Saturday, 26 December 2009
They've come a long long way from the days of 'Lunar Poetry' and 'Goat Horns', back then they played an extremely primitive and endearing form of symphonic black metal awash with sugary synths and reverb drenched vocals. 'Goat Horns' was one of my personal favourite albums of the genre, and after the much maligned transition to a more brutal form of Black Metal, I resigned myself to the fact that anything ever as good as Goat Horns was just not going to happen. 'Weltanschauung' was the band at their absolute lowest ebb, they had lost all that made them unique and stand out in the first place, from 'NeChrist' on, they were just another average face in the crowd of generic NSBM bands, it just seemed that all the inspiration and motivation had vanished. Not so, as from completely out of the blue, they have managed to produce their most inspired work to date, bettering the majestic 'Goat Horns'.
The first track is an intro, in traditional Nokturnal Mortum fashion, and starts off with a a brash Ukranian wind instrument playing an almost militaristic piece before taking on a more traditional folk piece with martial drums rumbling along in the background. It sets the tone for the album well, as introductions are supposed to, it's good, but it's no 'Black moon Overture' that's for sure.
The first song, 'Голос Сталі' continues the militaristic drumming, and a slow brooding riff gets the song moving, and a violin swaggers around in the background. Instantly, the first change the band have seemingly made is to the production. They have improved it alot. A crap production may have worked on their earlier albums where it was purely symphonic, but on the direction which Weltanschuaang was heading, the lack lustre production only succeeded in making the guitar sound very muddied and all over the place. The improvement in production allows the traditional folk instruments to stand out alot more, and the guitar tone is alot more muscular and intense, whereas before it felt very limp. There is also a welcome additon of some acoustic passages as well throughout he first song. Coming just after the half way mark the song shifts up a gear, the drumming gets faster and a sopilka comes to the fore playing a repetitive, yet mesmerizing melody before eventually cutting out and returning to the rhythm from the beginning and eventually seeing out the song. The vocals have a lot more conviction and direction than the previous album, maintaining the newer, deeper style but with alot more fervor and grit in the delivery.
Another observation about this album is the lack of synth, it seems the band are continuing to phase out the synth from their sound in favour of traditional slavic folk music, but the main focus in this album is not the folk music, it is actually on the guitars. It always seemed to me previously that in Nokturnal Mortum's case, the synth/other instruments almost took precedence over the guitars, but there is alot more authority in their prescence now, and there is no better example than the mid section to the third song, 'Валькирия'. The song starts off as the previous finished, but soon slows down completely to an oscillating guitar rhythm, and unlike anything the band have ever done before, out of nowhere appears a soaring guitar lead with an astral tone to die for. During the four minutes or so of this solo, it just feels like you could be anywhere Carpathia, staringly blankly in the great stellar void above, it's completely unlike anything they have ever done before, and unfortunately this type of guitar lead doesn't re-appear again on the album. That's not to say the other guitar solos on the album are inferior though, far from it, they're just a different style, more fast and frenetic, less reflective and pensive.
The album also manages to re-capture the infectious rhythms of past as well, for the first time since NeChrist the song's contains hooks that refuse to leave your head. Remember 'Perun's Celestial Silver' and 'Kuyaviya'? Well those type of infectious passages are back, and none more evident than on 'Україна'. Another aspect which I also must remark on are the clean vocals, although sparse, when they do come around they are in fully fitted with the music, and not just for 'atmosphere' as many bands seem to do, and throw them in at any excuse. They help give the album an almost 'viking' feel.
One last song I feel which needs mentioning is 'Небо Сумних Ночей'. The song is solely an acoustic folk song, and is absolutely beautiful, the vocals are all clean, but don't mean anything to me, as they are all in Ukranian, but it is easy to visualize what the song is about. This song just about embodies all that the Slavic pagan metal scene is about, their ancestors, pride of their heritage and the struggle against the complete extinction of their culture and roots with the influence of Americanization.
