Sharpest knife of progress, yields the looking glass

The Stillwater flame captivates, set upon an ashen canvas

Outlines, form, frame and forever give rise to incapacity

Bittersweet revelation casts me into Apache tears

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Top 10 Albums of 2016

I’ll start off by saying I wasn’t intending to order a list, but seeing as one of was requested of me, I’ll use it here because let’s face it, countdowns are exciting.

2016 was an incredible year for music of all styles, so narrowing down a list of great albums down to a mere 10 is a painful, arduous and somewhat ridiculous endeavour. The criterion I utilised was based on consistency, uniqueness and emotional impact. The following is not my opinion but actually 100% factually true and irrefutable. Enjoy.

10. Good Tiger – A Head Full of Moonlight


I was very keen to hear what the creativity of YouTube drumming prodigy Alex Rüdinger would yield. After years of witnessing his flawless execution of drumming covers and tech death session work, I was always eager to hear him in a groovier context that still allowed for him to stretch.

I was relieved that the end result isn’t just ‘the Alex Rüdinger show’ but a firm balance of progressive hard rock and killer song writing and, holy shit, Elliot Coleman has some incredible pipes on him and is not short on hooky and moving performances.

The album itself ranges from straight up ‘singles’ to some more freely structured, explorative works which makes for a compelling listening from start to finish. If I had any criticisms, I think the trendy “perfect” production style wears me down and you start to feel like you’re listening to an advertisement for Toontrack at times. If I cared more about ordering, I would’ve spun this album a lot more as I’m sure it would’ve scored higher.


ulver attagsad

I wrote a review of sorts on this when it came out and I can only say its grown on me since. Also since then I’d gotten around to listening to “War of the Roses” which kinda helped make a bit more sense of some of the territory they were exploring. Not sure why that was important to me but it helped.

I feel my criticism of the album feeling a bit too ‘jammy’ has now become the album’s greatest strength for me, which I now see as the band’s use of strong, hypnotic motifs as a canvas for interacting with a myriad of textures.

I think this album was one drone composition too many from being ranked much higher, with the album setting its mood perfectly with one of the greatest drone pieces I’ve heard this year, where it then kicks down the gate with “Glammer Hammer”, which then climaxes with some of the most epic shit you’ll hear on this list. It kinda takes care of all the ‘band’ material in the first half, then just drones away for a while and loses all of that steam and the album basically winds its way down from there. Quite often I find myself listening to the first 4-5 tracks then moving on, depending on my mood.

The rendition of “Nowhere/Catastrophe” is killer, but by then I’m feeling a bit worn down and it would’ve made for a fitting closer. The ending drone track, while awesome, feels a little superfluous as the previous track gave an air of ‘conclusion’ to an album that really feels constructed as a “journey”. Perhaps the opening and closing studio tracks could be viewed as prologue and epilogue? A sick album if you like your atmosphere with some ‘oomph’.

8. Départe – Failure, Subside


Speaking of atmosphere with ‘Oomph’, this could be one of the most perfectly balanced albums to come out of the modern black metal movement. Featuring drums ranging from flowing, almost orchestral subtlety to oppressive, wall of sound assault which help shape the guitars that coat with air with impenetrable drones, tremolos and melodies that both sing and sear, the album flows as a seamless odyssey.

Sam Dishington’s vocals shift from proclaimitive post metal yells, to bellowing growls, rasping screams and angelic cleans, all delivered with equal power, conviction and mastery with a focused intent on clarity. This dedication to execution of dynamics at the highest standard is present throughout the work.

This is the album to listen to if you want to get into the genre and come away with really meaningful statements and meditations as opposed to the relentless, barely discernible cacophony (which is also sick) that a lot of acts of this ilk tend to deliver.

If I had to choose a downside, is that music that pairs this brand of heaviness with equal amounts of emotional weight mean I have to be in a very specific mood to listen, but that could also be construed as a compliment.

