Interview: Dope Stars Inc.

“The main fact is the following: to provide music for free does NOT mean you are harming your record label or that you can’t have any kind of deal with a record label. We decided to close our previous deals because that record labels didn’t want or accept this model, which makes an immense difference.”

IVM Introducing...

This section is open to any band who has formed in the past few years and are currently unaffiliated with a record label, but have at least one demo of some variety available to purchase/download.

Live Review: Wednesday 13 – Rescue Rooms, Nottingham 14/03/2015

WEDNESDAY 13 (+ Rival State) Rescue Rooms, Nottingham 14/03/2015

Come to Daddy: 5 Things we want to see in the new Hellraiser ...

"... with the new movie on the horizon here's what us fans would like to see, and not to see happen to our favourite slice of darkness."

The best of Record Store Day 2015

"...with hundreds of releases slated to go on sale on Saturday 18th April there's too much choice to get your head around. With this in mind we've made a shortlist of recommendations that will hopefully tempt you to part with your money and keep our beloved record shops open."

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Review: Wik▲n – 'Nightfall'



WIK▲N
'Nightfall'
PALE NOIR


Sheffield's Wik▲n may be flying the flag for the witch house scene, but there is so much more to their sound than that. Their newest offering (their eighth EP since 2010) 'Nightfall' includes ambient, drone, noise, dark electro, and even neofolk as well as drag and witch house to create haunting soundscapes and experimental grooves. But no matter which direction they choose to go, the songs remain epic in their scope and rarely drop below seven minutes in length.

The title track kicks the EP off with a sublime blend of ambience and minimal techno blending to create a dark and surreal soundscape that is permeated by an ever present vinyl crackle to add a subtle noise element. 'Damaged Core' is a more club/dance orientated track with its prominent techno-house beats driving the track while sinister synthesizers swell and swirl throughout the mix. 'When It's Just Us' follows on with a more stripped back witchy sound that is centred around a central drone and typically drag style beat but also makes great use of counterpoint melodies to inject a little light into the gradually building cacophony.

'Gathering Moss' breaks out the folk guitar to drive this hauntingly beautiful blend of neofolk and light ambient synths. 'Deadbeat' brings things back into more traditional witchy territory with its stuttering synth bass and trip hop beat building to create a simple but effective track. The EP is finished with 'Always There' which once again begins with a nice droning synth that gradually builds into a cinematic slice of ambience before a subtle melody and beat kick in to create an infectious closer.

The production is excellent with a light and spacious feel flowing through every song. It avoids the fuzz and din of a lot of witch house releases in favour of a more minimal and light atmosphere that compliments every twist and style they care to invoke.

Wik▲n may not be a common name in the UK underground scene but they should be. 'Nightfall' is a mature, engrossing and deeply fulfilling listening experience. The band prove they can turn their hand to anything and everything here and still make it sound like a cohesive whole. This is definitely an act to keep your eye on. 

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

BEYOND THE LIMITS



It's election time once again, a prospect that usually signals a strange mix of boredom and fear in most of us. We are not listening to the debates and the rhetoric with a keen excitement for the great things that may or may not come with the result, but with a dread for the dire consequences of the wrong outcome. Either that or the whole spectacle just merges into the whole postmodern mush of everyday life, accompanied by the standard refrains of 'they're all the same' or 'it doesn't make any difference'. It certainly seems like the possibilities arising from any such exercise are pitifully slim. But setting aside the deliciously nihilistic structuralism of such sentiments there are other reasons for pausing to reconsider these notions.

This year represents the 70th anniversary of the end of the second World War. In a previous article I discussed the lasting political impact of the conflict (namely the unifying political imperative of anti-fascism) but the war also has a much more complex legacy. It was the historical arena for breathtaking heroism, as well as for moral and political cowardice, indecision and hypocrisy; and yet beyond the stories of daring raids, personality conflicts and fateful decisions is the real meaning of the conflict and the era in which it took place.

The twentieth century was an era where the apparent potential of humanity was limitless – or at least it felt that way to everyone concerned at the time. This was not simply in terms of technological advance, but also political too, it was the century where universal suffrage was finally established and slavery finally abolished, and it was also the epoch when democracy became a desired or accepted norm for most of the planet.

But it was also a time when the limitless potential of humanity was used to pursue a darker agenda. There had been tyranny of all kinds throughout history but the techno-political compound of totalitarianism was very new. No sooner had democracy become a societal norm then certain political forces began to tear up the 'rules' and push over these limits, and such did the era of annexations, revolutions and genocides really begin.

