Album Review: Winter Dust – Sense By Erosion

Winter Dust Sense By Erosion cover
Standard

I’m going to make a bold claim.

The 2015 EP Thresholds by Italian sextet Winter Dust is one of the best releases you’ll find in the world of post-rock.

I still remember when I first heard Winter Dust. It was during a walk to work on a frosty winter morning. I used to love that time of morning, and used those walks as an opportunity to get into a good frame of mind for the day ahead. It was especially cold. The grass on the park was coated in white crystals, and I blew jets of steam with every breath. I had headphones on and was listening through the new Open Language compilation that A Thousand Arms had recently released.

It was a good collection of songs. I already knew a handful of tracks, from the likes of Tides of Man, I/O, Ranges, We Lost The Sea and Dumbsaint. But many bands were new to me.

The one that stopped me in my tracks was “There”, by Winter Dust.

That night I logged onto Bandcamp and downloaded Thresholds as soon as I got home. Months later a vinyl copy arrived in the post [I believe the first order got lost in the post so they sent me another]. I love that EP so much.

And now we have a follow-up: Sense By Erosion.

It’s exactly what I wanted: Thresholds, but more. Intense emotion, anguished hardcore vocals, sublime instrumental passages and visceral dynamics.

The many Marco’s have exceeded themselves this time. (four of the band members have the same name, along with Fabio and Carlo). Some of them live in separate countries, so I can’t begin to fathom how they managed to write this masterpiece. Yes, the internet is amazing, but nothing can substitute human contact when you’re communicating and creating with each other.

Sense By Erosion starts of as many post-rock releases do: softly building up. The track “Quiet January” quietly loops on itself, building with intensity as dialogue plays in the background. Then, just as it built up, it then slowly decays in waves.

“Duration Of Gloom” continues the build up with a good groove, slowly growing. The playful melody that floats above the main riff is a nice use of treble. Then BAM, distortion and cathartic roaring. I always find it fascinating when foreign bands choose to sing in English. Then again, I can hardly tell what they’re saying unless I pay close attention anyway. These post-hardcore vocals are one of the marked improvements that Thresholds and Sense By Erosion have over Winter Dust’s earlier output, giving the music a huge injection of urgency and feeling.

This song has me sighing with delight. This is what I want: emotional, energetic music that kicks me right in the feels and leaves me winded. Just like with Thresholds, I feel so consumed and swept away by the music. It’s so engrossing: Hard hitting drums, tremolo guitar, and a raw undercurrent. Then, once you think it’s all over, a calm bridge to let you catch your breath and ease you into a false sense of security. Before BAM, back into the intensity. If you listen carefully during the soft outro, you’ll hear church bells faintly ringing in the distance.

If you can’t tell yet, I’m a big fan. Loud or quiet; heavy or soft; sung or instrumental, Winter Dust just nail the mood.

At first, “All My Friends Are Leaving Town” seems like a softer song, although it picks up later on. One passage features a weird reversed effect. Maybe they’ve subtly backmasked messages that brainwash me into loving the music?

“Composition Of Gloom” is the second song with the word ‘gloom’ in the title. Funnily enough, the absence of vocals makes it feel like an interlude, despite the fact that one of the defining aspects of the post-rock genre is lack of singing. That, and the fact that it’s the shortest song.

Again, “Disharmony” is by no means weaker, but the lack of vocals is noticeable. Ironically enough, I found lead single “Cruel Jane” is one of the songs that makes the least impact for me, with the first half feeling soft and meandering. This is not to say these songs are bad, but they don’t offer as much oomph as the tracks from the first half of the record.

Their blurb on Bandcamp states “Our new album is ideally divided in two, the nervous part and the heartening part. It’s a record about leaving people, leaving places, parting ways, losing things.” This makes total sense. And I’m not sure what that says about me, that I prefer the nervous part, but as you can tell, I’m very much drawn to those songs.

It’s a shame that we don’t hear much piano in the mix throughout this album, but they make up for it with album closer “Stay”. After a tumultuous emotional ride, this is the touch of hope at the end of the album to send us on our way in good spirits, with a parting gift of ambient tranquility.

I simply love this album. I feel so strongly about it, but at the same time find it hard to articulate exactly why. I think the intense evocative nature of the music certainly resonates with me in a way that few others can. By taking the beauty of post-rock, the intensity of hardcore and the emotional aspects of emo, Winter Dust have fused their own sound that ticks all the right boxes for me.

