Friday, 29 April 2011

[ALBUM REVIEW] Cultes Des Ghoules - Haxan

1. Baptised by Barron
2. The Covenant and the Sacrifice
3. Stregoica Dance
4. Scholomance
5. The Impure Wedding

It’s one of the, if not the most successful black metal album of all time, and as a result it’s influenced more than a few albums since its inception in 1994. It is of course De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, and Häxan is just another one of those countless albums that has its origins in that seminal album. Except it’s De Mysteriis... even more repulsive and grotesque bastard son. Every so often a band will come around and will divide opinions into polar opposites across the board, the sort of bands like Beherit, Von and Blasphemy, and although Cultes Des Ghoules may not be quite as primitive as these acts, they certainly contain the same aura of ugliness and inaccessibility.

This album caused quite a significant stir back in 2008 upon its original release, their brand of raw yet epic Lovecraftian black metal with its remarkably unpolished nature bore heavy resemblance to the aforementioned Mayhem album while containing a constant underlying atmosphere of such like bands such as Mortuary Drape et-all. It’s just not too often they come from a country like Poland though, more famous for its sawtooth blasting and nationalistic ideals.

As stated previously, Attila’s Mayhem are the biggest influence, just one listen to the vocals will tell you that that deranged, manic and obnoxious style can only be derived from our Hungarian crackpot Attila. Dynamic and sweeping, ranging from higher pitched rasping to low incomprehensible gargling, much more that just vocals, they’re downright terrifying and demonic and stir the atmosphere at will. The band has gone slightly over the top on the reverb at times, but on the other hand without it they wouldn’t sound half as evil, and the excess does help somewhat in filling out the void created by the lack of presence in the guitars.

The riffing while sometimes thin is devastating, ranging from slow funeral dirges to brief passages of a chaotic, crude and morbid mess. While the execution of the guitar work is remarkable, it’s the way Cultes Des Ghoules incorporate the bass into their sound. Where-as most old school bands tend to follow the Darkthrone school of thought and not bother at all with any significant bass contribution, Cultes Des Ghoules obviously prefer the Greek technique where there more bass there is, the better. The bass tone is pure filthy, surrounding the guitars and vocals like a thick cloud of sulphur threatening to overpower you at any moment with its noxious essence.

It's refreshing when a band such Cultes Des Ghoules come along and remind people that not all black metal has to be relentless blasting or full of sweeping keyboards, for they take the most hostile aspects of black metal and warp them even further. Slow paced black metal that invokes all manners of evil abominations. Black metal with an old school aesthetic and genuinely uneasy atmosphere that wouldn’t be out of place as a soundtrack to a number of Lovecraft’s works, the Devil is most certainly alive here.


Buy it

Sunday, 24 April 2011

[ALBUM REVIEW] Flame - March Into Firelands

1. Black Realm of Satanas
2. Doomed...
3. Burning Horror
4. Fireland
5. Rites of Endless Hatred
6. Destructive Saint
7. Flaming Magic Assault
8. Gateway to the Birth of Lunacy

Boasting a production handled by the infamous Necromorbus who’s worked with bands of a calibre such as Watain and Funeral Mist, Flame’s sophomore effort March Into Firelands has finally seen the light of day, and is a much improved step up from their rather lacklustre debut. A parallel project alongside cult Finnish thrashers Urn, Flame sound very similar, stripped down sand-blasted black thrash, obnoxious and uncompromising similar to that of their close neighbours Nifelheim. With their influences permeating from the usual sources such as early Bathory, Hellhammer and Discharge you can be certain you’re going to be in for brief but utterly intense half hour of vicious, bestial thrash laced with pure grit.

March Into Firelands isn’t going to win any awards for progression or originality, but then in this field of blackened thrash not much ever is. There’s never any harm in wearing your influences for all to see on your sleeve, and when you do it as well as Flame have managed to here it’s always welcome. The guitar shares that same low-fi sound production of Hellhammer while the riffing is just downright filthy and old school. Combined this with the malicious atmosphere from The Return and you’ve got the standard template as to what all self-respecting black-thrash bands should at least be aiming for. Blackvenom’s vocals are situated heavily on the black side of the spectrum and could be best described as a mix between Quorthon’s black metal rasp and Jon Nödtveidt’s, and then add on a heap of reverb for an extra evil cavernous effect. Pretty standard practise really but hey, it works.

With songs like “Destructive Saint” and “Gateway to the birth of Lunacy” it’s hard not to move your head even a little bit, catchy riffs, thundering drumming and Blackvenom’s feral snarl, and with the deliberately low fi production onto of it, it’s all unashamedly old-school. The one problem I have with it is that it’s just too predictable, whereas bands like Desaster and Nifelheim are able to inject a fair amount of identity into each of their song, the songs on March into Firelands begin to blend together after repeated listenings. When you’re not paying full attention it’s easy to miss the ending of one song and the beginning of another and you think you’re still listening to the same song you were ten minutes ago. It’s still a great album though regardless and fans of blistering blackened thrash should certainly check it out, the musicianship is top notch and the music is downright primitive and relentless. They’re going in the right direction, just a bit more focus and I can’t see why they won’t be up there with the leaders in the genre on their next release, but as it is March into Firelands is enjoyable if not wholly original, and has left a good impression on these Fins.


