakdown, "A body is just a body, and a body is just a frame, echoes of a blank space, to be filled with your pain." The flesh is a canvas for the living to suffer upon, and Obsidian Kingdom understand this universal truth. 

FLESH WORLD, the following track, doesn't pull any punches either, and it is in essence the greatest break from the album so far. Stylistically, it is reminiscent of a soft angelic vocalist cooing over lush and electronic instrumentation, and the hints of electronica that Rider spoke about in our interview fully shines on this track. It is a completely addicting and eclectic mix of heavy rock choruses and Irene's vocal talent. MEAT STAR, the band's first single, is forever illuminating in its power and glory. The slow swagger of the heavy metal riffs along with Rider's screams speaks of the need to be remembered and not forgotten in this hectic and crazy world. Before long, the drumbeat kicks into a double-timed groove leading up to the chorus. "Peel the dirt off of my eyes," he sings, "believe, the star is burning bright, no burden can drag me down, give in, glory will be mine." The unwavering determination pulled off in this song is complemented by an intense and visually stunning music video, which we covered in our interview. Whether occultism gives MEAT STAR a power in and unto itself is up for debate, but it remains without a doubt flawless and destined for greatness. 

There are many sonic nuggets of brilliance sprinkled throughout MEAT MACHINE, all distilling the tracks with a sense of fullness, and a feeling that these guys are fans of all different kinds of music. SPANKER is no exception to this notion. Its hard rock flair shows off this side of the band. Rider's singing is punctuated with wailing guitars, a faster-drummed chorus, and a complete Floydian breakdown full of guitars, synths, drums, and ghostly moans. The arena rock style fits nicely with this band, and it goes to show why they have such a great presence and reputation as a live act. VOGUE, the third to last song, takes a dive into the wallows of lust, desire, and compulsive violence. The simultaneously exciting and ugly parts of life come together in this track, and Rider's chorus is a call to be with (and inside) a lover, which quickly degrades into the depths of murderous rage. This line is carefully walked, and thoughts of crimes of passion make this song all the more chilling. 

Obsidian Kingdom MEAT MACHINE CD Booklet

WOMB OF WIRE, the penultimate cut, shows off more of Obsidian Kingdom's inclination to form electronic soundscapes. The introduction feels like a horror film that is about to unfold. WOMB OF WIRE is a blend of electronic atmosphere, hard rock riffs, heavy metal growls, and Irene's gentle response to Rider's rough verse, "look close, how shapes dissolve, it's dire, and it's sublime, how fragile we are." The middle and end of this track are notable for the group's fondness for electronic beats. A FOE takes all that we've learned from the album thus far, and spins it into a final mention, and plays out as a beautifully bittersweet ballad for Irene to shine with the final word. A FOE is a calculated measure of the cruel world that we all live in. It's a question of if love and tenderness are real and whether the central figure feels deserving of it. It's a song that ultimately the singer resigns to her fate. "And I think I could cry, and I think I could beg, but the die has been cast, so I sit down instead, when the reel wears too thin, to contain all the shame, we will ride on the cart, to my gruesome end." It is sobering, and it is the ultimate come down from an album full of extreme highs. 

Obsidian Kingdom take listeners on a ride that is exhilarating and unforgettable with their third LP. As the fluorescent man, a bio-plant-like human from the Saga of the Swamp Thing would say about people, “I hate it when steaks cry.” MEAT MACHINE takes this theme of physicality and mortality and explores it fully, veering into the stratosphere of what drives people, and if there is more to this world than what we see before our eyes. For a third album that is vastly different than the two that have come before it, it doesn't show any signs of complacency, and the constantly shifting sound of Obsidian Kingdom has only proven that this band is stronger than ever before. 

Obsidian Kingdom Red Vinyl MEAT MACHINE


Recommended Tracks: MR. PAN, FLESH WORLD, MEAT STAR 

October 11, 2020

DJ Dark Flow's Masterpiece Crate #3: Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral

Nine Inch Nails The Downward Spiral Masterpiece Album Review

Alternative and grunge rock were left for dead in the wake of Alice In Chains' punishing grunge-metal-hybrid album, Dirt, which we covered in our Masterpiece Crate #2. It was an album that ignited mainstream culture in a way that no other heavy metal act could do at the time, and there was almost no way another album could top the sheer aggressive tones and tonal density caught on tape and pressed into their sophomore record. However, another challenger approached, just two years later, and this time, it brought another genre with it into the worldwide spotlight. To call this album mainstream (despite its worldwide commercial success) would be a disservice to its ultimate goal, which was to peel back the skin of superficiality, but its overall effect on mainstream culture still reverberates to this day. This album shook the world with its naked honesty in its final track, while still showing the world how sexy, dirty, and seductive it feels getting closer to God. That album became known as The Downward Spiral, released in 1994 by studio mastermind, visionary, and musician, Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails.

