Featured Artist of the Month: Tool

For July, I intend to focus on the American progressive metal titans known as “Tool”. Luckily enough, I came across them in my adolescence mainly because of having people around with an exquisite taste in music and also because one of my favorite local bands’ front-man regarded Maynard James Keenan as his true idol so I just had to acquaint myself with this new shiny thing properly. Later, having experienced some of the most intense progressive rock that ventured clairvoyant themes and soul-searching melodies syncopated with alternative and psychedelic influences in the early teenage years of my life was nearly earth-shattering for me. The bizarre lyrical content, oscillating drum beats by Danny Carey, a vague bassline and intricate riffs with a hint of psychedelia stirred to life by Adam Jones instantly set them apart giving them their trademark groove. Keenan’s multi-octave vocal range is essentially articulate and dynamic varying between the angelic, mellow quality to fierce screaming as per the contemplative mood of the song which makes this sonic journey even more worthwhile. You can clearly decipher their eccentric yet ambitious sound with only a handful of albums they’ve put forth over the years.

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Charting out my favorite albums in a particular order without wasting anytime. So here goes..

3, 10, 000 Days

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Released in 2006, “10, 000 Days” is their third studio album and it certainly dishes out that raw “Tool-esque” energy which permeates nearly every musical technique they incorporate. I love how the album kicks off with a dramatic note to evolve into a total banger “Vicarious” with cacophonous riffs and hard-hitting crescendos. As the album unfolds, you begin to interpret the mathematics of progressive rock and the propulsive drive of metal on songs like “Jambi”, “Rosetta Stoned” and “The Pot”. The unconventional elements like the tribal beats, complex song structures axial to their creative domain and deep lyrical themes explore the various whims of human nature and the universe with all of its demented humor. “10, 000 Days” might have not as many mesmerizing numbers but on the whole, the album cleverly infuses just the right instrumentation to justify the intended play on existentialism and psychological axioms.

2, Ænima

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Released in 1996, their second full-length album “Ænima” is pessimistic and satirical beyond measure but still transpires profound meaningfulness. The album title with a conjoined “Æ” represents two polar opposites. “Anima” which is often associated with a psych & soul, and your subconscious while the other “Enema'” refers to a medical technique mainly to examine and restore bowel movements. The dark humor is almost comical. Songs like “Stinkfist”, “Eulogy”, “Ænima” and “Third Eye” exude blatant cynicism and intends on highlighting the hypocrisy of human race. The track “H.” is a conundrum of chaotic thoughts and unrestrained paranoia. The song is thought to have a great personal significance for Keenan as it’s more or less of an ambiguous manifestation of the effect fatherhood and the birth of his son (with a middle name “H.”) had on him as stated by himself once. That detail aside, it is undeniably one of their most powerful and expressive songs. The innovation in “Die Eeir von Satan” is mainly in the industrial vein and those sermons delivered in German remind you of some sort of voodoo magic or black magic rituals which funnily enough, is actually a recipe for cookies. Well? I can’t help but point out the tad bit pretentiousness they portray with every album albeit taken way too seriously by Tool fans. I can’t really get round that fact, to be honest. The album has its fair share of flaws. Some songs are unnecessarily prolonged and are plain fillers. It gets a little out of focus in that regard. Nonetheless, it’s an authentic slab of progressive and alternative aspects of heavy music.

1, Lateralus

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Lateralus. Now finally, there’s your foolproof remedy for emotional and philosophical devastation. My first Tool album, for a fact. It came out in 2001. The overflowing aggression, dissonant guitars and polyrythmic drumming on the opening track “The Grudge” successfully reveals what you’re in for. The progressive escalation into the emotionally purging interludes textured with erratic riffs and throbbing drums alongside cryptic lyrics heard on songs like “The Patient”, “Parabol”, “Parabola”, “Ticks & Leeches” and “Triad” give the album a pulse. “Schism” is unarguably a beauty and my favorite Tool song of all time! Its simple and minimalistic song structure grows on you. The majestic bassline is akin to a sedative. The guitar solo instills a meditative spell into the song and gives it a proper breathing space. “Finding beauty in the dissonance.” epitomizes the integrity of Tool in a single verse. “Lateralus” is another breathtaking gem that lasts for about 9 minutes. It intends on digressing from the fabric of reality which worked out splendidly. The innate energy and obscure lyrics like “We’ll ride the spiral to the end and may just go where no one’s been.” give the song a certain mystical value. It concludes with looming guitars and bouts of frenzy which panned out perfectly. There’s liberal amount of Tool-oriented experimentation on “Lateralus” as well. Quite possibly, it is by far their most profound offering which exploits all the tricky elements of progressive rock to procreate something that stems from the unique individuality of the band and falls nothing short of a quintessential masterpiece.

