Album Review: DANNY BROWN Atrocity Exhibition

danny-brown-atrocity-exhibition

Last last year accomplished hip-hop artist, Danny Brown, released his latest project, the full length record, “Atrocity Exhibition”.  After switching labels to Warp Records, there was speculation that Danny would yet again venture into a different sound and approach for this 2016 release.  However, no one, including myself, could’ve seen this drastic new change in sound and experimentation coming.

Personally, I discovered Danny’s material during the “Old” album cycle and instantly fell in love with the EDM based hip hop tracks.  Songs like “Side B (Dope Song)”, “Kush Coma”, “Dip”, and his collaboration with EDM artist, Rustie, with the song, “Attak” almost immediately became not only some of the greatest rap songs I had ever heard by the Detroit based artist, but some of the most stellar hip hop tracks I ever heard period.  It was clear that Danny’s distinct songwriting and sound was unparalleled to the rest of the noise in the genre, even after hearing only a fraction of his entire discography.

After listening to “Atrocity Exhibition”, my first reaction was complete shock at how Danny Brown was able to take 15 of the most odd, peculiar, and to put it simply, weirdest, beats I had ever heard and turn them into successfully written hip hop tracks.  Especially starting out with tracks off “Old” that follow a very simplistic, catchy, festival-oriented structure, it completely took me off guard to hear such experimentation from Danny on “Atrocity Exhibition”.  Tracks like “Downward Spiral”, “Get Hi”, and “Goldust” left me utterly dumbfounded at how Danny can take these bizarre instrumental tracks and record a vocal performance that not only rhythmically makes sense, but actually results in well-written songs that I actually enjoy.

Despite the odd approach to songwriting, every track seems to fit well in the track listing.  The songs themselves, beats, and song structure may vary greatly, especially when comparing songs like “Really Doe” and “Goldust”, however each track seems to fit perfectly into the overall composition of the album as a whole. On one hand, “Really Doe” features a very modern, almost radio friendly beat with features from Kendrick, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt. On the other, “Goldust” features multiple, repetitive horn section parts accompanied by an overly distorted electric guitar strumming barely audible chords.  However, each track features the same avant-garde influences while also including impactful lyricism that is often filled with dark imagery and honest depictions of Danny’s thoughts, experiences, and environment around him, like what is heard on “Ain’t It Funny”, “Really Doe”, “Pneumonia”, “When It Rain”, “Tell Me What I Don’t Know”, and “Get Hi”, showing how each track does not seem out of place on “Atrocity Exhibition”, despite the fact that no two songs are fairly alike in sound or overall composition.  The spectrum of influences, sounds, song structure, differences in beats, and even vocal delivery is extremely broad in Atrocity Exhibition and trying to compare any two songs on the album, whether its “Ain’t It Funny” vs “Hell For It”, “Get Hi” vs “Pneumonia”, or “When It Rain” vs “Downward Spiral”, perfectly exemplifies the blatant diversity that is without a doubt the most memorable aspect throughout the latest Danny Brown project.

There really aren’t any significant complaints I have about this album in general.  The only songs I really don’t like on “Atrocity Exhibition” are the “Downward Spiral” and “Rolling Stone”.  “Downward Spiral’s” beat is so bizarre that it takes multiple listens to just get used to its odd sound.  Also, “Downward Spiral” is a fairly weak way to start out the album.  The lyricism represents what is to come in “Atrocity Exhibition”, however, the very laid back, lazy sounding beat should not be the first thing you hear on this latest Danny Brown project.  Honestly, if “Downward Spiral” and “Pneumonia” switched places in track order I think this album would sound even better when listening to it from start to finish.  I personally can’t imagine how powerful it would sound to have “Pneumonia” as the first track you hear off of “Atrocity Exhibition”.  The haunting, echoing bells heard in the hook that starts the song would instantly grab my attention and keep it unwavering, which is something that “Downward Spiral” simply cannot do.  Also, having “Downward Spiral” at the halfway point of the record would symbolize how the audience is about to dive further into Danny’s unique songwriting and dark lyricism before hearing tracks like “Today, “When It Rain”, and “Dance In The Water”. To me, “Rolling Stone’s” hook is both redundant and annoying and I personally believe it slightly holds the entire album back.  If it had a different hook it might be better overall, but regardless it is definitely one of the weakest songs on the project.