Thresholds EP, was an underrated masterpiece. Sense of Erosion is the logical progression: taking all components of its predecessor, and building upon them to create something longer and more fully realised. I had high expectations of this album, and I’m delighted to say they’ve been met.

Winter Dust

Winter Dust links:

Bandcamp: https://winter-dust.bandcamp.com/

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/winterdustmusic

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/winterdustmusic/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1wcxnlsMklfqJ_QurUuGVQ

Joseph James

Album Review: Tenacious D – Post-Apocalypto

Tenacious D Post-Apocalypto
Standard

Tenacious D have long been a guilty pleasure of mine. They’re misogynistic, juvenile and crude, but at the same time I do find some of their content funny, and they know how to rock. I guess the same could be said about Jack Black, who has had gold moments throughout his acting career (namely School of Rock), but mostly boasts lemons. He’s a slightly more reliable Adam Sandler, but I still have a soft spot for his work.

Post-Apocalypto is their fourth full length album. Like The Pick of Destiny, it is a soundtrack. It follows a YouTube webseries that has played out over the past month, featuring the songs and snippets of dialogue from the show.

Both Black and partner Kyle Gass are comedic actors, so writing funny songs with narrative suit their strengths. I’ve seen them play three times, and although it can feel slightly forced, the story arc that carries through their shows is fun, and allows them to play with theatrical flair.

The narrative for this record doesn’t quite work though. I still enjoy the skits from their first record, which were silly stand-alone pieces. But the skits on this new album are just snippets from the web series used to advance the story. This should help to provide context for those who haven’t watched the series, but there isn’t enough to fill in all the plot points of the story-line. I think they would have been wiser to have an all-or-nothing approach, and should have left the snippets out, instead of sprinkling an inadequate amount throughout.

Post-Apocalypto (the web series) was a painful watch. Like I’ve said, I’m a fan, so forced myself through it, but didn’t feel rewarded for my efforts. I hesitate to call it an animation, but more a selection of Black’s hand-drawn stills to give visual reference for the audio. It’s a sci-fi series that explored Tenacious D trying to survive in a (you guessed it) apocalyptic wasteland. Along the way they adopt a three-headed dog, battle genital monsters, fight Nazis and travel to space.

Tenacious D have always been crass, but I was shocked at the many gratuitous sex scenes. But then again, it’s exactly what I should have expected – it was just visual this time. It’s a political show too, with The D taking shots at Trump and Nazis. I guess the timing is appropriate, with approaching elections in America, but only time will tell how fast these political and pop culture references will date the album.

The songs are short. It makes sense, they fit within short episodes. And The D have plenty of short, furious songs with impact. But still, this entire album lasts half an hour, and that’s with skits padding it out. They could have at least fleshed out a few of the songs so that the album lasted longer. The title theme offers plenty of potential for extension, but feels incomplete as is.

And they’ve done their fair share of ballads in the past too, but almost all of the songs on this album are ballads, leaving me wondering what happened to the band that once won a Grammy for “Best Metal Performance”.

It’s not all bad though. Black’s voice acting shines through. You really feel for Terminator’s lament in “Robot” (despite the odd Arnie-esque accent). The redneck Nazi’s sound so thick that you really want to believe that they’re all really that dense.

“Hope” is arguably the best of the ballads, and most rousing. The D explore new musical horizons with “JB JR Rap”, rapped in a hoarse voice and complete with an autotuned section. To be honest, most of the album is Classic D, albeit shorter and less rocking.

The D have a long history with Foo Fighter Dave Grohl. Grohl has drummed on all of their records to date, and the trio have featured in a number of each other’s videos. The first time I saw The D live was opening for Foo Fighters at Western Springs in Auckland, where the crowd jumped up and down enough to trigger minor earthquakes [It sounds absurd, but it’s true!]. Black has also guest starred on one of Grohl’s Probot tracks, “The Warlock“.

As you’d expect, Grohl’s drumming is on point. He’s long been known as a powerhouse drummer since his Nirvana days, and has collaborated with such a range of rock royalty that it has almost become a meme. You can hear unmistakably in the title theme – a rehash of an old unreleased bridge (Rolling Thunder) that the band cut from their song “Rize of the Fenix” (off their last record). “Daddy Ding Dong” also has Grohl written all over it, one of the few stand-out rock of the soundtrack that venture into metal territory, as does “Woman Time”, with awesome Dio-esque vocals.

