Sunday, 30 September 2012

Review: Mumford & Sons - Babel

 It's about time we examined this album at ROARF, now that officially no one will stop talking on and on about London born folk rockers Mumford & Sons. On the release of their 2010 debut album Sigh No More and the constant playing of singles like Little Lion Man and Winter Winds, I naturally assumed that this band would attract the attention of a middle aged audience for a solid couple of months and then fade away to never be recognised instead. A year and a decent amount of confused and spiteful remarks from my peers at school whenever I said I didn't like them later and it became obvious that this wasn't the case. No, with the country constantly on search for a band that plays it safe and writes mediocre songs, Marcus Mumford & Co effectively made it into the hearts of the nation and became the new torchbearers of blandness.

 So, with their position as a household name across the UK firmly established, the quartet return with their sophomore effort Babel with a UK tour on hand that involves playing at the Caird Hall in Dundee, to the delirious excitement to basically everyone I know from the city (Including  a very good friend of mine, so if you are reading this, please forgive me from everything you've read so far and are about to read.) And when they hit the road the new songs that they bring on board with them will be more songs that show their best efforts to pen a perfect song, that really do show their best efforts to be credible musicians with a unique flair from the rest of the uber mainstream alternative bunch but ultimately cannot avoid that central vanilla flavoring.

 In many ways, it's a sad fact that they cannot pass this undying sense of blandness because right from the crashing opening of the album's title track you can tell that this is loaded with ambition. Mumford wails "I cry Babel, Babel, look at me now, the walls of my town they come crumbling down!" in such a scathing tone that a sense of passion and belief is most definitely there in all he does and the attempt to make big poppy hooks armed only with traditional folk instruments and a sprinkling of bass guitar is done to the best of the band's ability, but the full impact that many of their alt rock contemporaries (No, not Two Door Cinema Club or The Vaccines) could make just isn't there.

 This is pretty much the ultimate feeling across the album, whether it's the more upbeat natures of the title track, the Little Lion Man clone that is lead single I Will Wait and the surprising amount of adrenaline packed riffs that come out on Hopeless Wanderer.

 It's also the same feeling that comes out in the album's more delicate moments. From the weeping balladry of Ghosts That We Used to Know and Broken Crown there's simply an array of overtly simple folk work that one just cannot find engaging in any form. It's a shame, it certainly feels like something you should like because lyrics like "So lead me back/ Turn me south from that place/ And close my eyes from my recent disgrace" can't have been the kind of lyrics to roll straight off the tongue. They quite clearly took a lot of thought and difficult passion. And to see Mumford's lyrics have such bland uninspired music accompanying it sounds like Mumford's received the raw end of some kind of deal.

 The final reflection one has upon listening to Babel is that I can't help but feel sorry for Mumford & Sons in some way. They try so hard to write the perfect song but if all the effort is put into the lyrics and second to none put into the music, then it's always going to come off as bland. And that's exactly the problem this album suffers. There's nothing engaging within the way the band plays because the constant burst of banjos that they've chosen to rely on isn't so much fun as it is repetitive. I know many people will make some kind of claim that it's actually all about the lyrics rather than the music and I will agree that the lyrics are highly engaging, but if it's all about the lyrics, maybe Marcus Mumford could look to poetry as an option. He'd gain much respect and school pupils could write essays on his work. But then, he wouldn't be selling out The Caird Hall with a job like that so, fair play to Mumford & Sons for being another one of those successful bands that make me look like a jealous loser when I write about how I dislike them.

Mumford & Sons' Babel is out now via Universal Island Records. The band will tour the UK from November-December.

Live review: While She Sleeps, The Garage, Glasgow

 Last night was without a doubt a special event for all the hundreds, possibly thousands that gathered into the modestly sized venue that is the Garage in Glasgow. For many, last night was a chance to let one's hair down with a big night of moshpit inducing metal (Maybe after their first real week of university) and for others it's a chance to truly witness the live spectacle that is a show by While She Sleeps. After the constant layerings of positive press towards the band and the 5 spade worthy performance recorded on their debut album This is the Six and the past glory felt on their 2010 mini album The North Stands for Nothing, it's surely time to complete the While She Sleeps experience by seeing them live. And that's what yours truly managed to do when they tore The Garage in Glasgow apart on their first headlining tour of the UK.

 As I take an examination of the people that are also going to the show, it's fairly staggering of just how diverse the metal bands seen on the T-Shirts of all those attending the gig are. Obviously While She Sleeps T-Shirts and T-Shirts for main support act Bleed From Within are in large supply, but you can see T-Shirts ranging from such established names of Iron Maiden, Guns N' Roses and Metallica, to fellow names in metalcore in the vain of Bring Me the Horizon, Asking Alexandria and Suicide Silence and while we're at it, people have Attila, Blink-182 and Saint Vitus shirts on. Clearly, the promise of While She Sleeps has been attracting rock and metal fans of an extremely broad nature. I myself showed up adorned in my Lamb of God T-Shirt as a way to express the Ramblings of a Rock Fan view on This is the Six that it is the kind of album that the Virginia quintet intended the set the path for when the Virginia quintet released the modern metal icon that is Ashes of the Wake.

 As the initial group of those queuing enter The Garage, it's just in time to get there for the opening act POLAR. to begin tearing the venue a new one from a fairly early stage. It's commendable that the band do make such a real effort to put on as fierce a show as the can as the venue is definitely only half full at this point and if they're putting in a full effort, the crowd certainly aren't. It's only when they unleash established single H.E.L.L from their killer new album iron Lungs that everyone treats them like headliners. The only full hearted reaction to the band comes from the people occupying the empty part of the venue between the front of the stage and the bar, known as "hardcore dancers", an activity that I've heard of before in a not exactly positive fashion, but seeing the kind of insanity that it allowed for, I guess it works, if not really my idea of gig etiquette.

Somehow, the reaction that POLAR. receives from their last song alone immediately makes them a serious contender to take away the award for band of the evening and it certainly makes it already difficult for zany electro-metallers Crossfaith to top. But the Japanese sextet certainly put a full effort into making the evening their own and their selection of big songs, whether it's the drum and bass with breakdowns of Snake Code or the riff heavy cover of The Prodigy's Omen. It's with them, they suddenly find the amount of people jumping up and down to their songs and number of moshpits they've created increasing. And with that they exit the stage with a whole lot of new fans and hopefully in a world where bands that mix metalcore and electronic elements pop up at a regular basis, let's hope these guys get remembered.

