Friday, April 26, 2013

Review: Mena Brinno - Princess of the Night (2012)

Mena Brinno [ Website | Facebook ]
Princess of the Night

Mena Brinno - Princess of the Night
Princess of the Night, the third album from Floridian Gothic metal outfit Mena Brinno, is an amalgam of Gothic and symphonic metal elements intended to capture the attention of fans of such bands as Nightwish and Epica. There are a lot of interesting ideas at work on the album, some of which stretch thin the cohesion between the vocal and musical elements, resulting in a good listen that hints at greater things to come.

Frontwoman and Mena Brinno co-founder Katy Decker exemplifies the idea of a Gothic diva with her seductively dark imagery and undeniable vocal talent. Decker's voice swoops and soars over the course of the album, exposing her polished and classically trained abilities. In the context of Princess of the Night, however, Decker best compliments the music when she restricts her range and accentuates the sultry, alluring elements of her vocal arsenal. The title track and "Serpentine Lullaby" are two of the strongest songs on the album primarily because Decker reigns in her voice to more closely match the brooding and melodic qualities of the songs. Tracks like "Blackmail" and "Sonorous Dream", where Decker goes full opera while the rest of the band sticks to a more Gothic-oriented formula, tend to come off sounding a bit disjointed.

Mena Brinno
As to the music itself, the Mena Brinno sound is the result of a truly collaborative effort as all of the band members provide multiple contributions. For instance the keyboard elements, which are so integral to each and every song, are performed at various points by Decker and multi-instrumentalist Doug Sellers, while Sellers also works with primary guitarist Marius Kozlowski to deliver the bold riffs and sharp solos that form the backbone of the band's sound. Again, the title track stands out for its upbeat riff patterns while the horror-themed keyboard atmosphere of "Serpentine Lullaby" make it an album highlight. "Captive Soul", one of the slower paced songs on the album, bears an '80s melodic rock quality due in large part to the keys and subdued riffs.

The slight vocal-musical disconnect notwithstanding, the only real weakness Princess of the Night has is that it leaves you with the overall impression that the band hasn't quite given all that they've got.  There are a lot of interesting ideas to be heard, particularly on album closer "Cross to Bear" which showcases Decker's voice in a nice, bardic cadence, but despite the revving of the engine Princess of the Night never really gets out of the garage.

Fans of both Gothic and symphonic/operatic metal will undoubtedly enjoy the latest offering from Mena Brinno, but I feel the band's best work is yet to come.

Track Listing
1Princess of the Night4:05
3Sonorous Dream4:00
4Serpentine Lullaby5:26
5Captive Soul4:07
7Drown Within5:10
8Cross to Bear3:36
Total Runtime35:48

Friday, April 12, 2013

Review: Victims of Creation - Symmetry Of Our Plagued Existence (2013)

Victims of Creation [ Facebook ]
Symmetry Of Our Plagued Existence
Cyclone Empire

Victims of Creation - Symmetry Of Our Plagued Existence
Victims of Creation is a band from the island nation of Malta that has been toiling away in their local club circuit since 1994, but until now has yet to release an album of any sort. After many years of lineup turbulence and stylistic experimentation, the band has finally put together their debut release Symmetry Of Our Plagued Existence. Reflective of the Doom/death style of early My Dying Bride and Katatonia, the Victims of Creation sound on display during this album is rooted in oppressively heavy riffs delivered at a plodding pace.

The key word in that opening description is plodding, for each of the five lengthy songs on Symmetry Of Our Plagued Existence rarely exceeds even a moderate tempo. Ultra slow drone Doom is not quite the band's forte, though there are brief periods where the album gets bogged down in a sludgy morass of extended note reverb. The first song, "Chapter XXIII", is perhaps the most up-tempo of the album's tracks. After rainstorm sound effects complete with distant foghorn, guitarists AJ Burd and Daniel Bartolo put together an interesting array of disharmonic riffs over which frontman (and bassist) Rex delivers his grumbling death metal vocals. Over the course of the album, Rex delivers both his death vox and clean, old-school Doom styled singing in about equal proportions. He's competent in each, though his harsh style isn't quite on par with some of the vocalists he's influenced by.

Victims of Creation
Burd and Bartolo frequently break away from their trudging riffs to execute some rather interesting solos. The one embedded in "Chapter XXIII" is quite noodly in style while "The Glorious Deceit" is graced with a nice, soulful solo that hints at a bit of an Iommi influence. The guitarists also put together some nice moods to break up the oppressive atmosphere, such as a very pleasant passage within "Tree of Iniquity" that's built upon wistful leads and a sorrowful bass line from Rex. That particular moment is an album highlight since it detours away from the raw bleakness embraced by the majority of Symmetry Of Our Plagued Existence. Still morose, the little side journeys such as this one contain the band's most genuine expressions of depression.

The final song of the album, "Those Left Behind", best exhibits the process of style evolution that Victims of Creation has undergone in putting together the music for their debut. Like the other four songs, "Those Left Behind" is an epic, meandering composition that contains a number of discernible influences yet doesn't quite feel "whole". The riffs are perhaps the most melodic to be heard on the album, but they're followed by some of the most disharmonic chords the band is able to put together. After five minutes of complete silence (a gimmick that always annoys me), the band returns to wrap up the album with a very quiet, somber guitar piece.

Symmetry Of Our Plagued Existence is an album that will appeal to fans of slow-burning Doom/death as well as to listeners who prefer their music to frequently deviate from established conventions. The album is more oppressive then depressive, though, making it a tough listen for those expecting melody and mood.

