On this Sabbath Sunday, we comely inhabitants of the Sleeping Village have been dipping our toes in the dangerous waters of 80’s era Black Sabbath. As one does. In the grand scheme, the general sentiment is that if it ain't Ozzy or Dio, it ain't Sabbath. While I personally tend to agree, we are talking about Iommi, the Rifflord Most High, and as such, there are certainly some diamonds in the rough. Case in point: 1983's Born Again, the blackest of the black sabbathian sheep.
Is it fair to say I'm disappointed that Born Again was Ian Gillian's only foray with the boys? My rational is that this one-off album, despite repeatedly getting the short end of the stick--often deservedly so--actually demonstrates a lot of unactualized promise.
The Sleeping Village owes a substantial debt to Black Sabbath…& not just because we blatantly lifted our moniker from their plunder-worthy supply of deep cuts. According to one contemporary review, Sabbath peddled "discordant jams with bass and guitar reeling like velocitised speedfreaks all over each other's musical perimeters, yet never quite finding synch--just like Cream! But worse.” This critic was, obviously, misinformed. Because we love to give credit where credit is due, we dedicate every Sunday (give or take0 to recounting the history of their own discography, or to highlighting a lesser-known band carrying the mantle of Sabbathian legacy. Today, it's a case of the former, as we discuss one of Sabbath's most monumental albums. Welcome to Sabbath Sunday: A Vol. 4 Retrospective.
Examining the Years 2004 to 2019
Written by: Ancient Hand
Underoath: A group of musicians that stretch the definition of “metalcore” to its limits. Also defined as: “Christian Metalcore”; more accurately defined as: A tidal wave of experimentation in a dry desert of formulaic metalcore in the mid-2000s (with the exception of Converge).
After years of experimenting with black metal sounds and lyrics dealing with topics ranging from sexual assault to failing relationships, all under the lens of Christian faith, Underoath reinvented itself. With a new vocalist, Spencer Chamberlain, front-manning the group, the sound of the band began an evolution that would never cease-- even to this day. This era of Underoath, often dubbed “The Spencer Era,” is all the band considers themselves to be nowadays, even stating that their famous album, They’re Only Chasing Safety, is their “first album.” To many fans, this is a slap in the face to the band’s beginnings, but it is important to note the drastic shift between the band’s first 3 releases (Act of Depression, Cries of the Past, and The Changing of Times) and their world-famous 2004 release, They’re Only Chasing Safety. While I will not spend my time discussing these first few releases, I still do consider them a part of Underoath. What I do want to discuss are the many aspects of the band post-2003. The shift in the Underoath’s sound, musical stylings, lyrics, and approach to making music all culminate in a band that can only be described as important.
Here at the Village, we keep our most revered albums in a very special place. As you may recall, a few months ago, one fearless Villager took you on a wild ride through the Village Crypt, along with a special guest. This time around, Loveloth is back in the Crypt with--you guessed it--another Devin feature.
After Addicted, there was a year and a half of silence until one faithful day, the Devin Townsend Project unleashed not one but two records, Ghost and Deconstruction. Each represents an extreme. Today we delve into the convoluted, absurd and insane Deconstruction, which is actually the record that started my reviewing journey. Three years ago, I wanted to do a review of it for Metal Archives, but the admins deemed it as too long and detailed and I completely understand why. However, the Village bears no mind to length *insert dick joke here* as long as it's good, and I definitely improved over these past few years, so prepare for a wild ride because this record deserves it. But before we get into the nitty gritty, a few facts about Deconstruction.
It's a concept album but it's an absurd and hilarious one, just like the previously eternalized Ziltoid. The story revolves around a man obsessed with finding the true nature of reality, and we watch him travel to Hell itself where he meets the Devil who grants him his wish. There is a twist to the story and it comes in a shape of a cheeseburger. The cheeseburger contains the secrets of the universe but our protagonist is a "vegemetarian" so his whole struggle was pointless. There is a positive message cleverly hidden here, and it's basically overcoming your fears and moving on, and the chaotic nature of the record reflects it.
With Devin at the helm and Ryan Van Poederooyen and Dirk Verbeuren (who I shall continue to refer as "The Dirk") as the two main drummers, this would be enough for most musicians, but not for Devin who decided to go all out. What we ended up with here is the single best line-up of guest musicians of all time (sorry Ayreon). People such as Fredrik Thorendal of that underground band Meshuggah, Mikael Åkerfeldt, Ihsahn, Joe Duplantier, Tommy Giles, Greg Puciato, Floor Jansen and Prague's very own Philharmonic Orchestra are just some of the names that will pop up on this insane record, and all of their contributions elevate Deconstruction to glorious and flatulent heights.
