19/04/2005 § Leave a comment
Artist: The Provenance
Album: How Would You Like To Be Spat At
Genre: Progressive Metal
The thinking man’s metal band have returned and things have clearly not been well in their absence. How Would You Like To Be Spat At is another sensory onslaught, communicated through the medium of disassociated, disorganised song-structures and some terribly bleak and unhappy lyrics. The Provenance are masters at washing their dirty linen in public, in fact, their entire neighbourhood must be a veritable laundrette by now. Each song is full of some of the most personal and poignant sentiments that I have ever heard in music, but make no mistake, none is positive or optimistic.
And this is something that, in an unusual way, I imagine they are quite happy with. The Provenance are cathartic geniuses. Their previous record, Still At Arm’s Length, was pensive and introspective, and had some really quite touching moments to it. How Would You Like To Be Spat At, as its name unfailingly suggests, is a far more angry record, stuffed to the brim with vicious, angry declarations, but in the kind of way that genuinely makes you believe that something has gone wrong in these peoples’ lives. There is no irony, no jest and no respite. Even the softest, most thoughtful passages on this album carry some weight and negative resonance. However, though The Provenance may wish to proclaim this as their greatest record, and though it may be lyrically impressive, musically it lacks the fervour and ferality of its subject matter. Nevertheless, in concept it is still streets ahead of many metal albums being produced at the moment, even though those streets may be full of dirty washing.
Tobias Martinsson – Vocals, Guitar
Emma Hellstrom – Vocals, Keys
Joakim Rosen – Guitar
Joel Lindell – Drums
Jonnie Tall – Bass
1. Woh II Tsc 5:59
I have no idea what the title of this song could be about, but it welcomes us in affably with some very warm rhythm chords that instantly make you feel at ease and as if you could really settle down with this record. Emma’s vocals, caressing the lines “you’ve become an obsession now, the taste of your lips is still here, I need you one more time”, are as composite and beautiful as ever, and I am reminded in a very short space of time as to why she is one of my favourite vocalists in metal. However, though the verse is underlined by a shimmering, twinkling guitar line, The Provenance set the theme for the album very early on with what is unfortunately a slow, inactive and actually quite bland chorus with a melody that could hardly compliment any song. And indeed, many of the songs on this album suffer from the selfsame affliction.
2. Herione 5:24
Heroine is a faster, spicier song than its predecessor – at least to start off with. After the promising snare-staccato’d intro, it slows down for the verse before picking up again for the chorus, and it’s one of the most unenticing and unusual choruses I’ve come across since, oh, the last song. By now I’m wondering whether The Provenance are intentionally writing music which is so insipid so as to not actually register with any part of the listener’s brain. Maybe this is because they want the listener to concentrate on the lyrics more, who knows, but this is difficult to do because the vocals aren’t quite high enough in the mix, so something is definitely awry and what we’re left with, unfortunately, is a really dull song.
3. Catching Scarlet In The Sun 4:00
This is the first semi-interesting song on the album and I would go so far as to say that anyone purchasing this disc should ignore the first two tracks outright. Emma muses over some definitive, punctuating drumming from the outset, and it’s good to see that the Provenance really haven’t lost their touch when it comes to shaming people in public: “Are you really that stupid? Such a fool to think I give a damn. What’s yours in yours and not mine, I really can’t be bothered anymore.” The chorus is equally unforgettable, being driven by some quite fuzzy guitar and the immortal line ‘you look pretty with that gun in your mouth’. However, even though the tune is better than in the previous numbers, it’s actually not that commendable, and certainly not in the same league as anything on their previous album. The song may start off well, but by the second time that Emma sings ‘I really can’t be bothered anymore’, you’re starting to empathise.
4. How Would You Like To Be Spat At 4:06
This intro to this one is a little disconcerting since the sound effect of someone plugging a guitar-lead in could fool many a listener into thinking that it’s time they got their speaker system replaced. This is another slow number with Tobias crooning over the top of the verse, climbing the scale and all of a sudden we experience the first flushes of a decent song. Tobias actually sounds rather good, better than on previous releases, and the higher notes really suit him, so it’s a shame that the song doesn’t let him make more of it. It’s quite a short song, and it feels it, ending a little prematurely. From what is actually quite a decent chorus, and a powerful one, it’s a shame this number doesn’t last longer.