In short: Post-Apocalypto not a great album. Just as their other soundtrack, Pick of Destiny doesn’t compare well to the other albums, this one feels weak too. It is entirely in keeping with the Tenacious D brand, being puerile and budget, but doesn’t rock enough. Only the most loyal fans will appreciate it, and I doubt even they will revisit it after the initial listens. If you’re interested in it, at least watch the web-series so that you can hear the songs with context. I hope this isn’t the end of The D, but if they do release new music in the future, they’d be best to write without a constraining concept.

Tenacious D links:

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/tenaciousD

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tenaciousd/

Website: https://www.tenaciousd.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RealTenaciousD

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

 

EP Review: Suburban Dinosaur – Mountains

Suburban Dinosaur Mountains EP cover
Standard

Suburban Dinosaur is the work of Gonçalo Trindade, a Portuguese guitarist living in Berlin. He deserves applause for his choice of his pseudonym, let alone his music. Suburban Dinosaur: isn’t that just the best name? Trindade is also prolific writer, with this latest EP, Mountains, being his third release so far this year.

Mountains features seven short, calming guitar tracks with light piano accompaniment. This is a slight deviation from some of Trindade’s usual output. His last release sits more within the realms of noise/drone, and I even found some earlier works jarring. But I prefer this ambient direction. Serene acoustic guitar never fails to nourish my soul, and this EP hits the spot just so. The songs feel relaxed, slightly sad and soothing.

These softly picked recordings are intimate enough to let you hear Trindade’s fingers as they slide along the strings. The sparse piano notes only add to the mood, sensitively used to enhance where needed.

Although the EP feels cohesive and boasts the same vibes throughout, there’s enough subtle differences to delineate between songs.  It’s not all entirely acoustic. Second track “Contritum Pecus” employs a delayed loop, almost like a heartbeat. “Heartstrings #1” stands out for its strumming, compared to the other tracks, which are fingerpicked. Whereas “Intertitle(s)” features only piano.

It’s a short EP, but beautiful all the same. Certainly a lovely 20 minutes of music worthy of adding to your collection.

Suburban Dinosaur links:

Bandcamp: https://suburbandinosaur.bandcamp.com/

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

Live Review: Shihad at Shed 6, Wellington

Shihad 30 Tour Poster
Standard

Shihad 30th Anniversary Tour

w/ Villainy and Beastwars
Shed 6, Wellington
Saturday 20 October 2018

The first thing I noticed as I entered the room was the middle-aged men dancing at the front. I teach toddlers for a living, but not even three-year-olds rocking out to the Frozen soundtrack could match the levels of uninhibited dancing I saw during Villainy’s set.

I mean, these guys were really giving it their all. There’s something truly wondrous about seeing man with grey hair prancing around playing air guitar and enjoying themselves so much. In fact, a good portion of the crowd were lapping up Villainy’s show.

I’ve never paid much attention to Villainy. I know I’ve seen them play a bunch of times but I couldn’t say when. Sad to hear from a music reviewer, I know, but I’ve always dismissed them as one of the many generic radio-rock bands that New Zealand pumps out. But they played well, and maybe I need to reconsider my opinion on them. The final song was a real crowd pleaser, with a melody lifted from Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”.

Hearing Beastwars announced as a support slot was a great surprise. I thought that the show they played at San Fran in July was the last Wellington show planned for some time, if not for good. Beastwars went on hiatus a while back after releasing their last album for a variety of reasons: infighting during the recording process, frontman Matt Hyde battling cancer, and drummer Nathan Hickey emigrating to Europe. They’d only ever planned on releasing a trilogy of albums, so with their planned output completed, there was no guarantee that the band would continue. But thankfully they are back – or at least for this Shihad tour and a few upcoming dates in Oz.

As always, watching Beastwars play was an immersive experience. Hearing the distinctive chugging of “Damn The Sky” (my favourite Beastwars song) made me cry out in joy as they started their set, and they didn’t relent with their offerings until finished. In some ways, they’re New Zealand’s answer to Killing Joke. They draw you in with oppressive riffs and primal drumming, creating a captivating ritual. Hyde summons up God-knows-what and uses the process to purge himself of demons.