7. Deftones – Gore


Well this album certainly divided a lot of people and it seemed like it was always destined to. Diamond Eyes and Koi No Yokan are some of Deftones’ best work and are some of the best produced albums of the genre.

Bands like Deftones are, for me, one of those bands that I just love the overall sound of; Chino’s voice, Abe’s drumming style, Stephen’s riffage and so on. I just need to hear those sounds happening at the same time and I’m stoked.

I feel like there just wasn’t anything more they could’ve done with the Diamond Eyes/KNY sound, so shaking things up was the way to go. I, for one, really liked the raw production style, the slightly distant drums that still conveyed all the power that they needed to and just generally odd musical choices.

I’ll always take my hat off to a band that will gear towards the left of centre and I feel that in the world of Deftones, they did with this one, even on a lot of subtle levels (hihats panned centre on the title track etc). Their best work? No, but I still enjoyed the shit out of it. It’s a Deftones album, they’d have to fuck up pretty bad to not land in my top 10.

6. Myrkur – Mausoleum


Something I would not have anticipated ending up on my year end list. My sister gave me a voucher for a record store and I wanted to take a chance on something. Anyone who gets a nod from Ulver is good enough for me, so I guess I didn’t bet too hard.

I think experiencing this album in the context of a vinyl listening environment definitely made a huge difference. The cavernous reverb of the Vigeland Mausoleum housing the swirling harmonies of Myrkur and the Norwegian Girls Choir, with simple piano and acoustic guitar accompaniment is a flawless amalgam for being lost in reverie.

Being only 29 minutes in length, it’s just a bit too short for me. I’m not big on long albums (I’m looking at you, Meshuggah), say what you have to say and move on (nice one, Slayer), but sometimes ‘too short’ can impinge on what has potential to be a much more immersive experience, depending on the style.

5. The Midnight – Endless Summer


This one also came out of basically nowhere. I’ve been right into the whole throw back, vapour wave thing that’s been going on, I’m a sucker for nostalgia.

What I like most about this album though isn’t that it isn’t just gratuitous 80s worship. It’s like we have superb songs that have been crafted first and foremost then viewed through the lens of a bygone aesthetic that is also happy to blend in modern house elements.

I think this attitude towards freedom in the instrumentation is in part what’s lead to this opus of pop music glory and shows its commitment to writing great songs as opposed to hoping to tick as many 80s boxes as possible.

Contrary to my comments regarding Meshuggah’s release, the Midnight totally and completely justify their 60 minute run time with dance, pop, ballads, instrumentals that’ll have you dusting off your VHS collection if you didn’t bin it.

4. Bon Iver – 22, A Million


I think one of things I love most about this album is how much of a natural progression it feels from his previous albums.

Pushing further into the avant-garde with this album, Justin Vernon’s emotive hymns are prayerfully delivered through creatively harmonised horns, vocoders, electronics, with enough earthy folk instrumentation to ensure things don’t get too lost in the stratosphere of experimentation, especially with a considerably higher amount of diction in the vocals.

I’ve ranked this fairly high as a pre-emptive measure, given I’ve only listened to this album a handful of times but each subsequent listen pulls me in further and further.

3. The Body – No One Deserves Happiness


This album is like one of those distressing films that you just can’t tear away from, it sinks its claws in and drags you away. Any work that comes out from the abyss and convinces me that I can’t rely on my intuitions is going to be stimulating as fuck.

Maniacal wails just barely pierce through abrasive walls of what once may have been a bass line, a percussion loop or keyboard part, which suddenly become juxtaposed with some of the most beautiful and powerful female vocal performances I’ve heard this year.

I feel like saying much more will be heading into spoiler territory but I hope I can say at the very least, you won’t have heard anything like this before, even if you hate it.

2. The Black Queen – Fever Daydream


Let me first flex my pretentious hack muscle by saying I heard this before knowing it was Greg Puciato’s pop project. It shouldn’t mean anything, but expectation and preconceptions can and do impact how you hear something.

This one falls into the same bag as the Midnight with its nostalgia vibes, this time coming from the darker school of Tears for Fears and older Nine Inch Nails.