 Often times when you visit a gig, it will be a local band that opens up the show. And I suppose, it's testament to local boys Bleed From Within to how far they've come over the course of two albums that they're the main support for this tour. Naturally, when they board the stage here in Glasgow, they receive a heroes welcome, with a backdrop in their name already being set up. And frankly, it's little wonder such a warm welcome is being received, Glaswegian or not, they manage to raise the roof commanding every soul in the room to get jumping up and down to their viscous metalcore assaults, as each breakdown sounds like an extra layer of monolith-ism being served up. By the time their set ends they've put on a set triumphant enough for this tour to have been headlined by them. It's almost difficult to imagine how tonight's headliners are going to top this.

 But of course they do, which is no disrespect to the previous bands, but they manage to serve as an effective set up to display just how powerful and formidable a set from While She Sleeps really is. They obviously provide the highlights of the evening, following a welcome from the audience that suggests the meeting of metalcore royalty, the launch straight into the intense bouncing rhythms of Until the Death before launching the rest of the night into the ultimate setlist to soundtrack devastation. As frontman Loz Taylor screams out "WE ARE ALL DEAD BEHIND THE FUCKING EYES", the crowd instantly assembles themselves into the millionth wall of death of the evening and perform them with as much, if not more passion than every other wall of death performed that night. Meanwhile, the likes of Be(lie)ve and Our Courage, Our Cancer manage to sound tighter, heavier and packed with a more emotional impact and bigger melody live than they ever could on record as the beautifully constructed guitar work of Sean Long and Mat Welsh is projected tightly across the room for the audience to simply lap up. The entire set is an array of kinetic chaos and it is finally when This is the Six's title track is blisteringly performed that my personal time in the moshpits reach levels of pure euphoria that it feels like having an outer body experience. As Loz finally elaborates correctly on how Glasgow always has the ability to have some of the most mental crowds at metal shows, the band close the set with the beautiful Seven Hills as Loz launches himself into the crowd to be carried by masses of adoring fans. Including myself. With that the evening ends, with While She Sleeps journey to becoming the metal band on everyone's lips becoming stronger than ever.

 And with that, another evening of intense metal, perfectly written songs that I've always wanted to hear live and on the whole terrible photography is over, but it's not going to be a night that I'll forget any time soon. The devastating power that all the bands delivered was enough to get walls of death going from the crowd within the first few minutes of the gig. After several late nights of partying and pub visiting to break me into university, it's so refreshing to know that in terms of good times impact-full moments and everlasting memories, rock and metal gigs still do the finest jobs of great nights out, especially when you consider a band as truly special and game-changing as While She Sleeps proved themselves to be. After lat night my opinion of While She Sleeps has become higher than it was when I originally heard This is the Six in it's entirety. So with that and lack of a better idea, I will end this review with the same sentence I used to finish my review of that album:

 While She Sleeps are the new kings of metal. And they demand their crown now.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Review: As I Lay Dying - Awakened

 2012 seems to be an exciting time if you're a member of San Diego quintet As I Lay Dying. The general reception towards the band from any corner of modern metal fans seems to be growing higher than ever before. And with highly regarded performances at this year's Download and Mayhem festivals and much talk that their sixth album Awakened is the one that is going to officially make them a true household name in the world of modern metal, it seems that the band have finally reached a milestone in their career that they have become respected as a band that can deliver whole hearted passion and whole hearted brutality, rather than being cast aside as some Christian band, as so many have done before.

 This time around, As I Lay Dying have a wide legion of metal fans old and new and the results on their sixth studio album and those eager people are most definitely getting a bang for their buck. Opener Cauterize presents a standard of what this album can give us with Nick Hipa and Phil  slamming out crushing riffage filled with the beatdowns that remind listeners of just how much influence As I Lay Dying have really taken from hardcore with lead guitar that reminds us that the band would also be nothing without the influence from the best in traditional heavy metal.

 It's with this amazing combination that the band deliver some fully charged brutality and the steel plated breakdowns of A Greater Foundation and No Lungs to Breathe have no problem in delivering a roundhouse kick to the face of any listener that will leave them begging for more in the way of violent grooves blast beats from Jordan Mancino and more basslines reminiscent to Rex Brown's finest moments courtesy of Josh Gilbert. More than that, the performance of modern-day philosopher frontman Tim Lambesis on the likes of the awe-inspiring Wasted Words displays him possibly at his most furious ever. That so much fury can come out of one gentleman is incredible.

 However, Lambesis' strong point really comes out in the more melodic moments of Awakened. Most importantly in this respect is the the vocals unleashed in the middle section of My Only Home, a moment in which we quite possibly hear Lambesis at his most vulnerable and exposed in such a way that may actually shock you. 

 Elsewhere, the most interesting element of As I Lay Dying's melodic moments is the fact that one of the most respected band's in modern metalcore may actually be a band with some pop sensibilities after all. Working with Bill Stevenson, the drummer of The Descendants -one of the true originators of pop punk as we know it today - seems to have taught the band something about writing a big hook. There are some old school fans that may be furious with Whispering Silence which plays out with an intro that wouldn't sound out of place on A Day To Remember's Homesick and the fact that Lambesis' clean sections on Defender sound so pop-induced that it's surprising that the song isn't featuring a guest appearance from Alesana's Shawn Milke, but if you like your big hooks and pop punk moments, it's actually quite a dynamic moment in the respect of As I Lay Dying's outset of brutality and the way they manage to make these moment of hooks as convincing as they make their breakdowns and shredding.

 It's with this immense combination of brutality, hooks and physical and emotional intensity that As I Lay Dying manage to make another album that puts them on top of the metalcore league, a position they previously held with the release of 2007's stellar An Ocean Between Us which 2010's The Powerless Rise never really managed to live up to. If people were wondering if the band could rise up to the position of metalcore legends, Awakened should be an album that proves that they have the credentials to do so, or at least be able to not join Trivium in the realm of great modern metal bands that are playing as a support group to Asking Alexandria (I see those American tour posters. Get it sorted.) However, whatever comes of their touring schedule, for now the band have been able to create what is essentially an amazing package of metalcore that will satisfy the traditionalist fans of the genre while also containing moments that those that enjoy their pop induced core music can pick up on. It's little wonder the positive reception towards A I Lay Dying has grown higher than ever this year. They simply have it all.

As I Lay Dying's Awakened is out now via Metal Blade. The band will tour the UK in October with Trivium, Caliban and Upon a Burning Body.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Review: Muse - The 2nd Law

 There is no doubt whatsoever that the dolloping of press, statement and ideas that have been spread about The 2nd Law, the sixth album from Teinmouth rock icons Muse, has made it the most anticipated album of 2012 whether you enjoy it or not. But with such head turning revelations that the trio had been taking influences from "real" dubstep superstar Skrillex, to the unveiling of questionable new songs in the form of the soft dream pop of Madness and the official song used for the London 2012 Olympics, Survival, a song that gave long time Muse fans one of those long time Metallica fan moments of looking at the past lyrical strokes of genius from the likes of Knights of Cydonia and comparing them to the sound of a lunatic screaming "I'm gonna win!" over and over again. With these notions alone, the band have had a lot of talking up to do to convince fans that in the wake of the band becoming a big league in the world of stadium filling alternative rock, their music is still as genuine a release as Absolution or Origin of Symmetry.