As great as it was to see Beastwars unleash the riff again, they were no match for Shihad. This tour marks 30 years since Shihad formed as teenagers, and their experience shows. They’re seasoned veterans of the stage who have refined their art of rocking to perfection.

30 years to hone their abilities. Tom Larkin, as always, is a monster behind the kit. He always sounds amazing, whether whipping out thrash-metal blast beats or just holding down a groove. His backing vocals were more noticeable than usual tonight, as he sung into his gooseneck microphone. Karl Kippenberger helps with the groove, always looking effortlessly cool. And Phil Knight lets his playing do the talking, bringing the riffs and the solos.

Shihad have nine studio albums out now. I can think of a few times that I’ve seen them play a set spanning their whole career,picking a track or two from each record, and playing through them chronologically. It’s a smart move, ensuing that they please fans old and new.

This time they’ve taken the same idea and reversed it. They commenced with “Think You’re So Free”, from latest album FVEY, and worked their way backwards, playing a song or two from each record. “Think You’re So Free” is venomous and powerful, as is “FVEY” – both tracks a commentary on society, and protest against the then-government and world powers who control our lives.

Love Is The New Hate’s “Alive” felt slightly jarring after the throbbing dance-beat of “Sleepeater” and poppiness of “One Will Hear The Other”, but “All The Young Fascists” signaled that we were approaching Shihad’s golden era that balanced commercial appeal with a heavier rock edge.

I saw Jon Toogood front The Adults at Meow recently, and it was obvious how at home he feels on stage these days. He acted slightly different in this context though. The Adults show felt more intimate and relaxed, whereas here he seemed more professional. That is, if you could consider someone encouraging the crowd to shout swear words “professional”. You can never tell if an artist is just paying lip service or not when they say how great the audience is, but I would suggest that he was genuinely touched at seeing a sold-out venue full of die-hard fans in his hometown.

He gave a special shout-out to a young boy sat upon his Dad’s shoulders and wearing an AC/DC shirt. “This is the future of rock and roll!” Toogood announced, “Kid, one day you’re going to be up here doing my job. Just don’t become a fuckin’ DJ!”

Pacifier was a contentious time for the band, when they changed their name in an attempt to break into the American market. Some people hate it, but it has some great tracks on it. The two that got played tonight were “Comfort Me”, and the anthemic “Run”

Next up was The General Electric. TGE came out 20 years ago, so Shihad have just remastered it and released it on vinyl for the first time. To celebrate, they played about a third of the record.

I’ve seen Shihad play all of TGE live on two occasions (at San Fran in 2010, and at Big Day Out the following year) and, tell you what – this time was just as great. The band went backstage for a breather while Toogood serenaded us with the synth-ballad “Brightest Star”, before coming back in force with the furious “My Mind’s Sedate”.

If you’ve ever seen the band play “The General Electric” and “Wait and See”, then you’ll understand with songs from this album always dominate Shihad sets. They’re energetic, dynamic. They make you want to move and jump about. Clearly Toogood got swept up in the excitement too, finishing “Wait and See” with a stage dive, before accidentally dropping his microphone, and sheepishly waiting while a tech fetched it back for him from under the drum riser.

Toogood encouraged everyone to pull out their phones and lighters to wave them in the air for the classic ballad “Pacifier”. The stage lights dimmed, unneeded due to the glow emitted from the hundreds of screens.

The self-titled album – referred to as The Fish Album by some, gave us “Home Again” – one of the bands most enduring songs – and “La La Land”. Killjoy offered the immersive synth drenched “Deb’s Night Out”, and the vitriolic accusing “You Again”.

Which brings us to the début album Churn. The industrial-meets-speed-metal record that first came out back in 1994. “Factory” is an intricate song filled with malice. I imagine that they rehearsed this one a lot, because it would be incredibly unforgiving if they weren’t absolutely in sync with each other.

Yesterday Shihad played in Christchurch, and put up a poll on Facebook so the fans could vote on which song they wanted to hear for an encore [it was “Bitter”]. Tonight the band chose to play “Cheap As” – Toogood’s favourite riff, he revealed. It was a neat way to highlight the band’s evolution, playing the first track from their début album, and then the last song from their latest album. Both are crushingly heavy, abrasive and politically charged. And in between those two songs we had ballads and anthems, tastes of pop and metal, synth-backed dance tunes, somber love songs, and hard hitting rock numbers.