Nokturnal Mortum need no introduction really, anyone who is even half into the Eastern European metal scene will know who they are, but for all those who have brushed them aside due to their recent efforts, make this your re-introduction. Varggoth's vocals are the best they have ever been, the guitarwork is the tightest it has ever been, the lead work is out of the world and the drumming is inch perfect as well. With the exquisite melody's, fantastic riffing, coherent songwriting, it seems that finally the band have fully matured into exactly what they want to be, this is the most professional album they ahve ever done. The gradual move from their roots to this more traditional folk sound is obviously reflected in the lyrics, which are all in Cyrillic
This album is basically this album is the continuation of 'Weltanschauung', but with going back slightly to what brought them to the fore in the first place, and incorporating it into their current sound with the added prominence of the guitars and folk music, they have created something extraordinary. It is extremely well executed, and I'm completely astonished they managed to produce something so good after so many years of uninspired nonsense. You could put this album in the same bracket as Kroda and Temnozor and the likes, but to be fair, as much as I love those two bands, this is far and beyond anything they ever have done, which is saying alot. Infact, there is something beneath it all which keeps reminding me of 'Blut aus Nord's' latest masterpiece. I can't put my finger on what it is, but if you have listened to it as well, you'll be able to see what I mean. Maybe it's the stunning guitar work, maybe it's the sheer epic majesty of the songs, I don't know. What I do know is though, that if you're even half interested in pagan black metal, this is the album that you have been looking for, this is what so many others strive to achieve but will never even come close. It is fitting that the best album of 2009 , and one of the best of the last decade, arrived at the very end, and for me it represents just how good a year 2009 was for metal.
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
So the time has come to share my opinion on what I believe were the best albums to come out of this year. There was so much good music released this year it has almost been impossible to pick. I was going to do a top 50 but realized there was no way I could create an order past 25 or so. So here I have listed what I believe to be the absolute best music released this year that has graced my ears.
|1||Blut Aus Nord|
Memoria Vetusta II: A Dialog With the Stars
It was excruciatingly hard for me to pick a number one, but this probably had to be it. The seventh album from this one man project from France, and by and large the most epic, otherworldly thing that Vlad has ever produced. Deciding to go back to the band's roots after the trio of industrial obscurities 'the Work Which Transforms God', 'Mort' and 'Odinist' we have the continuation of 'Memoria Vetusta I', and this albums far succeeds it's predecessor. The sound is a bit cleaner than that of their early albums, and it lets the almost celestial guitar tone shine through. the drums are still programmed but to be honest you can bearly tell. The guitar tone is stunning, and what I like most about this album, for example on the song 'The Meditant' it is allowed to roam and wander, as if you were floating in the vast of stars above. The vocals are sparse and fairly buried among the instruments giving the music that distant feel, perfect for the theme of the album.
After the fabulous 'Ruines Humaines' EP, expectations for this release were astronomical. What direction were the band to go? The more Black Metal style seen on the first half? Or the more Post-Punky/Goth feel to 'Fablisse Des Sens'? Thankfully the latter as the black metal material to me seemed like a poor mans Mortifera, but song with Audrey on vocals was something else, something unique. The album initially drew a large amount of criticism from bedroom black metal warriors, claiming the band were 'gay' and 'poofs' for selling out. This couldn't be further from the truth though, as this is the darkest, most dissonant album Neige has ever written in his vast multitude of projects. Tremelo riffing and lyrics about the occult do not make a band 'dark'. The album itself is 80% audrey and 20% neige on vocal duties. Music wise, it is post-punk with a thick edge of shoe-gaze from My Bloody Valentine's book, aka noisy as fuck. Some basslines sound suspiciously familiar, showing a clear Joy Divison influence as is also evident from the riffing which is very 'Cure-like'.
The music is bleak and introspective, a prismatic soundtrack for modern man and his hollow superficiality. This album is something very special and unique, it has already spawned alot of imitators, but none can, nor probably ever will match the sheer gaunt feel and desolate majesty of this.
|Razor of Occam |
Homage to Martyrs
The long overdue follow up to their highly acclaimed debut EP 'Pillars of Creation' finally came in 2009 and absolutely obliterated the field of black/thrash metal and took it to a whole new intensity altogether. Sharing the same guitarists as Destroyer 666, you'd expect it to sound similar, and you'd be right in assuming so. This is just as vicious and rabid as 'Unchain the Wolves' and epic as 'Pheonix Rising' and certainly sets the bar high for future releases by either bands. Machine gun drumming, pummeling riffs, ripping vocals, this is the best extreme thrash album to be released this year. If you can imagine the final battle between good and evil, this may come close to describing what these guys have unleashed. This is apocalyptic, this is a sonic destruction of all that is divine. This is music to go to war to.