 On reflection of listening to the album in full thanks to it now streaming online via The Guardian's website, genuine probably isn't a keyword. Describing it as a devoted rock release in the same way you might describe a Foo Fighters or Gaslight Anthem album wouldn't cut it either and it's quite likely that you could never comfortably view Muse as a rock band again because, they have completely lost it. With 2009's highly built up and ultimately disappointing The Resistance, Muse fans lost faith in the band's rock and roll credentials as they played simply songs with guitars that would sound nice on a pop friendly radio station. And with The 2nd Law, there's further evidence of Matt Bellamy putting his guitar to one side in favour of synthesizers. And ultimately, this album is a sign of the band selling out. It's a sign that Muse have stopped caring about being a rock band in favour of being as weird, artful and creative as possible with pop friendly sensibilities to bring their sound to more people than ever. It is a sign of a band losing their roots with what made them. And it's fucking brilliant.

 So, the kind of rocking out that was delivered so faithfully on the likes of Absolution has been dropped for this album but when spiraling riffs and dirty basslines from Chris Wolstenholme do kick in on the likes of bold opener Supremacy and the grungy Liquid State, the overall sound is akin to some brainy rascals sneaking into the recording of a blockbuster film score, or a live orchestral performance with guitars, playing along with the classical musicians and stealing the show. And with this addition of symphonic elements the band manage to sound heavier than they ever have. Bellamy and Wolstenholme have enough density in the guitars to give the song some force and spectacular grandeur to open an album with, which is a relief when reflecting on one of the band's horrendous statements that "dubstep was the new metal." Groans.

 Speaking of which, the electronic elements that Muse have incorporated here play a much key more key role on this album than on previous outings. Now when you first listen to Madness, you might think that this sounds like the less achieving love child of Nine Inch Nails' Closer and Radiohead's Everything in it's Right Place that doesn't come with much subtlety but makes up for it with the kind of hooks that make you begin tapping your feet effortlessly to a song that you just made an insulting remark about. More importantly, the band's newfound influence from dubstep only manages to push the uplifting grace of Follow Me, a song that opens like a musical soundtrack gone to Hell before that bass drop kicks in, to a higher state of euphoria that no one could come down from. More controversially, Unsustainable carries of the sound of uber mainstream dubstep that Skrillex delivers and Nero delivers in a way that is too incredible for words. Muse's attempt is flawless in it's nature. Bass drops with powerful hooks are key in what they have to offer, however, if you wanted to focus on that alone, then the band's obvious love for symphonic elements will get in the way. Have to say, I feel quite unique that my one complaint about Muse doing dubstep is that there's not enough dubstep.

 But whether the main backdrop is performed by riffs, orchestras or buzzing synthesizers, Muse constantly display an effortless ability to pen a song of immaculate class and grace. Indeed, the album has enough Queen influences on it's sleeve to make The Darkness look like their main influence was from Sunn O))) but there' some kind of brilliance hidden within that. You would be stupid for not immediately coming to the conclusion that Panic Station's bassline is Wolstenholme ripping off Another One Bites the Dust but there's a brilliance in the way that an influence from a piece of musical so simple can be translated into such a theatrically grand outing as it is on the song. Even the powerhouse melodies of Survival makes the song a more exciting proposition than the constant yelling of "I'm in a race!" that Bellamy is so content with.

 Ultimately, the fact that Muse are now at a stage where they can go forth into the realm of big stadium rock names, construct a selection of songs that would defy the beliefs and expectations of everyone you've ever met and sound like they're having the time of their lives while doing it is what really makes The 2nd Law so inspiring. It is 100% Muse and that means 100% insanity, 100% creativity and more than ever 100% surprises. It's one of those albums that proves that a band can do whatever they want however they want and still command a tonne of respect for doing so. There will be plenty that will say the band have lost touch with their roots, they're not making nice emo rock songs anymore and they've become an obnoxious, pretentious group of arseholes. Of course they have. This was always going to happen. Thank God it did.

Muse's The 2nd Law is out on 1st October via Warner Music. The band will tour the UK in October with The Joy Formidable.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Review: Steve Harris - British Lion

 When news first came out about the decision made by full time Iron Maiden bassist and overall frontman Steve Harris to spend some time outwith the band that he has served as the leader for prime songwriter of for thirty two years to record a solo venture, there were some heads turned by traditional metal fans, with one of the deeper questions being simply: Does this give us any reason to be concerned about the future of Maiden? It was a valid point, until just a few days ago after Maiden were announced as headliners for next year's Download Festival. I always had a notion that it would happen and now I really need to buy my ticket. So, with that out the way, surely we can listen to Harris' first solo effort British Lion in full without any concern, yeah?

 See, the story behind the release of this album has more detail than one may think. It turns out the songs on British Lion are much older than previously thought, following Harris being approached by a group of homegrown hard rockers dubbed British Lion in the mid-eighties and given a demo of their songs that spent two whole decades without seeing the light of day. Essentially, Harris playing these songs and putting his name to these songs is the act of Harris acting a long demanded favour. And it's a favour with tremendous results.

 Of course, Harris has also provided the reasoning that an album like this allows him to unleash some songwriting ideas alongside those of the bands that would never be able to fit around the body of Iron Maiden. And there's a lot of sense in such a claim. Listening to the metallic grunge offerings that come in the form of This is My God and Lost Words with their driving basslines providing an immense density to the songs and powerhouse grooves that provide a dirty funk to the main rhythms sound like songs that wouldn't sound out of place were you listening to Soundgarden's Superunknown or Alice in Chains' self-titled album. This entire Seattle Grunge vibe is certainly aided by the soulful howling of Richard Taylor making himself sound like a creepier version of Chris Cornell on Karma Killer.

 Of course, there's no possible way that Harris could simply depart his conventional manner of Iron Maiden songwriting, I mean it has to have been ingrained into his mind and it reflects across British Lion as well. Us Against the World immediately opens with a pounding of galloping basslines that Harris has become so influential for crafting, with the sound of Iron Maiden re-imagined in a dreamier more soul-based form is creating, with smooth textures and verses put alongside squealing lead guitars. Even the bands that influenced Iron Maiden are recreated throughout the album, with A World Without Heaven and Judas wearing their Rainbow and Judas Priest influences on their sleeves, with the latter song genuinely having a spike of intensity and urgency in it's rapid fire performance. The Priest influence is even heard in the beautiful Eyes of the Young, the song on British Lion most representative of a ballad, which is done genuinely convincingly.

