New York Music Daily

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A Relentless Gothic Postrock/Metal Hybrid from Alltar

Portland, Oregon’s Alltar bridge the gap between gloomy, dystopic Mogwai postrock and doom metal. Their new album Hallowed is streaming at Bandcamp. No shredding, no stoner blues, no boogie, just slow-baked, grimly swaying grey-sky vistas punctuated by the occasional upward drive. Interestingly, 80s gothic rock is a big influence along with the requisite Sabbath references.

The opening track, Horology starts out as a watery, spare chromatic bass-driven vamp and then explodes with a firestorm from guitarists Tim Burke and Colin Hill. The vocals are buried in the mix: if the dark early 80s Boston bands like Mission of Burma played metal, they would have sounded like this. Likewise, if the Cure were a metal band, they would have built War Altar as this band does here, taking a morose, drippy stalactite theme, finally making snarling doom metal out of it with a long series of distorted 6/8 guitar riffs and disembodied vocals. There’s also a sarcastic cynicism to the lyrics.

The most epic track here is Induction, opening with a clanging, bell-like, slowly syncopated art-rock sway. “Society has lost its connection to humanity, and I can’t understand why,” keyboardist/frontman Juan Carlos Caceres ponders. “If chosen, what would you say?” Drummer Nate Wright’s careful accents foreshadow grinding doom metal crush: again, It’s rare that you hear a guy behind the kit who’s as dynamic as he is here.

Hailstorm tremolo-picking and a slow, evil chromatic riff open Spoils before the relentless crush and lo-res distortion kick in, with a final rise from super-slow, to just plain slow and ceaselessly grim. The band seem to care more about vocals than most metal acts: the apocalypse seems awfully close. Four solid tracks to smoke up to and contemplate the end.

Celebrating a Halloween Classic and Its Enigmatic Composer

Today’s Halloween month installment revisits an iconic piece from the creepy classical repertoire: French early Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre. It’s been recorded to death (ouch, sorry), and strangely, it doesn’t seem to be represented in concert here in New York this month. But there’s a Utah Symphony recording worth hearing, if 19th century phantasmagoria is your thing – and if this album ever makes it to the web. For the moment, here’s a 1951 New York Philharmonic performance with maestro Dmitri Mitropoulos.

Conductor Thierry Fischer leads the Salt Lake City ensemble through a colorful, careening, deliciously inspired take. Madeline Adkins’ solo violin is jagged, almost haphazard, the simmer underneath is mutedly evil and the group are obviously having a great time with the gleeful grimness of this quasi-tarantella.

The rest of the record holds up robustly. The composer’s Symphony No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 55 opens with a series of spot-on, momentary solos from oboe, violin, bassoon and clarinet, introducing a slashing chromatic theme. The riffs are short, sharp, Mozartean, the orchestra pulsing tightly underneath. Saint-Saens was a prickly guy and didn’t do himself any favors for the sake of posterity, but this isn’t shalllow music, and the orchestra completely get that. It’s a clinic in classical composition.

The concise, contrapuntal phrasing of the second movement is more warmly crepuscular and early 19th century, closer to, say, Beethoven’s Sixth. Fischer lets the dogs out to leap and waltz around the wry, momentary solo passages of the third, then the orchestra go racing, lickety-split through the jaunty concentric circles of the finale. Still, conceptually, wouldn’t it have been a whole lot more interesting if Saint-Saens had rolled with the menace inherent in the opening movement? Maybe eschewing that was a commercial move, figuring that there’s only so much macabre an audience can take.

The opening of the other symphony here, No. 2 in F, “Urbs Roma” has been ripped off for plenty of pop songs over the years. It’s surprising that the tumbling pageantry of the second movement and the troubled Mitteleuroepean gothic of the third haven’t also been plundered. The album’s liner notes witheringly quote Claude Debussy as saying that Saint-Saens – who’d trashed the debut of Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn – once showed promise of becoming a great composer. Whatever you think of his music – his endless volleys of orchestral counterpoint, his grandiose, Lisztian piano concertos, his irresistible Organ Symphony and perhaps shockingly poignant solo organ works – you can’t deny his gift for pure entertainment. Once again, Fischer gets that, and so does this orchestra.

Airy, Low-Key Ambience and Choral Themes From Carolina Eyck

Carolina Eyck‘s new album Elegies for Theremin & Voice – streaming at Spotify – blends multitracked, wordless vocals with theremin. which she uses for for both steady sustain as well as the instrument’s signature quaver. In places, it’s impossible to tell which is human and which is machine. It also tends to be minimalistic: from time to time, the music recalls John Zorn’s work for small vocal ensemble, as well as Sophia Rei in a rare pensive moment, or Emilie Wiebel. There’s a general sense of calm in these pieces: as elegies go, this is not a dark album.

The album’s opening track is Duet 1, a simple, gentle miniature, fuzzy lows from the theremim almost buried in the mix. The second number, Remembrance is a happy one, an increasingly complex web of harmonies based on a blithely dancing ba-ba vocal riff,  with a choir of voices massing in the background, the theremin occasionally diverging into tremoloing microtones.

Eyck’s vocals seem taken by surprise during the first part of Absence, a diptych. As the theremin grows more present, they grow more wistful. She builds Uncle from a simple descending progression into a steady, sober choral piece: it’s the album’s most recognizably elegaic theme. She follows that with a fleeting solo theremin miniature and then the slowly shifting tectonic sheets of Duet II

The hazily looped Commemoration brings to mind Caroline Shaw’s choral work, reduced to simplest terms. The playfully rhythmic Presence is Eyck’s take on Indian takadimi vocal exercises, while Friend, a synopsis of sorts, wouldn’t be out of place in the early Meredith Monk catalog. Eyck winds up the album with the baroque-tinged Solo II. She’s playing the album release show tomorrow night, Oct 16 at 8:30 PM at Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave in Chicago; cover is $10.