5. Some Gossip On Stealing A Spouse 6:16
This is easily the best song on the album and is consequently way ahead of the other tracks. It begins with a ropey, climbing and diving bassline before Emma’s vocals come in, almost jazzlike, over the top with some eerie, atmospheric distortion in the background. The verse is quite beautiful, and the use of the double-vocals in the chorus is really quite effective. It’s an inventive, atmospheric journey and really shows that The Provenance can write decent music, though there’s just not enough of it so far on the album.
6. Going Down 5:21
Going Down is a punchy song, but although the pace and tempo are quite authoritative, the guitar lines are really quite unusual. However, this is not to say that they’re unusual in an interesting or captivating way, since they fail to hit the right spot, and you get the feeling that if they just went up or down a semitone here or there we’d have quite a decent song on our hands. It’s almost as if The Provenance are geared towards writing uninteresting music and by now I’m starting to praise them for their ability to do this, it must take a lot of concentration. Still, we do get some flutes, but over lines like ‘I swear I didn’t mean for them to die, they just collapsed between my thighs’, which make me wonder what the hell this song is about.
7. Considering The Gawk, The Drool, The Bitch And The Fool 5:55
Kudos to The Provenance for having one of the most inexplicable song titles I’ve seen for a long time. However, the intriguing nature of the title doesn’t really match the content of the song, and such lyrics as ‘call me a geezer, call me a fuck, tell me I’m crazy, tell me I suck’ seem quite out of place against yet another boring melody. However, if anyone knows what a gawk is, do rush to let me know.
8.Kick You So Hard 4:51
In spite of the angry/macho title this isn’t a bad little track and this is chiefly because Emma just sounds wonderful in it. It’s starts as quite a quiet, plucked number with some trippy drumming in the background, before the tension mounts for the chorus – at least I presume it’s the chorus since sometimes it’s hard to tell in these songs. After this we’re treated to one of the most beautiful moments of singing on the album, which – for once – is in stunning contrast to the violence of the lyrics ‘you should know I will retaliate, I’ll stomp your bloody face into the ground’, and the way in which Emma sings the line ‘kick you so hard’ is just dreamlike before a perfect crescendo of an outro.
9. About A Whore, About A Kill 6:04
This is the last of three genuinely decent songs on the album. It starts with a phased, echoey guitar line before what is unfortunately a linear verse and chorus. However, at least this number sets itself apart from many of the other songs by having an essence to it, a centre, which is something that is lacking for much of the album as a whole, and there are quite a few beautiful moments here as a result. Halfway through, the song falls into a trickley guitar session with some more choice lyrics, ‘poor thing was ill, had to do her in – peaceful and still – I love a good sin. Poor thing was sick, I put her down, bashed her with a brick, then stole her crown’. The Provenance certainly have some interesting, though slightly disconcerting, things to say.
10.Speeding To Get By 5:25
Maybe another reference to drugs, and a token one since this song is by far the slowest of the album. I imagine such a pace is in reference to its title and the effect that certain drugs can have on the mind. In fact, the slow, unrelenting guitar chords are so monotonous that they are actually quite painful. This song seems to be more about making a statement than good music and it’s really quite dreary and tedious. It’s by far the least interesting song on the album and, apart from a nice riff in the middle, it just wastes your time. It would have been better to round off with the previous number, since this one is just a torrid, cacophonic mess.
Total playing time: 53:21
Total tracks: 10
In spite of the fact that there are some quite wondrous moments to this album, it really isn’t much of a triumph. How Would You Like To Be Spat At is more about what the band have to say rather than how they are saying it. Though numbers like Speeding To Get By and Kick You So Hard are quite clever in how the music intentionally does or does not reflect the lyrics, this isn’t enough to keep you interested, in fact, the whole album comes across as being just a little self-indulgent. However, The Provenance do show quite a few sparks of talent and there are a few moments in the album where they manage to create a welcome atmosphere, and this is because the songs’ subject matters are from the heart. This is an album about real anger, real pain and real torture, with nothing of the gestured pretentiousness that other metal bands seem to fill their music with.
