Album Review: Ashen Swan – L’appel du Vide

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Embrace oblivion.

It’s often difficult to write a review about an album created out of negative space.  L’appel du Vide, Ashen Swan’s latest record, is a lesson in embracing oblivion.  It’s a lesson in recognizing that there’s much more to music than packing it full of notes and flourishes to convey an idea when just playing the right note can accomplish the same.  There is an old adage that exists that less is more.  Ashen Swan takes this aphorism and runs with it.  This album is meditative magic.

So how does one write a review on nothingness?  I could give you my thoughts on instrumentation and composition.  The way in which Ashen Swan’s music sounds like the throaty whisper of a new dawn. I could tell you that Ashen Swan evinces qualities employed by the likes of Hammock and Lowercase Noises.  EBow heavy phrases of lush sound framed by billowy and Spartan piano..  I could do all those things, but the music inspired me on a more esoteric level.  L’appel du Vide begs you to reflect inward.  It asks you to dust the cobwebs from the lesser traveled inroads of your soul, to stop, to consider.

L’appel du Vide translates roughly to “void’s call” or “the call of the void”.  Most humans, in all their daily struggles, will often wonder what it would be like swerve into oncoming traffic.  Or perhaps your hiking here in Colorado at Royal Arch Trail.  You’re near the top and standing at the edge of the trail and get the sudden urge to just jump.  This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re suicidal.  It’s simply a phenomenon of the human psyche.  A phenomenon the French called “l’appel du vide”.  It is nothing more than morbid curiosity.  I found myself experiencing this urge years ago so I did a quick Google search.  It was comforting to know I was not alone.  There were others out there that have felt the pull.  Ashen Swan’s new album explores this concept in a musical sense.  And pulls it off.

L’appel du Vide is a barren landscape.  The short, quiet piano utterances are the green lichen hugging the rocks as they wait for a summer thunderstorm.  Soft reverb the slow rolling thunder of an alpine tundra.  A dreamy susurration whispers throughout each track like a lulling breeze that dances lightly through the purple forget-me-nots.

Ashen Swan’s newest venture is a contemplative and horrifically beautiful ride of ambient bliss.  You get the overwhelming feeling of just wanting to let go.  The music plunges straight for your heart and urges you to answer the void’s call.  To feel the rain in your face and the wind as it thrashes through your hair.  L’appel du Vide wants you to be free and as the album goes on it becomes increasingly difficult not give answer.

L’appel du Vide comes to us by way of Nathan Kwon who also composes for Chicago post-metal project Crawl Across the Sky. Ashen Swan came to us in the year 2017 with the desire to cross section the more ambient elements of the aforementioned Crawl Across the Sky and turn it all up to 11.  And thank the void he did.

 


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Live Review: Biffy Clyro at Spark Arena, Auckland

Biffy Clyro Spark Arena
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Biffy Clyro

w/ Skinny Hobos

Spark Arena, Auckland

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Last time I saw Skinny Hobos play was a mixed bag for me. Don’t get me wrong – it was a great show that they put on. It’s more that I had consumed a few too many beers that night and things ended far worse than I could have anticipated.

It was my last night out with friends before heading overseas for most of the remainder of the year. As you can imagine, I got slightly carried away – it being a farewell and all. One “friend” decided to take advantage of me in a drunken state, kidnapped me, and drove me halfway up the North Island, stranding me in Marton delirious and hungover the following morning. There are few times in my life that I’ve felt worse than that, sick, betrayed, and having to spend the day hitching back to Wellington in the state that I was.

Not that this should have any bearing on my thoughts on Skinny Hobos. I’ve enjoyed their show every time I’ve seen them and this time was no exception. I would have expected something punchier than the slow, meandering song they started with, but once they got into it they played great. You could tell that they were nervous – blurting out bizarre phrases between songs in attempts at banter – but the music spoke for itself. Jared Wrennall from Dead Favours came out to guest on a song, which worked well. I wish I had chosen to photograph this show because they looked fantastic under these lights. They have an album coming out shortly, along with a nationwide tour with His Master’s Voice, so expect to hear the name Skinny Hobos coming up a lot more.

The energy in the crowd was humming as we waited for Biffy. It was a mixed audience, with many parents bringing their children to the spectacle. A handful of punters had Scottish flags draped around their shoulders, and the bar was offering Tennents beer to keep with the Scottish theme.