All Shall Fall
From the opening sounds of wind blowing through a valley I just knew they were back, and just as strong as they left. Abbath still sounds like a frog with a throat infection, but that's what gives Immortal their identity. A sub-zero atmosphere lingers behind the music, the guitars crunch with an almost industrial like force, marauding and crushing everything beneath them. Horgh is just as good as before, an absolute force behind the kit, never misses a beat and smashes clean through the myriad of riffs in perfect timing. The album still retains the antartic atmosphere of albums past, and sounds closet to 'At the Heart of Winter' with the ferocity of 'Blizzard Beasts'. Immortal are one of the biggest runners in black metal, and this album retains proof as to why. Epic and vast yet overwhelmingly pulverising, this is the Immortal we all know and love. It's an almighty avalanche, and you just got caught in it. Someone should go inform Al Gore, as we have just found the cure for global warming.
|Altar of Plagues|
Fresh off their signing by the renowned 'Profound Lore', which is no less than they deserved after the fantastic 'Sol' demo, Altar of Plagues unleash their debut album into the fray. Consisting of four tracks, each averaging around twelve minutes in length, this isn't your average black metal fare. It is rather, a mixed bag of Black Metal, Post-rock and drone, something the Hydrahead sheep would lap up. Although don't let that put you off, as to compare them to that would be a complete disservice, this is far different from the irony laiden, directionless waste the likes of Liturgy and Krallice play, Altar of Plagues are genuine. Much like 'Wolves in the Throne Room', they play drawn out black metal with long ambient/drone sections which build up to a climax at the end. Though they are not a carbon clone of their Portland peers, the vocals are less shrieked, more of a lower, crusty growl, and among these we also have some odd, hardcore styled vocals as well as female. You could say it is alot more varied as WiTTR but just as hypnotic, if not more so. So easy is it to put a few synths in your music, or long stretched out passages of 'ambience' and claim you're playing atmospheric Black Metal, but most of the time it comes accross as forced and unnatural, but far from the case here. Just flick it on, close your eyes and let your mind take over. The best album to come out of Ireland this year, no contest.
On Pestilential Winds
This is heavier than a fart at a funeral. And probably just as putrid as well. Excoriate split up in 2006, but the album has only managed to get released this year. As .to why, one can only guess. It is relatively short at thirty four minutes, but being utter filth in the same furrow as Autopsy, you wouldn't expect anything more would you? Containing only five original songs, a cover and a short intro, you may intially feel as if you've been ripped off, but once you put this in your stereo, at full volume no less, you will curse yourself for not having bought it earlier. This is brutal death metal summoned from the southernmost bowels of hell, some of the most disgusting (in a good way of course) death metal you will set your ears upon. The production is fairly compressed, creating a dank, extremely clammy atmosphere, but all instruments are allowed to be showcased fairly. The guitar riffing is fairly punkish in feel, very similar to early sepultura, but cleaner, and the vocals a thick gutteral growl with a heavy dose of reverb added. The drums sound like they were recorded in a cave, a very soggy cave. The bass is also fairly brutal galloping along at breakneck speed. If you prefer death metal in the veins of Autopsy and Sepultura, well what are you waiting for? You'll find no technical wankery here, no melodic interludes, no 'bangin' breakdowns nor any pro-tools production, this is pure rotten organic death metal which is aeons ahead of the soulless tripe being slapped with the term 'death metal' in the mainstream these days.
Ok, yes they have an undeniably amateurish name that just screams 'angsty spliknot kid'. They also have the obligatory, cliched umlaut in their logo. The music however, is some of the greatest, blood pumping black thrash to ever see the light of day. Destroyer 666 gained their big break this year, being snapped up for a distribution deal by Nuclear Blast. Rather than releasing some soulless crap usually produced by NB, they continue on with their previous sound, with this album being a heavier mix of 'Pheonix Rising' than 'Cold Steel'. There is an obvious Bathory influence here, most notably in the trademark squealing guitar solos so oft heard on Quorthon's early masterpieces, the riffing is brutal and the vocals are utterly primordial and raucous. Lyrically they are far to the right, which has caused controversy in the past, but do you really want music like this to be about everyone fighting for equality and being nicey nice to eachother? Nah..... didn't think so. The main issues dealt with are anti-religion, Nihilism and Social-Darwinism, so it is pretty extreme lyrically too. I wouldn't go as far as to say this is their best effort, that is an accolade reserved for the majestic 'Unchain the Wolves', but it does come close. Plus, you won't hear a song better than 'A Sermon to the Dead' this year.
