2019 is already shaping up to be an incredibly strong year for post-rock and metal, with a massive slate of heavy hitters releasing new material in the opening weeks. For my money though the most exciting of these releases may be the new album from Brazil’s Labirinto. I became aware of the group after Pelagic Records signed them and promptly reissued their previous album, the stellar Gehenna, which instantly became one of my favorite records of 2017. Their sheer mastery of cinematic heaviness with gut-wrenching emotion weaved throughout instantly placed them in the highest echelons of this kind of music, and ever since I’ve been eagerly awaiting their next move.
Fortunately we don’t need to wait long as their new album, Divino Afflante Spiritu, is set to come out February 8. The band have already whet our appetites with the record’s epic closing title track, but now we get the other bookend in the opener, “Agnus Dei.” Simply put, it’s incredible.
Labirinto - Agnus Dei - YouTube
Of the track, the band have this to say:
Agnus Dei (latin for “Lamb of God”) exposes the relationship between sacred and profane which permeates the formation of western thought, and our social and cultural organization, through one of the main elements of Christianity: the body of Christ. Through this relationship and the materialization of the intangible, society searches for excuses for its flaws and evils, using it as another means of domination and coercion. The track that opens the album is full of nuances, synth lines and heavy and intense bass/guitar riffs, marking the debut of the first ever song with vocals in Labirinto’s history. We invited singer Elaine Campos because we share her feminist political activism and we’ve long admired her vocal work in other underground Brazilian bands. Agnus Dei is one of the songs that best summarizes the concept and aesthetics of the new record.”
Let’s start with those aforementioned vocals, because I was knocked straight back in my seat when I first heard the song. I don’t think it’s true that vocals always improve post-metal, but this is absolutely a case where they take an already great track and elevate it further. Set against the extended intro of a grim tableau of distortion, synths, and frenetic drumwork, Campos’s howls mark an incredible transition at the 3-minute mark to sheer fury and madness. Daggered riffs, manic percussion, and a deliciously groovy drive anchor her as she lays everything around her to waste. Like the best of Cult of Luna‘s spacey work, “Agnus Dei” is a monster of vocal-driven post-metallic maelstrom that sets up the rest of the album exceedingly well.
At this point I shouldn’t need to tell you to listen to Divino Afflante Spiritu when it comes out in a few weeks, but you’ll surely be seeing us post more about it in due time. For now, you can pre-order the album digitally through Labirinto’s Bandcamp and on vinyl through Pelagic Records.
There are certain electronic artists who have logical crossover appeal with metal fans; Merzbow and Prurient immediately come to mind, as well as industrial-leaning acts like Author and Punisher. Yet, there are other purveyors of dark electronics whom I’ve always felt should have more fans in the metal community, specifically Autechre. The duo’s abrasive, rumbling assaults feel very much in line with what attracts people to metal while also offering a distinctly electronic sound.
Come, Deathless is yet another example of this proud tradition of dark, heavy electronic music perfectly suited for metal fans. Autechre is the easiest parallel, but with their latest record, Surachai exhibit a unique voice all their own that touches on IDM, glitch, dark ambient and more. It’s exploratory and destructive at the same time, traversing through dense, detailed soundscapes and introducing regular chaotic bursts of kinetic energy. Space-themed melodies glistening from ambient mist can suddenly evaporate to make way for rumbling, bass-heavy pulses of beats and noise.
The Autechre vibes are especially strong on “Empress of the Starved Lung,” though Surachai employs a bit of a more electro-inspired vibe. The beat and syncopated melody thumps with immense sonic weight, though the synth tone and melodies feel almost club-inspired. It might not be the most danceable composition, but it strikes an intriguing emotional chord and subsequently feels both catchy and punishing. Conversely, “Casts of Broken Timelines” is focused solely on being as aggressive as possible, with rapidfire drum patterns barely piercing through a thick wall of tense, dismal noise. And of course, there’s some all out noise assaults on the album, with “An Unfamiliar Reflection Activates A Gate” being a particularly noteworthy cut due to its tribal, thunderous beat.
“An Abandoned Throne in the Hall of Extinction” approaches the album’s noise-fueled tendencies in a unique way, what with the track ultimately taking on a lighter, ambient nature by its conclusion. The journey is a perfect encapsulation of the album, what with the marriage of melody and darkness being the crux of what makes the compositions feel so impenetrable yet enticing. Still, the wholly melodic conclusion “Time Splits Every End” remains the album’s greatest highlights with each subsequent listen. A roaring backdrop of melancholy ambiance is accented by a clean synth sequence. The melody actual serves as a foundation despite being the more direct element, as the unraveling of the backing wall of ambiance is captivating throughout.
