Montana of 300 Finally Realizes His Potential

A Gun In The Teacher’s Desk is a return to form for one of drill’s most promising early artists which keeps many of the qualities that drill fans have come to love, while improving on the genre’s faults in a mature and creative way.

     Montana of 300 is a drill rapper from Chicago. He built a name for himself with several mixtape releases on the popular streaming service, Spinrilla, but his debut LP came in 2014 with Cursed With a Blessing. The album was one of the best of the year, sporting better instrumentals than most of his counterparts and elevated highly by Montana’s hard-hitting flow and daring lyricism. Nevertheless, the LP was seemingly lost in the sea of drill releases coming out of Chicago at the time and he became something of a second tier drill star, lacking the crossover name recognition of artists like Lil Durk and Chief Kief.  Since then, he’s dropped four albums, beginning with 2015’s Gunz n Roses, which was widely criticized for sanding off the rough edges of the drill sound to find a wider audience.

   This was a shame because Montana’s sound on Cursed was the perfect, distilled essence of what made drill what it was. He wrote boldly and delivered his lyrics with an explosive flow. All this over hectic tracks which, while they did abuse the electronic cymbals, weren’t infected with the bass heavy mixing style of trap. Gunz n’ Roses was a major turnoff for me as a fan, adding rock instrumentation poorly and watering down his writing. Thankfully, A Gun In The Teacher’s Desk is something of a return to form.

   The truer drill influences are clear from the first moments of the opener, “Favorite Teacher,” as well as the later track, “Art Class.” Here, the abrasive instrumentals and lo-fi production are perfect throwbacks to the golden days of Chicago rap, which has now been mostly taken over by trap beats. The latter even features a few excellent drop outs, a veritable staple of the genre, which are timed very well.

   The flows on this album are absolutely bombastic. “Been A Beast,” follows the opener and simply refuses to quit. “Good Luck,” is another excellent example of 300’s strong flow. Both see him dropping one meaningful bar after another and dance over the beat with an unpredictable rhyme schemes. Over the tinnie instrumentals, these vocal performance drive each track along, as not one drags, even for a moment.

   Beyond the flow, he also seems to have quite the affinity for writing hooks. “Long Way,” is perhaps the most obvious example of this, sporting an excellent, autotuned hook, but “What’s Wrong With Me,” slips comfortably into the latter half of the track list despite a catchy chorus, good message, and well-sampled guitar.

   Above all, though, it’s the lyricism that sets Montana of 300 apart from his drill counterparts, as it always has. The fantastic closer, “Bloodsport,” showcases his ability to address serious topics like his mother’s drug addiction, his desire to leave his dangerous neighborhood, and one of his favorite topics, organized religion. The latter is particularly unique within the genre.

   There are two underwhelming cuts on this project as well. “FGE Cypher Pt. 8,” while fun, certainly doesn’t fit in with the rest of the album. In addition, none of the features live up to the standard which Montana set’s throughout the rest of the record and several lean on an overdone, triplet flow, causing the track to fall a bit flat.

   The only truly bad song on the album is “Dip-N-Sauce.” This is the only cut that I likely won’t revisit again after this review as the strange flute melody and annoying reggae influences feel like a strange entry from the depths of left field. It’s also, mercifully, the shortest song on the album and as a function it feels a bit underdeveloped. 

   I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a few general, structural complaints about A Gun In The Teacher’s Desk, but I can overlook most all of them for two reasons. Firstly, this album does a lot of things, namely pacing, cohesiveness, lyricism, and production, which are generally considered absent from the drill genre as a whole. Each song clocks in between four and five minutes and that runtime is used well to develop ideas and write full choruses. This is incredibly rare in one of rap’s most anarchic subgenres. The second of these is quite simple:

   A Gun In The Teacher’s Desk is a return to form for one of drill’s most promising early artists which keeps many of the qualities that drill fans have come to love, while improving on the genre’s faults in a mature and creative way.

6/10

HEAR A GUN IN THE TEACHER’S DESKhttps://open.spotify.com/album/2o5kWHEh53gIQZwZxKDfqr

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The 1975 Capture Millennial Apathy With Third LP

A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships is a balanced blend of gallows humor and and youthful dissociation with glittering britpop and bright instrumentation which very well expresses the apathy and sensory overload of today’s youth.

     The 1975 is a britpop/pop-rock act from Manchester, UK. They debuted in 2013 with a self-titled LP which received mild critical praise but very quickly built a rabid cult following that rocketed the band to superstardom in the US. This was followed by their 2016 which sported this cringeworthy title: I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It. Despite the title, the record debuted at number one, perhaps helped by their signing to Interscope, and became The 1975’s second straight platinum album.

