Saturday, October 24, 2020
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Music Reviews

Houses of Heaven: Silent Places

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Artist: Houses of Heaven (@)
Title: Silent Places
Format: 12" + Download
Label: Felte (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Just recently I was turned on to a band from Oakland, California called Houses of Heaven and their debut album 'Silent Places.' Their sound is definitely what I'd call Coldwave, although the band (and their publicist) calls it a fusion of early industrial and techno rhythms with the melodicism of shoegaze and a heavy dose of dub-influenced effects. The guys in the band are Keven Tecon, Adam Beck, and Nick Ott, and they previously had an EP titled 'Remnant' which I haven't heard. To me, the best comparisons I can think of is Suicide meets Xymox (or Clan of Xymox if you prefer) with John Foxx waiting in the wings. Vocals are steeped in reverb (making lyrics a little hard to understand, but you do get the feeling) and the beat is definitely heavy, well-suited for the dark dancefloor, not that those clubs will be open anytime soon. The overall feel is very dark primitive in a cyberpunk sort of way, somewhat cold and distant. On the initial listen of the album I wasn't really knocked out, but I tell you, 'Silent Places' grow on you like a fungus; haunting, malignant and very potent. Although Houses of Heaven has a consistent sound throughout the album, the songs do not sound the same, or even similar enough to cause ennui. Although there's some melody in the music, it's not what I'd call distinctly melodic. To me, it's pretty underground stuff, and reminds me of some of the more obscure and darker bands I discovered in the '80s and '90s, most of which have faded into oblivion by now. There's a certain thrill to these guys that you don't get from the latest Nine Inch Nails or Cure album, and that’s what makes ‘Silent Places’ special. While the whole album is really, really good. My favorite tracks are “Sleep,” “Dissolve The Floor” and “In Soft Confusion”. Put this one on your “must buy” list as it’s coming out soon (May 1st). I only wish I had the vinyl version of this album, but with my "non-essential" business closed for a time yet undetermined, that doesn't seem to be very likely.

Blackie Blue Bird: Goodbye in July

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Artist: Blackie Blue Bird (@)
Title: Goodbye in July
Format: CD & 12"
Label: Aeanaos Records (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Heidi Lindahl (vocals, guitar) and Nils Lassen (guitars, bass, mandolin, lap steel guitar) are Blackie Blue Bird, from Copenhagen, Denmark, and 'Goodbye in July' is their sophomore album. This is ethereal wave/dream pop extraordinaire, maybe with a touch of goth melancholy, but not really gothic. Comparisons are easy; the first to come to mind is Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval. Then there is Love Spirals Downwards (remember them?) and also This Mortal Coil. There are likely many others as well. Remember those 'Heavenly Voices' compilation albums from the '90s? These guys would definitely be right at home on one of those. What makes Blackie Blue Bird so great though is not only the beauty of Heidi's voice and the instrumental prowess and arrangements by Nils, but the songs are exceptional. Awesomely exceptional. Every single one of them, all 11 tracks. The songs are moody, filled with emotion, and lyrically superb. The music has a haunting quality, and a bit of a country western lilt, slightly reminiscent of the Cowboy Junkies (with much better songs), but Heidi's voice is more a mix of Hope Sandoval and the smoother side of Stevie Nicks (sans bleating rasp). She also harmonizes elegantly with her lead vocal. There are no drums or percussion on the album, but it really isn't necessary anyway as the music stands on its won. Rarely have I heard an album that enthralled me from the moment I put it on, but this is certainly one of those rare birds. If for some reason 'Goodbye in July' doesn't propel Blackie Blue Bird into stardom, then this album is destined to be one of the most sought-after cult classics of 2020. Five stars and a "must own".

Virtues & Failings: 3

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Artist: Virtues & Failings (@)
Title: 3
Format: CD EP
Label: self-released
Rated: * * * * *
Well here's an oddity, a Vancouver, BC band by the name of Virtues & Failings, and their third EP (in a planned series of four) simply titled '3'. It's slightly experimental post-punk rock with a bit of a dark edge sounding a little like Pere Ubu's David Thomas fronting Joy Division. "Hero" will surely take you back to the earliest '80s when there was still room for experimental pop before it all turned so MTV commercial. It's a strong track with a thunderous beat and spot-on execution. Although I can't make out most of the words, "Unrest" has a pretty catchy chorus. If there's anything on this EP that has any commercial potential, it has to be "The Crawl," a song that seems to hit all the right chord changes. Last track "Tell Me" is a slow moving, moody atmospheric piece with no percussion that just hangs in the air like smoke, and just under two minutes too. This is a very brief EP at around twelve minutes total which certainly doesn't wear out its welcome. Although they say they recorded this in their basement, I hope that isn't where Virtues & Failings isn't planning to stay. This stuff was meant to be played live, and although there's little chance of that happening right now, I definitely hope they plan to in the future.

