Roniit – XIXI

Dark pop is a niche genre at best, but thanks to a few indie artists, the genre whispers on in the shadows. Colorado-raised California-resident Roniit is no stranger to the undercurrents of the indie electropop and darkpop scene, and her newest record “XIXI” is less of a music album and more a contiguous journey through the wilderness of her subconscious.

The crickets overlaying the introduction to opening track “Noumenia” is a running theme throughout the album, and further pushes the notion that XIXI is a record to be consumed in one gulp, rather than sipping on it through the day, yet has an aftertaste that lingers long after its runtime. Every aspect on XIXI is akin to taking a deep plunge into her soul and psyche. The title itself pays homage to a numerology indicator that holds special revelationary meaning to Roniit. She mesmerizingly blends elements of synthpop, electropop, and even some EDM, all while lathering the listener with her trademark throaty whispers that carries heavy burdens.

Even though Roniit poked her head through the mainstream via her track “Runaway” featured on the movie The Loft, her music mostly travels through word of mouth and adopts a shorter release cycle, mostly singles and EPs, with XIXI being the first notable exception. For a debut LP, Roniit shows a mature heft which belies her indie status. As a personal favorite, “All I Need” is a tragic ode to regrettable loss and love forlorn. Her soaring appeal in the chorus “All I need, is a heart to claim, … and a place to lay” beckons to us all. She does her best work in these stripped-down vocals-over-strings ballads, and her approach to layered vocals adds further depth to an already heady motif. Through the entire record, her songs range from heavier dark pop as on “Purify” with bassy loops, to the piano-forward “Somnia” encompassing a wide array of moods while still maintaining the overarching theme of contemplative meandering. Through the entire record, her songs range from heavier dark pop as on “Purify” with bassy loops, to the piano-forward “Somnia” encompassing a wide array of moods while still maintaining the overarching theme of contemplative meandering. Album closer and title track XIXI, is nothing short of a fever dream in sonic form with long stretches of near-silent rustling interspersed with far-away ambience and acoustic arrangements and forms the perfect bookend to a dense adventure.

Very rarely is an album cover-art such a true-to-message effort, with Roniit’s self-potrait clutching at highly contrasting bright flowers jarring attention away from the somber darkness which adorns the rest of the piece. In the same way, there is a sense of foreboding throughout XIXI, the darkness not of evil, but rather of morose dejection. Yet just like the flowers, there is a strange level of beauty that cuts right through the sadness. If that was the tapestry she was trying to weave with XIXI, it was an absolute success.

Overall Rating: 8/10

Notable tracks: Purify, All I Need

Roniit – XIXI / Bandcamp / Facebook /

Wolf Parade – Thin Mind

Canadian indie-rockers Wolf Parade have been around the scene for a while, yet their five-year hiatus in 2011 gave fans pause and wondered if the magic would come back. Following Cry Cry Cry in 2017, the band seems to be back on steady ground and are back with their latest full-length Thin Mind.

Granted, Wolf Parade hadn’t popped up on my radar, I took a dive into their back catalog especially sifting through Cry Cry Cry to compare and contrast themes, styles, and the overall sound Wolf Parade have molded through the years and have pulled together on their latest offering. At first glance, it does seem like business as usual for the early 2000s indie-synthrock genre. However, Thin Mind does differ tonally, most impactfully by the synths and strings used throughout the record.

Without any pretense or fanfare, Thin Mind jumps headfirst into Under Glass with opening line “Like science fiction, We’re under the glass again“, cementing the lyrical and musical theme for the entire record. Thin Mind is a concept album of sorts, where Wolf Parade explores the dependence of mankind on technology and how the futuristic virtue can quickly turn to vice and how we skirt around catastrophe hanging by a tentative thread. On tracks like Julia Take Your Man Home, these themes are told via the synthwave keyboard tones, while the lyrics croon about loneliness, addiction of a more literal sort, and the damage it does to the people closest to us. In contrast, upbeat sounding Forest Green paints a bleak picture of an antithetical idyllic dystopia.  Thin Mind ebbs and flows from optimism to sober thoughtfulness, often within the same track, illustrated perfectly on As Kind as You Can; showing the power of mature songwriting using different tempos, guitar and synth tones, and vocal deliveries to change the vibe of the track.

