Category: A

31 Days Of Halloween Albums – Day 30

Arzachel (1969)

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Is it Uriel or Egg? I’ve read a ton of different breakdowns of what the members of this band and its offshoots that I no longer care how it all fits together so, for the sake of convenience and brevity we’re going with the name on the sleeve and the liner notes and referring to this fantastic record as Arzachel.

When it came to making this list I thought it might be tricky to conjure up 31 different albums. Now that we’re nearing the end it is evident that there are more that I could have added as today’s inclusion was going head-to-head with Comus’ First Utterance. The reason I chose Arzachel was due to it’s heavier reliance on Lovecraftian references and the heavy reliance on the organ, for those who have read my Gehenna post you will know that it all comes down to the organ.

At first, this album sounds very similar to some of it’s contemporaries, specifically Iron Butterfly and Blue Cheer. It doesn’t take long before things take a trip towards the strange on the opening track, Garden Of Earthly Delights. The album opens with a verse not entirely dissimilar to other Rock bands at the time but where it shifts is in the eerie organ bridges where the music takes a break from following a rigid structure to become a lot more loose and experimental.

The title track and Queen St. Gang are similarly bizarre and eventful, particularly the former with it’s extended stretches of ethereal, ambient sections. The latter provides the first recognizable groove heavily rooted in Blues music and is probably the most straightforward of all the songs present here before the surprise, brief ending that devolves into a fantastic slurry of discordant feedback and organic effects.

Leg is another bluesy number accompanied by a sinister sounding organ performing long, disjointed chords in the background. The entire album walks the line of traditional, organized compositions and complete, utter chaos brilliantly. It is a shame that this was the first and only album released under this moniker, though there is also something very special that it exists as a one-off. What occurs at the halfway point in the song Leg is particularly noteworthy as it breaks into a heavy jam session that gives way to the long, psychedelic closing tracks.

Clean Innocent Fun and Metempsychosis end the album in an absolutely horrific way and are the main reasons this was the album I chose over Comus for this list. First Utterance is a terrific album but it is one that is simply strange whereas Arzachel tap into the creepy Halloween mood significantly more. Clean Innocent Fun opens with strange string plucks and discordant sounds before giving way to a brash cacophony of noises that might sound at home on an early Sonic Youth album. The entire record has led us to this final pairing of songs that have finally done away with the facade of normality to completely embrace the chaos.

Unfortunately, Arzachel is not an easy physical release to acquire but it is luckily one that can be downloaded from a number of different sources or heard on YouTube entirely. I’d urge anyone with an interest in unique, wonderfully performed music to give it a shot, particularly at this time of year with the lights low and the fireplace roaring. It is a real treat and I’m just glad it hasn’t been lost to the ether, hopefully it never will.


31 Days Of Halloween Albums – Day 20

Today’s entry doesn’t really do much to incite the Halloween spirit aside from the persona the man himself portrays onstage and even that is tame by today’s standards and frankly a bit lame in general. Still, I found it appropriate to put an Alice Cooper record on this list, for the sake of posterity.

Alice Cooper: Billion Dollar Babies (1973)

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Admittedly, Alice Cooper had always managed to fly under my music radar when I was younger. Even as a kid I really couldn’t get behind the gimmicky stage performances or any of the band’s who opted to garishly garnish themselves behind layers of makeup. Alice Cooper, Kiss, Marilyn Manson and Slipknot have always been bands I’ve not been able to take seriously but what I grew to appreciate about the artist on display today is the music behind the ridiculousness. Those other bands still suck though.

I was at a record store in my early 30s perusing the used selection when I first heard Unfinished Sweet, the fifth track off this album. When I asked the clerk what the song was I was so surprised that I asked him to replay the album from the beginning. For the rest of my visit I pretended to search through the store’s collection as I took in Billion Dollar Babies with my ear holes. When the music had ended I promptly walked to the other record store to buy the album since the prices are always too high at that first one. Thus began my interest in all of Alice Cooper’s catalog.

The musicianship on display throughout all of their early albums is phenomenal. There are tons of melodies reminiscent of mid-’60s rock bands such as The Beatles and the like while some of the lengthier instrumental sections take on some of the more experimental, abstract elements of Frank Zappa’s material. This shouldn’t be too surprising as Zappa actually helped Cooper and crew get started and as such was an integral key to the band’s success.

Alice Cooper is on this list as one of the first mainstream rock bands to incorporate the Halloween spirit into their onstage persona. I still think it looks utterly stupid and embarrassing, to be frank. Not only that but the music doesn’t reflect the imagery on display in the slightest. What I hear is a band ahead of it’s time in many ways while staying rooted in what made those early rock groups legendary. If anything, the radio singles and gimmicks are the weakest elements.