If you've noticed a trend in this Masterpiece Crate series of articles, it's that up until this point, each group created their masterpiece record in their second albums: Nirvana, Alice In Chains, and now Nine Inch Nails used their first albums as testing grounds to find their sound and ended up crafting extraordinary works of art in the second go-around. Trent Reznor, a classically trained pianist who grew up in the rural Mercer, Pennsylvania, didn't have a particularly rough childhood. Growing up with his maternal grandparents after his parents divorced, he states that nothing was particularly affecting that might have influenced his musical output, other than the isolation and loneliness of small-town, USA. A big influence up to this point was all of Reznor's mainstream media: television and magazines that portrayed an American lifestyle of superficial vanity, all of which was alien to him at the time.

After a year of college, Reznor dropped out and moved to Cleveland, Ohio to become an assistant engineer and custodian at the Right Track recording studio. In his free time, he was allowed to record raw demos of music that he envisioned. From these demos spawned his classic, debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, but his refinement wasn't complete until The Downward Spiral, which was recorded in the infamous (and likely haunted) Manson murder house in California. Whether this ominous essence was somehow burned to tape is up for speculation, but it is undeniable that the overall themes throughout this concept album, which chronicle nihilism and self-destruction, is a chilling tale of loneliness and despair, and unlike the previous entries of this series, has so much insight to be gained by being the first concept album to be covered. Its series of tracks can be related to by all those who have felt down and out about society, and for that, it takes its place as a masterpiece of modern culture. Now finally, on to the music. 

The Downward Spiral Package Artwork

The opening track of the album, Mr. Self Destruct, opens up the album with the unmistakable and chilling sounds of a slow, beating drum, which sounds more like a pulverizing blow as a person in the mix moans in pleasure (or torture). As Pinhead of Hellraiser would say, "Ah, the suffering. The sweet, sweet suffering," and there is a definite motif in this album of sadomasochism that occurs from the act of self-harm or inflicting pain on others. Reznor comes in at the height of the drumbeat and speaks as the vices and temptations for the central character of the album, who for all intents and purposes will be referred to as the protagonist from henceforth. "I am the voice inside your head (and I control you), I am the lover in your bed (and I control you), I am the sex that you provide (and I control you), I am the hate you try to hide (and I control you)." It's a cryptically poetic set of lyrics that set the stage for the many themes of the album, and it cuts to the core of what pushes this tortured soul down the path to self-destruction. 

Piggy and March of the Pigs, two songs that reference an animal used for many themes, such as gluttony, unclean desires, greed, and probably even a reference to the verbiage used by the Manson family, are defined by their introductions to the other agents of the album that the protagonist sees as lesser beings and disgusting in their desires or motives. The protagonist's attempt to address the pigs is a theme that has recently been explored in mainstream culture with Joaquin Phoenix's mesmerizing turn as the DC Comic Books villain Joker, which is itself inspired by the 1976 Scorsese picture Taxi Driver. Both films dealt with a central character whose disgust for society and overall view of the city streets as a cesspool of disease, addiction, and prostitution, sought to remedy the ills by their own means, which led to violence and a self-righteous effort to justify their actions. Piggy is the protagonist's attempt to address those who have left him to rot, "Black and blue and broken bones you left me here I'm all alone" and "what am I supposed to do I lost my shit because of you." The semi-downtempo and jazzy number serves as an introduction to how the protagonist feels about being betrayed by other people in his life. It is the very first song in the NIN legacy that features the repeated line throughout multiple releases "Nothing can stop me now, because I don't care anymore." An interesting producer note about Piggy is its latter half drum solo, which was performed by Reznor himself and was meant as more of a studio soundcheck, except Reznor, liking its disjointed and chaotic style so much, decided to keep it for the song's final take. March of the Pigs is the protagonist's view of society, and how the pigs like to tear down the people of higher standing and watch their downfall "I want to break it up, I want to smash it up, I want to fuck it up, I want to watch it come down, maybe afraid of it, let's discredit it, let's pick away at it, I want to watch it come down." 

