Monday, 31 January 2011
1. Trick the Vicar
2. The 95 Thesis
3. Materia Prima
4. Free Market Barbarian
5. Lycanthropic Fantasies
6. Ask the Casket
8. The Tell-Tale Heart (Alan Parsons Project cover)
10. Second Coming
11. Tactical Air War
Slough Feg are one of those bands who deserve a lot more recognition that they have, eight full lengths of immaculate, classic heavy metal with a quirky manner and saturated with energy, there's really nothing to dislike about them. Toiling away in heavy metal's semi-underground ranks for the past twenty years now, Mike Scalzi has been around a bit, although you wouldn't think it as they sound just as fresh now as they did with the self titled fourteen years ago.
With The Animal Spirits now their eighth full length release and third in four years, they appear to be drawing from a freshly discovered pool of inspiration. I will admit I was slightly apprehensive as to the quality of material on this, as Hardworlder had a noticeable dip in quality to the previous material, and Ape Uprising wasn't a heap better, bar one or two outstanding tracks peppered here and there. Ever since they cut “The Lord Weird” from their name I felt there was slight decline in their music. As soon as the album had finished playing though, I felt the need to hit the repeat button straight away. This was the true Slough Feg I used to know.
It's not quite as immediate as their golden works, none of the songs jump right out and shout 'classic' like “Vargr Moon” or “Sky Chariots”, The Animal Spirits is a lot more subtle in it's execution with the grainy almost warm riffing taking time to pierce you with their doom tinted talons. Scalzi's vocals are as you'd expect them if you've heard Slough Feg before, his signature drawl with a slight nod to cult U.S. Metal hero Mark Shelton. It's primarily his unique vocals that set Slough Feg aside from everyone else, he's always been in a completely different league than most when it comes to his vocal abilities. Take for example the patterns he utilizes in “Second Coming” or even “Free Market Barbarian” with a chorus as good as such hasn't been heard in a while from these guys. But let's not just heap all the accolades and acclaim on their iconic frontman, Harry Cantwell's drumming is intricate yet not overpowering and complementing that 70's hard rocking groove created by Adrain Maestas' crude throbbing basslines and the guitarists Thin Lizzy-esque riffing. Song's such as “The 95 Thesis” and “Heavyworlder” both hark back to the days of Traveller yet at the same time have a unassailable uniqueness to them, an almost primal feel which is present throughout the whole album. Plus “Tactical Air War” has Bob Wright from Brocas Helm on vocals, one of the bands who has played the biggest part in Slough Feg's sound. How can you possibly beat that?
There's one thing you can always count on the 'Feg for, and thats the outlandish and ridiculous lyrical themes, here we have song's about vampire love, shameless puns on religion and Mike even has time for a brief spot of reminiscence in “Second Coming”. Unfortunately there isn't anything about canine space ship pilots. Maybe next time eh? The Celtic influence is even greater this time round and a major factor in the improvement in the quality of the material on this release, this is their 'softest' release yet, for want of a better word and has more in common with the celtic icons Thin Lizzy than anyone else really. At times it remains refined yet bewitching, and others saunters on in a hazy drunken swagger. This is right up there with Down Among the Deadmen and Traveller, and if you thought the previous two were a bit drab, sweep them under the carpet and buy this!
Originally written for Archaic Magazine
Sunday, 30 January 2011
1. Intro - The Lament from the Horizon of Events / Raging Eagles
2. Dance of the Shadows
3. Four Fucking Wolves
4. Astral Journey
5. Into the Fog
6. Seeking Inside the Memory
7. Silence Squadron
8. Old and Cold
Chelmno play some of the most raucous, dis-harmonic black metal you are likely to come across. Harsh and downright primitive, Horizon of Events is the second outing by these Italian chaos merchants. Veering closer to Clandestine Blaze territory with the sheer filth clad attitude to their take on black metal, Horizon of Events isn't going to be one for your casual fan of black metal. Stormlord this is not.
