August 13, 2011

Walden - Beyond The Landscapes Of Man (Review)

Beyond The Landscapes Of Man Cover Art
Walden - Beyond The Landscapes Of Man
Neofolk
















Hailing from Victoria, BC is a band called Walden, an up and coming atmospheric black metal act that takes its name from Thoreau's manifest on living as one with nature. Although the majority of this two person band's material could be said to follow much in the same vein as Burzum's black metal material, this EP- entitled 'Beyond The Landscapes Of Man'- is a momentary retreat from black metal, in favour for a neofolk sound. Like many other bands in the often self-referential 'Cascadian Black Metal' scene, Walden holds a strong bond with the sounds of folk and nature even in their heavier material, so them doing a folkier album seems like a fairly natural experiment. Although very rough around the edges, this is an enjoyable pair of tracks that shows a different side to the band's work.

A collaboration between the two musicians calling themselves Smeagol and Festus respectively, there are some pretty interesting things going on with 'Beyond The Landscapes Of Man'. As one might expect, the sound is dominated by light acoustic guitars, although to underline the bond these musicians have with their natural surroundings, some atypical instruments have been used, most notably a hollow log, which is used to make some interesting percussion. Also here are some chanting vocals, which obviously do not work quite as well as Walden may have expected them to, although they do not necessarily sound out of place in the music.

The first track here 'Beyond...' is certainly the weaker of the two, generally introducing the listener to the sound here; something that instantly brings to mind Agalloch's 'White EP', or even the work of Canadian neofolk artist Musk Ox. In any case, the track does seem to wander a bit and the ideas don't feel as if they go anywhere, although the sound itself is properly defined. However, the second track 'An Old Cabin High In The Hills' saves the EP and more, building up with a fairly optimistic sounding acoustic strum pattern before fading out. 

Walden's acoustic experiment here is very promising, although on its own, this does feel quite rough, and especially towards the first half of the material, some revisions in the songwriting would have served the music well. Walden has latched onto something here however, and it would be very interesting to see what they could do with this on a second acoustic effort, or- better yet- integrating it with their existing black metal sound.

June 28, 2011

Trollband - In The Shadow Of A Mountain (Review)

Trollband - In The Shadow Of A Mountain
Folk Metal

 Thinking back a couple of years to when the Vancouver metal scene was in full swing, there were few bands on the local circuit that were quite as exciting to see as the distinctly folkish act Trollband. With songs about guzzling beer and pillaging helpless villages, the band was always a sure hit with the alcohol-fueled masses downtown. The project went under by all appearances however, and few heard of anything Trollband related for quite a while. However, the band was revived by bandmates Sam Levitt and Matt Courtemanche. With a devoted local following as well as a growing worldwide knowledge of this project, Trollband releases their debut 'In The Shadow Of A Mountain' to some great expectations. Suffice to say, the name of Trollband has far surpassed their origins as folkish advocates for excess beer consumption and gone somewhere more serious with their music.


Especially in a local Vancouver scene that has faced some times of strife since the go-to venue for metal was shut down in 2009, 'In The Shadow Of A Mountain' comes as something of a blessing, a nostalgic reminder that the Vancouver metal scene will never die. Although it has all of the bearings and associated flaws of an indie release, teammates Levitt and Courtemanche show some incredible potential with the music here. As well as some revised versions of songs that originally appeared on the band's charming but highly rough demo, there is some fresh material here that really impresses. Although Trollband are mostly about high-energy battle metal and symphonic key orchestrations over chugging guitar riffs, there is a dynamic here that even as a fan of the band, I was not quite expecting. Chief among these is the title track and personal highlight, 'In The Shadow Of A Mountain', which is quick to prove that the band has gone on far beyond their earlier, somewhat limited subject matter and can now use their music to tell stories, which is what folk music has always been about.


Of particular note are the vocals here, which never cease to impress me. Be it the resonant baritone of the clean vocals or ravenous snarl of the growls, Sam Levitt's vocal work here is phenomenal, regardless of whether or not he may agree on that note. Unfortunately, this strength segues into one of Trollband's greatest weaknesses, which has been, and still remains the mixing. Although the guitars and vocals have obviously been recorded with clarity, the whole thing is mixed in such a way where the issues are almost too obvious to my ears. The vast keyboard orchestrations have always played a large role to Trollband and folk metal i general, but the fact that they are often cranked higher than the guitars does not work to the music's favour. On top of this, the vocals are arguably the least audible element of the music, and tend to get dwarfed in volume by the competing guitars and orchestrations. 


