England

Black To The Future Tour: Ghost w/ Purson

Location: Columbus, Ohio
Date: September 23, 2015
Ticket cost: $27.60 ($40.30 with Ticketmaster’s asshole-ish convenience fees)
Merch purchased: None

By: Kris Kotlarik

I think it’s about time for a pre-review rant about concert ticket prices. Shows that are at Alrosa Villa or Ace of Cups and/or promoted by Columbus Events Group are very reasonable in terms of cost with minimal advance fees. But then there’s Promowest Live and Ticketmaster. How do they think that adding a 50% markup on ticket fees is acceptable? Why even bother working with the evil empire that is Ticket[ass]master in the first place? There are plenty of good shows both at the Newport and the LC Pavillion, but these fees price me (and probably others) out of their shows.

That didn’t stop the Newport from nearly selling out last night, easily eclipsing the Decibel Magazine 2014 tour stop for the largest crowd I have seen at this venue, approaching upwards of 1,700 strong. With more than a handful of audience members dressing up in their Papa Emeritus garb, Ghost put on a stellar show that engaged the entire crowd. But was their performance worthy of an all-time favorite designation? What about Purson? Read on, together as one.

Purson: 3.0*
Set length: 40 minutes

This might be one of the few occasions where I can say with a straight face that the opening band sounded better than the headliner. …why are you chasing me with pitchforks? At least give me a chance to explain.

Perhaps it was because they had one less member to work with; they had pretty much the same makeup as Ghost, running two guitars (with founder Rosalie Cunningham handling the lead vocals), one bass, the drums, and a set of keys. Having even one less person to mix can make all the difference in terms of sound quality; I took my usual perch on the balcony towards the center of the venue*, and their take on 70’s style psychedelic progressive rock sounded pristine. It was like I was watching them play in their practice space. The only issue I had with their sound was with the somewhat soft backing vocals, and half the time, it just looked like the person who would be singing backing vocals just had their mouth up towards the mic while playing his instrument, which brings me to my next point:

While that kind of intimate feeling in a large venue can be a good thing, the drawback here is that Purson lacked any semblance of stage presence, spending less than a minute talking to the audience over the length of their set. The band didn’t move around on stage and, with a few exceptions, showed little visible energy. The lighting was consistently dark and brooding, and their song selection was also puzzling; their last song, even with a brief uptempo section, was easily their slowest of the night. All of that adds to listener fatigue, at least from my perspective.

Two audience members who were more familiar with Purson than I was told me that they heard the band’s full studio releases and felt indifferently about them, but said they sounded significantly better live than on tape. After taking another whack at their music, I can’t help but agree. Their latest EP, In The Meantime, is solid, but the sound on stage is vastly superior. Even so, I’ll be looking forward to their next release, Desire’s Magic Theatre, when it drops in the near future.

They could also stand to lower t-shirt prices. I have a hard time paying $35 for a t-shirt for any reason, but that goes double for a band that I’m not especially blown away by. They’re good, but not “$35 for a t-shirt” good.

All that said, Ghost picked an ideal touring mate for their jaunt around North America, as Purson is a great complementary counterpart to Ghost.

Ghost: 4.0*
Set length: 110 minutes

Ghost has the art of stage presence down to a science. With Papa Emeritus leading the five Nameless Ghouls, the band’s performance took on a life of its own. Even before the set started, anyone who was, for whatever reason, unfamiliar with Ghost quickly got their answer as to what they got themselves into; with a large satanic alternate cover art banner in full display and church choir music blasting on the speakers, everyone knew they were in for a night of occult counter-culture shenanigans. And for those still confused, the crowd was chanting “Satan! Satan! Satan” shortly before they started.

