Benthic Realm “Self Titled” Album Review + Stream…

Benthic Realm

Benthic Realm – CD // DD

Self Released – May 19, 2017

Reviewed by Santiago “Chags” Gutierrez

 

Krista Van Guilder is no stranger to the music scene, formerly providing her talents to Warhorse, Dahlia’s Dead, Lucubro, Obsidian Halo, and most recently, Second Grave. Second Grave put out some amazing music in the form of two EP’s and a full length, Blacken the Sky, which was their final output. Krista states that “it felt like a natural end to the band was surfacing” soon after the release of Blacken the Sky. Krista jumped at the chance to work with Brian Banfield (drums) after he mentioned that he wanted to start a new project. Second Grave bassist, Maureen Murphy, joined in and Benthic Realm was born soon after a few jamming sessions in Krista’s Massachusetts basement.

Benthic Realm is their three track debut. Krista’s vocal range sounding as wonderfully dynamic as ever. Her guitar work encompassing everything a doom heavy inspired hard rock record should sound like. Stripped down melodies and riffs that encircle the very essence of the genre. Murphy and Banfield forming a very competent rhythm section that holds the spirit of the offering together. The first two tracks, ‘Awakening’ and ‘Don’t Fall in Line’, are rooted in real world concerns. Krista mentions that ‘Awakening’ basically “is asking the question: Are we really aware of what is going on, or are we complacent to let others decide our future for us.?” She further elaborates that “Don’t Fall in Line” is “urging people to do something and not expect that everyone else will fight the fight for them.”

 

Pro Band Pic

 

Track three is where the benthic realm is explored. It summons subjugating rhythms and melodies from the darkest of the ocean floor. The album cover fitting the theme nicely. Lyrically, this one comes from a more fictitious angle. “The place where serpents dwell takes you down to hell.” One can’t help notice a certain Lovecraft feel to the overall composition. The sheer helplessness of the whole situation that the song conveys makes this a perfect album closer.

Recorded at Mad Oak Studios and produced by Benny Grotto, Benthic Realm is a strong, first introductory effort that shows how doom-centric hard rock should be delivered. A blueprint, if you will, that should be made note of. This small collection of tunes establishes a foundation of what is hopefully just the beginning of many more to come. Benthic Realm is available on Bandcamp, so go snag yourself a copy, you won’t be disappointed.


Elder “Reflections Of A Floating World” Album Review & Stream…

Elder

Reflections Of A Floating World – Vinyl // CD // DD

Stickman Records/Armageddon Label – Release Date: June 2nd, 2017

Reviewed by Andy “Dinger” Beresky

 

Today I’m going to talk a little about conflicts of interest.  That’s a pretty scarce topic in the realm of the music world, though for me, it’s always that proverbial elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, or even acknowledge.  Why?  Because conflicts of interest is pretty much business as usual in the music biz and I don’t think that it’s often on people’s collective radars as a result.  Why am I choosing this particular topic as the item of interest du jour?  Because in full disclosure, I’ve had a long history with Elder, and I’d hate for any of you to think that my objective subjectivity could be in any way tainted by either personal interests or outside influences.

If you think about it, it’s fairly obvious why Elder and Black Pyramid would have so much history.  Both bands were coming into their own around the same time, in the same geographic area, Massachusetts, initially playing a similar style of post-Sleep stoner doom, and we were both signed to the same label, Meteorcity.  We often shared billings on New England shows, heck I remember playing basement shows in Providence, Rhode Island with these guys before any of them were even old enough to drink legally (they didn’t let that stop them).  I borrowed Nick’s amplifier at the Stoner Hand Of Doom festival when the reverb tank of my trusty Ampeg V-4 went to shit and took the rest of the amp with it.  I went out and bought a Soundcity 120 like his afterwards, and eventually Jack from Elder used it as a bass amp when we were sharing a bill in Keene, New Hampshire.  I slept on Matt’s sister’s couch after a High On Fire show in Boston, and I don’t think that she was particularly pleased to wake up to a strange hairy beardo, so I quickly made myself scarce.  Even when I had taken a full hiatus from music, Nick gently urged me back to towards playing again, and Matt encouraged me to come over to jam with he and Nick, as they were both living in Western Mass. at the time.  This is an offer that I sadly declined, but that’s besides the point.  The point is, these guys were my brothers-in-arms, my friends and my musical family, so obviously I have every reason to write them a glowing review, right?