Still, even though The Provenance are good are writing about just how terrible things are in their lives, this isn’t enough to make the album good. It’s all very well to be clever and to create lyrical and musical contrasts, but there has to be a trade-off between creating artistic contrasts and interesting, listenable music, and as far as How Would You Like To Be Spat At goes, there’s very little of it, with most of the album being actually rather boring and intolerable. Nevertheless, I do have respect for The Provenance for trying to do something heartfelt and different with what is most of the time quite an uninventive genre, though they’ll need to work at it a little harder in order to really succeed. If they could marry interesting lyrics with interesting music, we would indeed be privy to something very special indeed, but to have the former without the latter makes this quite a dull journey in spite of the occasional bright moment.
18/04/2005 § Leave a comment
Artist: Paradise Lost
Album: Paradise Lost
Genre: Gothic Metal
I think I need to reconfigure my brain. It has become, since the days when every thought process sped by with indiscriminate warp-like velocity, more like rolling stock than a well-oiled machine, cogs gooed up by the viscid thatch of mainstream metal media. Paradise Lost were responsible for my indoctrination into the metal scene and things have, indeed, moved with the times since the early 90s. However, there are those that grudgingly edge their way into subtle evolution and there are those that unrelentingly move fluidlike with new demands and scenes, and Paradise Lost certainly seem to be the latter. I don’t know what happened after One Second. I was initially a little relieved to find a different, chunkier sound from Paradise Lost when it was released, but I did not expect, several years on, for their self-titled work to sound almost like the same album. Therefore maybe I do need to re-jig my thought processes and lower my expectations in order to fully accept and grasp the ‘masterpiece’ that many consider their new work to be.
But it’s not altogether fair to expect things to stay the way they’ve always been. Back in the 90s PL were hailed as creating the whole Gothic Metal genre, and they have been revered the world over [or at least all Europe over] for such ever since. Therefore it’s terrible to see such entrepreneurs produce, yet again, another album of such hideously homogeneous dimensions that it becomes almost impossible, after repeated listens, to distinguish one song from the next. I am also lost as to why this is a self-titled album. How are we supposed to read this? Is it lack of originality, lack of imagination, or is it more of a period, a full-stop, heralding the end of a long line of albums and maybe, unbeknownst to the rest of us, PL have a self-destruct button wedged somewhere up their sleeves and it won’t be too long before they push it; or maybe they’re even just filling out their contract, raking in some more cash before they are unshackled and can move on. Something has to account for the sheer lack of variety in their music for the fourth time. This isn’t about being a purist and this isn’t even about being overly particular, it’s about trying to listen to an album where the tracklisting says ’12’, but after 45 minutes it sounds like you’re still on number one.
Nick Holmes – vocals
Greg Mackintosh – lead guitar
Aaron Aedy – rhythm guitar
Steve Edmonson – bass guitar
1.Don’t Belong 4:20
The intro of this reminded me slightly of Enchantment from Draconian Times, which is definitely not a bad thing. We have the standard piano and synthed strings in the background before the distortion kicks in with some meaty power chords, and they’re the kind that are very likeable, acceptable and not too gritty. Prepare then, ladies and gentleman, for a very average slice of metal. Nick’s vocals are as clean as they have been over the last few albums, no rasping or shouting, and the lyrics are totally mindless with a rhyming scheme so simplistic it’s almost of nursery-like standards. Nevertheless, the song is not a bad one, with quite a heavy, catchy chorus, and overall it’s quite likeable. However, one can’t help but feel a little starved for the old sound, but we have to stop moaning about that and move on, and this is a confident start to the album. Not bad.
