Cyclamen – Creatuneau [2016]

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The music industry is in a weird, weird place right now. In the face of streaming, piracy, and the sheer amount of music one has to compete with for attention, it’s getting harder and harder to make a living for all but the most successful and strongly backed of artists. Or is it?

That’s where Japanese metal band Cyclamen comes in. Instead of bowing to industry trends or selling themselves out, they’ve remained intensely DIY and focused on giving their fans the best experience possible. And in order to do that, they’ve recently offered a subscription package with a wealth of goodies: everything from an exclusive album’s worth of music (plus a sneak peek into its writing and recording process and a physical copy of it), a custom t-shirt, a behind-the-scenes blog, and even personalized artwork from the band’s leader, Hayato Imanishi.

But you can give your fans all the goodies in the world and it won’t mean a thing unless you have the music to back it up. No worries there – Cyclamen is and has been one of the most exciting metal bands of recent years. With a sound that blends the textures of post-rock and ambient right alongside some of the heaviest elements of djent and progressive metal, they’re a band with no shortage of great ideas. And they’ve proven that once again on this newest, exclusive album, “Creatuneau”.

Things start off heavy with the opening seconds of “Apalition”. Immediately hitting the listener with a gut punch of a riff, it then switches things up with a verse that’s much more dreamy and atmospheric, buoyed by textured guitars and airy vocals. It makes evident from the start one of this band’s key strengths: their ability to make seemingly disparate elements comfortably exist within the same song, and sound all the better for being played against each other. The next track, “Naryinn”, demonstrates that same strength but a little bit differently. Trading texture for aggression, this song jumps back and forth between percussive rapped vocals, harsh screams, abrasive riffs, and finally a cathartic ending with ease. For many bands, this would end up just sounding like a mess of random ideas, but for Cyclamen, it allows for contrast and dynamics while still remaining a cohesive and interesting song. The next track, “Watarie Lawker” is an instrumental that showcases the technical ability that anchors detours such as those in “Naryinn”. Reminiscent of Periphery and Animals as Leaders, the band blends breakneck tapping leads, angular drop-tuned riffs, and rhythmic clean sections in order to create a song that stands just as strongly as any of their vocally-driven tracks.

Cyclamen isn’t just a heavy band, either – they know when to get pretty, too. “Feurlise” proves this in spades, being centered around a gentle, hopeful, yet technically complex clean tapping lead and backed up by an ever-ascending E-bow track. It builds mood and atmosphere for the first couple of minutes, giving the listener a bit of a breather after the explosiveness of the past few tracks. But it’s not without its bite, either. In its final moments, “Feurlise” explodes into one of the heaviest moments on the album, sporting a pounding blast beat and some powerful screams to match. It’s catharsis at its finest, expertly building and releasing tension in a way only the best progressive metal can do.

“Morgan” uses some of that tension building spirit too, but in a different way. Starting off with sampled voices and tense chords that purposefully jut up against each other, the song ebbs and flows between a mysterious sounding verse riff, whispered vocal samples to add atmosphere, and finally a triumphant guitar lead that closes out all of the song’s drama. And like the rapped section on “Naryinn”, “Pharse” also displays a bit of nu-metal influence with its pairing of DJ scratches and a simple, yet pummeling main riff. It’s a strong, energetic closer to an album full of strong, energetic songs.

And perhaps the most surprising thing is how all these is packed into just 25 minutes. Cyclamen both builds up rich textures and tears them down with crushing, complex riffs, shreds vocal chords with the harshest of screams and lulls you with the most pleasant of cleans, and wears a myriad of influences on their sleeves all in just 8 songs. It’s an exciting, powerful, and concise record, and the sheer quality here also excellently justifies the exclusive subscription model. Perhaps the most incredible part of all is that this record was written and recorded in the span of about five weeks, despite the fact that the number of people that would ever hear it was inherently limited, and yet it still stands as some of the best material the band has ever released. It proves a certain loyalty to the craft and a certain devotion to the fans, and when those things are made that obvious, it’s easy to see why the band has earned so much support in kind.

And as always, you can check out Cyclamen’s music over at https://cyclamen.bandcamp.com/ , or you can directly stream “Naryinn” until 3/21 here!

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Cloudkicker – Let Yourself Be Huge [2011]

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Let Yourself Be Huge was a big step for Cloudkicker when it was first released in 2011. Up to that point, Ben Sharp had built his audience with his own brand of djent-tinged progressive metal, relying on heavy guitars, technical leads, and shifting time signatures to create his sound. However, after Beacons, he was ready to step outside of his comfort zone, and this EP is the result of that.

