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Bound By Entrails' third full length album, "The Stars Bode You Farewell," has received the kind of praise across the internet that made me excited to check out the album but also somewhat pessimistic that this would be all hype, especially considering my temperate opinions on their previous album, The Oath To Forbear and the Burden Of Inheritance. I do appreciate the shorter title for this album though. Unfortunately the album starts with carnival music and I immediately am turned off by the lackadaisical feel and happy-go-lucky attitude of the introductory piece. But oddly enough, there are hints of that same feeling tossed throughout the album and so, in hindsight, perhaps that Big-Top innocence and weirdness is welcome here as "Stars..." is really a cornucopia of sounds and textures much like the circus is a cornucopia of hairy women and clown cars driving up elephants' trunks and whatnot.
So when the opening song, Threshold Of Fear, enters a whimsical keyboard solo and the cymbals clatter into harp movements, I'm taken back to the sideshows and the fire-eating the first track invokes. The overall feeling is of more recent Arcturus in many places, Borknagar's acoustic album "Origins," during the clean vocals and even the last two Opeth albums at times when Bound By Entrails mixes the harsh vocals with some of the semi-heavy moments in songs like Swansong. I think the closest description would be that of Ihsahn's recent album After. Both projects include all kinds of instrumentation and vocal styles. The guitar tone even sounds similar at times when Chris Hansson or Cory Llewellen or Brett Wehmeyer slides away into a riff and you get that classic 'zipper' effect. I almost rarely make an attempt to wonder what bands REALLY influence people so there is no digging deeper here. Especially when you're talking about something as avant-garde as Bound By Entrails aims to be. The eclecticism is meaningless to me.
In many ways this isn't the type of album I enjoy and though I can't see myself listening to it over and over, I do see why it's received so much praise and remarks such as "It was quite difficult to review, as comparisons to other bands didn't do the band justice, and perhaps it took a very long time to fully realize that I was hearing a virtually unheard of masterpiece..." or the indelible mark in a history of exaggerations such as listening to this album is as glorious as hitting the lottery as a little kid. Let's be blunt, this is not the Golden Ticket. That album has yet to be written and this is not it for me especially with some awkward transitions such as two minutes into Search for Sunken R'lyeh when a grand sweeping lead unravels into post-power metal. There are plenty of times when drummer Tyler Platt sounds like Animal from the Muppets just banging on cymbals and stuff when he could be doing something more counter-intuitive and dynamic. The vocals and drums are often paired together and syncopated similarly as well. The harsh vocals of Brett can also be monotone at times but they are evocative and the clean vocals at times can sound stretched.
This album is a great example of restraint. Though all the musicians are excellent and shine across the album in many different ways and areas and in combinations as various as the leaves on a tree, none of them seem preoccupied with showing off or being the center of attention. The band is very much on the same page with what their goals are. There are moments when everyone goes off into excellent leads and the showmanship for me is more prevalent in this restraint. It doesn't sound 'wanky.' Thanks guys. Also, since I haven't mentioned the poor guy, Mark Eppilhimer's bass playing is an excellent showing. Though he plays behind all the other stuff, when I listen in good headphones, there are a lot of awesome subtle things going on with his bass lines which I, as a bassist, find fun to listen to. In many places he moves songs.
So some highlights for me. I find myself drawn to the less extreme tracks as that's what the band does better in my opinion. "Sawnsong", "Apprehension" and "Bemoaning The Lamented," that last which also exhibits some of the center-ring acrobatics that the album exudes at times. They grow and move and are wonderful to listen to. I also really like the first of the longer tracks, "With Vernal Impunity,"for some reason. It has this great Chopin style piano piece three-quarters of the way through and a chaotic ending with all sorts of different instruments getting time to do leads. Final song, the fifteen minute "Ghosts of Our Former Selves," is rather long but it's made up of large segments of variations and so it doesn't seem too monotonous and boring or too adventurous and numbing. The lyrics are all well written, probably mean something to someone and probably could mean something to many others - I'm just not going to try deciphering all the ins and outs. I do like the lyrics to "Apprehension," even if at times it seems like something a gothic kid might write as a poem before leaving for college.
So where does this leave me as a comparison to the first album. Well, I think that Bound By Entrails sounds much more consistent on this album. I think they are finding a style for themselves, creating a far more unique and mature album compared to their last album which in many times sounded like forced aggressiveness. There is far less of that here so when they really 'go all out' it's hits more. The album does sound better in terms of production though it still could maybe use some mastering work or slight mixing to kick out some of the low end frequencies cause some instruments to lose their space in the mix. No cover track on this album either which seems to mean that they felt they had enough material here to fill a full album's worth of time. The previous album was forty five minutes long including the Emperor cover and a six minute live track. This album is a full sixty-four minutes of originals. Perhaps that's a bit too much... It's tough to listen through a full album that has a lot of highlights and low-lights and still feel like you want to go back and listen again.
