Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe

         Image

 When I first heard the Recover EP earlier this year, I must admit that it was somewhat smothered within the exploding closet of 80s influenced indie-pop within which I have been fleeting from catchy single to melodic opening hook with a huge grin on my face. It wasn’t until the release of the band’s full length album, The Bones Of What You Believe, that I realised that Chvrches may be one of the more impressive and genuinely talented bands amidst the early 2010s synth-pop explosion. 

One notable triumph realised in Chvrches’ formula within the debut full length release is just that: the album is successful in applying formulaic (for once, I use this expression in a complimentary sense)  pop formats of old whilst retaining, even complimenting, a contemporary sounding, dreamlike and indie sound. Corny fade-outs and unabashedly cheesy synth openings litter the album, whilst strange vocal rhythm’s keep the songs dynamic and prevent a sense of disinterest within the singing which too many vocalists of  Mayberry’s style are guilty of. Tracks like Gun and The Mother We Share both showcase these irregular, and at times genuinely grin inducing, vocal melodies in their chorus’. It’s in moments like these that the album really shines and sounds much more polished and remarkable than it’s peers. 

That’s not to say that Chvrches’ vocals are flawless, there are one or two tracks on the album in which Mayberry is guilty of allowing her already meek, pixie-like voice to become engrossed within the prominent synth melodies on the album. Science/Visions is somewhat tedious, and Mayberry’s vocals feel their weakest wrapped in the grandiose layers that songs like this have to offer. Vocally speaking, Chvrches also fall somewhat short on tracks featuring the male vocal accompaniment. The tracks featuring lead vocals from Doherty and/or Cook do, whilst still very strong instrumentally, strike me with a sense of longing for the familiar chirps of lead singer, Lauren Mayberry. 

Image

Instrumentally the album is as one would expect of a top rate synth-pop act in 2013. From clashing electronic drum loops, to spacey synths, it’s incredibly easy to listen to, and despite the 80s style fade outs and at times irregular melodies, it’s all very sweet and flows beautifully. Lyrically the album is difficult to criticize due to it’s pop nature and attitude. Subject in the lyrics float from love song, to breakup song, to some genuinely touching lyrics regarding siblings in The Mother We Share. If anything, the album is guilty of occasionally trying slightly too hard to force its songs to be more than pop through lyrics. Take that or leave it, most of the tracks still sound…nice. 

As aforementioned, there are plenty of these kinds of acts around, but I was pleasantly surprised by Chvrches full length release. It’s perfect driving music, very cinematic, romantic and pop oriented. The fact that it flows so beautifully really makes a lot of the problems with weaker tracks somewhat redundant, the singles are there, but this album could loop several times in my car without me having to change it. 

7/10

Advertisements

Just In Case You Missed It – Dethklok: The Heaviest and Greatest Band on The Planet

Image

                              Exactly two months too late, August 6th 2006, Brendon Small (Home Moviesand Tommy Blacha (Da Ali G Show) introduced to the Earth one of the most imaginative, humorous, and (most importantly) brutal fictional bands ever created: Dethklok. To those of you familiar with Adult Swim, I am sure that the best metal band on the planet (and probably the universe) need no introduction. It seems however that, regardless of Dethklok’s cult success, their following is less considerable outside of the TV Show Metalocalypse. Allow me to correct your lack of gnarly hatred of everything but metal.

Image

Dethklok are metal superstars, not chefs.

