FREELOADER: TECH METAL EDITION
Welcome to the latest edition of “Freeloader,” in which we review albums that you don’t have to feel like a douche for downloading for free. Today Satan Rosenbloom reviews a few albums by bands that play their instruments way better than you do.
Karkajou – Let There Be Blight (self-released)
The members of Michigan three-piece Karkajou wear tie-dye t-shirts in their fun-loving promo shots. It makes them look more like The Monkees than the progressive death metal merchants that they are. But once you read through the cheeky liner notes of Let There Be Blight, and notice how Karkajou’s songs veer between environmental policy critique and predicting the creation of a new form of pornography with the power to destroy the universe, you get the sense that this is a band that takes its lack of seriousness seriously.
It’s easy to swallow the sophomoric humor on Let There Be Blight when it’s accompanied by such oddball groove-metal tunes like “Embryonic Lethality” or “From Hive to Grinder.” Even if the Karkajou’s music isn’t as distinctive as that of Deadsea’s or Dysrhythmia’s or Stinking Lizaveta’s, the band’s still one of the most balanced power trios I’ve ever heard in metal – nobody solos, nobody dominates, and yet everyone shreds. It’s a true rarity to hear musicians use their chops to serve the composition rather than the ego. That by itself makes Karkajou worth listening to.
LASTLY: Two members of Karkajou wrote me on the same day to tell me that the band’s new album was available. One of them told me that the band had recently broken up. I hope the other one knows, otherwise there’s a bassist somewhere in Ann Arbor wondering why his bandmates haven’t shown up to practice for six months.
(3 1/2 out of 5 horns up)
Download Let There Be Blight for free here.
Capture the Sun – Capture the Sun (self-released)
Maine’s Capture the Sun have more in common with Scale the Summit than the instrumental quartet status and a “XXXXX the XXXXX” band name. There’s also a tendency towards outsized song titles (compare CtS’s “Aurora Borealis: The Northern Lights” or “Creation of Cities and Empires” with StS’s “Shaping the Clouds” or “Origin of Species”) that offer a readymade sense of grandeur in case you can’t find any in the music.
I sense the drama in Capture the Sun’s music. I hear all the dynamic song structures, and marvel at the superb bass/guitar counterpoint. So why does Capture the Sun feel so… safe? Maybe I’d be put off by any band that quotes Rite of Spring, as Capture the Sun do on opener “A War Is Coming to This Island,” and then proceeds to banish Stravinsky’s spirit with a string of adventuresome-yet-obvious instrumental workouts. Or maybe I just get irritated when a band’s packaging and presentation suggest emotional and philosophical plateaus that their music can’t help but miss. It’s one of life’s great mysteries how a bunch of soundwaves of different frequencies, purely psychic phenomena really, can make us feel. There is beauty in the ambiguity of sound, and the finest instrumental music can address that ambiguity. Capture the Sun aren’t ambiguous – they’re pretty clearly going for things like triumph and awe. And they don’t get there.
(2 out of 5 horns up)
Name your price for Capture the Sun here.
Moths – Demo 2011 (self-released)
Chris Hull, the vocalist/lyricist for Pittsburgh tech-death band Moths, recently graduated college with a writing degree. While you wouldn’t guess his academic pedigree by hearing him abrade his larynx all over Moths’ two-song demo, there’s definitely something writerly about his lyrics. Few metal wordsmiths express loneliness as eloquently as Hull does on “Scabeater:” “We all obsess on the fading beauty of flying wasps / Hoping that maybe we can avoid the sting / I sign the deeds to houses I don’t own / Because if I stay surrounded I’m not alone.”
A less compelling lyric sheet would be no match for the knotty death metal etudes on this demo. Sounding something like a less focused Neuraxis, or perhaps Dillinger Escape Plan on Ritalin, Moths shred and hammer and grind with purpose. No doubt there’s some riff salad here – Moths could work on developing their riffs rather than just stringing them together. But unlike so much tech-death, there’s usually some kind of harmonic payoff, and they are unfailingly groovy, no matter how tech they get. Seven minutes of tech is a lot to take (Moths do it twice in a row here). It’s a good sign that it remains listenable the whole way through.
(3 1/2 out of 5 horns up)
Download Demo 2011 for free here.