Friday, 26 October 2012

[ALBUM REVIEW] Darkenhöld - Echoes from the Stone Keeper


Genre - Melodic Black Metal

1.     Intro         
2.     Alchemy and Arcana         
3.     Wyvern Solitude Chant         
4.     Echoes from the Stone Keeper         
5.     March of the Sylvan Beasts         
6.     Interlude         
7.     Mesnie Hellequin         
8.     Chasm of Asylake         
9.     Nightfall and the Fire Doom         
10.     Castle Ruins Anthem

Darkenhold initially came to my attention with their collaboration last year with compatriots Aorlhac on the La Maisniee du Maufe split, a band who they share many attributes with. Both draw their influences heavily from the old Norwegian black metal scene with the likes of Emperor, Satyricon and Taake forming the bulk of their sound, a heavily riff-centric strain of melodic black metal. They're also both from roughly the same area in South/South Eastern France, and most importantly with the the release of Echoes of the Stone Keeper, they're both fucking awesome. The tracks off the split were decent but nothing outstanding, similarly their debut release A Passage to the Towers... was a modest release that had all the echoes of a band who were yet to hit their true stride.

So enter their sophomore effort, Echoes of the Stone Keeper, with its pummeling, semi-melodic tremolo riffs and expansive patchwork of synth based atmospheres draped behind, it has all the hallmarks and qualities of a band who have really worked hard to hone their sound and create something very distinguished and memorable indeed. If you know Darkenhold already, you'll know they have a fetish for all things medieval and fantasy, more specifically, wyverns and castles, so you'd expect the music to reflect this then right? Correct, the atmosphere has been kicked up a notch or two and the arcane keys of which Echoes... is comprised of really emphasize that eerie, haunting and medieval atmosphere Darkenhold are striving for. Atmospherics wise, oft overlooked Norwegian act Wallachia I suspect play a huge influence in this, while the 'metal' itself is drawn from the same pool which gave us Satyricon, Emperor and even Abigor among others.

Like Wallachia, the album sounds like it was composed in some crusty old ancient dilapidated castle in the middle of Transylvania. It's melodic black metal constructed and delivered exactly the way it should be, huge immersive swathes of synth/key driven atmosphere at no expense to the fundamentals of black metal whatsoever, and getting that appropriate balance is a difficult thing to achieve. The guitar is in fact arguably the strongest element of Echoes.., the riffing is utterly scathing as it should be, and suitably diverse as no two riffs ever sound similar. Tracks like “Under the Sign of Arcanum” and “Chasm of Asylake” even have a sprinkling of acoustics just to mix things up a little and further compound that mystic and archaic atmosphere. The Satyricon influence in the riffing is painfully obvious, they could be very well lifted straight off Nemesis Divina itself, but that's no bad thing, for just listen to the absolutely devastating introduction to “Castle Ruins Anthem” or one of the many riffs in “Wyvern Solitude Chant” and you'll see exactly what I mean.

Aboth turns out an extremely impressive performance behind the kit as well, a thoroughly assorted affair refraining from the typical flat out blasts and unrelenting hi-hat abuse, a good drum performance being a rarity in black metal. A special mention must go out to “Nightfall and the Fire Doom” though, the out and out standout track here which can only be described as majestic, a sprawling behemoth of a track drenched in esoteric chanting, sepulchral riffing and an enthralling, enchanting atmosphere which lasts for six very brief minutes before fading out to something not unlike Wongraven. “Caslte Ruins Anthem” as well it must be noted is an absolute bulldozer of a track with that opening riff and it's staunch medieval sway which what I imagine the perfect combination of Satyricon and Wallachia to sound like.

The really full production does wonders for the music here as well, not exactly clean but thankfully not ever entering 'bees in a biscuit tin' territory. Echoes of the Stone Keeper is exactly what I expect 'medieval black metal' to sound like, like it was recorded in a colossal and grandiose gold littered throne room from the depths of some far fetched fantasy novel. It's distinctly unrepetitive and broad enough that there's always something going on that your mind never wanders. Darkenhold have really stepped up to the plate with this one and they'll be a force to be reckoned with in the future. This is majestic and melodic black metal performed about just as well as you're going to hear all year, and an album that will definitely be up there in my end of year list. Highly recommended. 