Entirely devoid of anything that might be deemed “heavy”, Let Yourself Be Huge is largely built around acoustic and clean guitars, light drum work, and moodiness. While the playing still sounds distinctly like Cloudkicker, the timbre is different, and the overall tone of the project feels like it’s the soundtrack to the aftermath of some huge disaster (which is fitting – his previous release, Beacons, took its song titles from the last sentence of various aircrash black box recordings). It’s peaceful yet droning, melancholy but not downtrodden, and it doesn’t feel the need to suddenly and dramatically shift gears like his prior work. In fact, much of the material here is pared down relentlessly, which few tracks bothering to even crack the two minute mark. Instead of creating full songs, the music here instead sounds like little vignettes, painting small little evocative pictures instead of grandiose statements. And despite the EP’s short length, the mood created by it is so powerful and so consistent that it almost feels like a complete album anyway. Let Yourself Be Huge may be short, but it’s a beautiful piece of music, and one of the best collections of music Ben Sharp has put together to date.

As always, you can download Cloudkicker’s music for free over at cloudkickermusic.com.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet, and Other Distress [2015]

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Godspeed You! Black Emperor are perhaps one of the most recognizable bands in their genre, and for good reason. Since the 1997 release of their first album, F# A# Infinity, they’ve solidified themselves as one of the most unique and evocative post rock bands in the world. And even after a lengthy eight year break up, they came roaring back with 2012’s excellent Allelujah! Don’t Bend, Ascend!, packing in all the dense sonic fury and exciting dynamics that made their name. The only caveat to that album was that it consisted entirely of material from before their breakup, so it was up in the air whether or not Godspeed still had the power to move us with their music in the present day.

Asunder, Sweet, and Other Distress is Godspeed’s first album of all-new material since their reunion, featuring 4 tracks that comprise the “Behemoth” track they’ve been playing and honing on tour the past couple of years. And all that touring has left Godspeed with the shortest, most pared down release of their career (excluding the Zero Kanada EP) – Asunder clocks in at about 40 minutes and 4 tracks. Right out of the gate, opener “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!” crashes in with a wall of unison guitar riffing courtesy of guitarists Mike Moya and Manuel Menuck, and a bleating violin motif that begins building the tension early. There’s a hint of doom metal to the guitars here, sludging along with all the drama and portent that the genre can bring at its best. Eventually, those guitars give way into a wall of noise and feedback, giving breathing room to the trilling violins that carry the track off much, much more gently than it came in. “Peasantry” is a sort of reversal of the usual Godspeed trope: instead of gradually building up into a cathartic climax, it instead works its way in the other direction, slowly falling apart into gentle violin work and slide guitars. And from there, it lets go further, inconspicuously sliding into the drone-based middle section of the album.

“Lambs’ Breath” is a drone track that’s based around squalling guitar feedback, at times resembling something like a whale’s song, or even a giant, groaning metal machine. It’s much darker than it’s successor, “Asunder, Sweet”, which acts as a sort of long intro to the album’s second main piece. Unlike Allelujah, which spread out its two drone tracks evenly after each main piece, Asunder makes the bold choice of putting them back to back. At first, these tracks feel like they go on for a bit longer than they should, killing the momentum and mood that “Peasantry” had established. But right as they start to wear out their welcome, “Asunder, Sweet” unassumingly ends and segues into the final track.

There’s a reason for the long layover between the first and second main pieces on Asunder. “Piss Crowns Are Trebled” is a track that is intense even by Godspeed’s standards, rarely dipping into any sort of lull once it takes off (the only break being the fire alarm-esque squalls around the 7 minute mark). The first few minutes of the track revert to the familiar Godspeed formula, building up from the drone that came before it into lumbering distorted bass and harmonized violins, eventually exploding into an evocative climax replete with dramatic guitar chords and orchestration. It’s the prettiest, most uplifting Godspeed has sounded since their reunion, yet retains all of the urgency that makes their music so dramatic (an effect that is heightened by the drone tracks that precede it).

So, in the end, is Godspeed You! Black Emperor capable of writing moving, emotional music that’s up to par with their pre-break up discography? The answer is ‘absolutely’. Asunder, Sweet, and Other Distress proves it by delivering all of Godspeed’s classic elements with vigor and purpose, without verging on self-parody or feeling flat and uninspired like so many other reunited bands trying to recapture the old magic. Asunder moves exactly like the one piece movement it originally was live, transitioning seamlessly from one track to the next, while using each portion of itself to heighten the drama and emotion of the others. It’s another masterful work from a band that’s made a career out of being masters, further cementing their legacy as one of the best instrumental bands of all time.

Key Tracks: Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!’, Piss Crowns Are Trebled

God is an Astronaut announce new album for June 21st

Post-rock mainstays God is an Astronaut have announced the release of their newest album, Helios | Erebus for June 21st. The preview video they’ve provided swerves between two very distinct samples, one which features stomping drums and a driving electric guitar riff, while the other is almost total ambience. Neither sound is new for the band, but the first clip bangs around with a production quality and energy that’s a bit more rare in their work. GIAA is one of the most consistent bands in the genre, and it’s doubtful that they’ll change that now – Helios | Erebus is sure to be another solid entry in their catalog.