Not to contradict my initial point, but Come, Deathless is a thoroughly enjoyable album regardless of your relationship with metal and electronic music. There’s certainly a great deal here that will appeal to metal fans, but from on a track-to-track basis, Surachai demonstrates that their compositional and exploratory prowess transcend a mere “gateway musician” tag. Whatever your musical interests may be, Surachai offers undeniable sonic quality that should appeal to listeners looking for textured soundscapes replete with emotionally crushing material.
Whenever I write reviews, I try to completely devour the
albums. I listen to them multiple times no matter what my personal taste thinks
of it. I pull out anything and everything from it to really try and understand
what I’m hearing. Every once in a while, I get an album to review that I
completely fall in love with. I’ll find myself sticking with it long past the
album has come out and the hype has dissipated. So far, that’s been the case
with Astrophobos and Malice of Antiquity.
Astrophobos’ sound really sits in a great spot to me. It’s a slightly different take on an established sound though it’s also a wonderful trip down memory lane. It’s got that established raucous and chaotic black metal sound of the second wave but with a more melodic take. The riffs do sound very melodious and just feel really good and even pleasant to hear. The subject matter of the lyrics is even more on point. Having this evil and chaotic sound that also is describing scenes of fires consuming a church or demons take over the earth is just so on the nose that you absolutely have to love it.
Astrophobos has been cranking out some solid melodic second wave black metal since 2009. The sound has gotten more and more polished since their 2010 debut, and this kind of sound is what’s missing from current black metal releases. There’s nothing wrong with a good throwback when there’s a slight variation and signature to the sound. As I noted in my review, a little nostalgia can be perfectly healthy if there’s this kind of variation on it. If we’re lucky, we’ll see Astrophobos on the road and many more releases come our way in the near future. This record is fun to hear and a great way to tap into the darker side. Thanks for an awesome record, guys. Keep up the good work.
A Gift to Artwork, whose name is taken from the Caligula’s Horse song “A Gift to Afterthought”, breaks down and analyses your favourite album artwork. Read other entries in this series here.
It’s hard to believe it has been over two years since we last published an article in this series. One of our first forays into the recurring columns which have proven such a hit over the past 12-18 months, it’s about time we brought this bad boy back! Jordan and I will be at the wheel and we hope you’ll stick along for the ride as it should be a great one. On that note, let’s get stuck right into analysing Ghost’s fantastic collection of album artwork! Note that the first time an album’s name appears, it will link to a large and (where possible) high-resolution image of the cover so that you can take a closer look.
Opus Eponymous (2010)
Credit: Basilevs 254
Way back in 2010 Ghost burst onto the scene with their critically acclaimed debut Opus Eponymous. The artwork is certainly intriguing, though there is little about it which immediately calls for more than a passing glance. However, if we afford it just that, we can start to unpack some meaning from it. Right off the bat, the depicted figures and overall style scream three things. Firstly, we have an undead guy, some bats, lightning and swathes of black – so chances are we’re in for something dark. Indeed, conceptually the record focuses on a sense of impending doom, with closing track “Genesis” signalling the birth of the Antichrist. Yet, at the same time, the teal colouring and cartoonish style adds some old-school levity to the piece and suggests they don’t take themselves too seriously. Finally, upon closer inspection we see that our zombie is a bishop/pope and our building is a church, so there are bound to be some religious undertones. Thus, at a glance the artwork has successfully conveyed three key aspects of Ghost’s sound and aesthetic, and there is more to find upon further inspection.
Our undead figure makes up the sky, traditionally a symbol of spiritualism, peace and heaven – all bearing quite positive connotations. Yet, he doesn’t look too impressed, striking quite a menacing pose, whilst lightning is often thought of as the punishment of the Gods. Thus, there is a dualism at play, highlighting Ghost’s tendency to straddle the line of light and darkness with their heavy lyrics and imagery juxtaposed against Papa’s vocals and their highly melodic sensibilities. Whilst it’s easy to see why many simply write the band off as Scooby Doo chase music, and this cover does little to dispel such concerns, all in all it must be said that the artwork does a fantastic job. It paints the core tenets of the band for all to see and showcases what the band have to offer – something especially crucial for a debut record.
