Friday, 25 February 2011

[ALBUM REVIEW] (aura) - Invisible Landscape

1. the furious march
2. vacuity
3. katharsis
4. parallel worlds
5. flowing textures
6. two steps for the gods
7. the faith woods
8. the frozen enchant of warmth
9. warm winter
10. cloud colossus

Rather than just being another run of the mill ambient/post-rock act, Portugese band (aura) have decided to shake things up a bit here, rather than doing what most bands do such as creating the music in their heads and then developing an image from that , (aura) have opted to do things the other way round first. Start out with the images and construct the music out of them. Andre has selected a few chosen works from photographer and fellow countryman Jose Ramos and attempted to build a story connecting the photographs (which are in the booklet) together in a sequence. Certainly intriguing to say the least, as the concept is something I’ve never come across before, but one which (aura) have left me interested in hearing more.

The influences on Invisible Landscape are vast; I can hear everything from Massive Attack-styled trip hop to echoes of God is an Astronaut and even contemporary classical. It’s an ambitious record and doesn’t really slot properly into one single genre, it’s extremely dynamic and compelling with a surprising amount of variation for ambient influenced works. From the fragile serenity of the oceanic lull of “The Furious March” and “Vacuity” right through to the glowing electronic overtones of “Warm Winter” and impending nature of “Cloud Colossus” it coils a mesh round you right from the very beginning. One special thing to note about “Cloud Colossus” is that it’s the only song on the album with vocals, which was a surprise as vocals in this style of music full-stop are a rarity. I would go as far as to say this is my favourite track on the album, the sombre guitar picking with the distortion and almost post-punk styled vocals works extremely well together, and as much as I love my post-rock, I would love to see the band continue down this route.

Invisible Landscape is a great debut effort by this Portuguese act, they manage to blend all the different styles together pretty much seamlessly and the whole album has a great continuity about it. The music does fantastic justice to the photos which I must add, are absolutely stunning themselves. It may not hit you at first listen, it didn’t for me, but then this is one of those albums you have to sit down alone and listen to with headphones in and immerse yourself in it. If ever there was a better argument against the mp3 fad, this is certainly a good one, for without the booklet, it wouldn’t even be half as enchanting.



Thursday, 17 February 2011

[ALBUM REVIEW] Negative Plane - Stained Glass Revelations

1. The Fall
2. Lamentations & Ashes
3. Angels of Veiled Bone
4. The Third Hour
5. The One and the Many
6. Charnel Spirit
7. All Souls
8. The Number of the Word
9. Stained Glass Reflections
10. Stained Glass Revelations

Et in Saecula Saeculorum caused quite a stir in the underground back in 2006, and not without good reason. Out of the blue, this album appeared and floored everyone. Why? The fact that something so ingenious and erratic was still possible in a genre in which many have dismissed as exhausted through and through of anything innovative and original. This is true to an extent, black metal is a genre which has been suffering majorly from a drought of inspiration of late, though occasionally a band comes along every once in a while to try out something new and against the grain. Sometimes it works, but more often than not it doesn't and said band fades away to languish in obscurity. This is always going to be the way because black metal fans more than most are always skeptical of changes, they can be a tough bunch to satisfy at the hardest of times. This is where Negative Plane come in. If you've ever listened to a band for the very first time, and after one listen to the album sat up and thought to yourself “Wow, this is unlike anything I've ever heard before, yet absolutely astounding; these guys are going to be big” then you've felt the same as to what I felt when I first heard Negative Plane. They retain enough of the traditional ethics and basis of traditional black metal and fuse it with a bizarre amalgamation of gothic horror and archaic styling that will unite even the most fickle of black metal fans.

