Atrox – Orgasm

21/01/2004 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2003
Code666
8 Tracks
Language: English, of sorts

It feels like I must be one of the few people to give Atrox any kind of credence. The Internet seems to be chock-full of comments like ‘Atrox are too bizarre’, ‘Atrox are insane’ and ‘I like my music weird, but not this weird’. Well, I dare say that’s because of lot of people are too eager to think they know what they like in metal, and sometimes one of these bands comes along that tests their preconceptions, raises the bar and it’s just too far out for a lot of fans. The result is that all those people whose staple diet is stuff like Blind Guardian and Rhapsody fall by the wayside, enjoying living in their little comfy metal worlds and not trying anything too challenging, but in doing so lose out on the finer fruits of metal. However, there is a fine line between challenging and just shit, I’m aware. Fortunately, Atrox fall very much the right side of it.

Atrox’s last album, Terrestrials, was very much a stew of different ideas, thrown together in some kind of musical melting pot, swirled around until mush, boiled to the point of nuking, but still managing to taste pretty good at the end of it. Orgasm is by far the best album that Atrox have come up with. There is something supremely confident about the way this is put together. For a start, it is a lot heavier that previous efforts. I always wondered what it would be like if Atrox ever really let rip, whether it would work or whether the result would be like the musical version of a Jackson Pollock. Fortunately, we’re left with something far from unsightly, far from being a spattering of different symbols and ideas, but something very good indeed, and unique.

Now before anyone goes rushing to get this and then blames me because it’s not like Nightwish, let me explain something. Atrox are not an ordinary band. Obviously too much time spent in Trondheim has corroded their brain cells to the point of near insanity. Monika’s artwork, which graces the inside of many of the albums, looks like something conjured up as a result of a nightmare crossed with an acid trip, the music is some of the weirdest, unconventional stuff you’ll hear come out of metal and a lot of their social life seems to revolve around their pet freak, Rødingen, a red, grimacing stuffed toy. But I love them. I love this album. Each song is wonderfully unpredictable, you never know where the music’s taking you and it really is a journey of discovery in metal. The tunes are either heavy guitar riffs mixed with Monika’s high-register screams and warblings [Methods Of Survival]; strange, dinky guitar trickles mixed in with drum blasts and power chords [Burning Bridges], or some of the weirdest clean guitar you’re likely to hear in a metal track [Heartquake], and in Tentacles, the song’s guitar line perfectly fits the song’s title: spidery, slithery and slinky.

In spite of Atrox’s eccentricity, there are some tracks that might appeal to the more easily satisfied metal fan. Parts of Methods Of Survival and This Vigil cannot fail to show you the extreme depth of talent that this band have, and some of the riffs are reminiscent of bands at the more popular end of the metal spectrum. Monika’s outlandish vocals just sound gorgeous together with the perfect shuffling of the drums and the watery grace of the clean guitars as they do with the butting and chugging of the guitars in the heavier parts. Atrox’s metal is also more technical than ever. I don’t know how they’d get away with playing this stuff live, it stops and starts all over the place, especially parts of Pre-Sense would drive many guitarists nuts. It’s so against the grain that many would give up trying to listen to it, let alone playing it.

Monika’s lyrics are as bonkers as ever too: “paper aeroplanes crash into bottles, spilling wine on flies hanging around washing their hands”, and “we practise compulsory revival of the suicidal, producing child size armour and straightjackets for kids, lobotomising angels as lepers eat their wings”. Sure, this stuff’s weird. But it’s the weirdness that gives it its allure. This album really takes some time to get into, but the more I’ve listened to it, the more I’ve found to appreciate in it. There is nothing ‘experimental’ about this album. Atrox know perfectly well what they’re up to. The only ‘experiment’ here is the one that most listeners will undertake when playing this album, but if you’re lucky, it might just give you some very positive results.

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Flowing Tears – Serpentine

21/01/2004 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2002
Napalm
12 Tracks
English Lyrics

Flowing Tears are just one of the scores of bands that fall into that neither-here-nor-there category of Gothic Rock groups formed in the late 90’s, round about the same time that everyone thought they’d do it. I’m just not sure about the whole ‘Gothic’ tag. I would be hard-pressed to call Lacuna Coil Gothic, but everyone seems to like doing that. If people want to define the genre through ignorance, so be it, it’s how most things develop anyway. So here we have Flowing Tears – straight up, unashamed, inoffensive Gothic Rock. You know where you are with this stuff. It’s the same old money-spinner that Century Media have been pedalling for years, it’s just like fodder for the masses, Gothic swill for the metal hoi polloi who’d rather suck their music through a straw than have to bite into it.

In spite of that, and in spite of my ever-growing cynicism about bands like Lacuna Coil, Bloodflowerz and Xandria, which I’d compare Flowing Tears to, I actually like Flowing Tears. There’s just something honest in their sound, something raw, something punchy, something which other similar bands don’t seem to have. In fact, I’d rank them above most of the routine stock that Century Media tosses out. This band actually have depth to their music and are able to create an atmosphere where most fail to.

