The Wind in the Trees – Architects of Light
As a jumping-off point for this review, I would like to share a personal anecdote: I was raised by the Internet, and a family that loves music. If you also grew up online as a kid who loves music, the Kind of Guy you are (in relation to music) could change from week to week. One week, you’re Guy Who Listens to Radiohead. The next week, you’re listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor for the first time, and now you’re Guy Who Just Listened to Godspeed You! Black Emperor for the First Time. Oh god, now you’re Neutral Milk Hotel Guy. Be careful! You’re approximately 4 clicks away from becoming Cloud Rap Guy! What I mean to say is, with unlimited access to unlimited music, my generation had the potential to have our minds blown over and over by music that was new to us; to have our minds forever changed, and our preferences forever balanced in the favor of certain sounds. For me, it was the mathcore / noisecore / grindcore of the early 2000s that melted my face repeatedly when I was a kid. Given this context, it should come as no surprise that I am absolutely in love with Architects of Light.
I provide this context because Architects of Light reminds me of what it felt like to be a kid who was just getting into metal music; overwhelmed, shocked, astounded that music can even sound like this. How it felt trying to process what I had just listened to, and not knowing how to do it. I’m reminded of what it felt like to listen to albums like Gaza’s I Don’t Care Where I Go When I Die, and The Great Redneck Hope’s Behold the Fuck Thunder. It massages some of the oldest folds of my brain. It’s frantic. It has bloodshot eyes. It has blood in its hair. It needs to spit on the floor in between songs because it screams as loud as it possibly can. Sweat is dripping from its armpits and down its arms. It is feral. Strained, explosive, screeching, and unhinged. It hurts itself in its confusion. It is everything in heavy music that puzzled and amazed me when I was younger. It stands above me and messes up my hair in a comforting way, like a proud parent would. “You like it when guitars sound like pterodactyls. This album is for you, Bishop.” Aw, you’re right! I do like that, a lot. Thanks!
I initially had trouble listening to this album all the way through because I would listen to the first 8 songs and think, “Fuck, I have to listen again.” Every single song has that riff; you know the one—the riff that makes you want to do something incredibly unwise and unsafe. A section that is so rude, and so pleasantly painful that you can’t help but shake your head in disbelief of what you’re hearing. “I can’t fucking believe they did that.” That is what I constantly think while listening to this album.
The Wind in the Trees and Thin are going on an east coast tour in February of 2023. Go see them.
Altars – Ascetic Reflection
The real is back. When I saw that Altars had released a new single earlier this year, it felt like that scene in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia where Mac and Charlie are staring at each other from across the restaurant. With eyebrows raised, I was like, “Altars? THE Altars?”
It’s been nearly 10 years since their last album, Paramnesia. So much can happen in just a month, let alone a decade. Musical trends are always being conceived, becoming stale, evolving, and then becoming fresh again—so much so that genres and subgenres nearly don’t cut it when it comes to metal anymore, especially to people who are really deep in the rabbit hole. To those who are choosy about what they like and dislike, describing a band as “death metal” isn’t specific enough. Are we talking Tomb Mold death metal, or Dying Fetus death metal? The Black Dahlia Murder, or Gorguts? I need to know if the vocalist has an “EEEEEEE” or “OOOOOO” type vocal. Does that make sense?
That being said, Ascetic Reflection registers to me precisely as death metal. To be honest, it’s refreshing. It’s a nice change of pace to listen to an album without thinking, “Oh, I get it, they’re worshiping (x),” or, “Oh, that makes sense, it sounds like every other album on that label.” Ascetic Reflection sounds like a group of skilled musicians worked together to write a death metal album, trusted what they wrote, and released it. No funny business. It is straightforward, well-rounded, and fucking heavy. You could take this record out to the bar to meet your friends, and the next day your friends would say, “Who was that again? I liked them. You should bring them out more.”
Imperial Triumphant – Spirit of Ecstasy
I live in Tennessee. Last month I visited NYC for the first time. I never had an especially romantic idea of what “The Big City” would be like, and when I told some friends that I was vacationing there, I was usually met with, “You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it.” But, of course, it’s not that simple. The entire experience of being in New York City is simultaneous. The tall buildings remind you of how small you are, and yet, to be a cell in the whole organism, it gives you the sense that you are also meaningful, or at least as meaningful as everyone else, which isn’t meaningful at all. The subways are loud and screeching and dirty, the seats are hard and hurt your ass after 10 stops, yet all of these elements become ambient and lulling; people instinctively train themselves to sleep for exactly as many stops as it takes to get home. This is the entire point of Imperial Triumphant’s music; to perform a balancing act between that which is beautiful and that which is ugly, to express a unity between concepts that are repelled by each other. As I walked through Times Square, having only ever seen pictures of it, my friend said something funny to me: “It doesn’t matter if you’re homeless, or a billionaire. The street you live on still smells like piss.”
