Thursday, February 26, 2009

Swallow The Ocean - Swallow The Ocean

Artist: Swallow The Ocean
Album: Swallow The Ocean
Label: Forgotten Empire Records
Year: 2008

01. Sirens Mourning
02. Amphibian
03. Dancing Upon A Sunken Vessel
04. Latitude
05. Archive
06. Hands Folded, Eyes To The Sky
07. Sink Or Swim
08. It's Safe To Sleep Now

The instrumental and stoner/sludge musical arena isn’t a crowded one but its got its own number of very big fish. Guys like ISIS, Neurosis, and Sleep have laid down the very foundation that makes much of this genre what it is today, and for the most part, still drive it. Epic songs full of atmosphere, musicianship, depth, amazing sounscapes, and blow-your-mind riffs. Yorktown Heights’ own Swallow the Ocean enter the genre with gauntlets thrown and full of confidence. And for damned good reason: their debut is heavy and extremely atmospheric. They’re listed as “atmospheric sludge” on Metal Archives, whatever that is. Whoever categorized them as that forgets that most bands in this genre can have that very same title and not be sludgy at all.

Their self-titled debut Swallow The Ocean is insanely heavy. Pounding riffs, soundscapes as big as the Grand Canyon, insightful lyrics. The album weighs in at barely over 27 minutes over 8 tracks, not nearly enough time to wrap your head around these guys and their sound. Their lyrical focus is apparently Christian although, I’ve paid less attention to the lyrics themselves and more how the vocals meld seamlessly into the music as a whole. It shows that they’ve taken great care in crafting their sound while not trying to sound like imitators of ISIS or Neurosis which undoubtedly will happen in this genre — it happens to almost every band playing this atmospheric heavy epic metal.

But how does it sound?

Awesome, that’s how. The album starts off with a 19 second instrumental intro, fairly standard for albums like this. Then you’re straight off into track two, Amphibian. Starting off on the right foot, it’s a pounding guitar riff sweetly laced with bass drum and heavy bass. Bass heavy enough that you’re hearing the strings hit, this isn’t something you get everyday as most bands back filter bass lines to simply be a part of the overall rhythm or timing but not these guys. Will Zuconni is a fantastic bassist, we need more guys like him. Amphibian’s lyrical focus is an interesting one. The song starts out about men evolving into amphibians and growing gills and becoming one with the ocean then starts off into ascendancy to Heaven but being turned away, probably because man grew gills. It sounds like a devolution story to atone for sins, but man seems to not want to go (ed. - I’ve gotten a note from Rory in STO that the lyrics are not Christian in nature as I originally had written) But the music, it’s amazing. Throbbing bass the entire time, spotlighted in the bridge segue halfway through, and a monotone but driving lead guitar rhythm. This is a great way to start an album if you ask me, it pulls no musical punches instrumentally and widens the soundscape during the bridge with a beautiful synth piece that’s backgrounded.

Track three, Dancing Upon A Sunken Vessel, starts out with some mournful bells and sounds much like an old wharf or dock may, lending to the overall theme of the band’s name and their oceanic premise. They then interlace the bells more and more with guitars and high hats, ramping up to the song itself. This song continues track two’s heavy but almost somber feel with heavy riffs and non-stop high hat action, intermixed with some serious blastbeats that are set further into the soundscape’s background. Vocal styles sway from typical growls to some heavy/soft mixes. For the song’s laid back mid-tempo, it all works. The song gives you a feeling of the ebb and flow of the ocean itself, segues slowing you down as you ebb back and forth from heavy riffing and throbbing bass. The next track Latitude continues this formula by actually continuing the previous song’s outro with a reverse mix and a shrill continuation of a high chord, it’s a short segue track to number 5. I would say that Sink or Swim ramps up the tempo but it’s a solid mid-tempo song spotlighted with a great drum-centric intro straight into heavy vocals and the same/similar guitar riff that’s been a constant current throughout the previous tracks. There’s a definite pattern to the songs but I wouldn’t say they’re formulaic but I can see that Swallow The Ocean planned these songs as a continuous listening session, something that takes a lot of balls and planning.

