Thursday, 28 January 2016

Living Respectful: From Mars to Sirius, 10 Years On

In dreams we can transcend and transform, change perception and perspective. From Mars to Sirius opener Ocean Planet begins a fluid journey which weaves through dreamlike states and waking aggression, contrasting swathes of alternating passages (sonically personified by moments of crushing heaviness interspersed with calmer moments, fast with slow, loud with quiet, sparse with intense), which make the listener feel at times objective observer whilst at others immersed and involved. These changing dynamics flow through the entire album.

As Ocean Planet opens the album we are greeted by whale song. A calm before the storm, as this slow burning track progresses with alternation between kick drums and palm muted guitar with repeated refrains. Like a tumbling procession of waves cascading, the narrator and listener are carried through oceans and waking dreams alike.

Before long the two collide dragging the listener into the currents below. The lyrical content seems to document an enlightening dreamlike voyage to a receptive traveller; a confused dialogue with mystical whales.

For the message itself, it appears to be one of despair; "The ocean planet is on burn”.

From Mars to Sirius celebrated its 10 year anniversary in the summer of 2015.  Upon release in 2005 the album received high praise for its new sound; progressive, emotive, inspired, and conceptual. Certainly upon first listen all those years ago I was blown away, it seemed revolutionary and has managed to stay timeless, retaining nuances still undiscovered to this day. Certainly at 67 minutes long it is somewhat of a giant, so it is unsurprising that there is much to explore. It is worth noting that for a lengthy album such that it is, the experience is never dragging but continually refreshing and rewarding.

Regardless of sound there was another element to the record which set it apart from its contemporaries. The fundamental core of the albums narrative focuses on environmental concerns; the destruction of our ocean planet. It is a theme rarely explored with such acuity within the metal community.

The narrative, as crafted by lyricist and frontman Joe Duplantier (in the words of D.X. Ferris writing for Metal Sucks in 2009) “…relates an interplanetary quest to resurrect a dead planet. We’re talking life, death, and rebirth on a grand scale.”[1]

The story manages to traverse a conception of dawning awareness (to the mysteries of the universe and to the catastrophic destruction of our environment), anger, despair and hope. As a journey it is one shared by the musicians and the listener over the course of the record allowing it to avoid any accusations of being sermonising. In fact Gojira rarely have felt preachy, as with any form of art the content relates to concerns and experience of the creators, and as such the quartet are well qualified to relay this powerful message.

As we enter 2016 we stand on a pinnacle. Increasingly extreme weather as a result of climate change is becoming a norm. Environmental disaster seems inevitable as we fail to adapt consumerist and unsustainable lifestyles and economic systems, with scientists warning that some marine food chains are on the verge of collapse[2] (the ocean is enlisted as a powerful metaphor by Gojira). Throughout From Mars to Sirius despair is counterbalanced by optimism, perhaps for us in 2016 this optimism resides form of the recent Paris climate deal agreed in the bands home country.

It is now that Gojira’s message seems even more poignant.

In contrast to the steady pace of the albums opener, Backbone explodes into being. “Indestructible” declares Joe Duplantier, as the track jerks back and forth.

From time to time the pace is forced to a halt before the listener is thrown into some otherworldly depths, as drummer Mario Duplantier offers punishing assault of kick pedal as the track lurches between powerful attacks on drums and abrasive, screeched / muted guitar from brother Joe and fellow guitarist Christian Andreu, before returning above ground and to Joe’s powerful declaration.
When interviewed for Dutch site Fourteeng Joe Duplantier elaborated on the lyrical background of Backbone: “…the lyrics are about I feel indestructible. I believe that! When you believe in life after death, life after life…you feel indestructible.”[3]

For those wanting their fix of easily consumed, crushingly heavy tracks, the duo of Backbone and successor From the Sky offer these up.

Double bass provides the backdrop for much of the duration of From the Sky, in part providing an almost drone-like and ethereal quality to the track. The lyrical content here appears to hint to the creation of the universe, non-dual in nature as alluded to in traces of the bands philosophy. Bouts of intense emotion and wonder, track against monumental slabs of sound.