Songs like the aforementioned Unfinished Sweet, Elected and the absolutely phenomenal acoustic-led Generation Landslide are all killer tracks that break the conventions of boring butt-rock radio. Cooper (Vincent Furnier) sounds better when takes his cues from the book of Zappa rather than that of popular music and the unorthodox way he presents his vocals at times is unusually and impressive.

There is no way you can go wrong with any of Cooper’s earlier recordings and while they aren’t inherently dark or ghoulish in nature, I think one of their albums deserved a spot here. Personally, Billion Dollar Babies was the first of their many albums to truly grab me so I opted for it. I suppose I Love The Dead could be considered a Halloween song if it weren’t for the absolutely silly, Dr. Seuss delivery of the vocals and Unfinished Sweet is a bit spooky because who in the hell enjoys a visit to the dentist?


Agalloch : The Mantle (2002)

Crisp: (Of a substance) firm, dry, and brittle, especially in a way considered pleasing or attractive.

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Don’t let Ted Nugent near this photo shoot.

Three years after the magnificent rawness of Pale Folklore Agalloch created what some still consider to be their magnum opus. The Mantle is more atmospheric, focused (folkesed?) and far cleaner in production to its predecessor but is it really the masterpiece that most fans claim? Well, like everything it really boils down to taste. One thing is certain, it is different.

Like Pale Folklore, The Mantle opens with an ambitiously long collection of song(s) based around a singular structure. A Celebration For The Death Of Man is a tiny acoustic guitar intro that does an apt job at setting the mood but is a tad too unremarkable to open an album with. There is nothing offensive or inherently “bad” about it but it could have easily been a quarter of the length and added to the opening of In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion without anything being lost. I understand that they were trying to evoke a feeling of isolation and solitude with a minimalist approach but it as about as compelling as listening to an amateur strum the only 3 chords they know by a campfire.

After a build that feels like days things finally start getting interesting at, roughly the minute mark into the aforementioned In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion. This is where the entire album starts to build at a slow, calculated pace and rarely disappoints for the remainder of it’s run time. If the intro track didn’t actively force you to sleep you’re in for a real treat as the the next thirteen-plus minutes are among the best in all of music. The layered acoustic and electric guitars on display here are nothing short of breathtaking. Haughm’s signature “whisper” screaming and uneasy cleans are cleverly used to accentuate the instruments. He is noticeably less intrusive on this outing. The vocals are delivered sparingly. They contribute a frigidness akin to a wispy breeze on a cold winter’s night.

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Fantastic vinyl pressing and quality artwork on this reissue.

The rest of the album is a bit of a mixed bag for me personally. Odal is a misplaced oddity of a song that nearly halts all momentum. What’s more the production of this singular track sounds much different than anything else on the record. Structurally, contextually and thematically it is out of place. It should have been completely omitted. For the sake of a more interesting progression I Am The Wooden Doors should have been the third song.

I Am The Wooden Doors is the highlight of the Mantle. The bass is far more prominent here than on any song written by the band up to this point and the drums keep things moving at a steady rhythmic pace. It adds rhythm and groove to an otherwise mellow album. The harmonized guitars are well written with one contributing a swelling lead while the other keeps the momentum with quick tremolo picking. An acoustic guitar plucks away in the background to add to the well orchestrated composition. This is where influences of bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor really start to become apparent. The only difference is that Godspeed You! knows how to build and work with a subtle, quiet song and a slow beat whereas Agalloch at this point in their career hadn’t quite mastered it yet.

The Lodge is maybe the best example of the band creating a successfully quiet instrumental piece on this record and is also the point at which I begin to lose interest. At nearly 70 minutes The Mantle just doesn’t keep me as captivated as I’d like. You Were But A Ghost In My Arms to A Desolation Song are well written and performed but an absolute bore to listen to. The latter also feels just as out of place as Odal and simply doesn’t work to close out the record effectively. Haughm’s clean vocals just aren’t interesting or confident enough to carry an entire tune. Again, campfire guitar noodling.

Agalloch’s The Mantle is a bloated, ambitious record that should be heard by fans of interesting music. The sum of its parts are greater than the whole and the 70 minute run time is a bit of a drag. If the fat had been trimmed this could have been a masterpiece. Still, there are so many great ideas and ballsy attempts on display here that it makes it hard to be too negative. As always, I’d prefer a band take a few swings at creative ideas and strike out a few times than become complacent and formulaic. For those reasons and all of the truly amazing moments on The Mantle I would definitely recommend it. I’d also recommend a healthy dose of caffeine before laying the needle down though.