This was my first time at this venue since they switch branding from Vector Arena to Spark Arena. And to be honest, I don’t notice any changes. I’ve certainly never been to a bad gig here. What is different, however, is that the arena is substantially bigger than Powerstation, where I saw Biffy Clyro play last time they came to NZ.

At first it was slightly disappointing to see that they hadn’t sold enough tickets to fill the arena. The stage had been brought forward, cutting the venue in half. A large black curtain blocking off the space behind the stage to make the arena feel more intimate. It’s a shame that such a high-caliber band is still yet to gain a decent footing in New Zealand. That said, the venue felt ideal once the show was underway.

Most bands I’ve seen play this arena have had big screens and impressive stage sets. Well Biffy had great lighting, but that was it. No gimmicks. This was all about the musicians.

An interesting choral tune played as the band walked onstage, all five standing motionless and bathed in blue light as the tension built.

They launched their set with “Wolves of Winter”, the aggressive lead single from latest album Ellipsis. Oh man, oh man. That is how you start a show. The three Scotsmen played tight, heavy, and full of vigor.

They then followed up with “Living Is A Problem…”, from Puzzle, and “57”, from their first album, Blackened Sky. Talk about starting strong

“Living Is A Problem” has the band showing off their musical abilities, with jagged staccato stabs that come at random intervals. The kind of playing that sticks out like a sore thumb if someone is off their game. I still marvel at how they can pull it off. Not only that, but Simon also paused, began singing  Andrew Gold’s “Thank You For Being A Friend”, before they all dove back into the song without missing a beat.

I’m glad that they did pull songs from their back catalogue. This is only the second time Biffy Clyro have reached our shores, so it’s nice that we got to hear older songs that we’ve missed out on in the past. We got the euphoric ballads like “Mountains”, the dancey numbers like “Who’s Got A Match?”, and the batshit insane early era stuff like “There’s No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake”. They draw from a variety of influences, resulting in anthemic, technical music that I find irresistible. Virtually all of their songs are nonsensical lyric-wise, but that didn’t stop me from lending my voice to all of them as they played.

That said, most of the set list derived from the recent album Ellipsis. It’s understandable that they’re playing songs from the album that they are promoting, but I’m thankful that we got to hear a wider selection.

It was a class show that you’d expect from a band who have attained the status that Biffy have. They didn’t have the fancy screens and lasers, but they still had all the kit. I counted at least 6 bass guitars. That seems slightly excessive to me, but it is telling about how professional the band are – that they have that many extras on standby.

Simon Neil [guitar] showed us exactly why he’s such a stellar frontman, delivering his vocals with intense passion, whether cooing on acoustic guitar, or screaming bloody murder on the heavier tracks. I was surprised to note how much the twins Ben [drums] and James Johnston [bass] sung as well, adding brilliant subtle harmonies to many songs. It seems obvious that twins would be awesome at harmonies, but I’ve never noticed how much they sing before now. Their playing is already busy enough as is.

The trio are known for playing topless – and I can see why: it looks bloody hot up on stage. There was a steady dribble of sweat pouring off Simon’s microphone stand all through the night.

Joining the Ayrshire trio were two touring musicians, Mike Vennart [guitar] and Richard Ingram [keys] – formerly of the prog band Oceansize – adding elements that flesh out the sound in a way that a three-piece couldn’t.

They finished the night with two songs that demonstrate their diverse talents: the tender acoustic track “Machines” – one of the biggest singalongs of the night; and the triumphant anthem “Stingin’ Belle” – resplendent with synth-bagpipes during an ever-climaxing outro.

I have nothing to complain about. I got to see my favourite band play last night. They more than delivered, and it was a treat to hear some older numbers. It’s a shame that they overestimated the size of the venue they needed, but all in all the show with nothing short of perfect. I’m surprised that I still have a voice.

Mon the Biff!

Joseph James

Biffy CLyro Auckland set list

A young fan proudly showing his new shirt and set list

Album Review: Coma Recovery – Apotheosis

Coma Recovery - Apotheosis cover
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Apotheosis sounds dense. Thick and heavy, saturated in sound. Think about the intense textures of Rosetta and The Ever Living and you may imagine something that sounds like New Mexico act Coma Recovery’s latest offering.

There’s another music blog I follow called Drowned In Sound, and I feel that term fits when describing this music. It’s full-bodied and consuming, swallowing you whole.

