Album Review: Orphans of Doom “Strange Worlds / Fierce Gods”

I am one of those people who live under a rock and need to desperately fix it. When I decided to look into what the local scene (or at least local to me) offered I found Orphans of Doom, and as an extra bonus they released a new album back in January. I went in search of it, and one purchase and download later have an album to review.

After I listened to the album I couldn’t help but feel this band was slightly familiar. I felt I had heard them in a basement show back in the day, so much so I checked my notes from that time just to make sure. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be the case, which doesn’t really bode well. They stay true to the stoner genre but so much so that if played with other bands like Kylesa in a playlist I don’t feel I could pick them out unless they were very particular songs (more on that in a moment). That aside those who absolutely love the genre will find the tug of war between ambient, alternating slow and driving tempos, and spoken word. Songs that really stick out in this regard are “Excension” and “Harvest”.

I will give Orphans of Doom credit there are particular songs where they deviate from typical stoner genre fanfare and delve more into prog. Songs like “Kakegoe” and “Cephalopod” really explore more extreme ends, be it experimenting with ambient to induce a further dreamlike state or driving rhythms reminiscent of traditional Japanese drumming to induce frenzy. I think exploring those concepts further and exploring musical transitions more to develop those ideas will set it apart from other stoner music I’ve heard.

There are times, however, the experimentation isn’t quite realized in the song. Part of this may be because the transition between powerful drumming and ambient isn’t really developed or doesn’t exist so the jump between the two ends up awkward. Moments of “Cephalopod” are like this, which is a shame because what should lull the listener deeper into the song as if entering the realm of the eponymous creature ends up jarring and awkward. I also see this in “The Return of Supertoad” albeit the transitions and tempos are still awkward at times though more thought is put into transitions than on other tracks. There are times, however, the union between the concept and what’s actualized in the song don’t work out entirely. I felt “Mythical Sleep” epitomized this. It didn’t really make sense and I couldn’t tell if this was a calculated move or not and, if so, what purpose it served. It seemed like more about bravado of technical skill than artistic integrity. When it does come together, though, I feel like there’s promise. The best examples are “Ghosts” and “Pleasure Delayer”, where the “diddling” ends up being the theme and transition that brings the song together.

Overall I think Orphans of Doom has potential, but they will need to find their voice a bit more and commit to it. I see moments where they want to take their sound into a more prog direction and certainly have the skill but it’s drowned out by desire to adhere to the stoner genre in a way that I’m unsure behooves them. It ultimately creates a sound that is muddled and can seem too focused on what may sound cool, but not necessarily come together cohesively. I think those into the genre will appreciate it for what it is and enjoy the album for its aesthetics.



The Soundtrack: February 2018

It’s that time again where I release 4 songs that best describe this month. Those who are new to this I pick 4 songs from music released in the particular time, in this case February of this year. These 4 songs I feel capture the emotion of the month. I don’t look at which songs I like, or genre, or anything of the sort. It’s all about the music and capturing the mood.

Now that I got some of that out of the way, here’s what I picked for this month.

Rhye “Song for You”

Yeah, there are going to be some sappy, bittersweet love songs in here. February seems to be the month for heartbreak so I thought I’d roll with it.

Alele Diane “Yellow Gold”

This is another sappy love song, and admittedly I thought with the title it could tie into other events of the month. It doesn’t but, hey, sappy bittersweet love song for Valentine’s Day.

Pop Evil “Waking Lions”

In America students are marching and protesting for gun control after the umpteenth mass shooting. While gun control is a divisive issue no one can deny how these students, some of whom were running from gunfire just days before, gathered the strength to fight for their beliefs. If that’s not admirable I don’t know what is, and I feel this song captures their spirit.

Don Diablo “Echoes”

This is another one that I felt captured the indomitable spirit that humans possess. Whether it’s competing against the world in a sport of lifelong dedication or fighting to fix a broken system I think this song captures that feeling quite well.

If you want to check out what I picked last month you can check out this post or go to my YouTube playlist.

Elantris Review: “This Sacrifice”

Well folks, I’m back in the saddle again and I’m finally reviewing again. What better way to ease back into things than an album review? This review already starts off interesting, or at least interesting to me.

