Monday, 10 October 2011

[ALBUM REVIEW] Sign of the Jackal - The Beyond

Genre: Heavy Metal

1. Hellhounds
2. Head Over Heels
3. Heavy Metal Demons
4. Paganini Horror
5. Night of the Undead

The Beyond is Italian horror-mad heavy metal mavericks The Sign of the Jackal’s debut EP. Recently signed to Heavy Artillery and a full length pencilled in for later this year, there’s not been a better time than the current for eighties throwback, spandex sporting testosterone fuelled heavy metal. With Enforcer, Cauldron, Portrait, In Solitude and Christian Mistress all making waves among a plethora of others, you’re spoilt for choice.

I mention Christian Mistress for they share one common asset, a female front woman with an ‘all out, balls out’ attitude, something which is unfortunately so few and far between these days. It’s gutsy, unadulterated metal ripped shamelessly straight out of the eighties, in the days where blonde perms and tight leather trousers were perfectly acceptable; a nostalgia trip perhaps, but when it’s executed as sublime as this, there’s nothing else in the world I’d rather listen to.

Our ‘Doro’ in question is Laura Coller, and she tears her way through this all too brief affair like a woman possessed. There’s no need to state the main influences by now, but if you guessed Warlock, Hellion and Maiden you’d be right on the money. Blistering duelling leads, high tempo drumming and Maiden-esque riffs driven by Laura’s compelling vocals, it’s a heavy metal aficionado’s dream.

From Killer’s styled intro on “Hellhounds” right through to the fantastic adrenaline pumping marriage of Bob and Max’s weaving guitar work and Laura wailing “Through the heat of the night” on“Night of the Undead” , I dare you to not clench your fist, even just once. Even the instrumental "Paganini Horror" is nothing but intense, flawless heavy metal, though something tells me they were listening to “You Give Love a Bad Name” before the recording. The resemblance is uncanny at times.

If you ever wondered what Enforcer would have sounded like with a female singer, well then here’s your answer. Straight from the church of true metal, The Beyond is twenty minutes of unrelenting metal excellence. If this is a taste of what’s to come, the full length better hurry the fuck up. From a country better known for its weak power metal and limp wristed ‘goth’ metal, I’m impressed!


Buy it!


Sunday, 9 October 2011

[ALBUM REVIEW] Falloch - Where Distant Spirits Remain

1. We are Gathering Dust
2. Beyond Embers & the Earth
3. Horizons
4. Where We Believe
5. The Carrying Light
6. To Walk Amongst the Dead
7. Solace

It’s not hard to see why this pair of Scots were so quickly snapped up by Candlelight. A native band who perform the same organic and grainy style of metal Agalloch, Alcest and the ilk are renowned for? With its recent boom in popularity, people are going to lap this up, and quite rightly so with such quality music as is on show here.

Ever since news of this project broke, I was cautiously anticipating this release, for the project is named after the Falls of Falloch in Scotland, a beauty spot in the heart of the Trossachs which I have visited myself a few times; a very fitting foundation for the album if you ask me.

Andy Marshall, backbone of the band also happens to be the same guy who was responsible for arguably the best Scottish black metal album ever, Askival’s Eternity. This came as a huge surprise as it isn’t exactly the first direction you’d expect an artist with whom the NSBM tag has been bandied about to take. It’s in a completely different boat altogether, and that’s none more obvious in the startling new direction Andy’s vocals have taken.

I’ll not lie, as soon as I heard the vocals initially my first thoughts were “Fuck, since when did 30 Seconds to Mars get heavy?” I despised them, though as time has passed I’ve grown accustomed to them. Hell I might even be starting to like, nay, maybe even love them. They will be like marmite to most though; a heavy immature slant to them, they are reminiscent to something from Kerrang’s filthy vaults. Then again, so would Neige if he sang in English, there’s not a big amount of difference between the two and it’s no surprise Alcest are a huge influence on While Distant Spirits Remain.

It’s fairly hard to categorize While Distant Spirits Remain. Loathe to use ‘post-black’, a tag which appears to get hurled around fervently and applied to anything which fails to fall within the traditional black metal template, it’s closer to the folk metal mould than anything else, Celtic in style with a fair amount of post-rock influence. I can even hear a slight hint of shoegaze from time to time. It’s not really black metal at all, borderline at times but nowhere near enough to be classed as such.

From “We Are Gathering Dust” with its echoes of Primordial in the riffing to the punch and driving rhythm of “Beyond Embers and the Earth” meshed so elegantly with tin whistle and acoustics, it’s almost impossible to pick any faults whatsoever with the music. Harsh vocals only appear sporadically throughout the album, a shrill howl that is the only remaining link along with the folky passages that remain on Askival. “Where We Believe” contains some of the best vocal lines of the album, dreamy yet flow perfectly around the acoustic guitar and ebbing riff work and blasting on the kit.