Porn: No Monster In God's Eyes (Act III)

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Artist: Porn (@)
Title: No Monster In God's Eyes (Act III)
Format: CD + Download
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: * * * * *
'No Monster In God's Eyes' is French Goth-Industrial band (they call it “murder-rock”) Porn's final act in their concept trilogy which began with 'The Ogre Inside' (Act 1) and continued with 'The Darkest of Human Desires' (Act 2). I reviewed 'The Ogre Inside' back in September 2017, but not ‘TDOHD’ Act 2. 'The Ogre Inside' was about the inner struggle of the enigmatic anti-hero (Mr. Strangler), his dark desires and how society can oppress your will. This is a fight no one can win, the Ogre that devours you from the inside always wins. In the second opus, Mr. Strangler, by embracing his “true self “, expresses his dark impulses without limitations and has no boundaries. With his crew, Mr. Strangler commits murders and massacres. He also invites everyone to make a step forward and act, invites you to express your darkest desires and join his death cult. For Mr. Strangler and his team, the Ogre was released. They let the darkest of human desires be: murder. In this last part, Mr. Strangler’s bloody odyssey comes to an end. He is in jail awaiting execution. This final Act is his testament. Faced with the imminent end of his life, he takes stock of his life and begins a dialogue with his death and enjoins everyone to continue his work… the work of God, because if God exists everything is his. And even the worst monsters are the children of God. There are no monsters in God’s eyes.

I did manage to preview ‘The Darkest of Human Desires’ as reference for this review. The album is rather “in your face” bold, almost like listening the serious side of Marilyn Manson (which maybe he has, but isn’t showing or telling). ‘No Monster In God’s Eyes’ is a rather different affair, but still, you can pretty much tell from the stark looking electric chair on the cover that this isn't going to end well. Philippe Deschemin's lyrics express a wide range of Mr. Strangler's feelings - anger, defiance, longing, resignation, disgust, hope...but definitely not sorrow, remorse, pity, regret or despair. Yes, he's managed to get inside the mind of a serial killer, and it ain't pretty. The music is appropriately down as well, heavy and somewhat morose. While there is plenty of muscular industrial guitar, the band also explores less forceful and more sensitive musical aspects ala The Cure. Calling this album well-rounded would be an understatement. Deschemin's vocals are prefect on 'NMIGE'; melodic yet convincingly dark and edgy, without being stereotypically hoarse and gravelly. The way it comes together is somewhat slick, as if the band's whole career has led up to this point. Porn is just a hair's breadth away from sounding like mainstream alt metal, but haven't quite crossed over into A Perfect Circle, HIM, Opeth, Orgy or Nine Inch Nails territory...yet. They still have their own unique identity, and a really good one at that. How much you’re going to enjoy the album really depends on how much you can buy into Deschemin's treatment of the serial killer concept, but most of the songs still sound pretty good on their own. I’d recommend getting the trilogy of albums, or at least listening to the other two first. (You’ve still got some time as this one is slated for a March 27th release date.) The album was mastered by Brian Lucey, who previously worked with Ghost, Marilyn Manson, Depeche Mode, Arctic Monkeys, and Royal Blood, so it sounds damn fine. The one thing that’s a shame about any band releasing a new album at this time is that Covid-19 has put a damper on doing supporting live shows nearly anywhere in the world. Hopefully that will change in the not too distant future.

Halo Manash: Unetar

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Artist: Halo Manash
Title: Unetar
Format: CD
Label: Aural Hypnox (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Almost concomitant with the re-issue of the series of private sessions of "Underworld Transmission", Aural Hypnox re-issued another sold out release, previously edited in a strictly limited 40-minutes lasting cassette in 2016 (40 copies for the standard edition and 40 copies for the box set), a recording that Halo Manash made by collecting audio material during a private ritual theyh name "Tulitania", held in the wood of Northern Ostrobothnia - close to the Oulu-based lodge of Aural Hypnox in Finland - on December 2006, and to the evocation of Unetar that Anti Ittnaa H., one member of Halo Manash, in Katajan Kaiku studio between January and March 2016. That studio has been described as 'somniferous' in the linear notes, which also mentioned the participation of JVK (moniker of Jaakko Vanhala) for the forging of the obscure and likewise somniferous hymn to Unetar, that gives the title to this output. The description doesn't belong to the creativity of some fan of Harry Potter or Game of Thrones, but it seems to refer to an entity described as the bringer of sleep, that maybe belongs to some old Finnish legends. As evidence of this origin, Unetar got also quoted by Leevi Madetoja, another composer based in Oulu a couple of centuries ago, who wrote a composition for male choir for this entity. The sinister trembling of bows and the electronic yells that could come by some wraith of The Witcher video game on the long hymn that Halo Manash made to evoke this entity highlights both the ritual aspect and the supposed role of Unetar, while "Valveesta", the second hymn, shows a different mixture of elements and even if it sounds ever darker than "Unetar", its radial frequencies and the gloomy vocals and breathes on the back layer of the sonic sphere makes it somehow more entrancing. Halo Manash also attached a 9 minutes lasting track, named after the above-mentioned ritual "Tulitania", which sets a heavily catchy crescendo stroke after stroke.