2.Close Your Eyes 4:22
This starts off with a lovely heavy riff and even some male choir samples before a chorus with some nicely heavy guitars. Nick’s voice is a little more gritty in this one, but a rather boring and repetitive chorus doesn’t do too much to help the song. The overall result is therefore quite dull, so it’s a shame we can’t close our ears as well as our eyes.
This is one of Paradise Lost’s more melodic songs, not so much because of the instrumentation, but more because of the vocal lines. It’s a welcome difference, even though it doesn’t sound like Paradise Lost at all. Still, given the quality of the last few albums, that’s probably not a bad thing.
4.Red Shift 3:30
Red Shift begins with a wistful and pensive lyric: “There’s something in the air that greets me, there’s something in the air that tells me where I belong”. We even get some nice watery clean guitar in the second verse, but this is ruined by the token heavy chorus, which has an annoying nu-metal riffing patter, which, if the bass were turned down a couple of notches, could almost be out of a Papa Roach song. Or Evanescence. Hey, there’s a thought. However, what really sets this number apart from the others is a welcome guitar solo, which is, alas, too short, though it’s a beautiful thing to hear.
5.Forever After 3:49
You can’t really blame Forever After for being the cash-raking single. It’s a boring standard verse, standard repeating chorus and the disc even comes with the nonsensical video. The only thing that surprises me about the song is that if PL really wanted to write a simple track to generate revenue, they could surely do a lot better than this – it’s not too catchy, it’s just perfectly normal. It is a preppie among metal, a bit of a pariah, but still something its parents would be proud of. The video, on the other hand, makes very little sense. If you’re going to tell a story backwards, do it in the vein of Nightwish’s Bless The Child video which at least was done in a way we could all understand. The most disconcerting thing about the story in the Forever After video, however, is that even though PL have been going up and down in a lift all day playing their music, no-one in their apartment block tells them to shut up. Still, if you lived in the kind of block where people don’t bat an eyelid when their mates fall down lift shafts, a few long-haired llama-wannabes with guitars in an elevator is hardly going to cause you much distraction.
6.Sun Fading 3:28
Sun Fading is one of the more boring and pointless songs on the album, and doesn’t really make you go ‘ooh, I must listen to that again’. It’s more the kind of track that you’ll go back to to remind yourself what it sounded like, before remembering why you didn’t listen to it that often.
7.Laws Of Cause 4:11
This is one of the more heavy and more likeable tracks on the album, with a solid opening riff and chorus. There’s nothing too innovative here, but then, PL seem to have thrown innovation entirely out the window in favour of making totally likeable and marketable music. Of course, many bands do this all the time, but not all need to do it. Still, by this stage in the album you may have, like me, grown to accept mediocrity.
8.Accept The Pain 3:23
‘Overkill, overkill’ sings Nick, and for once I’m inclined to agree with him. Accept The Pain does have a nice lead guitar riff and a nice melodic solo, but I’m really clutching at straws to say something decent about it since the pace is so mechanical, the vocal melody so hackneyed, that it seems that PL will paste in a slightly different solo here and riff there just so they can justify giving the songs different names. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the songs here were written in the amount of time it takes to play them.
9.All You Leave Behind 3:01
With a title remarkably similar to a certain U2 album, but a totally different sound, All You Leave Behind begins with a plinky piano sequence before the power chords come in, and it’s actually no bad experience until the vocals hit us – ‘On and on it rains, on and on no shelter, on and on it rains, the sun has gone forever’. This is the kind of stuff the PL have been writing for years and we know, empirically, that they can write lyrics like these while at a toilet stop on the motorway. This is really insubstantial stuff, with an unadventurous, unpleasing tune, and at just over three minutes, leaving this behind really isn’t difficult.
Shine is actually quite a cheery tune and it really benefits from having the bass cranked up. It’s a singalong number, a happy bouncy Pokèmon of a song and PL really should have included this as a video extra with a bouncing ball over the lyrics. I wouldn’t be surprised if people started singing this song at pub karaoke sessions over the coming years.