Heresy tackles another popular theme of The Downward Spiral, the problem with religion and belief systems that the protagonist feels has plagued the world. It is important to note how directly this song is a product of Nietzsche's popular rendition of the phrase "God is dead", originally written by German philosopher Philipp Mainländer. Nietzsche's reinterpretation claims that the Age of Enlightenment and the rise of scientific discovery gave way to the decline of religion or faith-based ideas and that the role of God and His significance was diminished as more people turned their trust to science and naturalism. Not only this theory, but the protagonist's view of religion as one of the leading causes of war and genocide are felt throughout the lyrics, "He tries to tell me what I put inside of me, He's got the answers to ease my curiosity, He dreamed a god up and called it Christianity," and "He flexed his muscles to keep his flock of sheep in line, He made a virus that would kill off all the swine, His perfect kingdom of killing, suffering, and pain, demands devotion atrocities done in his name," is answered by the scathing declaration "Your God is dead, and no one cares, if there is a Hell, I will see you there."

Closer Heartbeat Music Video Nine Inch Nails The Downward Spiral

Closer, the worldwide phenomenon, is a sexy, albeit desperate attempt, by the protagonist to reconnect with humanity and spirituality through the act of sexual intercourse. As if any non-Nine Inch Nails fan didn't already know this obvious fact, that Closer was about "I wanna fuck you like an animal" and getting "closer to God", Closer was an industrial-disco hybrid track that ended up being a repeat hit on the rock radio airwaves and signaled that the 80s arena rock and 90s grunge rock were now relics of a more distant time, and the electronic-industrial-rock fusion that Nine Inch Nails offered was the new wave of even more dangerously satisfying music that was here to stay in pop culture. Nothing of the time could come close to Closer's pervasiveness and perversion of getting closer. Its opening industrial heartbeat, timid singing by Reznor, and scowling primal chorus define its sweaty dance vibes. It is the desperate plea by the protagonist to satisfy his most basic instincts, and hopefully, in the process, find something, or someone, to reconnect to, but ultimately this act isn't enough to save his soul, and he is pulled by his past memories into much, much darker territory, with the close follow-up song, Ruiner. 

Ruiner and The Becoming are both transitionary tracks for the protagonist in this story, and they both are dealing with entirely separate issues that some people who've dealt with trauma and addiction can relate to. Listen closely, as Ruiner is one of the most bone-chilling songs on the record, which is tough by The Downward Spiral's standards. "The Ruiner's got a lot to prove he's got nothing to lose and now he made you believe, the Ruiner's your only friend well he's the living end to the cattle he deceives, the raping of the innocent you know the Ruiner ruins everything he sees, now the only pure thing left in my fucking world is wearing your disease." Childhood trauma with a molester and abuser makes the almost unintelligible lines all the more shocking and haunting. "Maybe there will come a day when those that you keep blind will suddenly realize, maybe it's a part of me you took to a place I hoped it would never go, and maybe that fucked me up much more than you'll ever know." The protagonist can't get right with God or right with others if his life is plagued by the Ruiner, and Reznor's production work to make this song a vibrating well of sounds doesn't pull any punches either. After his lines "What you gave to me, my perfect ring of scars, you know I can see, what you really are," the drums break away momentarily, and the fuzzy atmosphere is greeted by a bit-crushed guitar solo performed by Reznor himself. Similar to the drum solo in Piggy, Reznor displays a special aptitude for each of these instruments, and both exude a dusty and jazz-like swing in their performances. They speak to the unique attributes and moments that really make The Downward Spiral shine. It isn't long before the industrial drums march to the tune while the protagonist repeats, "You didn't hurt me, nothing can hurt me, you didn't hurt me, nothing can stop me now." The Becoming, the immediate follow-up, is the climactic metamorphosis track of the album and chronicles how the protagonist loses all humanity and allows the cold nihilism to take over his being. The character Annie, who the protagonist refers to, is a legitimate source of emotional pain for Reznor, a past heartbreak that allowed him to channel all the teeth-grinding hurt and rage that encapsulates The Becoming, "Annie, hold a little tighter I might just slip away." The beat that stampedes through this track afterward is full of organic and electronic noises, unlike any other song that's come before it, and it screeches and hollers as the protagonist loses all gound with what it means to be human. 