   Despite the commercial success and strong base, however, the band has received rather middling reviews over the years and developed something of an image problem, being seen as a quintessential hipster band. Mainly, they’re criticized for their thoughtful, experimental aesthetic being absent in their actual music, which is mostly glossy britpop with psuedo-intellectual lyricism and a unique 1980’s influence. Personally, I’d found their previous efforts bloated and lacking in substance, but not devoid of enjoyable moments. However, with A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, the band seems to have matured quite a bit, finally bringing much of their potential to fruition.

   The record opens, as does every 1975 album, with a short interlude baring the band’s name as a title. This one interesting, borrowing the hectic, chorusing effect which was notable used by Bon Iver in his track, “CREEKS.” It’s used slightly less effectively here, but the track is still enjoyable. It doesn’t hold a candle, though, to the albums other interlude, “The Man Who Married a Robot/A Love Theme,” a cynical dark comedy which both laments the apathy and dissociation of our generation and perfectly incapsulates Matt Healy’s authorial tone on this album.

   Lyrically, Healy writes sardonically, comedically, and with a strong dedication to the project’s general aesthetic. The seamless blend of genuineness with black comedy on tracks like “Give Yourself a Try,” is unique and engaging, and it contrasts with “Inside Your Mind,” which mock’s it’s own roots in pop power balladry by following a man who loves a woman so much he wants to split her head open to see her inner thoughts. Even beyond this, the album’s highlight “Love It If We Made It,” gorgeously satirizes the modern would with a level of desperation that taps into that of The 1975’s very young demographic, making the song’s “modernity has failed us,” hook ring especially poignant.

   Sonically, the album covers a wide rage, most of which is quite enjoyable. They’re certainly at their best on tracks like “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME,” “I Like America, America Likes Me,” or “It’s Not Living.” The glitzy, gloss pop instrumentals and the shimmering production is perfectly juxtaposed against the songs’ dark subject matter, that being infidelity, gun violence, and heroin addiction respectively. 

   Even a few of their more genre bending tracks work well. “I Couldn’t Be More in Love,” is a George Michael-esque, power-soul ballad, complete with chimes and what Healy called “a real key change.” On the other hand “Mine,” is a lounging jazz tune which, despite weaker lyrics, is infinitely listenable and features an amazing saxophone solo. This is also very well done on the closer, “I Always Wanna Die,” which would’ve felt right at home in the early 2000’s, among the likes of Oasis. Here, the band wears their influences, unashamedly, on their sleeve and craft loving tributes to these inspirations.

   However, a few of these experiments fall short. “Sincerity is Scary,” is at least respectable in it’s attempt to dip a toe in the waters of groovy soul music, though it feels a bit awkward and doesn’t really fit in the tracklist. This is more than I can say for tracks like “Be My Mistake,” or “Surrounded by Heads and Bodies,” two stripped down, folksy tunes which feel like bland left-overs from the previous two records, and who’s heartfelt lyrics seem to be mocked by the rest of the album’s irreverent cynicism. The worst of all these tracks is “How To Draw/Petrichor,” which feels like an aimless, Planet Earth sound track which relegates the previously used chorus effect to near novelty status.

   As the near 60 minute runtime draws to a close, my mind is drawn to The 1975’s previous efforts, both of which are roughly as long. Where they felt like psuedo-thoughtful slogs, Brief Inquiry feels like a genuine commentary on modern times. It isn’t perfect, but the infusion of punk attitude and black humor has brought The 1975 to a truly respectable stage in their development.

   A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships is a balanced blend of gallows humor and and youthful dissociation with glittering britpop and bright instrumentation which very well expresses the apathy and sensory overload of today’s youth.

8/10

HEAR A BRIEF INQUIRY INTO ONLINE RELATIONSHIPShttps://open.spotify.com/album/6PWXKiakqhI17mTYM4y6oY

Every Maynard James Keenan Album Ranked!!

This one took me quite awhile, but here it is! Every Maynard James Keenan album (post Opiate) ranked!!

12. Emotive (2004)- A Perfect Circle

     The most critically maligned effort in Maynard’s post-Tool career, and admittedly the most underwhelming, I will still be the first and loudest defender of this album. All too often, Emotive is subject to overly brutal criticism because it is viewed through the same lens as the band’s previous work. Instead, the album toes the line between full blown third release and something of a side project. I think, had this been followed quickly by a true end to the band’s trilogy with Virgin Records, much of the distaste would’ve subsided. However, Emotive is what it is, that being, by all accounts, a mixed bag.

