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I have brought up the name Daughters on several occasions here on this website; in both album reviews as well as in forums. They are an industrial rock band whose 2018 album You Won't Get What You Want is by far one of the finest displays of apocalyptic imagery through noisy and alien production, and surely one of the best albums to be released in all of the 2010s. That was the feeling that I got when I listened to Shame, the newest album from this industrial metal band.
And I did enjoy this album a fair bit, I do have to admit that the messy production is both a benefit and a flaw in the overall scheme of things. For starters, Shame is a much slower moving album than You Won't Get What You Want is. The grooves that incorporate "Delco", "The Shadow of God's Hand" and "All We've Ever Wanted" are far more in tune with something doom or sludgy. While songs like "Life in Remission" and "Dispatches from the Gutter" are much more aggressive and leaning towards hardcore punk. Everything here is mixed really muddy and distorted to create an uncomfortable atmosphere; one that is brimming with pessimism and self-loathing. But the vocals are paramount to the atmosphere and they have quite a drastic change of cleanliness to them throughout the record. While "This Won't End Well" and "The Shadow of God's Hand" are pretty good, the opener "Delco", as well as "Life in Remission" don't feel as pronounced.
While this may be a part of the point with the instrumentals sounding as slapdash and rough as they do, I still feel like the vocals should have served of greater importance than they ended up doing. Meanwhile, the heavier sections that incorporate blast beats on "Life in Remission" and "I Am the Cancer" are meshed so close together that it sounds like proverbial nothing. As a result, the bass becomes lost, but I'm not sure it needs to be as fruitful and progressive as I typically like. When the distortion of the mix is so important to a record's appeal, and for it to work as well as it does here, you almost wish for it to stay in the vein more frequently, rather than returning to relatively cleaner tones during the pure punk sections.
I like this. I like this a fair bit actually. The low quality production is something that is very reminiscent of some of my favourite hardcore punk albums by Black Flag, Rites of Spring or even Hüsker Dü. But I am also aware of what hardcore punk is capable of in the 2010s and beyond, and Daughters have proven that you can have clean production and yet make it sound so alien. Uniform are close to that, and should not bow their heads with this project.
Kentucky gets touted as the "breakthrough" release for Panopticon but I have to say it has taken me a good near decade to get to grips with it and its combination of folk, bluegrass and black metal elements. Without going into too much detail, if the album cover doesn't give it away, the subject matter for the album is the labour struggles in mining in (fittingly) Kentucky with a heavy focus on the film-documentary Harlan County, USA from which many samples are used to great effect.
It is a challenge to get the balance of samples right in record. They all too easily clash in my experience and can quite quickly become a distraction that detracts from the music itself. However, Panopticon give a masterclass in the application of the samples here, using the black metal elements to give them a real sense of drama and the bluegrass and folk elements to underline the real human aspect to the stories also. As such it is an album you feel compelled to listen to in its entirety in order to do both the record itself and the stories real justice.
The styles of music all have a relevant place here and all are firmly placed across the record with 3 tracks being folk covers and 3 being predominantly black metal (Black Waters sits as some ambient track towards the end - again adding depth; some reflection as the album draws to a close). This combination of genres works well overall on the album as a whole but on individual tracks the transitions don't always feel they are executed cleanly and whilst never sounding clunky as such they do keep the record off full marks on the rating.
For such a passionate subject matter there's a feeling that the storytelling is done sensibly and the album feels that more sincere and authentic to the cause as a result. It's sparked an interest in me to go and watch the documentary and learn more which is what good music should do I suppose. My initial reservation some ten years ago upon first hearing this seems nonsensical now and is evident of my lack of musical maturity at the time because overall this works and is one of the few albums in recent years i have truly connected with.
Serpent Column have been experimenting in the last five years with what is possible within the realms of black metal by bringing in the relentless, unconventional nature of mathcore for a hybrid that I am not sure why more bands haven't done it yet. The percussion element is absolutely absurd, complimented by heavy tremolo picking guitars and punishing screeches from the vocals.
