Sunday, 12 December 2010
1. La Tormenta
2. Il Sentiero
3. Erebo 10:40
4. Il Bardo
5. Il Labirinto
6. La Rosa
7. Danza Del Crepuscolo
8. Tra Le Braccia di Morfeo
Obscure Italian Black Metal band Bahal unleash their latest offering, and with a logo designed by the renowned Christopher Szpajdel, virtuoso of all things spiky and symmetrical, initial reactions are fairly impressive. With a lyrical theme based upon ancient Greece, as evident from the title Ikelos, is a welcomed deviation from the typical satanic theme.
Bahal's sound is best comparable to an amalgamation of Satyricon, Necrophobic and most surprisingly of all Opeth. Frequent transitions between a headstrong assault of blasting and tremolo riffing, brief acoustic interludes and long guitar solos turn the stigma of all black metal being derivative and repetitive on it's head. It's certainly progressive in every sense of the word, but ends up ensnared in the most frequent and frustrating trap of so much progressive music; self-indulgence. Let me get this straight, Bahal is an extremely talented guitarist, the solos on this album are exceptionally good, but they're stretched out to almost ridiculous levels. You've only got to look at Peste Noire for guitar soloing performed tactfully in black metal, whereas with Bahal they're not added to compliment the music, rather merely the guitarist showing what he can do.
With that out of the way, this is actually a very good album though at times does tend to suffer from it's length. Some songs burn out before they even get going, and the opening track is not the strongest and “Erebo” is just flat out boring, but the second half of the album is a significant improvement from the first, most notably last track “Danza Del Crepuscolo”. Bahal's vocals are low and hollow sounding with a heavy swab of reverb, he actually sounds very like Sakis from Rotting Christ. The guitar has a significant shade of Necrophobic off it and has a good prominent tone to it.
Ikelos main faults lie within it's most standout feature, which is the progressive element Bahal is using. Reduce the length of some of the songs and some restraint on the guitar soloing and maybe then they'll have something special worth talking about. As it is, it's a promising and fresh perception on performing black metal, but more often than not just becomes sluggish and self indulgent. It's main weakness is that which makes it unique in the first place. There's a certain balance which needs to be found, but here the scales remain heavily skewed.
Written for Metalcrypt
Thursday, 9 December 2010
1. Divine Necromancy
2. Arcane Secrets
3. Crossing the Abyss
Swedish? Early nineties styled Black/Death Metal? That can mean only one thing, and that's Astrophobos play extreme metal heavily influenced by Dissection. Genuinely good Dissection worship is a difficult thing to come by, most recent imitators Thulcandra are so successful at completely replicating that sound they are basically featureless clones. While they can pull the sound off perfectly, they're missing that certain spark than others that came before them such as Vinterland or Sacramentum were able to emulate. Arcane Secrets, the debut EP by Astrophobos has the potential to put these rookies on the same pedestal as those aforementioned greats, and although I say rookies, make no mistake these three are far from inexperienced at this style of music. It may be their first release but according to the band they have been playing this style of music for years, and judging by the quality and professionalism of the music on this EP, I can well believe them.
The EP is extremely short, but being self financed and self released with no label backing whatsoever you can obviously forgive this slight shortcoming. Being completely DIY, the production's gotta be pretty amateur then? Wrong, nothing could be further from the truth. This is what struck me most about this release, how clear and polished the production is for a self-release. And no wonder whenever it's Peter In de Betou who did it. Also known for working with Watain, who have been known to dabble in a bit of Dissection themselves, at least he's experienced in the field. It has a lot more in common with The Somberlain era Dissection than it does Storm of the Light's Bane with more emphasis on the drumming and guitar work yet still retaining that melodic backbone. “Crossing the Abyss” for example, might as well have been a track lost from those sessions. The guitar work is as you'd expect it, slick and unmistakably Swedish in tone, with intense razor sharp riffing. Micke's vocals are oppressive and strong, as they should be, because Jon is an exceptionally hard guy to emulate. As for the drummer being seventeen, I find it completely fascinating at how developed his sound and technique is for such a young age.
According to the band they have a full length album in the works of which I will be waiting with high anticipation. Cover art from Caspar David Friedrich, and three highly impressive tracks kneeling at the altar of Dissection, what more do you want? A label needs to sign these guys up fast, because judging by the quality of material on this short but striking release, they're going to get a lot bigger, and more than just mere pretenders to Dissection's golden throne.
Written for Metalcrypt
Sunday, 5 December 2010
Well folks it's almost upon us, the end of 2010. Just like 2009, it has been an exceptionally good year for metal with some surprising releases both positively and negatively. There were so many great albums to chose from to try and squeeze into 15, but I've managed to narrow it down and here are my choices of what I believe to be the absolute best to showcase metal from 2010.
2010 also threw up a few surprising disappointments...
Written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
Écailles de lune
The enigmatic Neige managed to perform the incredible feat of actually topping the band's debut, Souvenir's D'Un Autre Monde. This fantastic fusion of majestic yet unrelenting Emperor-esque Black metal and sullen shoegaze guitar passages comes together in scintillating fashion, eclipsing all the would-be imitators to their debut in 2007 and showing them how it's really done. And to be honest, I can't ever see anyone other than Neige himself coming anywhere near to bettering this style. Monumental.
Let the Devil In
This latest unholy plague unleashed by mastermind Shatraug exploded completely out of the blue and struck me senseless. Shatraug may be a bit of a vagrant when it comes to black metal, but when push comes to shove he does it extremely fucking well. Yes this is even better than Behexen. Uncompromising and beguiling, this is how black metal should be done.
Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm
A surprise addition for me here, mainly because I was never that big a fan of Inquisition. They often receive a large amount of flak for their comical image and ridiculous titles. It's slightly unfair as many pass them off without even listening to them because of this, especially when they've managed to release an album of this standard. Immortal worship at it's most pompous and grandiose without ever becoming self indulgent from these Columbian veterans.
The traditional heavy metal revival peaked in 2010, and while many bands were just looking back through rose tinted glasses and completely lacking in substance, Enforcer rose to the top of the heap. Quitely rightly so too, as with Diamonds, Enforcer have managed to carve out a sound of their own yet retaining all the pizzazz and attitude which made heavy metal in the first place. Dense, commanding and extremely catchy, Enforcer are an exciting prospect for the future and surely destined for big things.
Sweden's satanic trio Watain returning in 2010 with the follow up to Sworn to the Dark, and continue the form that saw them so revered ever since Cacus Luciferi was unleashed upon us. Unashamed Dissection worship, only now with an added touch variation, it's the logical step forward from their previous release. They even managed to fit a fourteen minute blasphemous epic in the form of “Waters of Ain”, which features the legendary Carl McCoy. It may just be the best black metal song of this year.
The Final Fronteir
This is a band which need no introduction. If you know metal music at all, you know Iron Maiden. The Final Frontier removed any doubt about the band's ability these days since the disappointing A Matter of Life and Death. Kevin Shirley has worked a fantastic production here, and with the band's extremely progressive approach to the song-writing yet still retaining that unassailable identity which make Maiden who they are, they've produced their most memorable album since Brave New World.
From the Devil's Tomb
A band who I've only recently come across, Weapon play caustic brand of blackened death metal. Blistering drum work and riffing with a bile draped atmosphere to boot, Morbid Angel are just as much influences as Mayhem. The alternation between blood blasted brutality and macabre processions are the record's forte. The Ajna Offensive have a seriously impressive roster, of which Weapon are another compelling addition to.
La cité des vents
A high flier in my end of year list last year, Aorlhac have managed to return again this year with La cite des vents. Still spewing forth their own brand of Occitania influenced black metal with the medieval tendencies of Peste Noire, it's a worthy successor to Opus I. They haven't made the impression on the scene I imagined they would, but provided they keep releasing material of this quality, the breakthrough is bound to happen sooner than later.
Marrow of the Spirit
Probably the most anticipated metal album of 2010 finally hit the shelves in late November. Their brand of heavily post-rock influenced Black/Doom hybrid draws influences from everyone from Sol Invictus to Katatonia. There was extremely high expectation placed upon this release, but Portland's favourite heathen's have done it again. If you are looking for the textbook soundtrack to the dreary, washed out portents of Autumn, I don't know a better album.
Invictus have been releasing some extremely impressive albums lately, and this is top of the pile. Possibly one of the most downright putrid and unrelentingly heavy albums you'll hear all year, with insanely decadent gutterals from this esoteric horde. Genuine old school death metal with a big middle finger to the vapid facade of 'technical' death.
Cloven Hooves at the Holocaust Dawn
It's Helmkamp, need I say more? For those unfortunate enough to have completely passed by Order from Chaos and Revenge, primitive war metal tyrants James Read and Pete Helmkamp join forces once again to conjure up a release of nothing more than all out depraved violence. Comparable to no less than a bullet straight down your throat. Utter barbarism.
Agony & Opium
Bearing the Fenriz seal of approval, Christian Mistress and their take on classic heavy metal put many to shame on much bigger labels. The raw, DIY ethic and solo littered songs with Christine's enamouring vocals show all the self indulgent 'gothic' metal bands how proper metal is supposed to be performed, for here, the flame of the eighties is brighter than ever.