The only other big issue I have with the record is the band's unfortunate use of a drum machine. The thing either ranges from being fairly unintrusive to downright irritating, and this greatly depends upon, and varies from song to song. For what inconsistencies the album's production might have however, Trollband makes up for it in sheer quality of songwriting. The band generally keeps the sound speedy and upbeat, and while the orchestrations are focused upon past what I would normally like, they are always thoughtfully arranged. Folk metal can sometimes get a bad reputation for being shallow pagan-themed party music, but even a minute or so of hearing the vast harmonies can quickly dispel that notion.


'In The Shadow Of A Mountain' is one of the best things I have heard from an underground Vancouver band in quite a long time, despite the flaws and faults throughout. With another album on the way and in the works, one can only hope that this talented act will take their potential and run with it.

Titan's Eve - The Divine Equal (Review)

Titans Eve - The Divine Equal
Titans Eve - The Divine Equal
Thrash Metal

A big name in the Vancouver metal scene lately has been Titan's Eve, a melodic thrash metal act that's been picking up some great speed ever since this- their debut album- was released last July. Now an active touring outfit, Titans Eve is breaking out of their typecast as a merely local group, and spreading their sound to the rest of the world. If 'The Divine Equal' is any indicator, it is clear why the group has ascended past the other ranks. Titans Eve derives quite a bit of their sound from the German thrash scene, and layers it with melodic choruses, and neoclassically-tinged guitar riffs to deliver a fairly powerful first impression. 'The Divine Equal' leaves plenty of room for the band to further develop their style, but all things considered, Titans Eve have done some very good things here.

With the exception of two instrumental tracks that act as adhesive for the album, the songs here all run along a fairly similar formula. The riffs alternate between speedy thrash licks and classically oriented leads, courtesy of the brothers Gamblin. The basswork of Jesse Hord and drummer Casey Ory round off the rhythm section, always backing the guitars with some great energy. In particular, Ory's work with the double kick is impressive, and adds to the tempest the band creates here. As far as vocals go, there should be no surprises here to someone who has heard much thrash before; the vocals generally amount to throaty shouts that are heavy on aggression, but light on any interpretation of subtlety. However, the vocals do take a bit of a melodic turn during the choruses, where Titans Eve demonstrates their surprising grasp of the 'catchy chorus' concept. All of these songs are upbeat, and after the defacto opener 'Judgement', a listener knows what he is going to get for the rest of the record.

This also happens to be the greatest weak point of 'The Divine Equal'. While Titans Eve has become quite strong with their songwriting, there is little variety in their formula. Most of the songs here are quite similar in structure and even the sound of the riffs themselves. Thrash metal has never been about wielding the most variety in one's sound, but it feels like the Titans could do with changing up the songwriting here and there, to stave off the feeling of deja-vu about halfway into the album. On another note, the production here is quite well done, especially considering it is a basement production. While the bass still feels a bit quiet, the sound is clear, and the music is not hindered by any significantly noticeable studio faults.

Titans Eve has made a very good debut here in any case, and while I still feel that the band should look towards widening the scope of their sound and songwriting in their future material, 'The Divine Equal' is a very promising start from these musicians, and at this pace, Titans Eve should be a bigger name in metal before too long.

June 24, 2011

An Introduction To WCM...

First, a few words about myself... 


I am a resident of Vancouver, British Columbia. In attempts to describe myself in a single word, I would be torn between calling myself either a musician, or a writer. With that in mind, it's fairly natural to find me where I am now; writing about music. Over the past few years, I've done a fair amount of writing, voicing my opinions on bands, albums and artists from a range of different sounds. In the midst of all of this, lately I have also been getting back into being a musician myself, which brought my attention back to the 'local' scene that Vancouver has to offer. Although the metal movement on the West Coast has had its ups and downs, I have been noticing that talent and promise is something that the scene has never been in shortage of. Although music ultimately barrels down entirely to individual interpretation and opinion, I hope to share some views of my own here, be they positive or negative, and with any luck, help the acts that really deserve it get some attention.

West Coast Metal blog...


So here I am, writing alot closer to midnight than when I last checked the clock. First and foremost, West Coast Metal is a place for exposing and celebrating talent in British Columbia, and beyond. On top of articles about things hopefully of interest, the majority of WCM will be focused on what I know best; forming opinions and expressing them through writing. Be it any sort of metal or heavy music, I will be open to hearing it and giving some honest feedback. Keep in mind that everything here is simply a view, and I know fully that there will always be people- even the artists themselves- that will disagree with me.

If you are a band, artist, or member of the Pacific-Northwest metal scene and want to contact me for whatever reason (review, article, chat), you can reach me at conorfynes@gmail.com.

Hope to hear from some of you,
Conor