Credit: Zbigniew M. Bielakh
Fast forward a couple of years and we hit Infestissumam, meaning the most hostile, in reference to the coming of the Antichrist. This piece is far darker than the debut and on a much grander scale. Rather than towering over a single building, a single institution in the Church, our undead figure has invaded the city. More than this, he has become the city. And not just any city either – the circular arena and overlooking balcony marks itself as unmistakably Roman. He has consumed the Holy City itself, at once both menacing in appearance and nurturing the baby Antichrist. Further, the inverted cross on his headpiece clearly marks him as an anti-Pope, rather than any old zombie clergyman.
Further strengthening the conceptual ties we see a rising sun in the background. Firstly, Lucifer is generally translated as light bringer or morning star, and is thus closely associated with dawn and first light. Just as Satan makes his appearance on Earth, the mask highlighting there is more to him than just any child, the rising sun represents his coming. Secondly, the sunlight highlights how pervasive the evil is relative to the debut. Opus Eponymous’ cover depicted the moon, a dark sky and numerous bats, nocturnal creatures, suggesting that the anti-Pope could only use his powers at night. With the arrival of Satan, he is free to wreak havoc in the day time as well – there can be no escape.
Infestissumam’s cover does an outstanding job of pushing the concept behind Ghost’s work. However, just like the debut, it goes beyond this and offers hints as to Ghost’s sound. Whilst not as prominent as on the debut, justifiably so given they were becoming an established name, the intricately detailed sun and half-mask let the listener know that not only are they in store for some dark and satanic tunes, but some theatricality too.
Credit: Zbigniew M. Bielak
Moving onto (not even) arguably their best album, Meliora offers a fantastic cover to boot. Bielak’s piece continues to strike a great balance between offering something fresh whilst remaining inimitably Ghost’s. The anti-Pope is still a part of the city itself, though where he was once a visible invader he is now ingrained in the city’s very fabric. He has become the Church, an institution of the city, usurping God’s servants from within and offering Satan’s guidance instead. He places himself as the sole bringer of light, the city’s only guide and salvation, with even the search lights in the background emanating from his headpiece. Satan’s omnipresence is further highlighted by the Babushka-style layering, with the Church/bridge anti-Pope just forming part of a larger anti-Pope’s head.
As alluded to, in addition to consuming the Church our anti-Pope forms part of an enormous bridge. Thus, he can be seen as the bridge between life and death, light and darkness, the Earth and a spiritual world. The band have gone on record to state the central theme behind the album is the absence of God, with the band filling the resultant void. The anti-Pope, through Papa Emeritus and by extension Tobias Forge, is Ghost. Through him, the band is depicted as the sole light, the sole spiritual place to which the masses congregate. The dystopian image is completed by the tiny specs of people, crammed in like sardines as they funnel towards a Church entrance resembling the mouth of hell, flanked by towering, cold and soulless buildings. Bielak really nailed this one.
Credit: Zbigniew M. Bielak
Speaking of nailing it – the artwork for 2018’s Prequelle is simply stunning. The detail and creativity on display is truly awe-inspiring and it’s a fantastic work of art with which to finish this article. The first thing we notice is the medieval style of the artwork, but we need no invitation to explore every nook and cranny of this piece. Cardinal Copia has replaced Papa Emeritus, the change in rank signified by the new headpiece and the red clothing. The cardinal’s throne is a gothic church, yet simultaneously an amphibian Cerberus atop a hellish landscape filled with fire and brimstone. Behind him are demonic wings furnished with cobwebs, maelstrom-like vortexes and ugly boils. Those same boils afflict the cardinal’s face, showcasing that the Black Death is one of the album’s key concepts. Fittingly we have a knight in the bottom-centre, in keeping with the plague’s period, whilst a grim reaper and a cart full of dead bodies in the bottom-left only add to this aesthetic. We could write an entire piece simply describing what the piece has to offer and we still wouldn’t get through half of it – so what else does the art tell us?
