Twilight – III: Beneath Trident’s Tomb

March 18, 2014 –

twilight-iii_beneath_tridents_tomb

Commercial black metal. Oh dear.

Advertising agencies would like us to believe that Twilight is a “black metal supergroup”; but looking at the list of musicians involved, there isn’t much to do with black metal, let alone a noteworthy record within that genre. If there was a desire to be accurate, the band would be billed as “a group of musicians without much in common, to whom we rented a studio and told them to make something that we could promote”. It’s here the band succeeds…but not anywhere else.

The only thing (fit for print) in my mind while listening to this was: “How long does it take for something experimental to become established and lethargic?” Really, there is nothing new on this album. Noise rock was done in the 80s, stoner rock spawned as well, caveman moshcore flourished in the 90s, and linear, monotonous, American “black metal” has insulted eardrums for over a decade. We all know what these genres sound like. Mashing them together and adding constipated vocals does not constitute a new art form. It is not experimental or new. Nor is it worth releasing.

The most disheartening aspect of this release is that most of the musicians involved are talented to above-average degrees. Unfortunately, none of it comes through on this release. They (and us) would be better served heightening their unique take on their own art form, instead of limply moving to this unremarkable, bland middle-ground…but that doesn’t pay the bills.

Strangelight – 9 Days

September 24, 2013 –

strangelight-9_daysThe spin on this one is that it was recorded in nine days, so they gave it the mentally catchy title. Sounds very indie rock, no? That’s exactly what this is. Strangelight sounds like a more technical cross between Mudhoney and Sonic Youth.

In fact, I’m baffled as to how this made it into a metal distribution list. It’s indie rock. There’s not even appreciably more distortion. It’s nicely done, with reasonable guitar melodies and vocal support, but it’s highly repetitive.

9 Days also illustrates another problem with indie rock which is that all of it expresses a single mood, which is a kind of depression mixed with wistfulness. I guess it seems profound to Tori Amos fans, but to me it just sounds like people who haven’t yet learned to approach life like they’re alive.

Strangelight do have some interesting influences. In particular, there seems to be an affinity for both British electro-pop and the stream of guitar bands from the 1970s that predated the hard rock and metal explosion. Nothing here is bad, just not particularly relevant.

The Ocean – Pelagial

May 13, 2013 –

the_ocean-pelagialThe Ocean are usually described as “post-metal,” but a musical analysis shows that it’s from another tradition: progressive punk.

Remember that explosive trend from the middle 1990s? It’s back, just with more metal-styled riffs, but it’s very far from metal and calling it “post-metal” would only make sense if its origins were in metal. Progressive punk realized the limits of minimalism and so expanded the genre with more complex song structures, more use of harmony and key, and in other words, imported a lot of stuff from rock and the rising indie rock scene. In this way, post-hardcore, progressive punk, early metalcore, indie rock and even shoegaze were linked together by a common origin.

Pelagial resembles an instrumental jam between Led Zeppelin, Fugazi, Jawbreaker and later King Crimson thrown together in a musical blender. It’s jazzy, for the most part light and open, and when it gets dark, it’s dark through repetition of minor key phrases in the type of dissonant drone favored by indie bands. It builds intensity like an alternative rock band with melodies collapsing on themselves, layer in opposition. Like post-hardcore bands, The Ocean delights in putting jarringly different phrases together in the same key, which creates the “carnival music” effect for which metalcore and tech-deth are known.

The cool thing about this album is that its concept shows in the music. The ocean is designed in layers, so why not design an album in layers, getting heavier as you go deeper in the virtual ocean in your mind? That part is kind of cool, sort of like the Mastodon idea to ape Moby-Dick or some of the other nifty conceptual stuff to come out of alternative metal lately. It doesn’t get heavier per se as much as more active and more droning, with lots of use of “emo chords” to create a sense of constant suspense grinding against the narrow intervals used for the progressions.

Compare this to some progressive punk, and then its originator:

Notice the similarity of chord voicings and how they’re used in progressions, and how many of those progressions use similar melodies, and how those tend to fit together in exactly the same way. It’s a more complex, newer generation of the older, which is represented here in its 1990s and 1980s forms, respectively.

To the experienced listener, this will sound like Pelican or Kyuss with a bit more imagination applied, but it’s basically indie rock with a few metalisms thrown in. That’s not bad, at all, and in fact this is above average indie rock with far above average instrumental skills, but there’s nothing here to appeal to a metal fan.