Picture yourself in a vast cathedral, enshrouded in an ancient horrific mist, gradually dragging you down into a fear induced delirium, a swirling myriad of primeval voices strangle the remains of any rational thought you may have left like the rat in it's dying throes to the python. Extravagant, yes, but an album such as this deserves nothing less. I have heard various people liken it almost to a Lovecraftian horror soundtrack, and in a way there could not be a more apt definition for the sound of Stained Glass Revelations. It's ominous, foreboding and terrifying, yet at the same time it has this almost ridiculous macabre carnival-esque atmosphere. This is due in no small part to the contributions of Nameless Void, who provides both the guitar work and the vocals. The guitar is swathed in layers of reverb and with the slightly more prog route they have taken in regards to the guitars this time around they have veered off into a more definitive psychedelic route, something along the lines of “A Church in Ruin” off their debut. The sheer variation and multiform nature of the guitar work is astounding, no second riff is ever the same, one minute NV is playing something similar to Celtic Frost, the next it's a totally abstract guitar lead where every note reflecting off every corner of your mind. I mentioned Celtic Frost before, and they probably are one of Negative Plane's main influences. Certainly on the debut at least, maybe less so on this album which is so unique it's a challenge in itself to try and compare it to anything. At times the album doesn't even sound metal, as I stated before at points it morphs into something almost like dark, twisted circus music, and the vocals of NV are the voices of cast; twisted and unhinged and spitting corruption. “The One and the Many” is a great example of this, rising and falling around the vocals of Nameless Void. The bass and drum work definitely shouldn't be ignored either, the bass resonating beneath the chaos above it and one of the main components of the overall atmosphere, while the drumming is best described as extremely unpredictable and unconventional. Bestial Devotion is a big fan of his cymbals, chaotic and complex at the same time with no holding back on the quality.

The atmosphere pours out of this record in waves, it's an atmosphere not dissimilar to that of Drawing Down the Moon or De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, one which is extremely dense, ambiguous and warped, an atmosphere that completely makes the album what it is. They also are one of the few bands who actually manage to use interludes to their full effect and not just for aimless filler, using them to build the suspense in between each song, and avoid using shitty samples and actually composing the interludes themselves. If I had to pick one song which would sum up the album thoroughly, it would be the enigmatic “Angels Veiled in Bone”. As dark and as depraved as the dungeons of Hades while throughout it all flicking a wry smile. Grandiose riffing and chromatic leads, psychopathic vocals and an atmosphere that puts almost every other band out there at the minute to shame.

With Stained Glass Revelations, Negative Plane move up to the top rung of the ladder and it would be a horrendous injustice if they don't get more recognition on the back of an absolute gem such as this. The move in a more psychedelic direction was an utter masterstroke by them, but I still don't think it's their 'pièce de résistance' as such, because I honestly think they have even better in them. I guess only time will tell. A work of unassailable genius. Obscure, mysterious and at times downright petrifying, all the while wearing a masque of perverse humour. Two words; get this.


Originally written for Metalcrypt

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Monday, 14 February 2011

[ALBUM REVIEW] Todesweihe - Necronomicon Ex Mortis

1. In den Nachthimmeln Transilvaniens
2. Tränen des Dionysos
3. Mit einem Herzen voller Verachtung
4. Instrumental
5. Das Sterben
6. Return of the Necromancer
7. Nacht des Werwolfes
8. Das Schloss
9. As Flittermice as Satans Spys
10. Mit einem Herzen voller Verachtung (live)
11. In den Nachthimmeln Transilvaniens (live)
12. VON (live)
13. Nacht des Werwolfes (live)

Every genre of metal has its own group of wide-eyed imitators aiming to recapture the sound of their heroes, it's part and parcel in the process of evolution within a given genre. On one hand you have the bands who bring new concepts and elements to the traditional sound, and then on the flip side, you have bands who have no qualms replicating the sound of their idols note for note. Todesweihe sit firmly on the latter side of the coin, and having read that they've previously played with Warloghe and Inquisition, two fairly reputable bands, first impressions were positive. But it's all downhill from here.

From the 'I'm too lazy to come up with an original cover so I'll just use the old faithful Gustav Dore' option to possibly the second most covered Darkthrone song ever, everything about Necronomicon Ex Mortis (or rather the sound of Todesweihe as a whole as this is a compilation) is amateur, derivative and downright tedious. Refraining from just pressing the stop button as I sat through this was frustrating to say the least.