 It was always obvious that if Steve Harris were to involve himself with a solo project, it was going to have the sound of raw British hard rock and heavy metal metal whose influence was traditional in it's approach but unlike what many were expecting, British Lion sounds nothing like a collection of Iron Maiden B-Sides, instead, it takes on the form of a whole new beast, while showing clear references to songwriting themes that we can obviously recognise Steve Harris for as well as showcasing the influence of bands that existed before Maiden even formed and making the surprising turn of displaying tracks with a genuine grunge based sound. It means listeners hear iunfleunces ranging from UFO to Soundgarden and from Thin Lizzy to Stone Temple Pilots, all taking on their own darkened personality and characteristic that ranges from triumph to pure bleakness. Once again, as the Download headliner announcement proves, this is a Maiden member doing a side project that won't affect their day job but can be viewed as a project as respectable as what their full-time job requires.

Steve Harris' British Lion is out now via EMI. 

Monday, 24 September 2012

Review: Green Day - ¡Uno!

 So, I guess my review of this album is coming in the middle of a time when when hysteria is surrounding everything except the music. As I discovered thanks to NME, last night, modern rock icon (whether you want to view him in such a manner or not) Billie Joe Armstrong has checked into rehab following what has essentially been one of the finest summers his band Green Day have ever experienced. It's not something I've talked about, but Green Day have some how managed to prove how loved a band they really are even though everyone on the internet hates their guts. From the overwhelming response to the announcement that the band are releasing three new albums over a period of the next few months, (And I was not one of the people to display positivity because, what else can they do for one album, never mind three?) to the frantic cheers that came with their "secret" appearance at this year's Reading Festival, they've managed to really prove their worth somehow in recent times. Until three days ago, I suppose after Armstrong had something resembling an onstage meltdown during the band's performance at iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas, after Green Day's set was supposedly cut short, resulting in Armstrong's foul mouthed tirade and smashing of guitars onstage. While tragic to watch after discovering he's gone to rehab for substance abuse, the video's actually worth watching for some tragically humorous reason. Because, for me, his onstage flip out has become the only thing that has made me excited about listening to the first part of this album trilogy, so let's look in to the album with the photo of everyone's new favourite (or not) drug abuser on it, ¡Uno!

 The people who live on comment boards are already writhing around in their negative thoughts about Armstrong's meltdown and the number one point is that it's all served as a publicity stunt for ¡Uno! and really, when considering the overall performance across the album, a major publicity stunt is the only thing that could possibly help this album gain any attention. The music itself is certainly incapable of such a task. And I confidently say that as someone that loves Green Day's earlier work, was captivated when hearing American Idiot as the age of nine and was even naive enough to think that 21st Century Breakdown was a highly successful follow up. But when I raised the point that I didn't know what else the band could do to stay fresh across three albums, I never realised just how valid my point was.

 As Nuclear Family opens the album with Armstrong slamming out some massive pop punk riffs, you can identify the size, the style and desire to rock out with some cool pop punk tunes, for the sake of rocking out to cool pop punk tune but you can't identify any real sense of ambition, any sense of passion or any real reason for you to stick on to the album. And that's the first song in kids!

 The basic nature of ¡Uno! really doesn't leave you with any sort of enlightenment of what Green Day are capable of and across the likes of Stay the Night, Carpe Diem and Sweet 16 and there's nothing at all to pick up upon, just some breezy melodies, some breezy melodies that are nothing but pleasant. Pleasant rock songs from a band that are supposed to be the voice of a generation. I'm really left questioning why people put them on par with the Foo Fighters as the best rock band of our generation.

 Obviously, it wouldn't be in Green Day's nature to stick to one basic style and the big talking point comes in the form of single Kill the DJ, that sees the band attempt to recreate the rock and roll swagger one may have heard in something like The Rolling Stones' Miss You. But the overall result is a total disgrace to the concept of making a song that swaggers, that feels like a drill being grinded through your ears with every conceited call of "Someone kill the DJ/ Kill the fucking DJ" that sounds as immature, annoying and backwards as the extent to which the band's attempts to do something different comes of as tiresome and painful.

 Now, it must be said that amongst this landfill of pop punk there are some gems to be found. When the band do actually attempt to be bold in their performance, they result with songs like Let Yourself Go's adrenaline packed riffs with fiery melodies and the bold closing of Oh Love which carries a sense of the ambition which is what made their recent concept albums so enjoyable, which as we know is what they're desperately stating they want to back away from for these three albums.

 In recent times, Green Day actually prove themselves to be a great band due to ditching basic pop punk and building up a greater intelligence, spreading cool ideas and using their three cord riffs in a context that no other band could rip off and sounding wholly original. Now that they want to step down from such a reputable position, ¡Uno! really does sound like a band in regression, doing their best to wean away any respect they gained for their more mature material and going back unable to match the standards of Dookie and Nimrod. So, with all the hope that Billie Joe Armstrong can make it successfully through rehab and can try and pass the criticism that has come with recent events, there's no denying that him and Green Day are not at their biggest strength musically. And with that, one album down, two to go!

Green Day's ¡Uno! is out now via Reprise.

Review: The Killers - Battle Born

 Now... now... now, how can I possibly describe where the past week of my life has taken me? Well, I'll use two basic words that sums things up without any great difficulty: Freshers Week. That's right readers, I'm moving on with life and I've started my four years at Robert Gordon's University and the only way to kick things off is with the purely alcohol fueled juggernaut of events that they call Freshers Week. Basically, you go to any of Aberdeen's finest nightclubs while drunk to get more drunk. Now I'm not exactly the Straight Edge type that Minor Threat wanted to inspire, so I took a lot of joy and experienced a lot of restlessness from this drinking activity. I could go on to talk about the kind of things that went down and the reasonably intelligent ways that I managed to cheat the whole underage thing I've suffered so much, but it would be of no interest.

