Saturday, July 22, 2017

Why Young Thug Is My Favorite Rapper Of All Time

When I was in high school, I was a big fan of this history channel on YouTube called CrashCourse hosted by John Green who is known more famously for writing the commercially successful book The Fault in Our Stars. John Green had a running joke in the show that the Mongols were the great exception of history, and anytime Mr. Green would speak generally about historical themes through the ages, he would be frequently forced to add the disclaimer: “...unless you’re the Mongols.”

My relationship with rap music is a bit of a complicated one. I find the vast majority of rap to be most enjoyable as background music to be bumped while doing something else that requires the lion’s share of your focus, like lifting weights or manual labor. When it comes to the gym, rap is pretty much the supreme clamor to be thumping in your headphones, but when it comes to cerebrally engaging music that suits active listening, rap just doesn’t work for me.
...unless you’re Young Thug.

Young Thug is a rapper from Atlanta that started his career in 2010 as an uninteresting Lil Wayne clone, but gradually developed his own sound and by around 2015 he became an exceedingly consistent and inventive artist. His work can best be described as quirky; using unique and strange flows with his barely intelligible, and often nasally, melodic voice.

One of his biggest creative risks is also the aspect of his work that gets the most criticism: his minimization of lyrics. Young Thug’s brilliance lies largely in his ability to show and NOT tell through abstract expression by diminishing his lyrics to the point where they become effectively gibberish. This decision creates a parallel to the development of extreme metal where the intelligibility of lyricism was de-emphasized so that the focus of the listener would be placed on the more immaterial communication of riffs and atmosphere. Similarly, when confronted with Young Thug’s undecipherable lexicon, the more cerebral elements of his work are pushed to the forefront of the focus. In a genre so deeply rooted in lyrical competition amongst artists, this is a bold creative choice.
With lyrics out of the way, the listener’s concentration can be placed on the more important facets of Thug’s material: flow and melody. Young Thug’s flow spontaneously soars above and into the crevices of the production like puzzle pieces being fashioned and then fitted into place. The versatile nature and malleability of Thug’s voice conjures some impressive and engaging melodies that almost behave like guitar riffs in that they carve out the landscape of the song while developing and contorting in very exciting ways. This effect is created by way of rapping, singing, and quirky vocalizations that transform his voice into a lead instrument that is capable of much more than a vehicle for lyricism.

Unfortunately, Young Thug’s debut album Beautiful Thugger Girls was disappointing because it presented a more “toned down” Young Thug with more cookie cutter mainstream rap conventions. It has good moments, but is mostly weak. Young Thug’s music is at its best when no one else is featured on the track, because it allows Thug to flow seamlessly without any awkward interruptions. His best work is the 2015 mixtape Slime Season which is a great starting point for anyone interested in delving into his music.

Young Thug is a true testament to the expanse of rap music into more artistic and outlandish realms, and is the only rapper that I can always listen to without getting bored. His aesthetic may be distracting or cringe-worthy at first, but if you really give it a genuine chance and push everything you know about rap conventions to the back of your mind, it is bound to click.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Path of Twisted Light: Appreciating Aosoth

Third-wave ‘Orthodox’ black metal (Deathspell Omega, Ignis Haereticum, etc) is often a horrible failure. The reason is largely due to the fact that the music is often used simply as a pedestal for the lyrics, rather than composition taking top priority. Because of this, the work suffers tremendously and is reduced to a backdrop of wallpaper music coupled with self-indulgence.

This particular style of black metal is bloated to the point of ailment with Deathspell Omega and Watain clones that only have “me too!” to say. It even rivals war metal in regards to hitting the maximum capacity (and then some) of vacuous worship bands. However, the Orthodox essence works most effectively when it conveys an emotional experience of terror that is comparatively unique to most black metal, third-wave or otherwise. Aosoth from France is the textbook band for that mission.

While Aosoth’s debut self-titled album was fairly hollow and resembled a weary Antaeus, their sophomore effort Ashes of Angels although similar to its predecessor, planted the seeds of what was to come. The first two tracks followed a pretty familiar formula, but starting with the third song, Path of Twisted Light, they demonstrated something different. The element of terror, that something-in-a-dark-corner-that-I-can’t-quite-make-out feeling isn’t wholly unique to black metal, but it seems to be explicitly highlighted in this case. Aosoth transports you to an immensely long and dark corridor with flickering lights that illuminate a moderate span in front of you. As you walk, the flickering lights reveal a shadowed form temporarily before absorbing back into the darkness. It’s the precise focus on that dread that makes Ashes of Angels stand out when compared to other metal artists.