Firstly, it shows us that after three iterations, Papa Emeritus has been cast by the wayside in favour of a new lead character – a new Ghost. Secondly, it helps reveal the albums plague-inspired concept, with tracks such as “Ashes”, sporting lyrics from “Ring a Ring o’ Roses”, and “Rats” suddenly making a lot more sense. Thirdly, the medieval theme and historical concept is at odds to Meliora’s urbanised, somewhat science fiction style artwork, and this hints at the record’s sound. Whilst Ghost have always been heavily influenced by older music, the 70s and 80s influences are on display to a greater extent than ever on Prequelle. Finally, it reminds us that Zbigniew M. Bielak truly is a gift to artwork. I hope you enjoyed this column’s comeback, and we’ll see you again next month!
“Roko’s basilisk is a thought experiment about the potential risks involved in developing artificial intelligence. The premise is that an all-powerful artificial intelligence from the future could retroactively punish those who did not help bring about its existence, including those who merely knew about the possible development of such a being. It resembles a futurist version of Pascal’s wager, in that it suggests people should weigh possible punishment versus reward and as a result accept particular singularitarian ideas or financially support their development. It is named after the member of the rationalist community LessWrong who first publicly described it, though he did not originate it or the underlying ideas.“
In layman’s term, Roko’s Basilisk asks: “what if a giant computer from the future travels back in time to punish its enemies, Terminator style?” It’s an odd concept for a post-rock track but, then again, Town Portal have never played exactly by the rules; ever since we stumbled upon the band a few years ago, we’ve reveled in their unique sound and penchant for breaking the barriers of what post-rock can do. Their new track, off of the upcoming and highly anticipated album, Of Violence, is no different, running the gamut between chill groove, kept moving by an unrelenting bass tone, and a Meshuggah-esque riff at the center, bleeding hot, molten impact. It belies the album’s cover art well, erupting like so much lava from a more dormant, earth-y structure, spewing its scorching aggression everywhere before the brass instruments and off-kilter guitars can take over and usher the track into its spectacular death throes.
The last part of the equation here is the masterful production work by one Scott Evans (Kowloon Walled City), picking out every note, strum, and vibe from this track and presenting it to our ears with crystal clarity. The end result is yet another escapade into the farther reaches of post-rock from the masters of such experimentation, as “Roko’s Basilisk” pushes the lengths they’re willing to go to find good music even further than before. We’re proud to premiere this track in full right below and to let you know that Of Violence releases on April 5th of this year, via the wonderful Small Pond Records. Head on down below to the band’s Bandcamp page to pre-order it; the odds of you regretting it are non-existent.
I don’t think I’m saying anything anyone doesn’t know with
this, but music truly is an art form. We forget that sometimes when we’re
listening to top 40 radio or going to a concert. To be fair, a lot of music can
seem like it’s made from a cookie cutter recipe. Write an
intro/verse/chorus/verse/bridge/chorus pattern, maybe put in a guitar solo or
instrumental section, and there’s a song. So when you hear something that
doesn’t follow that formula, it’s a great way to shake yourself up and attack
all of your own assumptions about how music is made.
If you’re feeling like you’re stuck in that rut of just
consuming the same music, take a look at Slow,
Belgium’s funeral doom duo. For just over a decade, Slow has been creating an
interestingly atmospheric version of funeral doom. These tracks are more than
just songs. They’re organized soundscapes that truly elicit emotions. They’re
very drawn out tracks that plod through their scenes in order to let the
feelings develop, reach catharsis, and relax again only to do it over again on
the next track. You really don’t hear this kind of songwriting often enough to
remind you that you’re not just creating songs in order to sell something. Some
artists write songs to express themselves and emotions they’re feeling.
Their latest record, IV: Mythologiae, is actually more of a rerelease. The first version came out in April 2015, but this new record has taken those songs, rerecorded and remixed them and even includes a new final track, “The Break of Dawn”. By and large, the songs remain relatively unchanged in terms of structure. However, there’s a fullness and presence to these tracks on this latest edition that weren’t there before. The synths sound so much richer and deeper here in a way that envelopes you that wasn’t there before. These tracks reflect the album cover. They emerge from a foggy distance, present yet still distant.
Since much of this album has already been out there before, the new track is the thing to focus on. “The Break of Dawn” as the closing track feels much like the end of the arduous night in a horror movie. The sun is rising in the distance. The survivors see their daylight sanctuary and are both relieved by the end but troubled under the surface. The song reflects that sensation. There is the joyous rise of a lone acoustic piano that is soon accompanied by the bubbling darkness of distorted vocals and atmospheric guitars with the crashing waves of drums and cymbals. This rising and falling riff drones on through the track in a way to remind you that sometimes you don’t get the happy catharsis you think you need. Sometimes you have to sit in your thoughts.