Once the band took the stage and roared into the spooky “Spirit,” it was all smiles from the audience, and rightfully so. And while I greatly enjoyed their set, I had a few nitpicks with it. The obvious first complaint is that the band was a little bit too loud across the board. One of my favorite features of Ghost’s studio albums is the subtle mix of the drums, but that is nixed here in favor of a straightforward drum blasting. This was especially noticeable on “Con Clavi Con Dio,” arguably my favorite Ghost song.

Papa Emeritus III, meanwhile, was somewhat flat on his lower notes on occasion. And while all of the new tracks they played (the only one that wasn’t played was “Deus In Absentia”) sounded great, I was shocked at the largely ignored Kansas-esque keyboard riff in “Absolution,” and further puzzled by the use of a keytar on “Mummy Dust” instead of the former.

There was also the small issue of Papa Emeritus taking off his anti-papal cloak during “Cirice” midway through the show and leaving it off for the rest of the show. I’m not sure if that’s normal, as this was my first time seeing Ghost live, but it was baffling to see him perform without that garb. But that doesn’t take away from how great of a live song “Cirice” is.

Minor shortcomings and/or question marks aside, this was a pretty special show; most notable was the debut acoustic performance of “Jigolo Har Migiddo,” adeptly showing off the skills of the Nameless Ghouls. Papa Emeritus III also gave several small percussion instruments to fans for them to play during this song.

Watching “Year Zero” was a spectacle in and of itself, and I was thoroughly pleased with “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen,” a song that I was already highly fond of and is currently stuck in my head. “Ritual,” “He Is,” “Stand By Him,” “Per Aspera Ad Inferi,” and “Mummy Dust” also stood out among their best songs as tracks that translate extremely well into a live setting.

Closing out the show with “Monstrance Clock” was simply masterful; it seems like an odd choice until you realize that there are few things better in a concert setting than having a huge crowd singing along with a backing track choir as the band exits the stage: “Come together; together as one. Come together, for Lucifer’s son.” Fucking genius.

Above all else, Ghost is right up there with Devin Townsend in terms of personally engaging with fans during the set. I counted at least ten instances where Papa Emeritus singled out a specific fan who said something to him, and there were nothing but smiles coming from those fans. It was a high-energy set that should be considered a must-see for any metal fan.

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*If you go to the Newport and are looking for the best possible sound quality, stand as close to the sound booth as possible, located behind the main concert floor and next to the bar. 

ATF Review: The Prodigy – Fat of the Land

Location: Braintree, England, UK
Genre: Electronica, Breakbeat, Industrial
Relased: June 30, 1997
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: All-Time Favorites

By: Kris Kotlarik

Electronica music is something I’m not particularly fond of. I tend to call it “wankboxing,” otherwise known as “some idiot masturbating on a keyboard,” which is an admittedly ignorant stance. When I do like an electronica song/artist, it needs to make sense to me; it must be energetic (sorry, chillwave/ambient), yet coherent (and goodbye to dubstep, which originally earned the wankboxing moniker). Mindless nonsense also need not apply. If you like a mainstream artist that largely uses electronic elements and is basically described as a “club artist,” I probably hate that person.

So that narrows out a lot of electronic music for my picky mind. After all, I do prefer to hear humans playing human instruments. But there are some bands that got it right. Fatboy Slim nailed it on more than one occasion. Nine Inch Nails did it on a much more consistent basis. But for one album, The Prodigy put it all together. And that album is The Fat of the Land.*

For starters, the singles are spot-on; no three tracks better represent this album than the classic and infamous “Smack My Bitch Up,” as well as “Firestarter” and my personal favorite, “Breathe.”  All three do a unique job of capturing the kind of energy that I look for in an electronic track, but “Breathe” is something special. Theoretically, the beauty behind electronic music lies in the ability to create a mix that otherwise can’t be created using other means. The mix to “Breathe” is particularly memorable, with different sounds bouncing to different channels throughout to keep an already-interesting song even more attractive to the ear. Especially of note is the chill-inducing breakdown towards the end. “Smack My Bitch Up” also has a memorable breakdown with some enchanting yet haunting female vocals, while “Firestarter” is just…fun. Ridiculously fun.