Despite these minor setbacks, there are numerous aspects that I personally thoroughly enjoyed on “Atrocity Exhibition”.  For starters, the sampling on “Lost” is sensational.  The repeated looping of the horn part, keyboard melody, and female vocal track provide a simple, repetitive beat that fits Danny’s vocal performance flawlessly (not to mention this song would fit in well with any of the old Tony Hawk video game soundtracks, as it features the same looping beats heard on hip hop tracks on these soundtracks).  Interestingly enough, “Tell Me What I Don’t Know” and “From the Ground” are songs that don’t feature vocals from Danny himself.  This is something he’s done before on previous releases, but it’s very interesting to hear a song he wrote that does not feature any vocal performance from the rapper personally.  In my opinion, I would love to see more prominent hip hop artists write songs that don’t feature their own vocals, as I think this is a really interesting concept that adds further diversity to projects, but I can see how this idea might cause some negative feedback from these artists respective fan bases.  I absolutely loved “Dance in the Water”, as the internationally influenced beats, backing vocals, and overall melody make it an extremely catchy song that I wouldn’t be surprised to hear on the next FIFA soundtrack.  Lastly, I personally think that “Ain’t It Funny”, which recently saw the release of a music video directed by actor Jonah Hill made for the track itself, despite the criticism the song got.  The beat on “Ain’t It Funny” is stupid catchy, and when mixed with the self-destructive, dark, and honest lyricism featured, “Ain’t It Funny” instantly becomes one of the most significant songs you will hear from Danny Brown on this 2016 project.  My favorite tracks off “Atrocity Exhibition” have to be “Ain’t It Funny”, “Really Doe”, “Pneumonia”, “When It Rain”, and “Dance in the Water”, and the more I listen to the record the closer I get to declaring “Atrocity Exhibition” as the greatest Danny Brown release in his discography.

“Atrocity Exhibition” was the greatest hip hop release of 2016, and was the 6th best album of 2016, only falling behind artists like Saor, Trophy Eyes, Fallujah, Real Friends, and Every Time I Die.  This project truly pushes the limits and creativeness of hip-hop and will hopefully pave the way for future projects at the same caliber of excellence as “Atrocity Exhibition”.  Personally, I still can’t get over my initial reaction of how shook I was after hearing “When It Rain” and waiting for the bass to drop, like in “Dip”, only to never hear the anticipated drop.  Even though I was initially disappointed to not hear more EDM inspired tracks from Danny Brown, I am ecstatic to instead receive one of the best projects ever released in hip hop’s modern history.  Danny Brown will be remembered as a trailblazer in hip hop and his projects will surely inspire countless other phenomenal artists and projects.  In summation, I give “Atrocity Exhibition” a 9.6/10, and I cannot stress enough how important it is to listen to and truly appreciate this album.  Danny Brown’s latest project is attached below.  Give it a listen and stay tuned for more reviews due out very soon!

 

“Atrocity Exhibition”:

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Classic Album Review: FALLUJAH The Flesh Prevails

fallujah-thefleshprevails

I hadn’t listened to Fallujah before I heard “The Flesh Prevails”. I believed what I was told and anticipated a polished progressive metal album with a deep atmosphere. I knew my expectations had got the best of me from the first volley of machine gun double bass. After accepting that Fallujah was in fact a death metal band, I strapped in and started again. Even with my expectations out of the way, I found myself dissatisfied. While there isn’t anything terribly wrong with the album, there isn’t much to praise either.

“The Flesh Prevails” is by no means a poor album. It is a valiant attempt at the difficult task of combining atmosphere with sheer brutality, but fails to seamlessly unite the two themes. Instead, atmospheric trances are often interrupted by grisly vocals, and soaring guitar leads compete with the domineering rhythm guitar. Their use of contrasting elements is, at best, partially effective at lending gravity to critical moments. An overabundance of bends, reverb, pinch harmonics and sparkly tremolo is often their idea of ambience. This style works in small doses, but gets tiresome too. On the other hand, the pensive atmosphere gives the album a wonderful sense of organic flow. But at the same time, its unity is cause for giving songs lack of distinction from each other.

Fallujah was certainly successful in making their music powerful. Each component is complicated, or simply busy enough to contribute to the sense of onslaught. Alex Hoffmann’s vocal delivery, both punishing and gorgeous to behold, is the backbone of the album’s muscle. Even though I can only make out one out of every ten words heard, it does not detract from the vocals’ emotion.