Lance Viggiano, who has contributed content for this blog in the past, had somewhat recently published an article on Death Metal Underground titled The Mythic and the Mystic which makes an important distinction between in-the-moment and storytelling compositional perspectives. Aosoth definitely falls into the former; they aren’t narrating an epic legend, they’re presenting a direct experience of fear and trepidation.

In 2011, Aosoth released their fully-realized album, III: Violence and Variations. This is the first album from Aosoth that doesn’t feel like a black metal album. The surface components are there, but internally, it’s something different. This piece of work is viscerally more in tune with the music of early Swans; the unease felt as a creeping, otherworldly form approaches with mysterious intentions. Where black metal has a tendency to ponder and to say “this darkness is beautiful and I desire to explore it”, Aosoth assumes a different attitude and nervously utters “this darkness is darkness, and it is threatening”. The lyrics relay the experience of a protagonist being possessed and overcome by his “darker self” eventually leading to his death. This is expressed musically through skulking and unnerving riffs that seem to carry an oppressive, yet seductive weight that allures our protagonist to his doom as he realizes that the point of no return has been crossed and it is too late.

III: Violence and Variations is what the Orthodox movement has the potential to be, but it tends to instead prefer vacant mimicry. Aosoth is the only entity within the movement that I would consider great; it is clearly concentrated on what it wants to express, doesn’t put lyrics at the top priority, and doesn’t devolve into the post-rock trappings or Watain-worship that we are constantly bombarded with when it comes to this particular wave. III: Violence and Variations is the invocation of fight-or-flight, the gazelle spotting the lion in the tall grass, and it is the best manifestation of the Orthodox voice to date.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

(Unearthing the Past II) EXPULSER - Fornications split demo (1990)

Expulser’s demo Fornications was released on a split alongside Brutal Distortion’s Cadaveric Symphony in 1990 (this demo is not to be confused with Expulser’s 1989 demo also titled Fornications; the one from 1989 is comprised of seven short songs, whereas the one from 1990 is a three-track split).

With Fornications, Expulser concoct a filthy batch of deathrash that only the chefs of the Southern hemisphere can cook up. Hailing from Brazil, you may expect a lot of Sarcofago mimicry. In all honesty, you’d be half correct, but to a smaller degree than you may think. Expulser’s sound most certainly reflects where they’re from, and pretty much any Brazilian deathrash band will intrinsically bear heavy similarities with one another, but they bring their own nuance to the table.

This demo opens with what sounds like tape hiss and sludgy power chords accompanied by a keyboard, which then evolves into a biting melodic riff, propelling the song into full speed. Within the first minute, the distinction between Expulser and Sarcofago clones is clear: melody. Expulser utilize melodic development and harmony to a greater extent than most deathrash bands pre-The Laws of Scourge, and by then, the style had mostly integrated into death metal.

The music on this demo is filthy and twisted, like a primitive symphony inspired solely by a decaying world that festers into obscurity. Riffs range from violent hammering (the INRI formula) to sinister melodic expression. These forces complement each other and result in an electrifying listening experience.

Fornications is not just for diehard low-fi fanatics; anyone who treasures extreme music could likely find satisfaction out of this release. Unfortunately, their full-lengths that followed lack the memorability and aptitude of Fornications. However, if you enjoyed this demo, I would recommend listening to Expulser’s 1989 demo of the same name that was mentioned earlier. But as far as Expulser goes, Fornications ’90 is the magnum opus.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

NOCTERNITY - Harps of the Ancient Temples (2015)

In a world of constant releases from Orthodox black metal bands that dumb down Deathspell Omega to an unlistenable point, and ‘war’ metal bands that spend ten minutes on writing each of their albums yet somehow maintain persistent praise, a dose of kingly and elegant black metal from the heartland of Greece is an appropriate remedy.

Nocternity from Greece present us with an atmospheric black metal album akin to early works of Burzum but injected with a Hellenic flair of melodic heavy metal sensibility. Pulsing rhythms pilot these riffs through several contemplations that express one dominant theme: loss.

