Thursday, August 23, 2012

Column of Heaven - "Mission From God" Review

I'm currently sitting in a coffee shop, trying to plan out how I'm going to approach this review. Because I have a lot on my mind. People in the know about Column of Heaven, and this new full-length album, "Mission From God", should know that this release has been swallowed in gargantuan amounts of hype and praise. Normally, no big deal, things like that don't usually get to me and challenge my opinion on an album. I usually just acknowledge that things get over blown in the press, and I'm usually very good at not letting stuff like that influence my own opinions(as it shouldn't with any critic). But, I'm gonna level with you guys; the first several times I heard this album, I didn't get it. Let me rephrase that, I didn't get why this album was getting all of this praise(I guess I still don't, read on). And honestly, this really bugged me, almost to the point of anger. Every one I talked to, every blog post I read, every review I've seen, has been positive. Extremely positive, actually. And it frustrated me because I think that "Mission From God" is pretty undeserving of most of the things said about it. WAIT! Before you go spouting off in the comments about that statement, let me just preface the rest of this review by saying that I like this album. I think it's a good, enjoyable, powerviolence record, that has a few interesting ideas and utilizes them successfully. But that's the thing, to me, that's as far as I can go with it.

There's a few things that people might not know about this album going into it. The biggest detail of all, is that "Mission From God" is a concept album of sorts. Not in that it tells a story, but the general theme of the lyrics is about the English serial killer, Peter William Sutcliffe, or "The Yorkshire Ripper". A man who in the late 60's to the early 80's brutally killed 13 women in Yorkshire, England. The lyrics, in a nutshell, reflect how Peter Sutcliffes actions effected the physical and psychological landscape of the city, and of a couple members of the band. The album in a whole acts as closure for the band members effected. You can read their actual statements here, it's an interesting read. So yeah, it's an creative and pretty left-field concept for a powerviolence record, it's definitely more developed than your typical "album-about-a-serial-killer", I give it that. But I'm generally not one to concentrate on concept, and tend to focus more on the actual music, so let's talk about that.

The songs on here range from good, to great. They're all written well, performed well, and like I said before, utilize some interesting ideas and instrumentation. The sound of this album is rooted in metal-tinged powerviolence. I've heard people say it's "too metal", but I'm not hearing it, personally. Fan's of bands like Iron Lung, Extortion, and probably most obviously, The Endless Blockade, should find a lot to love here. However, that's as far as I can go again. The riffs on here are all pretty familiar for the genre, and the extra instrumentation is the most interesting thing this album has going for it, musically. The noise is fantastic, and it's orchestrated into the songs beautifully. The vocal manipulation in the 2nd half of "The Devouring Grief" and the deep, harsh noise rumble in the song "Entheogen" are do die for. Woodwinds and what sounds like Tuban throat singing is also used, which is definitely pretty cool But it's not like noise is anything new for powerviolence. It's been there since the genre started taking off, obviously with bands like Man Is The Bastard. Hell, I think I can say that most people into powerviolence have dabbled in noise/power electronics at some point. Which again makes me wonder why people are acting like this album is breaking new ground for the genre, it's not! I've read some articles where this is called a "smart powerviolence album". Why? Is it because of the concept? Is it because of the noise? News flash, noise and flutes don't make an album smart. Im my opinion, all the hype about this album makes it seem pretty pretentious. Which is a word I rarely, if ever, use when I'm talking about powerviolence or grindcore. Aside from that, the production isn't really to my liking, particularly when it comes to the drum tones, and the vocals don't have a whole lot of power or forcefulness to them. I guess in closing, I'm just trying to understand why people think this album is "smart" or "groundbreaking". I'm not trying to get people to stop loving this album, I'm just asking for some more definition. Good album.

Rating: 7/10



  1. Listened to the first half of this. Sounds like competent PV, but as you said, it's nothing really new.

  2. I find nothing interesting about this album. the thing is they put the PV tag on every single new hardcore/punk/metal/sludge album. it gets really frustrating to see the whole grindcore/pv thing get popular and new hype internet bands advertise their shitty non-existing music on bandcamp with tons of garbage!! that was NOT the case in the earlier days of course. anyway, nice blog you have really enjoy reading it from time to time.

