Monday, 27 January 2020

Jordablod - The Cabinet of Numinous Song (Review)

Origin: Sweden
Label: Iron Bonehead Records
Release: January 24th, 2020
Type: Full Length

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One of the first things I noticed when I learned about the second full length by Jordablod, was the curious album title, which in my head would make more sense if the last word was in plural, "songs". Not being the one that would intervene in such a matter, all other aspects of the release were exciting news, as the band showed great signs of promise with their debut Upon My Cremation Pyre in 2017, a worthy record of what might become bigger in the future, Skånish black metal.

A term that also comes together with their more personal sound, making them at least recognizable among other underground bands in this day and age, which is a notable characteristic of a band whether they deliver or not. Jordablod's The Cabinet of Numinous Song ought to fill some expectations, mainly because of the solid face they have shown in the past as one of the newcomer bands to check out these years. Thankfully, the record is no misstep, but in fact a well written, pumped with energy banger with a lot of twists and turns to keep the listener hooked to their place for a while.

With a clearly natural sound, the band exploits the intensity of fast paced black metal and blends it with some eerie clean guitar passages in slower tempos, which sometimes have their roots not very close to the interludes usually used in the genre, but in a deranged person's mind, would feel closer to hard rock or dark country, as something well completely out of hand during a Woven Hand recording. This feeling undulates during the calmer moments of The Cabinet of Numinous Song, which is generally fairly powerful when it comes to the atmosphere it creates.

Once again, Jordablod focus on English titles and one of them in Swedish, a tactic also used in Upon My Cremation Pyre. The production provides a rich sound, and the balance between the heavier parts of the album works perfectly. It is fortunate that they have avoided clean vocals, as the screaming vocals are remarkable, especially when Jordablod go all out with aggressiveness. The Cabinet of Numinous Song opens with a highlight track "A Grand Unveilling", serving as a darker and heftier Cobalt introduction, and it gives a rounded idea on the unusual patterns of Jordablod for the album.

Building on that, "The Two Wings of Becoming" and "Hin ondes mystär" are equally astonishing tunes, driven by epic melodies and haunting guitar lines, the latter being a major plus in The Cabinet of Numinous Song. Most of the guitar work is beautiful, and the riffs come and go like crazy, showing Jordablod's confidence in more traditional black metal patterns, but also ideas of their own. This tool is valuable but also cuts out the negative side of the record, which lies towards the end, with "Blood and Rapture", and the self-titled instrumental.

Only that moment is to me, the underwhelming part to the whole record, for the fact that the compositions especially in "Blood and Rapture" are slightly more inspiriting and a bit out of place of the coherence of the previous tracks. While you will be rewarded by another glorious song at the end, with the closing number "To Bleed Gold", full of excellent riffing and a fine outro, tracks 5 and 6 are back to back and don't keep up with the level of the rest of The Cabinet of Numinous Song.

All in all, Jordablod's untrodden style keeps up and grows with The Cabinet of Numinous Song, a solid addition to their discography of a new evolving band. Some experimentation reminded me of the nature of late Convulse records or Morbus Chron, heavyweights that lay more in death metal than what Jordablod play, still the whole record is very interesting as a whole. From its sound, to the cover and music, this is a record that has been -despite its small flaws- carefully thought through.

Track listing:

1. A Grand Unveiling
2. The Two Wings of Becoming
3. Hin ondes mystär
4. The Beauty of Every Wound
5. Blood and Rapture
6. The Cabinet of Numinous Song
7. To Bleed Gold

Monday, 20 January 2020

Cursed Altar - Midnight Reprisal (Review)

Origin: Canada
Label: Extinctionist Records
Release: January 11th, 2020
Type: Full Length

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Extinctionist Records is a small underground label featuring a handful of raw black metal bands in the whereabouts of the US and Canada, as well as the unknown Swedish act Abzyrglak, that I know because I happened to listen to their promising 2019 demo, A Graveyard for Humanity..., last year and enjoyed myself. Looking into Cursed Altar's one and only member, Extinctionist, it seems like many of his personal projects are in his label too, which makes him rather busy and also responsible for a small corner in the underground scene with several solid mini-releases.

Having released two demos prior to that, he moved fast into the debut full length album, titled Midnight Reprisal, which clocks at almost half an hour and is only released in tape format (at least for now), a typical and well embraced tactic in the more obscure areas of black metal. I hadn't heard any of Cursed Altar's previous material, or almost any of Extinctionist's other projects, so Midnight Reprisal was basically the introduction to this person musical mindset and after listening to it for several times, the one name glowing all over my face is this: Ildjarn.

