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FatherAlabaster

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Blog Entries posted by FatherAlabaster

  1. FatherAlabaster
    Obsequiae established a very well-defined style on their first record, and they've stuck with it ever since. The Palms Of Sorrowed Kings is their third album, and much like the second one, it offers subtle refinements and expansions of their sound, but no big surprises. If you haven't heard them, it's a great place to start; if you have, you know what to expect.
    That's not a bad thing at all. If you like what they do, you'll like this album. It's chock full of flowing, triumphant medieval-European-flavored melodies and dual guitar interplay, reminding me of certain parts of Opeth's Orchid along with some other 90s melodic death, black, and folk metal. The songs remain generally mid-paced and propulsive, with the occasional blastbeat or meter shift, but nothing outlandish; the expected harp interludes are pretty-sounding, moody without being gloomy. The sense of atmosphere is well-realized and pervasive. A caustic vocal rasp echoes from within, I dunno, monastery walls? Tombs of ancient warriors? Something.
    So, what's different this time around? More complex, layered songwriting and musicianship; more prominent and interesting bass lines; a detailed, full-sounding mix that's a lot more clear than their debut and more powerful than the sterile sound of their last recording; a couple of sections with clean vocal harmonies that fit in nicely, and even a spoken word bit. The details add up to a compelling experience.
    My one real complaint about this band has been how homogeneous their stuff is. Every song tends to sound like a variation on the same couple of ideas, and that can make it all come across as a bit of a gimmick. I'm a fan of melodic metal and I love medieval Western music, so it's a gimmick I've enjoyed. This album doesn't feel like a gimmick. It's not some great departure, but it's not a mere rehashing, either; it's deeper, clearer, more varied and nuanced than their other material. I have a special place in my heart for the energy and rough edges of their debut, and there's plenty of nice stuff on Aria Of Vernal Tombs, but this might actually be the best thing they've done.
  2. FatherAlabaster
    Akercocke has always been an eclectic band. Eighteen years after the release of their debut, they're more eclectic than ever. "Renaissance In Extremis" finds their trademark pastiche of extreme metal, progressive rock, electronic textures, and moody atmospheres at its most varied and dynamic. Yet, for all of its expansiveness, there's still an evident connection with the brutish black/death metal of their early years.
    Longtime fans of the band (especially their previous two albums, 2005's "Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone" and 2007's "Antichrist") should feel right at home. For some newcomers, this album will be an acquired taste. The opening track, "Disappear", provides a fitting introduction to the variety of sounds on display: a thrashy DM gallop gives way to a short arpeggiated section that wouldn't be out of place on a late 70s Rush album, before dropping away into a lull of clean, atmospheric guitars and delicate vocals, and then building back up into melodic lead guitar excursions that swoop and dive through tasty chord changes. Later moments on the album offer dissonant black metal, restrained background keyboards, and even a lonely beach soundscape of birds and surf. In some hands, this kind of mashup could be a recipe for confusion; not so here. The songs are held together by excellent musicianship, a strong sense of pacing, and above all by the conviction with which they're delivered. 
    The production is tight and clear; guitar tones breathe, with more vintage grit than crushing gain. The band is deft and energetic throughout. Engaging riffs are underpinned by thoughtful bass lines and propulsive drumming, sometimes serving as a backdrop for graceful guitar solos that never outstay their welcome. The solos themselves are a highlight of the album, tasteful and technically accomplished to a higher degree than on their previous outings.
    Technicality isn't the focus here, though; the main point of this album is the passion and human drama conveyed by the vocals. Frontman Jason Mendonça's voice is one of Akercocke's most defining features, and his vocals are at their most expressive on this album - snarling growls, blackened shrieks, stentorian bellows, and strained rasps, side by side with haunting cleans, frequently bordering on frailty. The overwrought theatricality of earlier albums has given way to a genuine, sometimes intimate quality that (to my ears, at least) is more mature, and no less powerful, than anything they've done to date. This is partly due to the lyrics; the overt, religious Satanism for which Akercocke is known has been put to the side in favor of songs about loss, personal struggle, and even some kind of redemption. The subject of the lyrics isn't always obvious, but the tension between despair, anger, and perseverance is clearly drawn. It's tempting to wonder what could have inspired this internal strife, and maybe that mystery is part of the appeal.
    "Renaissance In Extremis" won't connect with everyone. The frequency of apparent genre shifts may throw some listeners off, and the vocals can be polarizing. I was introduced to the band through their third album, "Choronzon", and it took me several months of on-and-off listening to finally warm up to the vocal approach. I can also see how fans of some of Akercocke's earlier material might be put off by the comparative fragility of some passages on this album. If you find yourself in any of those camps, all I can suggest is that you give this album a chance to grow. 
    If, on the other hand, you're like me, this album may be the unexpected comeback you didn't know you'd been wanting for the past decade. In terms of texture, tonality, and vocal approach, it picks up where "Antichrist" left off; but it's far more focused, without the miscues and dead weight that made that album feel drab after the masterful "Words...". Akercocke may have been broken up for the past ten years, but they've returned with a vital addition to their catalog, retaining the essence of their sound while pushing their own boundaries. In terms of songwriting and production, this is their "lightest" recording to date; in my opinion, it's also one of their best, and my favorite release so far this year. They lost themselves in the wilderness, and now they're back to tell us all about it. Sit down and listen.
     
  3. FatherAlabaster
    Contrarian is a sometimes international progressive death metal collaboration featuring George Kollias of Nile on drums, and on "To Perceive Is To Suffer", their second full-length, he steps up to perform vocals as well. If you like mid-90s Death, there's a good chance you'll like this album. Comparisons to the early Floridian prog-death scene are obvious from the outset, but this recording is no mere hero worship; it offers a fresh and sincere take on the style, brimming with intricate yet memorable riffs, intelligent harmonies, a strong sense of melodic interplay between the bass and guitars, and a sterling drum performance. The mix is clear without feeling sterile, and the reverb and delay effects on the vocals lend them an atmospheric quality that's uncommon in modern DM. Technical chops are here in abundance, but the focus remains on concise and enjoyable songwriting. The vocals are mostly delivered in a harsh rasp; tonally, it recalls some black metal, but the vocal patterns and pronunciation show a strong influence from vintage Chuck Schuldiner.
    This album isn't flawless. The vocals are a bit lackluster; they fit the music well, both in tone and in placement, and they're certainly competent, but they lack a sense of emotive conviction that could make them truly shine. Kollias' high rasp on this album represents a change in direction from the guttural DM vocals of their debut, "Polemic"; I prefer the new sound, but fans of their earlier work may find it difficult to adapt.
    Also, as an album, it suffers a bit from being too much of a good thing. Nearly every song on here is well-paced and well-structured, but each of them hovers around the same length and tempo; they all kick ass in the same way, with the same mix of elements, and the result is that, despite the catchy and memorable nature of the riffs, no song truly stands out. The exception to this is a somewhat incongruous cover of the first half of "At Fate's Hands", by Fates Warning - a slow, clean tune delivered in a stilted but pleasant sing-song, that breaks up the riff-fest nicely but doesn't really add anything of its own.
    Regardless, this album is very good; I would highly recommend it to fans of old-school prog death, or any DM fan on the lookout for some exceptional melodic guitar work. Much like each individual song, it's short and to the point, clocking in at just under 35 minutes, and it's remained thoroughly engaging for me through many plays over the past several weeks. Get your ears on it:
    https://contrarianmetal.bandcamp.com/music
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