Thursday, November 28, 2019

Interview: Ghone

"Ghone" live @Cult of the Amps vol. 2 - by Chris Lemonis

1. First off, I'd like to thank you for doing this interview. Nice to have you on the blog! Please introduce yourself to the readers.

Thank you for your interest. Great to hear a site from abroad is curious about your work. So, I’m John from Athens, Greece and Ghone is my personal sonic project with which I’m exploring the abstraction of sound spectrum through noise, produced by both natural and electronic media and manipulated mostly in real time, trying to create gasping and aerie environments.

2. Describe "Ghone" in three words.

That’s a hard one. I think I’ll go for: Party-crashing Noisy Ritual

3.  I discovered your project when I saw you play live in Novi Sad along with Aidan Baker and "Nadja". In our previous conversation you told me that it was one of your favorite shows to date. What made this set so special for you, so much so that you even decided to record it as a proper release?

It was actually my 4th show on this tour -and, in matter of fact, my first ever as Ghone in general- and it was the time my set was coming together. It felt like I had finally tamed my equipment to a satisfying level and felt more confident that I could communicate what I had in my head. I remember the venue was full and the audience was very quiet. This can be stressful and flattering at the same time, a very compelling feeling which I have rarely experienced over the years I’ve been performing with various bands. The venue itself helped a lot as well of course. It was the third time I had the chance to be there and first time as a performer. Such warmth and hospitality always give a substantial boost in general. I was lucky enough to have my set recorded by the sound guy, and it only felt right to share it.

4. Any plans of coming back to Serbia again some day?

I actually played this May as a guest of the legendary Athenian noise-punk band Rita Mosss, along with the mighty Cassilas. They made a great couple. But anyway, I don’t have any solid plans for touring yet since life gets in the way constantly. I do want to come and play the soonest possible, so I’m open to ideas.

5. One of your other releases is the live show in Thessaloniki with "Six Steps Above The Earth", so please give us some more details about that collaboration.

I’ve known Bill and Sakis from the band for quite a while now. In fact, with Bill we have previously collaborated with his solo project The Dandelion Fields ( a couple of times. The guys asked me to open a show of theirs and long story short we ended up playing a seamless show with the middle part having me jamming with the full band as they started entering the stage one by one, and this is the track you hear as “intro” at the release with Six Steps Above The Earth.

6. How does your overall process for live shows look like? Do you go into it with a specific idea in mind or do you just let it flow out of you in the moment? Also, do you record all of your sets or just some of them?

For me it begins toying around with field recordings, feedback loops and new equipment, putting all those together and trying to make some sense out of it and how it can be manipulated to some kind of form of communicating. You can say curiosity is the driving force, I guess. When performing I’m generally trying to follow a skeleton idea but it can always swift to a different direction very easily depending on the moment. I think most of my sets have been recorded in a way or another.

7. You were part of an interesting collaboration recently, the "Spit" wine tasting performance art event where you created live sound-scaping. Could you tell us something more about that event? Are such collaborations/projects common for you?

It was an incredible experience! The location, the performance, the wine. Could do this again any time given. I was invited by the curator Eleni Tranouli to create the soundscape that Despina Charitonidi and Panos Profitis have prepared. They even created a number of incredible ceramic spittoons and laser cut “exoskeleton” suits for the waiters. An event of high aesthetics and great wine. What else can someone ask for?
The closest I can remember I’ve been a part of something similar was when I played a two-day live soundtrack for a live painting performance of Friki Krux back in 2014. You can’t say it’s pretty common then, but it’s definitely an area I’d like to explore further.

8. With all the relatively frequent live performances happening, does that mean there is an active noise/drone crowd in Greece?

Experimental music (and arts in general) community is quite active actually, mainly in the biggest cities though, but there are probably more stuff happening nowadays than ever. Small shows are taking place more and more often, and more people are curious to explore this side of the music spectrum. There are some really interesting artists that rarely have the chance to present their work abroad like Dead Gum, Savvas Metaxas, Georgios Karamanolakis, Acte Vide, Panos Alexiadis just to name a few, which is a real shame.

9. Are there any other music projects from Greece which you would recommend?

I think I answered this one above :)

10. What do you think of the overall state of the music scene in the world? Do you consider noise/drone to be a relevant genre in the "big picture"?
"Sram Schet" cover by EviKarastamati

It sure is. Just in the form of constant TV static-like pattern in the background.

11. A somewhat similar question asked above, what is your process for recording studio material? Does it differ from live performances?

I don’t think I have an answer for that. So far I didn’t felt the need to go through the labor of preparing a “studio album”, carefully layering noises and crackles. I’m focusing on live performance and presenting a coherent piece and if it still sounds like it stands as a recording as well, that’s great and it’s out there with no further ado.

12. "Ghone" had yearly gaps between recent recorded releases, any particular reason for that?

Mostly life just got in the way and had to focus on things other than playing. Looks like this is changing though.

13. What inspires you the most to create music like this?

Surely the grey period we are living through is great inspiration for anyone to create dark art in general. Trying to avoid getting psychoanalytic here, I’d say that I’ve always been drawn by darker themes in general. Horror movies, anatomy, insects, worn out patterns, abandoned buildings, history of crime and naturally that extends to my taste in music I suppose.

14. When working on a split release, how much do you get inspired by your split partners? I'm under the impression that there is a kind of symbiosis between Ghone and its collaborators.

It's pretty different when it's a split release from a collaborative wort, but you get it right about the symbiosis part. When it comes to split releases, personally I want to keep some kind of flow from one side to the other, meaning that for example I'd try to avoid giving a harsh noise piece for a split release with an ambient artist. I don't consider myself to have a standard approach when it comes to experimental music (it's all an ongoing experiment after all), and I enjoy this challenge to create something that resonates with me personally and in the same time keeps a release from being incoherent. On collaborations on a same track now, it's a whole different procedure. It feels more like a dialogue or dance if you prefer. The dynamics between the participants have great impact on the direction the improv. session will take.

15. What was it like to collaborate with Frans De Waard/Modelbau? I actually didn't know who he was, but seems like he's quite an influential figure in the Dutch/global music scene. How did you guys get in touch?

Frans part from being some kind of legend in the scene, also used to publish the now cult Vital Weekly zine from late 80s to mid 90s. Nowadays he has switched online of course and you should check it out: We got in touch with Coherent States to review our new releases back then and one thing lead to the other and we agreed on releasing something for him. I had this recording in the vault already and thought I suggest to put it out there as a split release, and there you have it.

16. From the perspective of the listener, even though there are no lyrics it still feels like all your records are trying to speak to the audience. Is there actually a message that your music is trying to convey?

If we were in the 60s I’d encourage you to play my records backwards and find out yourself. But no, there are no intended hidden messages. Maybe what you are hearing is my inner world trying to find its own language.

17. Out of all your recorded material, what is your favorite release and why?

To be honest I like them all equally, each one for its own reasons. For me they double as bookmarks for life events too. The part you can hear plays like a soundtrack for these periods in my head. I’m always more satisfied and at the same time challenged by every last one. A pretty weird sentiment.

18. If you could do a collaboration record with any other artist/project, who would it be?

I tend to observe that people with no musical education or those who are not even aware that this side of music exists at all, tend to have the most interesting and genuinely curious approach when it comes to experiment with it. Or maybe, playing with it. That’s a more proper word for it. I’d work with everyone if I could! Including you reading this right now.

19. What gear do you use to create music? Do you have a favorite piece or a specific gadget which you deem essential?

This is a question that will get you multiple answers depending on when it’s asked. For a while it was an electric upright bass through distortions and loop pedals. Later it was a thrashed snare wire with contact mics. Right now I’m having TONS of fun with Stereo Fields by Landscape which gives a whole new way of expression with it’s unique haptic interface. I’m also waiting on the new Dreadbox Antiphon monophonic synth to be assembled. My anticipation vein is pumping hard!