 What's more on the minds of anyone that may read this blog regularly (That's right, no one.) is the overall views on rock music in the context of a nightclub, such as the second floor of The Institute Nightclub. Basically, Teenage Dirtbag by Wheatus is played frequently enough for it to become a Freshers Week anthem, so, not exactly deep. More relevantly however, the frequent rate of which songs by The Killers are played, from 2004's official modern rock icon Mr. Brightside to 2008's synthpop sensation Human, has been more than enough evidence that the Las Vegas quartet are officially a crucial pinpoint in the evolution that rock bands with pop friendly melodies have take, becoming the natural successor to the stadium filling likes of likes of Journey, Styks, REO Speedwagon and Foreigner, while also bringing the darkened edge and intelligent use if synthesizers that only years of listening to New Order could shape up. It's little wonder they've managed to one of the few bands that takes in the respect of both casual pop music listeners and in depth rock fans the world over with the genuinely talented and challenging lyrics of Brandon Flowers that no one could possibly recreate and the entire power and eclecticism that the band put into each album from the guitar heavy spectacle of Sam's Town to the 80's infused Day and Age and of course, the new standard of modern mainstream rock that Hot Fuss filled itself with. All have tunes that anyone could dance to without without any threat of respectability going down the drain (If I learnt anything from Freshers) while having headbang-able rock and roll credentials.

 Of course the extent of the band's talent and wide sense of relevancy in modern musical culture has recently been reflected in the recording that their highly anticipated comeback album Battle Born is the third highest selling album of 2012 and well, I suppose it's nice to see something good have such chart popularity every now and then. With an overall sense of maturity to be found in all corners of the band's performance, the album is undeniably untouchable, although doesn't exactly come with the ability to reach above the reputation of being a solid album.

 As opener Flesh and Bone transpires into a a flowing display of neo-gothic synthpop with the empathetic vocals of Flowers and the digging basslines of Mark Stoermer are accompanied by icy synthesizer backdrops, it's a decent reflection upon the musical style The Killers have given us over the years and where it is now. Darkened pop music that isn't afraid to be bold, even at this stage where it has undeniably become a mellower proposition. And with a perfectly danceable chorus, there's no loss in the band's flare for constructing a great pop song.

 And this entire spectrum of making great pop songs is become a more prominent feature in Battle Born's songwriting. Lead single Runaways and personal highlight From Here On Out are packed with some of the most uplifting melodies heard in while as Runaways carries of the perfect sound of Americana put into a 1980's pop context, while From Here On Out is a genuine rush of good times that fly out in a rapid two and a half minutes with a flurried guitar solo from Dave Keuning that proves that even the world's most polished rock band can get down and play things raw.

 But this is very much a polished album. If Day & Age seemed like too much of a foray into synthesized pop music for your taste, this album will hardly impress you. Tracks like The Way it Was and Deadlines and Commitments owe so much to 1980's synth-heavy artists a la Brian Eno and latter day Talking Heads that it almost questions why the band even have a guitarist in the same way the Coldplay did with every waking moment of Mylo Xyloto. If you can connect with the high use of electronics, then the amount of absorbing of one's total mind that the spacious backdrops of A Matter of Time will serve as nothing but a complete treat.

 Beyond that, the band do nothing else but use their songwriting for complete beauty. From the tender, Dire Straits-esque balladry of Heart of a Girl to the morose performance of Flowers on Be Still, a song tat truly makes you stop all your actions and makes hairs stand on the back of one's neck to the mighty title track on which the band close, arguably one of the finest songs The Killers have ever written, the band use their skills to do nothing short of inspiring anyone that listens.

 There's so much praise I could find in looking at this Battle Born. The Killers do prove themselves to be very much an indestructible unit within their performances and songwriting, but in reality, this is a fairly mellow set of pleasant alternative rock songs, with great lyrics and great ideas, but paling in comparison to the kind of strength of personality that the band has previously displayed on Hot Fuss and Sam's Town. It's unlikely that the band will ever be able to match the ferocity and meaning of those albums, it's unlikely that they'll be able to pen another song that gets a mass group of drunken students jumping up and down at a nightclub during Freshers Week and there isn't even any way of telling if they'll stick around for long after the release of this album and touring, or take another hiatus to record more solo albums and other such things, but with Battle Born what you're witnessing is a band taking a wistful and graceful step into maturity with all good ideas that set them up in the big league of stadium rock bands in the first place very much intact. And if that's the kind of thing that's going to break me into days of music blogging in university then I don't have any kind of protest against that.

The Killers' Battle Born is out now via Island. The band will tour the UK from October-November with Tegan & Sara.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Review: Billy Talent - Dead Silence

 It's always been in the background of the world of big stadium filling rock bands that you could find Toronto punks Billy Talent residing. Overlooked is a good way of describing the general reaction they've received throughout their nineteen year career, as their massive punk anthems, as big as anything any Lostprophet, Foo Fighter or... Chemical Romancer could give you have never gained them the popularity they should really receive. However, with unexpected slots on the main stage at this year's Download and Reading & Leeds festival, it looks like the deserved amount of praise and attention has been rolling their way, effectively leading up to the release of their fifth album Dead Silence, an effective chance for them to show those that weren't looking before what they're really made of.

 With enough hope, those who hadn't taken full notice of the group's efforts before will identify the richness and quality that ticks all the boxes for a prime quality album in fields of screamo, post hardcore and big sing-along stadium rock and will go on to appreciate what they missed out on before because Dead Silence is a continuation of the quality that makes Billy Talent such a joyfully formidable act before.

  Getting into the album as a whole isn't exactly asking listeners of much. Lead single Viking Death March instantly opens with a highly infectious group played out by Ian D'Sa with energetic hooks that mean headbanging can't be avoided. Throughout, this ability to simply sound bigger and bigger as proceedings fold out is a truly awe-inspiring feat. By the time you experience the grandeur of ballad Swallowed Up By the Ocean, it's obvious that Billy Talent can't be viewed in any other way than epic.

 But Billy Talent prove in typical form that their poppy hooks are poppy hooks delivered without the poppy ethics. Frontman Ben Kowalewicz puts all his bitterness and fury into the riled up performances of Surprise Surprise and the Rage Against the Machine-esque breakdowns of Crooked Minds. It also seems that Kowalewicz isn't exactly in a positive frame of mind either in what he says, stating "If this road goes to Hell/ I'm right back where I fell/ Made a career of my mistakes" on Runnin' Across the Tracks and "I heard the soldiers say/ "Don't let them get away/ But I could not escape their bullets and grenades/ A causality of war/ A victim of mistake/ Another widow has been made" on the bold title track. Kowalewicz proves himself a man that puts more thought into what he talks about than many of his feel-good anthem contemporaries and with his unique set of vocals, that many are put off by and many more are drawn closer to, they come off with a massive sense of originality and indestructibility.

 With these efforts, Billy Talent prove themselves to be the band that makes the thinking man's stadium rock songs. They've proved on more than one occasion that they have the hooks and melodies to get the main stage at major festivals on their feet, but to do it once more with the sincerity and class they've always hung on to and push it to a new state of grandeur and majesty surely makes Dead Silence the group's most accomplished work so far. Beauty, anger, anthems and brains, there's no excuse for Billy Talent not to join the big leagues now.