                               Metalocalpyse explores the exploits of Dethklok: The most successful and metal band on the planet (I wasn’t kidding) which can do no wrong in the eyes of their millions of fans, who only seem to embrace the fact that each band member is a billionaire asshole that loves nothing more than balls to the wall, hate-filled metal. Episodes (in most seasons) are extremely short, usually spanning just eleven minutes, yet seem to provide ample development for all of the aforementioned asshole rock stars. This is achieved through excessively amplified character writing, in which all of the band fit a fantastic metal/rock stereotype, all of which are detailed in the band’s (impressively extensive) Wikipedia page. It becomes incredibly obvious, very early on, that Metalocalypse is a show which does not employ any form of subtlety in the satire that it so mercilessly gushes. The opening episode features the band playing a one song gig, for 300,000 fans, in the Arctic Circle; the one song being a jingle for a coffee brand whom the lead “singer” of the band, Nathan Explosion, endorses. They’re “not selling out” however. The kind of humour we can come to expect from Metalocalypse is then showcased at the gig, as Dethklok (gigantic stage and all) are dropped from an enormous helicopter into the gig. The stage misses the drop-
zone, landing in the center of the crowd, whom are then boiled to death by thousands of gallons of magma hot coffee. The concert is a huge success, and Dethklok manage to avoid lawsuits thanks to their “pain waivers”, which release them from
any liability concerning the safety of concert goers. As I mentioned: the satire is not subtle, and the show features Dethklok tackling challenges both vocational and conventional. From learning to cook and feed themselves (largely with alcohol), to celebrity girlfriends and drug addiction; Dethklok face each trial with billions of dollars and a thirst for brutality and black metal. 

It’s not only Metalocalypse‘s depiction of an overfed super-metal group that strikes comedy gold amongst young men, (the primary demographic for the kind of music both celebrated and mocked in the show) Dethklok are much more than a two dimensional TV-Show band. Like some other massively famous fictional bands; the metal heroes have toured (in the forms of their tangible counterparts) and released three full length albums to date. Granted, the actual albums and tour have not achieved as much acclaim or bloodshed as their fictional equivalents; but it’s impossible to deny the level of detail and effort that has gone into the production of three albums which seem to so precisely grasp the imaginary band that has subsequently birthed them. The three albums feature hits from Dethklok such as Murmaider and Go Into The Water (FOR FISH ONLY) , which combine the band’s heavier than life drop C chugs and lyrics glistening with ingenious dark humour:

“Swords? Check. Saws? Check. Clubs? Check. Claws? Check. Hatred? Check. Anger? Check. Mermaid? Check. Murder? Check.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Comedy aside; the albums sound remarkably like they’re supposed to. Production is heavy as murder, and each track sounds undeniably like it has been tailored by Brendon Small in the mindset of his metal obsessed front-man Nathan Explosion.

If you missed out on Metalocalypse when it first aired, I strongly recommend checking it out. The series combines both love for and parodying of a music genre with plenty of comical material to poke fun at, and features some of the most riotously funny and dark endings I’ve seen in comedy. Besides, it features the Dethklok, and their larger than reality persona is more than worth the eleven minutes the first episode will cost you. The only thing funnier in metal is an actual Metallica concert.

Metalocalypse is currently available on Netflix (US) for streaming.

Bring Me The Horizon – Sempiternal

sempiternalIf the name doesn’t sound familiar, the sound of Oli Sykes’ fiendishly captivating shout will. Bring Me The Horizon are the golden boys of metalcore, (I will deliberately use this genre as a label for the band. Regardless of how much debate sub-genres of metal now cause; I’d rather it didn’t get in the way of any initial, musical and natural reactions to the way the album sounds) since their inception in 2004, the Yorkshire fringe toting pretty boys exploded off the bat and became immensely popular locally and with “Kerrang! kids”. Their earlier releases were somewhat generic however, featuring gnarly guitar solos and very common (although still impressive) growls and screams popular at the time.
BMTH’s second outing: Suicide Season (2008) allowed the band, with their impressive following, the space to discover a distinct and fantastically brutal sound, suddenly the guitars carried with them a unique chug, Matt Nicholls’ drums sounded much more impactful and arena fueled and Syke’s screams had become an unholy mixture of growls and flat out shouting. In 2010, it wasn’t just the kids in venues and black skinny jeans paying attention to BMTH. There Is a Hell, Believe Me I’ve Seen It. There Is a Heaven, Let’s Keep It a Secret (2010) was released to critical appraisal as well as the usual swell in the band’s popularity received with each release. This album isn’t just a good metalcore album; it’s a good album, mixing the band’s patented face kicking sound with some fantastic electronica mixing and some perfectly selected collaborators. Sempiternal (2013) then, has a tough act to follow; and the very premise of the album is a frightening project for any musician who would like to make progress in their music. There Is a Hell being such an enormously brave leap in terms of sound and development for the band has placed them in front of an enormous wall of expectation amongst fans and music lovers. Fortunately, Sempiternal brings with it an arsenal of noise, all masterfully crafted specifically to bring this wall down without relent.