Sounds like - Wallachia, Nerthus, Aorlhac 

Originally written for Metalcrypt 

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

[ALBUM REVIEW] Visigoth - Final Spell


Genre - Heavy Metal

1. Creature of Desire
2. Final Spell
3. Seven Golden Ships
4. Call of the Road

Just look at that cover, if that doesn't instill you with confidence from the outset then you're a lost fucking cause. Visigoth are a relatively new band hailing from the heavy metal wasteland of Utah, and coming at a period when it appears the latest traditional metal revival trend is slowly winding down, are an absolute breath of fresh air to these ears. Fair enough, as far as finding originality goes, especially in the traditional metal scene these days is about as fruitful as pissing up a rope but when it's performed as well as this, who the fuck needs originality? Final Spell is the band's second release after their decent enough demo Vengeance from 2010, and where it was set firmly in barefaced doom laden Omen territory, Final Spell has all the characteristics and glint of a band who have finally 'found' their sound, where much bigger and better things inevitably await.

So they have abandoned the epic, pounding US style for more traditional style of flat out heavy metal with a strong aroma of Euro power metal, much like countrymen Twisted Tower Dire, in fact so much so Final Spell is what their last album could have sounded like without the scourge of Johnny Aune. At times the similarities are uncanny and especially on “Call of the Road” which bears a striking semblance to Make it Dark, sound a bit more than coincidental, still I guess there are worse bands you could sound like. Jake's vocals are what really bring these tracks to life though, and imagine my surprise when I discovered this was the same voice behind the Agalloch worship act Gallowbraid. The tenacity and conviction with which he tears through the vocal melodies present on Final Spell is astounding.

Creature of Desire”, an anthem to metal's favorite two wheeled warrior machine has all the echoes of early Hammerfall and Priest with its sublime vocal harmonies, rolling riffs and spiraling guitar leads making the only place you want to be is hitting the highway with wind in your hair and metal coursing through your veins. The title track raises the bar even higher with it's criss crossing Maiden-esque shred and high tempo drumming, and when Jake nails that final scream you can't help but feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, even Halford himself would be proud. I cannot stress enough how strong the vocals are here, the polished production really does them justice. I'd liken them to Rain Irving from While Heaven Wept or even Harry Conklin if I had to chose anyone. “Seven Golden Ships” has a imposing crunch to the riffing in it, the guitars noticeably heavier but no less effective. Closer “Call of the Road” is more of a straight forward infectious 'rocker' for want of a better word, lively rhythms, blazing guitar leads and stratosphere piercing vocals, which as previously stated sound suspiciously like a couple of tracks from Twisted Tower Dire's last effort.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, no matter what genre of metal you tend to favour, there is nothing greater than pure unadulterated adrenaline pumping heavy metal performed the way the masters intended it, and this is exactly the way they envisioned it. Jake delivers his vocal lines like a man possessed and the performances on the guitars are nothing short of spectacular. Simply put if leather clad, fist-clenching and testosterone fueled metal borne from the smell of burnt tarmac and rubber is your thing then go buy this, if it isn't then go fucking buy it anyway and be converted. Bring on a full length, I'm getting withdrawal symptoms already, this shit is like musical crack.


Originally written for Dead void Dreams

Sounds like - Judas Priest, Twisted Tower Dire, Jag Panzer

Monday, 22 October 2012

[ALBUM REVIEW] Witchrist - The Grand Tormentor


Genre - Doom Death/Black Metal

1. Into the Arms of Yama
2. The Grand Tormentor
3. Meditation for Sacrifice
4. Wasteland of Thataka
5. Exile
6. Beyond Darkness and Death
7. The Tomb
8. Tandava
9. Cast into Fire
10. Funeral Lotus 