   Maynard’s lyricism can hardly be discussed here, as the album is made up of political covers, but the song selection does provide an interesting peak into his inspirations. Track’s like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” come off admittedly awkward, but “Passive,” is one of the band’s best efforts, and incidentally the only original on the album, enlisting the help of fellow industrial rock legend, Trent Reznor in the writing process. Additionally, Maynard’s choral rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “The Fiddle and the Drum,” is one of my favorite songs of all time. In short, while the album does land at the bottom of the list, it is by no means a bad album.

11. Money Shot (2015)Puscifer

   While this is, admittedly, the weakest of the three Puscifer LP’s, that certainly doesn’t make it unenjoyable by any means. Money Shot’s biggest sin is its inability to differentiate from the band’s previous two entries. While this is decidedly not a meaningful failure in the eyes of many fans, it does seem to run counter to Puscifers appealing quality. While Tool and APC have solidified styles, Puscifer is meant to be an outlet for Maynard to use his complete control to radically experiment with a multitude of new ideas. In this vein, I’m much quicker to forgive the outfit’s few misses on earlier projects than to excuse the safe tracklist of Money Shot.

   That being said, there’s plenty to enjoy here. “The Arsonist,” may be Puscifer’s best song, and “The Remedy,” brings back a bit of the cynicism and comedy of the band’s debut, a quality which is completely absent on the rest of this album. The instrumentation is more organic on this album, and performed quite well by all involved. All in all, Money Shot is an enjoyable effort, but Maynard seems to be in a bit of a creative rut throughout, unsurprising as this would be his 11th LP in just over 20 years. Fitting then, that this would be the last puscifer LP for awhile as MJK began to undertake the writing process of APC’s return in 2018.

10. Opiate (1992) – Tool

    There are very few bands with a stronger debut than Tool. The majority of the record is recorded live, but it still lands on this list because the tracks don’t appear anywhere else in the group’s discography. The live raw energy of a Tool show really comes through on this album as well, and it’s hard not to laugh when Maynard says “get that Bob Marley wannabe motherf***ker out of here.”

   There is plenty not to love here, on the other hand. The recordings, being live and probably cheap, lack the excellent production we would hear on later Tool releases. The tracklist itself is a bit of a weakness as well, mostly coming in around four to five minutes and missing much of the lyrical thoughtfulness we’ve come to expect from MJK. The closer and title track, however, remains one of my favorite Tool songs of all time and stands as the first chapter in the very long, open dialogue between Maynard and organized Christianity. This kind of bold, angry writing from such a young band, coupled with the jarring and mildly offensive cover, set a tone for a band and an artist that would speak their minds loudly in the years to come.

9. Conditions of My Parole (2011)Puscifer

   The second Puscifer release certainly doesn’t exceed its predecessor the way Thirteenth Step did, but it is nevertheless an enjoyable entry on this list. The tone is much closer to the larger body of MJK’s work, sacrificing some of the debut’s uniqueness for a more palatable, anthemic style. It did, however, retain much of what makes Puscifer such a unique side project.

   The changes are most notable on tracks like “Tiny Monsters,” and “Green Valley,” where the industrial instrumentation and drum heavy mix is still very present, but the lyricism and, even more so the vocal melodies, are much more in line with what longtime fans have come to expect. “Telling Ghosts,” could very easily have landed on an APC album. A few of the tracks can come off as somewhat forgettable, but the bulk of Conditions of My Parole is an absolute blast.

8. “V” Is For Vagina (2007)Puscifer

   With APC on hiatus and Tool stuck in a perpetual creative vortex, Maynard found himself sat idle for this first time in many years. This seemed to last all of a few days as V Is For Vagina was released just a year after the Tool record and Puscifer was born. While the band wouldn’t receive a lot of mainstream attention until their ’09 single, “Cuntry Boner,” longtime Maynard fans were greeted in ’07 by a total 180 degree turn with surprisingly enjoyable results.

   Puscifer’s sound embraces a form of industrial rock which was only slightly present in MJK’s previous work, and combines it with the kind of sardonic humor which Maynard is known for. Tracks like “Queen B,” and “Vagina Mine” may be somewhat jarring for Tool and APC fans, but they are very well crafted and infinitely listenable pieces of industrial rock, some of the best of the era. V Is For Vagina is a must listen for any and all MJK fans, especially considering his near total creative control over the project.