Necronomicon Ex Mortis is a compilation of their second demo, Nachtmahre, their EP and a bunch of live tracks, but reviewing them separately would be fairly redundant as each song is equally as excruciating as the next. The vocalist does his best to capture Nocturno Culto's ice cold rasp and it does come slightly close but lacks in delivery and no amount of reverb will mask that. It's the best aspect of this release, but when placed against the guitar work and drumming, that's not saying a lot at all. The riffing is insipid and just flat out weak, following the three chord tremolo pattern but containing no discernible qualities whatsoever, none of Darkthrone's signature 'cold' sound or catchy riffing. For the most part it sounds like a couple of kids in their garage miserably attempting the “Transylvanian Hunger” riff over and over again. The drumming is no better either, haphazard, sloppy and lacking any sort of variation or timing whatsoever, anymore and I'd be wasting my breath.

The two EP tracks off the Nachts am Alten Friedhof release are of better quality than the rest, only marginally though, and are what save this release from getting an embarrassing score altogether. Whenever Todesweihe slow things down, they are actually surprisingly listenable. The guitar tone has some muscle to it and the music doesn't sound like a washing machine stuck on spin. Unfortunately this is only present on the two EP tracks. As for the live tracks tacked on at the end, they aren't even worth discussing at all. I guess if you're a completist they might be of some value.

Todesweihe may need to reconsider their vision of what they want to be if they're to make any sort of an impact, because as a Darkthrone clone, it doesn't work. There are much better bands out there who do it so much more effectively. They need to find the appropriate balance between their infatuation with Darkthrone and some distinct element to set them apart from the others. At the end of the day this is all demo material, so the shoddy production can slide, but it's still no excuse for crap music.


Darker than Black"

Saturday, 5 February 2011

[ALBUM REVIEW] Nachtvorst - Stills

1. Dawn of End
2. Murmurs
3. Stills
4. Wandering
5. Epitaph

Whenever someone metions Dutch black metal, the first bands that initially come to mind would be Countess and Urfaust. Not one of the Netherlands most productive genre's that's for sure. Nachtvorst's debut album Stills, released by Black Devastation Records in 2009 presents an extremely fresh perspective on European underground black metal, for it's compelling approach at blending the 'post-' with the 'depressive'. And for an attempt at blending in a style of which is for the majority American by name and nature, it's a commendable effort.

With four tracks no fewer than eight minutes long each, and an instrumental thrown in for good measure, Stills is no easy listen. Everything from funeral doom, sludge, death, depressive black metal and even post-rock is present in Stills, it's an assorted mix of genres which when combined most of the time can just sound awkward, but Nachtvorst manage to execute it well. Right from the off, opener “Dawn of End” comes crashing down like a colossal wave of misery, constantly lashing away with the ebbing guitars and heavy bass. The bass is prominent throughout the whole album, which is something which helps gives Stills a touch more identity. It contributes a great deal to the ominous, asphyxiating atmosphere Erghal and Leopold are aiming for. And talking about a crushing atmosphere, one listen to track two “Murmurs” and you're utterly crippled. It's nothing more than a crude wall feedback and bile encased distortion of guitar and hellishly low bass. It's no easy listen and I can certainly hear a bit of SWANS influence among others here.

The final three tracks are more in the traditional vein of black metal but it's the constant diversity in every aspect of the music that keeps Stills so engaging. “Wandering” would be without a doubt the best track on the album, and at times feels like it could have been an outtake from Storm of the Light's Bane. It's one of the more 'upbeat' tracks of the album if you could call it that, and in total contrast, closer “Epitaph” is pretty much just that, with it's roots firmly buried in the depressive black metal scene with it's hollowed out guitar lines and fervent desperation.

Whether it's Leopold's transitions between his higher pitched nail spiked shrieks or his guttural death growls more akin to something off a Dismember album, or the guitar riffing ranging from traditional tremolo riffing, to post-rock interludes to dirging sludgy passages. If you're one who complains about black metal being too monotonous with lack of variation and talent then I can't recommend this album enough. For the majority it's a slow paced, meandering behemoth of oppression, ranging from depressive black metal to sludge and everything in-between, and definitely makes Nachtvorst one to watch for the future.



Orignally written for Metalcrypt