Vocally this music is slightly different too, Stefanie has a middle-register alto voice, very smooth, very velvety, so taking that into consideration it’s a shame that she’s left the band. The only complaint I have about her voice is the fact that she doesn’t do as much with it as she could. But this is rather the fault of the songs than hers; the music is quite restrictive in this way – though it’s very effective for what it is, it doesn’t give much to the singer to work with, there’s not a lot of room to move. It’s almost like the chord structures are hemming in Stefani’s ability to improvise or to do anything interesting, so she sings within the musical blocks perfectly and in tune, but never letting rip, never pelting out a note that has the wow factor.

Nevertheless, the songs are pretty good. Breach, Justine and Merlin are the standouts, not to mention the wonderful Serpentine. In addition, The Marching Sane is one of those tracks [rather like Epica’s Feint, I like to think] that comes across as being quite boring, but after a few listens you think it’s actually quite good, only to realise after a few more listens that you were right the first time and it is actually boring. In spite of the fact that I’ve got a real soft spot for this band, I get the feeling that they’re imprisoned by their own ‘artistry’. This isn’t an album that screams at you and tries to break barriers, instead, it seems happy swimming around in the boundaries that it’s set itself, a happy goldfish in the Century Media tank, content with its own sparse existence, with no need to do anything different in life apart from move round in circles.

Flowing Tears are a very talented band, and I eagerly look forward to their next album to see what their new singer can come up with. There is, however, a lot of room for improvement. Not in the musicianship, not in the singing, not even in the song-writing, but more in the thinking behind the music. For songs that seem stuffed with pathos its funny that they are sung with so little feeling, but then this has been Cristina Scabbia’s problem ever since Unleashed Memories. I don’t know if it’s a result of being told what to sing or being told what kind of music to play, but I get the feeling that Flowing Tears would be far better off on another label. I’m hoping that then, the underlying frustration in the music, the unseen, almost undetectable ingredient that gives this album its subtle edge, will conspire against the pressure to make normal, middle of the road Gothic rock and turn the next album into something truly special. Serpentine is very good music, but only in its own context. Hopefully, Flowing Tears will have the bravery to steer away from that soon enough.

Tristania – Widow’s Weeds

21/01/2004 § Leave a comment

CD Info
1998
Napalm Records
11 Tracks in this version
English lyrics

I’d like to say that Tristania have done a lot for Gothic Metal, but that just feels wrong. Tristania haven’t done a lot for Gothic Metal, all they’ve done is create a sound that’s been mimicked one way or another ever since, but never bettered. So, taking into consideration all the inferior, dime-a-dozen BnB bands that have cropped up purely as a result of Tristania, they’ve probably done more harm than good. The problem is, if something’s good and it sells, then other people will get inspired and want to jump on the bandwagon. However, what they don’t realise – and you’d think they would because it’s so damn obvious – is that they’re not the same band. They think they want to write similar songs and sing similarly, but what they actually want is to have written the same songs and be the same band. Well, hard luck. About once a year, a really quality BnB band will come along like After Forever or Draconian [I’m not counting Sirenia], that restores my hope in BnB, but no-one really measures up to Tristania’s standards. So, they haven’t done a lot for Gothic Metal, but they have done a lot for almost getting the genre to implode as a result of the ridicule it suffers [or deserves to] because of all these other silly BnB bands who think they’re a) talented and b) tough. Shame.

This does not detract in any way from the fact that Tristania have made some very impressive albums themselves. Well, two. Some people think that World Of Glass is the best thing since sliced bread. Well, it is, just very bad bread. Widow’s Weeds, on the other hand, is one of the best BnB albums you can get your hands on. It ranks along there with the best of After Forever and Theatre Of Tragedy. There seems to be a split in opinion over which of Tristania’s most recognised albums is the superior. Most people prefer Beyond The Veil due to the complexity of the sounds, the aggressiveness, the different layers, and the brilliance of the song writing. However, because of this, Widow’s Weeds seems to have got pushed to the back a little and has become Beyond The Veil’s little brother, an inferior Gothicling discarded by its stronger sibling.

Whereas Beyond The Veil is a fast-paced, galloping steed of a BnB album, Widow’s Weeds is not so intense, but this is its strength. All the songs here are first-class, but if you’ve heard Beyond The Veil before this, you might find it a little bit of a surprise that they’re not so extreme. This is Morten Veland almost in chilled-out mode, but the guitars are still as heavy as ever, we have the beautiful voice of Vibeke, and the lush choirs. It seems as if Veland really has done the best that is possible with everything he has at his mastery. From the opening hit of Evenfall, the beautiful piano and violin in Pale Enchantress, the strains of Vibeke’s stunning voice in December Elegy, the wonderful thrashing pace of Angellore, to the closing strains of Postludium, this is really what the BnB genre should be about. Unsurprising too, because Tristania were responsible for redefining it.

It is very difficult to find fault with Widow’s Weeds. There are some bits of it that you could describe as a little hackneyed and naff, like the jamming in of the odd choir chord after a chunk of guitar distortion, which is almost funny at times, and the fact that most of the songs sound a little too similar, but they’re all so good that this is almost a compliment. However, I’m really splitting hairs here. Widow’s Weeds is a quality piece of work. The production is top notch, the violins and clean vocals are beautiful, and the contrast with the death vocals is always perfectly placed. Morten Veland seems to leave a trail of great work wherever he goes, and unlike Mark Jansen, doesn’t seem to be in danger of disappearing up his own arse. Which could only be good news for the rest of us.

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