Beheaded Ouroboroswas one of my top rated releases of 2010, one of the most downright unrelentingly putrid and heavy albums to crawl out of the gutter that year with its insane gutturals and earth cracking guitar riffs. Certainly if esoteric Death Metal that takes its leads from the Helmkamp inspired barbarity of ANGELCORPSE and ORDER FROM CHAOS along with INCANTATION's monolithic death processions then you've come to the right place. Fresh off making the transition from Ireland's Invictus to the high-flying Osmose, The Grand Tormentor” is the sophomore effort from this act and big things were expected. So how much has this unholy monstrosity progressed since their awe inspiring debut? Well, if it was possible to better such a masterpiece then somehow they have managed to do it with “The Grand Tormentor”, and in the process managed to make it somehow even fucking heavier than before. The result is a band who now along with countrymen DIOCLETIAN are now essentially the flag bearers for extreme metal in New Zealand.

'Into the Arms of Yama' kicks off proceedings, a ten minute filth encrusted opus that plunges you straight into the inferno with its initial INCANTATION-esque Death/Doom dirge with the impression that this is “The Grand Tormentor” slowly dragging its lumbering bulk up and out of the pit awakening for its tyranny on the world above. This eventually succumbs to a menacing drumbeat, down tuned guitars soaked in distortion and Void's inhuman gutturals hovering just beneath the music like unearthly bubbles of evil, which I suppose is basically the foundation for the whole album. Once you've heard this you'll understand what I mean about this being incredibly heavy, I mean there's more crushing low end present on “The Grand Tormentor” than the collective mass of your average American 'Weight Watchers' class. The tempo of the album varies frequently enough so things never get stagnant, faster passages with some rather headbangable rhythms intertwined with those previously mentioned slow and foreboding ones. Such an examples of faster moments would be the likes of the title track which hits you with an intensity which could cleave skulls or 'Wasteland of Thataka' of which the only way to describe is as pure unholy barbarism. The production here is such that as fucked up, chaotic and asphyxiating as it is, it still lends extremely well to each individual aspect of the music. All the instruments have enough clarity to flourish in their own given way, and when you can include two songs over nine minutes on album and still retain the listeners attention then you're onto a winner.

The music hits you like a wave of thick black tar with a noxious putrescence; the riffs bore through with a grinding ferocity ranging from doomy dirges to echoes of Black Metal with frantic tremolo picking and the drums ominous like an encroaching thunder while the vocals indecipherable and sickening, lurk beneath. Hell there's even time now and again for a few esoteric solos to raise their head. It almost sounds as if this is one of Satan's apocalyptic sermons that has been spewed straight up through a vent from the underworld and presented itself in all its fetid, sulphuric glory as what we now know as “The Grand Tormentor”. It's pretty much the embodiment of the 'anti-mainstream' within Death Metal, no technical nonsense and no melody whatsoever, just a sewage pit of ritualistic Doom Death Metal insanity. Fans of DIOCLETION, HERESIARCH and WRATHPRAYER probably already need no introduction to these guys, but this should definitely appeal to those who are fans so-called 'War Metal' and of bands such as INCANTATION, WINTER and even ASPHYX. Just be warned, gas masks out lads, you'll certainly fucking need them


Sounds like - Wrathprayer, Incantation, Diocletian

Originally written for The Metal Observer 

Saturday, 20 October 2012

[ALBUM REVIEW] King Dude - Burning Daylight


Genre - Neofolk/ Gothic Country

1.       Intro                     
2.       Holy Land                           
3.       Barbara Anne                   
4.       I'm Cold                               
5.       Vision In Black                  
6.       Jesus In The Courtyard                 
7.       I Know You're Mine                       
8.       My Mother Was The Moon                        
9.       Lorraine                              
10.   You Can Break My Heart                              
11.   Lord, I'm Coming Home

