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cassette craze chronicles XXXIII feat. AIDAN BAKER, AVI C. ENGEL, MAIRU and MONOVOTH

Cassettes, cassettes, cassettes, ca...? Wait. Something feels weird, I don't know...

Well, let's just - sloooowly - get started with a serious statement of Doom:

MONOVOTH - Pleroma Mortem Est (2024)

After playing with several adjacent influences on the rather Avantgarde self-titled debutLucas Wyssbrod's solo project Monovoth now dedicates itself fully to pure Funeral Doom in a flavour close to Bell Witch. Albeit not being equally colossal in size "Pleroma Mortem Est" breathes a similar air of cosmic magnitude with heaviness and beauty seemingly not made for our limited mortal perception.

It's just that brand of the genre I totally love to let myself fall into. The cassette format enhances the impression of a forever returning cyclic nature just by "Grata Mors" and "Somnia", the respective first tracks  of both sides beginning with deliberately similar intros, which can make it hard to determine where you are at first. In the end it doesn't matter, because from this album's perspective the listeners' little matters are just small insignificant specks on specks of stardust anyway.

MAIRU - Sol Cultus (2023)

Sometimes huge and aggressive Post Metal can feel a little stale and tiring, but this band just has that certain it, which captures me. I just have difficulties putting this tape into my play... Ok, now I get it! Something felt strangely off about this cassette since the moment I opened the package from Trepanation Recordings. My dear Dan, you sent me the wrong format! No worries, that's not a biggie actually, CDs are fine and both have the same price, so this doesn't bother me.

It disqualifies the release from being featured here however, so I have to stop this mini review at this point and carry on with the two *checks twice* actual tapes which I recently got from Cruel Nature Records... 

AIDAN BAKER - Everything Is Like Always Until It Is Not (2024)

After Monovoth already taught us that most of all is Death Aidan Bakern continues our philosophy lecture with the observation that "Everything Is Like Always Until It Is Not".

With each of its eight tracks named after one word of the album title, this is an album which undergoes an according subtle dramatic change during its runtime. It starts as if the typical sound of Aidan's band Nadja had been reimagined in a relaxing Ambient Doom Jazz setting, with synth and flowing guitars meandering in slow waves above smooth bass lines and half deliberately-amateurish / half Smooth Jazz drumming.

There is a monotonous undertone lurking somewhere in the background, which in the beginning is providing a sense of comfort. During the second half however it grows to an ominous Drone, which takes over more and more of the sonic space, making it more and more uncomfortable until with "Not" the album ends in an openly contorted reflection of its beginning.

No doubt, mister Baker knows what he's doing with this fearless exploration of (un)easy listening. And Cruel Nature Records know how to pack and design a tape release. Perfect concept and execution all around!

AVI C. ENGEL - Too Many Souls (2024)

I didn't hate it, but partly I felt a little lukewarm about Avi C. (formerly Clara) Engel's last album "Sanguinaria". "Too Many Souls" however is a different beast. Not that the general approach of Engel's music would have changed - that's not something anyone would seriously expect I guess. They still cultivate an intimate, very DIY kind of acoustic singer/songwriter sound, based in equal parts on Folk, Classical, Alternative and in lack of a better term Experimental influences.

The seven tracks of this new album - including a wonderful cover of the traditional "Wayfaring Stranger", which joins versions by Oceans Of Slumber and Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter in my collection - all just find the right tone of introspective, but still interesting and listenable brooding. Among the minimal arrangements of guitar, percussions and occasional melodica, which carry Avi's soothing vocals, especially the gudok, a lute-related Slavic string instrument, is the emotionally captivating star of the show.

A beautiful, poetic album with the same nice (even though not necessarily most convenient) cardboard packaging as seen with Aidan Baker's cassette, including Engel's own artwork and a great looking shell.


CYNIC, OBSCURA and CRYPTOSIS live at Logo, Hamburg (March 28th 2024)

Are we practising dealing with painful clashes for Roadburn Festival yet? For sure it was a case of unfortunate timing that the breathtaking extra-terrestrial Otay:onii was playing on board the MS Stubnitz on exactly this same night. But of course there was no doubt about priorities, since there's hardly anything beating one of the most spinned albums of your life being being performed plus two very strong support acts.

But before the doors of the Logo (where shockingly I hadn't been since Voivod's legendary schoolyard brawl show in October 2018) opened, it was time for a little chuckle:

You had one job! And the month's programme plus the official tour poster with the correct spelling of Cynic were right next to this. Well, at least now I know that the accent appearantly is on the Ni.