20.  What are some of your other interests/projects/hobbies outside of Ghone?

I’m working as a freelance graphic designer, concert promoter and production manager. I’m also run Coherent States -a small experimental music label- with my friend Manolis. We have just released an amazing new vinyl record, for the French artist Gaël Segalen, for which I’m really excited to be finally out! You can safely say that Ghone is an extension of my everyday activities.

21. Time for you to ask a question!
Any drone/noise/experimental acts from Serbia to recommend? Pretty lame question, I know, but I’m genuinely curious.

To be brutally honest, aside of a handful of noise/drone projects, I'm not too deep into the genre, so I don't really know of any such bands from these parts. There is an ambient project that I would recommend though, called "Paleowolf". It's an amazing dark tribal ambient inspired by prehistoric ages when humans were still hunter-gatherers. 

21. 2019 is coming to an end, what have been your favorite music releases so far? Any guilty pleasures?

Pleasure shouldn’t go with guilt whatsoever. Having said that I really liked Tyler, The Creator’s new album “Igor” and from the experimental-esque side of music I can’t stop listening to Gaël Segalen’s album we released. But don’t take this as a plug. I’d still be playing this album non stop regardless of the label. It’s just so good! 2019 was a very good year in general. So many interesting new releases. The list would be pretty big and I’m sure I’d leave a bunch titles out, so I’d prefer to restrain myself.

22. Do you have any book/movie recommendations?

I’m not much of a reader nor a cinefile. I really enjoy flipping through my most recent photography book purchase though which is a documentation of the African Ndebele tribe murals. A tradition going back hundreds of years among the women of the tribe with great vibrant colours and forms.

23. What does the future hold for "Ghone"?

Looks like it holds more performances and more traveling. And hopefully new recorded material and collaborations as well. But life is a curious path with many crossroads, so I try not to make long term plans.

24. Do you have any final message to the readers?

I miss Serbia! Hope to have the chance to return sooner than later. I often recall my visits there fondly.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Showcase: Ghone

"Ghone" live @Place by Manos Chrysovergis

"Ghone" is a rather peculiar entity. It is a native of Athens, Greece, found in the dark corners of the city, brooding and composing its tunes in the shadows cast by the ancient temples of the Hellenic pantheon and high-rise buildings of the urban sprawl. It is an extraordinarily rare being, only one of its kind known to exist, currently residing in the body of a musical maestro known as John Kontandreopoulos. John has been a powerhouse for creating a mesmerizing concoction of experimentally ambient noise. Proof of this is that since 2011 he has amassed twelve releases under the “Ghone” tag and has no apparent intention to stop.
Personally, I was exposed to this music by mere accident back in 2012 when “Ghone” opened a show for “Nadja” and Aidan Baker in Novi Sad, Serbia. The epilogue of this concert was phenomenal and all of my thoughts about it back then were summarized in a gig review which I wrote here. I think I wasn’t as nearly as descriptive (edit: annoying) with describing the experience in that article, but the bottom line is that I was severely impressed, both from the audial and the visual perspective. It was stunning to see one person creating such a vast and abundant soundscape, especially considering that the way he performed was completely new to me. Using drumsticks as a tool for playing bass, what? Creating such a massive wall of sound with so little equipment? If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t believe it. Back then such creative insanity was a whole new dimension of music to me and I never saw someone play music live in such a way. All of this immediately made me want to delve deeper into the rest of the music made under the name of “Ghone”. However, in 2012 there was only one other record available on his bandcamp page.

Luceum Sequimur”, recorded and released near the end of 2011, is  the “Ghone” first-born. Consisting of only one song (keep in mind that this is something you’ll notice to be a trend with this artist), a 17 minute long eerie ambient crawl, slowly sucking you in with droning vibrations and tubular resonances. It takes you on a space-like voyage filled with vastness and nostalgia, later on replaced with a much more claustrophobic sounds sprinkled with tiny sporadic tingling noises, as if you just landed on some strange alien planet. The song builds up towards a climactic anti-climax ending, which sounds like a paradox, but it makes sense in a strange way. On one hand, the aforementioned tingling kept hinting that there was going to be something horrific waiting at the end but finishes on such a note that it leaves you hanging and wanting more. Yet on the other hand, to me this represents the branching evolutionary path for future work, which can be visible as such once you view the entire discography as a whole. “Ghone” has just begun playing with your senses and this is simply saying that he will be back and more will follow.
Published as a 3’’ CDr, “Luceum Sequimur” was made to be a limited tour release and has been sold out since then. Worth noting is that it seems like the 3’’ medium has been a favorite of “Ghone”, something that I’m really loving actually, as I am a huge fan of these less popular formats.

A while after I attended the show in Novi Sad I went back to the bandcamp page and I was pleasantly surprised to see the gig recording offered to people as a proper release. Another surprise came in the form of more material, namely “Untitled”, recorded straight to a cassette without further editing. It consists of two songs, together ramping up to 40 minutes in duration. The first track immediately hooks you in with melancholic tones periodically layered with a distant spoken word. The monophonic synthesizer used to perform this provides such a fragile tune which leaves a strong impression on the listener. Some minutes into the song you get thrown into a whirlwind of crazy sounds being generated by a loop station. The whole mid-section of the song is so weirdly layered, sounding like a straight up LSD trip in a room full of twirling memories. Eventually it starts calming down, as if the trip is wearing off, and drifts off into a droning tone.
The second “Untitled” song is my favorite, as it manages to quickly set the overall mood and keeps it strong until the very end. Right from the start you’re faced with vibrating tones building up with intensity, so much so that you are feeling like they are going to lash out at you all of a sudden. The entire song keeps a steady momentum with one specific wave-length of sound, but then along the way it introduces a different pitch or a single note that completely changes the moment, as if you’re discovering a whole new chapter of some unknown story. I got some exceptionally strong cyberpunk vibes from this one, painting images of bleak, rain-soaked dystopian cities in my head.
This release came in an extremely limited physical format consisting of only 10 cassettes, each with a unique handmade collage cover. As you will see, stuff like this is a bit of a “Ghone” signature when it comes to physical releases, as it seems to me that most of them are true works of art by themselves.

To be absolutely honest, after this release I somewhat drifted away from “Ghone” and I failed to come back to it for quite some years. It is only now in 2019. while in the process of resuscitating the blog that I returned to it. During my hibernation “Ghone” was tireless, so once I came back there were nine (9!) new releases waiting for my ears, oh the pleasure!

I decided to listen chronologically, so “Amen.Ophis” was first on the list. Similarly to “Untitled”, this is another two song release and on this occasion it is on the shorter side as far as “Ghone” standards go, consisting of “only” 15-ish minutes of music. Let me tell you immediately, this one could very well be a soundtrack of a mind-bending horror movie.
The first song, “Amen” oozes with dread, a tension-filled composition which provides superb background ambiance for a persistent mantric singing sample. The way it builds up, it truly feels like you’re walking into a cave and stumbling upon an eldritch ritual performed by a cult worshiping some unknown entity. Add to this the fact that throughout the song you can periodically hear some kind of squeaky noise, as if made by a rocking chair, superbly adding eeriness to the already horrific scene.
“Ophis” does not lack in horror either, only this time it takes on a wholly different form, as if the sleeping god was successfully awakened by the previously mentioned ritual. There are these unexpected thumping and explosive electrical shocks which don’t fail to make you feel unnerved somehow. The squeaky noise is present again, this time in the final moments of the song, making the whole release somehow come full circle.
It was fascinating how some of these subtle tones weaved together manage to create certain images in your mind. Who knows what kind of image or inspiration was in John’s head while creating this and maybe I’m completely off with what the “aim” of his music is, but whatever the background and whatever the message, something manages to get across to the listener in a successful way.
To put it mildly, I was impressed. So immediately after I finished listening, I knew that it would be amazing to talk to the person behind “Ghone” and to help spread the word about the music via an interview.