With that large set of information out of the way, we can finally jump in the rabbithole and see why I hold Decon in such high regard. Things start off innocently enough with the soft, electronic tinges of "Praise The Lowered". That innocence slowly fades as the track subtly adds new elements and reaches a breaking point midway through, but the chaos slowly subsides and morphs into "Stand" which, similarly to the previous track, plays with build-ups and dynamics. But this time we have Åkerfeldt and chugging in the mix and here our protagonist reaches the fiery depths of Hell but the sound palette that surrounds this voyage is oddly grandiose.
What follows is "Juular" and here is where we plummit into complete chaos. With insane, unrelenting Dirk blasts that mimic a steam locomotive on speed, "Juular" barrels through and leaves nothing in its wake. It's quirky, frantic and the closest thing we got to SYL in a long time. I would even say how it surpasses SYL. The addition of Ihsahn in the chorus certainly doesn't take away from the experience either.
Now what follows is the pinnacle of Deconstruction. It starts with "Planet Of The Apes", the first of three insane epics and it contains one of the funniest, most unexpected and relevant lines in modern metal: "While we all have lots of bands who influence still...we all rip off Meshuggah!" I vividly remember laughing out loud when hearing this for the first time, and you would be surprised how many times this occurred during the entirety of this absurd record.
However, absurdity and humor isn't the only thing carrying "Planet Of The Apes" and the rest of the record, it's everything. Even the extremely layered production works but I do wish there was more breathing room, especially for the choir which strengthens each vocal line by each guest. Things like chanting Jesus, Jihad, Jesus in the background of "Planet Of Apes" only add to my resolve.
With the frenetic "Sumeria" passing the middle mark of the record, the colossal "The Mighty Masturbater" appears, and is the culmination of everything we heard and more. Mind-boggling arpeggios and sweep picks, electronic breakdowns, swingy carnival-like bursts, and a huge buildup near the middle point of the track where Devin holds a speech. We get one of the best builds up of all time and while it lasts a bit too long, it never ceases to bring down chills down my spine. The crowd yells and Greg Puciato chants morph from "We praise God! He lives inside of our hearts!" to "We praise ourselves! We live inside of our minds" to finally "We praise Satan! He lives inside of our hearts!" and each time we reach a new level, his screams become more vitriolic and intense. This undoubtedly represents the decadence mankind is going through, and our infinite greed and selfishlesness. It's overwhelming, unrestrained, and brilliant, and the fact I spent writing one paragraph about one song speaks enough about how deep this record is and how much I love it.
Deconstruction is easily Devin's most technical, complex, and insane record he's ever made, and I seriously doubt he will ever top it. From the fourth-wall breaking parodies of sweep picking and arpeggios while doing exactly that, to fart jokes and choirs screaming "cheeseburger" while he melts the universe on his comically large Flying V, one could easily say this is too much and I agree, it will be for the majority. Ear fatigue was real, even for me, but something always called me back to it. It's the insane amount of details that resides in this ludicrous work of art, and it only becomes more apparent after your brain processes what's actually happening. Deconstruction was a challenge to Devin and it is to the listener, and that's the most exciting part. Despite it being too much, I still consider this to be a ground-breaking, unbelievably complex, and fun record that has a lot going for it, perhaps too much. So if this chaotic review piqued your interest, feel free to enter what I feel is the most alluringly insane record of all time and more than worthy pick to enter the Village Crypt where it will reside peacefully for the first time in its lifetime.
Here at the Village, we keep our most revered albums in....a very special place. Without further ado, let Loveloth take you on a 4th dimensional journey into the Village Crypt.
With Strapping Young Lad and The Devin Townsend Band disbanded due to being burnt out and becoming a father, Devin stepped out of the spotlight and spent time with his family to clean up mentally. After releasing his second solo ambient record The Hummer, he wanted to create something truly by himself and so the fourth dimensional Ziltoid The Omniscient was born. Sporting his famed skullet (that's literally his hair) and inspired by Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal, Ziltoid represents a sober, stable Devin and marks a new chapter in his amazing career and... wait a second, do you smell this? sniffs Is that... coffee? Huh, anyways, this is a concept reco... oh shit, just a second dear reader, someone is trying to break in!
sci-fi sounds, sounds of struggle and yelling followed by silence
Well, it seems we have a visitor who is pointing a very 80's looking space gun at my face so I'll read the text he gave to me: clears throat...