Trent Reznor 90s Era The Downward Spiral Performing Live
I Do Not Want This, the protagonist's quiet resolve to his fate is highlighted by the industrial drum loops and his vulnerability. "I'm losing ground, you know how this world can beat you down, I'm made of clay, I fear I'm the only one who thinks this way." The timid singing and subsequent whispers start to become buried in the suffocating mix, which almost gives the sensation of drowning in the noise. Eventually, the protagonist erupts in anger and rage, "Don't you tell me how I feel, don't you tell me how I feel, don't you tell me how I feel, you don't know just how I feel!" The buildup and contrast of the protagonist's self-doubt, heavy machine drum loops, and eventual screaming that he wants to "know everything", "be everywhere", "fuck everyone" and "do something that matters" crashes right into Big Man With A Gun,  and it peels off the skin of regret to become the ultimate example of madness and violent male toxicity. There's not much more that needs to be said for this aural assault on sensibility, other than it hits the hardest of all the preceding tracks. It is the epitome of the protagonist's rage, all wrapped into a song that marries the abuse of power and hatred of women into one. It's sudden, unapologetic, and brutal, but it is also Reznor's response to the misogyny in mainstream hip-hop and popular culture. As sudden as Big Man With A Gun blasts through the speakers is the sudden quietude of the instrumental self-reflective track A Warm Place. The only peaceful and tranquil song of the album, the damage has been done, and the protagonist hasn't had much room to breathe or understand the consequences of his actions. The few fleeting moments of clarity soon gives way to the slowly growing and buzzing reverberation of the industrial monolith, Eraser. 

Eraser is another big moment in The Downward Spiral's mythos, and it's distinct in its slow-burn, industrial place-setting. The protagonist of this story has to come to terms with the person that he damaged and abused, coming full circle with the cycle of abuse that cast him down this path of destruction. The protagonist says all he needs to say in the final moments of the song, "Need you, dream you, find you, taste you, fuck you, use you, scar you, break you, lose me, hate me, smash me, erase me, kill me." The protagonist now turns the hate unto himself, all set to heavy metal guitar riffs and growing distortion and abrasions in the mix. Reptile, a NIN concert favorite, defines the relationship of the protagonist with a past lover as one riddled with betrayal, infidelity, abuse, and impurity. The protagonist attempts to justify his actions through a scathing characterization of his lover. "Oh my beautiful liar, oh my precious whore, my disease my infection, I am so impure." There is a thread of truth as the protagonist acknowledges himself, and whether or not their relationship was as plagued as he claims is up to interpretation, but ultimately, it's this slow decline in self-referential hatred that leads the protagonist to his final act in The Downward Spiral, and his haunting epilogue, Hurt.  

Trent Reznor Barbed Wire The Downward Spiral Era Press Photo
The Downward Spiral is the protagonist's final thoughts, as he "couldn't believe how easy it was, he put the gun into his face, Bang! (So much blood for such a tiny little hole)." The narrator's perspective is half-omniscient, half from the protagonist himself, as he describes the act in a chilling, casual conversation-like tone. It refers back to the protagonist, most likely the afterthought of his soul leaving his body, "Everything's blue in this world, the deepest shade of mushroom blue, all fuzzy, spilling out of my head." A final echo of the pain and suffering that the protagonist has gone through resonates for the remainder of the track, before dissolving into Reznor's arguably most famous song. 

Hurt couldn't be any more painful than it already is, but Johnny Cash reinvented and took ownership of Reznor's song in a way that puts it in an entirely new perspective. Still, Cash's Hurt couldn't exist without Reznor's own masterful ode to despair and regret. It opens with a shockingly bare-bones approach, and the protagonist gives listeners a final word on the feelings of a person that has ended up so damaged by the end, and whether or not any of it was worth it. "I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel, I focus on the pain, the only thing that's real, the needle tears a hole, the old familiar sting, try to kill it all away, but I remember everything." The protagonist continues as he reminisces on what he has done and addresses a person he loves. The self-pity and depression in his reflections can relate to any person who experiences regret, and that's what makes this song so powerful and a concert mainstay whenever Nine Inch Nails performs live. The final chorus is an admission of defeat while promising if he ever got another chance to do it again, he would not go down The Downward Spiral of self-destruction. "You could have it all, my empire of dirt, I will let you down, I will make you hurt, if I could start again, a million miles away, I would keep myself, I would find a way."

