obZen

Groovy rumble of eight-string guitar, robotic barking, and this blunt calculated tempo variation – all Meshuggah signatures are present here. Built on a musical skeleton forged from groove and death metal, obZen is akin to a cybernetic monster, mechanistic and precise. By constantly adopting math metal, jazz and progressive attributes, the band has always been pushing music into unimaginable territories. obZen is no exception.

Album is an excellent blend of 90s Meshuggah, basically more groove metal than djent. Jens Kidman’s vocals blend in as if it’s another discordant machine in this mechanistic orchestra. Odd rhythmic structures, Tomas Haake’s jazz like drumming, and down-tuned proggy leads – all inspire still reverence – not moshing.

Maximum creative bliss is at the margins, both for the artist and the listener. Meshuggah has been constantly placing themselves at those very structural margins of numerous demanding genres. Habitually creating novel classifications for what’s considered exceptional in metal. obZen is yet another extraordinary dissonant chapter.


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Image Attribution
By Leposava from Melbourne, Australia (meshuggah) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Interview with SOUL ENEMA’s Constantin Glantz

Soul Enema

It took almost seven years for Israel’s proggers Soul Enema to come up with a follow-up to their 2010’s debut album “Thin Ice Crawling,” but as it turns out, “Of Clans and Clones and Clowns” was worth a wait. On the new album, the quintet has collaborated with a number of musicians, including a guest appearance by Ayreon’s Arjen Lucassen and ex-Orphaned Land’s Yossi Sassi.

Keyboardist and composer Constantin Glantz told us about the creative process behind the new record, and more.

Hey folks. How are you doing?

Thanks, it’s damn hot outside, but everything else is quite well otherwise. The new album came out June 23 and now the video for “Spymania” is out – that one was a hell of a fun to make. Interesting period, definitely!

You are just launched your second album titled “Of Clans and Clones and Clowns.” How do you feel about the release?

I feel that we accomplished what we planned here, and it’s going great so far! Very positive feedbacks, the amount of people that are really moved and touched by it – it’s just really surprising. People typically get to hear our album by chance, and then we receive some comments like – “How come you’re not more famous with this music!?” I don’t know. Seriously, we are top secret, and you are reading strictly classified information here.

How much of a challenge was to work on the album?

I think everything was a challenge, because that was one of our aims. We didn’t really do “the next studio album“, we just tried to make as great and special a record as possible, and then some. I don’t know if we succeeded, but I’m not sorry – I think this stuff deserved such attention and dedication.

Of Clans and Clones and Clowns

What other artists similar to your genre that are coming from Israel are you friends with?

We are friendly with many, and there are some new, that came in touch in the wake of the album release. That makes me think we might have done something right in the end. Maybe vodka really connecting people, but music may do it even better sometimes (laughs). In general, there’s a sort of mini explosion right now – many good Prog-related bands from Israel, some of them have quite a presence internationally, and it’s really a feature for such a small country. So, you’d better keep your eyes on the Israeli Prog scene, it has some goods to deliver, and nowadays it’s becoming more and more obvious. A touch of Middle Eastern specifics is also a distinct factor sometimes, but it’s not always raised on hummus – there’s pretty much everything here.

What is your opinion about the current progressive rock/metal scene?

I’m not a big expert, there’s really a huge amount of new coming bands and artists, and it’s hard to stay deeply in touch. In general, it’s nice to hear more originality, more gifted visionaries, and less of the “production line”. So once in a while when I recognize something of a kind, combined with great music writing – that may make me happier as a listener.

Can you tell me something about your influences?

As you can hear on the new record – it’s quite eclectic. As we jokingly put it – “from Abba to Zappa, from King Crimson to King Diamond”. Everything could be a potential influence. When I recorded some animal voices and Guinea pigs and my own kid, all of them were influences as well – they made the right kind of sounds for a particular occasion, so they ended up being on the album. I must admit that Guinea pigs received no credit in the end, so I’m giving them a tiny moment of fame here – cheers, homies! Life is the biggest possible influence; you just have to configure your antennas to catch those signals and translate them into something creative.

What are you listening to these days?

Well, last days it was some ethnic breakbit album, for some reason. Ah, here’s the reason: it was really well-done. The singing, the arrangements – they just made this electronic thing come alive on their own terms. Hardly a surprise, but I listened to some old time favorite along the way as well: “Pawn Hearts” album by VDGG – this one never falls short of brilliance for me. What else here… Split Enz, the early albums – such a unique band.

Your 5 favourite records of all time?

Impossible to limit it to just five. So, i will focus on some of my Prog-related favorites, besides the one already mentioned in the previous answer:

Cardiacs – “A Little Man and a House and the Whole World Window – 1988 (ABC reissue, 1995). Some say that Prog was nearly dead in the 80’es, except a bit of Neo and a bit of RIO. I wouldn’t take it for granted. This one is beyond any clear boundaries and definitions, and Tim is a certified genius. One of my all time favorites.