As a result the real legacy of World War 2 was that it saw the three events that would eventually define the limits of human experience and political & technological will: the Holocaust (being the genocidal use of bureaucracy and technology to systematically kill people on an unprecedented scale), Hiroshima (being the inception of a weapon capable of destroying all of mankind) and Stalingrad (being the limit of conventional warfare's feral disregard for military and civilian life). These events may have been reprised in events and atrocities over the course of the past 70 years but they remain the indelible examples where the limits of our collective human endeavours take us to atrocities which nobody can then erase.

Having recognised these limits, political discourse has understandably retreated. The rules of the game have been set; the law applied; grand political projects are shunned; human rights and political pluralism protect individual and collective rights; and although within that rubric there are abuses and there is oppression, there are sources for moderate redress too. Accepting where our collective limits are means we are able to carry on, remember the losses caused by our endeavours, and engage in our remaining options simply and clearly.

The problem is that having reached these limits our mentality remains rooted in the zero-sum mentality of the previous era; people scream for withdrawals, invasions, deportations and detentions, removal of rights and for personal and political cruelty. And some politicians are more inclined to tear up the new rulebook than others, promising what is undeliverable without a rupture and breach of our understanding of what is reasonable; and as ever it is minorities, the vulnerable and the oppressed that suffer. As Einstein observed, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save for our modes of thinking.”

So we can and must stretch our personal horizons and push our own limits, to improve our lives and reach places of greater safety, and we either do so collectively or as individuals; but let us not complain about the lack of that unpredictability borne of the politics which takes place beyond the limits of endurance - because such predictability, and the boredom we perceive it to bring, is really very precious indeed.

And with that I am off to Whitby. Last one to the beach is a steampunk!

Review: Ecnephias – 'Ecnephias'



ECNEPHIAS
'Ecnephias'
MY KINGDOM MUSIC


Italian occultists Encephias return with their eponymous fifth album to celebrate a decade of extreme metal releases. The band combine elements of death, black, doom and gothic metal with occult themes to create a dark and rich sound that draws on the likes of Moonspell, Rotting Christ, Paradise Lost and Type O Negative.

The album is the final part of a trilogy of albums that started with 2011's 'Inferno', followed by 2013's 'Necrogod', but in their self-titled effort the band display their most mature songwriting to date, with a greater emphasis on melody than ever before. Soaring guitars, thrashing drums and subtle atmospheric keyboards are permeated by distinctive vocal style that sound like a cross between Bo Summer (Illdisposed) and Fernando Ribeiro (Moonspell).

Songs such as 'A Field Of Flowers', 'Born To Kill And Suffer', 'The Criminal', 'Wind Of Doom', 'Nyctophillia', and 'Vipra Negra' are particular highlights with their balance of heavy riffs, soft melodies and an ever present head-banging pace. The album has the mass appeal of dark rock with the unrelenting heaviness of extreme metal and should play well to fans of both camps.

In terms of production it is for the most part of the quality that you would expect from the genre, aside from in a few places with the distortion on the guitars sound rather tinny and having an unfortunate tendency to get swamped in the mix. Otherwise it is a strong and high quality effort.

This is a sinister and bewitching effort from the Italian quintet that is sure to go down well with dark metal fans. Ten years and five releases down the line they look to be on the best form of their career and hopefully this album will serve them well in propelling them through the next decade.  

Review: Everclear – 'Black Is The New Black'


EVERCLEAR
'Black Is The New Black'
THE END RECORDS 


It's been ten years since Everclear went through a some changes in not only line up, but also with leaving major label Columbia behind. Now the band have returned with the next step in their renaissance with 'Black Is The New Black'. Funded by the fans through Pledge Music and currently being streamed on Pandora Radio, this new release is already getting a lot of good responses from the fans, and there's a reason for that.