There is no denying that Sempiternal is much more the sister album to it’s immediate predecessor than BMTH’s earlier albums, in that it continues to soar into the relatively unexplored sound-space of electro-metal. The album hammers this point forward hard from its opening. We’re re-introduced to the band through an aggressive but pleasantly melodic synth loop in Can You Feel My Heart, already the ambient and atmospheric malice of There Is a Hell can be heard, but in a much more developed and polished way. Much of the album employs this synth driven epic writing, and when the layers of guitars and synth collide alongside a conviction filled shout in the choruses of songs like Sleepwalking and Go To Hell, For Heavens Sake the new BMTH separate themselves from the dozens of unremarkable heavy bands that rival them.       The album is not purely filled with these synth anthems however, the absolute raw power of the band reminiscent of Suicide Season is present in some of the albums heavier, and sometimes stronger tracks. Antivist sounds brilliantly brutal, in all senses of the word, and the album’s flagship song Shadow Moses (Which includes an orchestral introduction derived from the legendary Hideo Kojima playstation title Metal Gear Solid (1998)) hosts what may be the band’s most festival suited chorus yet. Musically, the band seem to improve drastically each time they release a full album in terms of production and technical ability. Guitars are no longer needlessly flashy, every note seems ‘necessary’, and pretentious solos are all but present in this album. The songs may be much more electronically produced, but live presentation has obviously gone into the writing process of them, cleverly accommodating bass lines in support of powerful choruses ensuring that drums assist with the structure of the, at times, complex songs (rather than bullying the rest of the band into thrashing out a track as some metalcore seems to sound). Lyrically BMTH deliver a curious mixture of songs about fame, and the tribulations that accompany this (Seen It All Before) and some tracks tackling faith and seemingly opposing organised religion (House Of Wolves). This writing provides songs with a sense of raw conviction, and plenty of meat to get listeners’ teeth into, having said this though; lyrics, I have found, are a very subjective element of songwriting to interpret (and thus analyse). To people unfamiliar to Bring Me The Horizon, the following statement will sound insane, and perhaps deter readers from listening to the band. Please believe me when I say that the albums prior to Sempiternal are not poor, regardless of their absence of their singer’s  ability to sing. That’s right, in many of Sempiternal‘s 11 tracks (13 if you count the Deluxe version of the album): Oliver Sykes sings (and he’s not bad either). If there was one thing There Is a Hell lacked; it was a consistent sense of voice, some of the more emotionally driven songs needed a singer, and not a stand in (although Josh Franceschi and Sam Carter have provided great vocal samples for BMTH in the past). Oli Sykes’ singing is put to use very carefully alongside his screams in this album; and this combination absolutely dominates the album in finale track Hospital For Souls in a heart wrenching crescendo of convincing and raw passion.

Sempiternal may not be as grand a leap as There Is a Hell was for the Steel City lads, but it takes the voice they had established in the latter and applies it to the stellar level of songwriting that they have acquired through rigorous touring and constantly being thrust into the limelight of modern heavy music. This is what metal sounds like now. Old school Pantera fans will moan, mums will give their radios confused looks as Shadow Moses tears up the insides of their cars; but these guys are going nowhere. bring-me-the-horizon-500x250


Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance – An Exercise in Cutting People into Hundreds of Pieces

Image

It seems essential to establish with gamers and non-gamers unfamiliar to the Metal Gear universe; that this shit is absolutely batshit crazy and has slowly gotten more and more insane over the years. Having said that, Metal Gear games have really made this lunacy their own, and it has become a staple of the series to present players with obnoxiously long (but very beautiful and captivating) cut scenes, convoluted, awkward and at times nonsensical dialogue, and “try hard cool” characters whom will stop at nothing to be the kind of heavy metal badasses you’d expect them to be from the get go. Amazingly, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (I demand that this word be put into the dictionary right now) pulls this off with a spectacular amount of style and finesse; providing players with a very different Metal Gear experience within the familiar, exaggerated version of modern war of Hideo Kojima’s design.