While writing the initial message to get in touch, I put “10.6.2012” as background music. This release comes along with an interesting “one day” concept, meaning that the entire thing was written and recorded within a single day. It is an initiative from “Somehow Ecstatic Records” based in Greece, where they invite numerous artists to have a take on this recording concept. Most of these releases are available for free download on their bandcamp page found here, while the physical format is always limited to 30 hand-numbered copies. Give them a listen.
The contribution to this initiative done by “Ghone” are two surprisingly contrasting pieces. The first track is filled with calming noise, droning you into serenity. It starts off in an aggressive fashion and being exceptionally loud around the 4 minute mark, but the more the song goes on the more it shifts in dynamic and eventually it begins emitting a lulling bass tune. Even the buzzing and crackling of static near the end seems to be calming in a way and the vocal samples bursting through are somewhat assuring.
The second one, to me, was not so relaxing and is somehow a stark difference to the first part of the release. The whole song is infested with some sort of static-induced high pitched wail, which truly tickles the nerves. This crackling noise also permits a deeply low, rumbling growl to vibrate along, which in unity makes you feel like you’re standing in the midst of some lightning-charged electric maelstrom. It certainly gets its point across, whatever that point may be, but I feel like this is not pleasant for every day listening, or at least it isn’t as peaceful as its predecessor.
Ultimately, when you take into account that these two songs are roughly 40 minutes in length, the “one day” thing mentioned above becomes truly impressive.

Varstatg Arre” is by far the shortest “Ghone” track, but the background is interesting. The song is actually a part of a compilation called “Protos Orofos - 4” which includes 13 artists in total. “First Floor”, as the two words translate from Greek, is a group of people who organize concerts for experimental bands, which take place at 1ος Όροφος (“on the first floor”), in Thessaloniki. And thus, a new compilation comes out each year (currently ramping up to issue #11), featuring artists who played the year before. I actually ended up picking the whole #4 compilation from a guy in Serbia and it is worth the listen for every single performer. Highly recommended that you check it out, you can easily find the CD on Discogs for cheap.
As far as “Ghone” goes, the contributed song is short and direct. A slow four minute long drive through static noise enhanced with deep rumbling wobbles and barely noticeable electric tingling.

A year long break followed for “Ghone” only for it to come back better than ever with “Imnissel Mill Dinja”, featuring an hour long monster of a song. The bandcamp page linked below actually has this track split in two, but the CD version features the original full-length. Worth mentioning is that this was recorded as part of a rehearsal for the first “Fresh Music Festival” in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
This release brings me back into “this should be a soundtrack” territory, as this is some unbelievably good ambiance work. “Part 1” features excellent usage of the electric double bass, at times sounding sophisticated and classical, yet at others it seems broken and mad. The deep vibrations of the instrument take you on a 19 minute voyage through some truly desolate soundscapes, pierced by high pitched screeching and feedback that could wake the dead.
“Part 2” continues with this same clash on a much grander scale and it is actually no surprise that these two parts were originally one song. It simply does not let you rest. Every tone produced here is at its maximum, be it in the form of the resonant moaning taking you to new ever-lower depths, of the bass feedback tormented to the point of screaming or even in the form of both these extremes clashing together to form a cacophony of sound.
This second part, at times, reminds me of the soundtrack (surprise, surprise) of the “S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Shadow of Chernobyl” video game, as you continually feel unnerved and on edge during all these twists and turns. Especially near the end when certain smashing sounds are heard and you feel like it’s someone bashing on your door trying to murder you. Superb release and probably one of my favorites!

Half a year later we come to witness the birth of something very interesting. A new chapter of sorts in the history of “Ghone”, the start of collaborative split work with other musicians. Symbolically, the premier one is called “The First Harvest”, a split with Greek experimental post-rock act known as “The Dandelion Fields”. I won’t go too far into reviewing their part of the split, but in short they deliver a grim, bleak and even existentially nihilistic sound. For the most part the songs are peacefully brooding, yet deeply melancholic and sad, especially when you delve deeper into the lyrics.
On the other end of the spectrum, “Ghone” did an excellent job in following up with that specific tone set by the other collaborator. John opted to present a less noisy version of “Ghone”, focusing more on a compressed soundscape. The sounds burst towards you in a rippling motion, as if their full power is contained in an endlessly moving bubble and only snippets of volume come to attack your ears. For the most part it seems like the bubble you’re facing is filled with scratching noises or chains being dragged across a huge hallway made of metal. Near the end of the track there is a bass-infused rumbling sound, reminiscent of the one displayed in “10.6.2012”, but in a calmer tone and thus tying up with the melancholy created by “The Dandelion Fields” part.

Not even a full month after the split “Rushing for Coal” was released. I’m not a 100% sure why, but just by looking at the cover of this one I got excited and I had a clear feeling that this was going to be something different. Writing this now I can say that the feeling was weirdly accurate.
This release has been cut into three songs, all clocking out at around 30 minutes total.  “Somm” is the opening track and it perfectly sets the tone for the entire thing. A somber mix of gloomy synths and soft electrical currents produce a strange feeling of listening to some long forgotten voice message noise decaying in a loop stretched out to infinity. This is continued and expanded upon in “Naam”, which greatly expands the pensive mood, especially in moments when guitar tones are introduced. It paints such a bleak picture in your head, reminding me at times of some works produced by “Earth” on their more dark jazzy albums. The guitar creates excellent dark jazz/folk sounds, completely overtaking the song and taking it into its own direction. This mutates to a whole different level on the final song called “Ruum”, as the guitar takes an aggressive turn creating an echoing wall of distortion. This violent burst of sound is only brief and it seems like it was placed as a cutting point to let more calm notes back in. The synthesizer is back in the spotlight from this spot onward and it somehow takes the sounds from the first song and morphs them into a gentle, almost hopeful and cheery tune.

A hibernation period ensued and roughly two years passed until a new release appeared. Next in line was another split and this time a live one at that! Recorded live at Ypogeio, Thessaloniki on 21st May, 2017, when “Ghone” performed along/with “Six Steps Above The Earth”.
There’s a big contrast when comparing this and “The First Harvest” split. There we saw “The Dandelion Fields” opening and setting the tone which “Ghone” gradually took and morphed, while sticking to the mood previously established. Here, however, the roles swapped and it feels like “Ghone” is building the setting. Opening up with a sample of some beautiful music by Astrud Gilberto (the song “Trains and Boats and Planes”, to be exact), “Ghone” starts slowly piercing the melody with clean, sharp noises. He gradually adds more and more elements, the low growling bass, static showers, gentle folkish guitar tunes changing into resonant feedback. By the end of the 20 minute track you come to a conclusion that this seems like a perfectly condensed showcase of what “Ghone” is. This seems to be an excellent comeback piece after such a long wait.
The second song is actually an introductory jam between “Ghone” and “Six Steps Above The Earth”, which is a really eerie, yet madly entertaining track. They somehow layered the tones well, the former providing consistent shifting ambiance while the latter introduces creepy string plucking melodies. Great improvisational skills on all sides as you feel both contribute with their own tones, sounding broken and perfectly aligned at the same time.
The final part of the split/live is reserved for the split partner, who bring out a slow and noisy drone-inspired doom. A tongue twister for sure, but worth checking out, as I find them to be a solid stage partner for “Ghone”.

Our showcase artist goes to sleep for another two years and comes back with a new split release in 2017, this time with a project called “Modelbau”. Full name of the entire collaboration is “Zagtel Jaar Mileit / Pulse/Phases”.
“Ghone” has been absolutely superb on this one, simply because you can sense the evolution of the project which has been gifted by these yearly breaks. The titular song possesses a sublime note to it, presenting a clean cut amount of noise that is highly technical and accurate. He plays with only a handful of electrical notes, but the culmination of those is no longer a cacophony of harshness, but is instead a precise purring of a well-oiled machine. It oozes with a sense of minimalism that is rich with various elements at the same time.
Same can be said for “Modelbau”, the experimental electronic act of Frans De Waard. The seven tracks that make up “Pulse/Phases” are hitting the ceiling of minimalism with droning ambient tunes which are borderline meditative.

