Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Music Review - Atmosphere - The Family Sign

Atmosphere has released another stellar album of rap/hip-hop, following their outstanding 'When Life Gives You Lemons,' and their whimsical freebie 'Leak At Will.' This record is full of blues, jazz, piano, soft rhymes, brilliant storytelling with very few weak points to be found.

As stated above, the music here comes from all live instruments; Atmosphere is now a full band and has very little sampling (beats, synths, etc). This lends a very organic sound to the music which is very common in the genre. Bluesy electric guitar leads, soft jazz riffs and acoustic playing take center stage, with lots of jazz/blues piano following. The mix is perfect, clear and not overwhelming with the bass.

The lyrics here are, as per usual, brilliant. From  real-life anecdotes to more allegorical stories, every line is well thought out and perfectly placed. There's no forced rhyming or out of place lines anywhere to be found here, and the storytelling ability of Slug remains one of the best features about Atmosphere. Lyrics have always been Atmospheres forte, and this is no different. These are lyrics which have real meaning.

The tone of the album is very laid back, relaxed and even depressive, as seen in the second track 'The Last To Say,' where slide guitar and mellow guitar chords and a soft beat combine into one of the best tracks the group has ever released. Other songs are more upbeat, like 'Just for Show,' and the mostly-acoustic 'Ain't Nobody,' with it's bouncy beat and quirky keyboards.

The high moment of the album, however, would have to be 'I Don't Need Brighter Days,' with it's atmospheric keyboards, huge guitar leads and heavy beat; this is definitely the epic of the album and shows a potentially brilliant sound for the band.

While weaker moments are here ('She's Enough,' 'Millennium Dodo,' and 'Bad Bad Daddy,') the majority of this album is packed with catchy tunes backed by a real organic and home-grown feel. No gangsters, drugs or women to be found here; instead, it's family, real life, real struggles and real hardships, which, as Atmosphere has a knack for showing, can sometimes be much more gritty than the stylized world of hip-hop. 'The Family Sign,' is one of the better albums to come out of any genre in recent times, and I highly recommend this to anyone in search of well played, well thought out, creative music.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Music Review - Satyricon - Dark Medieval Times

Satyricon's "Dark Medieval Times," ranks pretty high on my favorite albums list; as an exercise in atmosphere I regard it as more or less unparalleled. This to me is a pretty rare kind of album, one that perfectly captures the essence of what it sets out to capture, which is in this case, as shown by the title, "Dark Medieval Times."

The times are dark here indeed, and theres no light creeping in at any point. This is a cold, bleak, harsh and somber album with little respite. A haunting and ghostly and even otherworldly intro opens the album, and the mood is kept for the rest of the disc. What sets this apart in my mind is that "Dark Medieval Times," retains a real, genuine medieval atmosphere, as opposed to a folk-styled atmosphere or a merely dark atmosphere. The acoustic break in the title track and the pure acoustic "Min Hyllest Til Vinterland," really do retain a very unique, cold and dark feeling that brilliantly captures the darkness of the medieval period. This is an album that wouldn't be out of place in a film like Ingmar Bergman's  "The Seventh Seal."

The instruments here are handled competently; being a fairly old-school style of black metal there isn't a lot of technicality to speak of as the focus is on atmosphere and not technicality. The drumming is typical, consisting of very fast blast-beats and standard but effective slower patterns. The vocals are a grating screech, which, while not terribly unique to the genre, fit the music perfectly.Organs, whispers, lots of acoustics are all used very effectively in creating the atmosphere.

There's little negative to say here; now and then the atmosphere breaks as the music meanders along and becomes uninteresting. "The Dark Castle in the Deep Forest," is a weaker moment, with some pretty chaotic guitar work that doesn't really do a whole lot in terms of atmosphere; but for the most part the music is solid and consistent.

The atmosphere that is achieved here is astounding. Genuine medieval darkness is here; dark castles, evil forests, otherworlds, the plague and cold are all present on this album to a degree that I've not found on any other album. For those looking for dark, grim mood music, look no farther. This entire album resonates with a feeling of ominous darkness, and almost dream-like atmosphere, and I highly recommend this for any fan of metal and medieval music.