Nine Inch Nails was propelled into worldwide stardom with The Downward Spiral. Its unapologetic and tragic story burned itself into the ears of fans as a cautionary tale, and its two radio sensations, Closer and Hurt, couldn't be more apart from mainstream music clichés. As the world was about to reel from the infamous and suspicious death of grunge rock heartthrob Kurt Cobain, Reznor introduced the world to an even dirtier and darker (than Alice In Chains' Dirt) form of rock, and brought industrial to the main stage of popular culture. The studio work was so unlike any other album at the time that it still feels modern over a quarter-century later and continues to be discovered by new generations. Reznor's legacy will ultimately be defined by both this album, and our upcoming entry in our Masterpiece series, his follow-up masterwork, 1999's double album The Fragile. 

Trent Reznor Nine Inch Nails

Recommended Tracks: Piggy, The Becoming, Reptile

September 30, 2020

Sunn O)))'s twin album releases, Life Metal and Pyroclasts (2019), are a fantastic entry point into drone metal - Album reviews

Two releases that have escaped me over the past year were from drone metal gods, Sunn O))) (pronounced just Sun, and aptly named after the popular Sunn amplifiers which ceased operation in 2002), with their half-improvised, half-composed twin albums, Life Metal, and Pyroclasts. For any newcomers to this genre of mammoth sounds and drastically slowed reverberations, these two (relatively) new releases cement this duo's legacy as drone metal pioneers and an awesome entry point for anyone interested in pulling back the veil of the eternal void.

Life Metal 

Sunn O))) Life Metal Album Artwork

Recorded alongside Pyroclasts and released six months earlier, Life Metal is a play on words and an inside joke between band members and collaborators, since they refer to life metal as the opposite of the genre term, death metal, and therefore anything that isn't "doom and gloom". For context, Sunn O))) duo Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley have found themselves in a good place at this time in their lives over their 20+ year career, with one recently becoming a father. Thus, Life Metal is the sum of this personal contentment and Anderson's creative challenge to compose a drone album that is less dark in tone.

Consisting of only four tracks each, Sunn O)))'s wall of sound is devastating in its tonal envelope and metal riffs. By trading off between drone and riff-maker, Anderson and O'Malley, with the help of some frequent collaborates and the recording assistance of legendary producer Steve Albini, created two masterworks, and the first Sunn O))) albums that are recorded and mixed entirely in analog equipment. This ultimately recreates the exact tonal experience of seeing the group in a live performance setting.

Starting off with Between Sleipnir's Breaths, which is a Norse mythology reference to the eight-legged horse that the god Odin rides on, it is bookended by samples of Sleipnir whinnying and galloping through the cosmos. What's also noticeable as the album begins is Sunn O)))'s distinctly powerful and nimble riffage, which comes across swifter and less glacial in its pace when compared to previous releases. Between... is assisted by the otherworldly and ancient vocals of Icelandic singer Hildur Guðnadóttir, who also happens to be a classically trained cellist who contributes to this record. It is the only singing on the album. When the blustering eeriness subsides, Troubled Air takes over and is highlighted by Australian composer Anthony Pateras's pipe organ. Aurora is a meditation in feedback that pushes listeners to the edge of eternity before letting off the pressure and beginning again. Finally, Novæ, the longest song by far, clocking in at a behemoth quarter-hour, is the piece that briskly moves through heavy sustained riffs before descending into its guttural and subdued midsection. It's primal and deep in its chasms of meditation, but it inevitably builds into a walloping windstorm of power, climaxing, and piercing in its final 3 minutes of droning metal. 


Sunn O))) Pyroclasts Album Artwork

By definition, Pyroclasts refers to the catapulted pyroclastic volcanic rocks during a volcanic eruption. It is curious that Sunn O))) decided to name these four improvisational tracks after something so explosive. While their sound remains rock steady, its sustained tones generate almost like a falling avalanche or erupting volcano. Frost (C) is the first cut that was produced by the band, and these four 11 minute tracks were improvised drone jams, more or less, at the beginning or end of the day while recording for Life Metal. Frost (C) can only be described as unforgiving, as its drone, feedback, and dark and heavy riffs, feel exactly like a hurricane blizzard. The second track, Kingdoms (G), starts off a bit quieter (if you can even call it that), and it continues the tradition in an aurally satisfying way. It crescendos by the halfway mark and gestates and vibrates there for a while before distorting itself the rest of the way to the end. Ampliphædies (E), which sounds like the ancient god of amplifiers, quivers, and strums, with energy that always feels like it tops the previous entry. Just how can a rock group keep sounding louder? However improbable it may seem, Sunn O))) does just that. The riffs and almost angelic-like chorus playing out in the corners of the chaos of tonal assault, create an atmosphere unlike any other. Last is Ascension (A), and it turns on as if right at that exact moment, the band just picks up and goes for it. It's a purely transportive drone that wraps up the 44-minute release. 