Spirit of Ecstasy is an incredible expression of this (non-)duality. Riffs collapse and tumble down the stairs endlessly, giving the entire record a nauseating, psychedelic atmosphere. Good luck trying to learn any of these songs by ear. The percussion is utterly precise and stampeding; at times being the only charitable element to give you any sense of where you are. Sections fly by you at such high speed that they start to blur, as if they were crowds of strangers, sparing you only momentary, ambivalent glances. This may be the first time an album has ever made me feel symptoms of motion sickness, like I’m on one of those Gravitron rides at the fair. It feels like the pressure in your head when you’ve held your breath for too long.
I tend to think that music reviews do not need to spend too much time describing the sonic qualities of the music itself. That’s what listening to music is for in the first place, and the qualities of the music are most clearly understood by listening to it. But what I can do is ask you a few questions so that you might gauge your own interest in Spirit of Ecstasy, if you haven’t listened to it yet.
Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to be poisoned—what might happen to your vision, your sense of touch, and your self awareness? It’s probably something similar to how this album feels. Do you enjoy music that feels like you’re trying to crawl out of a hole, or makes you imagine what it would be like to be completely lost in a city with no one to help you? Do you find a form of pleasure in experiences that others may deem unpleasurable? If you answered “yes,” to any of these questions, this album may tickle you.
Chat Pile – God’s Country
We are surrounded by ugly nonsense and tilting injustice. All of us. On our way to work, our eyes can only tune it out for so long—the trivial advertisements of needless products and extraneous services, campaign posters for people who claim to represent us but do not care about us, hideous college apartments that block the view of our cities where we used to feel that we belonged. Our favorite restaurants are bought out and emptied until they accrue enough property value to build another microbrewery that will charge $9.50 for a beer because it comes with a slice of desiccated fruit. The rent of our shitty apartments are raised every year because irrelevant, major corporations are building warehouses nearby. These are all the annoyances of the privileged.
If you are less lucky, you choose to sleep on the ground, behind bushes, or on the hoods of cars, because the benches have spikes built into them. The bathrooms in the downtown restaurants are private. You don’t have an ID. You cannot provide a birth certificate. You go without the medications that would allow you to function more properly. People cross the street when they see you because they don’t want to talk to you. People can smell you, and they fear you, because you need help. A new, multi-use sports stadium is being built within walking distance from where you ask for money. You wish you had more safe places to practice your religion. You would like to wash your hair.
God’s Country is a lament. A lost diary, the words smudged by rain, the spine crushed by moving cars. It is the story of countless men and women. It’s the nuanced internal monologue of millions of children growing up with nothing to look forward to. It’s the words hidden by the held tongues of teenage mothers, gas station attendants, service industry workers. Everyone who can’t afford to pay attention to their toothaches, their back pains, the discolored spots on their backs that weren’t there last year. It is the commonly forgotten thread that unifies those of us who live in these towns abandoned by charisma: We suffer together. Our misery is communal. With a small amount of faith, we can manage our hopelessness.
In the south, there’s a special way that drivers will wave at each other. With our hands glued to the wheel, we will raise two fingers, occasionally four. The other driver will see us do this, and in return, raise two fingers from the wheel. It’s 2/5s of a wave. But it means something. It’s a hospitable acknowledgement. It means, “Don’t worry, I see you, I’m not going to hit you.” You always return to acknowledgement. It’s an unspoken ceremony that everyone understands. God’s Country would give you this two-finger wave, and if you know what’s good for you, you will return the favor.
Dance Gavin Dance – Jackpot Juicer
Ok, I know, I know. Listen… at their best, Dance Gavin Dance is one of my favorite bands of all time. Will Swan is one of my favorite guitarists, period. He writes perfect melodies. Jon Mess writes some of the silliest lyrics I’ve ever read. It’s like reading a gross children’s book. Tillian is the most versatile vocalist the band has ever had. His vocals compliment the music perfectly. I… love this band. But I’m going to do something I have yet to do in Sweet Heart, Open Ear—be critical.
DGD’s fame is outrunning the band’s creative output. There is nothing new with Jackpot Juicer. Nothing. Not a single new element, no new strategy, no new perspective or mood that hasn’t already been explored tirelessly by these musicians. They put out three perfect records in a row: Instant Gratification, Mothership, Artificial Selection; all nearly flawless post-hardcore records to me. But Acceptance Speech 2.0 is just a remake. Afterburner was fine, but didn’t feel all that inspired, and Jackpot Juicer doesn’t even have the trademark heavy-song-with-mostly-Jon-doing-vocals track.
Do I like this record? Yes. The songwriting formula is tried and true. But when will Dance Gavin Dance do something shocking, like have a vocalist who isn’t a piece of shit? Or release an album that’s completely left of field? Something depressing as shit, or unexpectedly heavy? I would love a DGD record that was just terribly sad the entire time. I would even take a dirtier guitar tone at this point. Something. Anything.
I prefer to give praise to bands and the music that they release, rather than talking shit. But it is my guess that DGD probably agrees with what I have said here. They know that this isn’t their best work. If you like swancore, you will tolerate this record. That is all I can tell you in good conscience.