One of my personal favorite moods on Thin Mind is when Wolf Parade sheds all pretense that they like synthwave and put forth their future-noir tones in high gear on Against the Day. The heavily nostalgic retro 80’s sci-fi synthwave tones form a catchy mid-paced backdrop bop over which Spencer Krug’svocals strongly stand tall. Wolf Parade is a group of multi-instrumentalists equally contributing members with a singular approach which yields a cohesive album. Drummer Arlen Thompson knows how to change the overall mood by shifting tempos from upbeat gallops to somber thumps, and guitarist/backing vocalist Dan Boeckner duels superlatively with Krug’s synthesizer shenanigans!

If there are complaints to be made, it would be mostly directed at my personal qualms with the mix on the record. While the bass, drums, synth, and vocals occupy their independent spaces, it is the guitar that takes a beating. The synths come off as overpowering and drown out most of the nuanced guitar riffs and is exacerbated with multiple layers and overdubs. It is a damn shame, because tracks like album-closer Town Square do show flair when the trademark puritan indie-rock guitar tones can shine without being overshadowed by the keyboards.

In any case, Wolf Parade has successfully created a cohesive well thought out record with a focused message which is important to the times we live in, and as a recent listener-turned-fan of the band, I am excited to see where they Fall Into The Future!

Overall Rating: 7.8/10

Notable Tracks: Julia Take Your Man Home, Against The Day, Town Square.

Wolf Parade – Thin Mind / 2020 Sub Pop / Domain /

Geowulf – My Resignation

The British indie dream-pop duo have a heartfelt and wholesome story to tell us with their newest record My Resignation. This is the third record from Geowulf and is a narrative follow-up to 2017’s Great Big Blue. To cut a long story short, My Resignation is among those records which will prompt a listener to take a dive into the archives and dig out past records, and is a stellar example of refinement of songwriting and maturation of the cohesion which fuses various underground genres into a soundscape worthy of fame shamefully denied to Geowulf.

Opening with the title-track, My Resignation puts the listener into a swaying dreamy bop for the entire runtime. The signature sound of Geowulf incepted with Relapse and strengthened with Great Big Blue has reached fruition on this record, and the progression is apparent. This time around, the thematic and lyrical focus on My Resignation is a love letter to those who sit back and take account of their past and present relationships, its ups and downs, triumphs and catastrophes, and how we as a people cope with it all.

Lead single Lonely is a prime example of how to write a catchy section which does not rely on Top 40s boorish and in-your-face flamboyance. Instead the chorus of Lonely has an aetheric and therapeutic message in its chorus: “I rather be lonely, than be alone in love”, which undoubtedly has a very throwback nostalgia to listeners, especially to those in their mid-to-late 20s. The tone and delivery of the chorus presents the duality of love itself, with the weightlessness of memory and the gravity of abject sadness and reflection. Any band that can invoke contrasting feelings with sincerity has stumbled onto something worth sharing with the world, and Geowulf has successfully managed that on Lonely and many other tracks on My Resignation.

In contrast, songs like I See Red, He’s 31, and I Want You Tonight have messages which speak more of the irresponsibility that nobody can escape in the insanity of romance. The second track I See Red has the most upbeat version of crime-of-passion rage yet, which only Geowulf can fuse with a major-chord progression. There is darkness in this, and it is embellished by the baritone-range spoken verse sections. He’s 31  tells a story of making poor decisions by picking mismatched people and soars to a triumphant resolution sounding the victory of learning and moving on, before falling back into habitual behavior in its verses. Similarly, lines like “Fever, it comes with the night, Leaving my good sense behind, I want you, want you tonight” sung over an upbeat acoustic passage with a reverb filled earworm guitar lead are sections that keep bringing me back to this record.

