Music Reviews



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Artist: Storm (@)
Title: Medusa
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
It wasn't that long ago that I reviewed Hawaii's premier Progressive Goth Metal band Storm's debut album, 'Storm's a Brewin'. Although there were a few issues, they showed a lot of promise, and I didn't expect them to be back so soon with a followup, let alone concept album that is actually a full-blown metal musical. 'Medusa' is a retelling of the Ovidian version of the Greek mythological tale you may already be familiar with from 'Clash of the Titans'. In a nutshell, the beautiful Medusa, high priestess of Athena, attracts the unwanted attention of Poseidon who rapes her in Athena's temple. Athena is none too pleased about this and takes it out on Medusa, transforming here into a hideous Gorgon (hair turned into serpents, terifying visage, etc.) and banishes her to a far northern island. Any glory seekers who gazed upon Medusa's horrific countenance were turned to stone. That is until the heroic Perseus comes along with a mirrored shield (and a few other other gifts from the Gods) and beheads her. There's a bit more to it than that, but you get the idea.

The role of Medusa is played by Sandy Essman, lead singer of Storm, Perseus by Kevin Jones, Athena by Margaret Ransdell-Green and Poseidon by Ka'imi Hanano'eau. Gerard K. Gonsalves - drums; Darren Soliven - bass; Jase LeFebvre - guitar; and Eric Barker - keyboards are the musicians in Storm. The album opens with a brief deep voiced narrration over some foreboding musical ambience - "It is a time of Gods, of monsters, of mortals..." on "A Prelude to Tragedy" before the band launches into "The Priestess". Miss Essman is a poweful witchy vocalist, perfect for playing Medusa. The song lyrics are faithful to the story, and songs well constructed for dramatic effect. Musically, the band has moved into proggier territory; likely Mr. Barker's contributions have stimulated that as his keyboards take on a more defined role. I am also noticing that the recording is better balanced than Storm's debut. "A God's Desire" is a track that could easily stand on its own outside of the concept album. Great hook! Musicianship is top-notch throughout.

Now for the downside- that deep-pitched narrator shows up at the beginning of every track leading the listener by nose (or ears), and it gets overbearing. Not that it isn't well done; I just don't think every track needs a voiceover. Here we need to pause a moment, and consider this isn't just some concept album, but a "metal musical", or perhaps more accurately- a "metal opera". Without much actual dialogue (spoken words by the players), some narration is helpful in order to flesh out the concept. This likely works better live than in a purely audio format.

Back on the positive side, the album flows very well and the guest vocalists are very good in their roles. Kevin Jones as Persius gets a bit more vocal time, and sounds somewhat like Geddy Lee to these ears. Since the guest vocalists are integral to performing this album, they undoubtedly will have to be along for the ride when the band tours this album. From what I've seen of their debut performance in Hawaii, this show is meant to be done complete with costumes and props. It won't be cheap to tour 'Medusa', but if Storm really want to make its mark, tour it they must. How soon that happens could be dependent on the band's new guitarist, Collen Kelton, replacing Jase who is leaving to further his military career.