After track two, Amphibian, it seems like the lyrics of each successive song revolve around a never-ending battle with Satan and/or sin. However, the lyrics of Sink or Swim seem to revolve around the lack of a savior but choosing to roaming the sea floor for eternity. Since I don’t have a printed sheet of the lyrics around and Amphibian’s lyrics are the only ones officially published, I’m taking guessing at lyrical themes here. I would’ve gone for a more Leviathan/Kraken villain but that may be too cliche for this nautical-themed album.

Hands Folded, Eyes to the Sky, track seven, is definitely the most laid back track on the album. For about two minutes. Then it’s back into pummeling riffs and the heavy high hat action although the bass lines have definitely taken a bigger backseat in the latter half of the album. Fast forward to about 4 minutes and you’re treated to more up-tempo guitars where the band really shines on the culmination of the entire album, it’s definitely a climax that you’d want to leave the listener with. Huge riffs with vocals all over the place, they lay it all on the line in their oceanic battle. The final track, It’s Safe To Sleep Now, is the somber and appropriate outro to an album that never gets too fast and heavy but stays right in the middle of too slow and face-shredding fast. Two blissful minutes of synths and feedback.

Overall, the musicianship on this entire album is astounding for a young band. This post-metal progressive sound melded with a great theme envelope the listener, giving them an idea of what a bad ass metal ocean may sound like at any given time. They’ve got a huge sound that lacks a lot of distortion or feedback but still manages to sound huge, tsunami huge. Great segues with slow and cool to blasting riffs that never teeter too far on the speed gauge. If you’re a fan of guys like Rosetta (and you damn well should be) or ISIS, you will pick up Swallow The Ocean’s self-titled debut from Forgotten Empire Records and feel right at home sonically. I highly recommend this album. -by

Monday, February 23, 2009

East Of The Wall - Farmer's Almanac

Artist: East Of The Wall
Album: Farmer's Almanac
Label: Forgotten Empire Records
Year: 2008

01. Meat Pendulum
02. Winter Breath
03. Century Of Excellence
04. Switchblade Knife
05. Clowning Achievement
06. Unwanted Guest I
07. Unwanted Guest II
08. I Am Crying Non Stop Hysterically


Think of your favorite hole-in-the-wall venue. Most likely you have one in mind, usually a place you have to access by way of a dirt parking lot in the rear of some dilapidated building. If you’re really lucky you know of a nearly-collapsed house or something that needed condemning years ago. Graffiti splashes the walls indiscriminately and musty sagging couches are placed randomly in case someone needs to pass out in the midst of the chaos typical of the place. This is the type of establishment where I imagine New Jersey’s East of the Wall thrives while attempting to do damage with sound waves.

Based on my experience with the band’s debut LP Farmer’s Almanac, I love to imagine the experience of seeing them live. For a band this newly established, there is no doubt a small hometown crowd of close friends and fellow rock hooligans whom they can count on to raise hell at local gigs. Elsewhere though, they’ll be booked at the type of scumbag den of iniquity described above. The beauty of these places is that everyone who shows up might not know who the band is that night, but regardless, they’re ready to throw down. Small groups of friends trickle in prepared for anything, tall boys have been ordered in advance for people after phone calls to confirm their arrival. East of the Wall sneaks equipment in through the back door, deceivingly quiet given the army of guitars they will soon unleash on the increasingly drunk crowd of rabble that has shown up that night.

The band makes very loud and very skilled instrumental noise. The immediate comparison I would make is a mix of Les Savy Fav with '90s math rock extraordinaire Faraquet. There might be some confusion here, as it’s an odd marriage. The two don’t share much in common, but they do both have a very skilled and fast paced style; the only difference (which Farmer’s Almanac very aptly picks up) is LSF’s ability to spit fire and brimstone while maintaining a catchy style. Every track on the album is simply "Track [Number]" in title, which doesn’t detract from the album’s punch somehow. East of the Wall makes a talented brand of throaty spit-and-scream metal, a fast paced rush of very talented high-speed guitars over thundering drums and a crunching baseline. I can picture the moment the lights go out and the band slaps their strings to create the album-opening wave of ambient noise, hinting at the mayhem to come.

