Monday, March 11, 2013

HEAVY FRIENDS ALBUM ROUNDUP: Nails / Cult of Luna / Seven Sisters of Sleep

(Heavy Friends is the segment on YPOIW where Robby talks about new music in the world of underground metal and hardcore. Sometimes album reviews are done on this segment, but today we're gonna try something different: I will be doing short, but substantive reviews of three recent metal/hardcore releases - a three-for-one, basically. We'll see how this goes!)

Nails - Abandon All Life

Nails certainly proved just how far they were willing to take the extremity of metallic hardcore in 2010 with Unsilent Death. Being that I was new to the world of underground hardcore at the time, it was a huge shell shock to me personally. But even as I've acclimated myself to this genre more and more over the years since then, that album, and Nails in general, still seem so ahead of the curve when it comes to finding that new peak of intensity and volume in heavy music. Even though Unsilent Death is only a 13 minute long album, Nails had a hell of a lot to live up to in whatever they would bring to the table for a follow up.

With all that being said, I'm ecstatic and almost surprised at just how painfully well Abandon All Life turned out. That "peak" that Unsilent Death established in sound, volume, and brutality -- yeah, all of that is just about null and void because Abandon All Life is bar none one of the loudest albums I've ever heard. The guitar tone is perfect for what Nails is doing, it's extremely thick and beefy without being muddy at all and it avoids the stereotypical "buzzsaw" guitar tone that every Entombed-worshiping hardcore band is using nowadays. And the way the guitars are mixed, they sound so loud they might as well be making static and feedback while they're thrashing about. Frontman Todd Jones is also sporting a slightly different vocal style on this LP, it's slightly more mid-high pitched than his guttural roar on Unsilent Death. I think it adds a slightly more distinctive color to his voice, and suits his music just as well.

Alot of what makes this album continuously entertaining to listen to is Kurt Ballou's magnificent-as-usual production. Whenever this guy gets behind the boards you just know you're gonna get a great sounding record, but Abandon All Life has easily one of the grittiest, heaviest sounds he's ever crafted for a band. And the songwriting is pretty great to match, with a couple exceptions these tracks almost never stagnate on any single section or riff. Most of the time they are everchanging like "God's Cold Hands", which goes from an intense buildup to a pissed the fuck off d-beat roar, brings itself to a grindcore-like flourish, and soon comes the obligatory, but tasteful, breakdown. When this band does choose to take things at a mid or slow pace, it's equally winning; "Wide Open Wound" has the most instantly catchy riff, and hell might be the best song overall on the whole album; and the whopping 5-minute closer "Suum Cuique", while being maybe the most monotonous song on the album, really takes advantage of its heaviness and becomes the closest thing to sludge or doom metal this band has gotten to. It's an extremely winning point on the album, and a hell of a way to close it out.

Abandon All Life, while being a brisk 17 minutes, manages to pack in everything that made its predecessor great and throw in so much more. And the end result is a much more potent, consistently engaging, and innovative album. When I say it's "innovative", I'm not trying to say Nails is reinventing the wheel or anything; what I am saying is that they are pushing hardcore and metal to its deepest and darkest limits in such a way that they stand out from all of their peers and make more worthwhile music too. I have no idea how Nails are going to push this genre any more forward next time, but for now the bar is raised, and Nails are right there on top.
Score: lite 9

Cult of Luna - Vertikal

Cult of Luna is a name as established as the likes of bands like Isis and Pelican in the discussion of atmospheric sludge metal, or as some would call it "post-metal". This subgenre of metal has paved the grounds for some of the most artful, and to me some of the best music that underground metal has to offer. And Cult of Luna certainly aren't rejected from this, they've definitely made their mark in this sound with albums like Salvation and Somewhere Along the Highway being highly regarded pieces of music for fans of this kind of stuff. After five years since their last album, people were expecting something huge from Cult of Luna in 2013, and for some that hope was definitely realized with Vertikal. For me though, it's just a different story altogether.

For me Vertikal just does not advance this genre from the likes of what many bands before them have already done, and it doesn't advance the band beyond what they've already done either with albums like Somewhere Along the Highway. And I wouldn't even say it's for a lack of trying, Vertikal does come out of the gate with some additions including some electronics on a number of tracks, and this band's longest piece of music yet at nearly 19 minutes. Unfortunately that track, "Vicarious Redemption", just does not have the substance and lengthy ideas to justify such a hefty run time in my opinion, and the inclusions of electronics on this album are just silly at best. It's truthfully so cringeworthy I don't even want to explain it.

Every other aspect of this album is pretty good, but honestly nothing really special or groundbreaking for the band to make the long wait for this album worth it. Even this album's best tracks like "In Awe Of" just sound like leftovers from an album like Eternal Kingdom, and there's nothing on Vertikal that even reaches the emotional heights of that album. Like I said, it's definitely not a bad piece of work, and if you're not already acclimated to atmospheric sludge and want a gateway drug into it, this album might just enthrall you. But for someone like me who's already familiar with everything this band has done before and all the other notable music in this band's genre, it's just so-so for me. It's a roller coaster I've been on dozens of times, and I know all the moves it's going to make before they're even made.
Score: lite 6

Seven Sisters of Sleep - Opium Morals

Seven Sisters of Sleep are a local (well, local to me) band that I've been following for a good while and have impressed me with their growth and their proficiency in hardcore-infused sludge. And they're really gaining a fairly big following, so much so that Opium Morals, while being their sophomore album, is their debut full length for legendary hardcore label A389 Recordings (following a self-titled EP released through them last year). That EP they dropped last year featured a tremendous boost in sound quality, production, performance, and just the overall package of what SSOS had to offer, as compared to their self-titled debut full length in 2011. I had only hoped that that EP could've been a full length, and with Opium Morals it seems like we've gotten just that. This band doesn't make the incredible leap in quality that they did from their first album to their EP, rather they have simply taken the sound and vibe of that EP and put that into a full length context.

And really, that's what I wanted in the first place, so you could say that I'm satisfied. Which I am of course, but if there is a gripe that I have with Opium Morals, it's that it is just a great, solid sludge metal/hardcore album, that it is just consistent with the quality of last year's EP. Unlike Nails, SSOS don't make the leaps and bounds to up the anti of the ferocity of their sound or performance on this LP. But like I said; it's an incredibly solid, heavy, and misanthropic piece of work, definitely a win as far as this style of music is concerned and another win for the band. I just hope that Opium Morals is more of a stepping stone towards the greatness Seven Sisters of Sleep can accomplish into the future, rather than a true culmination of their best efforts.
Score: strong 7/lite 8

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