A special mention has to go out to the brief four minute instrumental “Horizons”. Bodhrán and flute are used together with such well constructed ease to create such an atmosphere that I can’t picture anything else other than myself sitting on the shores of Lomond as the sun creeps below the western mountains. Utterly inspiring stuff.

Fans of Alcest, Empyrium, Agalloch and all such bands similar could definitely do a lot worse than to check this out. Weathered, airy post-rock influenced folk metal which utilizes seamless transitions between the harsh distorted wash and the serene calm. The folk passages are presented with tact and authenticity unlike so many of those plastic European ‘folk’ metal bands. Sit back and let Where Distant Spirits Remain seep through your veins. It may not be instant, but when it does finally settle, it’ll be worth it.


Buy it!


Saturday, 8 October 2011

[ALBUM REVIEW] Blóðtrú - A Brighter Sun

1. Rising
2. Damaged
3. In Purity and in Light
4. When No Animal Bled for Us
5. Holy

A Brighter Sun, the follow up to Blóðtrú’s debut The Death of the Spirit, is a strange one. On first impressions, judging by the eye catching cover art I was prepared for some sort of pagan-esque black metal. On the contrary, for A Brighter Sun essentially two parts black metal, one part droning ambient. I’m not going to beat around the bush here; initially I was extremely underwhelmed by A Brighter Sun, it is an extremely raw and inaccessible release. It will take time to sink in and get your head around what Trua has on show here, but putting yourself into the eyes of the figures on the cover and you may begin to understand Blóðtrú’s almost-nautical black drone.

The first two tracks are the weaker here, and they just so happen to contain the majority of black metal on the album. An obscure drone underneath some erratic drumming opens “Rising” which a pissed off sounding Trua rants over the top of like some sort of rally, before halfway through enters a dreary, continual black metal riff which follows Trua’s spite filled vocals to the end of the song. It’s extremely hateful stuff on show here, and by the time it gets interesting, it’s too late and the song is over. “Damaged” follows a similar pattern, a basic riff to begin before kicking up to some wholly unoriginal fast tremolo riffing and static drumming. I have to commend Trua’s vocals though, they have power behind them and when in unison with the final riff, it’s effective.

By now it’s pretty obvious that the main focus is around the building of an atmosphere rather than creating something that you might be able to nod your head to, and that's none more evident than in the nineteen minute colossus “In Purity and in Light”. It crawls along for the first half in that droning black style, with its ebbing riff work and outro you may be able to see where I’m coming from with the ‘nautical’ feel. “When No Animal Bled For Us” is the real highlight here though, and where Blóðtrú show a significant amount of promise. Discarding the metal altogether, they adopt a minimalistic drone approach that’s flat out hypnotising. An isolated piano melody over a vague drone create an introspective soundscape that’s utterly bereft of life and downright depressing, and the way in which the wind and accordion together with the samples close out the song is nothing short of unnerving. My only gripe lies in the vocals which are heavily processed and far too loud, a tad more subtlety and less volume needed here.

It’s a testing listen; not everyone will appreciate it first time around, but give it a little time before dismissing it completely. A Brighter Sun is impenetrable, stripped down droning black metal built around a core of hate and desolation, which at times sounds as if it doesn’t really know quite where to go. My advice to Blóðtru? Drop the black metal, the ambient aspect of this release shows a lot more promise than third rate black metal riffing.


Buy it!

Friday, 7 October 2011

[ALBUM REVIEW] Acherontas - Fifteen Years Anniversary of Left Hand Path Esoterica

Disc 1

Tat Tvam Asi
1. Alfa: Genesis
2. Tat Tvam Asi
3. Soma ''Elixir of the Ancient Ones'' 0
4. Kali-Yuga
5. Sophia
6. The Final Harvest
7. The Dreamer
8. Omega: The Seal of the Dragon

Sic Luceat Lux
9. Τύμβος
10. Velvet Aurora
11. Kornugia
12. Silentio Est Aurum

Disc 2

1. bnH cEb kH can A
2. Pestilence of Mortality
3. The Winged Skull Rising
4. Oath of Fealty
5. Legacy of Tiamat
6. Dreams of Adam Kadmon
7. Theosis
8. Apethantos
9. Finis Coronat
10. Conjuration of the Five Negatives

...For the Temple of the Serpent Skull...
1. The Order of the Silver Serpent (I. Invocation / II. Sacrifice / III. Rising)

Greece has an extremely strong pedigree when it comes to quality underground black metal. Bands such as Varathron, Necromantia, Naer Mataron and Zemial among others have helped forge an undeniably important and oft overlooked scene in black metal. Acherontas itself is a relatively new venture, but are by no means newcomers to the Greek sphere, arguably stalwarts themselves having been around in one incarnation or another since their initiation as Worship in 1996. It’s not Greek black metal in the traditional mould; one listen to their previous project Stutthof will tell you that. Whereas bands like Necromantia and Varathron have that warm, bassy Hellenic sound, Acherontas adopt a rather more ‘Swedish’ sound while incorporating their own Greek mythology and various occult and spiritual themes. 15 Years Anniversary of Left Hand Path Esoterica contains four of their releases. Both albums Theosis and Tat Tvam Asi, and the two splits with Leviathan and Necromantia. So at the very least, you can’t complain about the value for money here.