Voivod – “The Outer Limits – 1993. If I still need one single Prog Metal album to pick – this is it. Always mindblowing. For some reason there’s no 5000 clones of this band and this particular album, and I’m fine with that, actually.

Genesis – “Selling England by the Pound – 1973. No surprises here, contains a few of the greatest tracks ever recorded in history of rock music. No, not “More Fool Me”. Yes, those ones you think of first.

Pink Floyd – “Animals – 1977. There’s an opinion that Prog was finished by ‘77 and replaced by Punk. Haha, not in PF world at least – this is their proggiest record yet, but it has a grain of punkish anger and sarcasm as well. This is their peak for me. No single note or sound is out of place, nothing is non essential. Zero compromise with wider public tastes, despite hitting the real rock stardom level with a large stadium tours and other attributes.

Brian Wilson/The Beach Boys – “Smile/The Smile Sessions – 1967/2004/2011. What can I say here? It should have been the most revolutionary record of the 60’es. It’s unbelievable what Brian was very close to achieve here with those limited studio technologies and his wild fantasy.

I left outside at least a similar amount of albums that deserve top places as much as those.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the gear you used to record “Of Clans and Clones and Clowns”?

I can talk about my side, as far as keyboards go. Since I prefer the period between mid- 60’s and the early 80’s, predominantly some analog types of keyboard gear, I used anything that can convincingly replicate the authentic qualities of those instruments, without sticking too much to the retro approach. It’s mostly different VST software with some appropriate editing. Besides typical rock band instrumentation, we used violin, flutes and more exotic stuff like sitar and samisen. Sometimes not in a very strict way; for example Michael recorded those sitar licks and then I processed them in a few spots, reversing it to make the atmospheric drone that you hear on “The Age of Cosmic Baboon”. Yossi Sassi (ex-Orphaned Land, Yossi Sassi Band) used his signature bouzoukitara – a two headed beast of bouzouki and guitar on the track “Aral Sea II”. Then the mix was done by renowned sound engineer Jens Bogren in Fascination Street Studios. The analog gear that he used was particularly instrumental in keeping our sounds as authentic as possible. I think we managed to retain the general warmness while getting that big sound.

Besides the release of the album, are there any other plans for the future?

We will put the new video soon, and it will be beautiful, I think I can admit to that. That’s all I can tell so far, keep following.

Any words for the potential new fans?

If you are still reading to the very end, you are hopefully ready to let the music do the talking. We have done a very complex and time consuming job here in order to take it to another level, so we hope your journey with this album will be really addictive and long lasting!

Order “Of Clans and Clones and Clowns” from Bandcamp here. Follow Soul Enema on Facebook.

ART AGAINST AGONY’s New EP “Russian Tales” Out on July 22

Art Against Agony

Germany-based collective Art Against Agony announce today their new EP titled Russian Talesscheduled for the release on July 22nd. The ensemble of musicians and artists combine different elements; their instrumental music evolves around progressive metal, experimental rock, jazz fusion and avant-garde.

Speaking about the forthcoming EP, the band commented: “The ‘Russian Tales’ EP gathers all of our experiences from our tour through Russia during the Siberian winter of 2016: Driving 12000km and playing 20 shows in 3 weeks was heaven and hell, with wonderful hospitality & delicious food, marvellous nature & wild animals, but also including insomnia, anxiety & social break ups.

To coincide with the release of the Russian Tales EP, Art Against Agony will embark on a tour across Russia in late July, followed by dates in Brazil in August. For the full list of dates see below.

Russian Tales is available for pre-order from Bandcamp (downloads) and Bigcartel (CDs). A video trailer for the EP can be seen below, and “Coffee for the Queen” single can be heard on Bandcamp here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Russian Tales EP Track Listing:

1. Königsberg Präludium
2. Nothing to declare?
3. Tea for the Dragon
4. Coffee for the Queen
5. Saratov Incident

Art Against Agony – “Against All Odds Tour 2017” live dates:

29.07. Back Luny Festival, Russia
30.07. Kaluga, Russia
01.08. Yelets, Russia
02.08. Voronezh, Russia
03.08. Tula, Russia
04.08. Zelenograd, Russia
05.08. Saint Petersburg, Russia
08.08. Sao Paulo, Brazil
09.08. Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil
10.08. Rio de Janeiro – Botafogo, Brazil
11.08. Petropolis, Brazil
12.08. Rio de Janeiro – Barra, Brazil
13.08. Sao Joao de Meriti, Brazil

Art Against Agony line-up:

the_sorcerer (lead_guitar, philosophy)
the_machinist (rhythm_guitar)
the_surgeon (piano)
the_heretic (bass)
the_malkavian (drums)
the_maximalist (mridangam)
the_architect (photography)
the_switch (live_visuals)
the_harlequin (merch)
the_glasses (japan_supervisor)

Art Against Agony online:

Official website

Facebook

Bigcartel

Bandcamp

Orchid

Opeth’s debut album is a rare blend, it’s good old British metal melody, but decked with prog, folk, black and death metal signatures. It’s the most accessible elements of metal combined with the least. Compositions effortlessly transition from murky black metal ambience into deathly blast beats to melodic folk passages — and they are interestingly devoid of that punk like dissonance which is integral to this genre.