To list the various moods and specific themes would rob fans and new listeners alike to the complete package, the experience that is My Resignation. None of this would be possible without the auteurs themselves; vocalist and keyboardist Toma Banjanin has a timeless quality to her vocal timbre and delivery that sounds modern and retro at the same time, and is altogether confusing, yet perfectly fitting to the sound that Geowulf aspires to project. Her dreamlike vocal range on tracks Evolution has a childish effervescence that harkens trust and causes a forlorn gaze into a dreamy mirage.

Multi-instrumentalist Star Kendrickprovides the entire scenery over which Tomacan regale her tales of heartbreak, loss, and recovery. Acoustic sections with ambient keys adorn the verse sections on most tracks on My Resignation. Although Geowulf is primarily vocally driven, Starlives up to his namesake on sections on I See Red and on deconstructed ballads like If Only I Could Feel It, although again, Toma’s chorus is so weighty it is indeed a struggle to focus on the instrumentation.

My Resignation is the soundtrack to the rainy days we spend looking out the window, gazing glassy eyed at nothing in particular, but looking back at how far we’ve come, fighting heartbreaks, loneliness, happiness, rage, and every other positive and negative emotion none of us are stranger to. Congratulations Geowulf! you have crafted a record which, after listening, we are forced to take a deep breath, pick up our mugs of hot chocolate, and hope for a better tomorrow, with those we love the most!

Rating: 8.8/10

Favorite Tracks: Lonely, I Want You Tonight, If Only I Could Feel It.

Geowulf – My Resignation / 2019 [PIAS] / 11 Tracks / Geowulf /

Coffins – Beyond The Circular Demise

When you think of Japan, you think of sushi, manga, anime, bullet trains, and the samurai; what you do not think of is solid death metal. And Coffins are a prime example of why we cannot spend any more time sleeping on Japanese death metal. The death/doomsters are back with their fifth release “Beyond The Circular Demise” an infernal release with grit and teeth.

It is a crime that after four full-length releases, numerous splits and EPs and fourteen years on the scene, the bruisers in Coffins are slowly grinding their way into worldwide stardom. But their approach on Beyond The Circular Demise clearly shows us that they are masters of their craft. There is no mucking about with longwinded intros and ambience that plague many modern death metal releases. Coffins hits you right where it hurts on opener “Terminate by own Prophecy”. Their signature sound mirrors the grimy, unpolished, and almost primal nature that has been popularized in recent times by acts like Tomb Mold, Convulsing, and Pyrrhon. The drums are lumbering, the bass is dripping, and the guitars are thick, gritty, hefty, and illicit a sincerity that the synthetic production of modern records belie.

The riffs on Beyond The Circular Demise are as nostalgic of OSDM but are not without tricks and flourishes buried deep within its chasms. There are flecks of crust-punk inspired chugs and oozing sludgy doom arrangements like those found on Impuritious Minds. These sections are where Coffins do their best work. The vibe is instantly cavernous and monstrous, pummeling, and filled with inevitable dread. Chuggy sections like main riff section of Insane form a perfect backdrop for vocalist (and guitarist) Uchino to summon infernal growls from the bowels of hell itself. A surprising quirk is the occasional use of vocoders to blend the vocal lines into an electronic static sample which is odd and unsettling, and becomes a quick highlight. Album closer Gateways to Dystopia takes a small step towards modern doom with its main riff arrangement and quicker pace set by the thundering double kickdrums and is one of the strongest ways to end a record.

As a Japanese artist, it is understandable that English is not their primary language of expression, so props must be given to the band for trudging on with English titles and lyrics, however the grammatical errors in the song titles feel awkward and take away from the total effect of the record itself. In addition ,being a spoiled millennial I still struggle with the crusty production values, and I firmly believe that Coffins would be better served by modern sonics, but the sound does match the imagery and adds weight to the savage motif so my quibbles are minor. The drums are unquantized, the hits are not always square but are hard, and human.