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Track List:

A Celebration For The Death Of Man…
In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion
Odal
I Am The Wooden Doors
The Lodge
You Were But A Ghost In My Arms
The Hawthorne Passage
…And The Great Cold Death Of The Earth
A Desolation Song


Air : Moon Safari (1998)

Dainty : Delicately small and pretty.

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Kubrick is dead so Air couldn’t fake a moon party to go with their safari outfits. Though, dude in the back just looks like a janitor. Or maybe an inmate. Cosplay is fun kids.

There was certainly no shortage of electronic music in the mid to late 90’s. From pop fluff like Moby to the more adventurous Massive Attack, it was impossible to avoid. As a fan of rawer, heavier music at the time it was a rarity to hear anything new and interesting at the time unless I dug for it. If it wasn’t as lightweight and safe as “muzak” it was so closely and transparently trying to emulate the sound and image of Nirvana. The music scene was a burning hot trash fire.

Moon Safari is Air’s debut record. It is as dainty and fluffy as anything else from that era but the music is so well composed and catchy that it stands out as one of the best. Every song is well conceived and performed. There isn’t a lot of depth to be heard here and the lyrics are as vapid as any Moby song but the difference is that there isn’t an agenda present here that isn’t entertainment. This French duo set out to write a fun, lighthearted record. It isn’t rife with political bellyaching or full of emotional manipulation. There is something warm, honest and simple about Moon Safari and it holds up as a nice little record to listen to when your ear holes need something safe and easy.

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So, which one does the singing?

None of this is intended to suggest that Moon Safari is at all boring or uninteresting. In many ways, it is the opposite. Stylistically it changes drastically from song to song. No better example of this is the almost jarring, but wonderful one-two punch of La Femme D’Argent and Sexy Boy as the album’s opening tracks. The almost wistful nature of the former song makes the vivacity of the next much more enticing. Sexy Boy is a great little number that has had me rushing for the skip button or turntable needle quickly out of embarrassment. Yes, I’m comfortable with my heterosexuality but the broadness of the lyrics are unabashedly corny and direct that they are embarrassing to listen to in public. In solitude, it is great fun. There are plenty of things best enjoyed alone. To all of you heavy handed liberal individuals out there, the song would have been equally as embarrassing if they sang “sexy girl” over and over. It falls into the same shamefully delicious category that I place Blur’s “Boys and girls.” Both great songs that deserve each other.

My favorite aspects of this album are Hirsch’s vocals and the ambient sounds heard in the backgrounds of songs like “All I Need” and “You Make It Easy.” Hirsch’s sings only a bit louder than a whisper and it pairs well with the terrific orchestrations. I’m a sucker for repetitive acoustic guitars in my electronic music and Air use them frequently and well.

Moon Safari is easy to recommend to anyone. It is inoffensive enough for anyone to listen to. It is one that I frequently toss on but it is a rather middling album overall. I’m sorry for all of you who pray at the Air church. Every compliment I seem to give this record seems to come evenly with a sarcastic quip. Sometimes everyone just feels like eating a fluffy marshmallow or a flavorless wafer. In a world full of Hollywood governments, politically correct band wagoners and Vegans it is nice to just sit back and listen to some relaxing elevator music every once in a while.

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Track List:

La Femme D’Argent
Sexy Boy
All I Need
Kelly Watch The Stars
Talisman
Remember
You Make It Easy
Ce Matin La
New Star In The Sky
Le Voyage De Penelope


Agalloch : Pale Folklore (1999)

Folklore : The traditional beliefs, legends, customs, etc., of a people.

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Beautiful packaging. It is a tossup as to whether I prefer this to the original, “woody” release. Both capture the essence of this nearly perfect album.

Pale Folklore was my gateway into the musical forest that is Agalloch. Helmed by Oregon native John Haughm, this band has broken a few conventional barriers over the course of their career. Today we will start at the beginning with this, their amateur first release.

Agalloch show a plethora of of artistic influences on this record with the main one being the music of heavier, folkish bands. That isn’t to say that this is a direct copy. If anything, I’d say that Pale Folklore expands and combines elements of dozens of musical stylings while incorporating ideas from other artistic mediums. There is something poetic, theatrical and ambient about this LP and a lot of that has to do with the raw, organic production.

As this band’s first, full length endeavour there are a lot of overlapping ideas presented with varying quality. The idea to open any album with a sprawling, three part, nearly 20 minute piece is risky but it works to engage the listener. Over the course of She Painted Fire Across The Skyline we are given insight into this band, their music and the themes they would be introducing to us. As a whole, it is the perfect introduction not only to this collection of songs but as a band at large. It remains one of my favourite songs of this ilk and works well thematically for this album with its constantly shifting moods and ideas.