Hour of 13 mastermind, Phil Swanson joined forces with Howie Bently of Cauldron Born fame here, and though on paper it's hard to comprehend how it could possibly work, it does. Taking the blueprints from Black Sabbath and Witchfinder General, add an occult horror movie-esque atmosphere and Phil's unmistakable vocals and you get this; the best doom metal album of the year.
The Mercian Sphere
How could you not love a cover like that? Weathered atmospheric black metal in the same vein as Drudkh with a heavy acoustic slant to it, Winterfylleth are a gem in the British scene at the minute. Focusing on their Anglo-Saxon heritage rather than typical Satanic musings, it's a welcome change. Dynamic and brooding, yet exceptionally vicious as well, with The Mercian Sphere are cementing their place as important players in the UK scene.
2010 also threw up a few surprising disappointments...
The Demon Master
The Sane Asylum, an absolute thrash metal classic and one of the most sought after metal albums ever. This? A shocking, direction-less attempt at some sort of hippy grungy nonsense. Blind Illusion are about sixteen years too late with The Demon Master, and even then it still would have been shit.
Previously with four classic albums under their best, together with a seven year wait amounted to the second biggest disappointment of the year. With Kurbads, Skyforger diluted much of the folk that made them popular in the first place and downtuned the guitars to almost nu-metal levels at times. Boring and completely uninspired riffing and awful vocals from a band who should know better.
Handful of Stars
Drudkh were, and still are a favourite band of mine, so when I heard the new album had begun to incorporate shoegaze into their sound, I was quietly grinning with anticipation. Then I listened to it. What shoegaze? Someone needs to read up on their definition of what shoegaze really is. Insipid riffing and a horrible sterile production, just what the fuck exactly have you done Drudkh?
|Negura Bunget |
Not horribly bad as such, but when you put it up against the magical Om, it doesn't even come close. The Dordeduh EP was what this should have sounded like.
Written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
Friday, 3 December 2010
1. Armored Bards
2. The Blight
5. Messenger of God
6. Endless Sorrow
7. A Brother's Tale
8. Walls of Vienna
9. Hopfen & Malz
10. Carthage's End
Naming yourself after one of Falkenbach's best songs is making a bit of a statement. So you'd expect Heathen Foray to sound somewhat similar to them then? Well that's not the case here, as Austrian five piece Heathen Foray have more in common with Dragonforce musically than they do Falkenbach. From a country that hasn't produced much else to many other than Abigor and Summoning, this is definitely going to be a welcome new arrival to some.
They are described as Viking metal, but I would take that label with a pinch of salt as the lyrics tend to deal with European history as a whole rather than specifically Viking themes. Hannibal and the fall of Carthage and the Ottoman's siege of Vienna are but two of the various themes dealt with here so it's not really Viking metal as such, I would hesitate that the term 'battle metal' would be more suitable to their style, in the realm of bands such as Turisas and Equilibrium. I've never viewed Viking or battle metal as legitimate genres, but that's a discussion for another time.
Take the stadium-esque death metal sound of Amon Amarth and incorporate it with the neoclassical sweeping arpeggios of Dragonforce and you've got the formula heathen Foray use. As much as I loathe to use the word when describing music, 'epic' is certainly one of the terms I would use to describe Armoured Bards overall sound. Opener 'Armoured Bards' is by far and large the best song on the album, perfectly suited to the live environment with it's bombastic chorus and extremely melodic, power metal styled guitar leads. The first thing I noticed was just how similar Robert's vocals were to Johan Hegg's, it's so uncanny if you didn't know otherwise you'd swear blind it was him. The whole album is extremely well structured, the production is crystal clear and the guitar playing is absolutely fantastic, but after the first song it never really threatens to scale those heights again. Other notable songs worth mentioning would have to be 'Bifrost', with it's acoustic intro, which would be even better if it wasn't so long and 'Ascension' which actually reminds me of fellow compatriot, Ray Well's project Raventhrone more than anything else. Don't get me wrong, the whole album is very good, it's just with an opener as good as 'Armoured Bard's' (which if it were in Amon Amarth's discography, would be a live classic) it was always going to be a huge task for them to hit that standard again. At times it comes close, but not enough.
Armoured Bards is a commendable attempt at a style of music which has been absolutely flogged to death in recent years. At times it is utterly fantastic, and at other times it does get pretty average, but this style of music does have a massive market, and the potential and opportunities for Heathen Foray to go on to much bigger and better things are there, they just have to find a touch more identity to stand out. If melo-death with fretboard tearing soloing sounds like your cup of tea, Armoured Bards is certainly sure to fill a gap anyway. Just don't expect anything revolutionary.
Originally Written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
Sunday, 28 November 2010
1. Intro: Requiem for Tommorows
2. Part 1: Night Struggle
3. Part 2: Just a While Before
4. Part 3: Awakening
5. Part 4: All This Pain for Today
Ignoring the ridiculous attempt at a pun for a name, Polish act Deep-Pression have been somewhat of a revolving door to various members over the years. Having split up in 2009, 4: Void of a Morning is that last release before the split. Recorded over a rather long timespan of two years, and nine performers in total, it's certainly an intriguing piece of work. Previous Deep-Pression releases would have generally fallen into the ambient, droney black metal bracket, but Void of a Morning has pretty much forsaken all black metal elements in favour of an apocalyptic form of dark ambience that at times could be comparable to say a variety of Cold Meat Industry acts. Described as a concept album 'from dreaming, through awakening to the devouring mouths of reality'. Maybe bordering on the edge of pretentious, but when you apply the description to the music, it couldn't really be any more fitting.
Introduction 'Requiem for the Tommorows' (Glaringly obvious spelling mistake aside) is, as far as setting the tone for an album goes, pretty much ideal. It's nothing more than a bleak, oppressive droning with an isolated industrial-esque pulse breaking the monotony a few times. It works well in encapsulating the final throes of consciousness before sleep, before the nightmare arrives in the form of 'Night Struggle' with it's barren soundscape structured by the dissonant, distorted ambience created by the guitars and electronics. There's sparse vocals in the song, performed by a guy called Razor and are a restrained whisper, who does the vocals for part two and three as well. Each track, or movement, is split up by an interlude, and really serve as nothing more than a transition between each stage of the protagonist's dreamstate. 'Just a While Before' continues with the detached air, though more-so this time due to the almost Fields of the Nephilim like atmosphere created by the bass of none other than Vrangsinn of Carpathian Forest fame. It almost sounds as if it could have been taken off Elizium and completely stripped down of everything except vocals and bass. I don't know if it's supposed to make me feel uneasy or what but when listening to this song I actually end up more relaxed than anything. 'Awakening' is pretty much the same as the first track in its ambience, with an unfettered air of torture hanging around it like a wet fog while the protagonist enters the neon realms of the end of his sleep. Then the reality of 'All this Pain for Today', the only song with any connection at all to Black Metal, and that's only in the extremely scant guitar and howling vocals performed by Letaliis.
It's extremely repetitive, but it works. If you know anything at all about the dark-ambient genre, you'll know progression is most certainly not it's forte. There's a certain satisfying feeling of dread in the subtlety of it all. A lot of metal fans wouldn't normally listen music like this, thus is why Deep-Pression probably get so much flak when people do come across their music. With their background in Black Metal and associations with bands such as Trist and Happy days it doesn't help. If obscure dark-ambient is your thing I'd definitely recommend this. It's by no means ground breaking for music of this style, and it does tend to drag on a bit at time where it could do with a little variation, but it is certainly competent enough, and in the right mindset is an engaging listen. If you're a newcomer to the genre though, there are probably better places to begin.
Thanks to Robert @ http://www.valsesinistre.com
Saturday, 27 November 2010
1. The Truth
2. Ghost Ship
3. Blood Of The Heroes
4. The Greed Is Blind
5. Sydonia Bork
6. Goddess Of Death
7. Night Of The Sin
8. Secrets Of The Black Water
9. Man Of Stone
10. Black Leviathan
Polish heavy metal upstarts Crystal Viper are back again with the follow up to their critically acclaimed 2009 release Metal Nation, and this time continue their crusade for everything true and heavy with the subtly titled Legends. The debut, The Curse of Crystal Viper was unashamedly retro, the nonchalant old school vibe was what attracted me to it in the first place, with Metal Nation they somewhat lost some of that appeal to these ears, although it was still certainly an entertaining listen nevertheless. What I've always admired about Crystal Viper is that they avoid exploiting the fact they have a female vocalist, thus they avoid all the pitfalls and pigeon-holing that snare so many other bands. It's not very common in metal in general, never mind power/heavy metal, and when you do come across it it's usually some faux romantic gothic tripe, but Marta Gabriel's vocals are firmly rooted in the orthodox heavy metal style, of which many budding female metal singers should take note.