Track Listing
1Chapter XXIII12:23
2Tree of Iniquity8:36
3The Art of Despair10:57
4The Glorious Deceit11:41
5Those Left Behind22:27
Total Runtime1:06:04

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Review: Shakhtyor - Shakhtyor (2012)

Shakhtyor [ Facebook | Bandcamp ]
Cyclone Empire

Shakhtyor - Shakhtyor
Sporting a name that translates to "miner" in Russian, the German trio Shakhtyor exhibit a strong grasp of Doom metal songcraft on their self-titled debut album. Comprised of only four songs, the album - which is entirely instrumental - nevertheless provides over forty minutes of monstrous, post-metal influenced Doom ideally suited for those occasions when stress relief requires a soundtrack.

When describing Shakhtyor, epic is a good place to start. All four songs run over seven minutes in length, with the final two tracks both surpassing the 10-minute mark. The epic qualities of of the album aren't limited to just the duration, but the band's massive sound as well. Elements of Black Sabbath, Ufomammut, and Electric Wizard are blended together with Shakhtyor's unique riff patterns to produce a sound that is equal parts heavy, psychedelic, and mesmerizing. Guitarist Christian Herzog, bolstered by the clearly defined contributions of bass player Christian Müller, provides the centerpiece of the Shakhtyor style with fuzzy riffs that shift and swell among seemingly countless variations and patterns. Each song contains a hoard of variety as riffs and tempos are exploited almost to the point of exhaustion before Herzog and Müller abruptly alter their angle of attack. "E. Jasper", the leadoff track, finds the band tipping their hand right out of the gate as the song travels from an echoing guitar tone, through a forest of post-metal tremolo, into a valley of excessively plodding notes, to finally crest a peak of good ol' fashioned chugging riffs. The song quite literally has it all, with a dollop of cymbal thrown in for good measure.

The band doesn't reveal their entire bag of tricks on the first track, thankfully. "Hanschuhmann" adopts a much more sinister tone than the preceding song, blending many traditional Doom elements together with a touch of feedback noise. Herzog's leads are much crisper here, though the song certainly doesn't lack distortion. Shakhtyor delves deeper into psychedelic territory on "K.I." where the hypnotic qualities of riff repetition are used with effect. The leads and solos, which have a distinctly  mind-altering quality to them, are stirring. The album wraps up with "Паук Риба", a song that finds Müller taking a greater role in the mix to bookend the track.

Even if instrumental albums aren't quite your bag, and to be perfectly honest they're not really mine, Shakhtyor is still an album that demands attention from Doom and Stoner fans. I was pleasantly surprised by how accessible the album was given the sheer amount of variation each song holds. Although originally released by the band in 2012, the Cyclone Empire label is set to re-release the album along with a special vinyl edition containing a bonus track. Keep an eye out for it.

Track Listing
1E. Jasper8:55
4Паук Риба11:02
Total Runtime40:43

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Review: Curse the Son - Klonopain (2011)

Curse the Son [ Facebook | Bandcamp ]

Klonopain, the debut full-length album from Connecticut's Curse the Son, is a retro-Doom enthusiast's dream. The bearded trio who comprise Curse the Son (Ron Vanacore - vocals/guitar, Cheech - bass, and Charles Nicholas - drums) proudly incorporate the juiciest elements of Sabbath-inspired groove and Sleep-induced drone to craft a nod-worthy tribute to the power of the riff.

Vanacore's heavily distorted guitar forms the backbone of the Curse the Son sound. Far from flashy, his style is centered upon delivering groovy, melodic riffs without the distractions of solos or unnecessary theatrics. Now and again, such as during the final minutes of both "Unbearable Doer of Wrong" and "Hemicrania Continua", Vanacore adds a bit of a post-metal sound to the mix as yet another means of keeping the groove fresh and interesting. The title track, an epic instrumental journey brimming with interesting synthesized effects, still never loses the hypnotic groove that is the bedrock of each song on Klonopain.

The pacing on the album varies between the head-bobbing "Unbearable Doer of Wrong" to the almost painful, glacial pace of "Globus Hystericus". Even the slowest and seemingly most disoriented of the songs (I'm looking at you, "Y?") never give up entirely on the warm rhythms that Vanacore has painstakingly perfected, making Klonopain an appealing album from start to finish.

With the guitar featured so prominently in Curse the Son's arsenal, it's almost too easy to lose track of Cheech and Nicholas. Like Vanacore, neither possesses a style that is overpowering or flashy yet both ably display their mastery of Curse the Son's formula. Nicholas abstains from flooding the mix with the amount of cymbal one typically associates with Doom these days, but his presence is nevertheless formidable. Cheech tends to blend with Vanacore's massive riffs, but there are a couple of points on the album ("Unbearable Doer of Wrong" and "Pulsotar Bringer", in particular) where he's offered the opportunity to rumble out a few clearly audible notes.

Although four of the seven songs on Klonopain were originally released in 2009 as Curse the Son's debut EP Globus Hystericus, they've been reworked in such a way for the full-length that there's practically no way to distinguish them from the three newer compositions. The end result is an album of quality Doom in the old-school tradition, free of any sludgy infiltration, with traces of post-metal intrigue.

Track Listing
1Unbearable Doer of Wrong5:26
2Hemicrania Continua5:39
3Anullus of Zin6:26
6Globus Hystericus5:50
7Pulsotar Bringer7:17
Total Runtime48:26