    1. Not to state the obvious, but Column of Heaven was started by Andrew Nolan (from Shank and The Endless Blockade). Regardless of what you think of the album, this is someone who has been doing powerviolence for twenty years, so it is a little unfair to categorize COH with internet hype bands.

      Being a member of an internet hype band I feel somewhat qualified to make that statement... (of course I'm kidding somewhat, but this is someone who has put out some incredible releases over a long period of time, and its not like praise for his work came out of nowhere just because he has a new band).

    2. I obviously don't know your age, but i remember that it totally was this way in the early days as well; you just heard less of it because it was all on bullshit cassette tapes or put out by SOA records from Italy.

      Time has filtered out all the shit from our memories/ history and no one remembers the terrible bands anymore.

      The term power violence has always brought about a huge sense of territoriality about its actual meaning and who can legitimately claim it as descriptor or not.

    3. OK guys, maybe i was a little bit too harsh in my comments but i really think that nowadays its really easy for anyone to post his/hers crap shit sounding "music" on bandcamp or whatever plus a very nice and catchy artwork and song titles and that's all about anymore! At least 70% of the bands on a global scale just mimic other bands and these bands have probably done the same themselves. I'm 33 years old and i'm from Greece, i've been playing music since i was 14 and i remember back at the 90's you had to put much more effort to put your band on the map, plus we had no internet back then. I think that nobody really gives a shit to hear a 4 song internet only demo recorded in a kitchen and posted at some blog and the bands only aspiration is to label it as "powerviolence" or whatever. You need to know how to play music and rehearse alot and give your soul to whatever project you're into! Not so many people does that anymore! Thats what i'm saying. To speak about Column Of Heaven or any other "hype" band, it's the "media" (blogs,ezines,etc) forcing them actually to be "hype" because most of the people behind keyboards (columnists, "record reviewers", etc) have actually no point of reference in extreme music simply because they just follow a trend and they are in no position to tell people what's a great or bad record or if this is grindcore or thrashcore or anything. Simply because Andrew Nolan plays in this band that doesn't necessarily means it's got to be good. Sure maybe they are good for someone but don't try to convince me, i can find out my own. People need to hear the music not the critics!

    4. That's a bit of a straw man argument. I wasn't saying that the band is necessarily great because it has members of bands I like, only that if someone has been putting work into something for a long period of time, its pretty ignorant to treat their new band as some flash in the pan pv group.

      Regardless, it is extremely easy to listen to a band for yourself and determine your own feelings about it, so 'hype' seems pretty meaningless in that context. Especially in an extremely small/insulated scene. Which is really just a means of saying, why make a big deal about people liking a record you don't enjoy?

  3. You're completely right, in the idea that this record doesn't necessarily break any kind of new ground as far as grind/powerviolence goes. It's a pretty standard album with a few cool additions that most bands of this nature wouldn't think of using for noise/elements in the music itself.

    I think what most people are going ape shit about, and what I generally appreciate about these dudes and their releases, is that they seem to open up about their concepts and lyrical content. It's not just another bunch of songs about smoking weed, bashing posers, serial killers just for shock value, etc. Whether it's all horseshit or not is up to the reader, but I enjoy that they add an extra sense of "art" to their music. People can call this pretentious, but it's really not much different than screenprints, zines, etc. But this is where I differ and get hung up on concepts.

    Though, at what Loathsome said, I don't think I can agree that this is another new hype internet band, considering these dudes were in Endless Blockade and I think Shank (I may be wrong) and they just have a good track record with those bands.

    Anyway, this is a solid review and I agree with a lot of your points. I've been reading your blog for a few months now - keep up the good work!

  4. it's just a record, some people are into it, some people aren't.