I’ve always felt a certain unashamed bias towards Seattle’s newest occult folk export in the shape of King Dude ever since the day I discovered I share a name with that fascinatingly haunting voice behind the project, TJ Cowgill. Being a huge fan of neo-folk music myself this was also a bonus as much of King Dude’s sound is shaped by the pioneers of that scene such as Death in June, Current 93 and the ilk, or well it was anyway, as after listening to Burning Daylight it’s hard not to notice the remarkable progression musically our man in black has made since My Beloved Ghost. They’ve basically broadened the spectrum from a no frills acoustic neo-folk act into something altogether more inspired and distinct with Burning Daylight. Infact the neo-folk influence has been hugely toned down in favour of something much more dark and apocalyptic, with a veneer of dark and sarcastic humour to it all. Gone are the catchy acoustic folk ditties such as “Spiders in her Hair” and “Big Blue Eyes” in favour of gloomy, occult and whiskey soaked gothic Americana with significantly more in common with Johnny Cash, SWANS and Nick Cave than it does Death in June or Sol Invictus.

Drawing his influences from ‘The Great Disappointment’, a period in the nineteenth century when a bunch of lunatics awaited the return of Jesus, and surprisingly ended up distinctly disappointed when the asshole didn’t honour his appointment, the album is expectedly involved with Christianity.    “Holy Death” begins proceedings with a heavily martial drumbeat and is awash with the same obscure dissonance you’d hear from SWANS, indeed I can even a slight Michael Gira influence in Cowgill’s vocals as he delivers his earth shaking baritone through a dense film of reverb. He’s always loved his reverb, and Burning Daylight is again, drowned in it. It adds huge waves of atmosphere to the esoteric subject matter Burning Daylight is based upon. The huge SWANS influence again rears its head again in “I’m Cold” and also the magnificently morbid “Jesus in the Courtyard” which is essentially what Johnny Cash would have sounded like if he decided to take on a booming Gira-influenced form of no-wave. To say this track is stunning is somewhat of an understatement, it projects visions of an altogether disturbing, underground black and white 50’s America all through a thick veil of cigarette smoke. “He got the devil around his finger, Jesus around his neck, none wants him in this world or the fucking next” he bellows with a genuine sonority.

The likes of “Barbara Anne” and “Lorraine” lighten the mood a bit with their more romantic theme, for there’s only so many doom laden dirges the mind can take in one sitting, and although “Lorraine” for me is arguably filler material. “Barbara Anne” is another fantastic tune delivered with devastating simplicity with its one-two boot heel kick and whiskey soaked croak. Variation is key for albums such as these and it’s one attribute Cowgill nails right square between the eyes. No two songs are sound the same and in this genre of music that’s a fucking miracle. “Vision in Black” harks back to Love and with its exceedingly infectious drumbeat resonating beneath a simple yet catchy guitar line with those heavily reverbed vocals just amounts to another song which you’ll find hard to get out of your head, and again the same could be said for the black humour of “I Know You’re Mine”. Hell there’s even room for a few shoegaze influences to seep through in “My mother was the Moon” in the delicate, glistening  spangle of its guitar work and bliss laden vocals which unless the Dude suddenly lost his ballsack, I guess done by an external unnamed female party.

The highlight of the album though must lie within the gloriously melancholic and over the top adieu to all of life’s ills in “Lord, I’m Coming Home”, a death laden serenade into the afterlife delivered with superb conviction in his deep, gravelly husk and almost Andrew Eldritch-esque howl on top of a blanket of  angelic synths and bluesy acoustic guitar. At face value its depressing as fuck, but in reality its effect is one of those tracks where it’s drink in and sorrows out, glasses up and curtains down, a more than fitting end for a journey which began swathed in the darkness of Satan and eventually emerges into the light. When I say I could imagine this track coming off a Nick Cave album I’m speaking the truth, it has all the swagger and guile one would expect from our friend down under, and if that’s not a compliment then I guess nothing is. Steeped in dry humor and a sinister smirk, shrouded in stale cigarette smoke and swirling bourbon all delivered with a portentous drone, Burning Daylight is a breath of fresh air into the neo-folk genre, but to be fair it’s far above and beyond most of what’s labeled as neo-folk these days. Plus, what the fuck is not awesome about an artist with a name like King Dude anyway? 