From it's opening riff on 'Sugar noise' we get the sense that Art and the crew have come back strong. Putting to good use the experiences gained from the 'Summerland' tours and following the anniversary of the band's breakthrough record 'Sparkle And Fade'. This album is heavier, angrier and to the point, something we haven't heard since the 'Songs From An American Movie' set. It's follow up track 'The Man Who Broke His Own Heart' is  a cheeky yet lovable tune with a hook you'll be singing along to for a long while. It's almost as if Art is over his love sick ways seen in 'Invisible Stars', which was their pop-iest outing, and has an incredible return to form with an addictive chorus that will make your spirit rise. It's this along with tracks like 'American Monster' and 'This Is Your Death song' that give the impression that Alexakis is the last of the broken hearted once again, setting up his boombox outside a girl's window, forlorn to the nth degree.
Not that it's all bittersweet revenge and bitter laced rock. 'Van Gough Sun' is probably one of the softer numbers on the album where Art's self deprecating soul is laid bare. With an upbeat disposition it still doesn't become a soppy balled, yet it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end . Finishing on 'Safe' ,an emerging dark rock spectacle, it makes you wonder if Alexakis is truly happy, and if he is then this record is by far the cleverest he has ever done, creating pain, misery and self-doubt where there may not be any; a true musicians dream. 

'Black Is The New Black' is a record we can finally once again relate to, and with it comes the sound we are familiar with when we first think of Everclear. Gone is the older gent, with a twinkle of nostalgia in his eye, and replaced is the beast, fire in his belly and even more so in his soul. If you're going through a rough time and you're sick of wallowing, then strap on this album and start becoming who you used to be... maybe burn a few photos... and a teddy bear... just not her front porch. 

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Review: Sidewalks And Skeletons – 'White Light'



SIDEWALKS AND SKELETONS
'White Light'
SELF-RELEASED


Love it or loath it, witch house is here to stay and so is Sidewalks And Skeletons, AKA Bradford's Jake Lee who, on his latest release under the moniker continues to experiment and push the definition of the genre. 'White Light', the follow-up to last year's 'Future Ghosts', incorporates the classic trappings of witch house but pushes beyond them as well and even goes as far to infuse metal elements into some of the songs. It is an album that is set on expanding the palette of its creator and the experimental scope of the genre.

The album opens in a big way with the soft ambience of 'Fall' giving way to what has to be one of the strongest S&S songs thus far in the form of 'Unearth'; a wonderfully dance friendly track that features black metal style female vocals to add a demonic slant to the already dark track. 'Eternal' follows on nicely with its lighter textures that ultimately descend into bursts of nightmarish dissonance. While 'Goth' brings in some very nice synthpop elements fore a very accessible and club-friendly offering. 'Above' drags things back firmly into a more experimental territory with its slow and dark sample lifted from Marilyn Manson's 'Deformography' set to light melodic leads and swirling synths.

'Pure' provides the album with its most cinematic feeling piece, sounding like it has been cut from a science-fiction film soundtrack it creates a sense of space that is temporarily sucked away by the central sample with great effect. 'XXX' brings things back into metal territory with its Godflesh style blasting rhythms and mechanical strains that are over too soon unfortunately. Luckily 'Disappear' then emerges with some big synths and more female vocals to add a deep blast of classic witch house appeal. 'Blood' provides another wonderfully cinematic track interspersed with hard beats and scathing synths to great effect. The album finishes with the light ambience of 'Underwater Sun' which rounds things off with a delicate combination of light beats, hanging synths and delay drenched leads that combine with a deep bass.

The production, despite the strong experimental edge and the various different styles and themes at work is pretty good. It maintains its underground credentials but when it needs it, the tracks get the spit and polish they need to give then an extra kick.

'White Light' is hands down the strongest Sidewalks And Skeletons release to date, and perhaps one of the best witch house-related releases of the year. The songs are aiming for another level and more often than not reach it. It has aspirations to stay true to its roots but at the same time redefine what they are and can encompass. This is an album that should hopefully capture a lot of people's attention, and quite rightly so.  

Review: Kiss Is Kill – 'Imposter Syndrome'



KISS IS KILL
'Imposter Syndrome'
SELF-RELEASED


The industrial rock scene has been enjoying a long overdue resurgence over the past few years and has seen the release of some great albums as a result. Another name to add to the growing list of bands is Kiss Is Kill, AKA James Chapple (Triptaka), which sees the producer strike out on his own with the début album 'Imposter Syndrome'. It's a project full of big beats, hard guitars, snarled vocals and searing synths that recalls the likes of Cubanate, Victory Pill, Be My Enemy and Pig.

The album ticks all the boxes for what a great industrial rock album should be in 2015. There are those classic elements that are beloved by old school fans, but it is fresh, relevant, and most importantly, damn catchy.

