Music Reviews

Artist: Fallen (@)
Title: Secrets of the Moon
Format: CDS (CD Single)
Label: Psychonavigation Records
Distributor: Darla Records
Since my childhood, music remains the admission cost to the theater of the mind. My parents, teachers and friends played instrumental music as a way to evoke and inspire imagination and Secrets of the Moon is one of those currencies. Secrets... is minted in musical memory fragments whose oboe conjure The Dream Academy, ethno-percussive bits, the ether of Muslimgauze and synthesizer tones and melodies hint at Dead Can Dance, among other pop retro fragments that are molten in a kind of nostalgic foundry.

It seems Fallen's goal is to channel experience and personal narrative into a kind of soundtrack, and Secrets of the Moon largely succeeds. The album and track titles themselves suggest storybook tales to enthrall young and old alike. The title track opens dramatically enough, with simulated gusts of wind that might pass as moans from a chorus of spirits while resonating drones intone and reverberate as if along massive canyons followed by ethno-percussion fragments and gusts of wheezing wind. A third of the way through the title track, an oboe melody materializes and hovers like a friendly guiding spirit light in these darkened canyons. 'Golden Dust (the Vanishing)' holds more dramatic tension, melodies crafted from santoor and synthesizers, accented with rock guitars that seem to narrate the plot line of the story. 'Ravenhand' moves the narrative along, accompanied by our friendly oboe, again with santoor and percussion'ambushed by drone midway, but melody returns and prevails to the end of this piece. 'Of Dreams (and Wounds)' is the more magical (and dreamlike) piece whose reverberating synthesis evoke 80's Philip Glass pop compositions that has both a brooding and mysterious quality. For this listener, moments of nostalgia are experienced, particularly when the saturated guitar power chords waft from the ether near the end. 'Cosmos' is darker, whose wind instrument melody reminds of Angelo Badalamenti's more dramatic scores. Secrets of the Moon is book-ended with 'At the End of the World', a lovely downtempo synth-pop-esque piece with gusts of ambient drone and restrained hand-percussion and electric guitar accents that concludes our story on a calmer note. Perfect music for closing film credits, actually.

Secrets is of the Moon is what you play to a writing class, in a darkened room to give inspiration before the creative ideas flow. It is both evocative and dramatic in a wistful way that just fits the traditional storybook mood. One gets the feeling that no matter how dark Fallen's narrative gets, all will be well by the end of the album. These are the sounds of enchantment, wonderment and fantasy with enough drama to keep the listener engaged.
Artist: HLZ (@)
Title: Dying Memories/Duel
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Warm Communications (@)
Rated: *****
Another good entry on excellent Texan imprint Warm Communiations comes from italian producer Emilio Dimitri aka HLZ, who speeds down the block by a couple of fast running tracks on this digital release. Besides the obvious reference to the high rate of bpm of the genre, I've not used the verb "speed" by chance as both "Duel" and "Dyring Memories" manage to render insane races in listener's mind to the point we could guess that his previous experience as half of the influential drum'n'bass act Need For Mirros turned into a Need For Speed game session. Have a listen to the the rolling machinery of "Duel" and the insertion of noises from igniting engines and running cars could let you surmise it got inspired by an insomniac night in front of some racing videogame. The way he heats the rod of a typical amen break until it glows bright red by means of distorted guitars on "Dying Memories" is really amazing as well. Warmly recommended to the followers of the genre and the more demanding djs who are going to speed dancehalls up!
Artist: Braindance (@)
Title: Master of Disguise
Format: CD
Label: Progressive Darkwave Recordings (@)
Rated: *****
Braindance (not to be confused with the Brit streetpunk band of the same name from the 90's) is a progressive darkwave act from new York City. They've been around since 1992, and 'Master of Disguise' is their fourth release. Really?? How come I've never heard of these people before? Am I that hermitized? Checking out a little of their past discography, I found them to be a competent goth-metal band with not quite remarkable material...until now. This is their first new release in over ten years, and they've honed their skills and refined their packaging into something very noteworthy over a decade later. Braindance is essentially Sebastian Elliott - Lead Vocals and Vora Vor - Guitar, Backing Vocals, Keyboards, Programming. On 'Master of Disguise' they are aided and abetted by Beca Schack and Natalia Eth - backing vocals; Andrew Bunk - 5 & 6 string basses; Stygmie Von
Skunk-A-Loohvff (Kenny Grohowski) - percussion, and Tony Geballe - guitar, saz, and additional programming. (The latter formerly of the Trey Gunn Band and Robert Fripp's League of Crafty Guitarists.)

Before we get to the music, I have to address the packaging. The CD cover features magic word squares comprised of mystic symbols courtesy of Sebastian Elliott on the outside of this six-panel digipak. One ten-panel insert inside gives you the track listing, album credits, lyrics, and photos of Sebastian and Vora. Yikes! Sebastian has the physique and attitude of an up-and-coming WWE superstar, and Vora looks vaguely similar to a dominatrix I encountered at a party at the (ill-fated and now defunct) Nutcracker Suite in NYC. Well, if
you're gonna play the game you might as well have the looks, and for this kind of thing it certainly doesn't hurt. The second insert is a 16-page booklet mini graphic novel that outlines the concept of the album. I can sum it up in two words - "identity crisis". My copy also came with a thumb drive in the shape of a gold key giving me access to more band promotional material.