"Greetings hu-mans, I am Ziltoid The Omniscient and I've come far across the omniverse. You shall fetch me your universe's ultimate cup of coffee: black. You have five Earth minutes. Make it perfect!"
Loveloth: Ok, that's a bit excessive dude and I am in a middle of something AND I can only make French coffee, besides, I am more of a tea person nowadays. Why are you in my flat and threatening to deconstruct me into oblivion?
Ziltoid The Omniscient: You three dimensional fool! How dare you set terms with me, the fourth dimensional Ziltoid The Omniscient? You should cower in fear yet you have the gall to oppose me?? What are you doing anyways little hu-man?
Loveloth: Was writing a review about you before you barged in, oh terrible and exalted one.
ZTO: Oh, is that so? I shall then observe you creating your "review" and interject if I find fitting and no, you have no say here hu-man! Proceed. Uuh, nice portrait of me, put it here!
Loveloth: Fine... and thank you, oh mighty one... As I was saying, Ziltoid The Omniscient is a concept album about this majestic creature that is currently rummaging my living room and everything you hear on this record (apart from the additional voices) is Devin's doing, and that includes the drums which he programmed in Ezdrummer that was given to him by a guy named Fredrik Thorendal, who plays in an underground band called Meshuggah, so you can expect complete and utter madness. And utter madness we get as Ziltoid is zany, funny, thought-provoking and a complete blast to listen to. After the Danny Elfman-meets-death metal opener "ZTO", we are thrust in "By Your Command", an eight minute, intense epic where theatrics and brutality clash in spectacular fashion. This, being the first "proper" track, features all the ingredients you'll come across during this insane voyage. Complex drumming, intricate and heavy as hell guitar chugs, flashy, mind-bending solos, sweep picks, arpeggios, dialogues between characters, calm and emotional sections and Devin firing at all cylinders. His vocal performance here is one of his finest as he growls, screams, sings, talks and confidently guides you through this amazing shit-show.
ZTO: Indeeeed. I shall interject hu-man as you seem to be forgetting one very important matter. I am the greatest guitar player ever to have lived!
Loveloth: Oh yes that, thanks for reminding me Zilty--he looks at me with one eyebrow up. K, not gonna do that again--The whole premise of this record is Zilty..oid, who craves black coffee, which is fuel for time travel but after hu-mans deliver him a "fetid" cup of it, he launches an invasion where he will take over the planet by presenting himself as the ultimate guitar hero and steal all the coffee he needs via mindcontrol and his lackies. His sinister ploy works, but Captain Spectacular sets out to expose Ziltoid for what the truly is: a nerd. In order to achieve this, Spectacular needs help from the fifth dimensional hive mind Nebulowe-nine or N9 for short. The plot thickens but I think you get the point: this is cheesy, over-the-top, self-aware yet intriguing, deep and booting absolutely sensational music.
Each track is crucial to the story but none reach filler status, even the "Omnidimensional Creator" which is basically 48 seconds of Ziltoid and OC conversing but it's simply so entertaining and intruiging that you're hard pressed to skip it and I never do.
ZTO: farts Bahahaha! Good one, if I do say so myself!The fart I mean. Put this portrait here too or I'll disintegrate you!
Loveloth: There, dick.
ZTO: What did you say? Speak hu-man!
Loveloth: Umm, nothing, glorious one. Anyways, the two tracks that follow, "Color Your World" and "The Greys" are gorgeous, expansive and one of Devin's crowning achievements. "The Greys" in particular, touches on something I've been struggling with for a long time and I am fairly certain a lot of you are as well. As for the production, well, its stellar, the vocals sit beneath the guitars which have a wonderful crunchy, deep tone and everything is layered wonderfully but you can really hear the drums were programmed. With all these positives listed, the only flaw I can think of (apart from the drums) is that some could disregard this whole record due to its silly nature and narrative but that comes down to personal preference. I've come to the point where I can always listen to Ziltoid The Omniscient and enjoy myself, even if I know the dialogue bits by heart but I can completely understand if they'll bug you on repeated listens.
ZTO: Finish this and bring me coffee, as you've already wasted five minutes but I am feeling benevolent and frisky today hu-man!
Loveloth: Yeah yeah coming. In case you couldn't tell, I truly love this record and consider it one of music's crowning achievements and only Devin is capable of creating something so cheesy yet captivating, unbelievably fun and impressive, all at the same time. And whoever says comedy and metal don't go together, listen to this.