Often times I'm reminded this whole album could be the soundtrack to some weird Cirque Du Soleil show revolving around some little kid losing a hat in the jaws of Glaaki and climbing inside only to find he is in a wonderland of misty forests and ceremonial Pagan Riverdance advertisements. After listening to this album at least ten times I'm still looking for that damn hat. It's really that icing on the cake that album is missing perhaps. There are so many excellent things going on, so many glorious textural experiments successfully navigated and heaping loads of unique and artful arrangement without that one standout aspect. Nothing ascends above the others. There's a boy in this circus who bought a hundred balloons and feels himself floating but he can't tell which balloon he likes the most and he keeps getting further away from finding his goddamn hat.
Originally written for Contaminated Tones
I had never heard of these guys before, and if I had, the name would have led me to believe they were some kind of brutal death metal band, but fortunately Bound By Entrails (whose name references the hanging of Odin from the tree in Norse myth) is actually a first rate black/death metal band, and their third and final work The Stars Bode You Farewell is something to behold.
This is a very epic, varied piece of metal that reminds me a lot of bands like The Chasm or Suidakra in how they compose these heavy, propulsive songs with all these other layers and complexities in the songwriting beyond the norm. This is filled with searing, jagged riff work, rasped vocals and lush symphonic work, topped off with songwriting that favors the long-winded and arcane soundscapes that The Chasm dabble in so much. This is built on a black metal base, but it is done up with some serious death metal heaviness and bite, and with the melodic flourishes, becomes something entirely different from most of what you’ll hear coming out these days. There is a lot of pomposity on this that also reminds me of the great Bal Sagoth in many ways – nice resume of influences! But they’re clearly woven into the band’s unique signature sound, and there is a lot of personality and character at work in these darkly mystical songs.
The production is homemade and pretty scrappy, and the clean vocals can get iffy at times, but the songwriting always shines through with this one. From heavy-assed barn burners like “Threshold of Fear” and the killer “Traced in Arcane Rime” to epics like the colossal stomp of “Search for Sunken R’lyeh” and “With Vernal Impunity,” Bound By Entrails deliver some seriously atmospheric and haunting metal, evoking images of dark cavernous valleys and strange alien worlds. I just love the way these guys construct these narrative, flowing songs, with guitarwork so good that it practically tells the story without the vocals needing to do a thing. These are complete and fully developed songs, with expressive musicianship that goes way beyond simple aggression or vapid technicality that a lot of showy bands like this fall into.
Another thing I like about Bound By Entrails is the way they incorporate mellow tunes like the lovely “Swan Song” and the haunting “Bemoaning the Lamented” in between the more towering and heavy epics the album has to offer. These are not little interludes but actually full songs, and it says a lot for the talent of this band that the mellow, soft songs are just as good as the heavier ones. The clean vocals I mentioned before are still not exactly pro sounding, but they work well enough when given the spotlight to convey this sort of ghostly longing, like a spirit from beyond the grave pining for his Earthbound loved ones or something – that’s the atmosphere I get from these songs. So it says a lot when a metal band is equally adept at writing more mellowed out stuff too, and it’s another reason why this is so cool.
It’s not all perfect, mind you; the album overall is a tad long and could have been trimmed in its second half, and the problems with the clean vocals and production prevent this from being quiiiite as good as the songwriting makes it out to be, but those are really minor nitpicks for such an affecting and mysterious album that this is. Bound By Entrails have split up now, and that’s a damn shame because The Stars Bode You Farewell is one of the choice picks of 2012 so far. Epic, ambitious and magisterial, these guys came out of nowhere and delivered a hell of an album. It will take you on a really great journey. If you’re into the imaginative and otherworldly side of extreme metal, you should make hearing this your priority immediately.
No time for small talk. This time I'm skippin' the bullshit and cutting right to the chase: The Stars Bode You Farewell will likely be the record of the year, and although it's still fairly early to be discussing such a title, I stand behind that 100%. I would liken the experience of its discovery to excavating the bargain bin at a candy store. Said structure is filled to the brim with moldy, expired candy corn, unsavory third rate Twizzlers knock offs, and rock "candy" with a big emphasis on the rock. In the midst of all these inedible substances, you reach deep within the sugary abyss and pull free a pristine, unscathed, unwrapped, and uneaten Wonka bar. It's the most beautiful thing you've ever seen, but the forbidden love affair doesn't end there. With one peeling motion of the hand, you pull up the crinkly foil and something even more wondrous nearly blinds you with its luminous being: the Golden Ticket. Only this ticket doesn't admit one to an LSD-addled factory of sweets where unsuspecting, bratty kids get picked off one after another by coked up leprechaun slaves; instead, you're whisked away to a mystical wonderland of various colors and emotions, only to be taken on a majestic roller coaster ride through the far reaches of musical realms unknown.