This seems like a particularly pertinent time for this discussion because I don’t think that anyone is going to dispute that Elder are amazing, so my glowing review is just going to be E Pluribus Unum, one of many, out of the many, one, par for the course.  I don’t think anyone would seriously question my journalistic integrity because of this review….well, no more than they normally would anyways.  It’s not like I’m writing that some previously unknown and seemingly mediocre band is the greatest thing since sliced pepperoni pizza and cheap beer, and you later find out that they’re actually my drinking buddies and pizza pals.  That would of course be highly suspect, wouldn’t it?  But Elder have rightfully earned their place in the pantheon of heavy psychedelic rock, so I’m considering myself relatively safe.

As I’ve written in past reviews, I shouldn’t be safe.  You shouldn’t inherently trust my opinion.  You shouldn’t inherently trust any reviewer’s opinion, really.  Most of those opinions will be rife with conflicting interests: the desire to see their favorite bands succeed, wanting to do favors for friends, wanting to please the powers that be, mainly the labels that are supplying them with free music, etc.  It becomes a bit like politics – the longer someone is in the game, the more they start to develop relationships that serve themselves rather than the constituency they initially aimed to and still claim to serve.    Eventually the conflicting motivations become deeply embedded, unconscious, second nature.  Many reviewers are nothing more than wannabe taste makers who think that they should personally possess the power to decide who succeeds and who does not.  Many write for the sake of their own ego, getting off on their own wordiness and acclaim as writers rather than the music that they supposedly serve.  Many simply follow trends, or just write safe as milk, formulaic reviews because it pays the bills.  No one is totally pure or entirely immune, no matter how noble their initial intent.   It eventually becomes all about influence. In the end, in some way, shape and form, they all end up serving The Threefold God Of Influence: Power, Fame, Money. They are under the influence.  You can’t trust them.  You can’t trust me.  I have my own agenda; it’s just not any of those particular things, is it?

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On their first album, Elder had a song called “The Riddle Of Steel.”  I’m sure most of you are familiar with the original Conan The Barbarian movie, where Conan’s father waxes poetic about trust.  He talks about how you can’t trust anything in this world except your sword.  Wise words, though I believe that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, and that’s the crux of my agenda.  I’ll tell you who I believe that you should trust: trust your own taste and opinion.  Trust yourself.  Think for yourself.  Choose for yourself. This, this you can trust.

The subject matter of Elder’s latest magnum dopus also makes my rant timely, as it ties right into the themes of the album itself.  In many ways, I believe that Elder and I are actually saying the same things through different mediums, though I’m much more blunt about it while they utilize an elaborate allegory, mainly that of the floating world.  Known as Ukiyo, the term is a reference to life in urban Japan during its period of high feudalism.  The typical Japanese city-dweller would embrace the many aspects of Ukiyo: the beauty, the artistry, the culture, along with the flip side, the decadence and the corruption, whereas the Buddhists saw the floating world as the very apotheosis of the dualistic illusions from which they sought to escape.

The music industry, in many ways, is much like the floating world, and I’m fairly certain that despite their youth, they’ve been in it deep enough and long enough to recognize the similarities.  On Reflections Of A Floating World, it’s unclear if Elder are holding up a mirror to the conflicting realities of modern life, or directly commenting on music in the way that I’ve chosen to in the context of this review.  I suppose that in the end, it doesn’t really matter, as our precious little music scene is nothing if not a microcosm of a larger cultural phenomena.  I truly don’t think that we can separate one from the other – great art in my book will always be relevant to what is going on at the moment; it will always harness the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, the collective unconscious, first and foremost as its muse.  That’s what makes music feel immediate. It’s what makes it sound urgent.

This to me is Elder’s crowning achievement.  Many people loved Lore.  It was good and in many ways a high point stylistically, though I found it to be a bit disjointed, in both flow and execution.  It seemed largely like a transitional album, a band trying out new things and new directions, and despite its reception and overall promise, there was something off about it for me, something strangely stunted and one dimensional.  Not a popular opinion, I’m well aware, and I don’t care. I could give two shits about popular opinion, and so should you. Reflections Of A Floating World is superior in my opinion, for many reasons.  First and foremost, Nick’s vocals are better than they’ve ever been.  You may or may not recall that on the earliest of Elder releases, his vocals were basically sludge-based screams and growls.  He’s gradually adopted a cleaner style with each release, and with Reflections Of A Floating World, he’s settled into a style which emphasizes a more high pitched register while keeping the melodies relatively simple.  It works well – he doesn’t really sound like anyone else, and his approach doesn’t overshadow Elder’s strongest element, their compositional prowess.  Sure, they’re still largely monotonal, there’s little movement melodically, though they’re not the key ingredient to what makes this album shine.  It’s all about the instruments.  Sometimes less is more, and I believe that vocals should always be considered just another instrument in the overall mix.