After milling on it for a while, I figured what places this higher than the Midnight is I can see myself still listening to this in 10 years time, Endless Summer is absolutely brilliant but something that carries that darker emotional force will typically win out for me.

1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool


I was close to just saying “Radiohead” and ending it there but I’ll do my best, because that’s all I feel I need to say on the subject. Radiohead are one of the greatest bands in the world, constantly reinventing themselves and refusing compromise.

For the first time in a long time, Radiohead have kept the sound and feel of this album quite consistent, sticking with a predominantly acoustic instrumentation with a lot of strings from start to finish, as opposed to the dense layers of loops and choirs of synths they typically employ, colouring each track with its own identity. Do not mistake this as a charge of samey-ness, this album is anything but.

It’s Radiohead doing what they do best, as well as they’ve ever done it, I can’t say much more than that so whatever your opinion of Radiohead is, this album shouldn’t do much to change it and if you’re like me, whatever Radiohead release in a given year is likely to find its way to #1 with little effort.

Of course, that’s if I had to pick a #1. I don’t think of music in those terms, this is just a really fun exercise. There’s many other things to note, such as Meshuggah writing some of the best metal songs of the year and possibly their career, they just happened to write a few too many songs that didn’t really need to be written.

Neurosis also dropped a monster, which also features some of the great tracks I’ve heard this year, but I just can’t get behind the closing track, given it comprises a fifth of the album, it was the deciding factor.

Other honourable mentions include: GH – Somebody, Car Bomb – Meta, David Bowie – Blackstar, Plebian Grandstand – False Highs, True Lows, Winterfylleth – The Dark Hereafter, Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason, Gojira – Magma, Wolves in the Throne Room – Diadem of 12 Stars, Nine Inch Nails – Not the Actual Events, Nails – You Will Never Be One of Us. I could go on.

One thing I noticed when putting this together was noticing how the medium impacted on how I absorbed the material. This year I’ve found myself venturing to opposite ends of the spectrum with a Spotify account and a turntable setup.

It’s been great catching up on what’s been coming out and being able to check out bands when people recommend me material, but I’ve found myself possessing (or not?) a breadth of music that perhaps hasn’t been given the time it deserves, some music that could potentially be all time favourites should I have no other option than to spend more time with it.

The music I enjoyed the most this year was music that I actually ‘owned’ and felt obliged to spend time with. Music has felt a bit more disposable since using Spotify so I feel I have a duty to really give music the time it deserves to be properly appreciated, despite the reservoir of art that I have access to.

See if you can trawl through your collection and dig out a few of those ‘one off’ listens, I can safely say there’s been many favourite albums of mine that once just flew under the radar.

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Rising to your level of incompetence

Did you screw up this week? Or perhaps felt stupid in a particular instance? Oh, you didn’t? Well why not? Why aren’t you in a situation where this can happen? Is it because you’re really just that good? Or are you just the big fish in a small pond?

“The Peter Principle” was developed by Laurence J Peter as a means of assessing people who are in line for promotion in the corporate world, which states, “Everyone rises to their own level of incompetence”. This particular phrase has taken on a more ubiquitous use, meaning that something will continue to progress until it hits a ceiling, a point where it no longer functions at the capacity required for a given task.


I bring this up because I found myself in such a situation on more than a few occasions over the past couple of weeks. The initial thoughts in these kinds of situations (for most people, let’s assume) are things like “I’m a moron”, “I don’t belong here”, “I should just settle for less” and so on. I’d say the first way of combating these thoughts is to change our perspective of what “incompetence” and “ignorance” is.

To some, the idea of someone who is ‘ignorant’ or ‘incompetent’ conjures up images of Homer Simpson like characters; people with low intelligence and capability, bumbling their way through life, but I think we can agree that a person’s level of competence isn’t relative to their intelligence but to the situation you place them in. As an example, most people are somewhat incompetent motorcross riders at the age of 8, but are competent at tying their shoelaces.