Crystal Viper wear their influences on their sleeve. A short delve into their recorded history will tell you that, covers from bands such as Running Wild, Accept, W.A.S.P. and Agent Steel will tell you all you really need to know about their sound. If I had to put a slightly more accurate description on things, a reasonable combination of American legends Omen and German privateer's Running Wild with the attitude of W.A.S.P. I'd say is accurate enough. If the thought of that doesn't get your metal sense tingling then I believe the low level lighting should guide you safely enough to the nearest exit in the hall. Legends is in pretty much the same boat as Metal Nation, a great piece of heavy metal, but this time it seems that there is something not quite right, lacking a certain staying power or that final clinical veneer that made the début so great.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it's bad, not by any means. This is Crystal Viper as I've always loved them, but where the band was able to run riot on the début, I can't help but notice they sound a little restrained here. First and foremost the album appears to lack any anthems such as as 'Metal Nation' or 'The Last Axeman', although I'd say the album is a lot less 'impact' and a bit more of a 'grower'. Opener 'The Ghost Ship' is one of the stronger tracks on the album, the guitar riffing could easily have been lifted off Death or Glory, it's quite literally that obvious. It even sounds 'piratey' for want of a better word. The chorus is almost what you've come to expect with Crystal Viper, catchy and flamboyant, and with a guitar solo thrown in for good measure. But it's this predictability which is Legends downfall as well. It's all too easy to tread the same beaten paths over and over again. Every song follows the same verse-chrous-verse structure. “Sure they've always done this?” Well yes, but whereas the first time around they sounded genuinely inspired and fresh, it now just sounds tired and slightly tedious. This is most noticeable in the choruses throughout the album, just as it threatens to reach it's pinnacle, it hits a glass ceiling and doesn't really go anywhere before falling back again. The musicianship is top notch, as always, the guitar riffing is tight, though slightly more melodic than before almost verging into power metal territory as is the drumming, but it sounds as if there's something restraining Marta, holding her back from shifting into top gear. All songs follow the same pattern pretty much, except the ballad 'Sydonia Bork' where Marta actually sounds very like Kimberly Goss only with an accent. This song shows Marta's vocal talents best, at her most prominent and powerful. The band still maintain all the pomp and extravagance from before, most evident on the closing two tracks 'Black Leviathan' with it's Running Wild-esque swagger and the lead littered 'A Man of Stone', but the majority of the album just never quite reaches the dizzy heights they are capable of.
This viper may have had some of it's venom removed, but it's still just as vicious regardless. All the main attributes of Crystal Viper are still there, the melodic yet ripping guitar work, Marta's unmistakable vocals, galloping bass and drums. If you've already a fan of Crystal Viper and power/heavy metal in general you should get this, just don't expect anything quite as immediate as before. Since first listening to this my opinion has improved considerably, but I still think they need to come up with some new ideas, as the current formula is starting to sound exhausted and stagnant. It may be a little tame this time round, but they're still showing the wannabe Nightwish's and Epica's how metal is supposed to be done.
Originally written for Archaic Magazine
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
2. Rotting of Soul
3. Renouncing from Light
4. Codded Untouched Creatures
5. We Are Eternal
Defile of Innocence is the short debut release from young Russian band Blood Devotion. They play a form of Black Metal not dissimilar to the style of the Scandinavian bands from the early nineties. Anti-Christianity is the order of the day here, as if that wasn't obvious by the ridiculous cover, and though not in any way treading new waters, it is somewhat competent with some brief glimpses of what may be to come, from a band who still sound like they're trying to find their feet.
Chaotic riffing, unbridled drumming and throat shredding vocals, all the basic aspects of Black Metal are here, but on a whole it is extremely generic. There is nothing about this release which really stands out and grabs your attention, it's all just very passable and formulaic. The frustrating thing is Blood Devotion, who go by the monikers 'Inside' and 'Gorgon' are not average musicians, technically they are fantastic, and I believe they are capable of performing material way above this station. The drumming is the stand-out aspect of this release, fast, unrelenting and most importantly, varied. The vocals are powerful and raw and the riffing is tight, but lacks any sort of lasting qualities. It does remind me a bit at times of Windir if anyone surprisingly. Some of the songs actually contain short guitar solos which is a bit of a surprise and you can tell the guitarist is more than your average bedroom warrior who's just picked up a guitar and learnt the riff from 'Transylvanian Hunger'.
It's just that as a collective, it lacks a certain cohesiveness to form any sort of lasting impression. Defile of Innocence has a shockingly professional production for such an underground release, and being the bands first recording, I can only commend them on that. It helps accentuate everything , especially the drumming, which is as I've stated is nothing short of brilliant. But in emphasising the good; the drumming, it just removes any doubt as to the passive effect of everything else. 'Codded Untouched Creatures' is by far the best song on the EP, impressive riffing and has a certain spark to it the rest of the songs don't. Not that there are many songs though, three others and two pointless attempts at atmosphere for an introduction and an outro for which the time could have been better allocated to another song.
The unfortunate thing for bands releasing music in Russia, is just that, the music very rarely ever gets any attention outside of the country, and if Blood Devotion are wanting to make any sort of waves outside of their homeland on their next release they're going to need to up the ante quite a bit, for Defile of Innocence in a nutshell is just an extremely tepid release from a band who are capable of so much more. They're clearly talented musicians, but together on this release it just comes across as rather uninspired and just flat out drags.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
Sunday, 14 November 2010
1. Empire of Suffering
2. A Spell to Awaken the Temple
3. From the Black Coffin Lair
4. Burning Voice of Adoration
5. Nocturnal Revelation
6. Discovering the Enshrouded Eye
7. Let the Devil In
8. Sanguine Rituals
9. Twilight Breath of Satan
10. As Darkness Tears the World Apart
One of black metal's most famous vagabonds, Shatraug, is back again, and this time with the latest Sargeist album. Shatraug likes to keep himself occupied, already having multiple releases with various projects already this year. And who can blame him when you're one of the most critically acclaimed artists still operating in the black metal scene? Sargeist were always a band I had an extremely large amount of time for. There is a subtle malevolence about Satanic Black Devotion and Disciple of the Heinious Path which always keeps dragging me back to them. They're not groundbreaking releases by any means, but it's Shatraug's penchant for being able to write an infectious riff and Hoath Torog's fantastic vocals patterns that always kept my Sargeist albums at the top of my CD pile.
If you're a fan of any of Sargeist's previous releases, then in short, this album will blow your skull clean fucking through. Whereas the previous albums did tend to be fairly inconsistent at times, Sargeist take the best aspects of everything produced before, and conjoined them all into one grandiose manifestation of pure old school black metal genius. The general sound of Sargeist isn't really comparable to much of that say in the original Norwegian Scene, Sargeist quite clearly have that recognizable Finnish sound, in fact he had a significant hand in helping develop that sound. It's the overall attitude and atmosphere within the recording that is comparable to bands such as old Gorgoroth and Emperor. It has always appeared to me that Shatraug is a clear believer in doing things the traditional way, and with material such as this, how can you argue?
If you've heard Behexen, which you most likely have if you're a fan of Sargeist, Hoath Torog's vocals are pretty much identical to theirs. As he's a member of both bands, that's pretty much a given, but whereas Behexen are an all out blasphemic hailstorm, Sargeist are much more brooding. Hoath Torog's vocals are utterly intense, when I say he's one of the strongest vocalists in the scene at the minute, I mean that. He coils each phrase, each word, writhing perfectly around each chord. Budding vocalists take note, this is exactly how black metal vocals should be done, delivered with an iron authority, driving the music without ever becoming distracting. The vocals have a good amount of reverb on them, as Sargeist have always done, and when done properly, such as here, add that tormented touch perfectly. The riffing is deceptively melodic, Shatraug's style here varies from fast to slow, mainly utilising traditional tremolo riffing, but with a certain almost rockish feel to it a times. The riff in “Discovering the Enshrouded Eye” for one is a good example to this. Horn is still the drummer, and adds a heady amount of brutality to the proceedings, from hyper-speed blasting and fills, to almost punk like rhythms, it compliments the melodic guitar lines flawlessly, avoiding ever becoming overpowering. My only problem? The album name. I can't help but get an image of old Lucifer standing outside your house soaked to the skin in the pouring rain, knocking to get in, and your nagging wife telling you to let him in.
Of all Shatraug's projects, and there are many of them, I can safely say this is the best release by any single one of them by far. It was a fairly unexpected drop, this album, but oh so welcome. In a scene which some may say is starting to lose sight of it roots, Let the Devil In is a modern benchmark of how it should be done for any burgeoning black metal band to strive for. Combining the 'true' ethics of old, and building upon their previous work, Sargeist have created a majestic work of tyrannical black art, spiralling oblivion. You can tell they put a hell of a lot of work into this release, because it shows. With Let the Devil In, Sargeist have evolved into something mighty. The bar is set, people.
Written for Metalcrypt
Saturday, 13 November 2010
2. Earth Rites
3. The Pilgrim's Song
4. Abode a Rats
5. Helleva Screams
7. Demon Rides the Nuns
8. Satan is My Pride
9. Satan War Spit
10. Satanic Devotion
Usually France is reasonably reliable for black metal, a lot of the albums coming out of the country at the present time are absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately for Diamatregon though, they are certainly not one of the better acts to come out of the Grenoble region, never mind France itself.