30 years. Nine albums. A sold-out hometown show. It’s one hell of a legacy, but it’s not even close to over. Shihad have been one of my favourite bands since I was a teenager, and they reaffirm why I love them so much every time I see them play.

 

Joseph James

The Guns N’ Roses Revival In Full Perspective 

Standard

One of the most remarkable musical events of the current decade has been the full-fledged revival of Guns N’ Roses. While the band never set in stone that it was calling it quits, and never seemed completely gone, it felt a few years ago like GNR was heading for a gradual unwinding featuring the occasional festival appearance or mini-tour and leading, ultimately, to the end. Now, however, it feels fair to wonder if the band might have five or even ten more years left in it as a headline-quality, internationally touring, and best-selling rock group.

How exactly did this change come about? Dedicated fans will recall the timeline and rock enthusiasts are well aware that GNR hit the stage at Coachella in 2016 and has hardly stopped playing since. But now, as the positive headlines continue to roll out about Guns N’ Roses (for instance, they’ve announced their first ever Hawaii show in December), it feels like a good time to look back and put it all in perspective.

A Teaser With Star Wars

Late in 2015 the Star Wars film franchise roared back into action for the first time in years. The renewal of the core franchise, The Force Awakens, debuted with the highest grossing opening weekend in the history of cinema (though that record now belongs to Avengers: Infinity War). And on some screens around the U.S., fans in their seats early enough were treated to a wholly mysterious teaser for Guns N’ Roses material. The trailer, if that’s the right word for it, featured unclear footage and bits of music and didn’t really speak to anything in particular. It did get people talking about the band though, and it wound up being just a few months ahead of the aforementioned Coachella show.

An Internet Game

In another apparent effort to simply get people talking about Guns N’ Roses again, the group also allowed for its music and general look to be spun into a themed internet game. More specifically, in fact, it was a slot game. That may seem unusual if you don’t partake in the genre, but international casino gaming platforms spend a lot of time on establishing broad selections these days. There’s a huge number of ever-inventive and colorful options including some with specific themes, and in this case a Guns N’ Roses reel that very literally plays the hits while you game. This slot arcade was made popular early in 2016 – again, just before the actual reunion show.

The Coachella Reunion

The truly remarkable thing about the group’s performance at Coachella wasn’t that it happened at all, but that it featured the reunion of frontman Axl Rose and guitarist Slash. Following a falling out, the two had previously seemed exceedingly unlikely to ever play a show together again. Indeed when asked about the possibility of this happening, Rose famously responded with words that are now all the more legendary: not in this lifetime.

Not In This Lifetime

When Guns N’ Roses took the stage at Coachella it may as well have been a one-off get together as far as the crowd was concerned. Slash performing alongside Axl Rose was headline-worthy, but a cynical observer could well have assumed the band was offered a nice sum of money to appear together just to give the festival a jolt. Instead, however, the reunion performance essentially launched what would become the “Not In This Lifetime… Tour,” a reference to Rose’s quote mentioned above. That tour would go on to last about two years and span the globe.

Sweeping Success

The concept of Guns N’ Roses touring the world in the mid-2010s probably sounds like a nostalgia play, particularly to anyone who’s not a dedicated fan, or a classic rock lover. But this was more like a U2 tour than some kind of relive-the-glory-days effort, which is to say Guns N’ Roses proved it’s still able to pack stadiums and massive concert venues anywhere on Earth. It was the top grossing tour of 2017 and one of the most successful rock tours of the current decade, if not the 21st century.

Hints of More To Come

More recently things have been cooling off again. The tour finally came to an end, and Axl Rose has divided his time between GNR and AC/DC (with whom he’s become a sort of recurring guest frontman). There’s talk he may in fact help AC/DC put out a new album. However, there have also been whispers of new material from Guns N’ Roses. Nothing is confirmed, but members have been coy about the possibility, and at this point it would almost be foolish of the band not to capitalize on its renewed popularity.

Looking back at all of this – the sheer scope of it all from the end of 2015 to today – this is one of the most impressive and comprehensive revivals in modern musical history. And for rock fans it’s been an incredible treat.

 

This is a guest post