Flowers From Exile
He could be described as the musical and spiritual heir to Leonard Cohen, with a voice to make you surrender completely at the instant you lay ears upon it. Jerome Reuter is the driving force behind Luxembourg neo-folk act 'Rome'. This is above and beyond typical neo-folk though. The main observation is that Jerome can actually sing, and I can't think of anyone better to draw your influences from than Leonard Cohen himself. Freeing himself from the chains of conformity in the genre, Jerome adds touches of everything from pop, post-punk, darkwave and even flamenco music, taking it far beyond the limits expressed by Tony Wakeford and Douglas Pierce. From the grandiose, imperial 'The Secret Sons of Europe' to the alluring nautical ballad 'We who Fell in Love with the Sea'. This is the sound of ancient Europe, recalling the glories of the Roman empire and the might of Constantinople, this is neo-folk free of the extremist ideals that plague others of the genre, it is something of austere equisitness, with an ability to combine the breadths of beauty with the depths of pure despair.
Another album which made a big impact on the Black Metal underground was this one man project from France, 'Pensées Nocturnes'. The music is something very preculiar indeed, for this is depressive black metal infused with flurries of neo-classical music, and even dives into the blues during 'Coups des Blues' which is slightly jarring, albeit strangely seductive. In practice it shouldn't work, but it does, and magnificantly at that. There are many influences drawn upon in Vaerohn's music, from Jazz, blues, traditional black metal and doom. I can hear everything from My Dying Bride to Chopin in this album. The vocals are pretty typical of the DSBM genre, an agonizing howled shriek, but most certainly not a bad thing. My only gripe is the drum programming, if this album had a real drummer, it would be something completely unsurpassable, but if you let that slip, this is definately a very fine album, which brings a touch of much needed change to this genre of black metal which is fast becoming stagnant with third rate Xasthur clones. Watch out for this band in the future, I have a feeling the next album will be Vaerohn's make or break....
Within the Vacuum of Infinity....
Very little seems to be known of Arizmenda, other than they are from the US and are a member of some strange movement called the 'Black Twilight Circle'. "A bunch of amateurs trying to imitate the LLN then!" will probably come to your mind. They may be, or maybe not, who knows. But onto more important matters, the music itself is very lo-fi, production is not an important factor here, for these guys are aiming for pure psychotic terror. The guitar tone is fairly all over the place, frenetic and mesmerizing at the same time, save for a few breaks of twisted, unearthly screeching on the strings before it turns back into a delerious maelstrom. The drumming is chaotic and sounds slightly muted, intentional or not I don;t know, but works towards the atmosphere well. As with lots of lo-fi black metal, bass is non-existant, while the vocals are mediumish gutteral black metal rasp, heavily buried in the production giving the impression of someone suffocating or buried six feet under. Imagine you are falling through an endless cosmic void, your psyche is corrupted beyond all extremities and all you can hear are the faint sounds of other condemned souls, taunting, jeering and piercing, as you fall ever on. Possibly the best way to describe this album basically. Pure terror. One for the Deathspell Omega and Leviathan fans without a doubt.
Previously having reviewed this release in depth earlier in my blog, there's not much more I can say about such a fantastic release that I haven't already said. If you haven't done so already, the review of the album is here. Bottom line is, if you call yourself a fan of technical thrash such as Cynic, Athiest, Voivod and Dark Angel, go buy it.
Panopticon are a highly polically charged band from Kentucky. No not a far right band as you might expect, but rather Austin Lunn is a radical anarchist. His music contains many references towards Emma Goldman, the infamous Haymarket affair and a heavy anti-american sentiment among his heavy leftist views littered throughout the music. Lyrically this will prevent many people from checking it out, I'll admit at first i was sceptical if such a project was genuine and worth listening to, or merely a plinth for Austin to vent his political ideals and fustrations. Upon listening to the first song it seems that the latter was correct, as there is a two minute excerpt from a US news show discussing the bush administration, the state of the economy and Wall Street. The song eventually starts properly and blasts into a frenetic drumbeat with the guitar in the background weaving in and out of the drumming, sort of an empty wail. Vocals are sparse and a low erratic growl, and only appear sporadically. The bass ebbs about underneath of everything else and is very free flowing and pulsating. The biggest suprise is the various almost bluegrass music that appears out of nowhere throughout the album, most notably on the first song, appearing out of nowhere and descending into a twangy guitar melody, an upbeat 'yee-ha' jig, the type of thing you'd hear especially from the big republican states, which struck me as slightly odd. I was floored at first, not knowing what to make of it, but it is absolutely fantastic, and unlike anything ever heard before in metal, let alone black metal. It mixes in fantastically with the chaotic black metal. This country like music re-appears on the last track 'Idavoll' but is more downbeat. It is clear from the lyrics and music, Austin is a remarkable musician, character included, and highly intelligent. If you're looking for atmospheric black metal with a crust influence, and highly original, this is definately something to look out for. I would be highly interested if more bands decided to follow Panopticon's direction.