First thing's first, it's hard to even tell initially if the band are being altogether serious or not, when you have song titles such as “Demon Rides the Nuns” and “Helleva Screams” which begs the question, 'Are they just bad at English or are they genuinely trying to be humorous?'. In which case if it's the former, I prefer bands to sing in their native language rather than embarrass themselves, and if it were the latter, which I suspect, then they should just give up altogether.
Apparently they have been around for thirteen years or so, and if this is the quality of material they are happy to produce then more power to them. On the basis of this release, I'm just glad my eardrums won't have to experience such sonic torture ever again.
The music itself completely lacks any sort of cohesion or consistency whatsoever. Right from the outset, the very first thing which you cannot in any way fail to notice is the excruciating feedback screech coming through the guitar in every single song. Leaving stuff like this in the final recording is farcical, you wouldn't find a production job as bad on this on ninety percent of any black metal demo out there today never mind for a full length album. It's actually so bad at times it quite literally did hurt my hears and I had to turn the volume down. It's pretty much the way the rest of the release goes as well. The vocals are heavily processed and as a result sound extremely unnatural, the complete lack of bass presence only manages to emphasise this. The drumming sounds like a child randomly beating a biscuit tin, infact I'd even hazard a guess that there are kids out there who could perform better behind the sticks than Antoine. The guitar riffing is the only aspect of this release which is remotely interesting, and on “The Pilgrim's Song” or “Satan is my Pride”, it at least works towards at least some way of making a sitting through the song bearable.
The Satanic Devotion is certainly an album I won't be revisiting again in a hurry, and the same can be said about the band themselves, because on the basis of this, a half-assed attempt at offensive black metal, I'll be glad never to even hear of the band again. Beneath the mind numbingly bad production attempt, the music itself just doesn't cut it, because there is not one iota of any identifying factor or aspect of this release that would set them apart from the hordes of sub-par black metal projects. I am never specifically looking for originality and revolutionary new techniques when exploring new bands, but I do expect the music to at least be able to stand on it's own two feet.
I wouldn't recommend this abomination to anyone, unless you like your black metal sounding exactly like it was recorded in a mishmash five minute session in a toolshed, then avoid. Apparently it's been re-released, but I have to ask myself, how in the name of hell did this manage to shift enough copies to warrant a re-release in the first place?
Originally written for Metalcrypt
Thursday, 11 November 2010
1. Days Of Revenge
2. Paid In Blood
3. Hammer Of The Scots
4. Highland Farewell
5. The Clans Will Rise Again
7. Valley Of Tears
9. Whom The Gods Love Die Young
11. The Piper Mcleod
12. Coming Home
13. When Rain Turns To Blood
Grave Digger need no introduction to any self respecting fan of heavy metal. Being at the forefront of the German metal scene since their debut in 1984 has engraved their name into many metal fans hearts. 2010 sees the band return to the album that many fans regard as their 'magnum opus', Tunes of War. Kilts, bagpipes, clans and war, it can only be about one thing, Scotland. In-case you've been living in a cave for the last number of years, Grave Digger play a gruff, anthemic variation of power metal.
The recent output of Grave Digger to be totally honest left a lot to be desired. Ever since the fantastic Rheingold, Grave Digger's releases have been pretty unremarkable. The Last Supper was just flat out dull and the equally boring Liberty or Death no better. Ballads of a Hangman was somewhat of an improvement but lacked the spark of previous releases. The Clans Will March Again fortunately amends this recent dip in the Digger's form, and is certainly the best since Rheingold, if not better.
What Grave Digger manage to do so well is create a levelled mixture of bombast and infectious choruses, refraining from ever entering into self indulgence. This is what makes them one of the most effective live bands you will ever see. The songs just carry over so well into the live environment, and it's where Grave Digger really shine. If you ever get the chance to see them live, I would highly recommend you do so.
Songs like “Paid in Blood”, which is pretty much certain to be a live staple with its unashamedly catchy chorus are exactly what's been missing from the Grave Digger roster recently. The album is riddled with solos and substantial, crunchy riffs, which is owed to the introduction of new guitarist Axel Ritt. He appears to have added some much needed ardour into this metal behemoth. Chris Boltendahl's vocals never change. They sound almost identical since day one, and set Grave Digger far apart from everyone else and give them their identity. Name another vocalist who sounds similar, because I can't. Technically no, he's certainly not the best by any means, but it's his token gruff accent that makes Grave Digger who they are. “Coming Home” again is another highlight of the album, as is the headstrong “Hammer of the Scots”. The obligatory ballad appears at the end, “When Rain Turns to Blood”, and to be honest is probably the weakest song on the album, certainly not one of their best ballads, it's almost as if something is stopping it from going anywhere, in the end it just trails off without really ever provoking any sort of emotion. There isn't anything quite up to the standard of songs like “Rebellion” or “William Wallace (Braveheart)”, but they're stone cold classics of not just Grave Digger themselves, but of metal itself. It's also good to see the bagpipes making a return again, and used in moderation, we wouldn't want a metal version of Runrig now would we?
This a very welcome return to form by these German veterans, it's classic Grave Digger and Grave Digger by numbers at the same time, and Grave Digger by numbers is better than ninety percent of anything in being called power metal today. It's majestic, dynamic and inspired, it's great to see they can still cut it in the studio.
Originally written for Archaic Magazine
Wednesday, 3 November 2010
1. And Fall The February Snow
2. A Life To Suffer
3. Intermezzo Pt I - Fragments Of The Past....
4. Suicidal Metal Anthems
5. Intermezzo Pt II - ... Lie Broken And Lifeless
7. In My Dreams
Nocturnal Depression are somewhat of a cult act in the depressive black metal scene. They've been around for a good six years now and weathered the worst of the storm when the 'depressive' scene was at it's most saturated a couple of years ago. Now it's started to recede quite a bit, and Nocturnal Depression are still around, and still going strong with an album out this year, so that must must count for something at least? Add also to that they're French, and from my viewpoint the French scene is one of, if not the strongest scene operating at the present time. Without going into to much detail, it's swarming with fantastic bands.
Nostalgia – Fragments of a Broken Past or Nostalgia as I'll just call it from here in, was the début full length from Nocturnal Depression, originally released in 2006 on a limited run of tapes, and has seen a reissue on CD by Romanian label Sun and Moon. As far as releases by Nocturnal Depression go, Nostalgia has always been their strongest release, and with the re-recording and general improvement on this re-release, has only made it even better.
First impressions of the cover is that it is extremely cheesy, but the more you dwell on it, the more you realise that the cover is the perfect symbolism of what this album's whole concept is, the bleak sentimentality Nocturnal Depression are aiming to portray. Nostalgia by name, and most certainly nostalgia by nature.
From the hypnotic repetition of the opener with it's isolated guitar drifting beneath the wall of distorted riffing to the almost ballad-esque 'Lying Broken' with it's lone piano and Lord Lokhraed's jagged rasp the only other accompaniment, the album emits nothing but but nihility and hopeless melancholy. The real highlight of the album though lies within the longplayer 'Nostalgia' (of which there is a video of on the album as well), a sixteen minute suicidal dirge into a vacuum of emotions, again we have the melodic lead guitar working well with the oppressive riffing and thick bass. Think something like Nagaroth's Herbstleyd album, but substitute the rawness for melody. Even Lord Lokhraed's vocals are nigh identical to Kanwulf's, but Nocturnal Depression are much more that Nargaroth imitators. They draw the best out of early Xasthur and Forgotten Tomb as well and combine it with sublime effect. Plus when a band are able to include a Clint Eastwood movie sample in the middle of a song, they've got to be awesome, right?
The album isn't completely without fault, the drumming has always been Nocturnal Depression's weak point, and such is the case here. It's extremely hollow sounding and lacks weight behind it, it's not terrible by any means, but you can't help but notice with the standard of everything else around them. It's the guitarwork which is the real highlight of the album though, the riffing and leads have a soft, haunting tone and the riffing; foreboding, managing to keep authority and that typical black metal tone all at the same time.
Each song uses it's repetition to draw the listener in, while the album itself contains enough variation and identity throughout to make this album completely unique and a benchmark in a sub-genre full of bands who are content to sound exactly like each other. It requires a lot of listening and attention to let this album sink in, at least it did for me, but it's extremely rewarding. It's not too often you get DSBM which genuinely succeeds in being totally and utterly despondent, but when you do, it's fantastic. Nostalgia is much more than a simple black metal record, a misty eyed gaze back through life. Someone hand this man a tissue and some prozac, he needs it.
Written for Metalcrypt
Thanks to Robert @ Sun & Moon
Monday, 1 November 2010
1. Lonely emptiness of a burning god
2. Come whore come bastard
3. Forever on the dark side
4. Az Én Poklom
5. Az Én Szenvedéstörténetem
It's not very often that both bands on a split are from the same musician, but Shadowthrone and Funebre are both the respective projects of Hungarian Khrul, though he does have some help in the guitar department for Shadowthrone with a guy by the name of Padre. I suppose one advantage to this is that with the same musicians in both projects, there's never any concerns about the other bands material. The packaging and artwork to the release is very murky and minimal, does it reflect upon the music? Not at all.