Sounds like - Johnny Cash, SWANS, Nick Cave

Originally written for Dead Void Dreams

[ALBUM REVIEW] Old Silver Key - Tales of Wanderings


Genre - Shoegaze/Post-Black Metal

1. What Once Was and Will Never Happen Again

2. November Nights Insomnia

3. Cold Spring

4. Nineteen Winters Far Away From Home

5. Star Catcher

6. Burnt Letters

7. About Which an Old House Dreams

When I first heard the news of a new project combining the creative forces of both ALCEST mastermind Neige and Roman Saenko of the almighty Ukranian Black Metal act DRUDKH, my inner fanboy was set to hyperactive overdrive. It’s no secret that I’ve loved pretty much everything Neige has ever been a part of, and the same could have been said about DRUDKH if you ignore their (at the time) latest musical abortion “Handful of Stars”. The hype and anticipation that revolved around this release was huge, and what we received in the end was one of the biggest, most underwhelming and uninspired disappointments of the year. Essentially everything “Tales of Wanderings” should have been with the influence of the collective genius behind the project, it isn’t. The best I can perceive this at all is that the only way DRUDKH could decide to become even more of a limp wristed ALCEST clone was to go one step further and hire the fucking man himself for vocals and masquerade it under a different guise. Seriously, it even sounds like he doesn’t want to fucking even be there his vocals are that dull and lifeless.

Musically OLD SILVER KEY has almost nothing to do with Black Metal, there are a few vague traces present in the riffing styles which crop up from time to time but nothing overtly significant; “Tales of Wandering’s” main focal point is on light, breezy shoegaze rhythms and prog rock based structures. The only problem is it completely lacks any substance, force and inspiration in the guitar passages, with a tone with about as much body as a French supermodel. They sound like one of those countless floppy fringed nineties alternative bands who never managed to make it, and for good fucking reason too. Oh indeed there are some decent, hell even marginally interesting moments on the album, but it’s really not enough to save it from  being consigned to the ‘really fucking boring ‘ bin.

‘Nineteen Winters Far Away From Home’ is the first track to make any sort of discernible impression upon my by now flatlining brain, with some faint Black Metal influences in the riffs which are actually quite nostalgic and dare I say, interesting. The drumming is fucking terrible though, it sounds like they planted a three year old behind the kit and handed him a stick. But guess what? It’s an instrumental, so take from that what you will. Ok that’s being a bit harsh on Neige, he’s actually quite decent on ‘Star Catcher’, my personal highlight of the album. I say decent, he moulds his voice around the music well and delivers some nice spirited melodies, but it’s far from his best. He just doesn’t sound comfortable singing in English it seems. The guitar carries that wistful sense of longing extremely well and eventually builds up to something you could actually call a decent track. ‘Burnt Letters’, the promo track again is remarkably average, with some impressive guitar riffs scattered about the vast dreariness, sounding something more ALCEST-like in its frantic guitar driven climax than any of the other tracks. ‘About Which an Old House Dreams’ is listenable too, a meandering, smokey number awash with an aquamarine reminiscence and nostalgia and Neige’s best vocal performance on the whole album.

The problem is that when the music is described just as ‘listenable’, especially from these two creative forces, it’s just not good enough. The end result is utter fucking hackneyed and humdrum monotony that sounds like a shitty Black Metal band making their worst attempt at being a tenth generation ALCEST clone with a mish mash of incoherent ideas and lazy execution. The worst thing about it is we’re all aware of what both artists are capable of, DRUDKH and ALCEST are both light years beyond most other Extreme Metal acts, but here it appears they just cancel each other out and couldn’t be fucking arsed at all and the end result is as dull as fucking dishwater. Well, it could be worse, it could have been “Handful of Stars”, at least there’s that I suppose, for make no mistake beating your head repeatedly off a slab of concrete is more rewarding than listening to that heap of rage inducing shit. It’s just unfortunate a significant portion of it rubs off here too. “Tales of Wandering”? My mind certainly wandered anyway...


Sounds like - Handful of stars - Drudkh, Elevator music, the washing machine

Originally written for Metal Observer