7. Eat the Elephant (2018)A Perfect Circle

   Perhaps the most divisive of Maynard’s albums among fans, Eat the Elephant marked the return of A Perfect Circle to prominence after a nearly 15 year hiatus which had been filled with three MJK releases under the Puscifer moniker. As a result, this album does often seem to capture more of Puscifer’s experimental nature than APC’s anthemic tendencies. It’s one of stranger albums on this list, but it’s one that I enjoyed quite a bit.

   Tracks like “Disillusioned” and the title track featured surprisingly soft piano passages while “The Doomed,” and my personal favorite, “TalkTalk,” fall much more in the vein of APC’s arena rock style. The latter half loses quite a bit of steam, but overall, Eat the Elephant is a respectable return to form for a group which seems to have matured quite a bit during its hiatus.

6. Meir De Noms (2000)A Perfect Circle

   Following the massive success of Tool, and during a very odd time for rock music in general, A Perfect Circle was formed by MJK and Billy Howerdel and released their debut album, Meir De Noms to massive critical and commercial success. The group’s sound was much more oriented toward arena and alternative rock, as apposed to the progressive and industrial styles that filled Tool projects.

   Meir De Noms contains the band’s best and most popular song by a mile in “Judith,” but also features classics like “The Hollow,” and “3 Libras.” Throughout, Howerdel’s guitar is anthemic and Josh Freese’s drumming is explosive. Maynard’s vocals are, in many ways, given more focus here than on previous Tool projects and his lyrics take a turn for the platitudinous in the best possible way. If the album has one strike against it, it’s a general lack of cohesion and clear vision. However, Meir De Noms is an excellent debut LP and did a great job of setting APC apart from Maynard’s other projects. 

5. Undertow (1993) – Tool

   Oh, how we all miss the days of two Tool releases in back to back years! Following the breakout success of the Opiate EP, Tool followed up with their first full length project, which improved on their previous work in virtually every way. This album features classics like “Prison Sex,” and “Swamp Song,” as well as Tool’s first major hit, “Sober.”

   Undertow is also where we hear Maynard beginning to come into his own as a writer and performer. His screams are powerful and his running vocal lines are nearly ethereal. The record is far better mixed and recorded, though still not as tight as later projects, and there’s a certain air of professionalism about Undertow that begins to make Tool feel like as special a band as they are. Overall, it’s an excellent studio debut and features some of the band’s best instrumentation and MJK’s best lyrics.

4. Thirteenth Step (2003)A Perfect Circle

   The highlight of APC’s catalog, Thirteenth Step is the Terminator 2 of alt-rock albums. Everything we loved from the debut is back, but better focused and turned up to 11. The non-cohesive but impressive tracklist of the debut is replaced with a moody, melodic piece of alt/arena rock with a clear and decisive aesthetic.

   Nearly every song on this album is fantastic, but a few of my favorites include, “Blue,” “The Outsider,” and “Pet, although my personal favorite from the album has to be the orchestral reimagining of Failure’s “The Nurse Who Loved Me.” The entire album is a testament to what can be accomplished by two especially creative artists when they mesh well and benefit from excellent work ethics. Thirteenth Step was APC’s second consecutive platinum album and it left the band with hits that are still popular today, 15 years later.

3. 10,000 Days (2006) – Tool

   For many Tool fans, this is the end all be all of Tool albums. In fact, I’d even call it my personal favorite, if I wasn’t speaking critically. Released in 2006 after a five year hiatus, 10,000 Days is the most recent Tool album to date, and it is, in some ways, the completion of an arc which began with ’96’s Aenima, that being the gradually increasing psychedelic and progressive influences into the band’s alt-metal roots. This album gives itself fully over to the prog side and it is from this that both its strengths and weaknesses are born.

   There isn’t a single track that clocks in under six minutes, save the “Blame Hoffman,” interlude which is nearly four minutes of purely atmospheric build up. “Rosetta Stoned,” is nearly 11 minutes of blistering rock music with some of the best drum work of Danny Carey’s career. The highlight of not only the album, but possibly Tool’s entire catalog, is the two part epic of “Wings for Marie,” and “10,000 Days,” which chronicles the passing of Maynard’s mother, and her ascension to heaven. It’s a piece of pure art which will leave goosebumps on the arms of anyone with a pulse.  My only hangup with this album, however, comes in the long and sometimes aimless interludes. Where earlier intros like “Parabol,” felt like a lingering shot of runners on their blocks before a race, a track like “Lipan Conjuring,” seems to spin its wheels and never get anywhere. Regardless, 10,000 Days is Tool’s most personal effort, and one of my all time favorite albums.