Spirit starts off quite similarly to Nirvana’s Lithium until the locomotive riffing comes in, leading into a heavier chorus with some subtle piano in the background. This is really Gothic Metal by numbers now and I can’t help feeling that PL are having a bit of a laugh. They can write stuff like this with their eyes shut, and they probably did. However, this isn’t a problem, what is is whether such a song is interesting and holds your attention, which this doesn’t. Like so many others here.
12.Over The Madness 5:18
Over The Madness is by far the best song on the album and is actually worthy to be called a Paradise Lost song. It also carries an atmosphere, being a slow song, and it’s this slowness that sets it apart from the other numbers. This is the first time that PL seem to have played with feeling in all twelve tracks, and it comes, literally, at the last minute, with a wonderful guitar solo. One wonders why a song like this is at the end. It could simply be to climax the album, or just to show what they can attain when they actually put their minds to it.
Total playing time – 47.20
Tracks – 12
Paradise Lost’s self-titled album is certainly not for the purists, since there are few who will find anything in here harking back to the old days. There are a few guitar solos which are reminiscent of their former sound, but we should really accept the fact that the music that Paradise Lost are making these days is totally different. Still, I don’t get the impression that this is the way that they want things, and it’s hard to tell whether the odd old-school solo added to the songs is just a token injection to please the fans or a result of some pregnant desire to produce more fulfilling, stronger stuff just waiting to burst out of the run of the mill music that BMG are clearly recommending they release.
Nevertheless, there is very little here of worth, merit or interest. This self-titled album seems to have been made with remarkably little effort and it really shows through in the songs. It’s so hard to tell one number from another and as a result the album is mostly devoid of atmosphere and feeling. It feels as if PL are restraining themselves from doing things that they really want to do. It feels like they do have the lifeforce still in them, but it’s buried too deeply in them and as a result, this album is a really average piece of music that pushes no boundaries and should only satisfy the most bored and inexperienced metalhead. It’s a shame, that with so much potential left in them, PL are releasing music like this. It’s almost an insult to their personal potential, but at least the potential is still there somewhere and I hope it can unashamedly show itself once more before they wholly write themselves off.
11/04/2005 § Leave a comment
Artist: Forever Slave
Genre: Gothic Symphonic Metal
The first thing you’ll notice about Forever Slave, or at least the first thing you should notice about them, is that all they have very silly names. Bands should know, even inside the realm of deathly evil nasty black-death-gore-injury metal, that if you have a ‘tough’ sounding name people just think you’re silly. Most people do, anyway. Maybe somewhere there are clubs and institutions you can walk into where people will respect you if you call yourself ‘Servalath’. I imagine a name like that could prove troublesome if you tried to get a job in a supermarket though, especially when it comes to wearing a name badge that says Hi, My Name Is Servalath, How Can I Help You? Oh, maybe it’s a stage name and I’m being overly critical. Maybe I’ll get the demon hordes of FS making a voodoo doll of me and humming blasphemies and curses round it for the next few Walpurginachts until I end up taking them seriously.
Well, as much as I would like to take FS seriously as people, taking their music seriously is another matter altogether. I don’t mind admitting that I was really excited about listening to this demo and I had very high hopes for it. I love the idea of dark metal with female vocals, especially on a vampyric and mythical theme. Unfortunately I must have managed to transform this album into some kind of dark legend in my mind before I’d even heard it, so the result was a little deflating, shall we say. Nevertheless, even if you had no expectations whatsoever of this disc, you’d still have a job finding something that was credible about it.
Lady Angellyca: Vocals
Leal: Keyboard and clean vocals
1. The Dark Secret Mysteries In Carpathians 2:15
Can you say forests, evil, death, darkness, blood and vampirism? Forever Slave can, and they thought and they’d make a nice tune about them. Cue church organs, choir samples, harpsichords, diminished and augmented chord structures and lashings of cliché. The only problem being that in order to create a tune that invokes dark images and feelings of the Romanian forest, you really need deep, brooding, powerful instrumentation. The last thing you want is to be hampered by a budget that means you can only afford to do it all on one synthesiser so the whole thing ends up sounding like a tune piped out of a fairground carousel. The result is more Count Duckula than Count Dracula, but it was a nice idea.
