Sunday, January 30, 2011

Beer Review - Blue Moon Spring Blonde Wheat Ale

I'm a Blue Moon fanboy, and I'm also a real big wheat beer fan, so when I saw this particular brew, I was pretty excited. Blue Moon has yet to let me down, and this Spring Ale has only strengthened my love for their beer.

Pouring a beautiful golden with a slightly citrusy aroma, this a light, crisp and refreshing ale that really capitalizes on a wheat beer's naturally more citrus flavors, with hints of orange and lemon creeping through. This definitely a beer meant to be enjoyed on warm afternoons or with a fish or chicken meal,  and the lightness and refreshing qualities really make it an easy to enjoy brew.

There's nothing but pleasant tastes here, little-to-no bitterness, and really the best way I can describe it is as a very "mellow" beer that would be great to have on a trip to the beach, a barbecue or  a warm summer evening. I highly recommend Blue Moon's Spring Blonde Wheat Ale as a terrific warm-weather beer, and so far one of my favorite wheat bears.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Music Review - Hguols - Maunstraut

This is an interesting album; my first reaction was to label this as medieval ambient, but as I listened more and more, I don't think I can classify it just as that. There's a lot of elements of medieval ambient and I hear traces of classic acts like Taur nu Fuin and Wongraven (and I'd even compare parts of this to Slechtvalk's first album "Falconry") here and there, but I think the main influence would be neoclassical/ambient with some definite medieval influences.

There's nothing but keyboards to be found here; no drums, guitars, vocals, or anything of that nature. Swelling orchestral and choral chords, tons of harpsichord (and I do mean TONS)  are the meat and potatoes here, and the music itself is pretty mellow and easy to listen to. It does tend to run together after a while though, and that's where I think the ambient influence comes in. There's a fair amount of repetition, and if done right, with this genre, repetition can be amazing and there's moments where it is pretty darn cool. "Epitome of Sovereign Toccata" is a good example and is one of my favorite tracks on the album.

I'm reminded a lot of old video game music when I listen to this album; older games like the Zelda series come to mind. That isn't an insult at all; the atmosphere conjured up here is extremely effective and one of the reasons I have a soft spot for this style of music. It knows what it's going for (a darker, mysterious atmosphere) and doesn't beat about the bush trying to achieve it, and it really does nail it, for the most part.

There are a few things I'm not crazy about though. The song lengths tend to be shorter (generally between 3 and 4 and a half minutes) and so by themselves aren't amazingly atmospheric, and that's why I think this is best listened to as a whole album rather than individual songs. There's also, like I said above, a good amount of repetition of ideas and it can drag on here and there. Some of the songwriting is a little odd; the start-and-stop idea is one I'm not too fond of for this style. An example of this would be the track "Epitome of Eternity (Tristmegistus)".

On the whole, however, this is a solid album that is sure take you back to dark, grim castles, long, foreboding hallways dimly lit and brooding forests. Hguols's "Maunstraut" is something every fan of this genre can really appreciate, and I highly recommend it to any fans of the medieval/neoclassical/ambient genres.

I'm definitely interested in seeing this style further explored by Hguols, and I think, with a little tweaking here and there, should there be another album of this style by the band, we might just have a rising star in the genre on the horizon.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Music Review - Extol - Synergy

If there's one thing Extol cannot be accused of, it's of staying in one style for too long. "Synergy" was released before the depressive/post-rocky "The Blueprint Dives," and after the technical death/black album "Undeceived," and really, none of these albums sound like they came from the same band.

"Synergy" focuses mostly on high-speed technical thrash, and sadly thrash is a genre I really just don't like, so it's hard for me to really like this album as much as I want to.

The instruments here, being Extol, are brilliant. Fast, technical, heavy and as tight as ever. The production is perfect, with everything being mixed loud, clear, heavy and balanced with each other. I'm reminded of Dream Theater at their most progressive here in parts, with all the technicality and stop/starts the Extol likes to use here. The downside here is that there's not a lot of songs I like to listen to; the playing is phenomenal but it almost just sounds like speed exercises at times. The vocals are comprised mostly of high pitched screaming, and while they still have traces of Extols old vocal style here and there it's obvious that the brutal growls and shrieks are a thing of the past. Peter Espevolle begins to take over the clean vocals here, which is a little bit of a letdown because Ole Borud absolutely blows him (and almost every other vocalist) away with his singing.

It's not all just technical fanfare though, as there are some good songs present. The opener "Grace for Succession" has a killer chorus that really brings back memories of the "Burial" days. "Emancipation" opens with a solid riff that sticks out from the rest of the album and is one of my favorite tracks here.None of the tracks are really bad, per se, but they tend to run together after a while.

The exception here is the acoustic ballad, "Aperture," which really is out of place on this album. Being made up of only an acoustic guitar and Peter's clean vocals (which really sound great on this track) it's a gentle, quiet interlude on the album that probably wold have been more at home on "The Blueprint Dives," as a bonus track.

As a whole, I'd rank this as one of Extols' weaker albums; the songwriting here just isn't up to par with what they're capable of. Aside from a few really good moments that pop up and two or three strong tracks, there's not a whole lot to see here. It's technical to the max, it's heavy, but it's just not that good.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Music Review - Extol - The Blueprint Dives

When I first heard this album, I thought I had the wrong CD playing; the Extol I knew was brutal, death/black/progressive metal, and in more recent times, a technical but still brutal thrash metal band. The Blueprint Dives, while still Extol, showed their most dramatic change in musical style, going from fast, technical thrash to an almost depressive rock with some thrash metal and post-rock influences.

It definitely takes some getting used to, on all fronts. Gone is the insane drumming, replaced by a much more subdued approach. Gone are the lightning fast guitars playing ten different things at one, replaced by a much more rock influenced sound. Gone are the brutal and savage vocals, replaced by an almost hardcore scream with lots of clean vocals. The vocals, in my opinion, are quite good, with the screams retaining at least the ferocity of Peter Espevolls style and the clean vocals going quite well with the softer and calmer portions of the album.

However, despite the drastic change in style, Extol prove to be excellent at their newfound sound. Fast tracks like the opener "Gloriana," and "Soul Deprived" show that they still have what it takes to put out some fast, intense music, while calmer numbers like "Lost in Dismay," and the fantastic ballad "Pearl" really showcase the softer and more relaxed side of the band. More somber songs like "The Things I found," "Void," and the closer "The Death Sedative" are much more depressive  in tone and definitely highlight Extol's ability to really create a dark atmosphere and show more of the post-rock side of the band.

The production on this album is just perfect; every single instrument gets to shine and it all sounds gorgeous. It's heavy, clean, crisp and perfectly balanced. Kudos to whoever mixed this album for doing a fantastic job. 

There's not a lot of real bad moments here that I can point to; "Essence" is a slightly weaker track that probably could have been cut from the album, and "Another Adam's Escape" just doesn't click with me as much as the rest of the songs, but aside from those two everything here is pretty solid.

Is this album a brutal masterpiece like "Burial," or "Undecievd"? No. But, as a standalone album, it's pretty darn solid, and one I enjoy fairly often. If you're a fan of Extol's old sound, look elsewhere, as there really is nothing here that even hints at their former styles. The band really has moved on, and The Blueprint Dives, while a very different animal than the rest of their discography, is still an excellent album, and one I recommend to any fans of depressive and post-rock. Give this album a listen, and just enjoy it for what it is; good, dark, relaxed hard rock.