On first track “Nox Medicus” relentless bass and sloshy drums create a groove. Although there is a crushing density to the music, it feels uplifting due to soaring synths and vocals.

The next two tracks follow suite: epic songs full of feeling and grittiness.

I’ve read through the lyrics for all three songs, and to be honest this leaves me no more enlightened than before when it comes to interpreting content matter. Some mystic stuff, creation, spirits… Who knows? I’ve never been one to pay much attention to lyrics anyway. The singing is good though.

There’s not much more for me to say. Just listen to it. It’s worth a listen.

Apotheosis is huge and vital. Put on your headphones and prepare to get engulfed.

Coma RecoveryComa Recovery links:

Bandcamp: http://deepelmdigital.com/album/apotheosis

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/comarecovery/

 

The Great Silence: An Interview With OHGOD

OHGOD Great Silence Tour Poster
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Hailing from Cape Town, South Africa, instrumental prog-rockers OHGOD have just released a stellar début album, The Great Silence. Following from the success of this release, the quartet are about to make their way to Europe to play dunk!festival (Zottegem, Belgium) and Pelagic fest (Berlin, Germany), as well as supporting metalcore giants Jinjer on a German tour.

I’m planning on making a very similar trip myself, so I reached out to the band for an interview.

Bassist Mark Woolfrey was super stoked to hear that his music had reached my ears as far away as New Zealand, and chatted with me about the recent album, upcoming tour, and plans for the future.

OHGOD. Image: Laura McCullagh

Image: Laura McCullagh

Will Not Fade: I really enjoy your sound. It is a hybrid of progressive metal and post-rock yet isn’t depressing. Who are some of your key influences?

Mark Woolfrey (bass): Wow New Zealand so rad! Thanks man glad you enjoy our music, it is always cool to know our music is traveling around. Influences are always a tough one to answer. As a band, we have a very eclectic range of music. It’s also hard to answer because a lot of the time we pull fragments from all over the show, not even just bands, sometimes a single song if that makes sense. If I had to pick one band. Pick or die type vibes, If These Trees Could talk was certainly a huge influence when we started writing together.

Sorry if this question makes you groan, but did you always set out to stay as an instrumental act when you started the band?

No worries! When OHGOD was born we started just writing and at the time we didn’t really even consider having a vocalist, not an intentional choice or anything,  we were just focusing on the music. Then as things started coming together we kind of all came to the same point of “do we even want vocals?” It sort of gave us a whole lot of freedom as a band without a vocalist so we stuck with it..

Tell me about the South African Metal Music Awards.

The South African Metal Music Awards is a rad initiative here in South Africa that really tries to recognize specifically metal bands for their achievements. It’s also a great concept to bring together a growing but niche scene in SA. At the end of the day it’s just great to acknowledge bands for what they put in . We have found despite not being “metal” we have managed to find ourselves  accepted in the metal scene which is pretty awesome.  In short it is a really cool group from across the industry who run & organise the awards, each year they grow and improve things. We are pretty stocked to have taken a few awards home through the last few.

You have an amazing European tour coming up. South Africa and Germany are a long way from each other. How did this tour come about?

There is rather a lot of ocean and land between them haha. Well a long story short our manager Calvin does a great job at networking and talking to the right people. We have worked with him for long now, we kind of let him just do his own thing and he runs with it. He did what he does and got us on the lineup for Dunk! in Belgium and Pelagic in Berlin. Then we were super happy to partner with Turning Tricks Entertainment as our international agents who did what they do best. They came back to us with a number of dates through Germany supporting Jinjer on their Cloud Factories EU Tour 2018 with the rad dudes from The Dali Thundering Concept. So it was a great combo job of a great team and agents. Both move mountains for us.

Which acts are you most excited to see at dunk! and Pelagic festivals?

How long have you got?? haha. Can we just say both festivals and all the acts. Pretty much all the bands at both are on our playlists. We are all frothing over the headliners though.

Any guesses as to who the secret headliner for Pelagic fest is? My money is on The Ocean.

Hmmm yeah that’s a tough one we have also been trying to figure that one out. Not sure where we would put our South African Rands on that one.

It looks like you’ve been earning lots of slots for festivals. Do you approach festival sets differently to a standard gig?