2. Ǽnima (1996)Tool

   When it came to deciding my top two for this list, I found the decision virtually impossible, and my opinion may even change day to day, but in the end, and through no fault of its own, Aenima lands at number two. Following the breakout success of Undertow, Aenima takes Tool’s hard rock sound and adds a multitude of brand new layers.

   “46 & 2,” and “Pushit,” deal in complex issues with a kind of reverence which was somewhat new to the band at this time. On the other hand, “Stinkfist,” “H.” and “Eulogy,” touch on serious moral issues with a cynical humor that only Maynard can execute this well. Beyond that, even, tracks like “Hooker With a Penis,” and the title track feature the kind of dark humor which would be largely absent from either of Tool’s post Aenima efforts. But it’s the closer, “Third Eye,” that sets a precedent for what we could expect in the future. Clocking in over 13 minutes and making the most of a couple hilarious Bill Hicks samples, the track is a sprawling, expansive end to an incredible album. Aenima is so very close to being perfect, but for me, it’s beat out ever so slightly by our number one.

1. Lateralus (2001)Tool

   It’s virtually impossible to name the best Tool album, let alone the best album from all of MJK’s catalog, but if it must be done, I simply can’t place anything above Lateralus. I tend to view Tool’s last three albums as a trilogy, following an especially gifted alt-metal four piece as they grow to an infamous, prog-metal juggernaut, and in that sense, the fast majority of the leg-work is done by Lateralus. With a tracklist featuring much longer tracks, including “Reflection,” which clears 11 minutes, lofty concepts, and a heavy influence on math and sequences, Tool challenged themselves in nearly ever conceivable way and they succeeded.

   Tracks like “Schism,” and “Ticks and Leaches,” showcase Tool’s remarkable ability to bend time signatures and tempos, “The Grudge,” and the title track feature Adam Jones’ gritty, powerful guitar work, and “Parabol,” and “Parabola,” is one of the best two part tracks of all time, slowly developing into explosive payoffs. Throughout Maynard’s voice is dynamic, ranging from guttural screams to droning, contained melodies with equal intensity and brilliance. His melodies are every single bit as well written as any riff or beat on the project, and his lyrics are meticulous, yet thematic. All of this is tied together by the legendary David Bottrill, who’s work in the producer’s chair elevates this record to all new heights. Put simply, Lateralus is a remarkable accomplishment for one the greatest bands of all time, and the crown jewel in MJK’s legendary catalog.

Mumford and Sons Branch Out With Fourth LP

Delta isn’t the best album of the year, it isn’t even the best album in the growing Mumford and Sons catalog, but it is a powerful and decisive step from a once niche band toward branching out and finding new footing. For that, it deserves respect.

     Mumford and Sons is a folk/indie rock act from London. They burst onto the underground scene in 2009, at the hight of the hipster movement, with their debut LP, Sigh No More. The record has since sold more than five million copies and is absolutely essential to understanding the musical landscape of this decade. Their follow up, 2012’s Babel charted at number one in the US and catapulted Mumford into super stardom, birthing the trend of Irish-Irish-inspired folk which would include the likes of Ed Sheeran and Phillip Phillips. 2015’s Wilder Mind was a bit of a misstep, though it still went platinum, seeing the group add a drummer and experiment with truer rock influences.

   Mumford and Sons’ sound has evolved over the years, but a few tendencies remain constant. There are thick, obvious ties to Irish folk music throughout, particularly in indulgent harmonies and driving time signatures. They also sport a unique instrumental pallet which includes a banjo, upright bass, and the occasional mandolin or pair of spoons. Their latest release flirted with blues and rock and roll, but with Delta, Mumford seems to have found a new home in the world of arena rock.

   Let it not go without mentioning, though, how sharp the band’s folk roots are in cutting through the spacious instrumentals. The opener, “42” features a gorgeous set of harmonies throughout, and “Beloved,” is driven by a heavily effected banjo. It’s here that longtime Mumford fans will find enjoyment. I myself could feel the high school freshmen in me soaking in every second, but this album doesn’t stop here.

   Tracks like the lead single, “Guiding Light” and “Woman,” dive headlong into the stadium rock aesthetic which is meant to characterize this project. The reverb-heavy mix, looping guitars, and catchy hooks make for a fun foray into this new territory, which will likely leave something to enjoy for fans and casual listeners alike.