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That lake! She be COLD!

Production wise, Pale Folklore sounds great in comparisons with similar projects recorded independently. There enough moments that music transcends the lack of recording techniques and elements that are hindered by it but as a whole, it is inspiring and interesting. The Misshapen Steed is an example of great ideas sounding limited by a lack of money, gear and production knowledge. It is a great composition but it feels a bit deflated and more like a video game soundtrack piece rather than the epic, sprawling musical orchestration it was obviously trying to be. As a later reissue, the vinyl sounds great and is leaps and bounds beyond the audio quality of the earlier released CD. In a world with lacklustre attention to wax releases, The End Records has shown that they care about their customers and artists while many are looking to make a quick buck by the resurgence of this physical media.

With a few minor technical drawbacks aside, Pale Folklore is a tremendous effort. It is both ambitious and lovingly crafted. Musically, it is original and performed extremely well. The chilling feeling of autumn permeates throughout this piece and offers a continuous, story-like atmosphere. I’d like to personally commend John Haughm’s steady drumming throughout. He is, by no means a “drummer” but he holds everything together very well as a multi instrumentalist here. Don Anderson is inspired on lead guitar and creates wonderfully realized atmospheric textures. His playing on Hallways Of Enchanted Ebony and As Embers Dress The Sky are emotive and well conceived. The one element I don’t care for are the female, operatic vocals. They aren’t frequent enough to ruin the songs they are present in but they are a bit thin and don’t add anything compelling.

As the first full LP released by this genre defying outfit, Pale Folklore is one of my favourites. I highly recommend it to anyone a fan of atmospheric thought-provoking music. The production quality might be a bit of a hurdle for those used to this band’s later albums but to me it captures the mystical, natural qualities and suits it well with only a few minor immersion breaking moments.

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Track List:

She Painted Fire Across The Skyline 
The Misshapen Steed
Hallways Of Enchanted Ebony
Dead Winter Days
As Embers Dress The Sky
The Melancholy Spirit


Abbath: Abbath (2016)

Immortal: Not liable or subject to death.

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Yup! That’s Abbath!

Olve Eikemo, better known as Abbath Doom Occulta is something of a legend in heavy music.
He has such an impenetrable back catalogue that it almost impossible to listen to this without making comparisons to his earlier projects.
From Immortal to I’s Between Two Worlds, risks and experimenting have never been his fort and the eponymous record is no different.

Without delving too deep into Immortal’s history or the dramatical affairs of their current day status I’ll say that this is a good record.
It achieves what was expected and nothing more.
A lot of elements on this solo debut feels like a spiritual successor to Immortal’s last studio album All Shall Fall. That is to say, I think fans of those songs will feel quite comfortable here.

I was eagerly anticipating this release and enjoyed it immensely the first few times I listened to it but it became a bit of a bore rather quickly.
Abbath “sings” with his typical, monotone style.
The guitar work is well produced and catchy but the compositions lack satisfying hooks.
To War opens the album with a very groovy lick that reminds me a little too much of mid to late 90s era faux metal.
Everything sounds too pristine and glossy for my tastes.

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Immortal is slathered all over this thing.
The record is fine.
If you enjoy latter day Immortal you might latch onto this more than I did.
There are catchy bits.
Some of the grooves are enticing.
It feels like Abbath has rested on his laurels or simply wanted to sway his Immortal fan base to his “side” of the battle.
I respect the fact that he is still writing music and promoting himself but I’m not onboard with following a new band that sounds like the old one.
It is something that many musicians have done in the past; Band splits, drama ensues, some carry on with the name while others “move on,” only to produce music that sounds the same.
The story is always the same.
Immortal was Abbath’s band and I’m not committing to definitive sides.
Overall, this is an Immortal record and a decent one. The days of At The Heart of Winter are long gone. At this point it seems Abbath has been resting on his laurels. He is a seasoned veteran content with pumping out similar sounding material than reinventing himself.
That’s fine.
He deserves it after his many years in the industry.
That doesn’t mean I have to automatically give it high praise or buy the next record.
If there is a sophomoric followup I for one hope it feels confident enough to break some of these conventions.
Does the world really need two Immortals writing similar albums?
That’s for you to decide.
Perhaps THAT is truly Immortal.

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Track List:

To War
Winterbane
Ashes Of The Damned
Ocean Of Wounds
Count The Dead
Fenrir Hunts
Root Of The Mountain
Endless