We have been focusing a lot more on festivals recently as a band. It is the kind of shows we want to focus on more. We have also been given so many great opportunities in both SA and overseas, we are constantly looking to take our shows to the next level or stage. I think we do spend a lot more time in selecting a set. We have been focusing on building our set with a lot more additions outside of just our instruments though. Quite excited for that!

I’m super jealous that you’ve got to play with Karnivool multiple times over the years. I’ve only ever seen them once. My friends in Tides of Man have toured with them in the past as well. Tell me about opening for them!

We have actually only ever played with Karnivool once. Again mad props to Turning Tricks for bringing them over to SA.  What can one even say after watching Karnivool haha. What a band, they know how to put one hell of a show they break you brain and they’re just sonic architects. We are all huge fans of them, so without sounding cliché jamming with was like a dream.  Tides Of Man you say? Now that is another band we can’t get enough of.

You crowdfunded your recent album via Thundafund. How did you find that process, asking your fans to front up money for an album before you made it?

Yeah that was mind-blowing! We received such a big response and help with our Thundafund. It was actually quiet intimidating to be honest, it really puts you out there.  You start questioning it like would we hit it would we not. It really felt like a gamble.  It was kind of  humbling to see so many people who believed in us though,  some people went all out and donated crazy amounts. Thundafund really allowed us to focus on putting out the best album out that we could. We have some of the best fans from all over.

Obviously you should be super stoked on The Great Silence. How did his recording process differ from Forest Feuds?

Well the major difference was we recorded Forest Feuds as a live multi track where as The Great Silence we did the more traditional approach of recording.  We certainly learned a lot from Forest Feuds and with The Great Silence we just felt it was time to crank it up things to the next level. We wanted to put out an album that we could be like yes we are happy with that.  We also had the means to put out a better album with funds and being able to work with the people we wanted for different aspects of the album. Our own guitarist David really spearheaded the recording process and Dylan Ellis from Canada took care of the mastering. Both stellar dudes who know their stuff.

What made you decide to include cello on the track “Avalanche”?

Ah man there is something so awesome about a cello. It is just a majestic instrument. We would jam “Avalanche” and just be like we need to feature something in here. This track just needs something . A little musical salt and pepper. Then it was decided, it need some cello spice and that was it haha.

The track “Axiom Falls” featured in both your 2015 EP and the album you put out last year. Why did that song in particular get revisited?

It was just a song we really enjoined as a band, we kind of felt like we never really got to give it justice as a track on the EP.  We ended up changing some bits here and there but it was still such a relevant track to all of us. Plus it kind of tied in perfectly with the album concept.

Which band member spends the most effort on his hair?

I don’t think anyone spends much time on their hair to be honest. We are just wash and go kind of dudes haha. Most of the dudes rock caps these days.

I see you posted about Star Wars on May the 4th. Which Star Wars film is your fave and why?

In all honesty, none of us are like crazy die-hard Star Wars fans (Unless you ask to see our managers leg – he’s another story).  Episode I – The Phantom Menace is up there though for me!

How long did you take you to make the Bob’s Burgers “OHGOD!” montage?

OHGOD…OHGOD…OHGOD… just when you think you have heard your band name enough. Such a rad series that one. Surprisingly not as long as one would think we have a fair amount of help on that one to be honest.

 

You’ve just dropped a killer album and have an incredible international tour lined up. What can we expect next from OHGOD?

Well we want to focus on playing more festivals and start crossing more oceans as a band. Then when we get back from the EU we are going to start looking at writing some new music. We have some ideas of our next moves but we are going to sharing those quite yet.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions. I look forward to meeting you at dunk!fest in Belgium!

Awesome we look forward to meeting you there!!

OHGOD. Image: Laura McCullagh

Image: Laura McCullagh

OHGOD European tour dates

11 May – DUNK! FEST –  Zottegem (BE)

15 May – MUSIK & FRIEDEN, Supporting Jinjer – Berlin (DE)

16 May –  ROCKPALAST, Supporting Jinjer – Bochum (DE)

17 May – JUNGLE CLUB, Supporting Jinjer – Cologne (DE)

18 May – NACHTLEBEN, Supporting Jinjer – Frankfurt (DE)

20 May – PELAGIC FEST – Berlin (DE)

OHGOD is:

David Houston – Lead Guitar

Stefan Steyn – Guitar

Mark Woolfrey – Bass

Danny Harris – Drums

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Joseph James