   This album is most effective, however, in its final third as the group crafts a long string of intimate but singable tracks to close out the rather long runtime. “If I Say,” and “Wild Heart,” are genuinely quite moving, “Forever,” is a strong piano ballad, even the very experimental “Darkness Visible,” is unique and intriguing, and though the closing title track leaves a bit to be desired in the creativity department, Marcus Mumford’s lead vocals make it infinitely listenable.

   This brings us to Delta’s most noticeable quality, that being Marcus’ excellent effort on every second of the album. Both lyrically and vocally, the band’s frontman is perfectly on his game at all times. Tracks like “Slip Away,” and “Rose of Sharon,” which fall in the middle of the record and feature the weakest instrumentals of the bunch, are more than rescued Mumford’s total commitment and heartfelt delivery. On the other hand, an already well made track like “The Wild,” is made all the better by his touch as the centerpiece.

   The best song on the record, by a mile, is “October Skies,” which is able to sum up the best parts of Delta without falling victim to any of its shortcomings. The organic instrumentation and howling vocals are perfectly evocative of vintage Mumford, yet the drum kit adds an enjoyable groove. Beyond this, the track is beautifully produced, as is much of this album, building a cozy sonic space upon which to view closely the stark beauty of the louder, more powerful moments. The choir, as with the wide pallet on the project as a whole, is simply a brilliant touch.

   This album isn’t perfect. Several of the anthemic staples the band touches on feel somewhat stale and done to death, and you’ll find more than a fair share of cliched lyricism. However, it’s a step that is much appreciated. There is a clear and palpable passion that comes along with this album and it is hard to deny, especially when the wide pallet, good production, and talented performances gel smoothly.

   Delta isn’t the best album of the year, it isn’t even the best album in the growing Mumford and Sons catalog, but it is a powerful and decisive step from a once niche band toward branching out and finding new footing. For that, it deserves respect.

6/10

HEAR DELTA:  HTTPS://OPEN.SPOTIFY.COM/ALBUM/3THBKS5IJZ41MABAOAT7WC

Bufihimat Drops Technically Excellent If Poorly Paced Debut

I is a brutal slog of an album with plenty for extreme metal fans to appreciate if they’re willing to overlook a few weaknesses.

     Bufihimat is a tech/death metal outfit from Voronezh, Russia. They arrived on the scene in 2015 with a single, “Last Journey Through Pain,” and then fell out of the public eye once again. While the track was fairly well received, whatever momentum they gained was all but lost over the three year hiatus which followed.

   Their sound is brutal, generally falling under the umbrella of “extreme metal,” but their main style is death metal, sporting a low, guttural vocal and heavy instruments. They are also, however, incredibly talented, frequently performing extremely difficult passages at a blistering speed. With the release of their first full length LP, I (One), they’ve officially thrown they’re hat in the mix of the extreme metal world, and they’ve done so quite skillfully.

   First and foremost, the drumming on this record is lightning fast. On tracks like “Thy Flesh Consumed,” or “Last Journey Through Pain,” the blistering speed sets quite a tempo with double kicks, which is then shown to be malleable with excellent fills in nearly every open space. The drums really take front and center on this project, and thanks to talented musicianship, they make good on this status.

   The guitars are also well utilized here. Tracks like “Human Hive” or the opener, “Splited” mix the hellish brutality of the distorted rhythm guitar quite well with the almost video game-esque lead guitar licks. The lead is one of the very few less extreme portions of the mix, and it shines well over the slugging rhythm riffs.

   The vocals, while a bit lacking in variety, are still quite impressive. A track like “Qualia,” just can’t come together without a vocalist like this. His screams are thick and gravelly, yet he has the ability to hold out notes far longer than one would expect. In “Decline of the Fading Suns, he lets out long, brutal screams which are accented by hectic instrumental passages, making this the best track on the album.

   My biggest complaint with the project, however, is the lack of variety. While the closer, “He Saw Himself,” provides something of a change by incorporating an organ and well-performed guitar arpeggios, it comes on the tail end of nearly a half our of ear-piercing distortion and near constant double kicks. While I appreciate the brutality of this record, it seems they may have traded in some of the creative possibilities in an effort to create the loudest, heaviest album possible.

   Even on a track like “Digging the Hole,” which begins with a thinner, higher scream and some heavy grunge influence, we find ourselves right back to the sludging tech death that characterizes the rest of the project. This may be the first time that a runtime under 30 minutes has felt like a slog, and it’s due entirely to poor pacing and strict adherence to form.