This record is truly something you have to experience. It’s not something you can have in the background. You need to focus on it. You have to let it consume you entirely. It requires your full attention so you can experience it all. Funeral doom bands, especially of the more atmospheric variety like Slow, are like a fine red wine. You have to let it breathe and sip it slowly to really savor all parts of it. IV: Mythologiae must be savored to experience. Get your nice headphones and bring your appetite.
As I mentioned in my 2018 round-up article last month, one of the most pleasing surprises I had adventuring through London’s live music scene last year was a chance encounter with Brighton quintet The Guts. I found them supporting The Hirsch Effekt at a show in Camden in the immediate aftermath of Tech Fest. The band first captured my attention with a spirited and energetic performance (even despite playing to a relatively sparse audience) and retained it with some inventive, and occasionally playful, songwriting. Great fun.
The Guts kick out a raw and raucous sound, from the punky end of the mathcore spectrum. With a total of three members of the band contributing vocals, including a keyboard player, the net result sounds like a crossroads collision involving Rolo Tomassi, Heck, Sikth and The Wildhearts. Fortunately, this brash and high-octane sonic stew translates to record, as we first found out with their debut EP, Flesh, released at the tail end of 2017. This EP showed that the songs are still enjoyable even without the band literally bouncing off the walls in front of you. What’s more, it also showcased a penchant for punny song titles, including “Slipped Disco” and the quite masterful “Bukkake Veyron”.
We are pleased to assist The Guts in kicking off 2019 in style with this premiere of new single, “Dice”, the first new recording since Flesh was released. Unsurprisingly, it’s another raging stomper, with a couple of surprises thrown in for good measure. You can decide for yourself which is more surprising; the inclusion of a scratchy guitar solo (which I understand is the first the band have committed to tape) or the bossa-nova interlude. I can safely say I did not see that coming. In any case, the song is great and will no doubt be joined by more new offerings before too long.
The band also have a few live dates in the diary, including the beginnings of a tour in April:
Brighton – 26th January
Bad Pond Festival – 21st April – Also featuring Jamie Lenman, Three Trapped Tigers, Body Hound (and a certain Heavy Blog writer in the audience)
Hastings – 25th April
Nottingham -26th April
More dates will be added soon, so if you like what you hear on “Dice” (or indeed on Flesh, which is available here) then loop yourself in with their Facebook to stay up to date (algorithms permitting).
If you’re anything like me, you have a specific love/hate relationship with radio-friendly hard rock. If you’re reading this site, how can’t you? More often than not, it’s too predictable, derivative, or generic to offer any surprise. By its very nature it’s usually dry, uninspired, or just fucking corny. But when it’s engaging, when there’s actual intrigue lurking somewhere in there, when the hooks set so deep you somehow find yourself reeling yourself in? Ooh boy… Yeah, that’s some true alchemy. Those clumsy elements evolve into curiosities and missteps that can be forgiven. It’s with this notion in mind that I find London’s TrYangle. Now, I’m not here to peg them as the next “big” anything, nor do I seek to imply that there’s something lesser about their brand of addictive, deceptively mellow rock jams. Instead, I’m just here to spout off some good news: this is a uniquely catchy hard rock band worth your damn time (after all, this article is titled “Hey! Listen to TrYangle!” so you should’ve seen this coming). In a perfect world, mainstream radio would find room to squeeze in a few of Wolf’s tracks as they mesh delectably heady grooves and spacious jams with some familiar radio rock feels. Let’s get into it.
At nearly nine minutes, opener “Howlin’” isn’t quite the fiery lead-off single that you may be expecting. Instead, it (along with most of Wolf) is tempered with spacy reverb and delay, aqueous bass lines, and buoyant, punchy drumming. I’m reminded of Jesse Leach’s grungy Seemless finding common ground with post-Jupiter Cave In, plus a healthy dose of intricate, percolating Latin flair. It’s apparent (thankfully) that songwriting comes first; every track establishes its own identity and throws in enough curveballs and proggy syncopating tinges to warrant revisiting, and the hooks are more of a swirling melodic suggestion than they are repetitive, poppy earworms. There’s a smattering of djent-y, mosh-ready polyrhythms placed throughout the record, which somehow find a way to play nice with slinky slide guitars and a little bit of dumbfire riffing. Everything is super rhythmic and groovy, so much so that the vocals often feel a little wonky. But even as those vocal moments begin to settle in (at times cumbersomely) and feel like an afterthought, they also develop a peculiarity and piquing weirdness that almost makes them catchy (see “A Grinding Throne Gathers No Moss” or “Blood-hatred”). Still, it’s the jammy stoner rock structure of Wolf’s eleven tracks keep the traditional hooks at bay, taking upon airy Failure-esque melodies to compliment jarring riffing, beefy grooves, and bluesy or proggy droves (“Always Shining”).