At the end of the day, Beyond The Circular Demise is a beast of a record. It makes no excuses for what it is: a chunky slab of slow moving, evil, dreaded animal which should not be trifled with.

Rating: 7.8/10

Favorite Tracks: The Tranquil End, Insane, Gateways to Dystopia.

Coffins – Beyond The Circular Demise / Bandcamp / Relapse

Whitechapel – The Valley (Metal Blade Records)

If there was ever a big 4 of Deathcore, Whitechapel would be among them, along with Job for a Cowboy, Suicide Silence, and perhaps All Shall Perish. These are the bands that invented the genre and created the foundation for what would become nearly a decade of future copycats and a mire of mediocre ripoffs. But Whitechapel are back in 2019 to show us why they truly deserve their seat among the genre elites. “The Valley” is a sharp response to all the haters out there criticizing the band and the genre of waning into obscurity.

Whitechapel has been slowly moving away from the classic breakdown-laden deathcore sound since 2011’s The New Era of Corruption, adding fresh elements to each subsequent offering. The New Era began to fully utilize extended range guitars and incorporated more elements lifted from death metal. This record was followed by 2012’s S/T record which began playing with more prog-metal ideas while still maintaining that brash exterior that fans of deathcore expect from Whitechapel. They began to veer dangerously away from traditional death metal and deathcore on 2014’s Our Endless War drawing influences from “djent” and nu-metal, much to the anguish of many of their fans, including me. Their penultimate record Mark of the Blade was poorly received and labeled Whitechapel as washed out and tired, with many fans complaining about how far they had diverged from their deathcore roots and attacked the decision to include clean-vocal passages into their songs, which many see as grievous deathcore sin.

However, The Valley is a different beast. It is new Whitechapel fully realized. The record is the culmination of the experimental elements and brave leaps taken on previous records after The New Era, but now sharpened to lethal precision. Album opener When a Demon Defiles a Witch immediately informs us that Whitechapel are masters of their craft and serves as a perfect marketing pitch for the entire record. It is emotional, explosive, brutal, catchy, and every other positive adjective you can attribute to a successful metal track. The maligned clean-vocals are back, but this time they are oh-so-good! Following that rollercoaster, we are thrown right into deathcore territory with Forgiveness is Weakness, which slaps listeners with proof that Whitechapel can still write crushingly devastating riffs, breakdowns, growls, and blast-beats. I found myself screaming “Forgiveness… is useless!” to the air after two listens, instantly fast-tracking the track to my favorites. Every track on The Valley is set in purpose, with zero fluff. Tracks like Brimstone, Black Bear, We Are One are blistering deathcore tracks that will be perfect additions to their live repertoire.

Even when Whitechapel decides to ease up on the brutality with acoustic sections and melodic arrangements they do so with the maturity of veterans. It never comes off as contrived or insincere, and instantly connects with the listener. A prime example of this is the emotionally-charged Hickory Creek. Any deathcore fan, including myself, would have balked at the idea of a Whitechapel track filled entirely with clean-vocals, but Hickory Creek is easily among the heaviest tracks Whitechapel has ever written, not in the traditional sense, but with the amount of sincere weight it carries. There is not a weak or forgettable track on this record, which is high praise for a genre that is pretty played out in 2019. Album closer Doom Woods is apt, it is an epilogue to an immensely enjoyable journey through the ten tracks of ferocity, anger, strength, vulnerability, and depth. Doom Woods is a mid-paced lumbering beast with gigantic chords backed with ominous string arrangements perfectly closing the record on a somber note.