Guttural riffs, acoustic melody, raspy growls and clean vocals – all stitched together into 10 minute epics – it’s basically progressive metal at its intriguing best.

Not surprising that Dan Swanö is the producer, Edge of Sanity is reflected all over the long and meandering eclectic passages. The most infamous ‘Thomas Gabriel Fischer’ like curt grunts is also frequent and numerous. Opeth weaves that Celtic Frost like textures into the more accessible 70s and 80s metal progressions. Orchid is essentially composed of two divergent heavy metal strands, but spun into one grand morbid symphony. Examine long enough and we can discover Black Sabbath to Bathory to jazz elements – even for early 90s metal, this is avant-garde. With drawn out extreme metal sound, but illustrating the quite melodic classic metal roots, Orchid can comfortably slingshot a casual metal listener straight into the abyss of 90s Scandinavian scene.

Symphonic Prog Meets Black Metal

“As Fire Swept Clean the Earth” blends multiple and in a way polarizing influences. Old 70s Genesis is pervasive, but layered with that most infamous variant of Norwegian artistic intensity. Quite like an elegant time warp, the delicate 70s prog intro launches headlong into 360 beats per minute drums and inhumane screams. Transition from the high of symphonic prog into this turbulent abyss cannot be starker.

Lead guitar and keyboards are textbook 70s prog. Enslaved blends that melancholic overtones of ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’ with the ferocity of Viking metal. Subtle use of electronica is a wonderful prelude to more relentless drums. But this frenetic pace does eventually get reined in by that towering proggy lead guitar. Even the album artwork mirrors this aesthetic — calmness set atop absolute mayhem.

Unusual that the lyrics do contribute to the grim atmosphere, because it’s actually decipherable — “I close my eyes. As Fire Swept Clean the Earth. Nothing left to strangle. As the cords were torn from our hearts”.

Enslaved is arguably among the most accomplished metal bands, but even for them, the aesthetics of this track is an unmatched creative act. We can safely state; abstraction of the quirky melodic aspects of a ‘Selling England by the Pound’ and placing it within the context of 90s extreme metal has now been accomplished – with captivating surgical precision.

Death – The Sound of Perseverance

Whether it’s songs like “Cosmic Sea” or “Trapped In A Corner”, Death always traversed a unique musical terrain. Deriving from intricate thrash structures, they took Celtic Frost like blueprint to unprecedented heights – made it more threatening and bleak. But, instead of the more gruesome death metal attributes like blast beats, atonality and deeper growls — Death emphasized coherent structural progression and melody.

‘The Sound of Perseverance’ (1998) is a genuinely dazzling confluence of these early influences and more. It’s well-tailored to quickly envelop a progressive metal disciple or a death metal-head. The record straddles this beautifully complex ground between progressive musical sensibilities and sheer sonic savagery of extreme metal. At the margins of these two demanding genres, Death successfully crafts this exquisite bridge from a Dream Theater to a Morbid Angel. This overall immersive experience can be elegantly summarized in Chuck Schuldiner’s own lyrics: “touch, taste, breathe, consumed”.

DeathSOP-1998.jpg

Widely varying transitions are graceful and numerous. Baffling how an At The Gates like guitar imprint runs into a razor steel Priestly guitars, finally exploding into an Obituary like mid-paced chugging. The good old signature riff-drum pattern of Death is also omnipresent. ‘The Sound of Perseverance’ acknowledges the progressive side to Death, and does that without significant deviations from their death metal roots. Essentially the same old harsh melodic guitar tones, screaming vocals and scathing leads interleaved with intricate passages — but now restructured into a progressive death symphony.

While firmly grounded in thrash roots, over the years, Death pursued a guided musical trajectory of progressive refinement. Emphasizing that crucial New Wave of British Heavy Metal artistry and sophistication – it’s essentially Iron Maiden’s melody reconciled with Hellhammer like brutal force. This constant duality in Death’s composition was always shifting in a progressive direction. So, for the longtime fans, ‘The Sound of Perseverance’ must have been a lot like the very last song from the record – “Open my eyes wide to see a moment of clarity”.