Category Archives: review

Opeth Builds a World of Nostalgia and Trance

Opeth has made waves in recent albums as longtime fans noted a change in theircreative direction.  Any time Opeth is mentioned it provokes the debate of whether or not it’s for the best.  Regardless Opeth still knows how to synthesize a visually appealing aesethetic and a set list bound to appease even the most stringent fan.

I won’t deny that there is a major difference between Opeth’s older music and their newer stuff.  It’s obvious.  Their newer stuff has more pronounced jazz and rock elements and subdued more modern aspects of metal.  I feel like much of it is a nod to music from the ’70s.  Given I really enjoy music from that era I see it as a boon.  What did make it feel like a ’70s throwback were the psychedelic visuals and emphasis on red and yellow lighting.  It certainly harkens to a different period, and I question the meticulous attention to detail.  There seems to be a clear purpose in going this direction but I can’t figure out if it’s for artistic or personal preference. 

 As for their older content it stands strong in its own merit.  Ot was amazing to watch the audience dynamic go from a subtle rocking out (at least compared to the rest of the night) to the same frenzy found with the other acts.  When the older songs were played the frenzy came out.  It even led to a few hilarious moments where Mikael Åkerfeldt demonstrated just how well he can handle hecklers.  That is the first time I saw anyone handle hecklers with deft and poise.

Opeth was able to handle more than just hecklers and visuals. The set list itself was created in such a way where the audience truly gets lost in the musical experience.  It may be the answer to my earlier ramblings about why the meticulous recreation of ’70s aspects.  I’ll be honest it was just as easy for me to get lost in the moment there as it is for me to get lost in ’70s music.  It may just be about creating an experience rather than any particular aesethetic.

Whatever the reason Opeth provides powerful music tempered by melodic tones.  In doing so it provides the audience an experience that permits not only getting lost in the music but a sense of nostalgia and, for me, lots of enjoyment.

Technique- 4

Presentation-3

Audience Interaction-3

Brownie Points-0

Total-10

The Devin Townsend Project Brings a Tour de Force of Social Awkwardness 

This isn’t my first time reviewing The Devin Townsend project, but I will start it off probably the same way.  My bias in favor of them still stands.

Musically The Devin Townsend Project offers a plethora of styles, all of which deliver with tenacity and artistry only matched by a frontman who pokes fun at his own idiosyncrocies.  The powerhouse vocals tied together earth shaking drums and rolling bass lines deliver the poetics found in prog metal with the gritiness found in extreme metal.  This isn’t easy to pull off, and sometimes the timing was off due to excessive banter or missing the high notes.  Despite overdoing it to the point of hindrance that over the top embellishment added to the songs and brought something to folks already familiar with the work. 
 Not only was it more engaging, it was obvious the years of experience brought a clear command of audience interaction.  Whenever it seemed like he was losing the audience Townsend found a way to rile them up again, be it singing along, counting down to “March of the Poozers”, or cracking jokes about being out of place and a dad possibly out of his element.  Any mishap was handled by distracting the audience so well I didn’t even catch it (I only know it happened because he admitted to it, so kudos for getting one past me).  Even the sound quality was a far cry better than last time, which I would expect from a decent venue and incredible sound engineers.  

There was something that I felt was a little off about this area: the set list.  I honestly expected more from the “Transcendence” album, though I welcomed hearing music from “Z2” and older albums.  I also didn’t expect to hear songs like “Deadhead” so soon in the set list (that song was fourth if I recall).  I surmise that it had to do with the flow of the energy, which this set kept constant.  Regardless everyone had a good time, myself included.  

Technique- 3.65

Presentation-3

Audience Interaction-3

Brownie Points-0.25

Total-9.9

CS Luxem Shines Their Light (And It Didn’t Help My Migraine)

CS Luxem broke the monotony of ambient music in the night with their combination of music and social awkwardness. While it seemed odd it came together for an interesting show that provided the only fresh air that was in The Replay Lounge by that part of the night.

Luxem provided a nice break from all the ambient music with their combination of doo-wop paired with a strong bass line. Adding off-key vocals and some synth elements to the mix does max it interesting, though at times it felt a little hokey. I felt like at times there was too much in the mix that it was a bit of overkill, such as too strong of a bass line or too much reverb that seemed to serve no purpose. On a more positive note they remind me of a grittier 10 CC.