The placidity and Zen-like qualities of instrumental interlude Unicorn enable a moment of contemplation and time to recollect after the intensity of what proceeded. Moments like these were used to effect on previous album The Link (2003) with tracks like Connected and Torii, the band clearly aware of the need for replenishment when faced with such monumental music. The whales reappear, no longer a powerful and threatening presence, but vulnerable and majestic.

Where Dragons Dwell continues the relative peace with contemplation and introspection, again highlighting a further element of harmonised dichotomies present, of the inner and outer worlds. The ability to meld such introspective moments into these pieces is another reason the band are able to create such emotive compositions. Throughout the albums calmer moments Jean-Michel Labadie’s paced and extended base notes create an almost placid underlying calm.

One of the techniques used to great effect, is the alternation of focus upon either drumming or guitar. This allows the group to speed up or slow down the pace of the music, creating build before unleashing powerful  and protracted flurries.

In The Heaviest Matter Of The Universe, rather than creating the illusion of unstable seas, the opposing forces act to facilitate the stretching and bending of space time. The themes of the cosmic appear in much of Gojira’s music (a particular favourite of is Space Time from Terra Incognita (2001)). The opposition that they use can be seen to relate back to the philosophy which threads throughout the record, one that acknowledges the more recognisable vastness of space, to point toward the infinite here on earth.

What is notable on From Mars to Sirius however is the skill in which the terrestrial and extra-terrestrial are weaved together in a single narrative, rather than finding them stood in stark opposition as it at times felt on previous releases. A literary analogy would perhaps be Ouroborus, a character who makes an appearance on successor The Way of All Flesh (2008).

The whales return once more for what is perhaps the masterpiece and central focus of the entire album, Flying Whales. Without urgency the first 2 ½ minutes of the almost 8 minute track, rests comfortably as guitars and drums form a rhythmic tranquillity interspersed with the language of whales. The conversation intertwines with itself, causing ephemeral wisps to dissipate around the listener. As before a dialogue seems to be uniquely bridged, you feel as both observer and yet bought into the entire affair.

This is broken by one of the most memorable riffs of the record. As the narrative progresses we are drawn to seek these majestic creatures:

“Now I can see the whales
Looming out of the dark
Like arrows in the sky
I can’t believe my eyes
But it’s true”

Crushing riffs and double bass rage in jolting abruptness. The musicality is always timed and measured, precise in its technicality and structure. Skies appear to open up in the tranquil breathing space offered toward the end of the track before returning to claustrophobia with an aggressive closure.

In The Wilderness is a top heavy juggernaut, exchanging the majesty and precision of Flying Whales with primal rage. The world is alive and riled from its slumber by some angered ancient force.

“Living respectful
Low your axe
And learn from the trees.”

Structured shifts in the dynamic of the song provide it with a continuing renewal, demanding the attention of the listener. Closing in on the end, feedback and distortion begins to build before being engulfed by a powerful emotive riff (perhaps the most emotive moment on the album). With repetition the sound gains momentum, feeding back into itself and providing a self-sustaining power as it advances to its eventual closure. In the background distortion seems to mutate into muffled screams of anguish. One suspects of the forests, the mountains and the rivers, their voices on the wind for those attentive.

The inevitable implosion of In The Wilderness seems to ring in the end of one world and the beginning of another, if only in a fleeting, dreamed moment.

That dreamed moment is transcribed in World To Come which offers a glimmer of optimism. A vision of an ideal world healed of the scars left by humanity which appears nowhere to be seen; a living universe, vibrant and aware of itself.

It is here that we realise that our former journey has been one of self-transformation. Only now does the real journey begin. From Mars relates this, and in doing so offers a further temporary moment of peace whilst acting as a preface for To Sirius.

Screeched guitars flicker between monitors as Duplantier’s growls backdrop the euphoric feelings of ascension which are induced in To Sirius. The final declaration of the album rings out in the closing moments of the track; “This is my way”.

The conceptual journey closes with To Sirius. Closer Global Warming summarises and consolidates what has come before and returns us to the now, this world. Controlled reverb leads into technically pristine and emotive tapped core of the song.

The song is carefully considered, heavy though never reaching the intensity of Backbone or the anguish of In The Wilderness.

Global Warming closes the album by solidifying Gojira’s vision of a better world, conceived of and sculpted throughout the course of the album, through oceans, skies, space and time. Though at times the outlook appears bleak we end on a positive, if only a potential, a seed in germination.