Being aware that you’re always at a given degree of ignorance about anything is a crucial starting point. However from here, another trap emerges, which is a proportionate development of ability and awareness. What do I mean by this? Plateaus are definitely a major cause of loss of motivation in any field. That feeling where you’ve been stuck in the one place for a long time. There’s many ways of overcoming plateaus, but one way of overcoming is realising you might not actually be experiencing one.

In my musical development, my overcoming of most plateaus came when I realised that while my technical ability on the instrument was increasing, so was my ear, my attention to detail, my awareness. Put simply, I’m getting better, but I’m also finding things wrong that I wasn’t aware of previously, despite those things always being there (doing lots of recording is a good way to discover this).

So what is the end result of this? The illusion of lack of progress. Your ability increases as does your stock of negative awareness, which makes you feel that you’re always at 0. Problems get solved and (apparently) new problems arise.

This might be a strictly musical example but I have no doubt this principle can be applied to most fields. However, just don’t be so quick to assume you’re not progressing because you’re secretly amazing, keep a record of what you’re doing and be objective in your analysis. If you’re looking further into your works of the past and finding you were actually not as good as you thought you were then, then you’re likely on the right track. Humility and realism are key.


I first came to understand the phrase about rising to your level of incompetence in Seth Godin’s book, “Tribes” where he reframed the phrase in terms of people rising to a point where their level of fear keeps them from advancing. I’d say a vital factor beyond competence and fear would be attitude.

One might just need to continue to work on research, analysis and skill development, while another might need to simply develop the courage to face certain situations, be it communicating with certain people, making certain investments or just facing fear of failure and so on.

The third is attitude. Attitudes stem from perceptions of ourselves, the world around us and the beliefs associated with them. Competence and fear are relatively easy to conquer as they’re just a matter of time and effort, but if your attitude is bent out of shape, it will always be a roadblock if your desire is to make headway.

This could include things such as a sense of entitlement, a poor work ethic, or just generally being negative about the people around you. You’re going to have a real hard time moving forward if you have these kinds of thoughts circulating around your head. The world doesn’t owe you anything and all you’re going to get is what you put in. Even then, you might not have anything to show for your labour and you have to be ready for that, “luck” as they say is preparation meeting opportunity.

I also witness people being really quick to have a lot to say about people around them. Not necessarily in a negative light (whether or not that is useful requires little to no discussion) but I think worrying too much about other people and what they’re doing is poisonous. Sure it’s good to have people to look up to, but it can be a real drainer if you’re concerned that person A or B is doing so much better than you are. Even worse, if you’re measuring against people who aren’t doing as good, you’re likely to rationalise that you’re doing just fine and don’t need to try much harder. You need to be your own measure of whatever it is you’re defining as winning.


I apologise if a lot of this is really general or even vague, but I didn’t want to go too far down the musical side of things as this can all be applied to any pursuit.

While it may be important to immerse yourself in an environment that forces you to step up, you don’t want to find yourself on a treadmill of self perceived mediocrity. You need to be able to ring the bell as you go, so make sure you’re actually doing something about the gap between where you are and where you want to be. The greatest yard-stick for where you’re at simply needs to be your level of happiness about where you are, where you’re going and most importantly, who you are. Embrace these lessons that being “incompetent” has to offer.



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Album review: Ulver “ATGCLVLSSCAP”

I never really intended this blog to be for reviews, but after having a lengthy discussion with someone, I felt compelled to whip up some words on Ulver’s unpronounceable venture, ATGCLVLSSCAP. I found the best way to describe it is that it’s a great ‘Ulver’ album, because they’ve started to create a recognisable form over their previous releases. Over the years, their form has been, well, formless. They were defined by the exploration with each album, the hooks and turns, an ongoing question mark as to where they would point their bow.ulver attagsad

It would seem the years of refraining from the stage has brought about a fondness for the experience of performance and no one can say they haven’t earned it. Channelling the improvisational nature of jazz, prog and psychedelia, the album is a collection of varying sounds, moods and some spins on some older Ulver songs and motifs, as well injecting some harder hitting grooves.