By now it is safe to say that this “two year hibernation” experiment has been an absolute benefit for “Ghone”, as all these releases have been some of my favorites. The same applies to the final addition called “Sram Schet” which saw the light of day in 2019 as a live recording of a show done in April of the same year.
We’re back in soundtrack land and I honestly believe that this is peak “Ghone” material in those regards. This brilliantly horrific track takes you on a 23 minute deep dive into a decaying rust-covered haunted (mad) house. Or post-apocalyptic ruins of a once vastly populated city. Or a thick, vast forest filled with shadows and moving eyes or whichever other scenario gets your spine tingling.  It’s creepy. It’s chilling. It gives you goosebumps. And it’s done perfectly. You hear how “Ghone” plays with sounds, keeping the overall mood at an edge, but adding layers, melding them together, breaking the pattern with unexpected high pitched samples and then putting it back together, but never stopping. It is times like these where I wish the tracks had lyrics, as I imagine that they would have quite a story to tell. Then again, the music paints a far better picture than words ever could.

There you have it ladies and gentlemen, “Ghone” in the smallest of nutshells. Each of the above listed releases is worthy of a longer, proper review. It feels like each of them successfully manages to transfer a unique feeling, which I think a lot of noise artists can’t always achieve.

To sum this whole showcase up, if I had to rank my top 3 “Ghone” releases, my list would look something like this:
#1 - Sram Schet
#2 - Rushing For Coal
#3 - Imnissel Mill Dinja
#honorable mention - split w/ Modelbau (as the #1 split release)

Overall, as mentioned at the start of the showcase, I’m impressed by “Ghone” and have been captivated by it ever since I heard the first tone. Objectively, there are areas where it excels at and some which might be room for improvement. Some tracks are intimidatingly long and they could be a bit shorter while still managing to get the feels across to the listener. This is why I would love to see John exploring some shorter song formats, as I think some of these already existing briefer tracks are surprisingly impactful. Similarly, at times I much more prefer “Ghone” in the clean cut, more minimalistic and technical incarnation, compared to the harsh noise variant simply because I feel like the cleaner ones manage to send a stronger message.
And yet, whatever kind of opinion you have regarding “Ghone”, one thing is for certain. It is a passion project in constant motion and evolution, ever-growing and forever changing. It is a machine fueled by creativity, a thing which it doesn’t seem to run out of, and thus you never truly know what will another release bring. “Ghone” can slow down, but it will never stop.
I hope these little snippets of my thoughts are enough to inspire you to check out this wondrous noise from Greece. You can find the entire discography up on bandcamp found here, some selected works on youtube here and you can also follow “Ghone” on the official facebook page found here.

As promised, this showcase will be shortly followed by an interview I did with John, which will be up on the blog this upcoming Thursday. Great conversation, truly can’t wait to share it with you all. Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Gig review: Ólafur Arnalds

I knew for quite some time that I would be attending this concert, but I wasn't entirely sure if I'll end up writing my thoughts about it afterwards, especially during this period when I've been actively working on the "Jeromes Dream" review (which made me quite exhausted) and the huge showcase/interview that I'll be posting next week. However, the performance was such that it would be a complete loss not to host here. 

Ólafur Arnalds, an Icelandic multi-instrumentalist, needs no introduction, simply because he has been sprouting his roots throughout various corners of the music world. He played drums in “Fighting Shit” and “Celestine”, Icelandic hardcore and post-metal bands respectively, and has contributed various material for “Heaven Shall Burn”. Both bands being quite superb, I might add. He is also part of an experimental techno duo along with Janus Rasmussen of “Bloodgroup”, their joint project called “Kiasmos” which I’m really enjoying lately. During the years he has touched many genres with his solo project, ranging from post-rock, experimental ambient and neoclassicism. Along the way, he has worked with many notable artists, such as “Sigur Rós” and Nils Frahm, to name a few, and has also contributed vastly in the soundtrack world where he eventually won the BAFTA Best Original Music award for the show “Broadchurch” in 2014.
He is also considered a music pioneer along with Icelandic audio developer Halldor Eldjarn, with whom he worked for two years to develop a custom-designed software called “Stratus”. Essentially, a musical system focused on a central piano which, while being played, triggers two different notes on two other self-playing pianos, creating unbelievable melodies and harmonies.
This is all just a brief, condensed background, but it boils down to Ólafur being an exceptionally talented artist making some truly wonderful music, a prodigy only Iceland is capable of raising.
The event took place at “Sava Centar” in Belgrade on 20th of November 2019. It’s a really old place, but one with a rather cult-like status for grandiose events like this and it has been a place of some fond memories for me. The most recent event which I attended here was the “Dead Can Dance” concert a few months back and I was blown away by how exquisite the acoustics of the concert hall were. Truth be told, I was a little skeptical for that gig because the venue is so old and with a bit of a rusty appearance, but the whole event just pushed all those doubts aside and I was actually quite happy that Ólafur will have his performance there. As he mentioned when addressing the crowd during the opening of the show, this was their 142nd (out of 143) concert on the “Re:member” tour which has been spanning for 18 months.
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from the concert and I somewhat went blind into it, as I haven’t really listened to his music all that much. I mostly knew some of his background and have heard a few songs here and there, so in my mind it would be just an enjoyable evening.  
Right from the get go, the concert was a sight to behold. Ólafur came out alone and sat at his piano, a single beam of light high from above focusing on him. Soon enough, he was joined by five other band members, a cellist, a drummer and three violinists, all walking into the darkness and taking their positions. Slowly, each of them began playing, one by one, each note making another ray of light coming down and illuminating them. 
Immediately I have to talk about the lights which were such a key element to the entire performance, as if they were the final member on stage making this group a septet. I have literally never attended an event where the lighting was utilized in such an astounding way. Not only was it beautiful aesthetically, but there was a real artistic merit to it, being perfectly synchronized with the music, constantly adapting to almost every created tone. It played such a pivotal part in establishing and enhancing the atmosphere that you cannot take it away from the music.
The music itself was divine. “Þú ert jörðin”, “re:member”, “Verses”, “Ypsilon”, “Ekki Hugsa” and “Near Light” are just some of the songs which spread through the concert hall that evening. The audience was grasped and taken on a hundred minute otherworldly journey. Collectively, we even actively participated in the said journey, when Ólafur asked the crowd to sing so that he can record it and add it to a song. For the most part, everyone in the crowd was stunned by the spectacle and there would always be dead silence near the end of a given song, everybody patiently waiting for the very last tone to go mute so that we could all burst into applause and cheer. There were moments where the piano would be so very quiet, almost as if it was not playing at all, and you could sense the electricity in the air as hundreds of people sit on the edges of their seats, so deeply focused and absorbing the moment.
There’s a pure lack of words when trying to describe music like this. It was so mesmerizing to literally see and hear all these beautifully weaved melodies playing with and rearranging your momentary emotions. So many perfectly clear, gentle, somber,  melancholic, uplifting and epic tones, but all together so very powerful and moving. You simply can’t sum that up in writing. I like to explain this to myself in a way that such music is created by not only genuinely talented individuals, but by those who are also able to tap into something deep down in their soul, a thing so pure and primordial, and transfer it into music.
The last, but absolutely not the least, song which Ólafur performed alone during an encore was “Lag fyrir ömmu”, which he explained was a song he dedicated to his late grandmother. So pure and wonderful, as he has also been while previously addressing the audience, the last tones echoing that evening in Belgrade were deeply moving. 