Billy Talent's Dead Silence is out now via Atlantic. The band will tour the UK on the Rock Sound Riot Tour in November.

Review: The Raveonettes - Observator

 Some time last year, I found myself listening to a collection of newly made alternative rock songs that together formed a compilation album of songs inspired by last year's major video game Batman: Arkham City. A game that I still don't own yet, so yeah, the soundtrack truly had an impact on me, right? Anyway, after hearing that soundtrack the best song on it was the contribution from a Danish indie rock duo that I had never heard before known as The Raveonettes. Making use of dirty riffage, gloomy flashes of synthesizers and an overriding darkness, they were the most effective band for the game's soundtrack. And as the time comes for listening to a full album, being their latest offering Observator, the band reveals their influence from the golden age of rock and roll to an astounding effect to make something truly unique.

 There's something quite incredible about the band's number of influences that they wear proudly on their sleeves throughout the album. Whenever you hear a two bit harmony from Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo mingle with delicate pop melodies from opener Young and Cold and You Hit Me (I'm Down) you can sense a lot of influence has been taken from constant listening to the kind of music that people like me would have to spend an entire day racking through their Dad's record collection to uncover. Whether it's harmonies reminiscent of The Everly Brothers or Simon & Garfunkel or if it's in the duo's ability to recreate vocals in a manner that is so in debt to 1950's/60's pop music that Observations sounds like The Tremeloes on a downer, they cut it in such a graceful manner that it's impossible not to realise just how important the pop music of the 1960's is and how it holds up to this day.

 The other side of The Raveonettes influence is seen in the way they delicately thread these pop melodies into captivating shoegaze backdrops a la My Bloody Valentine, filling the rest of the groups music with rich textures drawn along silky guitar strokes that give The Enemy a touching sense of chemical joy, one of the few uplifting moments of the album, alongside the pitter-patter of guitar that creeps amongst  Curse of the Night's synth drum intro that calls influences from Depeche Mode and their biggest fans Nine Inch Nails into possibilities. And with this shoegaze influence, the band can easily go off the handle and the riff-athons that close the album on Till the End is a truly glorious uncharacteristic way to end such a serene album, which really sums up the band's total unpredictability and ability to never really stick to the same page as much as you'd believe it was that way.

 And so, as a band truly worth of everyone's attention, as the lesser amount of bands were of everyone's attention in the 1950's and 1960's, The Raveonettes put all their hearts and minds into the performances across Observator to make a truly unique and eclectic collection of songs that you'd would never be able to put on any adrenaline packed video game. You'll never know just which way this album goes as it celebrates good times as much as it dwells in the low times. But with a pristine amount of class, there's little doubt of it's ability to give anyone's time of listening that extra amount of total perfection.

The Raveonettes' Observator is out now via Self-Release. The band will tour the UK from November-December.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Review: Bob Dylan - Tempest

 In the more elderly stage of his career and with enough of a legacy and influence on modern songwriting to last a generation and generations beyond this one, I always thought Bob Dylan didn't need to do any more albums and had instead retired to a life of playing shows where people criticized his voice and recording albums of Christmas songs. It would be fair enough, I still have a strong amount of love for the albums of his I own and still find new meanings in songs every time I listen, so like many people, I'll always view him in a high regard. But amongst all this, Dylan has found the momentum to record a thirty fifth studio album Tempest, which in itself is staggering. As it goes, the album is definitely a stronger work of Dylan's in recent times.

 Dylan certainly has no problem in luring listeners in to something that is simply pleasant, as the penned melodies for Tempest are some of the most uplifting he has ever constructed. On musical strength alone, it's impossible not to fall in love with the likes of the traveler blues swing of Narrow Way, the stomp along hooks of Roman Kings or even the blissful repertoires of the album's fourteen minute, forty five verse title track which flies by after you get caught up in the moment in which the song paints. With a vintage sounding production that is made to be put down and gather up more dust with every listen, that brings up real memories of Dylan's past, harking back to a time where he just chilled and played the blues, rather than made a difference in pop and rock music to come.

 But, with Dylan's credit as such an incredible wordsmith over the years, lyrics will always be the primary concern with his albums. Tempest, credited to be one of his weirdest album's ever goes places you you wouldn't generally expect from someone like Dylan. The technique of referring to song titles and lyrics of older bands has been done several times by today's big bands and the results have been rubbish for the most time, but when Dylan ends the album with Roll On John, a tribute to his late friend and legend to the world John Lennon, his quoting of Beatles lyrics ("Come together right now over me/ Lord you know how hard it can be" and his summation of hearing about Lennon's assassination by stating "I read the news today, oh boy.") could be seen as a fitting tribute by some people or as a lyrical cop-out by other. Yet, the fury of Pay in Blood in Dylan's vocals and lyrical rants when juxtaposed against a fairly charming backdrop is thrilling on it's own, as jeers of "Another politician pumping out the piss" and "You bastard, I'm supposed to respect you? I'll give you justice" are delivered with a vocal performance that is so ferocious and so real, it's difficult to understand how Bob Dylan can still keep this up.

 Well, I'm really terrible at identifying great lyrics and analyzing a folk album, but with an artist like Bob Dylan, you can always expect something golden to appear at some point and Tempest is no exception by any means. Dylan proves himself to be a showman with a real personality and a real passion, who isn't afraid to get over confrontational at times. While the songs on Tempest are by no means going to make their way ahead of the classics that he's spent five decades writing now, they are very much in their own league of class and beauty. And that is the way to look at them. They're evidence that in this day and age, amazing music can still be made with one man, an acoustic guitar and a brain of new ideas that cover much emotion. And if that's evidence that Bob Dylan to do anything other than play questionable shows and sing along Here Comes Santa Claus, that's inspiring enough for me.

Bob Dylan's Tempest is out now via Columbia.

Review: Steve Vai - The Story of Light

 When you start out as a casual rock fan, and I do still have such casual tendencies within me, you'll often hear other more sophisticated rock fans talk of albums led by guitarists as being the best albums around of of guitarists that have never really rose to iconic status being the guitarists most worthy of your attention. After that you may listen to a Joe Satriani album, find it to be a collection of blues jams that don't really go anywhere and try not to take note of these statements. Well, that's what happened with me. However, amongst all this, Steve Vai proves himself to be a notable exception to this rule. Certainly he's never become the properly massive icon that everyone would like him to be, since having to play alongside bigger icons in his time like Frank Zappa and David Lee Roth, but his solo music has proved Vai to have brains as big as his riffage and solo lengths and his latest offering The Story of Light shows both these aspects to be as big as ever.