Shadowthrone are presumably named after the monumental Satyricon album, and it is instantly noticable in the riffing style Shadowthrone incorporate, Satyr's style of slow, razor sharp chop. It's a slow, dirge of black metal, but in no way doomy. It's clear that Khrul is aiming here predominantly for an under-worldly pestilential atmosphere, with help from the caustic vocal delivery together with the whispering vocals which crop up from time to time, and bass heavy sound. It is very listenable, if a little rough along the seams but it's the Funebre side of the split which is by far and large the most impressive material on this split.
You would expect with both bands sharing the same member they'd sound somewhat similar, but far from it. Khrul's involvement with fellow Hungarian act Siculicidium is crystal clear here, they sound extremely alike. The vocals vary. From the Inquisition-esque croak to a harsh rasp more akin to Shadowthrone, it's a welcome variation. It's slightly faster than the material on the Shadowthrone side of the split and where my attention with it would wane, with Funebre's material I was immersed in the ominous haze for the full fourteen minutes. 'Az En Poklom' has some fantastic triumphant riffing and warlike drumming while 'Az Én Szenvedéstörténetem' has a more mournful feel to the guitar and overall atmosphere.
This is definitely an EP worth picking up if only for the two fantastic tracks by Funebre. The Shadowthrone material isn't bad at all, but if Khrul had to pick one project to stick with, I know which one I'd prefer it to be. This is one for the fans of black metal with genuine atmosphere and feeling. If you prefer older Gorgoroth and Inquisition to norsecore such as Dark Funeral and Setherial, then it's definitely worth your time.
Thanks to Robert @ Sun & Moon
Written for Metalcrypt
Thursday, 21 October 2010
1. Introduzione 02:14
2. Il Canto dei Sepolcri 06:57
3. Notturne Rievocazioni 07:08
4. Trascendenza Mistica 06:14
5. Rivela a Te Stesso l'Essenza 04:38
6. Egoico Delirio Spirituale 06:04
7. Torneremo all'Alba di un Nuovo Sole 06:00
8. Epilogo 02:15
Permixtio come from Italy and upon the back of three demos and a split have released their first full length. I have to say, I'm not too pushed on Italian black metal, from experience most of it tends to be tainted with that nauseous 'gothic' sound which is seemingly so rife in Italian black metal bands. Permixtio thank god, don't sound anything like that.
Umbra, the sole member of the band claims the band are not what is known as 'suicidal black metal' rather they go a lot deeper than that. It's true, to an extent. Yes the lyrics avoid all the pitfalls of typical DSBM, taking up the rather more thought provoking subjects of chaos theory and transcendence in place of juvenile angst about wanting to blow your brains out. Unfortunately as I can't read Latin, the lyrics mean as music to me as Egyptian hieroglyphics. Regardless of Umbra's claims, the music lies firmly rooted in DBSM ground, and the main focal point on this release lies with the atmosphere with which the guitar and vocals help conjure. The music itself for the most part is fairly slow and brooding, with the exception of scattered acoustic passages and slow guitar leads. Vocals are well done, they are sporadic, and are a throaty rasp and work well together with the enigmatic air about the rest of the music.
Apparently Permixtio is Latin for 'chaos'. Slightly misleading as this music is anything but chaotic, more a thick dirge of oppressive black metal with a dense and malign atmosphere. The riffing is ominous and drumming is tight, almost like a dense fog enshrouding the music suffocating you, and with the scathing vocals this release ticks all the right boxes. The title track with it's colossal opening riff and “Egoico Delerio Spirituale” littered with it's unhinged acoustic flutters would be but two of the highlights of this very impressive release.
As for comparisons? I suppose fellow countrymen Beatrik would be apt, as would German band Anti. It isn't forging any new paths, but what Il Canto dei Sepolcri is, is a high standard piece of entrancing, archaic black metal, and if you want DSBM which avoids the cringe-worthy theatrics synonymous with the genre, and is focused on the music and atmosphere, Permixtio are your band.
Thanks to Robert @ Sun & Moon
Written for Metalcrypt
Wednesday, 20 October 2010
1. Zondagmorgen 05:55
2. Heimwee 06:38
3. Herfst 06:37
4. Innocentie 05:28
5. Slaap Zacht 05:12
Hypomanie is the relatively new project of Selwin, member of other bands such as Deep-pression, Isa and Zelfhaat. They are another one of the many shoegazey black metal bands which the underground seems to be awash with recently. Ever since Alcest's debut, everyone seems to be trying their hand at it. Most of them are nothing but poor imitators, merely jumping on the bandwagon not actually aware of what the whole aesthetic of what Shoegaze was about. On the other side of the coin, you have bands such as Hypomanie who are genuinely able to replicate that vibe of wistfulness and dreamy sound bands like Slowdive pioneered and fuse it with something different.
At this stage of the game, mixing Black Metal with post-punk and shoegaze is nothing startling, Alcest opened that door before everyone else, but it's spiriting to finally hear another band who are able to carry on that sound without sounding completely and utterly contrived, Musically this EP leans more to the dreamy, nostalgic side of the shoegaze spectrum rather than the sonic deluge of My Bloody Valentine.
The guitars are light and alternate between that 80's post-punky twang and pedal washed distortion of early 90's shoegaze. If you're looking for heaviness, then look elsewhere, I'd struggle to call this EP metal at all, more dream-pop in sound than anything else. There are some heavier, more metal moments in the release when the riffing takes on a heavier more Black Metal approach, but they're few and far between. At times it reminds me of the lighter moments of lifelover, the vocals are very similar to Kim Carlsson's squeaky high pitched shriek, not dissimilar to someone dragging a wire brush down a chalkboard. It's the bass which helps give the EP it's underlying post-punk feel as well, resonating through all the distortion with a constant pulsation, giving the songs a bit of muscle from which to base everything else on. The drumming sounds programmed, but it's not a hinder at all, the light cymbal splashing and restrained rhythms add to the hypnotic atmosphere if anything. The whole feel to the EP is extremely melancholic, but at the same time manages to be almost calming in nature. It's certainly on the better side of line than most bands trying their hand at shoegazey black metal today.
Hypomnie is essentially one big hypnotic wave of distortion, all the elements that should be there, are. It captures the essence of Slowdive and depressive black metal perfectly and entwines those sounds together fantastically. It wont convert shoegaze purists though as both scenes are lightyears apart, most fans of bands like Alcest and Lifelover lie in the metal scene rather than shoegaze anyway, but if you're already a fan of those types of bands or are looking for a decent introduction to the genre, you could do alot worse.
Thanks to Robert @ Valse Sinistre
Tuesday, 12 October 2010
1. Beaten, Butchered, Brutalized
3. Prenatal Violence
4. Crucified By Hellwrath
6. Massive Mutilation
7. Human Bodybag
8. Intravenous Ejaculation
The first full length from German quartet Exaltation, titled Tales of Total Sickness is the follow up to their demo similarly titled “Tales of Mental Sickness”. This is my first experience with the band, and with song titles such as “Beaten, Butchered, Brutalized” I think it's safe to say what type of music I'm in for.
In short, the most accurate summary would be 'unrelenting blast beats', and upon initial listens it seems pretty hard to get past the incessant blasting. I'm being totally serious when I'm hazarding a guess that of the twenty nine minutes of this release, twenty fives of those consist of nothing but blast beats. The only time there's any respite from the unmerciful hellish blast beats are the occasional breakdowns in the middle of some of the songs where it's more of a slow pattern. It's on the rare occasion that when the foot is taken off the gas that the album is actually fairly promising, the breakdowns have a decent groove to them and you'll find that surprisingly enough, there are actually other instruments on this release besides the drums. The guitar, when I can hear it beyond the excessively loud drumming, is fast, typical death metal riffing. It's tight and rapid and surprisingly well played. I also think I can just about hear a bit of bass in there at times, or that could just be me imagining things again. Who knows, it genuinely is impossible most of the time to distinguish what's going on beyond the drumming. The vocals are your average brutal death metal guttural, never ever changing pitch, nothing really remarkable about them. They achieve what they're set out to, and that's about it.
I can't help but think the band have tried to use the drumming as a selling point of their album, and as a result have succeeding in completely choking out the rest of the band who seem to be pretty decent at what they do . Yes, we get that you've finally figured out how to blast beat, but that doesn't make you in any way good, you've just ruined what could have otherwise been a listenable release.
I prefer my Death Metal with sincerity and atmosphere, so-called 'Brutal' death metal such as this just comes across as sterile and a bit of a gimmick to be honest. If you want death metal drumming done well, take a leaf out of Autopsy or Impetigo's book. They know what they're doing, and how to mix things up a bit.
As it is, this is just another one of those ten-a-penny 'brutal as can be' bands, and they're all interchangeable. If that's really your thing though, and you don't mind drumming which is not just off the Richter scale, but fucks the whole thing up completely, then give it a go. As for me? Filed under 'Must Try Harder'. Tales of Total Sickness? Tales of Total Blandness would be more fitting.