   That being said, I did enjoy I. There are certainly shortcomings, but for a debut LP, it’s quite an accomplishment. The instrumentation is extremely technical, the production is far better than one would expect from a lesser known group, and the songwriting shows a lot of promise. It is definitely enough to land Bufihimat on my radar for future releases.

   I is a brutal slog of an album with plenty for extreme metal fans to appreciate if they’re willing to overlook a few weaknesses.

5/10

HEAR I: https://open.spotify.com/album/4QSpHxTrr6Txzhp0LFyBMS

Cult Leader’s Second LP Has a Little Something For Everyone

A Patient Man is a perfectly paced mix of brutal energy and gothic cacophony which stands as a testament to the excellent state of metal music today.

     Cult Leader is a tech/sludge metal band from Salt Lake City, Utah. They formed in 2013 after the break up of the band Gaza, where three of Cult Leader’s four members got their start. They made waves in 2014 with their debut EP, Nothing For Us Here, before following up in 2015 with the Useless Animal EP, was well as their first LP, Lightless Walk. The releases have been fairly successful, building on the success previously achieved by Gaza as well as forging their own identity as a group.

   Cult Leader’s sound is a unique blend of several styles of modern metal music. There’s a heavy dose of sludge metal, particularly in the rattling bass guitar, but there are also hints of thrash, grindcore, and even grunge. Through all of this, the technical skill of the group shines brightly over frequent tempo and time changes. They stand as an excellent example of the many intersecting worlds of metal, a trend that doesn’t stop with their newest release, A Patient Man.

   The record really falls into three parts: a brutally heavy opening section, a tame second act, and an epic, gothic closing chapter. Through this, the LP is absolutely perfectly paced. Longer songs like the title track or “To: Achlys,” spend every second of their time very wisely, developing multiple musical ideas and fleshing out each riff and hook in a really satisfying way. On the other hand, a short track like “Craft of Mourning,” feels fully realized and seems to have been given a fair hearing, despite a runtime under three minutes. It’s just a masterclass in getting the most from your songs without overstaying the welcome.

   The opening portion of the record, comprised of “I Am Healed,” “Curse of Satisfaction,” and “Isolation in the Land of Milk and Honey,” is absolutely blistering. The tempos are fast, the drums are explosive, and the vocals are positively demonic. The guitar, while easily the least impressive component of the group, is used interestingly, mostly serving to build an atmosphere, while the melody and rhythm is pushed along by the drums and vocals. The bass, which is often lacking in tracks like this, is impressively present here as well, though it wouldn’t come to fruition until much later in the runtime. It’s a brutal opening, which sets an excellent tone, only to be broken in the second act.

   Covering only two songs, “To: Achlys,” and “A World of Joy,” the second, slower section of the record lasts about 12 minutes and totally flips the script on what we’ve just heard. The tempos are lower, the vocals and guitars are clean, and tone is far less brutal. Instead, we listen as two gothic slogs slowly unravel into epic finishes. The bass guitar is fantastic hear, rattling out the lower end and left just clean enough to hear every imperfection and slide. These are also the best lyrical moments of the project, especially on the first of the two, which may be my favorite song on the album, which reads like a dark hymn. As exciting as this section itself, however, is the epic return of the distortion and thickness of the opening section.

   Opening with “Craft Our Morning,” and “Share My Pain,” neither of which clear three minutes, Cult Leader wastes no time in ratcheting up the intensity, continuing with the brutal “Aurum Reclusa.” The final two tracks, however, bring the project full circle. The title track, and longest song on the record, is absolutely fantastic. From the howling shouts of “such sweet hell,” to the commanding drum work, to the strangely hopeful finish, this track really sums up the record, especially in it’s wide array of influence and musical idea. The closer, “The Broken Right Hand of God,” nears seven minutes as well, is equally powerful, and is one of the only well produces tracks on the album The guitars create something of a cloud of distortion, from which the drums and particularly guttural vocals burst defiantly, only to be quickly swallowed again. In the end, as the feedback and repetitive riffs trail off, this song feels like a meaningful conclusion to an excellent project.

   A Patient Man certainly isn’t perfect. The production is my biggest complaint, as nearly all of these mixes severely lack texture with every instrument seeming to come from everywhere at the same level. Additionally, a few of the builds on the latter half don’t seem to pay off as they should. These of course, are small issues in an otherwise excellent second outing for Cult Leader.