The Valley shows that Whitechapel can write superlative and cohesive deathcore, because at its core the members of Whitechapel are constantly innovating. The guitar riffs are sharp, the breakdowns chunky, the solos soaring. Even though Whitechapel will always be criticized for underusing their three guitarists, The Valley does show each of the guitarist’s flair at various points through the record. The bass is well-mixed, and slices right through the mix, which is a tall order for a band with three extended range guitarists. It growls during the riffs, and is smooth during the slower sections and is altogether rewarding. Drum duties on The Valley were handled by Navene Koperweis (ex-Animosity, ex-Faceless, ex-Animals as Leaders, Entheos) who is no stranger to writing bludgeoning drum sections and his heavy hits go a long way to make The Valley as brutal as it is.

But nobody will deny that the true star on The Valley is vocalist Phil Bozeman, and oh god, he is absolutely godlike on this record. His lows are hellish, his shrieks are banshee-like, and his cleans are easily among the best in metal, period. He channels Deftones, Slipknot/Stone Sour, and Alice in Chains with his clean-vocal stylings with masterful proficiency cementing his place as the best vocalist in the genre. Where Suicide Silence failed catastrophically with their attempt at clean vocals, Whitechapel (and Phil) clears any doubt that clean vocals can be pristine in the genre when done right. Furthermore, the lyrical content is directly influenced by Bozeman’s own childhood struggles and difficult relationship with his addicted and abusive mother. Tracks like When a Demon Defiles a Witch, and Hickory Creek even have lyrics directly taken from his mother’s diary which adds a level of gravitas that is unparalleled. Another example is when Third Depth grinds to a halt and Phil moans “Im not stable” you feel every breath of angst in his voice. Even with a few moments spent with these tracks are enough to convey that these songs are near to Bozeman’s heart and by extension, Whitechapel. This is surely his strongest effort to date and will be difficult if not impossible to beat on subsequent records.

Whitechapel has not sold out, in fact, they are back with a vengeance, and have made a bold proclamation with The Valley. They are here to stay, they are the band to beat in the genre, and anyone who skips this record is doing themselves the greatest disservice!

Overall Rating: 9/10

Favorite Songs: When a Demon Defiles a Witch, Hickory Creek, Forgiveness is Weakness, Doom Woods.

Whitechapel – The Valley (Metal Blade Records) / Facebook / Twitter /

Obscura – Diluvium (CD)

Few names in technical death metal actually stick around to be instantly recognizable in the genre, and with Diluvium, German sluggers Obscura find themselves genre veterans, often in the same breath as critically acclaimed acts like Necrophagist and Death. This new offering is the fourth and final chapter in the album-saga and is a direct sequel to the 2015 banger, Akroasis. Is Diluvium the crescendo of the story? Continue reading “Obscura – Diluvium (CD)”

Morne – To The Night Unknown

Doom metal is usually a miss for me owing to a slew of bands devolving into a formulaic trudge through molasses of mediocrity. But ever so often, there comes a piece of music so gargantuan and animalistic that you cannot help but get excited. The fifth release To The Night Unknown by Boston doomsludgers Morne released on Armageddon Records and the first to be released on the band’s own eponymous Morne Records is one of those works. Continue reading “Morne – To The Night Unknown”

Light This City – Terminal Bloom

At the Gates did a lot for metal music, giving a melodic edge to the oft-brash death metal genre, birthing melodic death metal, a genre now as established as any other, and Light This City are back after a decade long hiatus to rekindle our love for the band and genre with their newest record Terminal Bloom. Continue reading “Light This City – Terminal Bloom”

Abjection Ritual – Soul of Ruin, Body of Filth

Let’s face it, we all have genres and subgenres and microgenres that we don’t get into not for any reason but because there is just so much content from bands in genres that we do like that we rarely find reason to stray. Doom and it’s microgenre drone metal is one of those genres, that I hear only good things about, but seemed so far away from the metal I am used to, that I never stray into its rotting, fetid maw. When Abjection Ritual’s third LP, Soul of Ruin, Body of Filth was passed along to me, I decided to take a deep dive into its murky depths. Continue reading “Abjection Ritual – Soul of Ruin, Body of Filth”