Originally written for Metalcrypt
Sunday, 10 October 2010
Mare Erythraeum is the debut EP from the Hungarian oddballs of the same name, recently released on the Valse Sinistre label. It's an extremely brief showcase of the band's material, and trying to pigeon hole this into any sort of genre classification at all for me has proved quite fruitless. The music straddles the borderlines between some sort of ferocious discordant black metal and a bleak psychotic form of post-industrial.
If you were to take the Odinist era abstraction of Blut Aus Nord and blend it with the expansive, spacey black metal performed by Darkspace, it could come close in describing the sound of Mare Erythraeum. The first track is an intro of sorts, a disjointed guitar tone backed up by a slow drum pattern, although I don't particularly see it as a separate intro, as the EP is better viewed as one entity rather than four separate tracks. The whole sound is extremely unhinged, as if it could 'unravel' at any time, the guitar never really follows any particular pattern, its extremely unconventional in tone, the riffs don't particularly sound like riffs at times, descending into an eerie wail, and at other times it takes up a higher, spacey tone. The vocals are fantastic, as if what I think is true, that the band are going for a deranged mentally unstable sound, they fit perfectly. They're a wretched sort of crying, but avoid the corniness of many so-called 'depressive' black metal bands. The drumming is brisk, pretty much standard fare, arguably the most conventional thing in the release, but still managing in keeping with the surroundings.
In the second track, constantly throughout the song there is a errant electronic beeping constantly chipping away, and the atmosphere this creates is incredible, almost like an abandoned satellite perennially orbiting nothing but terror, and the knowledge there's nothing that will ever break that orbit. It's something I've never ever really come across before, it's extremely unique.
It's fantastic work, as I've stated, it's impossible really to pin a sound on these guys, but it needs to be heard by anyone who remotely calls themselves a fan of Blut Aus Nord, Darkspace and industrial/spacey black metal in general. It's unique black metal wavering on the dizzy edge of sanity. If you want it, be advised, you'd need to get it quick, as it was only pressed in 100 copies. The only points that are lost are due to the length, it's too brief an affair, but hopefully we'll be seeing a full length soon, and seeing these guys making waves too.
Originally written for Metalcrypt
Thanks to Robert @ Valse Sinistre Productions
Saturday, 9 October 2010
1. Intro 01:39
2. Glory of the Past Returns 06:17
3. Dark Skies over Vinland 05:56
4. Under the Veil of the Night 07:23
5. Winter of Cleansing 07:16
6. Upon Heathen Battlefields 06:16
7. Dawn of a New Empire 07:50
8. Wisdom of the Ancient Cults 08:53
9. ...The Wolf Unleashed (Outro) 00:47
1. Intro 01:33
2. The Fading Cause of Light's Crusade 03:55
3. Sombre Reflections of Hate's Crusade 07:44
4. Carnage on Holy Soil 04:26
5. In Mourning for the Night 02:54
6. Dunkelheit (Burzum cover) 07:36
7. Intro 00:51
8. Northern Hordes 04:16
9. Wolf's Kin 04:02
10. Everlasting Winter Winds 03:32
11. Warmoon (Outro) 03:47
Fimbulvetr is the re-release of Godless North's debut album Summon the Age of Supremacy and a compilation of the band's demo material and split work. Basically it's a retrospective look at all the bands work prior to the hiatus in 2003, and at the same time a marker for the beginning of the new line-up. My only previous experience with Godless North lies with the split with French band Chemin de Haine, which was unabashed Darkthrone worship. Luckily for them, I happen to like a bit of decent Darkthrone worship every now and again.
The overall sound of Summon the Age of Supremacy could be comparable to a continual blast of needle sharp gales. It's extremely piercing, but not in an discomforting way. The guitar work is standard fair, high velocity tremolo riffing with a thin razor edged tone, and together with the barbed-wire, echoed vocals and chaotic drumming it equates to one thing. Pure old school Black Metal carnage. There isn't a whole heap of variation though, and after repeating listenings it can end up becoming derivative, as do most Darkthrone clones. The drumming is excessively repetitive though, continuous blasting only ever interrupted every once in a while by a short fill before falling back into the blasting. Coming to a band like this though and looking for originality and innovation is ignorance though. It's what you would call 'cult black metal', and doesn't try to be anything else.
The second disk is a bit of a duck shoot really, the tracks off the split with Chemin de Haine are similar enough to the album tracks apart from the atmosphere being a bit more suppressed and the drumming is a lot more professional and varied. 'Mourning for the Night' is from the Black Metal Endsieg II split, and shows a more premature form of the band we saw on Summon the Age of Supremacy, the drumming is hollow and sloppy, and lacks the icy atmosphere of the full length, and sounds like it was recorded in a biscuit tin. The same applies for the demo tracks at the end of the disc, with the horribly wet and weak guitar tone and nigh inaudible drumming. All this is forgiveable though as it was demo material and the band were just finding their feet. Hell, they adore the old school so much they even included a cover of 'Dunkelheit', which isn't bad but doesn't really hold a candle to the original.
Summon the Age of Supremacy is good for what it is, it's highly satisfying reverence of the genres progenitors, simple raw black metal going for that glacial atmosphere, and it succeeds in that. It does get old after repeated listenings though, and this is it's main downfall, It has limited replay value and lacks depth to a certain extent. When you've heard one track you might as well have heard them all, and thats where the old guard could work so well, their variation throughout the albums. The second disk is really hit and miss, but if you're a fan, and haven't got the rest of the bands material then Fimbulvetr is definitely worth the money. It's not reinventing the wheel, but it is enjoyable cold and abrasive black metal.
Originally written for Metalcrypt
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
This version of Vargrstrike by American NSBM trio Pantheon recently saw reissue with cult label Darker Than Black Record with the band's Thangorodrim demo originally from 1998. Musically, Vargrstrike on a whole to be totally honest, is rather flat and unremarkable, which I suppose is keeping consistent with all the 'middle of the road' bands that happen to be a part of the mini-scene Pantheon is from. From what I've heard of Gestapo SS, Valaskjalf, Hrodvitnir and now Pantheon, they've all got one thing in common, they're as dull as dishwater.
Vargrstrike isn't a terribly bad release, it's just there's nothing which stands out, nothing which would ever get me excavating the CD back out from my record pile to listen to again. Then you have the lyrics which primarily deal with paganism, but sometimes veer off into ridiculous NS territory. I'm no prude when it comes to lyrics, national socialist tendencies don't bother me at all in music, but when you're screaming out “Seig Heil” constantly for the first half of a song, for example in 'The Atavism into Ginnungagap', it's pretty hard to take them seriously at times. This really just leads me to believe Vargrstrike is more of a political plinth than it is showcase of the bands talent.
You can tell each member is good at what they do in the band, but it does not gel together well at all. The guitars are the best thing about the release, the riffing is one of the few things which could hold my interest for any period of time during Vargrstrike. It's typical black metal tremolo riffing and never gets overly irritating or repetitive. What's that I hear also? Bass on an underground black metal release? Yep, Reubus has a distinctive bass sound on the release, and it's refreshing to actually hear bass for once, there's only one problem though, it's way too loud and just ends up pushing the guitar sound down through the mix. The drumming again, is fairly competent. The drummer you can tell knows what he is doing, but again the production kills them, the snare sound is way to high and piercing, inadvertently throwing your attention away from everything else, and what Pantheon have succeeded in doing is rendering the one stand out aspect of Vargrstrike completely toothless, and that's the guitarwork. The vocals are a low rasp, and sound as if they were performed sitting down. They have no power or conviction in their delivery. They're slightly Rob Darken-esque, but completely lack his power, Graveland are obviously a big influence on the bands music, but they don't get anywhere close to the epic feeling for which latter day Graveland are famous. The production on the album is just rough and shoddy and one of the biggest pit-falls of the release. It may have been a slight more listenable with an even production.
The three bonus tracks, which are the Thangorodrim demo are significantly more promising than the album itself which is rather strange, back then the band seemed to be more synth oriented and the drumming isn't half as annoying as in Vargrstrike and the music is better produced. For a demo to have better production than an actual album is pretty poor it has to be said. Thangorodrim could actually pass off well for a decent underground black metal release, and with riffing like such is present in 'Divine Frames of Luciferian Light' with it's monstrous elite atmosphere , such is also the direction the band should have taken for Vargrstrike. When it comes down to it, this album has no real personality at all, and Reubus himself has stated himself that he doesn't care at all for this release, and I can't say I care a whole heap either to be honest. When the only saving grace is the three bonus tracks at the end from a demo release, it's a distinctly poor show all round.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
Debut full release Devasted Graves – The Morbid Celebration from the occult US black metal act Nocturnal Blood has finally arrived. Previously only having heard their The True Spirit of Old demo, which was a fantastic piece of old-school South American-influenced venom, I was fairly eager to get this one on the decks. How does it shape up? Extremely well. A forewarning though, if you prefer your black metal abound with sugar coated synths, this is most certainly not for you. On the other hand, if you prefer your black metal primitive and downright dripping with filth, something akin to Beherit and Blasphemy, then look no further.