Askival appeared in 2007 and released a demo under the name 'alba'. It was nothing to write home about, a pretty average affair in my eyes, and then dissappeared completely. They finally re-appeared again in early 2009 to release their debut album 'Eternity'. The band has a sole member, 'Tuagh', who does all the instrumentation and vocals himself. The music is a very epic and grandiose style of folk black metal which draws alot of influence from latter day Graveland. The music is highly diverse, soft guitar interludes break up the faster, more aggressive black metal sections, and Tuagh employs a few different vocal techniques, mainly a howled shriek, but also a quiet whisper and clean singing as well in some songs. The music is extremely organic, tranquil and reflects the primitive beauty of nature, take for example 'Sorrow of the Sun', which is breathtaking, and hard to believe came from Scotland, and not some Slavic country, as you'd normally associate with this type of music. There is a certain Scottish feel to this music as well, there may be no bagpipes, but the album places you right in the heart of the higlands among nature, areas untouched by human hand. A couple fo years ago, if you told me scotland would be starting to produce good black metal I would have laughed at you, but it's a totally different story now. Askival have produced the best black metal album ever to come out of Scotland, if not best metal album ever to come out of it, and sets the bar extremely high. I should also use this opportunity to plug some other Scottish Black metal band such as Daemonolith, Cnocantursa and Maelstrom who are all very good, upcoming bands. They also have probably the best logo ever.
More unholy black thrash, and from where else but Australia. There must be something in the water down under, the only explanation I can think of as to why they are unsurpassable at Black Thrash. Apparently the band split up recently, which is a real shame because this is some relentless, blistering thrash metal, not unlike Destroyer 666, but more heavy metal oriented. This is most visible in the guitar tone, not quite a lowly tuned as their peers, but every bit as tight and vicious. The whole album is a flat out, all guns blazing piece of satanic filth, which will not dissappoint any fan of Destroyer 666. The main thing thats sets them apart from their peers though is the guitar leads which swarm throughout the whole album, extremely melodic and well thought out, sounding quite like a solo you would hear from Adrian Smith. An extremely barbaric album, which deserves alot more attention than it has received.
16. Drowning the Light - An Alignment of Dead Stars
17. The Devil's Blood - The Time of No Time Evermore
18. Beherit - Engram
19. Diocletian - Doom Cult
20. Amorphis - Skyforger
21. Mono - Hymn to the Immortal Wind
22. De Silence et Ombre - Ascension
23. Cruciamentum - Convocation of Crawling Chaos
24. Solstafir - Kold
25. Peste Noire - Ballade cuntre lo Anemi Francor
26. Helvetet's Port - Exodus to Hell
27. Teitanblood - Seven Chalices
28. Ad Hominem - Dictator: A Monument of Glory
29. Portal - Swarth
30. Austere - To Lay Like Old Ashes
31. Arkona - Goi Rode Goi!!!
32. Bat For Lashes - Two Suns
33. White Lies - To lose My Life
34. Hunter's Moon - The Serpents Lust
35. Glorior Belli - Meet us at the Southern Sign
36. Funeral Mist - Maranthra
37. A Place to bury Strangers - Exploding Head
38. Church of Misery - Houses of the Unholy
39. Lisa Gerrard - Black Opal
40. Deiphago - Filipino Antichrist
41. Lonewolf - The Dark Crusade
42. Old Wainds - Death Nord Kult
43. The Gates of Slumber - Hymns of Blood and Thunder
44. Absu -Absu
45. Ingnovomous - Death Transmutation
46. Myrkr - Black Illumination
47. VNV Nation - Of Faith Power and Glory
48. Katharsis - Fourth Reich
49. Crystal Viper - Metal Nation
50. Wodensthrone - Loss