It becomes obvious very early on in MGR that this game is trying extremely hard to be “cool”. We are re-introduced to Raiden, the infamous protagonist from Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001) as he bodyguards an African Prime Minister. Clad in a stylish suit, riding in a limousine, subtle hints at Raiden’s cybernetic characteristics litter the opening sequence. Raiden’s client refers to him as “Mr Lightning-bolt”, this conversation also introduces Raiden’s deadly sword as it rests in a case below his seat. Then the shit hits the proverbial fan; it does this quite dramatically and unashamedly brutally. I’ll leave the plot details out, but let’s just say Raiden is presented with a real gosh dang mess and is forced to clean up this mess with his “tool of justice”. Thankfully, the game’s trying to come across as cool works, and playing as Raiden does actually feel cool because of this. Most other characters are pulled off just as successfully (except for one glaring exception), and players will find themselves absorbed in the obviously corny, but massively enjoyable sense of Japanese stylishness.

As aforementioned, MGR is not your typical Metal Gear game in terms of game play. It feels unfair to label MGR a “Hack ‘n Slash” title, because it feels so much more elegant than that. All of the hacking and slashing in the game flows beautifully, and relies heavily on skill and timing in order to successfully produce the ninja-like results expected of players. This kind of game play is extremely rewarding and little else feels cooler than using quick swordplay to defeat a barrage of enemies against the odds. This level of badassery is hardly spoon-fed to players however, primarily through the lack of any specific block button. Instead of simply blocking and countering attacks, players have to employ the, difficult to master, parry system, in which you must pay very close attention to your enemies movements and attacks in order to put to good use. It’s not all about parrying attacks though, when Raiden builds up enough electrolytes, he can engage “blade mode”, a slowed down version of reality in which he can (quite literally) slice and dice his enemies into hundreds of pieces. Just in case you were wondering, yes, Raiden can do this to more than just enemies, and yes, it really is that fun.

Combat in MGR really thrives the most in what has always been an integral part of Metal Gear games: Boss Fights. The boss fights in this game are almost all spectacular bouts, that are both challenging and stunning to take part in. A mixture of employing ordinary sword skills and well placed quick-time events, accompanied by an often powerfully metal score, makes boss fights in this game feel like they genuinely do matter. Awesome is a word overused in games criticism; but how else am I supposed to describe running vertically down a clock tower, dodging missiles and plasma rays whilst wielding an enormous blade.

Metal Gear games have, since Metal Gear Solid (1998), been pioneering in terms of cinematic gaming experiences. Over the years this has developed into an often very deep and philosophical exploration of human nature (in the context of conflict) through dialogue, at least for video games. Sometimes though, these philosophical discussions can become obnoxious and lost within their own characters’ logic; Metal Gear Rising takes this cooky over analysis aspect of the games to the next level. Without spoiling too much of the game’s ending and story, the game attempts to express a mixture of different political agendas, representing the different perspectives and intentions of leaders and soldiers; and in attempting to do so (at least narratively) falls flat on its face right before the end, when it begins to take itself too seriously…or not…it becomes very difficult to tell. That’s not to say the game is too long either, as with far too many releases today, a couple more hours of game play would not have gone amiss in MGR.

Awkwardly forced political narrative aside, Metal Gear Rising is one of the coolest hack ‘n slash titles to be released for this generation, and its unique blade mechanics make for painfully stylish game play. It really isn’t necessary for players to have any familiarity with the Metal Gear universe in order to just pick up Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (dat word), unsheathe their High Frequency Blade (as cool as it sounds), and have a quick go at being a badass ninja cyborg. An ostentatious, lightning fast and incredibly cool effort.

7.5/10