Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Hot Metal and Methedrine

I decided to post up a few photos of my ever-increasing collection of 'The Sisters of Mercy' material I have on vinyl. From my first ever vinyl purchase of 'Floodland' to now, i think it's turned into an addiction rather than a hobby. Everyone has that one band though that they would go to any length to aquire everything by, warts and all, and The Sisters would be mine. Maybe someday i will actually get around to reviewing the albums, but for now you can make do with this :D I still have along road ahead though, especially in trying to aquire 'Damage Done' and 'Body Electric' and the vast array of bootlegs that exist. Someday though.....*cackles*

Monday, 26 April 2010

[ALBUM REVIEW] Nychts/Wedard - Zwischen Leere und Nichts


1. Zwischen Leere und Nichts


1. Masochist
2. Winter, My Final Chapter Pt. 1

When you hear the term 'Astral Black Metal', immediately bands such as Darkspace, Limbonic Art and Paysage D'Hiver would spring to mind. Whereas Darkspace are more akin to being stuck on a desolate space barge and drifting into a stellar oblivion, Nychts remind me more of 'Moon in the Scorpio' era Limbonic Art, a psychadelic acid trip through a dark velvet void flecked with millions of tiny flickering stars. Though I would use the term 'Black Metal' loosely for Nycht's side of the split, it is much more than simply Black Metal, for the musical focus where Nychts are concerned is not based around the guitar riffing or vocals, but rather the vast spatial atmosphere Trähn is creating with the synths.
The song begins with a slow meandering guitar lead but the most notable thing is the hollow synth sound that lingers about in the background, and only very slightly changing every now and again for the first half of the song. The guitar is not used in the traditional sense as you would expect in Black Metal, it is remarkably doomy and restrained, a slow dirge with a continual mystical lead over the top, as if it was carrying you through the gargantuan galactic ocean. The vocals are extremely sparse, and there are no apparent lyrics to the song, the vocals seem to be a mere isolated wail cropping up from time to time, as if they were coming from some damned soul in another dimension. The lack of lyrics just adds to the whole mystery of the 'journey'. Around the halfway mark, the first half of the song climaxes with a rather wild solo, and the song changes from a weightless journey into a freefall, capitulating into a serene reverie for a minute or two before the second half begins with an acoustic guitar playing a sorrowful and reflective melody, and then another despondent howl erupts from the depths before the slow, distorted guitar reappears but this time playing a rather majestic, almost militaristic riff, with the vocals intertwined with a large amount of echo on them which duly sees finish of this epic, twenty minute journey. It is remarkably original piece of music on this side of the split, a Black Metal Tangerine Dream is the best comparison I can come up with, with a significant amount of focus placed upon the ambience created by the synths and echoing guitar. Trähn has created a fantastic piece of work, a cosmic journey through the stars in a galaxy in which the nearest sun has long since burned out, and the only light is that emitted from distant stars. It's only one song, but if Nychts decide to release more material in future, they could easily be up there with Darkspace and Limbonic Art in exploring the final frontier.

Wedard are a band I am quite familiar with, but have always failed to grab my attention in the way so many others of their ilk can. Sternenfrost has a penchant for releasing a lot of his material on split EPs with other bands, but as is the case here, it usually just proceeds to prove how distinctly average Wedard's material is in comparison with the other band's material on the split. From the opening notes on 'Masochist', it's your plain old 'by the book' depressive Black Metal. The production is extremely condensed and the guitars and vocals are washed with excessive reverb and buried in the mix. The songs are fairly up-tempo, helped by the brisk drumming which is the best thing about Wedard, and always has been. Programmed or not, they are executed with fine professionalism, and help to shift the rather lack lustre music along and maintain some attention. One thing about the first song that is completely off setting are the numerous breaks that appear in the song, which I assume are there to break up certain 'movements' but only succeed in making the cd sound as if it's faulty or even gives the impression of an album sampler. That's not to say it's all as stimulating as watching grass grow though, 'Winter – My Final Chapter pt 1' starts with an exquisite, softly picked tune before morphing into a ferocious charge backed up by heavy blastbeats and turbulent guitar riffing, surprisingly similar to early Immortal, with a high pitched widdling lead guitar over the top. But again the song needlessly stops for another pointless interlude, cutting short the rather fantastic beginning, and leaves you just thinking to yourself.... “why?” before continuing with an off kilter lead guitar which sticks out like a sore thumb, and ruining what would otherwise be a great song. As with most DSBM bands, the biggest influences are drawn from Burzum, and again this is the case here, for the vocals are your average Varg like shriek, that is, when you can manage to hear them when they're not buried beneath ten tonnes of off key guitar work. The riffing is also heavily generic for most of these two songs, I can barely recall any riffs except for the first half of the second song.

If Wedard stuck to the faster, brutal style showcased on their second song then they could maybe begin to go places, but as it stands, it is otherwise bog standard Suicidal Black Metal, that so many other have done before, and produced better. Wedard will have their fans though that will like the material on this split, for it doesn't differ any from the rest of their back catalogue. It isn't bad as such, it is listenable, but why listen to this when I could easily just put on Nyktalgia instead who do it so much better?
You should still definitely pick up this split though if you can, if only for the shining piece of music displayed by Nychts though. This is highly original, trance inducing Black Ambient that needs to be heard.