Elantris, formerly Blackthorn, is a symphonic metal band out of Ohio that formed in 2014. One of their noteworthy points is how they recently toured with Lacuna Coil. The band’s new name is possibly taken from a novel of the same name, but that’s speculation on my part. What I can confirm is “This Sacrifice” is their debut album released sometime recently. I can’t seem to find anything else about them. I actually came across them in a Facebook group and they were looking for reviews to post. Naturally I’m drawn to bands with bits of mystery and thought I’d bite.

Here’s something that was interesting for me about buying this album. I searched for this album to purchase on iTunes (yes, I know you’re judging, and it’s OK. I am disappointed in myself too) and review only to find it wasn’t under their current name. It was still listed under their old name. If I recall you can find it under Elantris on Spotify and other platforms. Despite a minor incident, though, I finally got the album and gave it a listen.

The album kicks off with “Ellie”, and it barrages the listener with rhapsody of heavy tones tempered with a smooth synthesizer. One thing I really appreciated about the intro is how is gradually changes into a more complex time signature and gradually brings the listener into a battle march. I’ve come to expect many things to happen in symphonic metal, which includes complex meter, lots of bravado, but I didn’t expect other things from this song. The female vocalist was one of them. I’ll admit I’m pretty sheltered when it comes to symphonic metal but I’d grown accustomed to hearing vocalists with operatic or at least classical vocal training. The female vocalist has more of a pop star style. It is certainly different and while it jarred me at first I see how the style pairs well with the lyrics. The lyrical content was another aspect I didn’t expect. It felt like lots of angst came out with lines like “you don’t know me, you don’t know anything about me”, but again I see how it all comes together to something that foreshadows how the dark tones of the song are completely alluding to a dark nature. This dissonance carries throughout the album and adds elements that invoke doubt about the genuine nature of what’s presented without fully jeopardizing the composition of the songs.

Next up is “Ascension”, and it’s interesting to me in how it creates dissonance that’s ultimately cacophonous. It opens up with some black and heavy metal aesthetics of blast beats (though sometimes it slightly throws off the tempo), extreme vocals, and some shredding, but at times it seems to hearken back to the symphonic metal elements. At times it’s problematic as clearly the symphonic elements feel a little carelessly thrown in, though it’s clearly meant to bring a calming element to the song and allude to the lyrics about moving past terrible things. One moment where it’s problematic is when the transition from black metal to symphonic –or vice versa –prove slightly awkward as the blast beats either are a hare off or they drown out the vocals. When the same rhythm is transferred to other instruments it makes the other chord progressions awkward and feel thrown in to display skill rather than add to the song itself. Regardless of the problems I feel anyone can appreciate the powerful build ups and the earthy, aggressive tones of the instruments that pair with an airy, dolce voice. It’s as if the idea of whether the speaker can rise above the past is brought into question due to the speaker’s integrity.

Speaking of integrity I felt some parts of “Denied” may have lacked some of that. Each particular movement provides something powerful and provocative, but when placed together lacks anything cohesive to tie it together. One movement will have a powerful breakdowns paired with raw vocals and blastbeats, but other times it tries to take a legato turn with bittersweet tones. Sometimes there’s an attempt to transition between these movements with blast beats or with the synthesizer or arpeggios, but it ends up feeling out of place. I definitely see these things matching the lyrics where they sing about being broken or living moment to moment, but instead of fully conveying these ideas it feels like an awkward juxtaposition of things that were awesome that should make a song with no real agreement how to bring it together.