 With the amount of time that Steve Vai has spent in many differing corners of the hall of rock music, he's undoubtedly a musician that has earned his right to record an album of the kind of largely instrumental progressive that may come off as pretentious were it a younger more unknowing musician. But Vai has the class and wide arrange of influences to bring together an array of gripping musical passages and turn it into a great album without any real problem. And as the dreamy layerings that make up the backdrop of the opening title track form into action, you can understand the extent of his skill in guitar playing and songwriting as every second of warm synthesizers and lead guitar accompany crunched riffage packed with distortion.

 It moments like these where Vai uses his progressive song craft to build up moments of musical euphoria, boasted through the joyful squeal of guitars that make up Velorum, Gravity Storm and the massive closer Sunshine Electric Raindrops, all of which allows the man to unleash some prime lead guitar widdling that only the world's most respected guitarists are allowed to unleash. Even amidst the more calmed down moments, the beauty that is trying to be represented by the music comes out effortlessly. The highly personal The Moon and I unleashes it's charm through gentle guitar strokes accompanied by a 1980's synthpop influenced backdrop, while Creamsicle Sunset sounds like the musical equivalent of a relaxing moment of laying in the sun like I never got all summer.

 Of course, it wouldn't be in Vai's nature to only have an album filled with beauty. One of the most notable moments of the album comes with Vai's cover of Blind Willie Johnson's 1930 blues recording John the Revelator, a cover that opens with a sample taken from the original recording, before blasting out into a chunky blues riff and frantic solos with vocals performed by The Voice contestant Beverly McClellan, who, despite coming from a reality show 'cos they're all really bad, lends a powerful performance that serves as the topping of the song's desire to immerse listeners in total chaos that continues into more rapid unnerving territory as the song continues into Book of the Seven Seals.

 But even that pairing of songs has some joy to be found within the shocking amount of surprises to be found along the way. But let's not forget that Steve Vai can be as heavy in his playing as he wants to be and if he wants to introduce some metal into his songs he can do so easily. The doom-laden Weeping China Doll wouldn't sound out of place on a Saint Vitus of Woods of Ypres album given it's dragging dirge melodies, while Racing the World puts some testosterone into the doom riffage as it charges along making headbang inducing hooks along the way.

 So, with a full plate, Steve Vai manages to make something of his very own that shows a wide influence on The Story of Light. It sounds relentlessly beautiful in places and has hard hitting hooks filled with plenty of distortion and heaviness in others and when both elements combine, it expresses the nature of this progressive music people like Vai regularly craft done correctly. So, whenever people talk about instrumental guitarists making the best albums around, you can look at it cynically if you want, but if they do talk about Steve Vai in such a manner, you should probably believe it.

Steve Vai's The Story of Light is out now via Favoured Nations. Vai will tour the UK in December.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Review: David Byrne & St. Vincent - Love This Giant

 Through the course of three album's culminating thus far in last year's fantastic Strange Mercy, New York songwriter Annie Clark, under the guise of St. Vincent has proved herself an accomplished songwriter, with the skills that allows her to pen a real song with real melodies that can instantly get stuck in your head, that also shows a little more intelligence and an ability to think out of the box when constructing musical passages, backdrops and lyrics. She also proved in her Record Store Day single Grot that she can shred like a goddess but that's another story for another time. Either way, St. Vincent is without a doubt one of the most dynamic songwriters and most forward thinking musicians of our age.

 Therefore it makes perfect sense that she would team up with someone viewed as the most dynamic songwriters and forward thinking musicians of a previous age. David Byrne, former frontman of the critically acclaimed yet still somewhat underrated Talking Heads proved throughout the late 1970's and 1980's to be able to create some genius and truly unique songs without even trying. After all much of the band's catalogue were songs developed from improvised band jams, a method not used enough today. Having gone on to continue writing pop friendly songs of a more experimental nature, he is a man unlikely to venture into the norm for songwriting any time soon.

 So, when the two finally come together to collaborate on the album Love This Giant, things do not go down as anyone may expect as much as one would like it to. But, these are two artists that always like to keep the plate fresh and that is definitely something done throughout this album, particularly considering the vast amount of brass that plays throughout every pop soaked melody, that overall gives the album a warmer friendlier tone, and just manages to wean off of album gimmick territory.

 With the album's setup being this warm brass, the real challenge that Clark and Byrne are faced with is adapting this backdrop to create a certain kind of tone to set different songs to. And with the graceful delicacy of Clark's vocals and the effervescent charisma that still lingers within Byrne, a fairly easy job is made of this. From the utter sense of bliss put into opener Who to the dirge-like overtones of I Am an Ape, the pair can go from sounding quaint and ditty to being completely somber.

 More exciting are the moments, when a clear sense of anger can be identified but purely through the undertones of the song, as you can find through the constantly brewing storm that forms throughout A Weekend in the Dust and the gripping performance of Byrne and pulsing electronic backdrops of I Should Watch TV. It's a real treat for those that listen in depth making it a more unpredictable listen that could go anywhere.

 And I suppose in some sense, this is where the album goes flat. There are many chances created for many highly anticipated moments that just don't go anywhere. The entire album is based around smoothness and while a smoothness has always existed throughout the past releases of Byrne and Clark, the songs on Love This Giant feel internally smooth as well as externally unlike the previous roller coaster of emotion that the pair have created before.

 I suppose this is what makes the overall experience of the album slightly disappointing for me, because with the highly accomplished work the pair have crafted before, one expected something so beautifully immersive that it would be an experience that once could not walk away from without feeling something new experienced and feel a sort of enlightenment as a result (Man, I have Baroness' Yellow and Green on my mind right now.) and instead I got a set of brass crafted pop songs. While this does serve as the blueprint for some cool pieces of music that do provide a decent amount of depth that we love to hear from these musicians, I can't help but walk away feeling like I'm not getting the full bang for my buck with this album. It would be like going to watch John Petrucci live and then only hear him play AC/DC covers. Love This Giant is essentially two great musicians making a perfectly good album that doesn't display the best of their abilities.