Harps of the Ancient Temples radiates a feeling of tragic nostalgia; something that one longs for, something that has been missing for too long, and something that can never return. Like a pagan kingdom sacked by a religiously-inspired army, reaping their history in favor of a new era. This is expressed musically by austere melodic riffing that brings to mind the majestic landscapes of the old kingdom, now distant and unreachable.

Being mostly mid-tempo, Harps of the Ancient Temples is an album that takes its time, basking in its own dismal atmosphere, and welcomes you into the gates of a poignant memory.

This album can be purchased via Iron Bonehead records.

Friday, August 28, 2015

(Unearthing the Past I) BLACK FUNERAL - Az-i-Dahak (2004)

Beauty in darkness is one of the vital principles of the metal spirit, and a sentiment that has been present since the beginning. The intensity of extreme metal expanded that romanticism into new dimensions.

Black Funeral from Houston is an ambient-infused black metal band and the brainchild Michael W. Ford (Baron Drakkonian Abaddon) who is also known for writing books on occultism and Luciferianism. Most of their albums are respectable, but only one stands exceptional to the rest; their fifth album, Az-i-Dahak, exemplifies beauty in darkness to a high degree.

Az-i-Dahak is the mechanical drive of a structured ritual, like a Catholic mass in darker spheres. The riffs are chiefly simple and repetitive, reminiscent of Ildjarn but less feral and generate a more unearthly tone. These shadowy melodies are occasionally accompanied by synthesizers and vocal chants producing a dark ambient feel. The atmosphere present on this album is dense and impenetrable, channeling a vision of candle flames shaking in the darkness which briefly illuminate sigils of ancient desert gods scrawled upon the walls of the ritual chamber.

Az-i-Dahak is the absolute zenith of Black Funeral’s work, primarily because of its ambiance and their decision to utilize minimal structure to reflect the mysterious nature of the album. This is certainly the jewel of Black Funeral’s discography. Light some black candles and enjoy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

DESTRUKTOR - Opprobrium (2015)

(Written by contributing writer Lance Viggiano)

You'll put on this record for the same reason you put on AC/DC; you want to hear something gratifying and energetic. Turn it on and turn your mind off. You work too damn hard anyway to care about more than the immediate. Child support, affording PBR, another pair of Doc Martins, or affording the Wednesday night show since you never have to be up early; neither do the bands playing.

You don't go to a record like this because you want to impact your life in some way. Nobody is profoundly affected by Impiety are they? This is grab-the-nearest-beer-after-work music. This is weekend in the garage music: when you can't breathe from all the cheap tobacco barely ventilating from the cracks in the side door and the only other audible sound is the clash of billiards distracting motorcycle sluts from the pure banality of your life's details. She's going to sleep with you bro, you bought the ten dollar handle of Popov for a reason.

Opprobrium will be the least scratched and dust covered disk next to Whitesnake, Motley Crue, or maybe last year’s Vomitor record so it will get plenty of play time until it joins the ranks of dust and vomit encrusted CDs that skip to the point where they’re unplayable but you won't throw out for "sentimental" reasons.

I put about as much thought into this review as you should deciding whether or not to listen to it. Do you even like metal? Look it's fucking Australian metal: great riffs no bullshit. 

ASCENDED DEAD - The Advent compilation (2015)

I think I should probably start paying closer attention to a wide variety of labels because the new compilation from Ascended Dead titled The Advent being released through Blood Harvest records (a label I was previously unfamiliar with) is potentially the peak of the old-school death metal revivalist movement.

The Advent is pure revivalist madness. Comparable to Beyond’s 2013 release Fatal Power of Death although this compilation is more melodic in contrast to Beyond’s monstrous and echoed tendencies.

 Don’t get me wrong, The Advent is just as powerful as the aforementioned album, but Ascended Dead’s motivation is clearly more aligned to navigating a melodic journey rather than relying solely on texture. It’s for this reason that I find this to be a much better release; the riffs are filthy as if they were ripped out of the mud, but the aggressive rawness of their aesthetic isn’t their endgame.

Ascended Dead’s true strength comes from their songwriting; foul melodies lead you through an alien realm where filth and decay reign supreme. Where other old-school revivalist bands will show you this world from an imprecise distance, Ascended Dead plunges you right into the murky waters and leaves no stone unturned.

The Advent is available on cassette via Blood Harvest records.