   A Patient Man is a perfectly paced mix of brutal energy and gothic cacophony which stands as a testament to the excellent state of metal music today.

7/10

HEAR A PATIENT MAN: https://open.spotify.com/album/1OPpVnWDfL3YKmIqxuVRdZ

Imagine Dragons Floods the Airwaves With Another Boring Album

Origins contains a precious few shining moments, which are buried in a slog of poorly written product which just isn’t worth sifting through.

     Imagine Dragons is an alternative rock/pop band from Las Vegas. They gained popularity in 2012 with their double platinum debut LP, Night Visions. The strong push from Interscope Records and the massive popularity of singles like “Radioactive,” and “On Top of the World,” were important in their success, but the most important factor was Imagine Dragons’ ability to tap into the growing EDM wave which was cresting at this time, and give it a more accessible slant. This ability netted them two more platinum releases in 2015’s Smoke + Mirrors and 2017’s Evolve.

   While the group hasn’t exactly been a critical darling over the years, their commercial success is hard to deny and the lead up to this album is no exception. With four singles released ahead of time, including one written for the upcoming Wreck It Ralph sequel, Imagine Dragons has once again overtaken the radio in preparation for this LP. Now that it’s finally here, I must say, it’s a pretty weak outing.

   The production, of course, is well done. Working with Interscope Records, it’s virtually impossible to put out a project which isn’t well polished and put together. Origins is no exception. This isn’t nearly enough to save the album, but for so-so tracks like “Cool Out,” or “Bad Liar,” it’s enough to push them over the hump into listenable territory.

   Dan Reynolds’ vocals also have a few shining moments. The opener, “Natural,” has a genuinely impressive bridge, and actually got my hopes up far higher than they should’ve been. Throughout the album, Reynold’s vocals, even when performing obnoxious melodies, are one of the only redeemable qualities of this album.

   When we come to lyrics, there are exactly two well written tracks which are, puzzlingly, stuck on the very tail end of the ridiculous 50 minute runtime. “Burn Out,” tells a fairly conventional story of battling stress and depression, and though the song is certainly hindered by an abrasive instrumental, the sentiment is expressed well. The best track on the record is the closer, “Real Life,” the only of the fifteen tracks to cover a remotely interesting topic. It follows a man as her attempts to hold his marriage together in spite of the horrors of the modern world. It’s an interesting look at how the terrors of the external world, namely 9/11 and the Boston Bombing, effect the personal lives of those who aren’t directly involved. It’s a unique topic, and it’s handled well, lyrically.

   Lyrics, however, are a great place to start on my criticisms of this record. Aside from the two I just mentioned, virtually every other track could’ve been written by a computer. Tracks like “Only,” or “Zero,” are just meaningless. Even a track like “West Coast,” which is genuinely singable, is poisoned by a constant flow of pseudo-meaningful lyricism.

   When the lyrics do try to mean something, however, I’m left missing the soullessness of the previous tracks. Perhaps the most egregious here is “Love,” in which Reynolds drones on about the evils of racism in a series of platitudes, ignoring the real issues of institutional and generational racism, to simply point out that we all have the same blood and that skin color doesn’t matter. It’s naiveté borders on disrespect and it’s easily the weakest track of the bunch.

   The only common theme that can be found throughout appears heavily in tracks like “Machine,” “Digital,” or “Bullet in a Gun.” That is this idea of being an “outsider,” and dealing with the pressures to conform and give up their artistic integrity. Now, ignoring the fact that this band’s debut album went double platinum by essentially commercializing a sound which was popular in the underground before them, even these tracks are purely top 40 style, pop hits. This, along with very poor writing, makes these songs feel particularly disingenuous. The bridge on “Bullet in a Gun,” in which Reynolds shouts “sell out,” at himself nearly made me turn the record off.

   Beyond these lyrical and thematic issues, the instrumentals and hooks are just dreadful. “Boomerang,” borders on unlistenable, “Birds,” is smothered with decade-old trap cymbals, and “Stuck” is driven by an annoying drum track and vocal line that ruins whatever there may have been to appreciate.

   When Imagine Dragons hit the scene, their sound was flawed and a bit watered-down, but their youthful energy and catchy delivery masked most of their short comings. Half a decade later, all of that has faded to leave a boring shell of a group.

   Origins contains a precious few shining moments, which are buried in a slog of poorly written product which just isn’t worth sifting through.

2/10

HEAR ORIGINS: https://open.spotify.com/album/3JfSxDfmwS5OeHPwLSkrfr