And here is the thing: I can see this working in some circles. Most of the early reviews for this record praise it for its unfiltered aggressiveness as well as the moshing mentality, a trait that fans of early Converge records will enjoy, even with its black metal personality. The songs are short and to the point, which for a record such as this is a very good thing. And at some moments, such as both parts of "Wars Waged in Private" as well as the following tune "Antihelical", they actually have some decent (if a little underplayed) tunes to follow.
But let's be real here, I was never going to be apart of this album's primary audience. Something about pure moshing music has never sat well with me because it gives me no reason to return to it unless I am in a mosh pit! And since concerts are on hiatus at the moment, I cannot see much of a lasting impact from this EP, or Serpent Column in general, in the not so distant future. But mosh music has its audience and for what it's worth, it is good moshing music. So have fun everyone!
Having never really cared for Katatonia, I was a little nervous about giving one of their records the fullest of my attention. This is a band that has modulated their sound considerably since the humble beginnings as a death doom metal band, spanning alternative metal, gothic metal, and even progressive metal in later years. It makes checking out a bands discography a daunting task. And if you never grew up with this group, these pivots may not resonate in the same way as they did around the albums initial release window.
Anyways, The Great Cold Distance is perhaps the culmination of the bands first major pivot from death doom metal to more accessible alternative doom. And for what it is worth, I do not think that The Great Cold Distance is a bad album. Certainly if we are comparing this to albums with similar timbres, Katatonia are far more advanced, but I feel like much of the drama is diminished.
Now the comparisons that I am making are to the specific brand of post-grunge revival that came out of the mid 2000s that included groups like Breaking Benjamin, Seether & Shinedown. Breaking Benjamin were always the closest comparison, but Katatonia's compositions and song structures are far more developed than anything from the groups mentioned previously. The typical slower tempos that are reminiscent of Swallow the Sun and (more likely) Trees of Eternity that are complimented with slow double bass percussion and complimentary guitar riffage present a more energetic side of doom metal that is commendable, especially when the vocalist follows suit. Otherwise the mismatch in timbre is unsettling, which may be part of the point.
In addition, the compositions of individual songs is very good. The modulation of ideas through time signature and rhythmic changes is pulled off with proficiency. Whether that be "Consternation" or "The Itch", they do sound quite wonderful together. But even on this record, these sounds were not going to last on their own. You can already start to hear elements of progressive/post-metal creep in during the albums closing moments; almost as if a teaser as to what the next era of Katatonia will bring. Very reminiscent of the post-metal sounds that Tool were experimenting with during the 2000s. And, once again, the mixing of these sounds is executed with precision and grandeur.
But let's talk about drama. Not so far back as Last Fair Deal Gone Down is the band allowed to let their songs resonate and reach the desired conclusion. This album feels rushed, as if some of its main ideas are not allowed to finish. And the album clocks in at a brisk fifty minutes so their would have been plenty of wiggle room to allow "Soil's Song", "The Itch" and especially the closer "Journey Through Pressure" to reach some finality. Instead, the album just....fades away; perhaps reminiscent of the band on their next great journey. If you believe that, then this album will serve you well. For me however, I see it as a cop out. Doom metal inherently implies some sense of completion, whereas this implies that this journey is just beginning. I can appreciate the diversion of expectations, but I have heard it done better.
As someone who never grew up with Katatonia, my opinions may be skewed, so take my conclusion on The Great Cold Distance with a grain of salt. For a time, Katatonia expanded the possibilities of what post-grunge could sound like and arguably did it better than any of their influences or contemporaries. But I have heard many of the sounds on display within this record done better in the years following, including from Katatonia themselves, which makes this an album that I respect, but do not love. The journey that Katatonia speaks of on this record is long and bitter, and that is okay. It's what you find at the end of your adventure that counts.