June 2006 Archives

Today was a milestone, after 12 years and five months at Optus - I tendered my resignation this morning.

In case you've not heard some other way already - in a month I will be relocating to Norway. Something I view with a mixture of excitement, apprehension and an overwhelming worry - "will I actually get everything sorted out here in the next month?"

Having done the pack up and leave thing once before, I know that you will never get everything sorted out in time, eventually priorities kick in and you end up dumping a whole heap of things in the "will sort this out when I come back for Christmas (or whenever) pile"

Tonight I sat down and watched a downloaded copy of the documentary Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, a film I already have a ticket to see as part of the Sydney Film Festival on Friday night.

Why did I watch it now? I'm not sure, I guess it was partly that I thought I would just preview the first few minutes, which I did. Then half an hour later I watched the whole damn thing.

Anyone who has even a tangential association with me knows I am a lifelong metal fan, so a documentary on metal would hold little interest for me, as few other topics occupy more synapses in my brain than metal.

However this documentary has been touted as a great introduction to the genre for a non fan. So in part I watched this thinking - how would my friends/family view this film?

Overall i really enjoyed the film, of course there are details that i could pick to bits - areas where the director's personal preferences show through too much and interviewees with their facts wrong - but these were generally minor and didn't detract from the enjoyment of the film.

Of note though (particularly given my pending move) is the poor reception the filmmakers get in Norway and in interviews with Norwegian bands abroad. Many Black Metal artists do themselves an injustice by reflecting their insular attitude and there is a point where the "act" goes too far.

As usual, Grutle of Enslaved and Ishahn of Emperor come across as the only two intelligent and reasonably well balanced types of them all. There are plenty more intelligent and creative individuals in the Norwegian scene. It would have been fresher to interview some of the people who were not directly involved with the criminal activities of the early 90s or at least to interview Faust who appears to have gained significant perspective from his nearly 10 years in Jail.

I look forward to watching it on the big screen and enjoying the reasonably well balanced soundtrack on a surround mix.

Having had the the latest Enslaved for quite a few months now I should have reviewed it by now. Over the past few years Enslaved have become probably my favourite heavy act, with solid live shows and amazing albums that mix scandic intensitity with progressive and psychadelic influences.

One of the things that really draws me into Enslaved is that they are quite experimental yet this is driven around a solid core of Viking metal - which ensures they reign in any excessive tendencies that could bring them unstuck otherwise.

Ruun is exactly that, a well paced, varied release with excellent production. Having had a stable line up for the last two albums this really shows through in the solid performances. However the stand-out improvement is the well thought out arrangements that showcase the diversity of styles and influences that Enslaved incorporate into each track.

There is a definite feel of less is more with most of the songs usually utilising a simpler structure which on initial listen may sound like they could easily become boring but in true black metal tradition. This is not the case as Ruun is full of shifting dynamics and subtle variations in the phrasing and riffing that reward repeated listens.

There's a theory that the first album you hear of a band often ends up being your favourite, which is why I continually compare each new Enslaved release to my first experience with the band - 2003's Below the Lights. Where Ruun excels is in the album length (perfect), flow and arrangement of tracks (good, much better than the previous two albums - BTL drops off seriously 2/3rds of the way through and Isa has a section in the middle of samey songs)

Vocally, the recording and production of Grutle’s blackened rasps is fantastic, he's always been a great vocalist and it's wonderful to hear a level of vocal engineering that respects his talent. However, in what seems to be more of a compositional decision, Grutle’s also wonderful death growls are less frequent and where present mixed more subtly as a layered depth. Herbrand's clean vocals are a significant improvement on Grutle’s and it's a wise decision to split the vocal duties in this fashion.

This produces some fantastic results on the track Essence where the rasps and clean vocals counterpoint each other in a unique harmony. Appropriately named, the Essence has it all, understated yet excellent drumming, a rich depressive atmosphere, the aforementioned outstanding vocal performance combined with thought provoking lyrics. and eerily hypnotic yet cold guitars.

That said, each track on Ruun stands out in it's own way, which again is an indicator of solid pre-production, skilled songcraft and talented performances.

Fusion of Sense and Earth roars along and features some solid guitar soloing on a track which harks backwards musically and sounds like it could become a crowd favourite live.

Tides of Chaos has some of the most venomous vocal work, which is intelligible and yet vicious - some have commented that the lyrics are a bit weak in this track, I think this is deliberate and the song is supposed to be intimidating as it switches between pummelling oppressiveness and sparsely accompanied barbed rasps.

There's a huge nod to Prog on to the psych-influenced Path to Vanir which includes a dramatic shift to early 70's prog folk (think King Crimson segueing into Caravan). Vanir also places the death growls higher in the mix than in other tracks, with some nice juxtaposition of rasps and growls in the opening section.

Title track Ruun has that epic feel which was more common on earlier Enslaved releases, but also feels very psychedelic and spacey, both lyrically and with the more open song structure.

The solidly bass driven opener Entroper makes excellent use the aforementioned shifting dynamics to create a sense of a viking longboat tossed in a stormy sea.

Api-Vat contains some lovely shimmering riffery with more prog leanings whilst Heir to the Cosmic Seed closes off the album with a more relaxed psych tone.

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