This disjointed composition seems to continue with other songs. Throughout “Forgotten” there are lots of things that, while cool, don’t cohesively mesh. I feel the lyrics, while superficially dark (and given the theme of things forgotten fitting) demonstrate why I personally don’t like end rhyming. Most people tend to place the end rhyming at the end of a line, and paired with the tendency for native English speakers to speak in an iambic rhythm, end up often with rhythm structure of “ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum-ba-dum baaaaah”. I personally feel that particular rhythm is generic and a go-to when writing on the fly. It doesn’t add anything to the song other than leave me grasping at straws to justify the composition. I feel, however, there is a lot of potential with this song as I do notice an attempt to tie things together. The spoken part meant to bridge back into the vocals, while falling into the trappings of end rhyming, allude the most lyrically to the feelings conveyed about forgetfulness and being forgotten. The synthesizer seems to be arbitrarily thrown in, but that’s because while there is a theme and variation with the rhythm it’s marred by the lyrics and the barrage of blastbeats. Everything feels like it’s built around them, though I’m guessing it was intentional as the things pointed out are overdone and make a song forgettable.

Following such a cliché song is a more redeeming song:”Project 000”. The composition is more complex and more cohesive and more to what I’m accustomed with symphonic metal. Overall this is a song that provides the listener with more of everything. There is a more fluid transition between the blastbeats and breakdowns in the song and the chord progressions not only compliment these moments fantastically but really emphasize the mood of the song. The harmonies even help convey some sort of humanoid creature in more blended vocals than previous tracks. The synthesizer is more purposeful with its contribution to the song. While the lyrics are still lacking it feels like turning this into a disjointed duet emphasizes the internal conflict of promises from an unknown versus the promise granted, more so than other tracks. This is a song that, if I had to pick a song for radio play, would top the list.

If “Project 000” was a promise of a more complex turn in the album it wasn’t a good one when followed by “Odium”. That’s not to say that it’s a bad song, but it starts off deviating slightly from their other songs and eventually succumbing to their formula. As with the previous song, it starts of with a slow tempo, but doesn’t jump in with blast beats. However it does go into the usual pattern of having screaming vocals paired with faster rhythms and the clean vocals paired with more legato themes. It also fell back into lyrically bludgeoning the listener with end rhymes, albeit it didn’t always fall into iambic rhythm. The clean vocalist wasn’t hitting the hitting all the notes when she needed to jump up in pitch, and I suspect has to do with the fact much of the time it was lyrically when it needed a strong emphasis on the consonants at the start of the word. This is a common issue with singing, which is why many pieces tend to compose pieces where lyrically the high pitches coincide with an emphasis on vowel sounds. It provides an easier jump between high and low pitches because it’s easier to do with sounds that are more “open” and have less to push through.

The next song completely deviates from the rest of their album, let along symphonic metal, by invoking sea tunes and djent in “Seas of Torment” in the first few minutes. It does goes back into their trademark blastbeats and screams followed by melodic, clean vocals, leaving their venture into pirate metal short lived. I understand why they’d invoke those elements with a title like that but as I said with other songs it didn’t seem cohesive, even with their album. I feel like everything else with this song I’ve covered in other songs so I’ll move on…

The next few songs I feel actually go together in some fashion so I’ll deal with “Strings of Silk”, “Dawn”, and “Captivate” together. “Strings of Silk” seems to be the expected fanfare from the album with the violin setting on the synthesizer until I heard “Dawn”. The first song sets a theme that is carried into the second. The dolce voice paired with the piano really lets not only the vocalist, but the band shine. We see lyrics and composition noted of symphonic metal but also the strengths of the band as a whole. This, in turn, segues into “Captivate”. It opens up to deliver all the punches in the form of blastbeats, screaming vocals, driving tempos, and clean vocals that only warn of more to come. The lyrics talk about leaving this as a standard at one point, and I couldn’t agree more. This is the climax and standard for the album.

The album finishes with the eponymous title “This Sacrifice”. It delivers the grittiness that we saw in previous songs paired with oftentimes ballad-eque movements and a fitting conclusion lyrically and musically to the album. Rather than being disjointed and sacrificing cohesive composition it seems this was thoughtfully pieced together, knowing full well this was to end the album. The ending brings everything together in an epic piece fit of the genre and leaves me hoping that Elantris continues in this direction for other albums.

Overall Elantris promises symphonic metal but delivers something out of the norm for the genre, be it breaking from traditional vocalists or surprising elements from other genres. The big problem this serves, however, is the tendency to lean towards what sounds cool rather than bringing everything together to make the song contribute something new to the genre. Instead of sounding like symphonic metal with other elements at times it sounds like people from several metal backgrounds coming together to try out symphonic metal and creating a hodge podge of a song. Once the band does commit to being a symphonic metal band, though, the results are amazing.