To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what bands like Chevelle, A Perfect Circle, or Breaking Benjamin have sounded like since the early 2000s, but I have a very strong hunch that TrYangle could whet the appetites of those who cut their teeth on that era of “elevated” radio rock (“Move” or “All” would make for a familiar introduction). This London trio’s variety of hard rock has a similar disposition, but with a brainier, looser design; they eschew friendly arrangements in favor of moody world building and keen changes of direction. The vocals are decent, too, certain to appease the “ew, no screaming” types, but not likely to win anyone over lyrically. In spite of some less-than-perfect presentation, the moments that click feel sooo good. The quirky moments (of which there are many) don’t always satisfy (“I.e.”), but a lot of them definitely grow. It might take some effort, but I encourage you to give it a… try. Wolf is available now for purchase and streaming on Bandcamp.
There’s nothing particularly original about what London’s Puppy are serving up on their debut record The Goat. Yet, there’s no denying that the power trio’s particular blend of influences is certainly idiosyncratic. The peculiar mixture of alternative, indie rock and occult-tinged heavy metal displayed on their two existing EPs has already earned them considerable buzz within the UK underground and, while the concoction offered up on their first long-player doesn’t quite perfect the formula, it still manages to impress as their strongest collection to date.
It’s surprising Ghost‘s influence hasn’t been felt on a grander scale, given the considerable public profile and critical acclaim the band have garnered in recent years. Sure, the general notion of occult rock/metal has experienced a mild resurgence over the past decade or so. Nevertheless, most of the scene’s standout artists have continued to adhere to older traditions rather than following directly in the footsteps of the nameless ghouls. The Goat feels like the first time a record of note can be immediately traced to Papa Emeritus and co. The band’s influence is immediately apparent from album-opener “Black Hole”. However, rather than simply aping the occult-rockers, Puppy (not to be confused with the Canadian pop-punk band Pup) have instead seen fit to insert their particular style of metal riffing and ooky-spooky imagery into the kind of song-strictures and you’d usually associate with the likes of Weezer and other 90s alt and indie rock staples. The stomping riff of “Black Hole”, for example, has Helmet written all over it. Yet it’s upbeat, theatrical vocal harmonies are far more Chris Collingwood than they are Page Hamilton.
Puppy - Black Hole - YouTube
That’s not to say Puppy are in any way lightweights. The driving riff on “Vengeance” almost sounds like a skate-punk take on Machine Head‘s “Bulldozer”; “Entombed” – re-recorded from Vol II (2016) – is built around an ominous riff that reminds of early Deftones or even Soulfly; “World Stands Still” is an anthemic hard rock classic to rival Ghost’s “Square Hammer” and “Demons” even rounds out the record with a distinctive nod in the direction of Pantera‘s domination. It’s not all about the riffs though; more often than not it’s the vocal melodies that shine through. “Poor Me” is prime power-pop Weezer by way of Metallica‘s “The Thing That should Not Be”, while “Bathe In Blood” sounds like The Smashing Pumpkins trying their hand at thrash metal. The ease with which Puppy mix and meld their various influences is truly startling and the consistency of the songwriting, along with the the record’s pervasive catchiness, puts any allegations of gimmickry firmly to rest.
Yet, as impressive as Puppy’s eclectic palette is, The Goat doesn’t quite feel fully realized. Unlike Zeal & Ardor, whose blend of disparate genre’s feels legitimately groundbreaking and perhaps suggests the beginnings of something entirely new, Puppy’s sound isn’t yet entirely integrated. It still sounds like three distinctive sounds played alongside each other rather than being fused together to form a distinctive whole. Each of it’s elements work well together – far better than they have any right to, in fact – and the album remains a striking feat overall. It’s greatest triumph, however, continues to be the excitement it creates for what’s to come.