In (not so) short, Ziltoid is a must hear in my book and I am truly sorry for this mess, really didn't expect HIM coming here. That's four dimensional beings for ya. Onwards to coffee making, pray it works or otherwise we're doomed! Ta-ta!
ZTO: waves and laughs maniacally
Unbridled aggression. Here at the Sleeping Village, the phrase often applies--yet rarely in similar contexts. Sonically, there is no formula, and there is no genre that remains the uncontested poster child for aggressive music. But...you know it when you hear it, and in this edition of the Sampler, we briefly discuss two EP’s that, despite vastly different approaches, are undeniably aggressive in character. Let’s get to it.
Angel Morgue - EP
As any of our battle-weary inhabitants can tell you, one never has a shortage of grisly labor here at the Sleeping Village. Whether it’s smearing tepid brains across hide, strangling plague-bearing rats, or deposing miserly sheriffs, we deal in blood, sweat, and the daily reminder that our little world is a disgusting and violent place. Angel Morgue provides the short-n-sulphurous soundtrack for such activity. If you signed up for something other than blatant Immolation or Incantation worship, too bad. This demo EP is 8 minutes of some of the more vile and cavernous NY-styled death metal I’ve heard in some time. Nothing original in sight, but Angel Morgue brandish bloody knuckles and proceed to pull zero punches. Angel Morgue’s sound is suffocating, throat-stomping, and timelessly violent. Very impressive work.
Ex Igne - S/t
Representing a more slow-burning form of aggression is Texas’s own Ex Igne, a mysterious outfit espousing a uniquely dissonant and noise-oriented brand of blackened doom. With this self-titled effort, the name of the game is extremity--pushing, pulling, and ultimately straining an element to a near-breaking point. Cavernous howls and abyssal funereal riffs progress at a sloth-like pace over a static-ridden ambiance. Ex Igne embraces a disquieting lo-fi aesthetic, and while the general mood is one of discomfort, the underlying attitude is menacingly bellicose. This debut eschews traditional song structure for a more atmospheric listening experience--and while I typically write off bands with their eyes primarily set on ambiance, Ex Igne is well worth your while.
In the early hours of dawn, a motley crew of marauders arrived unannounced at the Sleeping Village, swords and pillaging spirits raised high. After burning the church & slaughtering our swine, they demanded what they so desperately sought...our 5-star albums. “Give us your all-time favorites,” they roared, “so that we may judge your taste.” And so, to save our own lives, we complied, casting open the reliquary. Avert your eyes in the presence of perfection & cue the air raid siren: Ed the Head is up first.
Iron Maiden is one of the (very) few bands in my repertoire that has reached exalted perfection across the span of multiple albums. A Matter of Life and Death, their 14th album, is certainly the best of their efforts post-reunification. Recorded in-studio without mastering, this (and by “this,” I mean the pre-remaster edition) feels & sounds like the real deal. Blemishes are not plastered over, &, more importantly, Bruce’s voice is allowed the natural space to flow with an intimate dynamism. The choruses of tracks such as For the Greater Good of God display an energy and sincerity seldom found outside a live environment. The raw production plays directly into the hands of Maiden’s greatest assets, allowing flawless songwriting to shine. It’s like a found footage film--rough around the edges, but utterly immersive in an unadulterated way.
The album fires off with Different World, which is perhaps the most traditional Maiden track found within. The first side is largely this category: fired-up runaway train guitar & bass, with the trademark vocals soaring. Track length, as Maiden has proven in the past (Book of Souls notwithstanding, who dropped the ball on that one?) is not necessarily an Achilles heel. Look to both These Colours Don’t Run & Brighter than a Thousand Suns, the former of which has a riff that earworms with the best of them, & the latter, which has it all--trademark galloping riffage, sweet melody, & a Dickenson chorus for the ages. Easily one of my favorite Maiden tracks period, and with a band whose discography oozes single after quality single, that’s no small compliment.
Side B presents a slightly proggier approach, including highlights such as acoustically dependent closer The Legacy & the aforementioned For the Greater Good of God, with its refrain of godlike proportion. Again, individual song length, while significant, never appears an issue. The songwriting never allows for a stale moment, displaying a strong willingness when it comes to pushing a bridge or solo into a nontraditional direction.