As I’ve said with other bands that night I’m giving some leeway about their performance as I couldn’t see the stage thanks to a tight crowd. I’m going to give them even more leeway because I started to feel ill and left in the middle of their set. I feel because of that they didn’t get a fair review without it, especially when I left it seems they really started to play their finer songs. What I did get to note was while sometimes over the top musically CS Luxem also delivered equally goofy stage antics. At times it came off a part of the act, but it also felt a little contrived as if trying to mask something.

The audience enjoyed the antics, though, and showed it with lots of cheering. Sadly this section is pretty sparse, which adds to why I’m giving them leeway. It’s not their fault, but at least the audience got to enjoy them.

As I’ve said CS Luxem combines doo-wop and synth with goofiness. What little I did review shows that while a bit rough around the edges can provide something unique and a bit reminiscent of 70’s and 80’s music. I hope to give them a more complete review in the future.

 

Technique- 2

Presentation- 1.5

Audience Interaction- 1

Brownie Points- 0.75

Total- 5.25

 

Tycho Alba: Similar but Not Quite Like Tycho

Coming all the way from Colorado to grace The Replay Lounge is Tycho Alba. I’ll admit I couldn’t help but make a horrible wordplay on the artist Tycho in the title of this article. In reality the only similarities they share are something with Tycho in their names and tend to create ambient music.

Tycho Alba captures ambient music vibes and mixes it with atonal vocals (though I suspect at times the singer just missed the pitch) and synth elements reminiscent of 80’s electronic music. At times they varied on this by pulling from disco or jazz (and in one song power chords) in order to create a sound that I can only really describe as both playing into ambient music and a new wave revival. They also go as far as to create dissonance within their music while not compromising the tranquility of the music. One song in particular featured a very staccato rhythm with the smooth, connecting elements of ambient melodies. However, one of the pitfalls of ambient music is its monotony, and Tycho Alba can’t escape it. There were times where the songs sounded too much alike where, had they been played consecutively, I would have figured was a long song. However I think this band’s aware of this pitfall and at least came prepared to keep the audience’s attention.

As I’ve said in other reviews I find it hard to review an ambient performance. The point of the music is to be relaxing and trance-like. Playing at a venue that tends to be lively proves challenging, especially for music that provides a relaxing atmosphere. It can put a show at odds with the surroundings. These guys were able, from what I could see without a crowd, show some enthusiasm with their music They also joked a bit with audience and engaged further with special effects. At least, I think fog machines fall under special effects. Either way they used it, and boy did it release a lot of fog! The audience didn’t seem to mind, though.

The audience, in fact, seemed somewhat engaged. As I noted they gathered closely around the stage so I had a hard time watching the performance. There was a bit of cheering and applauding throughout, and it seemed fairly consistent with the exception of one or two songs. As I said, playing ambient music live can be tough, especially at a lively venue.

Overall Tycho Alba are able to add to ambient music by incorporating at times very dichotomous elements. Even though they still fall into the trappings of performing ambient music at times they still manage to captivate the audience as much as the genre is capable of doing.

 

Technique- 2.5

Presentation-1.5

Audience Interaction–1.5

Brownie Points-0.5

Total-6.0

Overkill: 2/19 at The Granada

I’ll admit at the risk of whatever minuscule cred I had I was excited to learn Overkill was still around, as I thought they kind of faded away into obscurity. I was intrigued to learn they were touring and would end up in my neck of the woods. Then again, I’m usually intrigued when the midwest isn’t overlooked. These thrash metal veterans have been around since the 80’s, which is pretty much when thrash began. Overkill managed to avoid one of the things that more established bands suffer: a performance that’s caught in their glory days and presents a stale act. What I caught on stage was a band who didn’t act as some relic to the past, but ones who understood their history shaped who they are as performers.