If you’re looking for a full breakdown, you won’t find it here; in short, this simply does it for me. It’s technically sound and sonically pleasing to the ear, perhaps in large part due to its hip hop influences, as seen on “Diesel Power” and “Serial Thrilla.” There’s also the psychedelic trip of “Mindfields” and “Narayan.” The lyrics here are nothing to write home about, but that’s not really the point. The replay value on this thing is almost off the charts because of how fun this is. And while there is a lot of sampling here, it is tastefully done, unlike the numerous and onerous ripoffs we find ourselves facing in modern times.

Overall: If anyone knows of more electronic music like this, come find me. 

Rating: 4.5*

*I’m also planning on doing a review of their newest album, The Day Is My Enemy. We’ll see how that works out for me.

Review: Threshold – For The Journey

Location: Surrey, England
Genre: Progressive Rock/Metal
Released: September 19, 2014
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest: Recent Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

If you read the Star One review and thought this was the last you would be hearing from any of their members for a while, you have been misled. To be fair, Threshold’s newest release caught me off guard, as I had not heard any news of it being released until, well, after it was released.

At times, Damian Wilson, one of the lead vocalists for Star One, sounds surprisingly similar to Blind Guardian‘s Hansi Kursch, and this is apparent from the uptempo opener, “Watchtower On The Moon.” It’s a nice track with some occasional shades of Coheed and Cambria and has some of the synth and guitar riffs that made Star One take flight. But if you don’t like Hansi, you have been warned. Damian has a much less raspy voice, but the similarities are striking. I’m probably going to take some flak for this comparison, but I am saying this in a complementary way, as I am fond of both vocalists.

The next track, “Unforgiven,” is much slower and starts with an extremely corny “Mirror, mirror…” line that I really would have liked to avoid. Picture, if you will, “New World Order” from Shadow Gallery’s Tyranny, but without any of the emotion and raw energy that makes that particular track special. There’s a nice, energetic guitar solo at the end, but it fades out anticlimactically and drops into “The Box,” which begins with a simple piano melody (but not as forced and boring as Rihanna’s “Stay.” That song is truly terrible). This track is the longest on the album by far, clocking in at twelve minutes.

After a lengthy but fiery movie sample, the tempo gets pushed up a notch. The chorus to this track sounds like the one from the opener, which is a staple in Threshold’s sound. The tempo slows down and the Damian Wilson layering is turned up to 11. Even if the chorus is a little overdone, this is a solid track with a variety of sections to keep the listener interested.

What follows is “Turned To Dust,” an industrial mid-paced chugga tune that feels out of place with Wilson’s vocals. “Autumn Red,” on the other hand, has a lot going for it. It takes the precedent set by “Turned To Dust” and spins it into a much more effective track with some solid riffs and melody changes. The closer, “Siren Sky,” is another midtempo chugger that I would rank in between these two tracks. It has some of the heaviest riffs and easily the heaviest drum patterns in bursts. There is a sample at about the five-minute mark that completely sucks the flow out of the song, and the remaining minute comes across as overcompensating for those lost five seconds.

“Lost In Your Memory” starts much like “The Box” does, but doesn’t have the buildup and payoff that the aforementioned track does. The melancholic solo towards the end of the track is nice but doesn’t redeem it. “The Mystery Show,” in spite of having the same chorus that is all over this record, is the best of the slower tracks, with an intriguingly haunting introduction, fantastic piano-guided bridge section, and a nifty solo.

As for the bonus track, “I Wish I Could,” it’s quite different from the rest of the album, featuring variations of most of the tracks that are on here. It’s as if the band decided to take all the good aspects of For The Journey that worked and threw them all on one track. I’m not sure if it works in a cohesive sense, but there’s a different, unique sound that is a refreshing change of pace.