    I think some of the praise we've garnered from a very small number of people (the hype you perceive probably amounts to all of about ten people) is because we made a record and stated up front that it was about something.

    i think the people that are into it are into the idea of substance and standing for something - anything - in an era that's seems more detached from attempting some kind of meaningful expression/ engagement than ever.

    and there's an equal number of people that reject that and will always react negatively to people who claim to stand for something.

    as the writer of the record i don't consider it smart - it's just a record and my personal listening preference is usually for "dumb" music - and i didn't set out to do anything new by any stretch of the imagination. It's a genre record, it does all the things you'd expect a genre record to do (whether anyone thinks it's particularly well executed or not isn't the point)

    anyone expecting to receive some life altering meaning from a grindcore 12" some middle aged nerd recorded in his spare bedroom is going to be either let down or is easily fooled

    1. Glad you joined in. Feel free to correct any of my hyperbole.

    2. Well said. I'm glad that you joined it.
      And again, I'm not throwing any persecutions out towards anyone, or trying to get people to not like this record. I think it's good, but felt that some people might have tried to make it more than it is, if you don't mind me saying that.

  5. Listening to this record gives me the same feeling that blasting The Body's All the Waters of the Earth Shall Turn to Blood did. It's got this intensity, coupled with an atmospheric and narrative quality, that really struck me on first listen and that struck me in the same way that I'm struck by my most favorite extreme music.

  6. I'm a little taken aback by the hyperbole surrounding the record as well, and I find the response rather telling. If you analyze it for more than a minute or two, is MFG overwhelmingly "smart" or "cerebral"? Not particularily. Mostly, it's just honest. We wrote an album based on a time and place and were very up front about that in order for people to be able to understand and absorb it more wholly.

    I think it's a pretty stale state of affairs when a band simply having a sound idea and being up front about it is taken as some kind of revelatory master-stroke. Perhaps when juxtaposed against most of the current pizza party/Cthulhu-in-jammers/serial killer PV circus MFG seems like some high-brow dissertation...... But again I reiterate: it's just an honest record. Bands should give a bit of a fuck about what they do and more importantly, WHY they do it.

    And yeah. Lest we forget, MFG is a fucking power violence record. We don't want to flip the genre on it's head. We want to play furious, cathartic music. Remember when Death Metal got "reinvented" in the mid 90's? No thanks.

    And yeah, in addition to being able to instantly acquire limited Nunslaughter records and niche porn, tthe Internet has also brought a tidal wave of bands PV or otherwise that are instantly, obviously half-hearted and piss-poor. Mostly I just ignore them and get stoked On the 10% of bands around that genuinely make me excited. Why waste time on anything else?

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  8. I love how "hype band" has become a buzzword for any band that's developed a following, and that somehow that's a bad thing.

    As for this record, "smart" isn't a word I'd use to describe it at all. "Refreshing" is a considerably more accurate descriptor. As Nolan stated in an interview, there's a lot of extremely lazy songwriting in powerviolence, and this can be attributed to the "worse is better" approach that has been infecting the genre for quite some time now. (And not just grind/pv either, you see it in a lot of genres, from indie to black metal)

    *going to go slightly off topic here*

    While I don't think the noise and power electronics genres are worth much, if any attention at all. ("noise" is really just a pseudo-category for (mostly) failed musicians to hide in so they aren't judged against the masters of their field.)[this goes along with my "worse is better" point. Elevating the powerless, and slandering/devaluing the powerful. ie; calling any band with good production sell outs. I see this happen all the time- mostly by people that have convinced themselves that bands like Agathocles are more than a novelty].

    *However* [Don't lose your shit just yet skippy...]

    Mixing it with a genre like Powerviolence was a stroke of genius when it was first starting out (despite it being slightly played out now). The Endless Blockade has been a huge influence on me since their split with Hatred Surge came out- and I even today I stand by my thoughts that they were one of the best bands to ever come out of my birthplace (hurr hurrr).

    Like Nolan has stated, having less to work with should make you work with it in more interesting ways (which is why most tech-death turns me off completely. With added complexity comes greater difficulty to achieve depth or create anything interesting). Bands that recognize this and don't bite off more than they can chew generally pull off what they do more successfully. Primitive is an excellent example of this. I've heard records far shorter than that, that completely overstay their welcome.

    The Endless Blockade seemed to go 3 steps further to ensure that this didn't happen while still creative a record that could definitively be called a "powerviolence" record. And it lived up to its name, it was both powerful and violent, which is what most bands in this genre completely fail to achieve. And Column of Heaven has done just that with this new record, they went a step further to create a visceral experience without trying to change the framework of the genres they were working with, and it shows. It's not a 10/10 instant genre classic, but it's more refreshing than most.