Soundtrack for January 2018

One of my secret fans contacted me and told me how much they loved the idea of a soundtrack for the year and suggested I have one for each month. I thought about it, and not one to be above puff pieces and fodder of the like, decided to go forward with it.

Those of you who aren’t bots reading my blog will remember that, rather than picking favorite or least favorite songs, I go with the songs I feel best describe the time. I don’t look at genre, I don’t consider the song’s popularity, nor do I consider my personal tastes. This is the about the music and mood. The only thing I consider is whether or not it was released at a certain time, in this case it’s January 2018. For the time being I’m going to have four songs a month, because why not? I gotta be lame and have my themes, after all.

Jeff Rosenstock “YR Throat”

I felt this month had an element of feeling suppressed simultaneously with the vocal expression going on, or saw some consequence to expressing oneself as I also saw this month.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club “Little Thing Gone Wild”

Some are probably thinking about correcting me about how this song was technically released last year. The video was released last year, but the album on which it belongs was released this month. At any rate I felt it captured how some things did, well, get a little crazy this month. This song captured it quite well.

Joe Satriani “Energy”

I feel this song really captures the, well, energy of this month. If it isn’t the zeal that comes from the start of a new year it’s the zeal to set out to right wrongs, fight against longstanding oppressions, and political figures who epitomize hatred.

Watain “Sacred Damnation”

This was another song where the video was released before the album. That aside I felt this was another song that meshed well with public outcry for change and finally having a voice in those issues.

I also decided to start a playlist on YouTube of the songs I pick for this year. If you want to check it out feel free to do it.

My 2017 Soundtrack

I thought I’d do something, for me, a bit different to cash in on “end of the year” posts. Instead of acknowledging that another year has gone by and continue as normal I’ll put together songs from the year that I feel best serve as the “soundtrack” for that year. So I’ll use songs from 2017 that I feel best describe the year. I feel 12 songs, one for each month, should suffice for this purpose.

Now, this “soundtrack” is by no means a pick of my favorite songs or anything. It’s just a list of songs I think best describe the year and why. Admittedly it is heavily influenced by the politics of this year and I’m sure many are exhausted by it, but I still felt it set the mood for the year.

Phoebe Bridgers “Motion Sickness”

I feel the way this year has been an emotional roller coaster with everything from scandals to political upheaval we’re all a bit emotionally numb. Besides, someone somewhere is probably going through some relationship drama. It’s certainly great for capturing emotional turmoil.

Thievery Corporation “Ghetto Matrix”

The political climate of the year, especially when it concerns human rights, and the political influence that shows up in this duo’s music their latest album The Temple of I & I came to mind. The reggae influence, paired with how reminiscent it is in musical and political nature to “Get Up, Stand Up”, serves as an anthem for a new generation of oppressed and disenfranchised people worsened by corporate exploitation.

Overkill “Goddamn Trouble”

If this year wasn’t tumultuous on a sociopolitical level it certain was on a personal level. What better way to let out some old school nonsense than with some old school metal attitude, and Overkill still delivers on that front.

Lana Del Ray “Love”

OK, judge all you want. There was enough political turmoil to parallel the 60’s so I think this song with its 60’s vibe complimented it to also remind people there were elements of superficial escapism via pop culture.

Kesha “Rainbow”

This is a year where in the turmoil lots of healing came out of it. If it wasn’t healing there was some closure. Who could be better to include than Kesha, after her very public turmoil with her label?

P.O.S. “Pieces/Ruins”

There is a lot going on in this song. For many it felt like this year was a constant fight, and this song captures that aspect. They also felt like they were being pillaged and exploited like this song covers. This song also covers how many feel disenfranchised and have to pick up the pieces. Again, this was a politically charged year and the song definitely reflects it.

Björk “Blissing Me”

I think most people can relate to how a song can be incredibly intimate for the listening. The disjointed nature of the song adds another layer that I felt described this year: a search for intimacy and interconnection that ends up slightly hollow.