The instruments donate to the cause as well, but fall victim to the botched production job. They have a noticeably sterile sound. The drum kit and bass guitar in particular feel very synthetic, reminiscent of crappy post-hardcore metal bands. Double bass is heard without end and is regularly just a source of noise. However, the band does make interesting use of it in moments such as the blazing drum fills in “Sapphire”. The other instruments receive their moments in the spotlight too. The guitar isn’t at its best in the solos or nonchalant shredding, but in its excellent regular lead lines, like those amid “The Night Reveals”. The bass has increasingly more involved parts as the album goes on, being featured in the beginning of “Levitation”, but it occasionally gets swamped by the other instruments. Despite any setbacks, the album is full of moments of true brutality that manage to hold an elegant air.

In the end, “The Flesh Prevails”, is restrained by the production effort. The guitars and drums are turned up to eleven and are both in competition with Hoffmann’s voice. The volume is taxing and distracting, but the down time we get from “Alone with You” and “Allure” helps some. The production really gave this album a flat tire. Perhaps with better mixing and mastering, Fallujah could have achieved a more persuasive atmosphere and a palatable drum kit. Perhaps it could have been great.

 

Score: 7.2/10

 

Album Review by Zach Norton, December 2016

“The Flesh Prevails”:

 

Album Review: FALLUJAH Dreamless

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With the release of their latest album, “Dreamless”, atmospheric death metal pioneers, Fallujah, showcase their most recent material in their impressive discography. Following the successful release of “The Flesh Prevails”, the expectations and anticipation for “Dreamless” were very high. In fact, “Dreamless” was the album I was most anticipating this year, especially since Fallujah’s material has only gotten better over the years. Despite this tremendous widespread pressure, Fallujah was able to deliver a stellar new album that serves as a continuation of their original style, while simultaneously experimenting with ways to develop it. Personally I view Fallujah as one of the greatest modern metal acts and was curious to see what direction they would take next. I absolutely loved “Nomadic” and “The Flesh Prevails” (TFP) and was looking forward to hear the latest installment. While there are countless, positive aspects that are seen in this recent growth, there were some downsides as well that proved that even though Fallujah have already established themselves as groundbreaking songwriters, there is still room for improvement and potential to truly master this unique subgenre that they’ve created.

When you first listen to “Dreamless” you can hear slight but very noticeable changes from their previous albums. As stated before, when listening to a release, I will play a record at least 10 times through and will break down numerous tracks and sections as well. For “Dreamless” I also listened to “Nomadic” and “TFP” back to back to better understand the group’s growth in the last few years. Before hearing “Dreamless” these two releases were my absolute favorites by the band and became the standard for any future Fallujah albums. When you first listen to “Dreamless” its apparent that the production quality for this release surpasses any previous Fallujah album. Not to take away from the quality of “Nomadic” or “TFP”, but when listening to “Dreamless” it is apparent that the process that went into tracking each individual instrument and effect was far greater than any previous release. From the minute “Face of Death” begins to the end of the album, things like drum panning, atmospheric ambient fills, builds, and sections, and even mixing and effects added to vocal tracks are crisp, clear and in return give the album itself a more full, complete sound. This, in my opinion, is one of the most important improvements for Fallujah. For bands that heavily rely on ambient effects and metal riffs coexisting on a single release, you must have remarkable production quality or else you risk the chance of losing the much-needed emphasis that encompasses what this specific sound and genre represents. I was truly impressed when I heard that IDM sections and complete songs also featured this heightened and improved production. This use of IDM sounds and composition was one of the main characteristics of Fallujah that initially got me hooked on their releases. Hearing this unique songwriting through a better recording only amplified this euphoric experience. Even the small additions, like improving the mixing and adding effects to both harsh vocals and featured singing vocals help create an atmosphere for the lyrical aspect of the album. By adding these effects and increasing production quality, the echoing, full sounding harsh vocals now sound extremely ominous and the angelic, clean vocals now sound divine and mesmerizing. To say the least, Fallujah made some great strides at pushing the limits and experimenting with their created sound by enhancing production quality and the process that goes into recording the album all together.

Fallujah exemplified improvement in numerous aspects of “Dreamless” besides mixing and production quality. Improvements to the quality of artwork were also seen in this new release and surpassed the expectations set from “The Flesh Prevails”. The artwork for “Dreamless”, which was done by Peter Mohrbacher (the link to his gallery, which shows the original design for “Dreamless” called “Yesod”, is attached below), creates a perfect visualization for the album as a whole. For a band that relies as heavily on stunning artwork as they do for sound quality, it was essential that they capture the theme and vision for the album in one image. They were able to achieve this with “Dreamless”, continuing the trend of gorgeous artwork and in return turning their discography into a gallery of Fallujah inspired art in itself.