In the end, this was an evening blessed with truly magical music. It is one of those events which you experience and then you go home with your soul feeling warm and comfortable. It’s an experience which doesn’t hit you hard, but instead it lingers on you for the days to come and makes you smile because somewhere in the back of your mind you still hear some of those beautiful piano melodies playing. It doesn’t blow your mind, but it does take your breath away.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Gig review: Jeromes Dream

I was trying to do my best to have this review (and one other planned post) crammed into October, but writing the previous wall of text and gathering my thoughts on this one was an endeavor. Sitting here now in front of my laptop and trying to believe that I'm ready to spill out my emotions about the concert, I'm honestly still not sure if the thoughts have all settled down.

Thanks to a work related trip I managed to see "Cult of Luna" play in Gothenburg, but the maddening thing about the whole thing was that the trip got booked literally on the same evening when JD announced their European tour. Initially I saw the dates and most places where I usually travel for concerts were during my stay in Sweden and this was disheartening, to say the least. There was absolutely no chance that I would miss them and somehow I managed to come up with a plan, so a handful of hours after the announcement I bought tickets for the show in Vienna and tickets for a connected flight scheduled for some hours after "Cult of Luna" which would first land me in Berlin and then into the Austrian capital. Mad 24 hours, that's for sure.
Wien Arena is located in a sort of industrial section of the city close to the Danube river, on its western bank. As much as I have managed to understand the location, Arena is actually a group of multiple venues of different shapes and sizes. This concert in particular took place in the Kleine Halle (small hall) which is divided into three connected rooms, featuring a bar, a room with a merch table and the stage space, aesthetically perfect for a hardcore show with lots of cool posters and interesting names up on the walls.
Already we slowly creep to the part of the review where I have to stop and start thinking about how am I going to structure the rest of the text. In reality, this whole thing was written backwards somehow, since I first wrote the more heartfelt second half of the review and then I scrolled back to the start to compile the more technical part. I completely spilled the emotional beans, but then I realized this will end up looking more like a diary entry than a concert review, so the cold technicalities simply needed to be done.

"Jeromes Dream" truly needs no introduction. For those unfortunate enough to not be familiar with the name, they are a 3-piece screamo band formed in Connecticut, USA way back in 1997, and being extensively active up until 2001 when they broke up. Those four fruitful years gave birth to numerous releases, most of which were splits with other notable projects such as "Amalgamation", "Usurp Synapse" and "Orchid", to name a few. They went above and beyond with the way they played, exploding on the music scene with an extremely violent incarnation of screamo, masterfully using screeching guitar feedback and unexpected outbursts of melodically melancholic tempo drops. By far the definite thing that sets them apart from any other band is the decision to not use a microphone for live performances and most of their recorded material. Hearing the raw power of the vocals, grasping the idea and the message behind it, realizing the passion needed to perform in such a way, is truly mind blowing. This "style" of screaming was a perfect clash of destructive energy, an almost painfully aggressive wail, but so pure and sincere at the same time. Truly a one of a kind characteristic which can't be found anywhere else. 
Without any kind of exaggeration, they are one of the most influential bands of the genre and their legacy has lived on to this day, almost two decades later. We all woke up from the dream back in 2001, but since then we fell asleep and the dream came back in 2018 when it was announced that they are recording new music. So here we are now, one year and one new "LP" later.
The show was everything that I have hoped for and so much more beyond that. They were fast, chaotic and remorseless, but above everything else they radiated with pure, unbridled passion. It's worth noting that the latest release was somewhat done as a culmination of pre-"Presents" and "Presents" era, combined with two decades worth of musical evolution of the band members. The most controversial thing about it, again, are the vocals, since the band still keeps generating the hate of some of the listeners due to the so called "robo-voice" which initially showed up in their final 2001 record. Not to get too deep into it (not like this review will lack in length), but I fall on the bandwagon of people who love the vocal changes, despite the fact that I absolutely adored the no-microphone act and consider it the "Jeromes Dream" signature. Personally, "Double Who? Double You!" is in my top 5 JD songs for sure, so to me it came almost natural that they continue with a similar style on the "LP".
Again worth noting is that similarly to how I think the new record is a amalgamation of all their collected work and growth into an album, so did their performance feel the same way. Jeff sounded insanely good, as if he was performing in all his recorded styles all at once. The aggression, the passion, screaming into the microphone in a way that did sound "robotic" yet fragile and genuinely human at the same time. The instruments were poised to collapse the venue with the sheer force released, the constant beating, rending and maniacal rhythm bursts and shifts. Their setlist was composed of mostly new material, but they managed to nudge in a few oldies, most notably "It's More Like A Message To You" which hit me like a truck since it is one of my favorite songs overall.
30 minutes and one broken guitar string later, they finished. After so much chaos and rushed heart beats it was done. Silence. I felt like I was drifting, physically I was present, but the mind was stunned. So much so that it didn't even occur to me that the band is still there at the small venue and that the chances to bump into one of them was high. I moved a bit into the room where the merch desk was, trying to just get a grip of myself, and then I accidentally notice Jeff walking past me. My initial response was null, I didn't want to disturb him and somehow I felt like I was lacking the trigger which I always had previously on shows where I would almost always say hi to band members and thank them for the gig. Guess I'm getting old.
Despite this, almost instinctively in a second I was close to him, tapping him on the shoulder. And it was... such a weird encounter for me. There I am, just some random person from the crowd, and there he was, also just some random person playing some music. But it just so happens that this specific music and this particular band means something to me, without me knowing why and what exactly. It has simply existed in my life for so many years, rooted in a particularly special place in my heart. The music that was present through love and loss, hope and tragedy, through inspiration and depression, invoking so many different emotions that I can't even begin to describe all of them.
My memories of this band aren't as vivid as those of "Cult of Luna" in the previous review. I can't remember the first song I heard or when and where I heard it. I can't recall how and why they stuck with me. Discovering screamo back in the day was a chaotic experience for me, I fell into the genre and I was flooded by the amount of bands which were so damn superb. There is only the memory of "Saetia" being the absolutely first screamo tune which echoed in my ears, but after them the sheer number of amazing projects just overwhelmed me.
At some unknown spot in time, somewhere deep in that ever-turbulent vortex of music, two bands emerged. "Mihai Edrisch" and "Jeromes Dream", the names which rose up and stood tall as my absolutes, not just within the screamo genre, but overall. And even to this day, so many years later, they are still there for me and still I don't know why.
"Jeromes Dream" has been the band. Where swarms of bands came and went, their music stuck with me, maybe simply because they truly did succeed in stirring up emotions. Among many of those sensations were feelings of nostalgia and melancholy in the tunes, which were always highlighted by the fact that they were a band from the 90's who broke up by the time I discovered them and I would never see them perform. They were a youthful trio doing something unbelievably unique and powerful, there were awe-inspiring stories to their name and horribly recorded live shows which, even despite the bad quality, were nothing short of groundbreaking. Many bands of that era have been long dead by the time I discovered them, but somehow the death of "Jeromes Dream" disturbed me.
It's so hard writing this without being too emotional. It's hard writing this at all, in fact. I'm inexplicably happy that I managed to see them play live and actually thankful that I even got a chance to do so... yet, at the same time, I feel extremely sad. The same way that their music can make you feel uplifted and alive, but also cause depressive feelings to erupt, so too did this concert make me feel. I was there with them, witnessing the full spectacle of the chaos they created, but somehow I can't shake the melancholic feeling of sadness that I wasn't present near them some 20 years ago when they initially hit the scene, in the "golden age" so to speak. Not there at the Munoz Gym in Bakersfield, not there for the "Chased by Bees" tour with "Orchid" or not there for some random house show. Especially when I think about the fact that at the time I was a kid living in the war torn part of the European continent, in a country that was bombed for months in 1999, completely displaced from a part of the world where some other kids were focused on creating music and where something truly magical was happening. I was displaced and unable to physically be there on shows to support them. I don't know why, but all these thoughts weigh heavily on me.
But maybe all this was what made seeing them so surreal to me. They were a cherished possession which got lost in the past, even though I never actually owned it, yet felt tremendously connected to. I finally had my chance to be a part of that experience and I would be lying if I said that it didn't change something in me. I'm sitting now at my laptop (at work actually), listening to the "Completed" CD and my heart is just rushing with invigorated passion. It feels as if I'm hearing them for the first time again and it's hard to suppress tears in my eyes. I am again that kid in the 90's discovering screamo for the first time, so ardent and full of energy. This is pure proof of timelessness of the music, always invoking something in you, no matter how, when and where you hear it. And for a short, 30 minute glimpse I finally had a chance to be a part of something that has always been my dream.
And it is such a strange phenomenon, not just in and through music, but in and through life as well, that we might touch, inspire, move or change other people, without even being, or in fact ever being, aware of this. And I believe I saw genuine surprise and amazement in Jeff's eyes when I approached him and said "thanks". Himself, Erik and Nick do something they love, for themselves, but that love spreads through all the speakers playing their music and it does touch other people.
Some minutes later, I was off home. I simply couldn't stay. I saw Erik standing at the merch desk, but I was just so emotionally exhausted, completely lost in all these thoughts and feelings. I also couldn't bring myself to conceptualize the fact that "Jeromes Dream" would be an opening act for some other band, no matter which band it was. To "Daughters", I am sorry. I'm fully aware that you deserved my attendance and I'm certain that I'll respect that on some other occasion, but just not now.
At the start of the review I wrote that I'm not sure if my thoughts have settled and even though there are many words in this text I don't think they have. I don't think they ever will, at least not enough to express them verbally. I simply feel like crying out of joy, nostalgia or whatever third thing that is charging through my mind as I write this, again literally holding back tears even as I'm done writing everything and am just editing the review. It is that kind of experience, one that I have been trying to materialize in writing for numerous days after the gig and I could continue trying, but I'll never truly manage to explain to someone why this meant so much to me. I guess the bottom line and the point of all this is the same very first thing I said to Jeff after I tapped him on the shoulder, "thank you for everything".