Upon the initial listen, it's quite clear the band aren't at all ever going to venture into new pastures, trying out something unique or less than ordinary, it was clear as daylight upon seeing the cover what type of music I would be in for. Devastated Graves... is pure homage to the old-school black metal and death metal scenes, worshiping at the altars of Beherit, Sarcofago and Autopsy. Nocturnal Blood is just a guy playing the music he loves, with no desire at all for originality or anything modern, and that's exactly why I love this release.
The music itself is basically the bastard child of Autopsy and Beherit. Long, slow, procession-like dirges interchanged with chaotic riffing and turbulent flaying on the drums. Occasionally we are also treated to short, twisted guitar leads, such as "Impure Devotion" and "Chaos Blood", and also some catchy riffing. The intro riff to "Ritual Lust" is monstrous. The vocals on the first half of the album are a deep death guttural, pretty much indecipherable and soaked in echo and reverb, while towards the last few songs, Ghastly Apparition opts for a nauseating whisper extremely like those off Drawing Down the Moon. Couple this with the stifling production it almost sounds as if this record was recorded in a cavern. I'll leave that up to you to decide whether that's a good thing or not, as for me, it's the perfect production for material like this. Some slight complaints about the album mainly lie with the drumming. The snare at times appears too high in the mix, and at times I can hear the infamous 'pots and pans' sound championed by Lars Ulrich, for example in track one "Devastated Graves". It's only a small complaint though as the rest of the album is such a high standard, it can be ignored.
There's no technical garbage here, little variation. The chances are if you are a fan of this type of music, Archgoat, Beherit, Morbosidad, Teitanblood and such like that, it's exactly how you expect it. This isn't black/death metal for the weak willed. If you're looking for originality and technicality, then you're looking down the wrong road, if you like your music putrid and with an extremely ominous and absolutely evil atmosphere, this is sure to please. A fine first album by a band I now have on my 'watch list'.
Originally written for Metalcrypt
Tuesday, 5 October 2010
First impressions of Finnish band Nuclear Throne aren't that invigorating. First off we have the terribly generic band name, in a genre of metal which off the top of my head can think of countless bands with either 'Nuclear' or 'Throne' in their name, their name isn't going to make them stand out from the throng of sub-par talentless hacks who are continuously swarming in the lower echelons of the genre. In the extreme metal genre, to stand out from everyone else, first impressions are everything, and what is the first thing people notice about a band? It's name of course. It's as if one member spoke to the other and said “What's the most clichéd Black Metal band name you can think of?” and this was the tripe they thought up. Couple the name with the 'Hey look I can use photoshop!' cover, comprised of yep you guessed it, a nuclear explosion tacked over the back of a black background with the logo down the sides in finest Times New Roman which looks like it was thrown together in about five minutes, saying it's not a great start is a bit of an understatement.
Well enough of disparaging the external, ultimately it's all about the content. So how does the music stand up then? Not much better I'm afraid. The vocals are a deep death guttural and are jarringly loud in the mix, and on drawn out growls where the vocalists pitch rises, it's pretty akin to someone dragging a piece of plywood along a concrete floor. Technically the vocals are actually pretty good, it's just the horrendous production on them completely nullifies anything positive about them. The guitar work is heavy, but that doesn't make it good. The riffs are the fairly simple run of the mill black/thrash type, and the guitar tone is extremely tinny and thin, probably only exaggerated by the complete lack of bass anywhere on this release. Add to that the ridiculously predictable and flat drum programming the whole way through the release, it ultimately all comes off a bit lackadaisical. Music about nuclear devastation should be full of blast beats and double bass, not some weakly programmed limp nonsense. The music just feels bottomless and lacks any sort of depth or dynamics whatsoever. There are some positives about this release though, namely in the last song 'Gas Mask Cult'. The vocals here refrain from scraping the roof of your skull like the previous two songs, and has a rather effective main riff at the mid-point before bursting into a completely unexpected and wild solo that closes out the song.
When it comes down to it though, two minutes of acceptable material on even a three song release is just not acceptable though. They've been around a few years already and have a further three previous demos under their belt, and to be brutally honest, if they keep this up, I can only see it staying that way. The band need to concentrate on the riffs, as I can only recall one memorable riff in the whole release, and potentially hiring a real drummer as the music suffers badly without one. Either that or use a better drum program. This release on a whole is pretty sterile and completely lacks any sort of punch or impact at all, and when your 'war' metal lacks any sort of ammunition, it's pretty futile isn't it?
Originally written for www.archiac-magazine.com
Wednesday, 8 September 2010
The infamous Fenriz has been on a bit of a 'true' metal crusade of late, championing many bands he believes to be keeping the 'flame of old' burning. One of these bands is the Washington five piece, Christian Mistress. Having just been signed to 20 Buck Spin on the back of their critically acclaimed demo last year, their debut album has just hit the shelves and is a piece of traditional heavy metal straight from the textbooks of Warlock and Judas Priest. In short, 'Agony & Opium' is six, to the point tracks of pure refined classic heavy metal, centred around duelling guitar leads and the sharp vocal performance of frontwoman Christine Davis.
Straight from the off, the twin guitar attack of 'Riding on the Edges' lets you know what you're up against. The vocals then come in and are reminiscent of an amalgamation of Doro and Dawn Crosby. Technically, the vocals are pretty below par, but it's the absolute grit and honesty they are delivered with that makes them so fantastic. They may be frayed around the edges, but then again in metal's golden era, what wasn't? I'll take vocals like these over processed, commercialised Lacuna Coil clones any day of the week. The vocals are surprisingly infectious, take for example the chorus of 'Desert Rose' or the ending verse to 'Home in the Sun', I find it very hard not to involuntarily sing along to half this album even while writing this. 'Desert Rose' is an absolute stormer of a track, one of the highlights of the album with Christine's vocals over the NWOBHM-esque twin guitar leads of Ryan and Oscar tearing their way through the song. Finishing up with a fitting, tasteful solo of which there are many throughout the album, never entering the territory of aimless masturbation, if you didn't know otherwise you'd swear blind these guy were thirty years older than the really are. And that is most certainly a good thing. The bass is fairly prominent in the album, at times utilising the famous Harris gallop, and others retaining a more conventional style and holding up the rest of the music.
The B side to the album is just as strong as the A, if not even more so. 'Poison Path' is the only song which is retained from the demo, and is given to customary facelift to album standards, and has a heavy Diamond Head vibe to the whole thing. 'Black Vigil' again is three short minutes dripping with the intensity of the eighties and before you know it you're at the last track already. It isn't long in coming, the album is short, but the sheer enjoyment you get from this unfortunately just accentuates this. 'Omega Stone' starts out extremely slow, almost ballad like. 'Heresy!' you say? Not quite, for it is done tastefully and is possibly Christine's best performance on the album. It kicks up gear towards the middle of the song and sends the album out in a blaze with duelling solos, galloping basslines and frenetic drumming. The drumming on the album is the only thing which could be described as being 'standard', holding together well, dictating the tempo of the album. Not that it's a complaint, but when set against the rest of the musicians, it's hard to focus on anything else but them.
Christine may be no Doro, but she certainly has the balls to cut it with the rest of them, When you get a song which makes you want to clench your fist and sing along, you know you're on to a good thing, and there's six of them here.
Unfortunately the thing with Christian Mistress is, with a raw DIY production like this, they will never break into the 'big time', which is a crying shame. Twenty five years ago it would be a whole different story, and this is why metal in the underground continues to trounce the tame sterilized muck being passed off as Classic Metal these days by the major parties, because it lacks the most important thing of all; heart.
One thing Christian Mistress are not is subdued, they're a band doing what they love and not bowing to any trends or pressure, and for that I love it. For anyone who appreciates their metal littered with shredding leads and the fire of the eighties, then I don't think I need to say much more than go out and get this.
Al-Namrood are relatively recent on the scene. They play a brutal form of symphonic black metal with a twist. What is this so called 'twist' I hear you say? Well rather than playing on their new Casio's they got for Christmas and trying to emulate Dimmu Borgir, Al-Namrood are rather more attached to their roots, infusing black metal with wisps of traditional Middle Eastern folk music. Upon hearing they came from the metal wasteland that is Saudi Arabia, my interest was peaked. Although unlike many other countries, Saudi Arabia has it's own socio-political factors as to why metal isn't a widely performed genre in the country. Considering public music performance is banned in Saudi Arabia and 'Western-ised' music is still heavily taboo, it is extremely surprising to come across a band playing a genre which is built upon anti-religious sentiments and nihilism. Considering this, it is refreshing to see them breaking the mould and bearing the flag for the genre's future in the country, as these guys and Mephisophilus (who are the same guys) are the first black metal band to have a release of this nature from the country.