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Tool achieved a great deal of virtuosity with only a number of full-length albums that usually takes an artist years and years to accomplish. The complex album concepts, unusual time signatures, tongue-in-cheek humor which is oblivious to most and maneuvering with modern and primitive tactics of music in their compositions is an art they’ve mastered quite well. Often criticized for being overwrought and pretentious which might be their conscious intention more than usual (so it’s a given) and producing questionable music videos, they redefined the grotesque disposition of humanity and the innate sense of spirituality. You can easily pick out some impulsive takes on nihilism, religious symbolism, collective psychological archetypes and the deeper realms of higher cognition. What they’ve created over the years is something that feeds on your negative energies to transform into a unique mystical experience. They don’t even really force a link to any other artist in terms of their sonic diversity. You ought to have a proper frame of mind to listen to Tool, at times. Either ways, you’ll be a mess.

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“I embrace my desire to feel the rhythm, to feel connected enough to step aside and weep like a widow to feel inspired, to fathom the power to witness the beauty, to bathe in the fountain to swing on the spiral of our divinity and still be a human.” 

                             “Lateralus” by Tool

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Music Recommendation: Barrow by Cemeteries

I stumbled across this really appealing piece of dream-pop combined with ambient & shoegaze elements and I thought I’d do a mini-review. It’s worth it. The album is called “Barrow” by Cemeteries. It’s not to be confused with the hardcore band with same name that disbanded sometime ago. Cemeteries is a brainchild of Kyle J. Reigle based in New York. In the first listen, I was completely enthralled by the originality and the peculiar experimental music which is both refreshing and melancholic in the sense that the line between the two blurs into oblivion eventually intensifying the chimerical essence.

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The album commences with “Procession” which is set up with atmospheric soundscapes where the roaring and crashing of the surfs is audible till it melts into the next song “Nightjar” which features Reigle’s soothing, echoic chants and tranquil percussions and synthesizers. This instrumental setting is basically the skeletal framework for almost every song of the album still it manages to haunt you with the little variations and electronic extemporization. The stand-out numbers for me on the record are “Can You Hear Them Sing?” and “Sodus”. The former track is a slowly-paced, gloomy hymn with a repetitive chorus. Let’s just say, there’s nothing really wrong about it. “Sodus” on the other hand, sounds bleak yet beautiful and has a ceremonial tune although the lyrics suggest otherwise. The second part of the song is even more thrilling and serves as a perfect dreamy outro. The song in its entirety fuels your imaginative power to muse about fanciful allegories and metaphors.

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It’s not a flawless album but compiled in a way to offer some of the most unique and ethereal dream-pop music. It’s like a breath of fresh air. The surrealism it’s adorned with is the heart and soul of the album. The darker melodies on “Luna (Moon of Claiming)”, “Cicada Howl” and “Our False Fire On Shore” can easily soundtrack the night-time experience amidst the wilderness. The atmospheric musical arrangement definitely trespasses the nostalgic corridors of the mind. The sense of calm & poise it embodies is intoxicating. It’s highly recommended. Go ahead. Give it a spin and wind out!

 

Inside The Batcave: What I Don’t See by Saigon Blue Rain

Being a goth rock/deathrock/post-punk enthusiast I try to dig up all kinds of (new, old, obscure, popular etc) relevant artists and bands to satiate my aural appetite. Two years back, I came across a French gothic rock band “Saigon Blue Rain” and was somehow very impressed how their first album “What I Don’t See” successfully highlighted the “darkwave etherealism” in a very elegant way. Ophélie Lecomte’s velvety, soprano vocals were the cherry on top.