Monday, October 28, 2019

Gig review: Cult of Luna, Brutus

I did a fair share of travelling for the past ten or so days, thanks to which I managed to attend two extremely important shows for two nights in a row, back to back. It took me several days to process this information and to gather my thoughts, but now I'm finally ready to share my impressions with you. Buckle up!

Pustervik was the place hosting the show that night and it is a venue that I've grown quite fond of, not only because of its physical excellence, but also because I have already seen some amazing bands there, like "Neurosis" for example. It is located at one of my favorite spots in Gothenburg and the building always lures my eyes to take a peek whenever I'm passing by. Once you enter, you're greeted with a long bar and a slight curve around the corner leading you into a huge gig hall with yet another bar, merch desk and a spacious stage. Every time I visited the club was packed with people, yet despite the high numbers there always seemed to be just enough room for everyone to hang out without a hassle. All this is backed up by superb sound quality. In all honesty, I don't think I've ever visited a venue with such crisp acoustics, literally every band I heard there seemed like you're listening to them directly in the recording studio.
"This Gift Is A Curse" opened the show and I managed to grandiosely miss them. I literally walked in on their last song at the moment when they were wrapping it up. This made me so sad and irritated, since the concert tickets stated that the doors were opening at 19:00 and the show starts at 20:00. I was at the venue at eight sharp and the first band was already closing?! I've been burned by the organizers like this a number of times now, guess I need to finally learn my lesson.

The first band from my perspective that evening was "Brutus", a trio from Belgium which formed back in 2013. Even though they have quite some years under their belt along with 2 albums and numerous live performances, their music somehow managed to stay away from my radar, so I actually discovered them thanks to this show. As soon as I saw their name on the line-up I checked them out and the initial song I listened to was "War", the live version from Rain City. The song got my head swinging and my eyebrow raising from being impressed, so I was like "ALRIGHT, this will be great live". And I was absolutely right, I'll tell you that.
"Brutus" packs a swift and solid punch, swinging between the lines of mellow post-rock and vicious hardcore punk infused with math-like precision. The said line is extremely blurry and most of the times you don't know what comes next, the soundscape ranging between melodic and chaotic, technical and raw, almost dream pop-ish and downright aggressive. Saying this applies not only to the instrumental section, but also to the vocals, as Stefanie (singer/drummer) transforms from sounding like an angel one moment and then like a demon the next. It is absolutely mind blowing to me how anyone could pull off doing both of these all the while playing drums as well, not only creating just any kind of random sound, but coherent, creative and high quality at that!
Truth be told, at certain moments you can hear that their sound forcefully comes to a drastic tempo drop just so that she can manage to inject singing and still keep playing her kit at the same time. Like I said before, I find it extremely impressive that she can pull off both, you truly don't get to see that often, but the sound somehow loses momentum because of it. This is not a flaw, simply a manifestation of a physical limitation which is reflected in the music. Being a project of constant contrasts which manages to bend and weave their sound exceptionally well, I feel like this "limitation" successfully anchors their sound in place, otherwise it would drift off all over the place. Either way, this was a great performance and I'd make another effort to see them live at any given time. Definitely check them out, you can do so on their website here.

The way I usually write reviews is that I just throw down all the things that pop into my head on the subject. A bit of an intro and then I might jump all the way down to the outro, then maybe cover second band, venue, first band, bits and pieces flying all around. Literally every section would get some part of the text until I, in the end, collect it all together and form a cohesive article. 
This review I somehow stepped away from that process... or, more honestly, I was blocked from it. I wrote almost the entire thing without writing a single thing about the main band of the evening. As I write this, I still feel the difficulty and the hesitation to get to it. I look below this piece of text at the band name which I usually write down to declare it as their section. "Cult of Luna". It is an intimidating beast blocking my path. I feel compelled to pay respects to this entity before I can descend further down into my thoughts and make sense of all these emotions.
Rewinding the time back some 15+ years into the past, the vast majority of my overall introduction to music was through my older brother. Even though he is just a year older than me, he picked up an interest in music from a young age due to getting into guitar playing as his hobby which naturally led him to pay attention to the music world. Although he landed into punk relatively fast, the range of genres which he was versed in was impressive back then. I was a bit late to the party (although still extremely young at the time), but as soon as he sniffed out my interest in heavier music he took it upon himself to show me as many bands as possible. I'd sit in front of my PC with numbers upon numbers of CDs and burned music and I devoured all of it.
However, some bands managed to slip through the cracks and remain unnoticed for a while. But not for long, not forever. I clearly remember that one faithful evening. A weekend, spending the night home alone, frustrated that a couple of days previously a broken hard drive resulted in me losing all my music. It was time to load up the new one with my desired music so I was digging through my brother's CDs. Several of those were pride possessions, DVDs with scores of bands burned on them. One of those had a peculiar name which I somehow missed before... "Cult of Luna". No album name, no song titles, just numbers 1 through 10. I scoffed at this, being annoyed at the shitty disorganized pirated copy of the album. But then again, the name made me unable to click away and close the folder. "Cult of Luna". It stuck in my mind for a moment, resonating with some strange sensation, a mystifying veil of something unknown, deadly, yet tempting. I pressed play.
A short noise-induced introduction sucked me into their music and the rest absolutely crushed me. Whatever the names of those songs were, the sounds that were coming out of those speakers obliterated me. For more than an hour I sat there, listening to the entirety of the album in one go, periodically moving to increase the volume until the knob just wouldn't budge any further. Again... And again... I listened to all of it several times in a row and I was utterly consumed. This band was such a monster of insane proportions that I was simply not equipped to understand back then. After many hours of listening just to these ten songs, I sat a bit in silence and then went to bed, trying to gather my thoughts and contemplate on what I just experienced and why on Earth did such a behemoth remain hidden from me for so long.
What I know today as the album named "The Beyond" literally changed me. It completely morphed my perception of music and how massive, impactful, atmospheric and purifying it can be. To this day I consider this collection of songs to be absolutely divine and deserving of reverence, in a way self-worthy of its name, and I'm always moved and shook up by listening to it.
Now the beast moved away from my path and we may thread ever downward. For those living under a rock, like I did apparently, "Cult of Luna" is a band from Sweden formed way back in 1998 as an epilogue of one other project disbanding. Ever since they hit the scene they have been persistent with an extremely heavy post-metal, sludge-infused sound, which has always been unique and innovative. All these years after their conception they have had a score of releases, collaborations, tours and an overall vast background which any band could be envious of.
The cult assembled that night, seven members on stage and a swarm of followers hungry and waiting. Their tidal wave of sound flooded the venue and I instantly felt the same way I did so many years ago when I first heard their music. 3 guitars, a bass, two drummers and a keyboard, the massiveness of all those sounds is nigh indescribable. Try to imagine the sheer chaos and strength of the tones that so many people can create... the reality is much more grander than you can envision. It is an amalgam of world shattering shock waves which attack all of your senses, created by seven talented musicians playing their instruments with a violent passion. At this point I think it is actually worth noting what the overall setlist looked like:

"The Silent Man"
"I: The Weapon"
"And With Her Came the Birds"
"Lights on the Hill"
"In Awe Of"
"Passing Through"
"The Fall"

When the songs are put down on paper like this, it shows the brilliance of this live performance in so many ways. They kicked it off with "The Silent Man", a ten minute epic track from their latest album called "A Dawn To Fear", followed by "Finland", an almost classic "Cult of Luna" song. The former was a superb impact hit, demonstrating the above mentioned massiveness of sound, yet also showing the crispness of the quality despite the chaos. The latter completely sealed the deal, fully showcasing the ability of the band to shape a fascinating atmospheric soundscape by getting close to touching the post-rock genre. I almost forgot how beautiful this song is and they succeeded in nudging me back to it. The show moves onward with "Nightwalkers", a highly aggressive, yet somehow weirdly droning sound, which then morphs into "I: The Weapon", again with a touch of post-rock. "And With Her Came the Birds" stops everyone in their tracks as a perfect middle track, the band dishing out an astounding dark jazz/folk masterpiece. 
There was a certain kind of movement within the song selection, a sort of ebb and tide flow corresponding to the Moon. The moods, song tempos, the variance in aggression, it was all swinging constantly. In the end, the show ended with sounds of "The Fall", a truly poetic choice for one last crescendo:

"...In the fall came the rain
Flooded the fields
Cleansed what remained
With new eyes she appears
But I am no longer here."

One final note I have to make was that the two sets of drums were an absolute highlight for me. The only other time when I managed to see two drummers play live was open air on Fluff Fest in 2011, listening to "Year Of No Light" (which you can read here) and I was stunned. Here, in a closed space packed with people the impact of the sound was increased a tenfold. My body was constantly vibrating with tremors and it felt like I was being stomped on the chest. If I recall well, this was especially present during "Nightwalkers" and it was magnificent.

There are a lot of words in this review, probably the longest gig report I wrote thus far, but despite having so much to say now I left the concert completely speechless. Truth be told, this was difficult to write since I was so shook up after it. And I still am, as it took me several days to write the part of the text which addressed "Cult of Luna". It was as if I was reliving that night from so many years ago when I first discovered them. I needed silence and time to digest. I've been wanting to see them for years and now that desire has finally been satisfied, expecting a lot but getting so much more. I hope you enjoyed the review!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Sun Worship - Surpass Eclipse EP (2013)

October turned out to be a busier month than I initially expected, mostly since I have been bouncing between being sick for a number of days, the LoL World Championship (yes, I used to play a lot of league a few years ago and love watching professional games) and now being stuck on a work-related trip. Despite this, I've been itching to sit down and write a review, so tonight seems to be the night when I finally sit down with a drink and let my written words do the talking.

Coming out of the submission box is a peculiarly captivating creation from Germany, a trio which conjures a rather interesting take on black metal. To give you a brief historical summary of the band before we delve deeper into their music, the first spark which they crafted came in the form of a demo way back in 2011, closely followed by a split with "Earth Chaos" in 2012 and then this EP saw the light of day a year later. They have a total of eight releases, having five additional releases which come after "Surpass Eclipse", the newest being their live show recorded on the famous Roadburn Festival in 2018. These guys seem to be working hard non-stop and the sheer number of their material speaks volumes. To be completely honest, for the purposes of this review I limited my knowledge of their music to "Surpass Eclipse" only, since I knew that I would end up straying all over their releases if I jumped in too deep.
So, what's so interesting about this EP? To begin with, the band could be put in the basket of the Cascadian black metal sub-genre and they immediately manage to shine next to the likes of "Wolves in the Throne Room", "Panopticon", "Ash Borer" and many other well-established names, yet at the same time they successfully make your blood freeze with the classic Norwegian sound of desolation.
The EP opens up with a song called "Castle High" and it instantly jumps at you with remorseless tremolo riffs, reminiscent of the already mentioned tones of the northern European wastes. The intense blast beats carry you all the way to the end of the song, yet the sound overall isn't as static as some black metal acts tends to be. There's a sort of vibration flowing through and moving the tones, subtle variations of sound which make the overall experience extremely melodic. 
A complete contrast to this is the second, and final, song named "Eclipse", which starts off in the same vein as its predecessor, but only to fall down entirely after the three minute mark. What ensues is a droning melody filled with melancholy and a gradual incline towards atmospheric screaming and a slow feedback-enhanced fade out. I enjoyed this track quite a lot, as it is a true mood setter.
Judging by these two songs, or in other words by the entirety of this EP, it is these sudden atmospheric changes where the band excels at. They somehow manage to weave a specific ambiance for the listener and these drops and tempo shifts are successfully nudging you in the proper direction. The initial fast speed sets you on a specific path, but then the contrasts provide such an impact that it makes you feel like you don't know what to expect around the corner of the next riff.
Additionally, the sound itself is raw enough to evoke the well-known sensations of listening to black metal, yet at the same time clean enough to deliver a discernible message. That is a fine thin line that needs to be balanced and it seems that "Sun Worship" manage to thread on it properly.
My only complaint about this release is that it is simply too short. I feel that an inclusion of one more song could properly display the full range of creativity of this band, because the current shortness somehow seems to leave things unsaid. On the flip-side, you could consider this as a sort of teaser for what is yet to come from this band and it's possible that I'm just being picky and hungry for more.
The bottom line is that this band is certainly capable of delivering an explosion of a recording which is a superb entry level for people who just discovered "Sun Worship". As stated above, the band is still going strong to this day and I've had a very dear friend from Germany confirm to me that they are still great indeed, without a second thought.
Before I wrap this review up, I'd like to take a few lines and let everyone know that the band is doing a 10-day tour in the following weeks, so in case you like their tunes I highly recommend making an effort to try and catch them live. I have copied the dates below, but you can also check them out and get in touch with the band on their facebook page found here.

"Emanations of Desolation" Tour 2019
25 Oct - Berlin // Zukunft am Ostkreuz
26 Oct - Mannheim // Forum
27 Oct - Bern // Reitschule Cafete
28 Oct - Metz // La Chaouée
29 Oct - Liège // Kultura
30 Oct - Tilburg // Little Devil
31 Oct - Köln // Halle am Rhein
01 Nov - Utrecht // dB's
02 Nov - Bielefeld // JZ Stricker
03 Nov - Hamburg // Rote Flora

That's all for now, I hope that you enjoyed the review and that you will give these guys a listen, this release definitely puts them under my spotlight. My sincere apologies to the band for having to wait so long for the review, it somehow breaks my heart to realize that I have neglected your music for so long. I truly hope this review makes up for the lost time. Until next time, see you later everyone, I've got some more "Sun Worship" tunes to discover!

Monday, September 30, 2019

Little Mountains We Move...

...or how elated I am about seeing the blog alive again! This post is here just to give you a brief end/start-of-the-month update on what is coming up, since there are some additions to the blog that I'm excited about.