As Track Two thunders in, the band’s intentions become clearer. The wall of sound lasts a few seconds before the Faraquet comparisons become obvious. For several tracks the band alternates epic clashes of guitars and drums with sudden changes of pace into math-rock styled guitar solos. There is no central structure, no "chorus" or "verse." The band charges through transition after transition with a method that implies madness but screams of practice and talent. At times the sound is very much like the more instrumental aspects of mid-'90s dischord bands. Several tracks into the album, the group finds its footing, trading in some of the more capable and calculating guitar/drum riffs for a more adrenaline-based ferocity. At these points I picture the crowd at any given show getting restless. They’ve heard the intro and loved the punctuated fast-paced guitar exchanges. Track Three introduces a mood shift, and with bottom-shelf tequila and that-night’s-special-beer, any below-ground venue would start seething. Even on first listen, anyone will notice that Track Three is a standout, a blister-paced and draconian-sounding mash of dark energy. This is the track with the explosive parts during which people would start to lose their shit as the drinks get caught up with the raw energy of the band. People begin hurling themselves around with eyes closed and arms flailing, beers start hitting the roof after being haphazardly thrown in a fit of emotion. East of the Wall are best suited for this exact moment, they excel at drawing out that peak-of-a-solo mood and transitioning into something even angrier rather than downshifting.

The only downside of the album is exactly what would make it great to see played live. So talented and ferocious are some of the sounds on the album that the listener sometimes feels out of place while walking along or driving down the road. This is music meant to be experienced in a drunken fit, sweat and spit flying everywhere. You want to see the two friends everyone calls Thing 1 and Thing 2 dramatically heaving their empty Mickey’s Malt Liquor ‘grenades’ at the wall as people are slammed into the stage at the feet of so much energy. You can’t replicate this in your home, however, and that’s the weakness of the album. It’s the kind of weakness East of the Wall should be proud of. - by Brendan Kraft (


Monday, February 16, 2009

Hotel Hotel - The Sad Sea

Artist: Hotel Hotel
Album: The Sad Sea
Label: Silber
Year: 2008

01. From Harbour
02. The Dirac Sea (Low Tide)
03. Mary Celeste
04. Equator in the Meantime
05. The Shoreline Disappeared
06. The Dirac Sea (High Tide)
07. The Captain Goes Down with the Ship (Sinking)
08. The Captain Goes Down with the Ship (Drowning)

