Apr 242013

When I reviewed Autarch’s self-titled debut EP last August, I wrote that it was “plenty good as it stands, but it may be even more significant for the promises it holds of even more interesting music to come.” The time has arrived to find out whether the band have made good on those promises, because they’ve just released their first album, The Death of Actiacus.

What interested me about Autarch’s EP was the largely successful way in which they combined the grit and aggressiveness of crust-punk with the atmospheric, guitar-driven melodies of post-rock. It’s a combination that’s still at the core of their sound on the new album, but the songs are even better written and better performed, and they’ve pushed the potential of the juxtaposition even further. The result is a memorable and compelling experience.

With songs of above average length, Autarch have given themselves room to expand and to explore the dynamic contrasts in the styles to which they’ve dedicated themselves. Take the third song, “Comarre”, as an example. It begins with head-gripping guitar-picking, an infectious beat, and a shimmering melody that gets you nodding in an ethereal flow. The music builds in volume and intensity — and then the guitars really bite down and sink their teeth into your neck, the pace eventually accelerating and the rhythms transitioning into a punk stomp, the guitars kicking up both dirt and light as the vocalist lets go in a hoarse bark.

Aug 112012

As if there weren’t already enough reasons for metal bands to set up camp on Bandcamp, there’s now one more.

On August 1, Bandcamp launched new functionality that allows bands to create a separate, dedicated merch section for their site, through which they can offer shirts, posters, and other shit indepenently of the music. But it also allows bands to create music+merch bundles, and it allows checkout through the same shopping-cart function that exists for music.

The merch sections can be tabbed in the navigation bar at the top of the band’s Bandcamp page — though I suspect fans will need a bit of training to realize it’s there. Bandcamp is also planning to have the merch feature added to the Bandcamp app that can be integrated with Facebook, so merch sales can be processed directly from within the Facebook band page.

Yes, Bandcamp will take 10% of the revenue, but they’ve got some pretty reasonable-sounding arguments about why bands will still make more money using Bandcamp for merch orders than standalone sites.

And while I’m on the subject of Bandcamp, it’s worth mentioning that a couple of months ago they rolled out a Discover feature that allows fans to browse for music by genre. The “Metal” category is further sub-divided into “new arrivals”, “best selling”, and “artist-recommended”. The “artist-recommended” category is further sub-divided in a way that allows you to see the albums most-recommended by artists. When you click on an album cover in these sections, you get to hear a sample track immediately, without leaving the Discover page.

Aug 112012

Genre mixing and matching can lead to wretched results, with music that sounds like a forced integration of cats with dogs, or worse (if such a thing is possible). But it can also lead to interesting listening experiences where the genre crossing works even when you think it might not. Autarch’s new self-titled EP works.

This Asheville, NC, band say that they play what they want to hear, and it appears that what they mainly like to hear, based on this EP,  is crust/punk and post-metal. Those two genres may not seem like a natural fit, but Autarch’s four-song mash-up makes for an appealing listen.

The most interesting and most thorough combination of the styles occurs on the EP’s opening track, which is also its longest (at nearly 8 minutes): “Kings”. The song’s extended instrumental introduction makes use of gripping dual-guitar melodies and a tremolo-picked lead that rises and falls through a darkened scale, with enough distortion and hard-hitting percussion to give warning that something brutish lurks in the shadows.

When the guitars begin to growl and prowl and grow more dissonant, and harsh barking vocals join in, things take a turn toward the crustier, more aggressive side of the mix. Though the pacing is dynamic, the band stomp, storm, and gallop with a vengeance before the song ends, yet the atmospheric quality established by the intro never completely disappears.

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