Poppy “Bleach Blonde Baby”

Admittedly I was reluctant to include Poppy as the whole thing is a really cool yet complex art project. Seriously, check it out. It’s a commentary on pop culture. So why did I end up including Poppy? I decided that while the commentary is not new it’s done in an interesting way, and it did sum up a lot of YouTube pop culture this year.

Julien Baker “Turn Out the Lights”

This album has an overall melancholy air and this song is no exception. This year has left a lot of unfinished business and messes to clean in the wake of the political turmoil. The overall tone of emptiness give it that much more reason to add it to this year’s soundtrack.

Alice Glass “Natural Selection”

Just as 2017 was disarming and dissonant so is this song by Alice Glass. The year was seemingly disjointed, jarring, and full of chaos with sweet tones just like this song.

Waxahatchee “Sparks Fly”

This goes back to my 60’s pop culture vibe I got this year. Unlike the other songs that I felt captured it this year this really captures both the political awakening vibe and the superficial pop culture vibe.

Mastodon “Steambreather”

Not gonna lie, I just wanted to include this song because it’s Mastodon. Plus, have you seen the video? Check it out.

This pretty much sums it up for me this year. See you guys in 2018, where I’ll have quite a few more reviews and other things happening.

When Nothing Is Original, Only Innovative

Recently Machine Head released a single from their upcoming album. You can check it out below. Almost the moment it came out people, myself included, noticed the striking similarities between the main riff and Strapping Young Lad’s main riff from “Love?”. Devin Townsend dismissed it and even wished the band the best. He made a few other comments about influences and whatnot, and I agree with him on some of those points.

Overall it seemed like it wasn’t an issue to those who should have cared. The news outlets, however, are having a heyday (I’m only timely with this post because I saw this coming). After the semi-controversy over Machine Head’s release the very tired debate resurfaced: how original are we as people and when is it blatantly ripping off someone? Honestly I see part of it is as an issue of originality and then there’s issue of how much influence is too much.

Western culture, especially in America, love to demand innovation and originality from everyone and everything. Some people rise to the occasion. At least, with the innovative part. In truth people aren’t that original. The human experience bears its own limitations to some things. I remember in college learning there are something like 17-34 individual story lines because of universal experiences. Even if we ignore how having contact with anything will influence artistic output influences will creep in other ways. Have a really cool bass line? Does it sound familiar? Turns out you heard something similar a few years back and it stuck with you. Or maybe something an artist played really resonated with you and you wanted to expand on that aspect. If it was ever a factor at all, and Robb Flynn has remarked it wasn’t anything but coincidence, it was probably more of the latter.

There are other issues to consider with similar sounding music. There are legal elements that I won’t fully delve into (not sure I’m qualified for that anyway) but one must acknowledge there’s a line between plagiarism, homage, influence, and outright coincidence. Where many people heard the riff from Strapping Young Lad other bands were cited like A Perfect Circle. Sometimes some elements are so overused or generic we hear it in many songs possibly without realizing it. Confirmation bias plays a huge factor in those instances. Assuming someone did lift something how can we look at it? If something is lifted what was done with it? Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was lifted almost verbatim from another popular work of the time. Devin Townsend admits he lifted lyrics from a Yes song…in the very Strapping Young Lad song at the heart of the issue.


Even if content was lifted directly from somewhere else when is it called plagiarism and when is it called creative license?

While there are legal and ethical standings to determine if a work steals from another a solely artistic standpoint isn’t well defined. One could argue that even following music theory is lacking in originality the same way pulling implements from other sources displays a lack of originality. I personally am not of that philosophy, but I can understand it. Much of Western music theory has rules for aesthetics and practicality. Moreover In reality various art forms didn’t really deviate from a certain forms and rules. One was considered an accomplished artist if they followed those form to the letter. In poetry free verse was called “doggerel” (and with some groups still is) until Romantic poets found merit in deviating from any verse form.