Throughout the course of six songs and sixty odd minutes, Elder essentially put on a clinic , divine a prophecy, show us the future of a genre that’s badly in need of reinvention.  The structure, writing, and production of this album is nothing short of stellar.  Seriously.  This is a landmark album.  This will come to be considered one of the high water marks, an album that will come to define and even re-define the genre.  I don’t say this lightly, and I’m honored to know these cats.   I’ve never heard a “stoner” album with such a nuanced atmosphere, such a multitude and magnitude of textures.  There’s all sorts of amazing tones and effects on the guitars, and the addition of a second guitar has certainly added an entire other dimension to Elder’s sound.  I have a feeling that it mostly gives Nick more freedom and breathing room to lay down leads and still have a foundation of riffs underneath, and there are also lots of cool harmonized and orchestrated guitar parts throughout.  Despite the fact that this cat can rip it up, Nick’s  guitar work is largely restrained; the solos are sparse and never come off as showboating.  They’re tailor made for whatever each musical moment requires, and flashy or not, Elder set their fretboards ablaze with the light of inspiration, passion, and intent.  There’s also some flourishes of piano, keyboard, Theremin and mellotron at crucial points to add to the atmosphere.  It’s all very well done and never over the top – the album retains a nice balance throughout.  The rhythm section perfectly compliments this dynamic, lingering underneath with a pulsing intensity, though never overshadowing the whole or eclipsing the entirety.  The clarity of the production allows all of these elements to simultaneously shine.

It’s worth mentioning that this album is a bit long in the tooth.  Each of these six songs is an epic in and unto itself, with the first four clocking in at over the 10 minute mark, and the longest at nearly 13 minutes and a half minutes.  Even the Krautrock influenced instrumental, “Sonntag”, is eight minutes and forty seconds.  That’s a lot to take in, especially with all the detail that’s gone into crafting this record.  It demands active engagement on the part of the listener in order to appreciate the album’s nuances.  Maximum attentions reaps maximum rewards.

Elder have already proven themselves to be quite a force, through the strength of both their recorded output and their live performances.  They’ve toured all over the world, playing to audiences both big and small.  It’s hard to imagine they won’t be riding a wave of buzz and critical acclaim after this album drops, though it’s also tough to tell where their path will ultimately lie.  Surely more doors will open, more opportunities present themselves, though will this lead Elder deeper into the musical equivalent of The Floating World, or will it allow them the freedom to carve their own niche and to divine their own personal path?

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New Album Review – Junius “Eternal Rituals For The Accretion Of Light”

Junius

Eternal Rituals For the Accretion of Light – Vinyl / CD / DD

Prosthetic Records – Release Date:  March 3rd 2017

 

I’ve most likely stated before that it’s impossible to hear every single album ever within the course of one’s lifetime.  If I haven’t put forth that less-than-bold proclamation prior, straight from my personal manifesto, I’m glad that we’re remedying the situation right now.  I feel it is a really pertinent point that comes up quite often in my mundane, so-called life.  All too frequently in conversation, someone mentions a song, album or artist, and it’s completely off my sonic sonar. The people in the conversation are taken aback that I’m not faintly familiar with that of which they so intimately speak.  Often even, something that’s been repeatedly suggested to me as an obscure, long-lost holy grail album or just something that I’m going to completely dig on with my wig on,  I’ve added it to the growing mental bucket list of cool shit to check out, and just never gotten around to following up.  Either way, this inevitably leads to confusion, disbelief, hostility, malevolence and outright violence in close conjunction with the aforementioned conversations: all things that I’d rather avoid if at all possible.

Believe it or not, this does directly relate to my so-called relationship with the band Junius.  I had never heard of them until quite recently.  I discovered them through a happy accident involving chlorine bleach and ammonia, among other household chemicals.  I have the bomb squad and the poison control center on speed dial for times like this when my MacGyver moments go horribly wrong.

Okay….none of that is true, but it would be a whole lot cooler if it were.

 

Music and Merch

 

I stumbled upon Junius when I was checking out the lineup for the Roadburn Festival a few years back, and gazing upon that glorious lineup, I noticed two things: that the bands were getting more and more diverse, and that I had never heard of a good many of them. Wait for it….because it’s impossible for me to hear every band in my lifetime.  For some odd reason, I had an immediate impulse to take some action right then and there.  I decided to investigate some of these bands.  Looking at the list, I picked Junius out of the crowd because it sounded like a cool name for a band, and I simply Googled them.  The Googles told me many things. Lo and behold, they’d been around since 2003, and they were from Boston, Massachusetts, where I often attended shows yet had never seen nor heard of them.  The Googles also told me that they apparently sounded like a cross between The Smiths and Neurosis, which sounded friggin’ cool enough to peak my interest and intrigue my eardrums.  I checked out their debut album, The Martyrdom Of A Catastrophist, and I was suitably blown away enough to immediately order it on shiny golden vinyl.  Thus began my love affair with Junius.  Indeed, there was much to love and adore: the moody yet romantic goth-inspired croonings of singer/guitarist Joseph E. Martinez, the heavy guitar riffs interlaced with pulsing keyboards and throbbing rhythms, just all the right elements that combine the gloomy aesthetic of post-punk with the forward thinking intellectualism of post-rock.