“We will see our children growing”.

The structured nature of the albums compositions makes sure that the sound never strays to close to falling into chaos or sheer aggression. What it does achieve is a hypnotic and immersive experience, with plenty of to and fro dialogue, tumbling beneath waves and soaring through sky and space. It’s a unique experience; one which I feel was never quite captured on succeeding releases, though by admission it was never the intention to recreate the conceptual nature of From Mars To Sirius.

For example for 2012s L’Enfant Sauvage Joe is recorded; “I wanted to paint chaos, you know? It’s like a painting of chaos. It’s a deep feeling that humanity is destroying everything, and it’s total nonsense. A lot of things don’t make sense in this world, and I wanted to express this without really thinking if there’s a solution or proposing what I think about it.”[4]

The conceptual, narrative nature of From Mars To Sirius however is one of its most successful qualities. On L’Enfant Sauvage as with The Way of All Flesh, whilst raw emotive power is present, it at times feels as though the nuance and beauty projected so vividly on From Mars To Sirius is on occasion missing; lacking a vehicle for expression of their message.

As we await the anticipated release of new material in 2016, one wonders whether Gojira’s revised view will bring us a message of optimism or despair. The jury is out.


The band often share information regarding environmental activism which they are involved in or support, which can be found on their website here.

Listenable Records have just reissued the album on vinyl and have created a limited edition anniversary boxset available on their website.


Saturday, 23 January 2016

Health - Death Magic : The Best of 2015

Death Magic the third album from electronic/noise/pop band Health is not something I would normally listen to, yet after being introduced to the band by a former acquaintance, I found both beauty and loss in its ambiguous lyrics and heartfelt style. The album came to represent a transitional period in my life. Each song alluding to an emotion or experience, consequently and accurately detailing what 2015 came to mean to me. Whilst the album was released in August, the message retrospectively coincided my life to the soundtrack it provided. For that reason it serves as my favourite album of 2015.

It is January 2015, the dawn of the New Year. There is a certain sense of foreboding in the air. One day in and I anticipate the year is off to an ominous start. The dramatic and almost dystopian synth of VICTIM intensifies this gut feeling, like something is about to go amiss. 

“It’s not enough.”

This is how I feel about my relationship, something is missing, and something has changed. Suddenly, a burst of energy, be it anger or happiness. I can’t be sure. The aggressive electronics of STONEFIST give way to Jacob Duzsick’s almost androgynous vocals. 

“We’re possessed by what we’ve lost.”

I determine we are both focusing too much on our previous relationships, allowing how we felt about someone else interfere with how we feel about each other. Dwelling on the past as if it has any influence on the present. “Loves not in our hearts,” but we wont admit it. We will try and persevere. If something feels right it’s because it is. Maybe it’s just me though? My mouth has always been bigger than my heart. By title alone MEN TODAY is insinuating enough, the chaotic tribal drumming ringing out like an audible interpretation of my psyche, punctuated by an industrial soundscape of figurative warnings.

I wonder how we’ve made it this far? What is this leading to? The complete reversal in tone of FLESH WORLD reaffirms that things always have to get worse before they can get better. Besides, we still have the physical side of our relationship, even if we have become emotionally withdrawn. 

“For what, lust.”

Yet something is building up, swelling inside us both, this wanton urge to be able to be honest with each other again. Like I said, this feels right, but heart and mind don’t always come to an agreement. This is an emotionally unstable time in our lives. Somehow the physical gets emphasised, yet simultaneously so does the now apparent feelings of mistrust which then leads to accusations and burning paranoia. COURTSHIP II tells us, 

“We’re honest when we’re born.”

I agree. Only when we are young, innocent and naïve can we address our emotions with subject transparency, before the heart has chance to manipulate and distort the mind.
The sombre electronica of DARK ENOUGH serves as a internal monologue. Our relationship has plateaued. We still tell each other ‘I love you,’ but its just words. These words have been subverted, now they only represent a trivial game of call and response. 

“Does it make a difference if it’s real, as long as I still say I love you.”