Originally written for Metalcrypt


Friday, 22 April 2011

[ALBUM REVIEW] Hypomanie - A City in Mono

1. You Never Gazed at the Clouds
2. She Couldn't Find a Flower, But There was Snow
3. Smile
4. A City in Mono
5. A City in Stereo

The mysteriously dark and introspective Dutch shoegaze (and ex-black metal) outift Hypomanie is back again this time with their follow up to the début back in 2008, only this time they have, or rather Selwin has, undergone a complete stylistic change and appears to have a new, much more positive outlook on things. Gone are the days where he'd prefer to sing about all things dark and depressing, it appears these days the general atmosphere in the Hypomanie camp has taken a turn for the good with Selwin now penning wistful and nostalgic shoegaze bearing more than a slight nod to one of the genre's perfecter's, Slowdive.

If you've heard either of the two EPs previous to this release though, you will already know Hypomanie have been undergoing somewhat of a transformation or evolution the way I see it from average DSBM to the self titled EP while impressive, still heavily shackled with their roots to what we have now. A City in Mono only retains an ephemeral glimpse at Hypomanie's origins, for now their feet are firmly planted in thick shoegaze territory. Five songs and forty minutes of a huge wash of pulsating guitar surges and subtle drum work, all purely instrumental, which upon reflection was probably for the best as Selwin's vocals on previous works at times lets just say left a lot to be desired.

Straight from the off the album is absolutely dripping in Slowdive influence, you can hear it in everything from the riffing to the fantastic guitar breaks and the airy electronics which appear from time to time. One of the albums highlights is without doubt the opener “You Never Gazed at the Clouds” with its intense wall of distortion and the guitar break around the two minute mark which bears an uncanny resemblance to that of “I Saw the Sun”, giving that same sort of feeling you get when sitting by the coast and the sun breaks on the water and floods your head with nostalgia and that feeling you haven't got a care in the world. Following this up with some exquisite guitar work and more thick riffing and you've got something pretty special indeed. Consummate shoegazing bliss. The song kicks up a notch for the closing minute or two in an almost post-rock styled climax with a passing nod to the bands roots with the accelerated speed of the drumming and guitar, and slightly more conventional riffing style.

Some of the songs do tend to suffer from being repetitive, Alison-esque “She Couldn't Find a Flower, But There Was Snow” (which is guilty of having one of the worst song titles ever) drags a bit towards the end and might have been better cut in half, as is “A City in Mono” which after a strong start again wanes. But it's the albums long player, “A City in Stereo” which is my other main highlight of this release. Clocking in at almost ten and a half minutes, from it's delicate electronic introduction which carries its hypnotic resonance throughout the whole song which could have as easily been composed by God is an Astronaut through the chromatic and reflective guitar melodies which sound as fragile as life itself. Astonishingly beautiful and captivating and best likened to observing the eerie lull of a large cityscape in the dead of a clear winter night, awash with a hazy blur of ambers, reds and yellows.

There’s no doubt Slowdive are a huge influence on Selwin, and at times it does sound extremely similar, which believe me is no bad thing. Few bands have ever come close to capturing that ‘feeling’. Yes it is stretched a tad in the middle, but the sheer magnificence that bookends this album is pure genious. Dropping the vocals is the best thing Selwin has done to date, by transferring all the focus to the music itself it really allows the guitar work to shine. I would say this is the logical progression onwards from their EP’s, and leaps and bound ahead of the generic debut.



Buy it!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

[ALBUM REVIEW] Assaulter - Boundless!

1. Entrance
2. Outshine
3. Into Submission
4. Slave to King
5. The Perpetual War
6. Exalt the Master
7. Dying Day
8. The Great Subterfuge

Three years after the highly impressive début Salvation Like Destruction, Aussie thrashers Assaulter have returned to the fore once again with their latest opus, Boundless. What it is about the constant stream of great old school thrash metal coming from our comrades down under I've yet to figure, with bands such as Destroyer 666, Denouncement Pyre and Razor of Occam among the many who've been busy with releases lately you're spoilt for choice with filthy blackened thrash when it comes to Australia.

Musically Boundless casts off most of the black metal influences from the début and as a whole is a lot more stripped down and focused bearing a heavy Teutonic influence especially in the vocal department. But where-as Berserker's vocals owe a lot to the Teutonic thrash scene, the rest of the music owes as much to the likes of Mercyful fate as it does Kreator and Destruction. Two of the most noticeable improvements upon the début are in the production department and the overall variation. As good as the début was, let's be honest, it had a horrible guitar tone and in general overall very hollow production. Now with Metal blade behind them presumably they were able to come up with something a little bit more substantial and produced something with a bit of weight behind it.