The first album Tat Tvam Asi (Universal Omniscience), bears a lot in common with Stutthof, not quite as raw but still as vast and as downright abrasive as before. The guitar work is thick and scathing, the rolling riffing obliterating everything beneath it, the drumming is pedal to the metal and Acherontas’ vocals are absolutely ferocious. And the best part about it is? The fact they still manage to mantain an underlying melody throughout the whole album, and when those deep spoken word vocals appear, Tat Tvam Asi at times just couldn’t sound any more epic. They’re so fucking cheesy, but so good. It’s constantly morphing from one manifestation to another, never repeats itself and never leaves you with the chance to get bored, more impressive given the length of the album.

With an opener such as the title track, which bears a resemblance to Stutthof’s “Wampyric Metamorphosis” (one of the most barbaric and uncompromising black metal songs you’ll ever hear) to the grandiose, swaggering epic of “Kali-Yuga” and the intensity of “The Dreamer” with Acherontas’ spoken vocals making it sound like some sort of sermon, TTT is a great example of authentic and chaotic black metal. It isn’t completely without flaws though, one or two of the tracks drag a touch, and there are a couple of pointless instrumental tracks, but the vast majority of TTT is a tidal wave of pure unrelenting evil. The final four tracks on the first CD are off the Leviathan split, production remarkably worse, of which “Kornugia” is the only track worth anything. Fierce, hell-bent riffing for the grand majority before mutating into a sublime piece of guitar twiddling that sees the song to the finish.

Theosis, the second album here is the weaker of the two. It doesn’t quite have that ‘sweltering’ atmosphere TTT does. It’s a bit straighter up as well, although with tracks such as “Pestilence of Mortality” which is an absolute behemoth of a song, wall to wall of grinding riffs and thundering vocals, it’s still hard to complain. A special mention must go out to “Legacy of Tiamat” though, its echoing intro giving way to a piledriver of dense riffing, blasting drums and those spoken vocals which get me every single time. It’s occult and epic in every sense, and without a doubt the highlight of the two discs. The final track on disc two is off the Necromantia split, a huge number clocking in at seventeen minutes comprising of three movements, beginning with some creepy voices before the headbanging riffs and Acherontas’ huge vocals return. It’s impressive, though let down slightly by a shitty snare drum.

In the grand scheme of things, you’d be hard pressed to find a better collection of traditional black metal retaining the ethics and semblance of mystery of yesteryear, yet still incorporating its own unique identity at the same time. At times enigmatic and downright obscure and others flat out rabid, Fifteen Years is a glorification of everything occult, black metal that keeps you on your toes and as blistering as Satan’s sandals. Two words, buy it!



Buy it!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

[ALBUM REVIEW] Nocturnal Depression - Reflections of a Sad Soul

1. Intro
2. The Whispering Sepctrum
3. Fading Away in the Fog
4. Solitude & Despair
5. Her Ghost Haunts These Walls
6. Nevica

France’s most wretched and pessimistic black metal band are back once again to spew forth their current pain and misfortune upon our unwitting ears. Reflections of a Sad Soul is their third outing and has recently been rereleased on Sun & Moon records, and our eternally perturbed duo of Lord Lokhraed and Herr Suizid are as downright fucking depressed as ever.

If you’re familiar with Nocturnal Depression, you’ll know what to expect; expansive dirges commonly reaching the twenty minute mark of a hypnotic and thought-devouring nature of which repetition is used to its full advantage. The formula hasn’t changed, but as the old cliché goes, why fix what isn’t broken in the first place? Nostalgia and Soundtrack were both very accomplished efforts which stand easily among the best the DSBM genre has to offer, Reflections of a Sad Soul maintains this quality, on a par with Soundtrack maybe but not quite reaching the devastating heights of Nostalgia, one of the greatest albums of this style ever, an album which encapsulates everything which is good about the DSBM genre.

So, getting down to the music itself, Reflections doesn't get itself off to the greatest of starts. A throwaway intro before it switches to the most disappointing track on the album, “The Whispering Sepctrum”. It knows where it wants to go, but is lacking that final quality catalyst to shift it up to the gear it needs. The guitars plod along at snail’s pace with a basic riff which it never really deviates from, backed by a relatively simple drum pattern and overlain by Lokhraed’s lazy sounding vocals. You could just split the song in half, remove the second half and double the first, and it would still sound exactly the same. Simply put, it’s just not very good.

