Monday, March 30, 2015

Enslaved - In Times

It's about time I got to a metal review. So far, this year has been pretty slow on the music front for me. There's rarely a ton of really compelling metal early in the year, I wanted to take a bit of a break anyway after the year-end-list season, and in the past few months I've had sufficient real life distractions to keep me from spending much time worrying about this blog. I don't want to drift into total inactivity, though, so now it's time to get back on the horse. What better way to do that than with a new release from one of extreme metal's most respected names?

Enslaved are, in case you're new to the metal underground, a black metal band from Norway. They've been around since those early, notorious days of the scene. Over the years, though, they have evolved into an increasingly progressive entity. While some (myself included) have not always seen this progression as a positive thing in stylistic terms, the quality of their musical output has always been beyond reproach. As such, they've avoided most of the criticism most metal bands would receive upon softening their sound. Anyway, their thirteenth album In Times  hit shelves a few weeks ago, so I figured I'd give it a listen.

The basics should already be evident. As always, the musicianship is top-notch, the compositions are complex and well-thought-out, and the style maintains the balance between "black" and "progressive" quite well. If you've listened to an Enslaved album in the past decade, you've got a fairly clear picture of what to expect.

That said, I found myself consistently more engaged this time around than I did with its predecessor RIITIIR. That record was pretty and it was well-executed, but it all felt a little low-energy and dull. Though this is not appreciably "heavier" it does feel as though more energy has gone into its production. The music is more varied and interesting. The compositions are fresher. The band has become more adventurous with the progressive end of things, they've added just the tiniest dash of post-rock atmosphere here and there, and simultaneously they're making better use of their black metal edge. Granted, I've been feeling less metal-y recently, so maybe I'm just more receptive now than I was in the past, but the progressive flair is starting to grow on me.

Overall, this is just a really excellent record. I have yet to get started listening to much new material in 2015, but I can already predict with a fair degree of confidence that this album will find its way onto my year end list.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Still Not Dead

Hey, this is just my monthly "don't worry, I'm still alive" update. I've listened to virtually no new metal so far this year, so I haven't really had anything to review yet. Additionally, life has just been fairly busy, so I haven't felt the pull to get on here and do something productive with my scattered free time. I do plan to get some new material and hopefully get a couple reviews going again, but it may be another week or two before anything happens on that front.

Anyhow, just wanted to let you know I haven't fallen off the face of the earth.

Friday, February 6, 2015

New Ensiferum

If you read my review of Ensiferum's last release (2012's Unsung Heroes), you'll know that I found the record . . . let's just say "underwhelming" shall we? It wasn't bad, per se, but it felt substantially weaker than the band's prior output. In spite of that hiccup, I do like them and I do look forward to new material from them. That's why I was excited to see that they had released a single in advance of their upcoming (Feb. 20th) album. I've only listened through it once, and the jury is still out, as it were. From what I hear, though, this sounds like a moderate step on the way to recovery. There's nothing too stunning about this track, and it's far from their best, but at least it doesn't feel as lifeless as  the material on their preceding album. In any case, here it is so you can decide its merits for yourselves.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Quick Update

I know it has been almost three weeks since my last post. I promise I don't plan on disappearing again, at least not right now. However, I'm in the process of moving to a new house, and I haven't listened to any new albums yet since writing my end of the year list for 2014, so it will probably be a few more weeks before I put up any new reviews. I've been thinking about a couple lists I might post in the mean time, just for the fun of it, so maybe that will happen. In general, though, there's not going to be much activity here until I get settled into my new place.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Looking Back and Looking Forward

The coming of the new year marks, as always, a convenient time to look back and take stock. That is doubly true of this blog, since I started it in early January. Thus the end of each year in general is also the end of another full year of my online ranting and raving. As such, I'd like to take a moment to reflect, and I'd like to talk about where I think (or hope) this blog is going over the next year.

I haven't been in this game as long as a lot of other people, nor have I had a tremendous impact. In the grand scheme of the metal world, or even in the smaller scheme of the online metal community, my role is a minor one. I'm just a guy who, for the past several years, has shared my opinions in a quiet corner of the internet. To my good fortune, a few people have stopped by to listen to what I have to say. In a nutshell, that's it. I've watched this blog evolve over 4 years and 600 posts, I've used it as a dumping ground for my musings, a soap box for my rants, a platform to share the music I love, and a point of contact with like-minded people. But through all of that, this has never really been anything bigger or grander than a guy sharing his opinions with a few people who have decided to listen.

Quite frankly, I'm glad for that. For a while, mostly in 2012, I started to pick up some traction in the metal blogosphere. I was writing guest reviews on a few other sites, I was voraciously consuming new content to digest and review. My view count was up, promo material was streaming in,  and I felt like I could grow this thing into a real, substantial voice in the online metal world. That wore on me, though. I was becoming jaded and cynical toward the music I had once loved, callously dismissing much of it without a second thought. I know this all sounds terribly melodramatic, and perhaps it is, but nevertheless I found it weighing on me. So I took a step back. 2013 saw me retreat from reviewing much new material, as I took a long breather to regain my perspective, and I spent most of my pared-down blogging time on other topics. Outside of the metal blog world, my real life was going through a lot of transitions as well, so it was just a good time in general to step back and reallocate my time.

As 2014 rolled around, I'd begun to recover from the burnout, and my life had settled into enough of a routine to let me start thinking about getting back to writing more reviews. I wanted to take a more balanced approach, though, which I think I've maintained reasonably well. My posting rate didn't rocket back up, instead I averaged about 1 post every 4 days, usually coming in spurts when I felt into it. I increasingly moved away from long-form, overly analytical reviews, instead preferring to post collections of short, concise opinions. And I started to incorporate more of the other music I love, particularly blues, while still recognizing that most of my audience is here for the metal content.

So now that 2015 is coming up, what do I see ahead for the 5th year of Beards Etc?

In large part, I'd like to continue the trends I set for myself over this past year. Moving forward, I expect to write a lot more short reviews. I have all but eliminated articles about albums I disliked, and that will be increasingly true moving forward since I just don't have the the energy or the desire to waste my time on bad music. I'd also like to continue on with some of the regular features I tried to get started over the last year. In particular, I want to revive the "Tuesday is Blues Day" entries, though I can already guarantee that they won't be posted every week. In general, I just want this blog to be a relaxed, casual place to share good music and occasionally talk about other things that interest me. Hopefully, a few people will still want to stick around and listen.

Well, that's it from me for now. I hope you all have a happy New Year, see you in 2015!