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Released in September 2014, the record features spaced-out guitars and roomy soundscapes. The prominent bassline adds a generous post-punk vibe which in turn makes the songs more upbeat making them potential dance numbers to be played at a gothic nightclub (Hint: The main category) with its audience swaying to the rhythmic beats. The opening track “Queen Ephemeria” sounds moderately coldwave and essentially gothic with its futuristic sound effects. The record is centered around the surreal, dreamy and otherworldly atmosphere in its entirety. “So Cold” has a catchy beat that later diverges into the synth-pop and new wave variants of gothic rock. “Corps Astral” deals with the redundant nature of electronic music with minimal synths and slow-paced guitars. I especially liked the hypnotic arrangement of synths towards the end.

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“Borealis” starts of with an enigmatic intro and evolves into a subtle darkwave track that is inspired by the basic gothic repertoire. “I Wanna Be You” and “What I Don’t See” also incorporate that consistent darkwave/coldwave technique we are all too familiar with by now. “Beyond The Stone” is my personal favorite. It has just the right proportions of synth-pop, new wave and gothic rock combined to maintain the overall dark ambient essence of the record interspersed with dance music aesthetics contributed by the inherent post-punk influence. “Lovelorn”, “Break the Disease” and the closer “L’Offrande” are seasoned with down-tempo, electronica and melancholic undertones with more delays and transient echoes calling this cryptic sonic delight a wrap.

Saigon Blue Rain will definitely ring a bell or two about bands like The Frozen Autumn, The Cure, This Mortal Coil, Cocteau Twins and Love Spirals Downwards all of which rejoice the deep-seated darkness and an elusive song-craft. The record explores the various ethos of gothic rock, darkwave and the related sub-genres. The vocals are a beautiful celebration of the feminine allure of a sirenic voice. The symbolic lyrics and the gothic rock dynamics deviating towards the electro-pop and darkwave/coldwave styles are infused with mellow and haunting lovesick melodies.

(Goes without saying) Do check them out if you haven’t!

Featured Artist of the Month: Soundgarden

So I have decided to do a monthly post dedicated to a single artist I have either grown up listening to, have become fond of over the years, loved in the first listen, has influenced me in any way possible or is simply of some nostalgic value to me. I would also do a list of some of my favorite albums from that particular artist, just in case.

This month, it just felt natural to choose a band that involved the late Chris Cornell; the high-strung rocker, a fine grunge vocalist with a four-octave vocal range and a songwriter/guitarist for multiple bands, whose untimely death on the 18th of May, 2017 has left a massive void in the world of rock n’ roll that can’t be filled for long. I personally love “Soundgarden” the most of all his projects because it has that essential Sabbathy, eerily heavy sound and that edgy hard rock energy making them one of the most distinct grunge bands of the 90s that reinvented the varied dynamics of the genre in question.

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These grunge giants are all about the oddly tuned guitars, intense vocals and dark lyrics. Highly influenced by bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, their signature sound is an eccentric dichotomy of the trademark punk rock/post-punk and the grave, greasily tardy metal sound. The band has been through certain rocky patches and was disbanded in 1997 which then later reformed in 2010 after a 12 year gap. Still they managed to produce seven brilliant studio albums, a few live recordings and a couple of EPs under their belt. Together with the other three grunge maestros i.e. Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and Nirvana they helped invent and refine this specific sub-genre of alternative rock.

Time to list my favorite Soundgarden albums so here goes.

1, Badmotorfinger

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Released in 1991, Badmotorfinger is a smashing record which is why I declared it their finest work. My favorite number “Rusty Cage” with that mesmerizing opening riff has that dissident essence of a nonconformist’s anthem and the hard-rock wholesomeness with a main chorus comprising of verses like “I’m going to break my rusty cage… and run.” is so provocative. The record features Kim Thayil’s dirty guitar riffs with mid-paced drone that trails back to Sabbath’s signature sound and not to forget, Cornell’s screams that are full of angst and agitation. What is there to not like about this record, in all honesty? Especially if you’re into rock/metal and find yourself questioning religion, your existence and politics, it’s a quality pick for sure! Songs like “Outshined”, “Searching with My Good Eye Closed”, “Stray Cat Blues”, “Jesus Christ Pose”, “Holy Water” and an on-point cover of Black Sabbath’s “Into The Void” are a perfect musical and lyrical depiction of the themes they like to play around with an air of sarcasm & aggression. You’re basically in for some seriously heavy grunge rock with an overtly funky vibe and an unremitting frenzy of sludge/doom. A great pick for someone in his or her teens to battle it out with their sense of individualism and the relative catalytic chain of contradictions.