The album kicks off with the stripped-back and grooving intro to 'Moving' that pushes the synth bass and rhythms to the front before erupting into a snarling punk-infused sing-a-long. The likes of 'Ready', 'Communion', 'Revelation', 'Taste Of Home', and 'I'm Burning' provide the album with a solid backbone that sees the Kiss Is Kill formula established beyond a doubt. The most interesting tracks on the album though are the altogether more quiet 'Digging In' with it's light ambient textures giving way to a more melancholic synthpop approach, providing a nice counterpoint to the aggression on the rest of the album. The other is the album's closer 'The Shift' which effectively distils the strongest elements of all the previous tracks in to one hell of a swansong.

The album is well produced and maintains a gritty approach but thankfully still sounds up-to-date and doesn't fall into that popular trap of trying to sound like something from the 90s. Occasionally the guitars sound a little too low in the mix, but that doesn't affect the quality of the songs and is just a case of nitpicking really.

This is a strong début that knows its target audience and gives them what they want. Throw in some great guest performances by Phil Barry (Be My Enemy, Cubanate), Pete Crossman (Victory Pill), Scott Michael Owens (Tempest and the Diaspora), and Dave Kelly (Triptaka) and 'Imposter Syndrome' packs some serious punch. There isn't anything that attempts to reinvent the wheel, but the album is written and performed with passion and will easily find a willing audience.  

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Review: Helfir – 'Still Bleeding'



HELFIR
'Still Bleeding'
MY KINGDOM MUSIC


Helfir, the solo project of Italian musician Luca Mazzotta (NID), is heavily inspired by the melancholic tones of acts such as Katatonia, Antimatter, Anathema, Opeth, Alternative4, and Porcupine Tree and reveals a penchant for dark rock and atmospheric electronics in an intensely personal début. 'Still Bleeding' blends, dark, rock, ambient electronics, post-progressive rock, metal and acoustic guitars to create a dark and emotional journey across its nine tracks.

Swirling synthesizers, haunting piano melodies, simple and understated drum beats, acoustic guitar textures provide the main formula. But there are plenty of metal flourishes to drive the album forward and put an exclamation on the gothic leanings of the song writing. Songs such as 'Oracle', 'Dresses Of Pain', 'Black Flame', and 'Night And Deceit' provide the strongest cuts from the track listing with their proggy mixtures of hard and soft instrumentation. While the likes of 'Alone', 'Portrait Of A Son', and 'Where Are You Now?' provide comparatively softer styles, but even deeper and darker sentiments.

The album is excellently produced, and captures the level of skills that bands such as Anathema and Opeth employ to get the most out of their hypnotic and enthralling albums. It's richly layered and decadently toned with lots going on, but it never falls into the trap of sounding like a din of textures with vocals and guitars dominating.

This is a great début from Mazzotta, one that will appeal to fans of gothic, prog and ambient rock, as well as some more of the metal-inclined out there. It balances light and dark, soft and hard with ease and is a strong platform from which to launch a solo career. It would be interesting to see how it would change the dynamics of his song writing and performance to include guest vocalists and musicians on future releases. But in the here and now 'Still Bleeding' is an album that aspires to, and holds its own against some big names.  

Review: Område – 'Edari'



OMRÅDE
'Edari'
MY KINGDOM MUSIC


Sometimes an album can just take you by surprise, and the début album from avant garde metal duo Område does just that. The bands first outing in the form of 'Edari' sees the duo blend a huge array of elements such as trip hop, ambient, metal, industrial, post-rock, and classical, often within the same song to create rich tapestries of sound and mood that are simply cinematic in their scope. They obviously owe a debt to bands such as Dødheimsgard, and Ulver but are very much their own beast whose main inspiration taken has been to push boundaries and not be afraid to experiment.

The album has a pretty mournful and delicate atmosphere that caries through the eight tracks. It's emotional and often surreal as the songs evolve through ambient moments before bringing in trip hop drums and heavier guitar work, there's even room for some moody jazz saxophone.

The likes of 'Mótsögn', 'Åben Dør', and 'Sakm Parfyme' provide the album with its most atmospheric and ambient orientated moments. While the likes of 'Mann Forelder', 'Friendly Herpes' and 'Ottaa Sen' bring in the more metal and industrial flavours, with 'Luxurious Agony' and 'Satalite And Narrow' adding some surprisingly dance-friendly trip hop beats and enticing electronics to the mix.

This is an album with many faces that requires multiple listens in order to truly get to grips with and fully appreciate what is going one. In that respect it may be a bite much for a casual listener to idly enjoy. But if you go in ready to seriously get your ears round it, then it is a ver rewarding experience.

With so many factors all vying for attention it would be all to easy for the mix to sound to swamped or just falter in places. But it doesn't. Every sound, instrument and vocal is as clear as can be, and the final production work brings out the best in the pairs song writing without a doubt.