The next step in our relationship was obvious: I needed to check out their second full length, the beguilingly titled Reports From The Threshold of Death. It expanded upon the strengths of the debut and also showed more depth and diversity in songwriting and influence.  I was even further enamored, and took to bringing their various LP’s to bed with me, much to either the chagrin or delight of my other romantic partners.  Fast forward to January 2016, when Junius announced they were working on a third album, and I prepared myself for yet another stage of our ongoing tryst.  Now here we are on the eve of that album’s arrival, entitled Eternal Rituals For The Accretion Of Light.  I can confidently state that this is my favorite Junius album, and when the vinyl is available, I will certainly be indulging in more ways than one.

For me, this album is their high point of artistry: every song just oozes with vividly oppressive, looming darkness, yet never gets bogged down in tangible malice or mere nihilism because of the music’s over-arching transcendent themes, intensely introspective lyrics, and ever-present haunting melodic fancies.  From the opening synth swells and tribal drums to the final hypnotic reverberated chants, the album is just a tour de force trip through the dizzying depths of human emotion.  The moody, longing key shifts of the first track, “March Of The Samsara,” sounds like Hum on a serious and prolonged Joy Division bender with its constant layering and interplay of guitar and keyboard, while the second song, “Beyond The Pale Society” starts off with more frenetic rhythms and urgent textures before settling into a stoic new wave template and climaxing with a soaring, anthemic chorus.  The third song, “A Mass For Metaphysicians”, features lushly alluring croons leading eventually to more aggressive vocal shouts, and when these are combined with the constant barrage of down-tuned guitar chords, it’s heavily reminiscent of the Deftones’ finest alt-metal moments.

 

Pro Band Shot_2 Members

 

The fourth song, “Clean The Beast”, continues in the tradition of the last, and has the album’s most extreme vocals juxtaposed with clever octave guitar licks and slices of keyboard bliss.  “All That Is, Is Of The One” is a short ambient interlude that gives some breathing room before the arpeggiated introduction of “The Queen’s Constellation”, a clever and catchy synth part that thematically repeats itself throughout the course of the tune.  This song has quite a number of twists and turns, and it’s a highlight for me personally.  “Telepaths And Pyramids” is up next, a more sullen and subdued affair that places brilliantly layered keyboards and vocals at the forefront, and spaciously uses the guitars and rhythm section more for emphasis.  “Masquerade In Veils” is another high point, a shorter, mostly acoustic number with monotone goth rock vocals delivered in a gloomy baritone.  A more upbeat affair, “Heresy Of The Free Spirit” is the ninth track.  It’s a song that makes great usage of repetition, drilling particular melodies and vocal lines into the listener’s eager brain.  The closer, “Black Sarcophagus” is another of my favorite songs from the album.  It begins with a slow burning meditation of sound that builds with each passage, gradually peaking with an awesome crescendo of bleak guitar repetitions, drums, synthesizer drones and eerie chants.

This is a serious early contender for my album of the year.  I can really appreciate what this band is doing in terms of a sweeping, grandiose artistic vision; their reverent attention to detail is startling and inspiring.  Although they’re obviously drawing on elements and influences from past decades, Junius are ambitious and innovative.  This is a release well worth checking out in my opinion, as it’s not the run of the mill rock or metal coming out these days.  It’s an intelligent and forward thinking amalgam of diverse influence that brings vibrant color to even the darkest of pallets.  Perhaps there’s a very good reason for this. Rather than copying the styles of whatever heavy music trend is currently in vogue, then rushing to release albums and spending months on end touring, Junius have taken their time on crafting their unique sound and their albums, often first flushing out new ideas in the form of shorter EP’s, and they tour only sparsely.  I know that the conventional wisdom is that a band needs to release an album every two years and spend at least 300 days of one of those years touring to support said album if they want to be “successful.”  Sure, there are bands that do that, and I’m not trying to take anything away from them.  However, in my mind, there’s a big different between a successful band and a successful artist.

Reviewed by Andy “Ding TopUp” Beresky