2, Superunknown

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If a record truly defines the standard sound of Soundgarden, it is this album, most probably. “Superunknown” was released in 1994 and still sounds profound with an outburst of an impending doom. It is loaded with crass riffwork, drab & tuned-down guitars evocative of Black Sabbath’s heavy sound and the melodic ballgame of Led Zepp’s blues rock accompanied by a swampy bassline. Cornell’s vocal range overlapping between the tenor and baritone is well-suited to sing the blues behind the veil of grunge rock that’s undeniably coarse and gritty. Lyrics basically focus on the pessimistic side of things which isn’t hard to tell. Bitter verses like “Times are gone for honest men and sometimes far too long for snakes.” in “Black Hole Sun”, “If you don’t want to be seen you don’t have to hide, if you don’t want to believe you don’t have to try to feel alive.”  in “Superunknown” or “With an ounce of pain, I wield a ton of rage. Just like suicide.” sound expressive more than ever now that the songwriter is no more. Nevertheless, “Superunknown” might as well be one of the best grunge albums ever recorded. It’s full of back-to-back breakout singles with not even a single mediocre song making it a powerhouse of a rock record which is introspective enough to deliver an impact that doesn’t wear off over the years.

 3, Louder Than Love

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While I would totally agree that 1990’s “Louder Than Love” doesn’t showcase their coherent musical genius but still it’s an accomplished record that highlights the punk side of grunge/alternative rock which is plain raw and you can hear some major “The Stooges” worship somewhere in there. You have a vigorous blend of grunge, hard rock, psychedelic and alternative metal at the end of the day driven mostly by a sluggish bass, slithery riffs and spasmodic drumming. It’s not all that dark and thought-provoking rather just these lads trying to have some fun. “Hands All Over”, “Get On The Snake”, “No Wrong No Right” and “Gun” are really groovy tracks. It’s one if their earliest albums and the crude energy it emanates is typically old-school and heavy. Cornell’s multi-octave vocal quality is unique and impressive. However, they’ve made it pretty clear how they can’t part ways with their well-tamed Black Sabbath influence.

While rest of their studio albums (Ultramega OK, Down On The Upside and King Animal) are worth a mention, still do not come close to the aforementioned flawless releases.

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Soundgarden revived grunge on so many levels and successfully churned out some of the most unforgettable hard rock riffs by hitting a nail on the head with their overflowing ferocity and musical creativity by being true to their roots of rock/metal. No wonder in no time they worked up their way to become one of the most acknowledged grunge bands of the 90s. You’re in for some serious nostalgic blues if already a fan and if not, you’re definitely missing out. Give the records a spin and you’ll know why they’re one of “The Big Four” grunge bands.

P.S: Farewell, Chris!

Album Review: Nåde by Område

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Område’s second studio album “Nåde” is an interesting combination of industrial rock and avant-garde metal. There’s a great deal of sonic experimentation on-going and the contemporary style is highly noticeable. The first song “Malum” opens with a vivid sound of electronic percussions which is integral to the industrial style of music, then progresses to a more layered structure featuring keyboards, tranquil guitars, violin and a trumpet which is the traditional instrumentation for blues rock. Suffice to say, it sets up a very dramatic mood already. “XII” maintains the sensitivity of the album as it splices swaying guitars, subtle piano notes, an alto saxophone acoustics and glitched distortions into the electro-industrial backbone of the song. “Enter” is a nicely-paced song. It plays around with themes of electro-rock and again, incorporates a consistent industrial rock sound. About time I comment on the vocals that basically involve clean singing with high-notes for the most part which is more emotional than aggressive. The next song “Hänelle” is also in the same vein as the first three tracks. There’s repetitive guitar riffs, trumpets blowing, synths in action and a decent song at the end of the day. Next up is “Styrking Leið” which has an artsy composition. It’s the most overwhelming song on the record. I like the electronic transitions and how it’s intensified with sped-up guitar riffs and those electronically automated critical junctures. It certainly leaves the impact it promises.