The night began with a rampaging dose of Technical Sci-Fi Thrash Metal from the Netherlands. Think classic Thrash flavoured with influences from Voivod, Vektor, Atheist and Nocturnus. Which includes a lot of high speed lead guitar shredding and sometimes even breaches the barrier to Black Metal, which applies especially to their new EP's material.

The show was pretty much what I expected based on their 2021 debut "Bionic Swarm" - and that was a damn respectable banger. As a fun gimmick the guitar player / lead vocalist of the trio had a monstrous post-apocalyptic style microphone stand, with a build-in light which responded to the intensity of his voice. Great opener!

Even more so than back in 2013 when I saw them the last time on the Death To All Chuck Schuldiner tribute tour, where the band shared the stage with several members of CynicObscura have become a big name in their subgenre. You should also already have guessed who influenced the band I once called "the German FC Bayern Munich of virtuoso Technical Death Metal" the most.
They even use Cynic's spiritual robot voices, albeit those, just like keys and acoustic guitars weren't played in the flesh on stage. In that context I also wonder, if the band has some kind of pre-programmed effect setting running along with that playback, since there were no pedal boards to be seen - and the wide range of stuff the quartet was doing on their two seven-string guitars and fretless six-string bass for sure demanded some switching.

With varying degress of melody and ferocity, grooves and blasts, Death Metal purity and other progressive, sometimes jazz-ish influences Obscura's show flew by pretty fast. Stellar musicianship and a very likable presentation. Awesome!

This night had been promoted as a double headliner show and for sure some guests had primarily been coming for Obscura, but I don't think it's an insult or diminishment to anyone when I say that in truth Cynic were the headliner, since they elevated the night to a whole other level.

Let's not forget that with the tragic passing of Sean Reinert and Sean Malone in 2020 the fact that there even was a Cynic show at all didn't even seem possible for years. Just like the 2021 album "Ascension Codes" this tour was an honouring of their lives and work the fans probably needed more than they even knew. Playing the whole singular and unmatched, ground-breaking Progressive Future Death Metal Jazz Fusion masterpiece "Focus" in its entirety for this occasion probably was a no-brainer.
If you want a glimpse on how much this album means to me personally, you should check out my "Refocus" review, which I started with a whole detailed paragraph only describing the first minute of it, and which also includes the accurate statement that "Focus" is one of the best things among the entirety of things.

Paul Masvidal had assembled an incredible cast of talent to bring the material to life again. All four players were lined up as equally important parts of the whole. And except for "Sentiment" and the instrumental piece "Textures" the four musicians were also joined by Obscura frontman Steffen Kummerer, who took over the growling vocals.

I don't now if the show was sold out, but the room was packed and I'm so happy with the still growing recognition of this music. Remember: The band disbanded in the early Nineties, because they received so much backlash and felt so out of place within the Metal scene. Of course they came back  and released more studio work starting with "Traced In Air" in 2008, because they realized that the audience had caught up with them. And as great as the shows I have seen them play since then had been: To see the amount of enthusiastic energy and love the band - present and gone members - received from old and new fans alike here, still was an experience very special to behold.

However my emotional highlight wasn't even in the front to back fantastic "Focus" part of the show, but when Masvidal opened the second half alone with "Integral", the stripped-down acoustic version of the "Traced" classic "Integral Birth". The goosebumps continued through the "Kindly Bent To Free Us".

After that "In a Multiverse Where Atoms Sings" justified the possibility of Cynic continuing to be a thing beyond keeping up the memory of Sean and Sean. Two more "Traced" songs, "Adam's Murmur" and "Evolutionary Sleeper" beautifully closed the night. 

What can I say? Of course, this show was a dream. Was it flawless then? Well, while the Logo is a great intimate club I could have imagined venues with a better sound in the front row, especially since Cynic have no amps on stage and run everything through the FOH speakers.
I couldn't hear much of the Death Metal growls for example. On the other hand I stood behind that one guy who sang along all vocal parts, which almost made up for that. (Many other fans just opted for one of the various vocal styles to sing along with.)

The other flaw was that every dream must end. And from what I noticed there had been some technical issues causing the break to be longer than planned, so the curfew prevented them from also playing "Carbon-Based Anatomy". Unfortunate, but of course not a bummer big enough to hinder this performace from jumping right into the number one slot of my growing club show of the year list.

I don't know what Paul's plans are at this point, but I sincerely hope he'll keep the band alive, not just for the sake of celebrating the memory of the timeless past, but also with more new music. A world with Cynic in it just is a better world. Even if it's not spelled correctly.