http://www.angelarium.net/treeoflife/

 

http://www.angelarium.net/treeoflife/#/yesod/

 

As stated before, Fallujah is pioneering a new sound in extreme music. Creating the subgenre of atmospheric death metal, I was extremely curious to see how they would grow and experiment with this truly original sound. What continues to impress me is the atmospheric aspect heard in Fallujah’s sound. As you may know, death metal can be extremely brutal often and rarely features anything close to being melodic. Not only is Fallujah’s “Dreamless” refreshing with its death metal infused with melodic riffs and sections, but it helps to redefine the genre by connecting the gap between iconic death metal and harmonious and melodious songwriting. This stunning composition somehow presents extremely heavy and complex songwriting with beautiful and transfixing melodies. The most memorable occurrences of this are during atmospheric instrumental sections on “Dreamless”. These parts have been heard before on earlier Fallujah records, but each release features slightly different approaches and sounds in these atmospheric sections that allow the listener to truly hear how it fits into the record itself. A perfect example of this is the intro to “The Void Alone”. The song starts off with an atmospheric intro that builds up to a powerful riff where the entire instrumental section of the band begins to play at once, creating one of the most memorable parts of the album. This, along with the complete atmospheric IDM instrumental tracks, are one of the most prominent, if not the absolute most prominent reason why I enjoy listening to Fallujah so much. My only complaint is Fallujah does not use this skill enough in their releases. While I understand their main emphasis is death metal, this atmospheric characteristic is part of the sound they have created and truly separates them from any modern death metal band out there today. I personally wish there were more atmospheric instrumental tracks on “Dreamless” like the album titled song “Dreamless”. Even if there were just a few more short IDM build sections on the record, I believe that the album as a whole would thrive off this. For example, if there was a brief IDM track before “TVA” that helped build up to the catchy intro in “TVA”, this would further improve the record and take this uncanny songwriting to even greater heights.

To continue on the theme of songwriting, there were many pros and cons heard on “Dreamless” as far as songwriting goes. To start with the positive, “Dreamless” is a great example of taking “TFP” to the next level. It takes the successful sound and songwriting of “TFP” and adds the aggressiveness of “Nomadic”, while also being inspired by “Nomadic’s” prominent use of IDM, and shapeshifts these sounds to create the final result that is “Dreamless”. The lyricism is once again phenomenal and only adds to the long list of impressive features heard on this record. However, there are a few things heard on the latest album from the Bay Area based metal band that definitely show the group’s need and room for improvement. Surprisingly, length of composition is one of these problems. Usually I love longer releases and appreciate albums that extend close to or even surpass 1 hour in length. “Dreamless” comes in at a few seconds short of 56 minutes and this actually hurts the record as a whole in my opinion. The reason for this is that the length of the release actually results in having numerous parts where the songwriting can seem redundant or even slightly boring. However, compared to other modern death metal releases, these boring sections become electric when looked on in comparison. However, the high standard that all Fallujah material is set to results in “Dreamless” having less exhilarating moments that could easily be fixed by shortening the composition in some parts. Despite the fact that the mixing and production sound remarkable, there are some times where certain instruments are mixed in a way that can sound slightly off-putting. For example, “Wind For Wings” has numerous parts where the bass is mixed a little too loud and can become extremely distracting from the rest of the song. However, if one of these bass lines were very similar to the lead bass riff heard on “TFP’s”, “Sapphire”, then this would become yet another significant moment in the album, but these bass lines are very different than those heard on “Sapphire” and the prominent mixing actually hurts the overall sound of the track.  There are also other moments throughout “Dreamless” where lead parts, whether they are guitar parts of electronically recorded parts, are not mixed loud enough. These leads are crafted so masterfully that it can become a little frustrating to not be able to hear them clearly. Although, these problems addressed only slightly take away from the album and are truly just small aspects that show room for improvement for Fallujah, rather than hurt the album as a whole.

In conclusion, “Dreamless” is yet another masterpiece from Fallujah and is probably my favorite release from them to this date. Despite having a slightly longer length, this new record sounds like a complete project where Fallujah is starting to truly embrace their pioneered sound. Making multiple references to past releases while capitalizing on resources to improve this style results in the creation of a monumental modern metal album that is absolutely one of the greatest records to be released in all of 2016, and is also one of the greatest modern metal albums period. I give “Dreamless” a 9.6/10 and for those who haven’t listened to Fallujah before, I highly recommend that you start here. If you enjoy this record or are a fan of this band please BUY “Dreamless” or any of the previous releases and financially support atmospheric death metal legends Fallujah!