Sunn O))) have defined a genre, and haven't let up after all these years. What they have composed in these two sprawling releases is a catharsis of heady and meditative metal drones and riffs that can be played at any volume, but will always produce in listeners the same effect of a massive, yet ethereal calm. For those who are ready and willing to experience drone metal, Life Metal is the definitive entry point into this genre. 

Life Metal - 8.25/10

Pyroclasts - 8/10

Recommended Tracks: Between Sleipnir's Breaths, Troubled Air, Frost (C)

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 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

July 29, 2019

DJ Dark Flow's Masterpiece Crate #2: Alice In Chains - Dirt

If Nirvana created the perfect storm for grunge to come into the fold with their worldwide hit, Nevermind, then Alice In Chains took the genre a giant leap further, with their second full-length album, Dirt. Like Nirvana, Alice In Chains also came into their own after recording a gritty debut, punk-grunge album, Facelift in 1990, before the release of this grunge-metal masterpiece. Facelift displayed some true potential for the band since they produced some excellent hit songs which have just as much staying power today as some of Dirt's best songs, such as Man in the Box, Bleed the Freak, and Sea of Sorrow. These singles were also a big indicator that lead singer Layne Staley's talents were a grade above those of Kurt Cobain's, as his vocal cords could easily handle an excessively powerful release from within all the while maintaining his delicate flutter as he sang. It seemed only a matter of time then, after Nevermind, that Alice In Chains would continue to top themselves after Facelift, and they most certainly did with what is undisputedly the strongest album in the group's career.

Fronted by Layne, who shared songwriting duties with lead guitarist Jerry Cantrell, Alice In Chains benefited from their combined effort of Layne's powerful and stunning vocal range and Jerry's personal life struggles personified through the music. Dirt covers many themes in life such as pain, anger, addiction, toxic relationships, war, death, heartbreak, and depression. As it stands as an album that contains so many of these heavy topics, Dirt, while classified as grunge or alternative rock, was the heaviest and darkest offering of the genre at that time, and oftentimes turned more heavy metal than grunge, as can be heard in their brutal and tortured opening track, Them Bones. Alice In Chains doesn't hold back with this one, with chilling cries of agony and heavy metal guitar riffs chugging through the track. Written by Cantrell and executed so well by Staley and company, this is the reason their combined force was so strong and compelling, and they address the existential threat of our mortality right away here in this opener as Layne sings, "I believe them bones are me, some say we're born into the grave, I feel so alone, gonna end up a big 'ole pile a them bones."

Dam That River doesn't let the energy die either, as it starts up another metal rock riff and moves the album forward with another heavy-hearted tune, laced with imagery of violence and anger, as Layne cries out, "Oh, you couldn't dam that river, and maybe I don't give a damn anyway, so you couldn't dam that river, and it washed me so far away." Rain When I Die caps off this opening trio of tracks with dark, dense motifs and incredible singing by Layne, before Dirt cuts back into one of the strongest songs on the album, Down in a Hole. Written by Jerry, this powerful rock ballad was his ode to his then-girlfriend, Courtney Clarke. The eventual falling apart and heartbreak that ensued from his life's choice of being in a rock band and touring created a song that he felt hit him the hardest. The nature of their lifestyles and touring schedules meant he couldn't hold on to his longtime love, and it left him feeling "down in a hole." It's the first heartfelt piece of music to come out of Dirt and Layne treats the material delicately and beautifully as he sings on Jerry's behalf, "Down in a hole and I don't know if I can be saved, see my heart I decorate it like a grave."

Sickman trades marching heavy metal riffs for brooding sludge and doom metal as it moves from verse to chorus and back again, and Layne sings about the struggles of living in the sick world that he's created for himself and having no control in life. It's also a commentary about the world at large, as Layne groans, "I can feel the wheel but I can't steer, when my thoughts become my biggest fear, ah, what's the difference I'll die, oh, in this sick world of mine." The pure grunge-rock grace of Alice In Chains is felt most on the following song, the most memorable track of their career thus far, Rooster. A watery guitar slowly strums and repeats as a gospel-like choir croons an iconic melody that can only be known as the precursor for one of Layne's best performances yet, his storied rendition of Jerry's own personal fears of losing his father in the Vietnam war. The music video dives deeper than the music, as Jerry's own father is interviewed about his experience of being drafted into the army and surviving the harrowing and horrifying life experience. It makes for a haunting and inescapable piece of grunge-rock history that has been burned into the minds of listeners for generations.