Take Darkthrone at their best and early Graveland and completely remove the bottom altogether. There is a bassist credited on the release, and call me a cloth eared false if wrong, but I struggle to hear anything remotely resembling that fabled four string instrument. I know production and lack of bass is common place in obscure black metal but when I mean the production on this release is bad, I mean it is absolutely fucking horrible, not quite transcending Ildjarn boundaries yet though. Luckily for Chelmno though, the music is downright brilliant.
I'll admit, the cover did throw me at first, I was hoping for something similar to Kataxu or even Darkspace, but I'll certainly take this though. Right from the opening drone of the intro right through to the fade out of “Old and Cold”, Horizon of Events is thirty seven minutes of almost punkish riffing which at times is disgustingly catchy (see “Four Fucking Wolves” circa 2:20) and others totally malign and immersed in feedback. Repetition is used tactfully and within reason throughout, remaining just long enough to envelope the listener in the austerity before transforming into another riff before ever becoming monotonous. The songs range from the higher tempo (early) Bathory-esque punk influenced numbers to longer mid paced numbers such as “Into the Fog” which is rather more gradual and foreboding. Asides from the fantastic guitar work here the other stand out element of Chelmno's sound is the drumming, performed by Vidharr of Tenebrae in Perpetuum fame, who effectively dictates the tempo of the music with the drumming acting as the backbone. It's simple yet at the same time alternates frequently throughout each song, avoiding many of the snares other drummers get caught up in. The vocals are typical to most underground black metal, they float about just behind the guitars and appropriate enough. Not amazing by any stretch but fit for their purpose.
When I first approached this record I was hoping for something 'atmospheric' you could say, and that's what I got, but not in the manner I anticipated. Syrupy keyboards and clichéd sampling foregone in favour of the more traditional form of creating an atmosphere of blood curdling malevolence solely with a guitar, a set of drums, a voice and that elusive bass as well; that takes a whack more talent than some idiot playing with his downloaded nature sounds CD. This album wont appeal to everyone, not least because of the drab attempt at production, but I suppose in a way it adds character to the release, but I still think a lot more muscle could have been put on the guitar tone and the bass turned up to an audible level, if it's there at all. As for the music itself though, it's an illustrious attempt a style of black metal which is becoming somewhat endangered of late. Definitely one for the fans of Clandestine Blaze, early Bathory and Graveland.
Sun & Moon
Saturday, 29 January 2011
1. Cognition of Fear
2. Masskilling Masshealing
Notes of Antihate Profound is a short two song EP by Polish black metal stalwarts Massemord. Active since 2000 and with three full length albums already on the mantelpiece, Massemord know what they're doing. They've been around long enough to establish their name as one of the more relevant and successful acts to come out of the Polish scene in recent years.
First thing's first, if you have heard Massemord before, then you should know exactly what to expect, for the two tracks on this release follow exactly the same procedure as before; hammering the shit clean out of the drums until they're obliterated, traditional styled tremolo riffing and raw scathing rasping vocals straight from the book of Legion. “Textbook definition of old Marduk?” you say? Almost but not quite. The comparisons are inevitable to anyone playing this style of Black Metal these days but the two song's “Cognition of Fear” and “Masskilling Masshealing” are saturated with dynamic and pulverising riffs speared by Namtar's savage vocals, and conjure an arctic, knife laced atmosphere to boot, which is where so many of these bands fail. It may follow a fairly washed-out formula, but Massemord are one of the few in the small percentage who can pull it off without sounding completely derivative.
Notes of Antihate Profound is extremely well performed on a whole. It is only an EP so it was always going to be short, but I suppose is an apt showcase of the bands sound, because the rest of the material doesn't differ from this at all. It's the band's forte for being able to create some distinctly impressive riff driven black metal that snared me. No it's not original or revolutionary, but it will fill a gap and is certainly more than engaging. In short, fans of Marduk will love this short chaotic release of unholy violence, for others who aren't too sure, it's a good sampler of what the rest of their releases have to offer. One thing though, have they been taking lessons from Dimmu Borgir on how to name their releases?
