First, a brief introduction…
The Metal Pigeon blog is a relatively small endeavor. I am a staff of one; the writer, editor, and publisher. I realized long before I wrote my first article here that I couldn’t compete with the amount of content published on a near daily basis by metal sites that had multiple writers on staff. But it hasn’t been a drawback for me, as I’ve always meant for this blog to operate exactly as it has been, with an emphasis on long form opinion and criticism, and quality over quantity. I dabble in reviews for album’s I’m excited about and look forward to, or for bands that come out of the woodwork to surprise me and make me a fan, but I’m not on major metal record company promo lists yet (if ever) and pretty much have to rely on Spotify, YouTube, and yes spending cash to get access to music. No big deal really, but that’s a huge reason why I don’t review every noteworthy new album that comes out, or have something to post about every single day.
But lately, I’ve noticed more than just the usual clutter of metal related subscriber list emails in my inbox. Smaller metal labels — mostly ones I haven’t heard of before — have begun to take notice of this little site, for good reasons I hope, and have started sending me promos of their artists’ new releases. Its been rather flattering as well as very cool, and honestly it all took me by complete surprise. See I have no delusions of grandeur about this blog. Its simply a better, broader, and more visible soapbox for me to voice my opinions, as opposed to the confines of some dusty metal web forum. But I am proud of it, its my own creation and I’m still blown away by the scores of people that keep coming back to read my stuff and comment on it, and in that small way its been a success.
But here’s the dilemma I had: The promos these labels were sending me are for artists I’ve never heard of, let alone listened to before, and wouldn’t it seem just a tad strange that all of a sudden I publish an article about band “x” that YOU’VE likely not heard of before either? All while suggesting that it was something I was eyeballing down the pike months in advance as a possible album to review? I don’t pretend to have my fingers on the pulse of the metal underground, there’s just way too many releases, labels, and bands to even attempt to try. My time-learned philosophy for metal music has been to let the cream rise to the top. If a band is putting out good stuff they will garner interest from the community at large and at some point I will hear about it, check it out myself, and subsequently write something about it. Point is I have no overwhelming urge to be amongst the first ones to listen to and discover a band — that’s something you tend to grow out of, and for good reason.
However, I have a backlog of promos sitting in my inbox, and I feel bad about not having done anything with them. It got real when a French label sent me a physical copy in a nice envelope, with classy French stamps, addressed to The Metal Pigeon. I began to think about how to do something about all these promos, after all these people are spending effort and now actual money to get this out to me! I know how much it sucks to work on something, put it out there, and have it be ignored by everyone. If someone sends me something to listen to, it doesn’t take much of an effort on my part to actually find a moment to listen to it.
So here’s my solution, The Metal Pigeon’s Pigeon Post, a randomly reoccurring feature in which I will listen to these promo copies of releases by artists unknown to me, from small labels you’ve likely never heard of either, and review them with total unabashed honesty — even if what I end up writing is not complimentary. I throw that out there so that if any promotional reps are reading this, you’ll know what you’re getting into. I don’t make a habit of slamming bands whose music I’m not into, and I do try to provide understandable reasons for any criticism I dish out, but I will call a spade a spade if I have to.
So onwards, the premiere edition of The Pigeon Post!
Eclectika – Lure of Ephemeral Beauty:
This didn’t do much for me at first. So maybe its a good thing that I slacked off on the thinking up of a feature to talk about this album in, because time has slightly changed my opinion for the better. Eclectika is essentially a one man project based out of Corcelles-les-Monts, France, apparently a rather tiny hamlet in the middle of the Burgundy countryside. A suitably pleasant environment for creating atmospheric, symphonic, yet minimalist black metal right? In case you were wondering my nice envelope from France had this album in it. Sebastien Regnier is the driving force behind the project, apparently handling most of the lead vocals and all the instruments, but he’s joined by two guest vocalists, the most notable of which is a female singer named Noemie Sirandre whose high operatic vocals are scattered throughout the album. On paper, music like this should be right up my street, and when I listen to these songs I find myself liking a riff here and there, noticing a well done atmospheric moment, and admiring the range of Sirandre.
