Saturday, April 29, 2006

Synesthetic Response 1

This is not review. This is response. Some of the bits below (impressions for albums from 2004) were rescued from an online forum where they were originally posted.

Tool :: 10,000 Days
(2006, Volcano)
Score: 10

We have all waited - and at last, the long emptiness is over. Tool's 10,000 Days is beyond comprehension. Having listened now over 20 times, I am still coming to grips with what Tool have bestowed upon us. The listener could get lost in the packaging itself (stereoscopic goggles are built-in) before the disc even starts. But once those first notes manifest... the story that Tool tells us is powerful, complete, unending and inscrutable. 10,000 Days is an album of unspeakable aural complexity. Astonishing vocals, hypnotic drumming, and guitar and bass work of the rarest quality. You will perceive things via headphones that can't be perceived in any other way. The album overflows with recursive details. The last third is a miracle of mood, a spiraling maelstrom of ideas and places. Right in Two is (possibly) the finest track Tool has ever recorded. Evidence of evolution. Onion peelings. The Great Beast returns. Recommendation: invest in some real headphones. This album is worth it.

Killing Joke :: Hosannas from the Basements of Hell
(2006, Cooking Vinyl)
Score: 8

Killing Joke has always had the injustices of the world in its cross-hairs, setting fire to society's greed-infused surfaces through Jaz Coleman's flame-thrower-like lyrics and vocals. On Hosannas from the Basements of Hell, Coleman is as powerful as at any moment in the band's history, but the difference this time is one of elevation. Killing Joke have gone underground - and they are tunneling at a frenetic pace. Much has been made of the ancient labyrinth of cellars in Prague where the band recorded, and the music seems to emerge from below; it echoes of the pit and instead of fire, Killing Joke is eroding the very foundations of its targets with a sonic assault. These tracks are laced with power and repetition, akin to some of Killing Joke's finest musical moments. Geordie's guitars are vital, alive, and Paul Raven's bass lines stab from the darkness. Coleman's masterful contributions on keyboard give some of the tracks a truly cinematic feel (the orchestral aspects of Invocation are mind-blowing).

Jesu :: Silver
(2006, Hydra Head)
Score: 9

It's been a while - too long, in fact, since Jesu released Jesu (or S/T, for self-titled?) in 2004 (for more on this album, scroll down a bit). Now Justin K. Broadrick has returned with Silver, and this four track EP is one of the finest pieces of modern meta-metal that I've ever heard. While Broadrick has described it as "perfect for drifting off and smoking too much dope" (he's got that right), Silver finds the overt menace and distortion of Jesu's last release toned down a bit; if the first album kept one rooted to the ground, wrapped in an ethereal battle between light and dark, Silver lets us fly into the neuro-sphere that lies between. There is a new brightness here, but the epic structure that Jesu is so fond of persists. Broadrick's vocals are filled with a distant yearning, yet they never take precedence over the music itself, which is consistent, driven, mysterious and satisfying.

Gary Numan :: Jagged
(2006, Metropolis Records)
Score: 10

Numan's new disc Jagged is an astonishing return, steeped in a well of electronic sounds that we haven't meaningfully heard since 1981's The Pleasure Principle. Numan has always had a knack for the epic - generating great analog veils of synth that send the mind into deep space. Numan is not repeating himself, however. His new tracks are given power by the past, fueled by the journey that Numan fans have been on for over 20+ years. Numan's lyrics are as thought-provoking as ever. Jagged is easily his best album of the new millennium.

ISIS :: Panopticon
(2004, Ipecac Recordings)
Score: 9

This is mesmerizing, down-tempo metal with a real wall-of-sound approach. Songs typically start slow, with some great melodic structure, and suddenly you find yourself overwhelmed with heavy, powerful guitars... like the sudden crash of a wave on the shore. I'm not surprised that ISIS toured with Jesu (Justin K. Broadrick's post-Godflesh experiment), but while Jesu is clearly the more distorted of the two bands (and the far deeper experience), ISIS are doing something wholly original. The vocals take a back seat here, but the power of the guitars, and the supremely listenable wall-of-sound methodology has kept this album in weekly rotation on my iPod.

And speaking of Jesu...

Jesu :: Jesu
(or S/T)
(2004, Hydra Head)
Score: 10

This is what happens when metal meets the metaphysical. Meta-metal, perhaps. If I had to choose one word to describe Justin K. Broadrick's new project, that word would be... beautiful. The music is heavy, driving, and yet pleasingly listenable - soaring, at times, into a dark, down-tempo stratosphere of melodic, flickering intrigue. This is music for standing on a dark cliff, with a cool wind on your face. The vocals are haunting, and filled with a sense of anticipation, though Broadrick does sound a bit like Nyarlathotep (the Creeping Chaos from Lovecraft's canon, and thus, Godflesh of old) on track 7 - men/women - rendering a savagely heavy portrait, in a mere 9:29, of what Godflesh might have sounded like had they progressed further into the 21st century (at the 5:53 mark, it sounds as if Godflesh itself suddenly manifests, with their classic, loping, bass-grinding gait). With no track less than 9 minutes, Jesu is a triumph for Godflesh fans, and perhaps a scintillating new experience for those willing to listen. What it does differently than Godflesh is embrace an exploration of space, both real and imagined. Perhaps the influence of Loop can still be heard here (for Robert Hampson was once a member of Godflesh). Repetition leads to breakthrough.

Skinny Puppy :: The Greater Wrong of the Right
(2004, Hunter)
Score: 10

Deep, thought-provoking electronic/industrial soundscapes, rich in texture, overflowing with complex imagery. Listen with headphones. Admission: I have no "favorite" Skinny Puppy album. I really love them all. They are each unique documents, and comparing them, especially to one another, somehow seems disrespectful. These guys have always been on another plane of existence. We're just lucky they've returned; and fortunate that they've brought something back with them... something darkly terrible, wonderful, and purely evolutionary.