Wedard Nychts

Thx to Robert Sun @ Sun & Moon

Thursday, 8 April 2010

[ALBUM REVIEW] Alcest - Ecailles De Lune

1. Écailles de Lune (Part I)
2. Écailles de Lune (Part II)
3. Percées de Lumière
4. Abysses
5. Solar Song
6. Sur L'Océan Couleur de Fer

Alcest are a fairly household name in the metal scene these days, their hybrid of metal and airy shoegaze propelled them to the forefront of the french metal scene back in 2007. Many black metal purists were appalled by this apparent 'wuss metal' which Neige was now producing, such a contrast it was to his humble beginnings in Mortifera and Peste Noire who admittedly produced some fantastic black metal, but nothing anywhere near the magnitude of 'Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde'.
Opinions on the album were polarized all throughout, the other side of the coin, people were lavishing praise on Neige for attempting something completely contradictory to the norm in Black Metal and refreshing in a genre otherwise fast becoming stale. Niege probably never anticipated how revered Alcest would manage to become in the following year or so. So much so infact, that 'Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde' basically spawned a new sub genre of metal on it's own, it was that groundbreaking.

Three long years have past since their seminal debut album, and finally the long awaited follow up is upon us. It has a lot to live up to, and that, and beyond, it does. The first track bears a striking resemblance to Amesoeurs, it could basically be described as a continuation of his work in said project, but sans Audrey. The shimmering guitar melodies from before are back only with that guitar tone which cult eighties post punk/shoegazers 'The Chameleons' were so synonymous with. It sounds like it could be any one of Neige's sung tracks off the Amesoeur's album, except with an added air of esoteric beauty which was present on neither the debut or Amesoeur's album. The vocals are clean and enngulf the song with a wave of sentimentality and serenity, sweeping around the guitars, as if they were trying to entrap them. The song breaks mid-point where the lead guitar, thick with reverb picks a sullen passage, an insight of what's yet to come, before moving up a gear towards the end again.

'Ecailles de Lune' part 2, in contrast to the previous song, starts out with surprisingly vicious, the drums blasting and this is the first we encounter Neige's piercing scream, which caught me off guard, as I thought he had done away with them altogether in Alcest. What's great about his harsh vocals is he doesn't over do it, unlike the demos or his work in Mortifera, as good as his vocals were, he had the tendency to strain a little too hard and ended up off key and sounding quite amateurish at points. His vocals here are perfect, and although he doesn't use his extreme vocals a lot, they're among the best in the black metal scene by a long shot. There's no shoegazey elements to be heard in this section of the song, most comparable to Peste Noire with the fast riffing and howling vocals. After a few minutes though the real beauty of this album stands out, the Black Metal dies off and the buoyant guitar picking shines down, playing an exquisite melody with an almost 'midnight' like ambience, as if each note being played were reflected off the moon and gently glimmered back while the thick, feedback laced guitar filters through, comparable to the sound of Slowdive more than anyone.

Third track, 'Percées de Lumière' previously appeared on the split with 'Les Discrets', and is a harrowing hybrid of depressive Black Metal and writhing reverberation of early nineties shoegaze. The vocals display both Neige's shrill screaming and more tranquil side, and for the non Black Metal listeners, will probably be the hardest song to 'digest' on the album. It is slightly similar to the material previously seen on the 'Le Secret' EP early on in the bands career, where we were only getting a glimpse of what was to come, but the alternation between the clean vocals are executed with a lot more maturity than the much more primitive EP. This is the closest to a 'Black Metal' song on the album.

'Abysses' is a brief interlude of swirly ambience, nothing remarkable, but could serve as the most appropriate way to split the album into it's two halves, as the second half completely drops all traces of the majestic, Emperor-esque riffing and lovelorn brutality giving way to 'Solar Song', with it's undulating, 'Cocteau Twins' like swell. More of a grower, a gradual impact rather than the immediacy of the previous songs, this is a pure shoegaze song, with the wall of distorted feedback hanging over the chiming vocals like a setting sun looming out over a twilight sky. It is a beautiful, drifter of a song, with a nonchalant haziness about it, that the genuine fans of shoegazing dream pop will appreciate more than anyone else.

Closer 'Sur L'Océan Couleur de Fer' could be none more fitting. The slow echoing guitar clothed with Neige's harmonious vocal pattern draw the curtain with a beautiful night like ambience, a musical journey to an elysian paradise befitted with only the silvery reflection of the moonlight off the ocean and romance. That is the one standout quality of this album beyond anything, the sheer romantic aura that emanates from the music. You may have heard of 'Romantic Black Metal' before, but there is no band more fitting to this term than Alcest, for what way to make the likes of music from Peste Noire and Celestia even more enchanting? But to bind it with one of the most romantic forms of modern day music of course.

One of the things that draws me to certain bands are their ability to conjure certain soundscapes subconsciously in your head, and in this field, none can rival Alcest. The multiple textures all intertwined, the hypnotic vocals, the effervescent guitar all combine to drug you into a utopian dreamstate of nostalgia, love and past affections full of dark hazy blues, pale mauves and glimmering silver. This is an album to listen to with headphones alone, and lose yourself completely and alleviate all the pangs and burdens of everyday life, even if only for a brief time.

Alcest seem to encounter a lot of comparison to Agalloch. Yes there are a few similar aspects to both bands, but Alcest are away above and beyond what Agalloch were ever capable of. Agalloch had their weakpoints, on the otherhand with Alcest, I can't honestly find one. As much as I loathe to use the word perfect when reviewing albums, this is one which deserves beyond all others I have heard this year so far. Neige has completely outdone himself, building upon that of 'Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde' and finally completed the next step in the evolution of Alcest. With how he plans to develop the sound further, one can only wait. There is no doubt now that Neige has firmly distanced Alcest from their Black Metal roots, and if there was any doubt in your mind about the debut album, then this one will only further distance you from them. This album wont change the opinions of bedroom black metal warriors everywhere, Neige never cared for these opinions anyway, why should he when it is that which he was obviously distancing himself from before? This album is a piece of sophisticated beauty emerging from a genre fast becoming stagnant with lifeless clones and banality. A seminal work of art, which you can guarantee will be copied, but doubtful ever matched.