Sol – The Storm Bells Chime
Location: Aarhus, Denmark
Label: Avantgarde Music
Few genres in metal embody that avant-garde spirit better than drone doom, a movement more or less created by Seattle, Washington’s Earth. Led by Dylan Carlson, Earth turned conventional song structure on its head, and created music that focused more on texture and atmosphere. Many bands have followed suit (Sunn O))) being one famous example) and many of those bands have even pushed the genre into even more exciting (or strange, depending on your perspective) territory. One such artist is Denmark’s one-man project, Sol, who has been terrorizing listeners since 2007.
Sol’s latest release, The Storm Bells Chime, is easily one of the moodiest pieces of music I’ve listened to in a while. On tracks like “Greet The Dawn (For F)” and “Ascending To The Embrace Of Clouds,” I am reminded of drone artists like Sunn O))) and Wolvserpent, particularly with the minimalist guitar arrangements. Guitars plod along at a tectonic pace, with low, crushing notes coupled with higher-pitched notes that add a slight melody, couple with jazz-influenced piano splashes, and an almost industrial-style rhythm pulsing behind the wall of sound. One thing setting Sol apart, however, is the inclusion of vocals, which range from burly yelling (I picture a drunken lumberjack howling in the woods) to monk-like chanting style vocals (the most melodic aspect of the music) and even some deep Attila Csihar-style whispering. “From Every Orifice Of The Abyss” is a haunting piano driven piece, with sung vocals similar to The Great Annihilator-era Swans, and shows how good Sol is at moving from raging tunes to quieter, more introspective songs.
I can honestly say, after listening to The Storm Bells Chime, that I feel the urge to delve deeper into Sol’s back-catalogue, which is a testament to how impressive this album really is. Moody, moving, and at times terrifying, The Storm Bells Chime is an avant-garde, droning beast of an album. If you like a little more adventure in your listening experience, give Sol an hour of your time, and the rewards will be plenty!
The Veer Union – Decade
Label: Pavement Entertainment
Taking its name from its release coming ten years after the band’s first album, Decade is The Veer Union‘s fourth LP, running ten tracks of modern hard rock straight out of Canada. OK, now that your standards are appropriately calibrated, let’s dive on in.
The lyrics are easily the worst part, sunk in the sort of self-pitying middle-school notebook scrawlings that seems to be the standard for the style these days. Combined with the production work on vocal tuning, plastic-sheen drum-beats, and edgy guitar with no actual bite, it feels like an album of tracks intended for use in video-game commercials (I’m thinking Call of Duty or the latest racing game franchise, though some of the sadder pieces could easily work for the trailer of a YA book series film adaptation). It is impressive how unified a style the band presents when three-fourths of the members (and the touring drummer) are new to the group for this album.
There’s little sign of difficulty in assembling the tracks, half of which (according to the release notes) were unused pieces pre-dating The Veer Union‘s establishment. Glossy chords, not-too-submerged drumming, and penetrative vocals come together pretty well by modern hard rock standards, and as long as you ignore what’s being sung, it’s not too hard to start bobbing your head along to the rhythm.
Given that vocalist/founding member Crispin Earl also handled the production, most of the credit for the album’s final standing seems to be thanks his efforts. While the production is very ‘radio rock’ in tone, with modern touches like electronically-stuttered vocals and crescendos which build to a sudden volume cut-off, its handling by one of the band-members does earn some grudging respect. The album’s heavy usage of building tension in layers does pay off (check “The Unwanted” for one of the better examples), and as something mostly aimed at teenage girls (I’m guessing here based on the group’s promo photo), the instrumental writing is actually stronger than the band would have needed to try for to just hit that goal.
But for all the credit given to the band for what it overcame in putting this album together, the criticism for turning out something so regressive (even accounting for the time-capsule nature of half the tracks) takes off a near-equal amount of points. If you were in the electronics department of a big-box store around a decade ago, and they were playing ads for the new albums from edgy alternative acts (Breaking Benjamin and Hawthorne Heights come to mind), this would slip right into that rotation. Let’s just say the album fits its title just a little too well.