After Rooster comes to a finish, the first half of the record gives way to an even more honest, insightful, and punishing set of tracks, with a trio of heavy, yet emotional songs: Junkhead, the title track Dirt, and Godsmack. Junkhead was Layne's willingness to admit his rampant and tormented drug use, an addiction which plagued him for the rest of his short life. It is full of desperation and self-reflection, as Layne comes to terms with his afflictions and tries to place listeners into the mind of a user, as he sings, "You can't understand a user's mind, but try with your books and degrees, if you let yourself go and opened your mind, I'll bet you'd be doing like me and it ain't so bad." Layne cuts back into a fully-unrepenting chorus as he sings, "What's my drug of choice? Well, what have you got? I don't go broke, and I do it a lot, said I do it a lot." It's one of Layne's most straight-forward and honest songs about his addiction, and although he sings with an air of calm, his screaming spirit can be heard just beneath the surface. Dirt pulls the curtains back at a relationship that's gone to sh*t, for lack of a better term. His focus on what it's like to be made to feel like dirt by another person is full of doom and gloom, as he describes the experience of feeling buried alive by the person he loves, and ultimately forces him to retreat inward. Godsmack doesn't lighten the load much, but it does feel like a breath of fresh air for that matter, as Jerry and company pick up the tempo from the previous two tracks and Layne experiments with a fluttering vocal stutter, singing, "Don't you know that none are blind, to the lie, and you think I don't find what you hide? What in God's name have you done? Stick your arm for some real fun." He later finishes the song with a penetrating line, "So your sickness weighs a ton, and God's name is smack for some," effectively drawing the parallel to people's addictions and feeling the presence of God as being the most high.

The final four songs open with a track sometimes left untitled, sometimes listed as Intro, or Iron Gland, and it's a short but dark, menacing signal that Alice In Chains is far from over. Hate to Feel gives listeners a look at the anger buried deep inside Layne, as he is the sole songwriter credited here. He sings in the chorus, "All this time I swore I'd never be like my old man, what the hey it's time to face exactly who I am." Angry Chair, one of the five singles, was Layne's only other solo songwriting credit. It's the penultimate track on the record and makes heavy metal blows with guitars and drums as Layne howls his deepest insecurities, "Loneliness is not a phase, field of pain is where I graze, serenity is far away, saw my reflection and cried, so little hope that I died, oh, feed me your lies, open wide, weight of my heart, not the size, oh." His pain is almost immediately disregarded in a half-hearted dismissal of a chorus, "I don't mind, yeah, I don't mind." The epic final track is Layne and Jerry's ultimate send-off for Dirt, which was never repeated again with their few final releases that remained, with Would?. Layne takes his vocals to the full range that he is capable of, and with Jerry's writing and vocal turns on the verses, they make a killing, as they barrel towards the final message that they have, and Layne unleashes an unforgettable grunge vocal performance in the chorus. Written for Jerry's late friend Andrew Wood, lead singer of Seattle alternative grunge band Mother Love Bone, who passed in 1990 from a heroin overdose, Jerry had a heavy heart from the matter, and knowing Layne's repeated drug use, it is a completely haunting track to hear knowing full well where Layne was heading. Layne sings, "Into the flood again, same old trip it was back then, so I made a big mistake, try to see it once my way."

It cannot be overstated how much Dirt's music was attributed to Jerry Cantrell's personal life experiences and songwriting talents. His writing was in effect taken to a place he could never get to with the addition of Layne Staley to help the band reach incredible heights in the first half of their career. While Jerry is still alive and well with this latter half iteration of Alice In Chains, it will never be the same without the awe-inspiring vocal powers of Layne, and there's no other album that they recorded during Layne's life where their collaboration was as perfect as it is here in Dirt. It's another masterpiece after Nevermind, and its themes took grunge and alternative to a very dark corner of life, all while maintaining its heart and keeping its core true to the struggles that afflicted its two leading songwriters.

Recommended Tracks: Down In A Hole, Rooster, Would?