It ought to be interesting to see how well 'Medusa' is received live beyond the shores of Hawaii. My best guess, if done properly, it will go down A STORM.
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Artist: Kode9
Title: Nothing
Format: CD
Label: Hyperdub (@)
Rated: *****
In spite of its title, the first solo album by Steve Goodman aka Kode9, the man behind the curtains of the excellent Hyperdub, is not really a devotional act to nihilism. Many musicians and sound artists prefer to refer to their recording studio as proper laboratories, as the connection between science and sound is closer than someone could guess and the work on sound parameters could look like the one of a scientist which test different conditions for an experiment; Kode 9 seems to build a sonic bridge between his sonic science and quantum mechanics, but you don't need to know quantum field theory or other matters to appreciate Kode9's output, even if I could say as an occasional reader of that branch of literature where more or less notorious theoretical physicist try to make the matter easier for common people, "Nothing" could enhance any peak over some interesting scientific ridges: the opening "Zero Point Energy", which got ignited by colliding metallic electrons before a sort of black hole (simply a distorted bass) swallows the track, as well as many other sticky sonic grids like the perfectly cut "Holo" - a really impressive output that he made by modified female vocals, synth sound, sub-bass pulsations and astonishing percussive elements -, the gorgeous "Zero Work" - a sort of strange artifact from some unknown planet in between future dubstep and footwork -, the trap-like computational chains of "Notel" and "Vacuum Packed", the rhythmical beat-driven rolling of "Respirator" where a human breathe sounds like overlapping the radar picture of cosmic breathe, the funny ping-pong of samples on "Casimir Effect" or the masterfully remake of "9 Samurai" (together with Spaceape), one of the best moment of his first steps that he renamed as "9 Drones" immediately launch listeners into this sort of augmented hyperreality, where the joy of discovery and the concern of human mind in front of the Infinite coexist. Likewise catchy, the memory of his friend and partner-in-art Spaceape, who died after a prolonged battle against cancer in 2014, is another strong feeder of this great album: he seems to live again on the track "Third Ear Transmission" in the shape of an immortal digital entity which managed to find a broadcasting channel from the afterlife dimension that he already knows, as well as in the enchanting "Void", a tune which was originally made for the vocalist, and the final "Nothing Lasts Forever", whose whimsical electric overture got pulverized by the 9 minutes of silence that follow...
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Artist: Sabre
Title: Yoga - Alix Perez remixes
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Plasma Audio
Rated: *****
One of the first beating of wings by Melbourne-based label Plasma Audio was "Yoga", a track by which DJ Gove Kidao aka Sabre combined sinister catchy sonorities and bouncing wonky beats; the label recently decided to reprise it and include that tune in a release, which includes a couple of remixes of a young wizard of drum 'n' bass scene, the Noth-London-based Belgian DJ and producer Alix Depauw aka Alix Perez, who already collaborated with Sabre on some beat-driven sonic patterns. Both his Club mix and his Warped mix features a higher ratio of inertia as the elements of the original version sound more burdened with distortion, an aspect which got slightly mitigated by wider echo and reverberation as well as by some funny collisions of "bumps" against "swishes" on the first one, which I mostly prefer for shrewdly inoculated embellishments.
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Artist: Marco Scarassatti
Title: Novelo Elétrico
Format: CD
Label: Creative Sources (@)
Rated: *****
The fact I'm writing one day before the 103rd "birthday" (even if passed away in 1984) of the Swiss-born sound artist, composer and brilliant inventor of new instrument Walter Smetak is a pure coincidence. As the well-informed should know, he mainly lived and worked in Brasil and his inventiveness as well as his "pioneering spirit", spurred by the alchemical belief that music and sound were nothing but mediums to reach different levels of knowledge and awareness, had a strong influence on the birth of the so-called Tropicalia or Tropicalismo - named after "Tropicália: ou Panis et Circencis", a collaborative album by Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil - in the late 60ies, which fused popular and traditional aspects of Brazilian culture with avant-garde and "exotic" elements. Walter Smetak could be considered the main source of inspiration of Marco Scarassatti, who inherited both the spiritual framework, which has been the subject of his essay "Walter Smetak, the alchemist of sounds" (Perspective/SESC, 2008), and his knack of making new musical instruments, but after listening to this "Novelo Eletrico", where he used some of his inventions, I could say there are even some stylistic similarities - if you check Smetak's self-named album that came out on Philips in 1974, you can easily notice them -. I can't really say how a flugelsax cretino, a magnum chaos, an ikebana-flor, an ovni or an harpa paleolitica - some of the instruments used by Marco - work, but I can check how they sound in the five tracks of this album: I particularly enjoyed "dream work", a tribute to the well-known short film by Peter Tscherkassky, as it sounds as hypnotical and hallucinatory as that kind of video art, and the oblique sonorities of the final "magnum chaos's portrait", but the other moments of this release are likewise interesting.
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Artist: Ferran Fages & Ernesto Rodrigues (@)
Title: CRU
Format: CD
Label: Creative Sources (@)
Rated: *****
Anytime I listen to something by Spanish sound artist Ferran Fages, who gained some acknowledgements in the improv scene for a set of interesting experiments mainly on electronic devices but also on turntables and guitars, I have the impression he manages to enhance silent brakes in between more or less drone-like sounds. On the occasion of this release, he co-signed with Ernesto Rodrigues, who inserted some snippet of more or less modified tones of his viola, you could imagine that those silent brakes is the field recording they took in the middle of some street, which features the 37-minutes lasting track and is the really pervasive elements of this recording, where their inserts (I'm not sure they recorded and inserted in different moments or simultaneously, even if I could guess Ferran and Ernesto put their resounding stuff in different moments as the linear notes say that "CRU" was recorded in Barcelona in 2013 and in Lisbon in 2014) could be like thoughts or feelings in between the overwhelming and somehow disturbing "silence" of road traffic noise, which managed to interrupt the stream of consciousness of the sentient passer-by or bystander. It's neither an exhibition of samples nor of compositional skills, but it could be considered a likewise fascinating listening experience.
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