It’s been a while since I could just write about some excellent, expressive post-rock. No genre slashes, no wild experimentation, just good old expansive, dream-y, beautiful post-rock. Luckily for me, Heron released You Are Here Now and gave me just such an opportunity. The album is an expressive and evocative take on classic post-rock, hitting the same sorrow tinged pressure points as The Khost or mid-era Explosions in the Sky. It manages to shrug off the aura of mediocrity that too often smothers the genre and soars well beyond its confines. On the way, it gathers influences from a range of rock styles and channels them all through a contemplative lens. Let’s meet after your first taste of it.
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is a hot-shit guitar player, no doubt about it. He was a core member of post-hardcore firebrands At The Drive-In and his Herculean strongman solos defined the sound of The Mars Volta, the love ‘em or hate ‘em prog punk freakout machine. After recording over 900 solo albums, he seemed to have decided that his maximalist style was maxed out. First it was Noctourniquet, the fairly straightforward, (allegedly) final album from the Volta. Then it was a new band with the longtime Plant to his Page—vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala—and the post-punkish Antemasque. Their debut record was even more conventional than Noctourniquet, with catchy choruses and riffs, and the least cryptic lyrics Bixler-Zavala has ever put to wax. So maybe, in retrospect, Crystal Fairy is not that surprising.
With their clever blends of genres, sounds and tones, these three EPs contain all that’s needed for an emotional crisis (and its catharsis). Voyager entices you with the promise and size of space, leaving you in a peculiar mood associated with exploration and your role within it. Gnosis brings you face to face with the overpowering aspects of knowledge and mysticism, wearing you down with black metal spliced with intense, oriental folk acoustics and drawn out abrasiveness. Fossils swoops in and dunks you in coldest winter, freezing you to the bone. Taken together, these EPs represent a truly powerful experience and an accomplished musical journey.
Just this week, as part of our Editors’ Picks column, I spoke a bit about the ever-changing soundscape of post-hardcore, its upcoming solidification as the genre proliferates and interesting combinations with existing sub-genres which might keep it fresh and moving. Holy Roar Records is a good place to continue this discussion; they’ve almost made it their specialty to sign artists from this milieu, drawing vast synonyms between the label and the sounds associated with post-hardcore. Naturally, you find some dross but most of what Holy Roar signs has interesting things to say about post-hardcore. Take Earth Moves for example. Their sadly overlooked release from 2016, The Truth in Our Bodies, is a fragile, honest and powerful album, blending post-hardcore vocals, doom instruments and post rock compositions. This amalgam creates both a sound unique to Earth Moves and a chilling sojourn in a stark place for the listener, populated with the band’s own psychodrama.
It’s no secret by now that I have a sweet tooth when it comes to my progressive metal. There’s something so freeing in complex music which manages to blend its pretenses with honest, almost naive, joy. Last year, we got the beautiful Affinity from Haken, as perfect an example of the style as we’re likely to get. Luckily, there are other bands operating within these parameters, making music that’s interesting to listen to but also fun. Case in point: Kepler Ten and their upcoming Delta-V, which we’ll be reviewing in…four hours? For now, we have an exclusive premiere of the first track on the album and one of the best examples of why I love the record. Head on down below to check it out!
How to navigate the sheer number of festivals now available for the metal fan? With the aim of helping you sort through this vast variety, we’ve compiled the following primer. It’s by no means extensive; it’s simply impossible to write about all of the festivals we would have liked to mention. We focused on those we’ll be attending and on those who have the most attractive setlists in our eyes. That being said, do feel free to share more great festivals with us in the comments and please enjoy this, our selection of festivals for 2017.
Over the past couple years we’ve published two massive articles about the current state and impending trends of music consumption—my deep dive on the tough realities of streaming platforms and Nick’s bullshit-free synopsis of Nielsen’s 2016 music industry report. While both of these pieces had minimal references to metal, the research and analysis we presented outlines some staggering changes to the entirety of music, changes that continue to expand and show no sign of slowing. And though it’s been just over a year since I channeled my B.A. thesis on streaming for my deep dive, Billboard published a story that compelled me to revisit the topic and write down my thoughts as soon as possible. The facts of the story are relatively simple—because Billboard now incorporates track streams into the sales figures they consider, The Weeknd’s Starboy remained at #1 on the Top 200 for this week because it technically “sold” more albums than The XX’s I See You, landing the British indie pop trio at #2 on the list despite selling more actual albums. If you don’t see why this fact is reason for at least some concern, then please head past the jump to consider the following question – are streams and purchases comparable?
Though it may seem like we talked ad naseum about how fucking spectacular 2016 was in terms of new music, the fact remains that we saw more fantastic albums drop than we could seemingly keep up with. But just when we thought our palates were satiated, here comes 2017 with an excellent early roster of release announcements, some we’ve expected for a while and others that came out of nowhere. The following is a surely incomplete list of all the albums worth craving as we ring in the new year. Some of these albums have been fully announced with pre-order links and all that jazz, while others are merely probable assumptions based on various updates on social media. Regardless, these are all phenomenal projects worth looking for in the coming year. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and we encourage you to comment with some albums you’re anticipating so we can share in your excitement.
Just testing some stuff briefly
Welcome back to Heavy Vanguard, where Scott Murphy and I explore the strangest, most dense compositions that music has to offer. This week we explore Loren Connor’s album Red Mars: an album that, while experimental, comes with a certain subtlety about its experimentation. It’s actually one of the most listenable albums that…