So yeah, that's basically my roundabout way of saying The Stars Bode You Farewell is a damned masterpiece of the highest order and the human race has been worth it solely for its creation. Or something like that.
Anyway, Bound by Entrails play a style that could be vaguely labeled symphonic black metal in a manner similar to early Arcturus. I'd prefer the more expansive term 'progressive extreme' metal, however, since so much more is present here than on any given symphonic black release. Sure, there are often some atmospheric keys beneath the surging guitar rhythms and ever so occasionally blasty drumming. And yes, there are some blackened snarls present among the wide array of vocals (which are otherwise unorthodox). However, well-scheduled detours from routine and an anomalous strength of composition help separate this tapestry of artful complexity from any yet woven.
Don't call it avant-garde, but I'd be lying if the term didn't occasionally breech my mind during my initial encounters with this beast of a record. Off the wall classic prog influences permeate songs like the instrumental lead-in "Bemoaning the Lamented," and some dark folk metal even creeps into the fold on the excellent "Swansong," which is sure to be a joy for Agalloch and Opeth fans alike. Oh, and how I could I forget the accordion? What impresses me most is that the group is able to bust into long, evocative instrumental passages without coming close to anything that could be described as self-indulgent 'wankery'. Restraint is a virtue that, even in its loving excess, this album bleeds through and through. Serious without self-absorption, fun without silliness, progressive without psycho opacity, rich in flavor without the heartburn later... what could possibly make this even slightly better? Absolutely nothing.
When the band plays in their more grounded style of symphonic grandiose, the results are no less stupefying thanks to the vocal diversity at hand. Black metal bellows actually play second fiddle to surprisingly discernible growls of the melodic death variety, while eerie whispers and spoken parts reside in the darker nooks and crannies. The rather large amount of clean vocals took me by surprise, as did their amazing, somber tone. They're somewhat dry, almost mechanical, even devoid of hope in a way, yet they remain powerful and compelling due to the unique factor and the band's always tasteful use of each individual style. You could dislike one of the types of vocals yet love the overall experience thanks to the tasteful way in which they are implemented. The clean vocals really become a force of nature during the chorus parts, resulting in unforgettable forays into life-deprivation like "Threshold of Fear" and "Apprehension." The latter of which is so haunting, so devastating, I'm almost sure it struck a chord across the cosmos and suffocated stars billions of miles away.
On a less musical level, The Stars Bode You Farewell is simply the best kind of album in its gradual envelopment of the listener. Upon first listen, its massive amount of depth and content may prove too much to take in all at once. Most bands have that part down, and it's often the kind of setup that bores or instantly turns off the person trying to enjoy it. Where this band succeeds is in how they convince you to listen again thanks to the instantly accessible and even catchy parts. The immediately evident brilliance and memorability of showstoppers like "Swansong" and "Apprehension" mesmerize on first impact and supply necessary reprieve for those not so taken (yet) with the more enigmatic segments. Thus, another attempt is granted, and like clockwork, more is discovered. The somewhat hazy veil of mist shadowing the individual tracks begins to lift, and the songs that stood so apparently as highlights the first time around start to seem like the rule rather than the exception. At this point, one almost gets it. There remains, however, the final third of the running time, aka 'the 800 pound gorilla in the room'. Simply put? Two tracks and 23 fascinating minutes, marked by almost imperceptibly abstract flourishes of creative glory and utterly extraterrestrial song structures. For roughly the first half dozen listens, this proved to be quite the obstacle, but one is fortunately spared with the--by then--fully realized, understood first two thirds. This extended period of discovery may sound quite taxing, but I would describe the period as 'giddily dumbfounding' and absolutely never, ever boring. Besides, you know what? It wouldn't matter if the process was boring, because once you find yourself singing along to the most esoteric of lyrics, humming to the the most complicated of prog rock-infused rhythms, and air drumming in synchronized unison, it's too late. You're possessed. To paraphrase a line from Messiah, you are freaking bewitched, and the only antidote is more Bound by Entrails. Yep, I think it was my seventh listen when all reservations were reduced to ashes and the enigmas were no more. This is the epitome of modern extreme music and there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Really, what more can I say? Any record that obsesses the listener, restores his faith in all of humanity, and drives him to madness unlocking the mystery of its brilliance is surely worth the greatest recommendation. Anyone who claims metal music cannot be art would already be dead wrong without this record's existence, but he or she should simply be laughed at or physically assaulted now that The Stars Bode You Farewell has taken concrete shape. This rambling, rather incoherent attempt at explicating what is essentially an unprecedented masterpiece may have done little to enlighten or educate the reader, and I could have gone on for thrice as long making even less sense than the little I've made here, but I'm content leaving the few lucky enough to discover this album a chance to find out what it means for themselves.