Tuesday, 25 January 2011
1. They Escaped the Weight of Darkness
2. Into the Painted Grey
3. The Watcher's Monolith
4. Black Lake Nidstång
5. Ghosts of the Midwinter Fires
6. To Drown
Possibly one of the, if not the most highly anticipated album of 2010 finally hit the shelves in late November. Their unique brand of heavily post-rock influenced Black/Doom hybrid has earned them a substantial following in both metal and non-metal circles alike. So how does their first full length since the majestic break through album of Ashes Against the Grain fare then? Well put simply, it's not a disappointment in the slightest.
There's no denying black metal has been somewhat finally making waves into territories never considered viable before, and depending on your outlook this is either 'about time' or heresy of levels unimaginable. Many hate Agalloch solely for this reason alone, they along with bands like Alcest and Wolves in the Throne Room have introduced what they would describe as 'undesirables' into their sacred genre, and frequently used the scapegoat that they've been diluting the 'black' in their metal progressively since their début. Well that isn't a valid excuse anymore, as Marrow of the Spirit is probably the most 'black metal' album they've done.
The post-rock influences are still there, but the album is a lot more Katatonia and In the Woods than it is Godspeed! or Swans. The most notable casualty of the increase in intensity is the omission of John Haughm's clean vocals, as I always considered these a big part of Agalloch's identity. Enough of what isn't in the album though, because what is in the album is six magnificent tracks, dynamic, melancholic and yet compelling and still managing to retain that primitive heathen aura that's unmistakably Agalloch. The album starts out with “They Escaped the Weight of Darkness”, effectively a prelude to the album, and nothing more than a solitary cello over the sound of running water and birdsong. An appropriate mood setter but nothing overtly remarkable. The first proper track “Into the Painted Grey” is where the increase in intensity is most recognizable. From the blistering drumming of Ludicra drummer Aesop Dekker to the traditional black metal style riffing, it's Agalloch as vicious as we've ever heard them. Haughm's vocals never vary from his throaty rasp, but luckily enough, his harsh vocals are just as impressive as his clean. The guitar throughout the album is heavily layered with acoustic passages and leads seamlessly interwoven with the heavier riffing. Agalloch always had a penchant for long songs, and no-one does it quite so well. Each song remains highly engaging due to the effortless transitions between various sections in the song and the sheer diversity in instrumentation is but a part of this operation. Take for example the atavistic yet absolutely stunning “Ghosts of Midwinter Fire”, from it's serene, echoed opening notes right through to the ending of a climax which is not far off from something Mogwai would produce. The real pinnacle of the album comes in the shape of “Black Lake Niðstång” though the apocalyptic introduction with forebearing drumming, classical guitar passages and Huaghm's ominous whispering through a cold doomy centre of total desperation and bleakness ending in a mix of obscure electronic sounds and a more traditional black metal sound, it's Agalloch at their most downright depressing and is utterly emotionally draining. “The Watcher's Monolith” is one of the more upbeat numbers on the album and has more in common with the Agalloch albums of old than this and the closer “To Drown” in typical Agalloch fashion finishes the album leaving the listener totally entranced, and to be perfectly honest, could have easily been a Godspeed! song just as much it is Agalloch.
The album is unequivocally their most ferocious release to date, but it still retains that whole post-rock atmosphere they're famous for, more so in structure than sound this time around though. They pull off the whole untainted, primal earthen sound better than anyone else. This is mainly due to their influences from neo-folk bands such as Sol Invictus and Death in June. It may not be obvious in the music, but this neo-folk influence and coupled with the post-rock influence provide the base to Agalloch's sound, while the metal forms the backbone. Agalloch are unrivalled at what they do, and if you're a fan of that natural, ashen sound you probably need no introduction to Agalloch. But if not, and looking for the textbook soundtrack to the dreary, washed out portents of Autumn, I don't know a better album. Imitator's will come and go, some are better than others such as the likes of Gallowbraid, but at the end of the year Agalloch have come back just to remind everyone that they're still around, and to show them just exactly how it's done.