Western culture no longer believes in close imitation as a form of creativity. Artistry is tied to innovation, or at least the appearance of such. Like I’ve mentioned several times originality isn’t a strong point in humans. Innovation, however, is a strong human trait. We have a knack for taking what’s already there and make something seem new or adding a new paradigm to the existing work. It’s why I keep stressing the issue of when is something blatantly lifting another’s work and when is it taking something already done and going in a different direction. It’s why I strive in my reviews to focus on the artistic intention. Otherwise I’d constantly bemoan how nothing is good because it’s unoriginal, when the focus should be on what the artist is presenting.

The Future of Pop Stars Probably Aren’t AI

I read an article on Pitchfork the other day where it was another puff piece about whether or not future pop stars will actually be human or not. One thing I definitely appreciated about the piece was how it went into the history of AI pop stars leading all the way up to well-known programs like Vocaloids. Otherwise I felt it was another “future of” puff piece, but I want in on the puff piece pretension. It lets me pretend my opinion matters to the occasional person who actually reads my blog. Moreover I feel the topic presented was rather short sighted.

Does the future of pop music lie in something like Vocaloids? The short of my long-winded opinion is not yet and not necessarily with an AI image as the pop star. There. You now have debate fodder.

Now for the long answer…

Even though technology is moving at incredible rates not much is geared towards creating vocal synthesizers musically. I’ll use Vocaloids as my example since they are currently the most well known for singing synthesizers. Vocaloids were developed by Yamaha, which also isn’t the best when it comes to any sound synthesized. There’s a reason it’s one of the “go-to” brands for beginners of something like piano. They’re relatively inexpensive, and it’s reflected in the quality. The timbre is tinny, the clarity is lacking, the synthesizer sounds nothing like the instrument in question, and the sound variety tends to be – in my opinion – poor. This is especially reflected in the older generations of their Vocaloid line. In addition to the typical Yamaha sound quality older generation Vocaloids also lacked enunciation necessary for singing. Based on other opinions of Vocaloids in the West I’m not alone in this sentiment. There were some modulations, updates, and newer versions where these issues were somewhat addressed.

One of the ways the synthesizer shortcomings are addressed is the newer Vocaloid editions use actual samples of singing and speech instead of analytics. Combined with the updates the quality results in less tinny, less muffled, and more importantly more organic sounds. The technology still has a ways to go, but Yamaha made some strides. The only issue I see is whether or not Yamaha will continue to keep improving the technology and updating the language library to improve the overall quality.

Vocaloids, however, aren’t known just for being software. Many know them for their mascots like Miku Hatsune. While I surmise this is the direction Pitchfork was heading with the “future of pop stars” remark I still disagree. One part of the reason is despite internet popularity it hasn’t translated to widespread popularity outside of Japan. Another part of the reason is with software like Vocaloids the mascots are copyrighted to where if one uses the image for fan-made work it’s fine, but for commercial use it needs clearance with the copyright owner—which if I recall is Crypton Future Media with Vocaloids. Conversely the software is free to use without the same restraints. People are free to use it in conjunction with other instruments while recording their own music. It’s no different than using other similar licensed software for creating music. This disconnect of the image of the pop star from the “voice” creates not a future icon in the way the Pitchfork article insinuates. Rather than creating a platform for holographic stars to appear on a world tour it creates an opportunity for the future of pop stars to be the music creators themselves. There exists a few examples with Livetune being one of the more prominent ones. While it’s fair to assume we wouldn’t necessarily see the artist featured in any music video, people familiar with a particular artist’s work still would clamor to attend a concert of said artist. Various artists in electronic music come to mind as established examples. If anything I see a trend of focusing more on the music thanks to increasingly available technology to artists not otherwise accessible in earlier periods.

More easily accessible technology has and will contribute to changing how we consume music. Music synthesizers, while full of potential, are not up to snuff just yet for serious consideration when associated with a particular image for replacing human pop stars. This opinion may change if said technology improves, but even then I think the future pop stars will not morph into some image of a particular character, but the image of the artist behind the song. The voice synthesizer will become another instrument with its own malleable characteristics suitable for the artist’s desired outcome. Rather than what will the future pop star be artificial we should as will future pop stars be the ones behind the mixer.