‘The Sad Sea’ is the long awaited sophomore album from Texas post rockers Hotel Hotel. Formed in 2005, the band released their acclaimed debut ‘allheroesareforeverbold’ before their drummer, and the real force & mastermind behind the bands formation, mysteriously disappeared at La Guardia airport on April 11, 2007; not having been seen since. You might think that this episode cast an aura of disillusion over the remaining members and you’d be right- with the band going on a year-long derailment. A chance meeting with a guy dressed up as a sailor who was on an expedition to discover the real “Marie Celeste” convinced them to sign up to the adventure and glory to be had on the high seas and the rest is history.
The ‘Sad Sea’ vividly documents the tale of this fateful voyage from Galveston, Texas to the coast of Haiti during the thick of hurricane season. Sprawling compositions see swathes of acoustic, reverb-drenched ambience form a captivating blanket of sound that washes over the ears with the dynamic buoyancy of a stirring ocean illuminated by moon-light. Patience is the key to carving out an epic and emotionally unhinging soundscape and patience is a quality Hotel Hotel demonstrate in spades. They painstakingly work their instruments up to vibrant crescendos and then reign them back in just as meticulous fashion, but unlike the more popularized chief’s of the post-rock movement that crystallize such bursts of energy within single tracks, Hotel Hotel do this on an album-wide scale.
Never brash or hasty, the group perfects the art of elongating tones in a way that wrings out every last drop of emotional resonance. Within such deep and spacious sonic tapestry’s, twinkling melodics shimmer quixotically over a molasses of gloomy deep-set drones, eerie atmospherics and vertebral percussion. After a dreamy start laden with drifting ambience and hazy sonics, proceedings burst into life during ‘Marie Celeste’ as the friction of industrial textures start to engage with ominous atmospheric tones. It is very much like a solitary vessel has journeyed into the deep abyss of the ocean and has been greeted by a storm cloud from which escape is in the hands of the gods. Follow-up, ‘Equator in the Meantime (black Sabbath)’ is testament to the ultra engaging dynamics of Hotel Hotel wherein they form a shroud of melancholic sound in the vein of an opulent Grails meets Explosions in the Sky at their most introspective. A grandiose cinematic swirl is whipped up to envelop listeners like a whistling wind whilst reflective yet haunting melodic tones tinged with a sense of romantic desperation provide a deep and entrancing mysticism. The whole package bobs and sways on a super dense and emotional current that moves across subtle but nevertheless entrancing peaks and valleys. The poignancy of closer ‘the captain goes down with the ship (drowning)’ showcases the crux of the bands abilities to carve out powerful messages through sound. Being a perfect encapsulation of the albums mystical and entrancing nautical theme, the group strike at the very fabric of the anguish and hopelessness of being caught out at sea-weaving through a repertoire of meticulously crafted micro-crescendos in which melodious tones shimmer with a wry energy as deeply textural tones and military percussion play out beneath.
Across its 8 tracks, ‘The Sad Sea’ proves to be a tangibly executed, cinemascope soundscape to an unmade film- its dulcet tones narrating a story of suffering, solitariness, anxiety and deep pensiveness but with a shimmering veneer of hope that prevails throughout. If you are after top-draw ‘real’ post-rock that shuns the immediacy of more commercially minded bands in favour of a brand of subtle progression that has melancholic and morose characteristics deeply intertwined within its rich sonic texture, then ‘The Sad Sea’ is for you. (KS)
For fans of: Grails, EITS, Godspeed, Esmerine. -by (

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Kontakte - Soundtracks To Lost Road Movies

Artist: Kontakte
Album: Soundtracks To Lost Road Movies
Label: Drifting Falling
Year: 2008

01. Pacific Coast Highway
02. Motorik
03. Ghosts Of Electricity
04. Life's Road Movies
05. Sterile World
06. Two And A Half Thousand Miles
07. Pacific Coast Highway (Twelve Remix)
08. Motorik (Matt Bartram Remix)
09. Ghosts Of Electricity (Electric Loop Orchestra Remix)
10. Life's Road Movies (Winterlight Remix)
11. Sterile World (Polysicness Remix)
12. Two And A Half Thousand Miles (Oppressed By The Line Remix)


Named after Stockhausen’s experimental work, Kontakte have begun to put my faith back in the post-rock genre just as it started to wane. They make songs and sounds with sweet melodies that swirl around your brain without becoming annoying. They know when to pick it up and change it so that the formulas make you want to tune in without turning off. Admittedly, some of Soundtracks to Lost Road Movies is a bit familiar, but it’s recognisable in a comforting and reassuring rather than mundane or predictable way.

Plus they’re a brave lot as the second half of the album is a remixed repeat of the first - with the remodelling coming from a host of Drifting Falling label-mates (clicky). I say brave as some of the remixes verge on outdoing the originals. This is especially the case with the two below: Electric Loop Orchestra’s reworking of ‘Ghosts of Electricity’ has definitely got the potential to send you psychotic with its weird reversals; and the Winterlight remix of ‘Life’s Road Movies’ is utterly beguiling and beautiful and could well be one of my tracks of the year. Listen to both loud.

People, this is really very good.

Official Site