2. Erzebet Bathory’s Song 5:35
Actually, Erzebet Bathory didn’t have anything to do with writing this one, and if she could come back to hear the finished article she would probably be quite relieved that she hadn’t. After the token Castlevania intro, the violins and chuggy-chuggy guitars start and they’re actually quite nice until the vocals come in, which are unfortunately pretty dreadful. Lady Angellyca can hold the notes, but the tone of her voice really sounds quite strangled and that she’s singing out of her natural range. Not only that, but her diction is just terrible, it’s very difficult indeed to make out any of the words. Still, this song has some nice moments in it, but you can only work out what they are having listened to it about five times, otherwise it’s a bit of a dead loss. And we’re already a third of the way through.
3. In Autumnal Equinox 5:03
In Autumnal Equinox sounds like it’s in exactly the same key and tempo as Erzebet Bathory’s Song, so it doesn’t really feel like a different number. There’s a nice violiny mid-section reminiscent of early Tristania or TSOTB, but soon enough this breaks into a Nightwish-esque chord-bashing sequence before going back into the last repetitive segment. Which provides for some kind of variety. I’m trying here.
4. Ophelia’s Eyes 5:30
Right, this one is in the same key as the last one, so it’s becoming clear that our vocalist is not, shall we say, too versatile. Not only that, but the tempo and chord structures are too similar to the previous songs for comfort, so this could be any of the other tracks. My attention keeps being drawn to the lack of diction in the vocals, so it’s just as well that they provided the lyrics in the inlay, because Lady Angellyca really could be singing in Romanian for all anyone could know, though we do get a nice guitar solo at the end. Joy.
5. Beyond Death’s Embrace 6:27
Just by looking at the track time you get the impression this one’s going to be a bit of a long haul, but at least it’s slower than the other ones, that is until it reverts to the default Forever Slave tempo. The intro is quite a long one, and it’s not too bad, though FS are clearly held back in what they want to do by the budget on this demo. If this song were done on all the right instruments, it would actually be rather good, and the verse, amazingly, has quite an interesting tune before slowing down for the violin section and the masturbatory guitar solo which has little place in the feeling of the song. I get the impression that FS didn’t really know where to go with this one and it’s just a mish-mash of ideas thrown together which ended up working, though not too well. This is also exemplified by the spoken word discourse between Angellyca and Servalath – ‘she loves Satan!’ – before another attempt at operatic singing. Since this is the last ‘true’ track on the album, it should at least try to do something interesting, but it doesn’t succeed enough for you to think that the last six minutes of your life have been well-spent.
6. Funeral Of The Lost Soul 2:09
The closing song is another instrumental and a better one than the first. In fact, it rounds off the demo rather nicely and FS make far better use of the instruments that they have at their disposal, rather than exploiting their delusions of grandeur by letting their ideas run away with them. It’s still a little fairgroundy, but in a nicely spooky way. Still, you wouldn’t want this played at your funeral because everyone would laugh, and let’s face it, that’s the last thing that anyone wants.
Total playing time: 27:03
Total songs: 6
Resurrection is not a total loss, since what it shows is potential. The main problem with the album is that the songs are too samey, the production is stodgy and the vocals are really quite bad. I’m not one to drag a band up on bad production since a lot of the time I know it’s very difficult to pay for a good sound, but that doesn’t help Forever Slave’s overall cause because the rest of the elements on this demo are so bad. Lady Angellyca really has to work on her singing, but because the songs are all in the same register, I feel that she’s very limited as a vocalist and has little to offer this subgenre of music. I can understand the desire to cover all the ‘gothic’ bases and do the singing thing in edition to modelling, but from Resurrection at least, it’s clear she’s not that good at it. Forever Slave seems to be a band born out of the need to be recognised rather than the need to create naturally good music. Maybe there is some room for positive development, but if Resurrection is anything to go by, they’ll need a lot more.