This band manages to keep the old school elements of thrash metal while still keeping it fresh. It had the typical elements of thrash metal such as blast beats, fast tempos and, well, thrashing guitars. Where they tend to deviate from old school is they are willing to play with tempo and overall structure of the song,. It doesn’t randomly play in either a fast or moderato tempo as thrash metal tends to do. The lyrics, while a bit heavy on the end rhymes at times, delivered the right cadence and tone to match the genre. The music overall was paired with an electric performance.

These guys know how to put on a show. They were able to relate to the audience about their previous time stopping by the area and made it seem memorable. They also reminisced a bit about their time as a whole, but worked it in as a segue to other songs or psyching up the audience rather than ramblings of veteran musicians. This showed me how much thought and experience they have to balance that old school status without it appearing they’re trapped in nostalgia. They did, however, do some stuff that I didn’t like.

Overkill likes to build suspense, and I don’t know if it was because I knew what they were doing or if they overdid it that annoyed me. To me if felt like constant waiting. I was waiting for the set the finish checking things, I was waiting for the fog machine to deliver the right amount, I waited for the frontman to return to the stage after leaving during the interlude, I waited even more for the band to arrive on stage in the first place. I felt impatient and was wondering at some times how long I’d be left waiting again. I think, however, whatever the reason I grew impatient the payoff with the audience was enhanced despite my sentiment.

Everything about this band surged the audience into a frenzy. They were ready to thrash by the time Overkill hit the stage. It even got crazier with a few audience members sending questionable liquids flying. It got so out of hand the band had to ask people to calm down and lay off the flying liquids. Naturally a sex joke was made from it and laughter ensued. This showed me how much influence Overkill had and were aware of it. That is rare to find in a band, even experienced ones. By the end of the set the audience was calling for an encore. If it was an encore or planned manipulation I couldn’t say, but the audience felt like it was one and loved it.

Overkill has taken years of experience as musicians and performers to create an act that is still powerful and emotionally charged. In combining those experiences and willingness to be open to the audience they know the audience will be open to them and enjoy themselves. I’m not sure I can repeat myself anymore so I’ll cut to the score:

Technique-3.75

Presentation-2.75

Audience Interaction-3

Brownie Points-0

Total- 9.5

Nile: 2/19/17 at The Granada

I’ll admit when I first researched Nile and found out they’re a metal band that blends Ancient Egyptian aspects I had my doubts. Based on my personal experience such combinations don’t work out well. It tends to be hoakey or the synthesis is clunky and incomplete. As a Kemeticist with a strong bias I knew it was going to make me a hard sell. When I saw Nile perform, however, those doubts faded and the bias moved in the other direction.

One of things I really appreciate is their blend of Ancient Egyptian aesthetics with metal in a way that felt natural. While most recognize their combination of passages from Ancient Egyptian works, namely the Book of the Dead, I recognized other elements commonly associated with Ancient Egyptian music may have sounded like (no known Ancient Egyptian musical notation survives, so most of the elements of Ancient Egyptian music are guesses). Such elements where instruments mimic the sistrum (I didn’t see one in use, so I’m assuming cymbals were used instead) really tied it together with sparing use in ways that aren’t overbearing and don’t compromise the metal aspects. I personally appreciated how it was a true blend of ideas rather than Ancient Egyptian music randomly interjected into death metal. Everything was meticulous with drawing emphasis to the Ancient Egyptian passage. The rhythm even emphasized certain phrases with accents or employed dissonance to create the necessary build up really complimented the overall work. This is probably the only way Nile deviates from the Ancient Egyptian aspects, as Ancient Egyptians were really big on balance, and anything that could promote discord was avoided. It still works.

Musically Nile really blended the Ancient Egyptian aspects with metal, but on stage they’re metal. I’ll admit the Kemeticist in me hoped they would greet the audience with “em hotep”, but that would be impractical and hamming it up a little. Regardless of my desires Nile still showed a lot of love for the audience. They made a point to not only give a shout out to Overkill, but to Whoracle and pretty much everyone. It even felt like sincere appreciation. They certainly needed grace as, like Whoracle, their songs were subjected to the lights flickering at seizure-inducing rates. They worked with it and brought not only typical metal fanfare of headbanging but fist pounding and getting the audience as excited as they seemingly were.