David Byrne & St. Vincent's Love This Giant is out now via Todo Mundo.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Review: Gallows - Gallows

 I've never really taken the time to think of the major issues and events that have encircled the world of Gallows over the last twelve months, whether you see it as unfortunate or not. However, when the band released the EP Death is Birth in December, the title came with a strong literal meaning. When original snarling frontman Frank Carter stated his decision to leave his position as frontman of the London punk warriors after, many fans saw it as the death of an era for Gallows, particularly since Carter had established himself as our generation's Johnny Rotten and his band as this generation's Sex Pistols with a more venomous hardcore edge over the course of two of the finest modern punk album Orchestra of Wolves and Grey Britain. It was the same fans that relentlessly mourned the departure of Carter that chose not to take kindly by the announcement two weeks after that the band had found a new frontman in Wade MacNeil, former guitarist in Canadian post hardcore heroes Alexisonfire. With that EP, the band proved that the death of one era of Gallows was the basis of a newer, stronger and more chaotic era, seeing them change into a far more violent and beefed up proposition. Obviously, there will still be fans that cannot deal with the fact that Frank has gone and a band that established the London punk scene is now being fronted by a Canadian, but man, if you can look pass that, the band's self titled album is going to give you a treat.

 As Death is Birth promised, the new lineup of Gallows prove themselves to be a much heavier, more beefed up outfit than they were before, but with the amount to which this album has seen them step up their delivery of only the most punishing, ferocious and skull-smashing music ever, MacNeil's promise that the next Gallows album will be "fucking amazing" has certainly been fulfilled. As Victim Culture's opening of paranoia inducing spoken questions creates a delirious buildup that finds it's bruising remedy in the monstrous slabs of bombing riffage from Laurent Barnard and Steph Carter an effective sendoff to what lies ahead.

 It's undoubtedly the increase in overall brutality that makes this album what it was. I mean, I was always aware in terms of overall density, Gallows had more to give than your average Your Demise or TRC record, but this sees things taken to a new level. It's Cater and "Lags" Barnard that prove themselves the men for this job as the hardcore rushes of Everybody Loves You (When You're Dead), Vapid Adolescent Blues and Nations/Never Enough are all perfectly charged up to oblivion shattering levels of steel plated girth, while the stoner friendly rock and roll riffing of Last June and Odessa provide some of the most crushing displays of classic rock and roll this side of Unsane's Total Destruction.

 Of course, there's no point of not taking advantage of the undeniably meatier set of vocals they've been given in the form of Wade MacNeil, and sure enough, his set of vocal bellowing ranging from deathly growls to scathing amounts of hissing, MacNeil has so much to give to these songs that gives them the exact brutal characteristic required. He even manages to create an uplifting moment of inspiration with rare use of melodic vocals on Outsider Art feeling like being immersed in an overwhelming mass of evil and having it feel like a good engaging prospect. Of course, Carter isn't afraid to join in with MacNeil in vocal assaults, to give a reminder that this is an album that celebrates the crust and grit of the streets of London.

 You could say that this is a departure from the Gallows we've come to know and love before and you're probably right. You could say they have indeed ditched the London personality in order to focus on just being a heavier more brutal band. And yes, that did happen. And it's incredible. Wade MacNeil brings his entire new personality and performance to the game that proves that trying to just find a replacement Frank Carter wasn't going to cut it. While the previous era of Gallows will always be a glorious reminder of what London punk is all about, Gallows mark 2 now serves as a thrilling reminder of what modern punk is about. It's about reaching new boundaries in terms of songwriting, density and gripping importance. And whether you view a new lineup in a modern classic band to be unfortunate or not, Gallows have definitely done that.

Gallows' Gallows is out now via Shock Records. The band will tour the UK in October with Feed the Rhino and Brotherhood of the Lake.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Review: Swans - The Seer

 Things have been incredibly hectic throughout my life right now. What with my desperate hunt for university accommodation always bringing up new hopes and failures and constant look out for calls and messages underway, there's never a dull moment. There's been highs in the process and lows in the process, but either way, whatever happens I'm off to university next week, where I get to experience receiving an education all over again in an entirely new context. But for now, I should slow things down by a fairly large amount and lay my weary head and listen to Swans.

 Now, if you haven't been living under a rock over the past thirty years, you might not have an idea of who Swans are. Don't feel ashamed. Those that are aware of them wouldn't be afraid to label them as the world's most inaccessible band. Their 1980 formation saw them go on to become pivotal figures within the short lived No Wave scene, an antithesis to the massive selling New Wave genre of the 1980's that was eclectic in it's nature but summoned up it's true identity by dwelling on a colder, more emotionless element in it's musicians work, often relying on atonal rhythms. It's with this musical notion that the Micheal Gira led sextet have recorded such opuses of bleakness as 1984's Cop and 1995's The Great Annihilator to much underground acclaim. Since their 2010 reformation, the band has remained as bleak, experimental and musically expansive as ever with proof effortlessly shown on their second post reformation effort, The Seer.

 You may as well find a comfortable seat for this double album, you're going to be here for some time and you're going to have some hell of an experience while doing so. The sense of dynamics that Swans provide can be spotted straight as the delicate melodies reminiscent of early Velvet Underground of Lunacy are cast by haunting backdrops built up of symphonic stalking and deathly drumbeats, but when the band launch into the full song and begin group harmonies, it is an intoxicating moment.

 This kind of ideal is repeated throughout the album, as the repetitious basslines of Mother of the World could translate as any blueprint punk rock song of the 1960's but with the addition of the more haunting element of Gira's paced up breathing to serve as a backdrop, it becomes a fully intense thing to listen to. And it's always these unsettling backdrops that lure listeners in in the first place, whether it's the wall of bagpipes and synthesizers that open the thirty two title track or the twisted lullaby vocal rhythms of The Daughter Brings the Water. But, amongst all this, there's much in the way of impressive musicianship to fest your ears upon. Especially when considering the title track that builds from a creeping post punk instrumental into a magnificent rumble of apocalyptic riffage that proves that Swans can be physically heavy as well as emotionally.

 The real delicacy of their musicianship comes out on the second disc however, opening with the gentle folk ballad Song for a Warrior, a song that with it's stirring female vocals accurately contrasts from the grimness of the first disc and serves as an effective set up for the more beautiful parts of the album. Beauty that can't be expressed any better than on the highly immersive A Piece of the Sky that allows listeners to pass through graceful melodies through grand and spacious atmospherics as Gira and Christoph Hahn's guitar work is simply dazzling. And with an echoey production, the sound simply flows like a shimmering lake. It's undoubtedly a musical work that captivates you without even trying.

 So, looking back on listening to an album like The Seer, you understand why the term "alternative" has existed in music since the 1980's and you realise that that  doesn't by any means stop the album from taking you to a new world and a different reality in it's course. Indeed, it's an album requiring a lot of patience, but if you put in that effort, you get a hell of a lot out of it. It's been thirty years now and it's not an intact lineup anymore, but Swans are still very much capable of doing things no bands would ever dare to do. And when you take dares, amazing things can happen. Suppose I should try and work out university accommodation again huh? Aberdeen property buyers never sleep.

Swans' The Seer is out now via Young God Records. The band will tour the UK in November with Sir Richard Bishop.