Album Review: Tool – Fear Inoculum

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Band: Tool | Album: Fear Inoculum | Genre: Progressive metal, Alternative metal | Year: 2019

From: Los Angeles, USA | Label: Volcano

For a band with the stature that Tool has, writing my usual two-paragraph intro feels almost superfluous. They’re one of the most popular progressive metal bands of all time; their first four studio albums all went platinum multiple times over and are critically revered. They mixed the darker sound of early ‘90s alt-rock with progressive ambition and mind-bending psychedelia to forge a unique sound that resonated with a huge swathe of the population, myself included.

It shouldn’t be a secret that I love all of Tool’s previous output, with their 2001 album, Lateralus, being among my all-time personal favorites. The long-running delays and recording difficulties since their last release had become a punchline among fans, with Tool’s as-yet-unreleased fifth album being considered as imminent as Half-Life 3 or The Winds of Winter. But Fear Inoculum has finally arrived, 13 years after their previous release, 2006’s 10,000 Days. Most reviews I’ve seen, as well as general online discourse I’ve observed, has tended toward rapturous praise. I’m not among those. Continue reading “Album Review: Tool – Fear Inoculum”

Album Review: Merlin – The Mortal

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Band: Merlin | Album: The Mortal | Genre: Heavy Psych, Stoner metal | Year: 2019

From: Kansas City, (MO,) USA | Label: The Company

For fans of: Elder, Hawkwind, Pink Floyd

Buy: Bandcamp | Big Cartel | Apple Music

Merlin are one of the better examples of progressive stoner metal, and their last few albums have shown a clear musical evolution from dank groovemasters to artistically ambitious dank groovemasters. The saxophone which first appeared on 2018’s The Wizard now is more fully integrated, and with it, an injection of jazz influence. Blues elements are certainly present as well, but they don’t overpower, and many of the sludgy riffs are played with impressive restraint.

The Mortal appears to be something of a follow-up to The Wizard. Beyond their shared use of saxophone and similar titles, both close with an eponymous suite, and both those suites share musical and lyrical themes of magic. Continue reading “Album Review: Merlin – The Mortal”

Album Review: Howling Sycamore – Seven Pathways to Annihilation

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Band: Howling Sycamore | Album: Seven Pathways to Annihilation | Genre: Progressive metal | Year: 2019

From: San Francisco, USA | Label: Prosthetic Records

For fans of: Watchtower, Cormorant, Coroner, Voivod

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music

Howling Sycamore’s self-titled debut was one of the strongest metal releases of 2018. The music was an engaging mixture of thrash, black, and progressive metal, and Jason McMaster has some of the most striking and distinct voices in modern metal. I’d been anticipating the release of their follow-up ever since McMaster had first posted about it online, wondering what sort of direction they’d go in.

Seven Pathways to Annihilation is, in many ways, a series of contrasts to Howling Sycamore. Where the band’s debut was a lean, 37-minute assault, this record sprawls. Not just in its 50-minute runtime, but the individual songs feature more internal tempo and dynamic variation. Even the album cover is an inversion from the debut. The blue, multi-pronged bolt of lightning contrasts against the bare, orange sycamore tree of the first album. One place the two albums do not clash is in the quality of the music. Seven Pathways to Annihilation is a fitting successor to the band’s fantastic first album. Continue reading “Album Review: Howling Sycamore – Seven Pathways to Annihilation”

Odds & Ends – July 11, 2019

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Odds & Ends is a recurring column where I cover short releases and albums I wasn’t able to commit enough time to for a full-length review.

custBand: Custard Flux | Album: Echo | Genre: Psychedelic rock, folk rock | Bandcamp

Custard Flux has a neat little gimmick. With the exception of one electric guitar solo, all instrumentation is acoustic. This band’s particular blend of psychedelic pop and folk rock with progressive leanings results in something unique. Despite being almost all acoustic, the music is bombastic and impactful, and there’s a nice mix of the straightforward and the weird.

Score: 80/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – July 11, 2019”

Album Review: Baroness – Gold & Grey

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Band: Baroness | Album: Gold & Grey | Genre: Sludge metal, Progressive metal, Hard rock | Year: 2019

From: Savannah, USA | Label: Abraxan Hymns

For fans of: Mastodon, Adrift, Inter Arma

Buy: Many options

Baroness are one of the biggest acts in all of progressive metal. Their first two albums (Red Album and Blue Record) are beloved by the prog metal community for their creative fusions of sludge metal, progressive rock, and some surprising pop sensibilities. Their sprawling third album, Yellow & Green, was a noticeable step down in quality, featuring a lot of music that sounded like attempts to make radio-friendly hard rock. There was still good music here, but it should’ve been cut down to one album. Purple, released in 2015, was a step up. It was a metal album, for sure (and a pretty good one, at that), but it still wasn’t on par with those first two albums.

So, with Baroness’s recent ups-and-downs in mind, I approached this album somewhat cautiously. The singles were okay on the whole. Some were certainly better than others, but this is a long record, so I tried to keep an open mind.

The music itself is varied in its quality. The addition of guitarist/backup vocalist Gina Gleason works very well. Her backing vocals add a rich, new character to the music, and she and lead vocalist John Baizley sound great together. Continue reading “Album Review: Baroness – Gold & Grey”