We are now only remaining together for the benefit of the other, not ourselves. When a relationship becomes more of a favour for someone else, what is there to gain from it?
This is LIFE. We don’t know what we want anymore. It has taken this long to realise that we are not the people we thought we were. We both want different things; yet find difficulty expressing what these things are. It is almost a revelation. Accepting confusion is healthier that suppressing it. With honesty there is almost a sense of optimism or at least, content. 

“Life is strange, but it’s all we’ve got.”

Still, the worst is yet to come, I keep reminding myself circumstances have to get much worse before they improve. Accepting is one thing, admitting is another. SALVIA is the dawning of the motivation I require, the pounding industrial rhythm drilling the epiphany deep into my conscious.
We argue for one last time. But we are not angry at each other, we are angry at ourselves, angry for not admitting how we truly felt, angry at impatiently focusing on the future before getting to know each other on a personal level. 

It all seems almost foolish now. We let childish pride and a war of attrition obstruct months of suppressed emotion and have now cumulated in a broken relationship. Just like NEW COKE states 

“Let the guns go off, let the bombs explode.”

The battle lines have been drawn now. What can be salvaged and what remains of civility?

“Am I stuck with myself?” questions L.A LOOKS. The post-dissolution remorse and regret is now all I can think about. “It’s not love, but I still want you.” But only because I don’t want you to be with anyone else, not just yet, not until I’ve selfishly moved on. Ultimately, you have to HURT YOURSELF in order to feel again. Love always comes hand in hand with hurt and the heart always desires what it cannot have. This is where the mind takes over, implementing rationality and foresight before regretful decisions are made. The heart maybe wounded but the mind is telling me everything is going to be alright.

DRUGS EXIST extenuates the finality. Now there is nothing left but the potential for something else, something better. 

“Live as you like, it’s hard to know what’s right” 

A year perfectly represented in thirty-nine minutes. The closing ambiance plays out leaves me to reflect on what I’ve experienced and what I’ve heard. It is January 2016…


The Top Five Albums of 2015: The Runners Up

Being productive and/or consistent with content was unfortunately not one of my new years resolutions. I am the kind of person that considers finding the time to have three meals a day productively successful. That said, here are my top five albums of 2015, spare a thought for all the meals I have missed in writing this.

5: InAeona – Force Rise the Sun

This album came straight out of nowhere for me, a chance glimpse of an advertisement from their label Prosthetic Records could not have remotely prepared me for what was to come, given Prosthetic's favouritism towards more traditional metal.

After the first listen I was left staggered, what did I just listen to? I couldn’t quite comprehend it, my colleague asked me to describe their sound and I was inundated with too many influences and styles to give it any kind of credibility. I tried regardless. Confidently I began.
“Imagine alternative style metal, not unlike Deftones or Karnivool with a uniquely talented female singer reminiscent of Bjork, add a prominent industrial/electronic influence and infrequent inclinations towards post-metal”…. 

*blank stare* 

That has been the beauty of Force Rise the Sun, it presents itself as almost genre-less and regardless of what genre you may decide to pigeonhole this album into, there is no denying how massive the sound is, especially for a debut. Lead singer Bridge Lavaizar is able to seamlessly vary her vocal range between an almost ethereal cry with instances of vulnerability, to impassioned screams. Her guitar work often mimicking her vocals with similar impactful transitions of tone. The dramatic electronics present throughout make this a very forward thinking and modern sounding record. 

4: Ghost – Meliora

Considering Ghost’s fascination with satanic imagery and lyrical themes, I was left wondering if they had indeed sold their souls to Satan to create music so undeniably gratifying and catchy. For all the criticism the band receive for favouring style over substance, Meliora has received near unanimous praise and not just from the typical metal media. 

With Opus Anonymous, Ghost delved heavily into seventies doom metal and deliberately exaggerated satanic references. Their follow up Infestissumam was a more experimental affair, owing more to progressive rock influences with elaborate orchestration and choral arrangements. 

With Meliora, Ghost have found their sound and consequently, demonstrated their song writing ability on a whole new unholy level. Meliora could be described as a more traditional metal album. The outstanding production from Andy Wallace has bought the guitars further into the mix, particularly on the heavier songs such as From The Pinnacle To The Pit, Majesty and Mummy Dust. The nameless ghoul operating the keyboards has also been allocated a more pronounced role this time round, transitioning from the horror themed keys of Spirit to the almost Van Halen inspired synth of Absolution. Meliora is a sing along album if their ever was a more appropriate term. When Papa Emeritus calls out

“Put your hands up and reach for the sky,
Cry for absolution”

Such is the power of the music, I almost feel compelled to do so.