Puppy - Black Hole - YouTube
. . .
The Goat comes out tomorrow, January 25, through Spinefarm records. Order it here.
It’s strange to think of how much the landscape of post-rock has changed in just past decade. Third wave post-rock took America – then the world – by storm, and while it remains a niche genre in the wider scope of things it unquestionably cultivated a rich soil from which has sprung literally thousands of bands spread across the globe. Since that time several formulas have emerged, for better or for worse, and the genre now has well-known indicators. So, it’s easy to forget that in the 00’s it was a more lawless terrain. You had emerging innovators that became legends – Explosions in the Sky, This Will Destroy You, Caspian, Russian Circles, Pelican, Red Sparowes – but when you look at that collection of names two things should jump out at you. First, it gets pretty hard, pretty quick to name more than a handful of other bands working within the form during that period, and second, each of those aforementioned groups was doing something distinctly different from one other. It was a time of growth, exploration and discovery, which in many ways is what made it such a deeply fruitful moment in musical history. Those of us lucky enough to be there got to bear witness to the birth of a form. While the aforementioned sextet of American bands proved to be the heavy hitters, it would be folly to gloss over the contributions of lesser-known groups that were honing their craft and offering their contributions at that time.
One of those bands was Virginia’s Gifts From Enola. What distinguishes them on their 2009 record From Fathoms is their strong rooting in the type of emotive post-hardcore that was experiencing a prevailing glory period in the early-to-mid 2000’s. The quickly-shifting dynamics and nimble songwriting characteristic of that genre brought an excitement and an unbridled energy to their compositions that wasn’t necessarily a hallmark of their contemporaries. Riffs abound throughout the album’s eight inspiring tracks, but it was also their ability to translate stylistic elements of a genre typically beholden to vocalists into fully-realized, largely-instrumental compositions that made Gifts From Enola a special band that resonated with listeners beyond their time together, which came to a close in 2013.
From Fathoms is a wildly underrated record that shows the truly expansive possibilities of post-rock as a genre. On the surface it doesn’t seem terribly outside-the-box, but the way the band folds their influences into the mix gives it a dynamic range and depth that is sometimes lacking for bands in this realm. But it’s really one intangible element that helps the record stand apart – sometimes you can just sense the joy behind the songwriting when you listen to a record. There is a feeling of excitement present that can only come out of a scenario in which a band is hitting on all cylinders: everything is working, doors are being opened to new potentials, and the listener can grasp the sense that the band is bursting at the seams to share what they’ve accomplished. That’s the feeling I get when I listen to From Fathoms. Gifts From Enola were a very good band, one that never got near the credit they deserve, and this record is their perfect storm.
Fans and newcomers alike should rejoice at the news that From Fathoms is not only getting a fresh release, but also a brand new mix and master. To make things even more exciting, this new version was handled by Will Benoit, the man who has stood behind a number of relevant artists such as Junius, Caspian, Rosetta, and his own bands, Constants and SOM. From Fathoms had a humble genesis during its original recording, and if there is one knock on the record it’s that it could definitely have sounded fuller. Now there is no more need to worry about that, as their 10th anniversary redux is coming available via dunk!records. 2019 also holds some more exciting news for the band, including an appearance at dunk!festival and another one-off show in New York City. I had an opportunity to chat with multi-instrumentalist Andrew Barnes just ahead of the re-release’s announcement.
Heavy Blog Is Heavy: It’s been nearly six years since the
band had any activity. Why now are we seeing your re-emergence?
Andrew Barnes: Back in 2013 when we broke up it was
a mutual decision that was completely on our own terms and in good spirits, so
we’ve always remained super tight with one another as friends and knew that
we’d all be down to get together again in a band context if the timing and
opportunities were right. Even when we were still an active band we had tossed
around the idea of getting From Fathoms
redone with a new mix and master, so with the 10-year birthday of that album coming
up, those talks ramped up a little bit more and we decided to go through with
it for real and tack on a couple of shows as well to celebrate!
HBIH: Can you talk a little about From Fathoms, why you felt it was
something you wanted to revisit, the re-mix and re-master process, and your
time working with Will Benoit?