Improvisation is something I well and truly love but for me it’s best when it doesn’t sound like improvisation and there were a couple of moments where it started to feel like they were just ‘havin’ a jam’ rather than trying to create something meaningful. That would have to be my biggest complaint and even then, when you’re talking about Ulver just ‘havin’ a jam’, you’re not having a bad time and I feel some of these jams yielded some fresh ideas.

I certainly wouldn’t complain if they continued in this manner given I do enjoy how they approach atmosphere and reinterpretation, but I do long for the feeling of not knowing what they were going to do next. However, I understand if they’re not in the mood for these big endeavours. Releases such as The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Perdition City, Blood Inside, Shadows of the Sun and their foray into soundtrack composition, are all huge projects building on new foundations and understanding each time when you consider where they were coming from previously. The process wouldn’t be anything less than taxing in a huge way. So I don’t blame them for wanting to just kick out the jams for a while and I’ll keep enjoying it for as long as they do it.


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My partner and I have started forming a habit of making semi-regular outings into our state capital of Melbourne, essentially being tourists in our own town. Typically when I’m away from home, I, like a lot of people I assume, do a bit of exploring, as if there’s a sort of obligation to because I’m away from home. Perhaps it’s the apparent foreign nature of the surroundings or the fact that I’m aware of the visit being temporary that I make more of an effort to look around. But it almost seems absurd when I consider that I don’t do it in the very place I live and I couldn’t think of a more stunning place to be doing such exploring. After all, our opportunity to do so only extends as far as our lifetime.

I started noticing more when I got back from my first proper tour of Europe where I was so absorbed in the breathtaking architecture of places like Holland, Prague, Hungary and so on. It was as if when I got back, my eyes were more attuned to my surroundings and I in turn began to notice more of the sense of identity and aesthetic beauty of my home. So as time goes on and the more I read about Melbourne being such a cultural hot bed, the more I try and make an effort to immerse myself in it.

This time round, we hit up the National Gallery of Victoria.


I was met with an installation, some concrete columns that gradually deteriorated, steel being exposed as it moved upward, the structures being enveloped in plants and vines. The point couldn’t have been more poignant, that notion of the Earth reclaiming itself from us, long after we’re gone. We as people are no different from architecture. Like those columns, we’ll also be reclaimed by the Earth, taking nothing with us. Seems like a grim way to kick things off but for me it’s an ongoing reminder that pushes me forward, it’s a good way to cut through the mundane and focus on what’s most important. You’ll just have to trust me when I say that it’s a positive note.


After seething on the people who decided it’d be a good idea to bring their screaming toddlers to an art gallery, I opted to take my armchair parenting wisdom upstairs where the 14-15th century European art was contained which was predominantly (if not entirely) religious. Firstly, I was just gobsmacked to be in the presence of things that were that old. The gallery itself contains pieces dating back thousands of years and I’m constantly enamoured with the idea that this creative drive has always been innate in us, no matter the time in history, artistry has had its place and is almost always venerated.

ngv 3 ngv4

Firstly, let me say, I’m not a religious person at all, but you don’t have to be to be touched by its imagery. It was immensely inspiring to see these masterpieces composed by people who were so moved by their faith. I remember soul musician D’Angelo saying he always hired gospel musicians because when you perform in church, there’s no fooling the man upstairs, so nothing less than 100% commitment and honesty is acceptable. These works spoke truth to that.


The next sections were various collections from artists that created works for aristocrats. A lot of these incredible works included ceramics, tapestries, garments and dinner wear as well as paintings. Most of the descriptions made note of how a lot of these were created with the focus of displaying wealth. It was somewhat amusing, people today still do a lot of that stuff. I wonder if D&G sunnies, Rolex watches and Diamond grills alongside canvases of the Kardashians will form exhibitions in galleries of the next century?