It’s a good thing then that “Fading Away in the Fog” ups the ante a large amount, cranking up the speed a notch with more traditional tremolo style riffing with Lokhraed’s Kanwulf-esque vocals. The main riff which comes in around three minutes and recurs frequently throughout this song is fantastic, and the way in which it closes the song in unison with Lokhraed’s nauseating vocal lines and increased speed is fantastic. “Solitude and Despair” is a brief (for Nocturnal Depression’s standards!) instrumental minimalist piece containing rather hypnotic guitar picking which flows along quite effectively until the drums come in and totally ruin the whole fucking atmosphere.

Then, we have what I would consider Nocturnal Depression’s ‘magnum opus’, a track which they’ve never bettered. “Her Ghost Haunts These Walls” is eleven minutes of nothing but pure melancholy and torment, the light guitar picking throughout constantly hammering away at the back of your head like that one memory which just won’t leave, coming back horrifically more intense each time; An example of repetition being used to great effect. Things are kicked up a notch towards the end, and Suizid’s riffing together with Obeyron’s uneasy leads and Lokhraed’s vocals threaded throughout the closing stages of the song culminate in what is a crescendo of nothing but pure hopeless emotion. Any self-respecting fan of this style of black metal needs to hear this song; A perfect example at how to perform this style of music and avoid the pitfalls that snare so many other bands who end up degenerating into self-parody.

After such a stunning song, “Nevica” has a lot to live up to, though not a song about the ski brand much to my disappointment. Again, sticking with the brooding melancholy, in the same vein as before, while not as good as the previous it still keeps the bar high before with the second half of the song being a lot more engaging than the first.

One of the standout aspects of this releases is Obeyron’s lead work, subtle yet welling with misery, why this is his only performance with the band I don’t know. I guess only Lord Lokhraed can tell us. Yes it still has problems, flat and amateurish drumming at times and a shitty thin production, but fuck it, this isn’t Dimmu Borgir, this is a superb quality release which succeeds in being genuinely depressive rather than full of spotty teenage angst. It isn’t as good as Nostalgia, but being their out and out masterpiece they’ll probably never better it, but I am more than welcome to being made to eat my words on that. Roll on the next album, I already have my box of tissues.


Buy it!

[ALBUM REVIEW] Mord'A'Stigmata - Antimatter

1. Blood of the Universe
2. Kinetic Dogma
3. De Magnum Opus Solis
4. Antimatter
5. Metatron and the Waters
6. Serpent Salvation
7. Writes the names of Ghosts
8. Theophagia
9. Eternity is Pregnant

Mord’a’Stigmata are a band from Poland who have recently unleashed their latest offering on Sun & Moon records. Antimatter is fifty minutes of dissonant, avant-garde black metal containing various esoteric and spiritual themes which follow the same detached blueprints of the much lauded Norwegians Ved Buens Ende and French hipster darlings Deathspell Omega. This form of black metal certainly isn’t the easiest to replicate, and can be difficult to pull it off and avoid coming across a bunch of self indulgent pricks.

It’s a good thing then for Mord’a’Stigmata that Antimatter is actually a very solid effort but is extremely hard to digest on first go though, stick at it and you will be rewarded. Much like any prog album, it’s better to sit down with it, headphones in paying full attention. It’s an extremely varied and technical album, which being one of its strengths, is also its main downfall. It tends to lose focus after a while and any sort of structure collapses out beneath everything and it descends into a bit of an almighty free for all of guitar and drumming. The good points though do outweigh the negatives though, if only slightly.

Performance wise, Antimatter can’t be faulted, the drum work is fast, intricate and varied and the blasting is used tastefully throughout, something many black metal bands could do with a bit of help on, while the guitar tone is thick and disharmonic, ‘orthodox’ in sound, ranging from some huge riffs to off kilter leads. The guitar work on Antimatter does get notably heavy at times, and sometimes is more reminiscent of something off Altars of Madness or Cause of Death and this is also very noticeable in the harsh vocals of Ion, which are lower than your typical black metal shriek, a low guttural which occasionally ranges to clean vocals which are pretty weak. Not bad enough to spoil the album, but certainly nothing to write home about. One listen to “Serpent Salvation” and the death metal influence will be clear.

Antimatter musically is nigh flawless, the technicality and precision of the musicianship is superb, but its main problem as is the case with so much ‘avante-garde’ stuff is that much of it just isn’t very memorable. Towards the end of the album my attention began to wane, but there are a few inspired moments to be found here, most notably on the tracks “Kinetic Dogma” and “...It Writes the Names of Ghosts” which contain some astounding guitar and drum work. It lacks a certain cohesion and impact that may very well one day put them on the same pedestal as Deathspell Omega and Dødheimsgard. The ability is there, they just have to build on this.


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