As for the variety, you have the straight up one two to the jaw with openers “Entrance” and “Outshine” with their huge riffing and blistering leads that could easily have come off Pleasure to Kill and then on to numbers such as “Into Submission” and “Dying Day” which have nothing really thrash about them at all other than their vocals. More than anything they sound like a dirtier and more depraved Mercyful Fate than they do anything thrash. Then you've got “Slave to the King” which at first listen to the opening guitar melody I did a double take to make sure I wasn't listening to Melechesh. The vocals, the middle eastern guitar tone and the drum arrangements are identical to those off Syphnx. Probably one of the last influences I expected to hear from an Australian thrash outfit, but no bad thing. This ethnic influence actually appears quite a bit throughout the album but it's at its most noticeable here. The standout number on the album has to be the closer “The Great Subterfuge” with its 'in your face' rhythms and overall 'epic' feel to it, utterly powerful and compelling.

What I like about Boundless is that while as successful as blackened thrash from Australia has been recently, they've decided to shake things up a bit. They still retain all their roots and core influences that got them noticed in the first place, but with Boundless they've injected a touch of influences from outside the circle, and it's worked impressively. It's a huge step up from Salvation Like Destruction and a wise move, because all Aussie thrash bands these days seem to be living in Destroyer's shadow, and Assaulter have sidestepped that to an extent and can only go onwards and upwards from here on in.


Originally written for Archaic Magazine


Monday, 4 April 2011

[ALBUM REVIEW] Darkest Era - The Last Caress of Light

1. The Morrigan
2. An Ancient Fire Burns
3. Beneath the Frozen Sky
4. Heathen Burial
5. Visions of the Dawn
6. To Face the Black Tide
7. Poem to the Gael
8. The Last Caress of Light Before the Dark

There are a huge amount of bands in Ireland that are constantly vying to catch the eye of some bigwig metal exec hoping to propel them on to bigger and better things, some more deserving than others, but at the end of the day if you put in enough effort and get your name out there through whatever means necessary, if your motives are clean, then there's nothing stopping you.

Darkest Era have proved exactly that, through endless gigging every bar in the country and cementing themselves on some high calibre support slots throughout Europe, they caught the attention of the high rollers up in Metal Blade. That's not to say the fantastic demo The Journey Through Damnation didn't have any part to play in that, it certainly did, but your 'fantastic new awesome' demo release isn't worth the plastic it's recorded on if you don't put in the effort to 'get it out there' so to speak. I'm not naming names but there's many bands in Ireland who should take precedent from the sheer amount of blood, sweat and tears that got them into the position they are now. The fact they had a decent amount of exposure in Europe as early as the demo release, eventually culminating in a distribution deal with Northern Silence speaks volumes in itself.

One thing which seems to be completely unavoidable with Irish bands these days is the inevitable comparisons both musically and non-musically to Primordial. Maybe it's to do with what the media expects Irish metal to sound like, and it's a stereotype which can't and probably wont ever be shaken. It's everywhere and I'm sure most bands are sick of it, but with Darkest Era it is certainly justified to an extent so they might as well make the most of it, but they are much more than just a cheap Primordial knock off. The influences permeate from every nook and cranny throughout the album, whether its the classic Slough Feg approach to the guitar leads, the atavistic doomy atmosphere with which Primordial are synonymous to the traditional Irish folk music influence.

“The Morrigan” is one of two songs which survived the cut to make it onto The Last Caress of light from the demos, and just as well too, as it was the stand out track from The Journey Through Damnation. It's one of those songs that encapsulates the whole paradigm of everything metal is and should be, evocative, powerful and downright invigorating. With it's NWOBHM influenced guitar riffing and Krum's commanding vocal performance reinforced by a thunderous drum performance, you really couldn't ask for more. The monotony of the vocals are my only slight gripe, and remains an issue throughout the album, but it's only a minor issue at that, the sheer effort and vigour in the delivery more than make up for it.

This is the standard pretty much throughout the whole album, from the surging “Beneath the Frozen Sky” with its vocal lines bearing a striking resemblance to Storm Before Calm era Primordial to the desperation shrouded “Heathen Burial” to the eleven minute opus of “The Last Caress of Light Before the Dark”, a spine tingling journey of foreboding and anxiety, and one of those riffs at the midpoint which basically reaffirms why you began listening to metal in the first place. Utterly phenomenal. They even managed to fit in an acoustic number, “Poem to the Gael”, a gorgeous bleak introspective ballad of Irish melancholy with nothing but Krum and an acoustic guitar for the most part, almost like what Agalloch would sound like if they were Irish.

It's infectious, galloping folk metal, but without all the pretence and frills that only the Irish know how to do, and not a fiddle or tin whistle in sight. None of your saccharine and synthetic faux-folk tripe most of central Europe is peddling these days, it's music performed straight from the heart and with an unbound maturity which only shows just how far Darkest Era have come in these few short years. And long may it continue.



Originally written for Archaic Magazine