Bound by Entrails, take a bow, because you fucking did it.
Reviewing this album was quite difficult, spanning nearly 20 listens and appreciating it more each time through. Finding adequate descriptions led me to trace the band's evolution back through their two earlier albums. Bound By Entrails started out as a black metal band, playing with a majestic feel like early Emperor - a big and somewhat complex sound that channeled their apparent influences, but lacked dynamics as those bands did many years earlier. While they did that well, the band hadn't found their identity on the first two albums - they still sounded a lot like like Emperor and Enslaved. On this album, they took a huge leap forward and set themselves apart from the bands that they were once very similar to.
Influences are now subtly notable, but comparisons don't do them justice. Likening them to bands who set themselves apart must be offered in a manner which compliments the achievements of BBE, rather than suggesting that their maturation followed the same paths as others. While the most convenient reference for this impressive progression would be a band like Opeth, it would be a great disservice to liken this band to the masses of "bands that sound like/are influenced by Opeth". They set themselves apart to the same degree as Emperor and Enslaved, but their path is hardly parallel. Rather than leaving behind their early sound, they have shed the sounds they once borrowed from those that inspired them, keeping and refining their own, original sound. This becomes more apparent with each listen - the first time through I was hearing superficial similarities to the bands I compared them to, but each listen brought out more of the standout qualities of this album, which make it much more than a sum of its components, and worthy of much more than brief comparisons.
Strong songwriting and communication between all of the instrumentalists allows for a very strong range and contrast of dynamics that make the album a very pleasant and complete listen. The songs flow flawlessly, and the album manages to avoid lulls, despite a lengthy running time and some very long songs. There are two nine minute songs and a fourteen minute closer, but I didn't feel the duration of the songs - they carry momentum with finesse and intent, pulling off extremely long songs more gracefully than Opeth did, even in their early days.
Some parts were a bit puzzling at first, but settled over several listens and help the music flow once the focus wasn't on how much stuff is going on. These arrangements are complex and it took a while to become accustomed to simultaneously having several parts that meshed well, but could each be focused on and enjoyed. Cergain keyboard leads carry the music from one section to another - they take the lead from the guitar riffs so swiftly that I had to revisit them and listen to the music as a whole, rather than just the riffing and the leads of each section. On "Marked Path of Ignorance", a blasting section dominated by drums and vocals moves flawlessly into a section led by a keyboard melody, which seems to flow from behind the previous section as it quickly takes the lead. The keys are capable of becoming one with the rest of the music to the point where the focus is clearly the whole band, filling out an atmosphere behind vocals, guitars, and drums, and transitioning into the lead to progress a song seamlessly.
Returning to the band's proficiency in songwriting - it is a wonder that they managed to assemble a collection of such fluid songs and work them into a complete album that spans over an hour. There are some changes in pace, like the softer "Swan Song", but they fit in perfectly with the tone and the feeling of the whole album. The cohesiveness is helped by the overall tone and atmosphere of the album, which are still somewhat dynamic, but they hold it all together so it feels like one complete piece. There are musical themes that flow through each song - melodic and rhythmic cues keep everything together and are often subtle and could easily go unnoticed. The compositions highlight the ability of the band to unite in a single sound, creating their music as a whole, complete performance. Each piece is always being ready to step up and take the lead - even if it is just for a brief transition, it always feels seamless. A few of the keyboard leads that initially seem to come out of nowhere are a bit surprising at first, but it takes a while to realize their brilliance.
Bound By Entrails highlight every strength of their music on this album, the best of which is their exceptional composition and songwriting. There's a lot of attention to detail, every performance fits perfectly through the whole album, and there isn't a moment where I hear something that I'd like to change. This album was very difficult to review, with each description seeming insufficient as I rewrote sections and listened to it more times than I can count. It grew on me, from something I was uncertain about the first time, to something I'm sure is the best album I have heard this year.
It seems that the band are moving on after this album, the members having dispersed from Alaska to across the country. There is always an interesting legacy when a band ends while they're in their prime, but nothing beats going out on top. "The Stars Bode You Farewell" will likely be the best album released in 2012, and it's an excellent swan song.