The problem is that those things occur by themselves, in scattered moments and never at one time altogether. I know I sound like a broken record in my reviews, but quality songwriting trumps everything else! If you don’t have that, then all the cool sonic elements musically and production wise never have a chance to coalesce or gel into anything memorable. The worst offender here is a song called “Cyclic Anagnorisis”, which features a really great atmospheric intro + riff + harsh vocal entrance that gets you thinking that the ceiling is about to shake, but nothing develops. Operatic female vocals come in awkwardly, the riff never deviates into anything interesting, the underlying ill-chosen bass tone is mixed waaaay too loud (so much so that it becomes distracting). The guitar solo halfway through is a surprise and actually interesting, but can we get some ‘heavy’ on these rhythm guitars please? What am I listening to? It sounds like someone playing guitar through a Super Nintendo. I know that low budget productions have their limitations, but when the guitars on Entombed’s late 80’s demos can sound so massive and crushing, I wonder how much a guitar sound like Eclectika’s is marred not by financial limitations as it is by selection of a guitar amp and head.
Its baffling because when Eclectika get it right, as they do on the brutal, punishing “Les Sept Vertus Capitales”, extra crunch on the guitars would add extra power to what is an already awesome series of riffs. On this track, all the disparate elements that make up this band’s sound find their appropriate points of entry and overall place. Unfortunately it comes more than halfway through the album, a revelation that strikes you with an impact of suddenly realizing at age 50 than all the ingredients that make up a hamburger actually taste better when put on top of each other. Argh, okay so maybe I’m being a bit ridiculous, but you can tell that this band has some quality influences, Therion, Paradise Lost perhaps? I’m not sure about their choice of song titles, like “Handicapped Sex in a Mental Orgy”… I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that. A metal band wearing industrial clothes is a terrible look — knock it off. But despite this being a critical review, the band accomplished the difficult task of capturing my attention: I am looking forward to what they do next. My earnest hope is that they work on the simple, yet challenging and demanding craft of songwriting… they’ve got all the ingredients ready, they just have to learn how to cook.
Boneworm – s/t:
Still not sure what to make of this resurgence in throwback doomy/Sabbathy metal that’s been popping up all over the place. The biggest local metal band in my home city of Houston is the recently signed to Napalm Records Venomous Maximus, who write good songs, have built up their following in a smart, savvy way, and yet seem to draw more hipsters to their live shows than actual metal fans. Whatever, its all about attracting an audience right? And they’re succeeding more than any other hard schlepping death metal band in our city’s infernal toilet of a local metal scene.
So maybe Portland’s Boneworm are on to something here. One glowing review on their bandcamp page described their music as “treacle-slow” (is it just me reading that as a Harry Potter reference?), and it certainly is paced similarly to traditional doom metal. But to me this is essentially sludge rock with a fondness for tritones, and when the gang shouted/barked vocals kick in, the whole affair takes on a punky vibe. And that’s when it sounds good —- I was interested in the parts where the vocals almost took on the challenge of delivering an actual hook. The final sections of “The Call” feature some attention grabbing vocal runs with alarming intensity, and I wanted more of that. Its everywhere else where my attention wanes.
I just don’t think I’m cut from the same type of cloth as these guys are when it comes to what inspires me musically and captures my imagination. To each his own and all that, and these guys got my attention with a really politely written email, and I certainly wish them well — but music like this is as exciting to me as doing laundry. On their page their lyrical concept is described with the following statement: “Which is the more terrifying, the intricate words of a sinister hex being cast, or plaintively being told that nothing matters because time is already against you?” Just so you don’t think I’m no fun at all, I actually take the bait for things like that more often than not, I like a band with ambition. But when you’re promising something bold like that, don’t attempt to deliver the goods with a musical approach that makes me go to the Bleacher Report to check out the latest picks in the NFL draft. Its boring. How about some vocal melodies? What if the musical tempo all of a sudden shifted in the middle of one of these fifteen minute long sludge n’ trudge behemoths? Something, anything to generate some interest.
