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Unmetal Monthly // March & April 2024

Take a journey into sounds unknown with experimental, psychedelic, and avante-garde recs from across the non-metal(ish) world.

18 days ago

Welcome back to Unmetal Monthly, your destination for slightly less tinnitus-inducing recs from the HB team. It's been a wild spring around these parts, with life changes of all stripes taking place. And with change, even positive change, comes a sense of unsettling and exploration. Those feelings are certainly represented in our latest listening, with experimental and psychedelic albums dominating this column. Seize the day (and your headphones) with us for a exciting journey through sounds unknown. As always, I'm glad to have you on the sonic road with us.

-Bridget Hughes

Henrik Palm - Nerd Icon (occult rock/experimental rock/metal)

Many aspects of Henrik Palm’s peculiar style are informed by metal. As a former member of many underground metal acts, such as the beloved occult rock-influenced NWOTHM band In Solitude, it’s not surprising that Palm’s style is rooted in metal. But, despite the obvious metal influences, there is so much more to Palm’s uncategorizable music than solely metal. And this is why Nerd Icon is being reviewed in our Unmetal Monthly column: it simply doesn’t fit anywhere else among Heavy Blog’s many columns. 

My first exposure to Palm’s unique style was when I stumbled upon his sophomore album, 2020’s Poverty Metal, and it became the aural oddity I didn’t know I needed during a time of existential listlessness and agonizing monotony. The album presented a unique mix of occult rock, sludge, and traditional metal. But it also included a convincing but ominous take on “Destroyer” by Twisted Sister and a tranquil major-key acoustic interlude entitled “Nihil” that led hilariously straight into the sinister beginning of “Nihilist”. 

Whereas Poverty Metal showcased Palm’s singular musical voice, it often came across as an experimental transitional album. Nerd Icon, on the other hand, has taken all of those disparate sounds and streamlined them into a more cohesive whole that allows Palm’s unique musical voice to shine through. This despite the fact that Nerd Icon arguably displays an even wider range of musical ideas than Poverty Metal did. 

Tracks such as “Subway Morgue” and “Swim to the Light” most closely resemble the sludgy NWOTHM sound of Poverty Metal. But Palm really stretches his wings on tracks like “Talismanic Love” and “Back to Abnormal”. The latter evokes childlike wonder as it moves from a slow pastoral interplay between a piano and acoustic guitar into a prancing sequence of rapid eighth notes played in unison between a synthesizer and acoustic guitar. The former is a far more sinister affair, but it similarly forgoes traditional rock tropes by removing percussion altogether. It is instead carried by a consistent eighth-note staccato pulse of what almost sounds like an upright bass. Stretching his wings even wider, Palm sounds as if he wrote his own eulogy with the epic piano dirge “From the Grave”, and the sax solo that ends the song wrenches every bit of feeling out of the brass and into that eulogy.

Despite the wide array of sounds displayed and feelings evoked on Nerd Icon, the underlying strength of the album lies within the unique musical voice of Henrik Palm. The peaks and valleys of style and emotion in Nerd Icon would simply not be convincing with less musically confident artists.

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-JD

The Andretti - The Silent Goodbye (experimental/avant-garde)

The Andretti is an experimental/avant-garde act led by singer, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Joe Ferrara. When Ferrara isn’t writing off-the-wall, post-ironic music for The Andretti, he apparently moonlights as a singer and entertainer for hire, variously covering Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, Bobby Darin, and more. It is important to note that it’s not an irrefutable fact that Joe Ferrara the entertainer is the same as Joe Ferrara the main man behind The Andretti, but the similarity is uncanny. This observation is not intended merely to be some low-effort “gotchya” internet sleuthing, but it’s meant to highlight how much of The Andretti’s style sounds as if it’s a twisted reproduction of some gaudy Las Vegas performance at the height of 1960s or 1970s excess. And that is meant as a compliment! 

You see, The Silent Goodbye, The Andretti’s sophomore full-length, revels in ironic reverence to the glitz and glamour of that bygone era of entertainment. However, Ferrera is not simply reproducing the past. Ferrara’s seamless postmodern melding of disparate styles of rock, exotica, and jazz; his maximalist compositional approach; and his penchant for biting lyrical cynicism call on influences such as Frank Zappa to Mr. Bungle. Rather than being draped in drab anachronism, Ferrara’s jigsaw puzzle of sounds is wholly engaging and exceptionally modern while merely nodding to the past. 