Overall: While this is a decent effort, it feels too “safe.” The chorus from any one song could easily be placed in most other tracks.

Rating: 3.0*

Top tracks: Autumn Red, The Mystery Show, Watchtower On The Moon, I Wish I Could

ATF Review: Anathema – Weather Systems

Location: Liverpool, England
Genre: Atmospheric/Prog Rock
Released: April 16, 2012
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: All Time Favorite Reviews

By: Kris Kotlarik

As I have mentioned before, Anathema is a tour de force in the modern world of progressive rock when it comes to making emotional, well-produced music. While previous albums, such as We’re Here Because We’re Here and, to a stronger degree, A Natural Disaster, are solid, the diversity on Weather Systems is unparalleled in Anathema’s discography. And it’s not just the diversity; this is extremely precise in its production, and boasts a wide array of orchestral elements that add so much to the core instrumentation. This is not a metal album in the traditional sense; there are no “screams” or “growls” or any of that stuff. Guitarist Danny Cavanaugh said on the band’s official website that “this is not background music for parties. The music is written to deeply move the listener, to uplift or take the listener to the coldest depths of the soul.”  I love this remark; given my current location, a party that has this album playing in the background would probably be empty, while the house next door is blasting “Turn Down For What” or whatever bullshit wankboxing club song happens to be popular right now. This is the kind of album you would want to take with you if you were to walk around in Finnish Lapland in the dead of winter, or on a desolate beach during sunset. And that’s the kind of music I like.

Given that there are nine songs, the easiest way for me to break this thing down is to divide it into thirds and go from there. The beginning third is very good, but isn’t the best segment. The two parts of “Untouchable” are moving to say the least, although the second part wallows a little bit too long in its somber state. Beneath all of the layers and soaring vocals, particularly in the first part, is an acoustic rhythm guitar that acts as the bass. “The Gathering Of The Clouds” follows with an extremely lively melody and multi-layered vocals. This is one of the more consistent songs from start to finish, as there is no buildup that spans several minutes at times as there is on, for example, “Untouchable Part 1.”

The middle segment features some of the best music I have ever come across and is therefore my favorite on this album. “Lightning Song” is a start-to-finish highlight for Lee Douglas on vocals and becomes heavier towards the end, with a string arrangement in the background throughout. “Sunlight” is very similar to the previous track, with the exception being Danny Cavanaugh taking over lead vocal duties and doing a spectacular job of it. “The Storm Before The Calm” is the most notable exploration into an electronic-oriented sound prior to this year’s Distant Satellites. Even the vocals are saturated with electronic effects during the first half. Another notable aspect is the section immediately before “the calm” kicks in, which boasts two minutes of electronic “jamming.” Up until about the five-minute mark (the official length is 9:24), this is completely different from anything I heard from Anathema’s prior releases. After that, it morphs into a similar feel to that of “Untouchable Part 2.”

The final three songs are much more melancholic in nature compared to their earlier counterparts. “The Beginning And The End,” which kicks off this unofficial segment, is the best of this group with an extremely powerful buildup. “The Lost Child” and especially “Internal Landscapes” are rather hard to listen to at times because of how crestfallen (pun intended) they are. The latter track starts with a spoken-word segment that lasts over two minutes, explaining how a man saw death, and ends with another quote from the same passage. Both tracks require the listener to be in a certain state of mind in order to truly “enjoy” them. But if you’re feeling existential and/or temporarily nihilistic, they are just the right tracks to go to.

One aspect I have not touched on yet is the lyrics, which are stellar. To post them here wouldn’t do them much justice as they are best listened to, not read. If anything, they would look cheesy on paper (especially on songs like “Untouchable Part 1”). Regardless, the music is relatable to real human situations and should be regarded as a must-listen for anyone with an appreciation for emotional, captivating music.

Overall:  This would probably be a top-three all-time album if not for the last two songs, which are good but are best reserved for listening to at specific times.

Rating: 4.5*