When you’re on the outside looking in, as I suppose many people are with this particular style of rock/metal music, you find yourself wondering what kind of wiring the musicians creating this stuff are built with. Its as if I’m trying to understand an entirely different language. Am I missing something, and if so, I wonder if I could be talked into it? I lay this challenge down for fans of this style of music or indeed for the band and its fans: There’s a comment section below, someone help me see what I’m missing. Of course the thought occurs that maybe this is music meant for inebriated listening experiences —- to which I can only say: Fair.
Boil – aXiom:
This is an interesting one, and perhaps a band that some of you may already know. This is Boil’s third album apparently, a fact I couldn’t find on the Encyclopedia Metallum… which I thought was strange until I started listening to them and realized that this was a blending of progressive metal and alternative rock stylings. The folks at the metal archives can be a choosy bunch I guess. If you absolutely detest anything alt-rock related, you might be put off by singer Jacob Løbner’s tendency to sound as much like Maynard as he does your stereotypical melo-death vocalist. First thought is that I’m surprised at how tolerant I am for that type of stuff these days, especially considering I’ve spent the past decade slowly getting away from anything associated with “alternative” and “modern rock”. Not out of arrogance or elitism mind you, but simply because the deeper you go into the metal world, a lot of rock starts to sound safe, sterile, played-out, and well… boring.
I guess we all come back around to our old interests at some point to indulge some sort of facsimile sweet tooth that we’ve been neglecting. Its why I go back and listen to Garbage’s Version 2.0 album every few years or so. Boil remind me at times of Soilwork, Tool, latter-day Amorphis, and American alternative rock in general — but its a smart mix because Boil focus on songwriting and when they get it right, they REALLY get it right: Cue “At the Center of Rage” and “Heretic Martyr”, two songs where the balance between the metal and alt-rock elements are handled thoughtfully. Løbner’s vocals soar when they need to, lower to a soft croon for delicate moments, only to get surprisingly guttural in moments. The closing cut, “Almost a Legend”, is another highlight with its excellent recurring melodic guitar motif set against a stately tempo, a sort of rhythmic power ballad that ebbs and flows.
Boil are well served by choosing Jens Bogren to helm the production (he’s done Opeth, Soilwork, Katatonia, and Kreator’s Phantom Antichrist just to name a few), as everything sounds clear and well separated, and the vocals are given just the right amount of attention in terms of the right amount of reverb and not overdoing the filters. I suspect this isn’t a band I would’ve found out on my own, because despite all our good intentions, inner bias towards superficial things like a band name, or style of cover art often have a role in determining what we’re willing to spend time checking out. I’m pleasantly surprised at my enjoyment of this record. While its not something that I will be listening to non stop, I can see it being an album I’ll come back to when I’m in the mood for this particular blending of musical styles.
A Hero For the World – s/t:
Winners for the most ridiculous cover art and band name of 2013 thus far, A Hero For the World (that’s a mouthful dammit) deliver a debut album of rather typical modern power metal that is a mix of Firewind style musicality with Dragonforce goofball lyrics. I have a love for the best of this type of stuff, and a very high degree of tolerance for the mediocre versions. This band falls right above that mediocre category — they have promise but are mired in genre stereotypes to a fault. There are some occasional good moments on offer that suggest that on future releases they’ll manage to find their own sound and make a fan of me. Power metal is supported and nourished in Europe, its modern and ancestral home — so one reason to pay attention to the course of A Hero For the World’s career is that they actually hail from the Philippines. I applaud any new power metal band that steps onto the metal stage from a non-European territory, because lets face it, the very idea is not exactly welcome in local metal scenes anywhere in the United States.
I can hear some slight nods to the geographical cultural impact of the Philippines on a ballad like “Free Forever”, which is carried along by a slightly Asian sounding melody that is actually quite appealing, overriding the triteness of the lyrics. Sadly, there are no other infusions of the music of their region, something I’d think would add some uniqueness to their approach. Oh well, there’s nothing wrong with power metal for power metal’s sake, and whomever is the songwriting force in the band certainly has the budding talent to only get better. I think whats telling for me right now is that I really can’t think of anything else to say about this record… there’s nothing glaringly awful about it, but I highly doubt I’ll be coming back for more listens… there’s just better stuff out there in this vein. Keep trying dudes, I’ll check the next one out for sure.