Now on to the music, because that's what it's all about, eh? The opener, "Unearthed" is a brief mechanoid ambient track setting the mood. From there, you are launched into "Lost" which sets the tone for the entire album. The sound production is slick and stellar. Elliott's powerful Pete Steele-ish baritone vocals made me sit up and take notice quickly. Appropriately themed dialogue samples fill in some gaps, and Vora's blazing guitar holds its own with many metal giants I've heard over the years. Everything here is just so damn good I'm having a hard time believing my ears! (SIDE NOTE: The video for this song, produced by Tony Hanson, is astonishing for an unsigned band. Part heavy metal fantasy, part Stargate, part mystic mayhem, and pretty darn expensive looking. If MTV was still doing music videos instead of the crap they morphed into, I swear this would be at the top of the heap.) From "Lost" the listener is quickly thrown into "The Eye of the Storm". Both of these tracks have decent hooks, but I'm detecting there is something lacking. That's made clearer on the next track, "The Game". There's a lot of good melody but I'm not being grabbed by anything truly
memorable. It's good, it's polished, but where is that je ne sais quoi that this band really needs to jettison themselves into the stratosphere? Oh well, maybe later. "Hunter and Hunted" is a sample-laden atmospheric piece with a quick-paced semi-tribal beat. Nice change of pace, but where are we going here? I'm beginning to feel like I'm stuck in a Marvel movie soundtrack."Dysphoria" pulls out all the stops in sampleville. This is a potpourri of dialogue samples culled from tons of movies you've seen centered the theme of identity. It's 2.5 minutes and would likely have cost mucho dinero to clear, but my guess is that it never was. (This could prove problematic to the band if they achieve the measure of success from 'Master of Disguise' that I'm sure they're hoping to.) Title track 'Master of Disguise' is
another neat melodic metal song lacking only a dynamite hook. "More Than a Moment" is a nifty, relentless burner that threatens to break the mold...almost. Still, a dynamite track. Changing pace, things slow down a bit for "The Silence", and once again, we have a very good
melodic metal song. I'm getting very Type-O Neg vibes from this one. "Dystopia" is similar to "Dysphoria" in its plethora of dialogue samples. This is getting a bit old by now, but I can see why this album took ten years to make...half that time must have been spent gathering and compiling samples. "Written in Stone" is an instrumental with yet more samples. Tracks 12, 13 and 14 are three chapters of "Valley of the Kings", and a strong ancient Egyptian component explored here. Past lives? Present dilemma? Future demagoguery? Who knows. Here Sebastian seems to be striving for meaning, spiritual enlightenment, wisdom
of the ages, etc., etc. Final track, "Entombed" is an elongated, atmospheric grandiose instrumental ending with the falling rain. Epic journey finally concluded.

So, what is the meaning of it all anywho? That's for you to decide. 'Master of Disguise' is an interesting 77 minute excursion not without its fantastic and bombastic moments. Elliott's confident and formidable vocals are a force to be reckoned with. Vora Vor and company are superb. Yet, there is the problem of too many samples and not enough big hooks. Concept albums can be tricky, and Braindance came very close to pushing this one over the edge, but unfortunately no (five star) cigar. Still, I'm not writing this off. It has too much going for it, and I'm guessing that when they get around to taking this live, it will
be a show you won't soon forget.
Artist: Moloch (@)
Title: Verwüstung
Format: CD
Label: Depressive Illusions (@)
Rated: *****
Even if reviewed after "Die Isolation" it's labelled as published last year. Simply dubbed as "True Devastating Black Metal from Ukraine" it's a release void of any conceptual or elaborated presentation so it asks to be heard as a classic release but it's more elaborated than releases presented with rhetoric phrases and long statements of intentions.
"Todesstille" is an almost dark ambient introduction based on the juxtaposition of drones creating a menacing atmosphere. With the dry drum beats of "Blutmond" the album returns to the classic black metal form. "Spiritueller Selbstmord" is haunting with the use of the synth in the background the almost operatic vocal line while "Negativitat" is as aggressive as fast. The menacing atmosphere of the first track is obtained with guitar in "Nur de Tod ist wirklich" while "Die Kalte der Ewigkeit" is based on the rhythmic impact. The bass guitar of "Du bist nichts in dieser sterbenden Welt" evokes a deep sadness that is exalted by the vocals in the second part of the track. As in a circle, "Verwüstung" closes this album with the same form of "Todesstille" but with subtler means and using even silence as a composition resource, unusual in this field.
Honestly tagging Burzum in this release, it shares the same quality of this influence: the ability to floor the listener escaping all the cul de sac of this form. To listen with care.
Artist: Embrace of Hedera (@)
Title: The castle on the rolling hills
Format: CD
Label: Black Metal Cult Records (@)
Distributor: Depressive Illusions
Rated: *****
The linear notes of this release present Embrace of Hedera as a Female Musician from Ukraine and this EP as "dedicated to Nature and our fallen Heroes". The result is a album of Neo Folk / Ethereal and so it's something on the path of tradition rather than experiments.
The guitar arpeggio of "The Vampire Song" opens this release and takes the listener into a world of histories. The poor recording quality of "Beyond This World" doesn't owe justice to a good song. The melodic line of "The Abyss of Dreams" is charming while "My Dead Friend" sounds as recorded during a summer day on the beach. The evoking synth of "The Castle on the Rolling Hills" closes this release posing a question on how could be a full length release.
Apart from some naif production elements, caused by the spartan recording, the writing quality and the musical interpretation states this project as enjoyable and full of promises. Recommended for fans.
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