'Atba'a' Al-Namrood' is the name of the EP which is the band's debut offering. It clocks in at a short twenty minutes, and opener 'Atba'a Al-Namrood' sets the mood and atmosphere perfectly with its simmering, ethnic introduction, and combined with the drumming which is a mixture of traditional Middle-Eastern patterns and more typical metal rhythms which are used with tact and refrain from ever entering pretentious territory. Much more invigorating than the usual aimless blasting or lazy programming so common with naïve, fledgling black metal bands. The guitars are set very low in the mix and completely overpowered by the vocals. This is the stand out problem of the release. Just when there's an interesting passage with everything else, the vocals come in and completely smother everything else beneath them, suffocating all the instruments in the mix, and most notably on the guitar as it already sounds like a swarm of bees in a can. The guitar does get to shine a bit more on the second track 'Fe Zafraz Almouz' as the vocals are less oppressive, and it's pretty much standard fare tremolo picking and slow dirges which hark back to the likes of Celtic Frost. The vocals are sufficient, nothing more nor less really. They do enough to fit the music, with Mukadars opting for a more restrained, sinister style rather than all out aggression. When they aren't completely overpowering, such as in tracks two or four, they are certainly enjoyable. 'Fe Zafraz Almouz' would be the strongest song on this release, as the folk style is used to good effect with the steady riffing and drumming. One of the main problems with this EP is the guitar, whereas it is actually fairly interesting in track two where you can hear it clearly, it is also incredibly amateurish in tracks one and three, incorporating all of the traits of 'bedroom' black metal everywhere, with that heavy hanging static sound which sounds as if there's only one or two notes being played for much of the song. Don't get me wrong though, I'm not comparing the actual band to any of your 'Johnny-come-lately' one man cookie cutter's, they're a lot more talented than that. It's just the guitar work one song is completely uninspired, and the next it is in a different league altogether, The last track 'Youm Tusar Nar Aljaheem' is along with track two, the strongest here. The guitar here has a distinct arabic feel to it as well and along with the keys create an extremely fantastic atmosphere, it's almost as if this song could be the soundtrack to some ancient demon summoning in Arabic lore. The vocals keep their place well, and helps set a fitting closer to the EP.
The drumming and the atmosphere on this release are certainly the strong points. The guitar work is too inconsistent, where one minute it's considerably varied, playing some Middle Eastern inspired riff, the next it's playing derivative dross you'd expect to hear from a spotty 'misunderstood' middle class teenager sitting in his bedroom. The vocals are competent enough for the release when they aren't drowning everything else in the song, and considering it's the bands first effort and the country it's from, they certainly get plus marks for that. Bass is non-existent, even though there is a bass player credited in the linear notes. It is more than likely the awful production has nullified any bass presence.
It is fantastic to hear of bands like these starting to make waves out of countries like Saudi Arabia, and more-so whenever they are incorporating music from their own culture, and this will certainly play into their hands in the future if they keep with this concept, but on the basis of this EP they need to work on the basics of black metal before improving on anything else. Remove the lacklustre guitar riffs which crop up and concentrate on developing a sound like that of the fourth track. Some slight variation or distinguishing factor in the vocals wouldn't go amiss either nor would some more bass on the drumming. Adding the one thing which is missing completely, bass guitar would definitely be a wise move, because if Al-Namrood are going for a Middle Eastern sound, then they should take note from other 'warm' sounding black metal bands such as those from the Hellenic scene as bass is paramount to their sound and I certainly feel it would be a significant cog in the sound they are aiming for. If they were to follow these they will certainly begin to go places.
As of writing this review, the band have two full lengths out, so I believe they must be doing something right, and I will most certainly check those out based on the merits of this release, but based on 'Atba'a Al Namrood' there is ample room for significant improvement to the metal side of their sound, but that can almost be forgiven considering they come from a country who's first metal release on came out in 1999. Well there's one thing that lots of people believe, and that's the best black metal comes from countries with the harshest landscapes and political/religious histories.. Lets see if that's true then?
Saturday, 3 July 2010
The main attraction initially to ‘Mournblade’ was their connection to Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga. Me being the Moorcock geek that I am had to listen to this as soon as I could. Sister sword to the soul stealing hellblade ‘Stormbringer’, ‘Mournblade’ completely robbed me of all my attention for a brief, but extraordinary twenty five minutes.
‘Time’s Running Out’ was the debut by this all but forgotten NWOBHM band and has drifted into the dusty vaults of time with numerous other bands that fell by the wayside at the back end of the scene. Many of those bands have regained a cult following almost, acts such as Desolation Angels, Virtue and Hell, due to the internet and/or underground labels re-releasing old material. This is something ‘Mournblade’ should look into for the future, because frankly material like this deserves to be heard.
‘Battlezone’ opens the album, and is, in a nutshell, everything the NWOBHM was all about. Lyrics about war, gritty guitar riffing, an infectious chorus coupled with the token blistering guitar solos so synonymous with this music, how could you possibly ask for more? The production isn’t great, infact it’s pretty dismal, but it’s that low-fi DIY quality that gives this release so much character. The vocals are delivered by a figure only known as ‘Drunken Mullet’, and really couldn’t be more apt, as his voice gives the impression of that boozed up, overweight, patch-jacketed fan who sits at the back of the gig at the bar swaying in his stool singing every word from his heroes in front of him. Influences shine clear, similar to most bands from the era, Motorhead play a large part in the whole attitude, and the layer of keyboard has a heavy air of Deep Purple about them.
The rest of the album doesn’t quite stay at the same grade as ‘Battlezone’, but ‘Sidewinder’ comes close with its brisk pace, slick soloing and brash hard rock style of the guitars. It’s almost as if ‘The Who’ recorded a metal song with an intoxicated Roger Daltrey. The vocalist can also execute a mean scream as heard in ‘Hunter Killer’, though he’s no Halford.
Not the entire album is flawless NWOBHM though, ‘Titanium Hero’ is an odd, futuristic number, a fairly repetitive riff is repeated throughout the whole song which lacks the contagious passages the first four songs contained, but is more of a song which you go to the gig and yell the words as loud and aimlessly as you can. The ridiculous intro which sounds like a cut-out from Dr. Who could have been dropped though. The last song returns more to the style of the start of the album with the focus on the lead guitar and gruff vocals.
It’s bands like this which in their heyday toured all the dim lit, grotty old bars of London, and I can only wish I was there back then. Only one band from that scene ever made it ‘big’, and I think we all know who that was, but ‘Mournblade’ could have been up there with the likes of ‘Cloven Hoof’, ‘Angel Witch’ and ‘Satan’ had things went their way, but as is the story with so many other bands from that scene, they have been designated to a lifetime in obscurity, save for those denim jacketed NWOBHM aficionados still marvelled by the scene which started it all. This is long out of print though, but still attainable if you don't mind spending a few pennies on ebay. In brief, if you’re at all a fan of the NWOBHM scene, this is definitely worth hearing.
Thursday, 10 June 2010
According to ‘I.O’ the creative force behind one man Russian Band Windbruch, ‘Collision of the Worlds’ is, according to the aforemented, “A Story about a person who is trying to capture his visions and fulfil his dreams, which in the beginning were unimaginable, in the end become reality. It’s an album about dreams, desires, and otherworldly feelings.”
An intriguing foreword and it certainly is an ambitious attempt at creating atmospheric black metal as a concept album on an extremely low budget.
This is the band’s debut release, out on Romanian label ‘Sun & Moon’ and is extremely nature inspired, dripping with influence from atmospheric black metal titans Wyrd and Drudkh. The first track is a simple introduction, purposefully serving as an opener to the album or ‘journey’, with a lightly picked guitar backed up with a similar pattern on the bass, setting a very solemn tone for the album, and this lasts for pretty much the whole album. For all it is ‘atmospheric’ it is also just as ‘depressing’ and could easily be slotted into the DSBM side of things at times, but it’s much more than just run of the mill depressive black metal flipped off as ‘atmospheric’ due to a few samples scattered here and there and an excessive amount of reverb on the vocals, for the guitar riffs undulate with intensity and grandiosity in the same way Drudkh could in ‘Autumn Aurora’. Okay, they are maybe not quite as good, but they are certainly getting there and a lot more can be said about the guitar work in this album than the abundance of third rate Darkthrone riffing doing the rounds these days in this scene. There is more than enough variety in the guitar playing to keep your attention, with lulling picking transforming into convulsive riffing and anguished lead guitar and so forth. I will pick a gripe with the lead guitar though, when it does appear, such as ‘Day VII (Stairway to Heaven)’ and especially the ‘Theme of Laura’ cover, I can’t help but notice it sounds slightly out of tune. Whether this was intentional or not, only IO will know, but it removes from the otherwise fantastic songwriting from IO.
Vocals in this album are very sparse, the main focus in the album is on the soundscapes being created by the other instruments, but when the vocals do appear they are a rather hollow rasp, very distant, and add to the detached atmosphere brilliantly. For once in a black metal album, the bass also plays a significant role, holding the music together cohesively. The drumming I believe is computerised, from what I can tell, but doesn’t really detract all that much from the listening.
Sampling is used a lot in the albums, and at times it just gets irritating, breaking up otherwise promising passages, and wasting time. This is one thing that gets on my nerves with a lot of bands, and ‘Atmospheric’ album does not need to be justified with samples which are deemed to be so, it is fairly redundant. If you must use something, make it interesting and specifically relevant to the music.
Apart from the slight problems mentioned though, this is an impressively strong release from a new band, and if the character of Wyrd and Drudkh coupled with the Nostalgia aspect of Alcest interest you then definitely give this album a try.
Thanks to Robert Sun @ Sun & Moon Records.