The first thing I definitely feel the need to talk about are the physical submissions which I have received way back from when the blog was fully active in 2011/2012. As mentioned in the introduction of the "Enemies" review, I've already went ahead and sorted out the box of submissions. Most of those have been completed and posted, yet some still remain untouched. I know it has been years since these were sent to me, but I feel fully committed to reviewing all of that material. Sadly, the majority of those bands/projects have disbanded, but I would like to honor their trust in me, even if it was from back then and even if none of those people might care about it anymore. Somehow it's the least I can do.
Another point worth mentioning are all the unanswered e-mails that are in the NWNP inbox. It contains literally hundreds of unread messages, all from bands wanting to be covered here. I have already started to slowly reply to some of those, some I am getting replies to and some are, again sadly, not active projects anymore and nobody seems to monitor those addresses or might not care to respond. Whatever the case, if a reply comes back to me, I will surely do reviews, but it's just a matter of getting confirmation that they are still interested and me having overall approval to host their material.
One of the things that got me super excited when I wrote the comeback post was the inclusion of other music genres (aka whatever the hell music I enjoy) on here. This gave birth to an idea of how to actually go and cover those projects. I'll include a new kind of post tag called "Showcase" where I will write a potentially long article about a specific artist and their full discography, somehow trying to deconstruct and analyze their music. This kind of post will especially be tied to an idea to also do interviews with said artists, so a showcase would be a sort of prelude to an actual interview. I actually have a confirmed interview and I want to do a showcase for it, both scheduled to be up in the upcoming month. The artist in question was mentioned previously on the blog on one occasion, but was never fully covered. I'm both excited and afraid of writing such a deep, analytical text, but I hope it will be something that I'll manage to pull off, so we'll see how this pans out.
I had some more updates that I wanted to share with you, but realized along the way that there's no way I'll manage to cram all of those into October. For now, these points are enough and they are a good road for me to focus on. I have a ton of ideas at present, but I don't want to make promises I can't keep. It is slow progress, but eventually it will be in full swing again and so far I'm happy how everything is shaping up. This is also in part thanks to a steady influx of readers which is an enormous motivational force for me. Thank you for the continued interest, it is good to be back.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Gig review: Mgła, Martwa Aura

It is always a curiosity for me to see a band name appear twice on the main page and I think the last time that this happened was when I was riding along with "Vestiges" back in 2012. That adventure was pre-planned however, but this one came as an unexpected surprise.

Gig took place on September 18th in "Dom Omladine" ("Youth Center") in Belgrade. Truth be told, I haven't been there since 2017 when I saw "Alcest" play, something that I completely failed to review which is actually bad because their concert was excellent. In the back of my mind I'm thinking about doing a late review of all those shows I didn't talk about, but we'll see, that's a topic for another occasion. In any case, this is one of those cult-status venues that never lets you down and I absolutely adore it due to its sheer spaciousness and the fact that it always has superb sound quality.
Worth mentioning is that the information which I saw regarding this gig was that it was completely sold out. I caught this the day after the show and it made me insanely happy, especially when you could see literally everyone going out of the venue with amazement on their faces. Warms my heart to know that so many people love "Mgła" in Belgrade.
Right off the bat, I was somewhat late to the gig and I completely missed the opening band "Dagorath". This fact sucks and is sad, but what can you do. I talked a little bit about them with a friend who also attended and she seemed extremely pleased, so it might be a good idea to do some homework and listen to their recordings.

The first band that I did see live that night was "Martwa Aura" and I'll give my Slavic-speaking readers one try to guess what the name means. For those not fluent, it means "dead aura" and for some reason I find that name to be extremely evocative. Truth be told, I was not familiar with the Polish quintet, but after their performance I definitely got the wish to check out what they offer on recordings. The funeral black metal band from Poznan kicked it off instantly. No talking, no theatrics, minimal movement on stage. The main focus definitely falls on the singer who is a truly imposing figure, drawing attention with his slow, hulking movement and a commanding aura, if you will.
Their set was fast, aggressive and at times exceptionally melodic. The drums were a joy to focus on, since some songs featured interesting changes of rhythm, all the while the string section was shredding without a break. What I found to be unique about their sound was the addition of clean vocal singing. It seemed so well placed, especially during intense moments when the instrumental section was chaotic yet the singing added a contrast which was almost soothing.
"Martwa Aura" was definitely a pleasant surprise of the evening. Be sure to check them out, you can do so on their bandcamp page here or get in touch with them via facebook page here.

I would never manage to guess that I'll be seeing "Mgła" play twice, let alone in such a short time span and even less in my hometown. As I was listening to their new, recently released album called "Age Of Excuse" and then also re-listening their older material prior to this show, I came to realize that I was still under extreme impression from their previous concert. That entire journey to Szalki-Sziget along with the time spent on the festival and finally "Mgła" itself (about all of which you can read here) was an endeavor drenched in passion and I jumped into it without much thought, heart first. I was entirely consumed by various emotions for those two days that the entire thing somehow resonated within me even after so much time. This time around however, I decided to reset and cool down, so that I could experience the show clearheaded and with a bit more technical approach.
This plan turned out to be impossible, since this band doesn't care what your current state of mind is. The chilled out attitude was immediately crushed the second they got up on stage. The seemingly familiar beast was in front of me again and it shattered me without hesitation once again. They do this within the first chord and it is unbelievable how their sound induces some kind of entranced state of mind where time is irrelevant and you completely forget about your surroundings, your complete focus is on their music. I experienced this only with a handful of bands and it is a merit worthy of coronation. 
There's just something utterly fascinating about watching them play live, this time directly from the front row. I was staring at their guitar player who was just a few steps away from me and I couldn't help but notice how he reminded me of a sculpture by Antoni Pujol (this one) and then realizing that this menacing figure is performing a song about nihilism, civilizational spread of rot, death and the bleakness of existence... and there is just something entrancing and grotesque about the entire scene.
And what to say about the sound of the hooded quartet other that it is a force to be reckoned with, simple as that. Their signature was as strong as ever, a remorseless and relentlessly thrilling tempo that doesn't stop for a second. It's impressive to notice the amount of precision and quality that they show while creating such a raw and violent sound, since they truly sounded as good as on their recorded material. I have to say that the overall quality was so much better than the previous time when I saw them play, especially regarding the clearness of the vocals. This is largely in part because of the venue. The acoustics of the space superbly supported this audible onslaught and the band was free to unleash whatever kind of destruction they deemed fitting. Some tunes I've heard before, others were new to my ears. "Exercises in Futility I", "Age of Excuse II", "Mdłości II", "With Hearts Towards None VII", these are just some of the songs that echoed in Belgrade that night (you can see the full setlist on the trophy I managed to get after the gig). The previous "Mgła" gig review which I wrote ended with the lines from "Exercises in Futility V", one of my absolute favorite tracks of the band. Back then in Hungary they didn't perform the said song, but it was somehow fitting to end the review with those lines since I personally felt rather exalted that I finally managed to see them play live. However, this time around they did and my entire being was exhilarated to witness this. Like with my review, ending the show with that song seemed perfect in some way, the last sounds dying even after the band itself left the stage minutes ago.

It is difficult writing reviews for bands like this. Even if I go around the fact that I love "Mgła" with a passion and the fact that I might be biased because of these emotions, it is an exhausting task to pick right words because I feel they will hardly do the band justice. In fact, I think this review is a chaotic piece of nonsense and that it is too short to express everything on my mind. But I find it okay to post, since I'm also under the impression that senseless texts without any proper structure speak volumes by themselves. It might simply be another form of being "stunned", "speechless" or "mind blown". Maybe it's too soon to write a review, because all these  chaotic thoughts haven't matured in my mind yet. Or maybe this is just proof of "Mgła" being one of those bands which can't be confined by words. Maybe...

"Acknowledge healthy confusion..."