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!

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.

New Between the Buried and Me track, “Memory Palace”

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Between the Buried and Me have released the first track from their upcoming album, Coma Ecliptic. The album, which follows 2012’s The Parallax II, is once again a concept album, following a man as he journeys through his past lives. “Memory Palace” is an incredibly proggy sounding track, sounding inspired by some of the same music that has inspired fellow progressive metal act Opeth’s past two albums. It features heavy synthesizer and organ work, pushing the guitars further into the background than most of the band’s material. It is also heavily focused on clean vocals, and vocalist Tommy Rogers’ range is wider than it has been since 2007’s Colors. He yelps, croons, and growls in a moment’s notice, giving the track a desperately needed infusion of variety. And like Rogers’ vocals, the music of the song jumps around too, veering from Pink Floyd-esque lead guitar lines, classic heavy riffs and growls, and ’70s sounding synthesizer effortlessly.

The biggest problem with Between the Buried and Me’s recent material is their refusal to grow in any meaningful way, but “Memory Palace” shows the band finally pushing themselves into a new direction again. By putting the laser focus on the proggiest elements of their sound, and driving the track with mostly clean vocals, the result is a song that still sounds like Between the Buried and Me, but finally delivers a fresher take on their sound. And for once, their genre skipping sounds natural, blending in elements of their influences without sounding like they were forced into the song with a crowbar. If this is any indicator of what to expect from Coma Ecliptic, it might just be the band’s best album in nearly a decade.

Listen to the song here.

CHON – Grow [2015]

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CHON have been instrumental music’s best kept secret for a few years now. They’ve been seen on high profile tours with bands like Animals as Leaders and Circa Survive, but up until now, their actual discography has consisted solely of two short EPs and a handful of bedroom-quality demos. Grow is the band’s first full-length release, made possible by their recent signing with Sumerian Records.

In CHON’s early days, it was fairly easy to write them off as an instrumental rip off of The Fall of Troy, heavily borrowing from their style and only making it their own with the major-key spin they placed on it. But they’ve come a long way since then, and Grow shows the band truly coming into their own. Here CHON demonstrates their ear for melody and progression, no longer keeping to the frenetic riffing that characterized their earlier work. It’s a markedly different sound, one which resides mostly on the lower side of the tempo spectrum, and is replete with clean guitars and tasteful drumming. The result is music that is ridiculously sunny and upbeat, gentle yet energetic, and with enough technicality to even keep the theory nerds entertained. In fact, it’s a breath of fresh air in a genre that’s packed to the gills with rote extended range riffing and guitar work that’s complex only for the sake of being complex. CHON knows when to flash their skills and when to take a step back and let simpler tricks do the work, and that extends to another section of this album: vocals. While by no means ditching their status as an instrumental band, they’ve expanded their repertoire to include some sung sections, too (provided by bassist Drew Pelisek on “Can’t Wait” and “Echo“). And despite these songs being surrounded by instrumental tracks, they don’t stand out like a sore thumb – Pelisek’s voice is smooth and mellow, blending with and complimenting the music in a way that feels like it has belonged there all along. However, there are a few snags on CHON’s debut record. Though they’re excellent musicians and have a knack for melody, their songwriting doesn’t feel quite there yet. Songs like “Story” and “Perfect Pillow” are immediate and memorable, yet others like “Suda” and “Moon” don’t seem to go anywhere, feeling more like an improvisation over a backing track than a unique song. Luckily, the album’s short length (just a hair over 34 minutes) means that despite this flaw, there isn’t really enough time for it to stagnate. The best tracks still have room to breathe without having to fight for attention against a glut of other tracks, and CHON’s music is so pleasant that even in its duller moments, it’s hard to dislike. But more than anything, it must be remembered that Grow is the debut work of an incredibly young, incredibly talented group of musicians. CHON has a unique, sunny sound that’s uncommon in the world of instrumental guitar music right now, and the technical chops to earn their place in it. Grow might not be an absolutely perfect album, but it’s the proof of concept for a band with tons of potential.

Key Tracks: Story, Splash, Perfect Pillow, Echo