Representing a sum greater than its (already remarkable) parts, A Matter of Life and Death is a conceptually cohesive whole. Tackling topics surrounding war, death, and religiosity, every song feels as though it plays in integral part in a nonlinear yet thematically bound story. It is this unity that sets albums above and beyond. Maiden, in true legend fashion, do not falter in this regard. While an admittedly divisive album among the fanbase, A Matter of Life and Death bares the soul of this particular villager’s ideal metal album--not a mere collection of songs, but rather a complete experience. This is what near-perfection looks like, marauders.
Given the joyful tidings of the season, my Scrooge-ian compatriots & I decided it was high time someone injected a little despair into your holiday cheer. Neither entry here is quite representative of a Winter Wonderland, but for the likes of you and me, they’ll certainly serve as a welcome replacement.
VERMINOUS SCUM - S/t EP
This sludgy outfit is an offshoot of The Wizard Union Collective, a stable of musicians who play in groups that remain, if not sonically identical, a part of the same aesthetic fold. If the name feels familiar to long time readers (you belov’d few!) it’s because we previously discussed Ceremonial Smoke, a delightful little EP put together by the Union proper. While the vibe there was dense doom, Verminous Scum takes that template and backfills the riffs until they reach a tar-pit consistency. A mastodon couldn’t escape this sludge--even when the tempo reaches a march, the tone is thick as ever. Samir’s vocals are reminiscent of Ceremonial Smoke’s death growl, but here, he has truly reached the pinnacle of aggression. Add in some hooky vocal refrains--try Buried Under the Porch on for size--& you’ve got three tracks that demand repetition. I can’t truly recommend one over the other, so check em’ all out.
NAVIŪM - Into The Bowels of Emptiness
Grab a seat by the fire that Naviūm has started, take off your saliva-sodden boots, & revel in the depressive atmosphere of the bowels. These hooded black metalers are extreme in their DSBM ambiance, but provide an attuned dedication to contemplative passages. Take the “whisper-howl into the void” vocal stylings, which complement the guitars in constructing a wonderfully harrowing progression. Bass is tastefully present, which gives Naviūm a solid grounding in an ethereal plane of depressive existence. For a complete picture, I recommend Eternal. This track has it all--noisy aggression, mournful wails, & the emotional intensity this particular brand of black so gleefully exemplifies. As an album, it feels like it would benefit from another hefty track in the vein of Vultures to even out the pseudo-acoustic levity, but all told, crawling Into The Bowels of Emptiness is very much worth your while.
Verminous Scum and Naviūm can both be found on Bandcamp
Look, we can be self-critical: our Sampler needs a bit of an overhaul. Gone are the days of four mini-reviews crammed into the shrewd confines of an Instagram post. These bands deserve more attention bestowed upon the fruits of their talent & labor. Thus, the revamp’d Sampler, doom edition.
HERON - A Low Winter’s Sun
Heron’s mix of sludgy riffage, tortured vocals, and a post-metal approach to song structure on A Low Winter’s Sunmakes for a welcome addition to the snow and wind pounding our windows here at Sleeping Village. Less than innovative, perhaps, but this well-executed album has been on pretty constant rotation since April. Of particular note is Heron’s willingness to write music that consistently ebbs and flows--to this end, they utilize, at times, an acoustic flair with great aplomb. These moments add a dynamism to the thick ‘n’ doomy post-metal environ. Towards the end, Heron does seem to lean heavily on samples to drive the narrative, but as a whole, it makes for a nearly sublime listening
experience. Give it a whirl...or five.
BAST - Nanoångström
Nanoångström’s aesthetic package is an intriguing affair. Possessing some of the best album artwork in the doom game, Bast’s latest is certainly pleasing on the eyes. More importantly, in the sonic department, the palette straddles black and doom without ever falling solidly on either side of that seemingly abrupt demarcation. To their credit, Bast is very effective at exploring the space between those boundaries. The riffs are sludgy and voluminous, the blackened vocals are richly emotive, and the drums, while at times distant, lay claim to a hollow expansiveness. When Bast’s formula clicks, it clicks on an intrinsically pleasing level. Given a horizonless, galaxy-spanning vision, some tracks do feel particularly long. That said, Nanoångström as a whole asserts itself with a delicious driving energy that consistently rears its head on standout moments--look to the title track and Far Horizons as prime examples. Bast brings a clear technical adeptness--a hefty late addition to 2018’s roster of genre-toeing doom. Highly recommended!
Heron and Bast can both be found on Bandcamp.
Written by a groggy-eyed, highfalutin peasantry