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“The Same For The Worst” has an intro that embodies a lounge jazz feel. In a rock song? Well, yes. This also goes on to prove how they’ve rejected the stern tactics of the generic rock/metal sound. It features alternating quality of vocals i.e. frustrated screams and female backing vocals that mute down to sirenic whispers more than once. “Baldar Jainko” evokes the cryptic side of industrial metal with appealing bits of drum sequence for a change. The last song “Falaich” is mainly orchestral and wraps up the entire album with a sentimental note.

“Nåde” (which means “Mercy” or “Grace” in English) is a good record if not extraordinary, mechanized fundamentally with industrial and avant-garde musical arrangements. The turning points are executed with electronic distortions that are both bizarre and catchy at the same time. There are certain dramatized themes performed with a hybrid sound of jazz, trip-hop, electronica and metal. The overall ambiguity renders it banal, at some point. Experimentally, it is a good venture for the band however, they could’ve accomplished the task at hand in a less complex and more artistically overpowering way. In any case, fans of industrial rock and metal in general, should definitely look out for it.

Album Rating: 3/5.

Album Review: Slowdive by Slowdive

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Slowdive’s comeback after about 22 years is a proof in itself that quality shoegaze is here to stay for a long time. Being one of the unparalleled pioneers of the classic shoegaze genre and major contributors to explore the new horizons that transcend dream-pop, noise rock and various other forms of alternative rock, I was sure that the album’s going to be engineered fairly well. The opener “Slomo” has a refreshing, guitar-laden melody romancing with a lush ambient pop vibe. Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell’s vocals heard as soft, gleeful echoes are immersed within the dreamy texture of the song as perky synthesizers add to their resonance. For me, it’s probably a perfect song you should be listening to while having an aromatic cup of coffee on days when the sun is not too abrasive and the spring breeze feels impregnated with the scent of flower kernels in bloom. Yes, precisely. Slowdive’s new record is all about those imaginative metaphors. “Star Roving” is the most shoegazy song on the album and there’s a lot of reverberance, drone guitars and hypnotic noise coalesced together to give birth to an a-okay shoegaze number. It starts off like an explosive supernova, splattering the warm luster all around and dies out with Halstead’s heartsick hums. The next song “Don’t Know Why” plays around with upbeat synths, a baroque song structure and particularly vibrant chants which makes it pretty addictive. “Sugar for the Pill” is downright sensational and melodic. The song’s more on the brit-pop side but the sentimental lyrics with a meaningful delivery by Halstead is worthy enough to set the right kind of a melancholic mood to contemplate things that might have possibly gone wrong in your life. Verses like “Lying in a bed of greed, you know I had the strangest dream..” and “This jealousy will break the whole” encapsulate myriads of bittersweet sadness. “Everyone Knows” has a dense noise-pop sound ricocheting with Goswell’s wistful swoons ringing in your ears. “No Longer Making Time” has a rather ordinary sequence of drums, synths and guitars but it’s appealing and settles the fact that simple things work out well if done right.

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Next up is my personal favorite “Go Get It” and it affirms a soaring flight of fancy. The main chorus “I wanna see it, I wanna feel it..” confirms unapologetic wishful thinking and is a sonic treat for all the hopeless romantics out there. The closer “Falling Ashes” is just a space-filler, to be honest and most likely I would skip it.

There’s a chance that you will end up playing the album everyday as long as the songs resonate in your head which profess a great replay value. The record swerves more to the dream-pop side than shoegaze. The preceding albums Just For A Day, Pygmalion and Souvlaki were plain ecstatic with their pensive songwriting and volatile guitar sound and in a way, it wouldn’t be totally irrational to state that this self-titled album was conceived as a lovechild to its predecessors. There is fragmentary lightheartedness, celebratory bliss, melodrama and sanguine emotions. It renews your thought process with ethereal dreamscapes and intimate perspectives. It is a good comeback album for a band that’s been on a hiatus for 22 years. Give them some love!

Album Rating: 4/5.