Nevertheless the music and stage mannerisms were well received by the audience. Almost from the very beginning of the set Nile had the audience wrapped around their little finger. There were metal horns, headbanging, moshing, and just all around moshpit frenzy during the first song all the way to the last. I feel like at any point they could have even persuade the audience to do anything they desired. I can’t remember the last time I saw metalheads act like that at a concert, if ever. I’m genuinely impressed.

Biases aside Nile blends elements that are diametrically opposed elements in a way that brings out the best in both. As performers they deliver in stage persona and energetic enthusiasm that permeates the audience. Here’s how they scored:

Technique: 3.5

Presentation: 2.75

Audience Interaction: 3

Brownie Points: 0

Total: 9.25

Whoracle: 2/19/16 at The Granada

I confess that many times there isn’t a lot of love for frontliners at concerts. There are various reasons for it, which I won’t get into as to avoid unintended insinuations. What I will say is Whoreacle did fit in well with the lineup and justified its presence among well known bands. While they had some grittiness and punk undertones it only helped Whoracle to stand out on their own.

The musical style of Whoracle, while styled as melodic death metal, seemed influenced by punk more than the usual band of this genre. One of the things I noticed was how heavily driven the songs were by the bass. At first I thought it was the usual PA system problems at the Granada (it tends to not be friendly towards metal and punk genres as those genres tend to have music more focused on midranges rather than low ranges) but I was able to rule it out by moving to other spots and with other sets. It is fairly unique to hear that in a metal band, though their compositions overall felt like it didn’t really fit the melodic death metal label. I get the impression they’re still pretty young as a band (not necessarily as musicians) given a clear divide in the music composition (and I’m surprised to see they’ve been around for quite a few years.  More on that later) . The earlier stuff follows a formula of blast beats with punk influence, an abrupt break down, then as abruptly returning to bass and drum laden composition. The newer songs offer smoother transitions and even change up the formula by combining parts of the formula to create a new one, while still maintaining the heavy bass and drum aesthetics. The development of the new music was noticed by the crowd and they seemed to like it as they moshed and overall got into the music more. That said, I feel like being the frontliner wasn’t the only whammy Whoracle had to face.

As I keep stressing being a frontliner, let alone one at the Granada , isn’t easy. Frontliners have to work with a crowded stage and, because they’re the frontliners, a rather disinterested audience. They also had the disadvantage of the engineers trying to match the lights to the rhythms, which doesn’t work well with blast beats. Instead it came off disorienting and headache inducing, and that’s if the person handling the lights can keep rhythm (which they failed to do). Regardless the band tried to make it work once they got comfortable on the very cramped stage. I will give leeway since navigating a stage full of other band’s equipment and your own is difficult enough.  The way it took them quite a ways into their set to allow themselves to get into their own music and even crack a few jokes lead me to believe they’re still fairly green as a band.  It even felt a bit awkward where it felt like they spent more time gathering a feel for the stage and audience rather than being comfortable as artists, which lead me to believe they were newer than what they were.  Now knowing they’ve been around long enough as a band where this should be established yet haven’t done so, I’m not giving them leeway in that respect.

Despite their awkwardness on stage they managed to get the audience to warm up to them. It was gradual but more noticeable as the set went on. The audience responded to their newer music better than the older stuff. Some of that response, however, is factoring in the comfort level of the band onstage. In fact the audience enjoyed the band so much by the end they called for an encore. It also helped the band to have some of their familiar fans cheering them on. I honestly have mixed feelings about it. I suspect most know the band on a personal level (based on some of the shouts where specific names were called out) and were there as moral support; in some respect that makes the audience interaction a bit disingenuous, but I also understand from a performer’s standpoint how that can help a performance to feel like someone isn’t judging you. It also can help the audience warm up to a band that isn’t quite known and invoke some group mentality to cheer them on. Since I can’t discern the real motive I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that it’s moral support.

Until I researched Whoracle I honestly thought they were newer than what they were. I now conclude they either haven’t played on stage enough to develop more experience– in spite of being around for years– or they’re in the process of expanding creatively.  Once they develop their sound a bit more and get more experience on stage I think I’ll see them around much more. On that note here’s the score:

Technique: 2.5

Presentation: 1

Audience Interaction:1.5

Brownie Points: 0

TOTAL: 6