'Edari' is a very strong début that opens up a lot of doors for the duo to progress through. The many elements and textures in their pallet just begins scratch the surface of their potential. If they continue to push themselves like the have here on future recordings then they will no doubt be talked about in the same breath as Dødheimsgard, and Ulver. Hopefully we won't have to wait too long to see where they go from here. 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Review: Sister Machine Gun – 'The Future Unformed'



SISTER MACHINE GUN
'The Future Unformed'
WTII RECORDS


'The Future Unformed' marks the first release from Chicago industrial rockers Sister Machine Gun since 2003's 'Influence'. The veteran band were on of the defining Wax Trax! acts that served to put the label on the map before they moved to their own Positron! Records for their last three outings. The band officially called it a day in 2007, but last November a teaser appeared on the Sister Machine Gun Facebook page and founder Chris Randall stated on his own page "Remember that thing I said I'd never do again? Yeah. I'm doing it. Spring '15 on WTII Records." Fast-forward and 'The Future Unformed' has arrived as promised. And with it some seriously high expectations.

Unfortunately the five-track EP may not be the revelation some were hoping for. It is evident Randall and co. have been consciously trying to update the SMG sound for 2015, but the end result is something that is a little unsure of itself. The band's approach lacks the innovation and grit of their earlier work, and plays it safe with some fairly standard song writing exercises.

The opener 'Insect' is a promising kick-off with its chugging guitars, big chorus and classic squelching synths, but it doesn't reach the heights of tracks like 'Addiction', 'Burn', 'Nothing' and 'To Hell With You'. 'Coldstar' fares a little better with it's subdued bass-heavy underbelly and atmospheric guitars creating a genuinely interesting and captivating track.

'Protest' has a nice dance pace and some memorable synth bass running through it, but it ultimately sounds like a demo from the 90's that has been dusted off and re-appropriated to fill a gap. 'Subgod' as well returns to the Wax Trax! sound of yesteryear with a more modern dance flavour thrown in for good measure, but again it sounds quite dated. The EP finishes up with 'Closure', which attempts to inject some frenetic rhythms and add a little bit more of an experimental feel, but just feels like it is pulling it's punches.

On the upside to all of this though, Chris Randall's vocals sound brilliant. His semi-spoken, semi-growled words cut through the songs and give them their only real bite.

Production-wise it is passable. With the dated construction of the songs, they could have gone two ways and one, injected a ton of grit or two, gone for some serious spit and polish. And this is somewhere in limbo between the two with it lacking the dynamic range of modern works and the punch of their previous outings.

'The Future Unformed' is a bit of a frustrating listen. The songs sound dated, and the whole affair feels like a half-hearted nostalgia kick. With the likes of Cocksure and My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult releasing albums recently that are unapologetically proud to evoke the Wax Trax! sound they have injected new life into the old beast. Whereas Sister Machine Gun seem to be trying to mix the best of their old sound with something new, but missing the mark on both points. It is more of a false start than a verifiable comeback. 

Review: Engram – 'Karl Marx'



ENGRAM
'Karl Marx'
A TWO GODS PRODUCTION


The nineteen year old collaboration between electronic veterans Martin Bowes and John Costello had until now only produced one single in the form of 2013's 'What Am I?'. The single contained three tracks of progressive, cinematic electronics that distilled elements of their 30+ year careers and even goes on to recall the likes of Pink Floyd, Brian Eno and Kenji Kawai. The single hinted at great things to come, but sadly there was no full-length follow up. However in 2015 they have dropped a new single to coincide with the UK election.

The provocatively titled 'Karl Marx' is an undeniable electro floor-filler with it's Karftwerk-esque lead and political samples descending into a dark dance flavour. It's minimal, understated and deceptively straightforward, but it is nonetheless an addictive and memorable track.

The b-side, 'Highgate (Part 1)', returns to the ambient textures explored on the first release. Swirling synths and cinematic spaces vie for attention as the track slowly builds into a trippy and disorientating mix that sounds as though it would be at home on a sci-fi film soundtrack.

The production is excellent and has a clean modern style that brings the 80's themed electron crashing into the modern day while preserving the experimental edge that has been at the core of the Engram sound thus far.

Hopefully 'Karl Marx' is an indicator that the full-length Engram début is on the way. But in the meantime this is a great dance track with a wry bite of social commentary behind it that is fitting for the current political climate. Let's just cross our fingers there is more to come soon.  

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