Archive for February, 2011

Grayceon – “All We Destroy” Review

Grayceon - "All We Destory"

Grayceon – “All We Destroy” (Profound Lore Records, 2011)

I have ranted and raved, wept and wailed like a bug-eating Old Testament prophet in this blog about my fear that the life and creativity has been bleached out of metal these days. Yes, there are a handful of folks that are pushing the boundaries but, let’s face it, there are a lot of bands churning out generic insert-your-favorite-metal-subgenre here. Tell me if this sounds familiar: One day a band comes along and releases a slab of vinyl that rampages like a tornado through metal’s trailer park. Unfortunately, after this brief storm of creativity and inspiration, we are doomed to ten years of 463 uninspired groups that exist only to recreate the sound and songs of band x. This is not a formula for innovation, it is a recipe for mediocrity.

My frustration with this stagnation has, in fact, influenced my posting here on Pitch Black Brigade. I have found it difficult recently to marshall the energy and interest to listen to another turgid, generic metal record (not to name names but . . . something like Gorgoroth, for example). And just when I have consigned myself to the fact the I will be forever condemned to listen to songs like Gorgoroth’s “Procreating Satan” (which, I suggest, should instead be called “Doing Satan’s Mom”) an album comes along restore my faith in the diversity of the genre with its dizzying creativity and energy. What record has been balm for my tired and cynical soul? Grayceon’s latest, “All We Destroy.”

Grayceon are a trio from the wailing wilds of Jack Kerouac and Japhy Ryder country, San Francisco. Max Doyle, guitar, Zack Farwell, drums, and Jackie Perez  Gratz, cello, started playing together in 2006. “All We Destroy” is there third long player.

It is just about impossible to slap a label on Grayceon’s sound. How many bands can you say that about? Folks stumble all over themselves when they try to pin down Grayceon’s  sound because have to reach for 5 or 6 genres or subgenres to even come close to it. So here’s my contribution to the game of pin-the-tail on Grayceon: West Coast Hopscotch Melodic Technical Cello Metal. Why? They are from California, their tempos skitter in interesting and inspired ways like someone playing an difficult game of hopscotch, they are melodic as hell, they bust out prog-like arrangements and chops, they sport an down-tuned, electric cello and, finally, they can be as heavy as a truck load of cinder blocks.

“Shellmounds,” the second song on “All We Destroy,” is a handy 8-minute primer to the dynamics of the band’s music. The song explores what happens when a jaunty folk metal-like riff is rammed head first into Grayceon’s hopscotch tempos before being sunk into the band’s more familiar sludge-like pace.

Grayceon – “Shellmounds”

The highlight of the album is the 17-minute long “We Can.” It is sprawling, soaring melodic sludge. They build an intense and dramatic song based on layers of heaviness and melody, repetition and difference, and the contrast between piano and forte. “We Can” is cinematic in scope like a soundtrack to an intense but lyrical foreign film. I can only compare it in attitude and interest to Sonic Youth. I’m not saying Grayceon sound like the Youth but that both bands are interested in the same things: heaviness and melody. And they both go about twinning these two obsessions together in ways that are different from each other and different from other bands regardless of genre or style.

It’s only February, I know, but “All We Destroy” is already my front runner for album of the year. Why? Because I know no matter what comes out during the rest of the year, I won’t hear another album that sounds like it. And that is a pretty singular achievement in these derivative times.


Korpiklaani – More Songs about Saunas and Drinking

Korpiklaani - "Karkelo"

Korpiklaani – “Karkelo” (Nuclear Blast, 2009)

In order to celebrate the release of Korpiklanni’s new album next week, I am reviewing their last long player, “Karkelo” (“Party”). Why? Because my brother-in-law, Joe, recently brought this CD back all the way from Finland for me. Thanks, Joe!

Korpiklaani’s story is pretty well known. They started as a house band at a restaurant playing traditional folk music that featured yoik singing in the Sami language and synthesizers churning out relentless hummpa-based rhythms. They were getting by but there was no danger of them turning into rock stars or even making a decent living doing it.  Then one day, Finntroll came to town and the rest, as they say, is history: The dudes chucked the yoik-ing, traded the synthesizers for accordion and fiddle, threw down some cash for a couple of Marshall stacks, changed their name to Korpiklaani, or “Forest Clan,” and became a folk metal band. “Karkelo” is their sixth album.

You can still hear the influence of humppa in their music. Humppa, a style of Finnish dance hall music from the 1950s, reinterpreted the old foxtrots and polkas from the 1920s and 1930s into a new hyperkinetic context. The tempo of humppa songs is fast – as fast as thrash – two beats per bar or approximately 220-260 beats per minute. Humppa is the reason why Korpiklaani are more successful outside of their home country. Outside of Finland they are thought of as almost a thrash folk metal band. Inside Finland, though, they know the truth – the tempos aren’t thrash; they are foxtrots revved up to warp speed. In fact, Korpiklaani are considered “old peoples’ music with heavy metal guitars” in Finland.*

The chorus of the album’s second song, “Eramaan Arjyt,” is the closest they get to hummpa hyperactive madness on “Karkelo”

Lyrically, Korpiklaani sing the praises of drinking, drinking some more, saunas and humppa. Here is the liner note description of “Eramaan Arjyt”: “This song describes what is best for a Finnish man in the style of a newer folk song. And what can be better than forest, sauna, lovely girls, humppa and more sahti than you can ever drink. Sahti is a strong Finnish beer made in the province of Hame. Lyrics contain many words and structures from the Western Finnish dialects.” This description summarizes Korpiklaani’s entire oeuvre; they don’t stray from these themes.

The song, “Vodka,” will give you a pretty good introduction to their body of work

Several reviewers saw “Karkelo” as some kind of departure from Korpiklaani’s previous work because of some of the slower more folk influenced like “Mettanpeiton Valtiaalle.” But, remember, they started as a folks band so how can folk songs be a surprising and unnerving departure?

Korpiklaani are the AC/DC of folk metal: they know what they are good at and they don’t stray from that formula. Pick up “Karkelo” and join the party.

Categories: Folk Metal Tags: ,