Lead single Cirice is certainly the most infectious song Ghost has ever released, despite it also being one of the heaviest. A riff-laden affair which complements Papa Emeritus III’s haunting, yet objectively compelling delivery. Aside from He Is which could be described as some pseudo-folk ballad, the album gives Ghost the increasingly metallic edge that has been lacking from their previous releases. Beforehand, the affinity towards the theatrical and subsequent controversy from the lyrical themes have always taken precedence over the music. The references to Satanism seem almost vague this time round, songs such as the aforementioned He Is, utilise creative metaphors and wordplay to present the intended theme without ever directly referencing Satan.
With Meliora, if Ghost ditched the costumes, it would take nothing away from the music.

3: Dog Fashion Disco – Ad Nauseam

There is no secret of my love for Dog Fashion Disco. That said, following the revelation that they would be releasing another album with the surplus finances they received from their enormously successful crowd funding campaign, I did briefly ponder if the result was going to live up to its title (I would have loved it regardless). Ad Nauseam is quite simply brilliant. Dog Fashion Disco are the dignitaries of the now, admittedly limited, avante-garde metal scene. On the plus side… No competition at least.

The title track showcases DFD at their more upbeat, the playful synth of Tim Swanson rings out like an early nineties game show theme, if it not were for Todd Smiths regular lyrical excursions to the dark side. Last Night Never Happened is more reminiscent of Anarchists of Good Taste and gives demonstration to Smith’s impressive vocal range. One minute a sultry croon, the next a demonic wail. Just as the tracks darkly sexualised lyrics leave you feeling almost uncomfortable, Golden Mirage kicks in and completely alters the tone. 

It is fair to comment that Ad Nauseam features some of the most accessible music DFD have produced, the sing-along cabaret-influenced chorus of Golden Mirage had me tapping along quite contently. But you can never let your guard down with DFD, as it is also fair to comment that Ad Nauseam also features some of the heaviest tracks DFD have done in years. Covered in Blood, in particular showcases the bands personal take on Thrash Metal and puts the spotlight on guitarist Jasan Stepp with a rare example of his soloing ability.
Just as 2014’s Sweet Nothings saved its best till last with End of the Road, as does Ad Nauseum with Starving Artist, which perfectly channels Mr Bungles 1991 debut in all its demented greatness. 

2: Judicator – At The Expense of Humanity

2015 was an enlightening year for me; over the years I have been guilty of predominantly dismissing Power Metal, never fully comprehending the genres preoccupation with fantasy and lore. Imagine the chagrin when I came to realise American Power Metal band Judicator had released one of the best albums of 2015.

Judicators At the Expense of Humanity is a concept album detailing lead singer John Yelland’s experiences during his brothers fight with terminal cancer. In abandoning the traditional themes associated with power metal, the group has formulated a significantly more poignant and most importantly, relatable experience. Yelland’s soaring vocals describe the emotive and deeply personal account of the concept with so much passion that you can hear the grief in his delivery. 

There is little ambiguity to the lyrics, the story acts as a detailed exploration into mortality and is easy to comprehend. For this reason the album is such an inspiring experience. The music puts the listener right within the story, I found myself visualising the events detailed as if I were viewing a dramatic reconstruction of the entire scenario. Any expression of indignation, fear, acceptance or anguish, I felt too.

I have always ascertained that the best music originates from the artist bearing their soul, music should appeal to emotions and this touching tribute serves as the perfect eulogy. Rarely have I found myself enthralled in someone else’s personal tragedy, especially not through the art form of music.
Concept aside the album will still appeal to more traditionalist fans of the genre. From a purely musical consideration the powerful vocal delivery, captivating guitar work and atmospheric keyboards validate that, lyrical themes aside, this is still very much a Power Metal album. Considering Judicator have only been around since 2012, At The Expense of Humanity serves as a testament to their talent. The bar has been set unfavourably high for any future power metal release.


Honorable Mentions:

Shining- International Blackjazz Society
Faith No More - Sol Invictus
Boduf Songs - Stench of Exist