AB: From Fathoms easily has the largest scope of any of the albums we ever put out, but we never quite felt like the finished product represented that scope to its fullest potential. It was the one time that we went full-on prog concept album and made sure every little nuanced detail tied into a greater theme. The process of creating that album from writing to mixing took about 2 years while we were in college and Nate, CJ, and I all lived together in this big, degenerate house with a bunch of our other friends. The 3 of us obsessively lived and breathed this album every day, and most of the recording was done late night on our own at our college’s studio where Nate was able to get us in after-hours due to an independent study program he did. Making the album completely on our own is something we look back on proudly and fondly since it was a super collaborative, all-hands-on-deck process, but it also had its limitations because our engineering and technical knowledge was nowhere near pro-level at the time and we were just winging a lot of the recording and mixing sessions. When it was all said and done, we always wished that we could find the right time and person to revisit From Fathoms with a new mix and give the album the size and polish it deserves. Luckily we found that person in Will Benoit. Will has been a good friend of the band for a long time, and once we recorded our final album A Healthy Fear with him he completely had our trust to uproot the foundation of From Fathom’s mix someday and turn it into something special. We had chatted about it a little bit over the years, but with the 10-year anniversary around the corner we finally sent him the studio session hard drive in 2018 and he start digging into it. We knew he would do a great job, but he absolutely blew us away with the improvements he made. While our final album will probably always be our favorite, we can now proudly say that From Fathoms stands up sonically with the rest of our later albums due to the TLC that Will was able to give the new mix.
HBIH: So often you will have writers and bloggers like myself prescribing meaning or intent to bands’ music, often rooted in genre tags and the expectations that come along with those. This happens especially with post-rock, which tends to be categorized by 5-6 different perceived formulas. But so often the artists aren’t given the space to talk about their goals and their part in the artistic process, and when they are you often find that what you think they intended is not at all in line with the reality. What were some of your creative desires and intended outcomes for Gifts From Enola?
AB: The post-rock tag is definitely a
tricky thing that has its pros and cons. On one hand we are forever indebted to
and grateful for it because of the opportunities that the genre association
provided us from the get-go, and on the other hand we were always frustrated by
its inherent limitations. We started making our own ADD version of post-rock
that mixed in some outsider heavy, proggy, and poppy influences at the right
time in the mid-2000s when a lot of people were discovering the genre and there
was a big wave of hungry new fans and new bands putting their own twist on the
sound. Post-rock and instrumental rock music were influences that we enjoyed
and leaned into a lot more early on as a band, especially on Loyal Eyes and From Fathoms. With every new release we put out, that influence
became more and more diluted as our tastes continued to change and our
appetites to try out new things increased, but the post-rock tag continued to
stick around on us for better or worse. Ultimately, I think we were just
interested in making riff-centric songs and albums that had the freedom to
meander into whatever genre corridor we wanted to go down. Our first album and
our last album might sound like two completely different bands at times, but
that mission was a constant throughout everything we did.
HBIH: How do you see the post-rock/instrumental
scene now, as opposed to what it looked like when you were creating From Fathoms?
AB: It has grown so much! We’ve all been
relatively out of touch with the post-rock/instrumental rock scene for a while
now since we broke up, and it’s been pretty amazing to poke our head above
ground recently and see how much something like Dunk! Fest has grown over the
years. Back in the ’07-’09 years when we would’ve been making From Fathoms it felt like there were all
of these little hubs of post-rock listeners that you’d have to do some digging
to find, but now it feels like there is a more central, communal nature to it
that makes it really easy to connect with other bands and fans, and that’s
HBIH: Are there any bands in particular
that you see as major influences or important figures in the current landscape
of instrumental music?
AB: When it comes to listening to instrumental rock music, I think we more or less stick to some of the classics we’ve enjoyed for a long time like Tortoise, Grails, The Mercury Program, Cancer Conspiracy, etc., so I’m not totally positive who is shaping what these days in the scene. As far as current bands go though, we root big time for our all of our friends from back in the day that are still out there making incredible music: you.may.die.in.the.desert, Caspian, If These Trees Could Talk, Gates, Tone, The End Of The Ocean, Beware Of Safety, just to name a few!
HBIH: Do you have any specific goals in
mind for the band going forward into the future that you can reveal to us?
AB: Other than finally getting this re-release out in March for everyone to hear and then playing the 2 reunion shows we have on the books (6/1/19 at Dunk! Festival in Belgium, 7/6/19 at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn), we don’t have any other plans. I think we’re just going to enjoy revisiting some of this music we made when we were kids and then see how everything goes! You never know…