Each track is painstakingly composed with multiple layers of rich instrumentation — up to 200 tracks, in fact (if notes on a compilation he released prior to The Silent Goodbye are to be believed). Album opener “SuperEgoTeleDigiCyberParanoia”, for example, starts simply enough with pulsating chords played on a synth coupled with Ferrara’s gravelly voice hushed to a whisper. But the song eventually breaks into a steady 4/4 beat featuring a melody from the pedal steel guitar, which in turn is supported by a horn section, bells, and congas. One rarely hears all of the aforementioned instruments within the same song, much less the same genre, but Ferrara makes it work with stunning ease throughout the album.

One would think that Ferrara’s voice would be buried underneath all of the layers of instrumentation, but his trained voice is a focal point of the album. He most often sings in a throaty baritone full of bravado, but he occasionally employs gravelly whispers and tortured screams.

While 2020’s Suicide, Italian Style was masterful in its own right, The Silent Goodbye takes a decidedly more focused and cinematic approach. One can vividly imagine being in a 1970s cop thriller while listening to “Vernazza!” or a 1940s noir romance while listening to “The Silent Goodbye, Pt. 2”. In particular, “The Silent Goodbye” showcases a melodramaticism dripping with sentimentality but not without Ferrara’s self-awareness and social critique. While cinematic in scope, the tone of the track makes it clear that Ferrara is cognizant of the grandiosity of his compositional work and vocal delivery, but his lyrics address disparate yet vivid images of the superficial aspects of wealth and celebrity. It’s a striking juxtaposition in which the music seems to celebrate the pompous and extravagant, but the lyrics critique it. The last stanza, especially the line “the curtain upstages all the stars in the Silent Goodbye”, seems to suggest that all of the superficial fascinations and distractions by those with wealth and power mean nothing once death approaches.

Similar to what one would expect from an over the-top Las Vegas performance, Ferrara has thrown out all of the stops on The Silent Goodbye. Sure, there’s glitz and glamour. But there’s also grime that’s been twisted into the cynical lyrics and tongue-in-cheek approach to the music. The Silent Goodbye strikes this balance exceptionally well, and it’s well worth multiple listens to uncover the layers, both literal and figurative, in this masterpiece.

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Anandammide - Eura (psychedelic folk)

Perhaps it’s the return of summer, or perhaps it’s a collective need to escape to seemingly happier, simpler times, but my musical radar is suddenly filled with nostalgic pop and folk acts reviving the classic sounds of the 1960s and 1970s. Recycling and refreshing established traditions is a tale as old as time in the musical realm, of course, but the latest wave seems to be doing something special with the bubblegum-tinged sounds of yesteryear. It’s soft, sweet music I can just as easily share with my Beatles-loving dad as with my fellow music nerds.

European psychedelic folk collective Anandammide takes us on a journey through multiple time warps, channeling medieval melodies and experimental 70s folk into lush, hypnotic songs. A gentler, folkier version of Gryphon (one of my favorite bands of all time), Anandammide intertwines wandering synths with slightly haunted choral arrangements and gentle acoustic instruments. Eura wears its folk rock heritage proudly on its sleeve, softly guiding us through personal journeys with narrative lyrics. The effect is akin to wandering through a quiet forest after a rainstorm, mind and body drifting through life in a moment of blessed solitude and release. 

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-Bridget Hughes

beach novels - Flowers From Your Garden (dream pop/shoegaze/post-punk)

One of the upsides (and hazards) of being a music nerd is that my favorite bands and albums are constantly shifting depending on my moods and new releases. That said, there’s a small roster of artists that have earned a permanent place in my heart, always there when I need to reset and recharge. Mississippi surfers beach novels have long held a spot in this rotation with their hazy bittersweet dream pop. With Flowers From Your Garden, the band has further expanded their sound and emotional power.

beach novels’ surf-inflected dream pop sounds like midnight at a seaside motel in the middle of nowhere. Feet drifting in the pool, a bottle of something in your hand, a flickering neon sign overhead softly illuminating the scene. You’re floating through memories tinged with regret and contentment. Things could’ve gone better, but you’ve made peace with that. 

Not so much with Flowers From Your Garden. The album is inflected with a note of bitterness that makes itself acutely known with bursts of punk fury on “Conversations” and “Leave Me Alone.” The shoegaze-y sheen that covers beach novels’ signature sound lingers in the background, but for the moment, the pain is all you know. But just as quickly, the old injuries fade back into the night as you take a breath. Wistful melodies carry you back to the present, still sad, still carrying a scar, but once again able to live with the pain. 

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-BH

 


Bridget Hughes

Published 18 days ago