Play One Note

Psychedelic music blog covering psychedelic, folk, drone, metal, and all other forms of out music.

Posts filed under ‘metal music’

Cynic – Carbon-Based Anatomy EP

April 10, 2012

cynic carbon based anatomy epAnd now it’s time for something a little different from our usual, spare Play One Note fare.  It’s Carbon-Based Anatomy, an absolutely gargantuan deluge of busy ideas careening between arpeggiation, aggression, and calm from Miami’s Cynic, a band that got its start and made its name with an unabashedly weird and aggro blend of early death metal and jazz fusion, and now makes music that sounds like…this.

What “this” means is difficult to say, because antecedents for this record’s sound are few.  So I’ll cop out and say that this EP is an uncommonly wide-ranging take on contemporary progressive rock.  Atmospheric and peaceful at times, crushing and aggressive at others, Carbon-Based Anatomy also reaches tremendously emotional highs and lows, ranging from the expansively triumphal to the helplessly fragile.  All of which is to say, Cynic covers a lot of ground on this brief EP.

Speaking of brevity: Carbon-Based Anatomy consists of only six songs, three of which are bookends or interludes that improve cohesion while serving as necessary palate-cleansers.  I write “necessary” because stuff this massive is often taxing after a while, an effect frequently compounded by the bloated album lengths that typically accompany all-in, in-the-red records of this nature.*   Blessedly, Cynic hits the perfect length here: It’s easily digestible in one sitting, and feels cohesive and satisfying to play through.

That’s more of an accomplishment than it sounds.  On the three fully-fledged songs, there’s hardly a stray shaft of light or a breath of fresh air among the torrential onslaught of sounds Cynic throws at us.  So while Carbon-Based Anatomy may be unapologetically huge and emotionally open, it’s never a drag.

The EP’s mass may nevertheless raise other concerns, especially because the in-your-face maximalism of the whole thing (and I mean the whole thing: the music, the conceptual framework, the grandeur, the scope, the naked emotionalism of it all) might come across to some as excessively self-important, music made by blowhards who like talking about (their own) capital-I Ideas.  Furthermore, Cynic makes music with a seriousness that, positioned against today’s default stance of ironic detachment, is deeply uncool.**

However, though it’s evident that Cynic is thinking very big thoughts with a very straight face here, their fearless experimentation and commitment to originality never gets in the way of Carbon-Based Anatomy‘s consistently high quality.  This is moving music made by guys who just so happen to mean every damn second of it.  Don’t be fooled by their band name: on Carbon-Based Anatomy, Cynic is refreshingly earnest.

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*I have never ever willingly put on a Dream Theater album (and I am so disdainful of that band that I’m not even gonna look up if you spell it “Theater” or “Theatre”), but I’m absolutely sure that their tiring atrocities plod on for hours on end, for example.  For a less contemptuous comparison, consider your average marathon Hawkwind record.

**This is something that shouldn’t be understated.  My roommate, who had never once complained about my wide-ranging listening habits during the two-plus years we’ve lived together, finally snapped when I was listening to Carbon-Based Anatomy the other day, calling it “emo” and begging me to turn it off.  I didn’t help my case at all when, after she asked me who Cynic was, I described them as “death-metal fusion from Miami.”  Strikes one, two, and three are all contained in that brief phrase.

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Sleep – Sleep’s Holy Mountain

June 25, 2011

sleep sleep's holy mountainForget the introductory throat-clearing: Sleep’s second album, Sleep’s Holy Mountain, is the undisputed pinnacle of a genre two decades old and counting.*  It’s a concise, digestible, addictive, stoned masterpiece of head-nodding riffage, mind-melting solos, and incantatory mysticism, all enveloped in gloriously pungent analog haze.  It follows the slow-is-heavy formula of ancestors Black Sabbath and Saint Vitus but adds a heavy element of droning glory.

Sleep’s Holy Mountain begins with “Dragonaut,” an immediate highlight, easily one of the greatest metal songs ever recorded, and undoubtedly one of my 10 favorite songs of all time.  I know I exhale hyperbole here on Play One Note, but I’m being totally fucking serious.  It’s druggy, heavy, nimble, aggressive, mellow, diffused and deceptively suite-like.  It’s iconic.  Check the absolutely awesome, gloriously lo-fi music video:

Matt Pike losing his goddamn mind, Chris Haikus looking exactly like Curly, Al Cisneros making being a stoner somehow look totally cool:** Yes, this video kicks.

“Dragonaut” might be the best thing on Sleep’s Holy Mountain, but it’s by no means the only highlight.  To list them all would be to essentially present you with an annotated track list.  Here are a few moments, then: the unhinged, fast-forward solo two-thirds of the way through “The Druid,” the deliberate, one-note menace of the first 17 seconds of “Holy Mountain,” the creeping bluesiness of the expertly managed crescendo halfway into that same song, the fist-pumping optimism of the chorus on the anthemic “Aquarian,” the way “Inside the Sun” devolves from a stoned, bizarro version of punky thrash into a Leviathan monstrosity of brutal sludge, Haikus’s crashing, metronomic, and tinny cymbals throughout, Cisneros’s disembodied chanting, the seamless meshing of Pike’s high-wire shredding and Cisneros’s melodic bass playing on every second of every song, and the way the album sounds like it was recorded on a reel-to-reel that was then buried in moss and mud for a millenium.

After Sleep, Pike and Cisneros (with Haikus) went on to form High on Fire and Om, respectively.  Both bands are critically acclaimed, and Om nearly achieves the same greatness as Sleep.  But neither Cisneros nor Pike has since reached the bar first set by Sleep’s Holy Mountain 19 years ago.  That’s hardly a knock.  Indeed, with Sleep’s Holy Mountain, Sleep has constructed that exceedingly rare document, an album that manages to be representative and flawless all at once.  And perfection never strikes twice.

 

*Well, not undisputed, if we decide to include Sleep’s legendarily lost third album, Dopesmoker, a sort of stoner metal analog to Brian Wilson’s Smile.  Sleep coaxed the album out of the Weedian ether over a painstaking four-year period.  Record label red tape lead to multiple versions of varying officialdom which exist under different names (including 1999’s Jerusalem).  In its most Sleep-authorized, officially released version, it’s a 63-minute long seamless epic about…uh…well, weed.  Topic material aside, and flying in the face of stoner stereotypes, Dopesmoker is straight-up ambitious.  But at the end of the day, if I had to pick one to call the definitive document of the genre, it’s no contest.  Dopesmoker may be the apotheosis of stoner metal, but Sleep’s Holy Mountain is its essence.

**This is an incredible and underrated feat.  Watch this video and then try to tell me Al Cisneros is not a fucking awesome-looking dude.  You will fail.

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