IMAG0475-01-01 IMAG0498-01-01

Got a spare afternoon? Hit up any local art gallery. Leave your mind open and let your imagination take flight. Aside from a spectacular visual journey through many cultures and times in history, my mind walked many paths, pondering notions of the nature of us and the universe. I think we only got about half way before we were both (physically and mentally) exhausted.

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G’day folks! Just a quick blog post (seeing as this turns up on the first page of google) to let you know that I am currently continuing my blog over at my new website http://www.rob-brens.com . The site is currently serving as a hub for all of my info so go have a look and enjoy! Thanks for reading and hope to see you over there.


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Tip of the ‘berg

Last Sunday I returned from Launceston, Tasmania, from my second and final show with tech metal lunatics, the Schoenberg Automaton. Preparation consisted of about 1-2 months of digesting the material and 2 months of almost daily (rest is important), vigorous practice all for two shots at getting it right. I’d be lying if I said the shows were perfect, in reality a band like that needs a good 3-4 rehearsals minimum to really tighten things up and a few gigs to lock it all down, so you make do, just keep the groove together (or the cacophony, whichever)

It very easily could have been a situation of getting to the show and letting all that pressure mount, checking that every T was crossed and I dotted, especially given that the rehearsals were very much on a knife edge. So what approach did I take? When this band plays live they, like a lot of technical metal bands, run pre-recorded guitars with click track to the drummer’s headphones. So I cranked those tracks, drowned everything out and jammed, just like at home, getting back to that centre where you can’t do any wrong and man, did I have a ball.

I could have spent more time getting my in ear monitor balance right with the level of the drum kit and kick triggers, but in reality, I think getting bogged down in all of that would’ve detached me from the music and most likely would have wigged me out, or if not, only produced a slightly better result but with significantly less vibe. End result; I had a lot of fun, the boys on stage had fun and the audience had fun. Isn’t that what we’re aiming for? The following night I had that benefit of being able to hear the kit and kicks a lot more and while it was still a fun and well-played gig, it didn’t quite have that vibe of the first show as it was more focused and intellectualized (which, don’t get me wrong, isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

The whole experience was a hell of a lot of work but upon returning to all my other material I was working on previously, I’m finding a lot of ease and additional focus has entered my playing, which was part of the motivation of taking on the gig in the first place. That fact typically plays into whether or not I choose to do a certain fill in. It’s all well and good to think about what kind of financial gain you stand to make, but that can lead to a short-term focus (although it’s still an important consideration). Perhaps if the gig doesn’t pay particularly well, or not at all, do you stand to develop your skill set in a setting you otherwise wouldn’t? Will you perhaps stand to make a lot of contacts? How you balance these, you’ll work out along the way if this is what you want to be pursuing.

The motivation regarding skill set is certainly one you need to consider carefully. It’s one I’ve opted for on a number of occasions and you need to accept the challenge along with the foresight that not only will you do the work necessary to yield the desired result, but also that it’s all within your grasp. There’s no use potentially compromising another band’s performance because you got within a few days of the gig and you’re not cutting it the way you’d hoped. Sure, people can be forgiving, but don’t expect the phone to ring as much either. It’s an admirable quality to say yes in the face of impending adversity, but you have to learn to choose your battles or you might find yourself letting people down. Believe me when I say I’ve been in this situation and you don’t feel much like a hero then.

It’s a great exercise to go through because not only does it involve avoiding snap decisions, but also the ability to create objective evaluations of your strengths and weaknesses and to be as honest as you can about what you’re capable of. If you’re out to make an impression, you’ll take this seriously and find out what you’re made of. You only stand to grow, no matter what, even if it turns out the answer should be no. At least if you realize you’re journey is a lot longer than you thought, you’ll have a better idea of where the destination lies.

For now I’m just stoked to get some of that time back to working on getting parts done for the new Alarum album.

Photo on 2015-01-21 at 17.26


(pictured, first iteration of a page of a Schoenberg Automaton chart, this was one of the more straight forward ones)

now playing: not the schoenberg automaton


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