Despite the record's relatively short length (even though I was always fond of thirty minute albums), it features twelve tracks, which should make you think that most of them do not last very long, and that's the truth. There's several 1-2 minute tracks in Midnight Reprisal, while the longest are up to around 3, something that the aforementioned apparently big influence to this project, has also done in the past. From some track titles, Cursed Altar also hold an anti-human thematic concept, even though I found the boar in the artwork and some similar references in the album, very appealing for such a raw black metal release.

If you have ever listened to the black metal side of Ildjarn, you will immediately recognize the patterns in Midnight Reprisal too. Monotonous, scourging guitar riffs, in a simplistic and straightforward manner, based on only a couple of different ideas per song, which justifies their length as well as paves a very edgy road during the listen. Most of them are mostly middle paced, and the production is indeed fairly noisy, but not the extent the Norwegian mastermind used to record in the 90's.

The opening track "Ancient Cruelty" is one of the highlight moments for its interchange between the torturing guitar playing, and a few other that I liked more are "Lone Boar", "As the Final Breaths" and "Bewildered In Midnight Blackness". Midnight Reprisal is empowered a lot by its raspy, scourging vocals, a powerful tool painfully used in all of the tracks of the album. Assuming that his voice didn't have this power, the album would probably be unlistenable for me. At a couple of moments, Cursed Altar throw some extra elements in the songs, like the snail paced ending of "Last Night of Human" even though this doesn't really change the fact that this is very close to Ildjarn's music.

For its kind, Midnight Reprisal is a special record that needs an aware listener before being discarded as repetitive and dull. The musical ideas of Cursed Altar in this release do not make it unique but hold some personality and I was hooked to the album more than several, well-produced and recently released records. Raw black metal made hateful and aggressive, it doesn't rely on just a dusty production but offers minimalistic tracks, most likely inspired by an artistic outsider in the scene, without being a copycat of it (thumbs down Ødelegger). Extinctionist's other bands might not be like this but one day I should check some more.

Track listing:

1. Ancient Cruelty
2. Last Night for Human
3. My Revenge
4. As the Final Breaths
5. Tormented Rays
6. Bewildered in Midnight Blackness
7. Song of Rain
8. Darkness Consumes...
9. Shrouded Hate II: Reprisal
10. Screaming Wind
11. Lone Boar
12. Morning

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Dragged Into Sunlight - Terminal Aggressor II

Origin: United Kingdom
Label: Prosthetic Records
Release: January 10th, 2020
Type: Single

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Right when I was wondering about the Dragged Into Sunlight camp, since I re-listened their remarkable collaboration album with family friendly project Gnaw their Tongues, named NV from 2015, this mini release came out and had me thinking that probably it's part of a bigger record for later this year. Yet, it seems the band has reached an impasse with their label Prosthetic Records, who released this track behind their backs and the members themselves will not have any profit at all from it.

By ignoring this, the fans should still do the right thing and not buy the track from Bandcamp, instead find it elsewhere and just support them through their Gofundme page (link below). Apart from all that, we are now into half an hour of new Dragged Into Sunlight material, and judging by the length of their previous two releases, NV and WidowMaker, one might as well trick themselves into thinking that this is a full album. 

Terminal Aggressor II is related to the band's first ever release from 10 years ago, which was also named Terminal Aggressor I and was in the same format of a single, long track. Their affiliations with noise have always been present in their discography, and that element doesn't shy away at all with Terminal Aggressor II, which could be based mostly on abrasive dark ambient / noise, than pure black metal. You will be treated with unsettling sounds, haunting samples, vocal screams and slow paced, painful parts that characterize Dragged Into Sunlight, well placed in a thirty minute tune that can be vaguely split in two fifteen minute sections.

Right around the fourteenth minute, and after a long multi-layered session of noise practicing, a drum tempo starts building up that gives way to the black metal part of the song. The vocals are tormenting and the guitar lines simple but effective, it doesn't increase speed at any point and generally presents a more meditative, noisy structure that gives out a listen quite far from comfortable. However, from what I believe the potential of Dragged Into Sunlight is, and as much as a nightmare this track is, I still think there was some space for them to push their boundaries. 

What happened with Prosthetic is rather strange since they have been there for quite some time now, but they deserve the support no matter what. My opinion is that this specific project can top many spooky-listening black metal / noise bands out there, they don't have the popularity they could have, and that's why I expect to be moved more than what happened with Terminal Aggressor II. A surely interesting listen, but well into Dragged Into Sunlight's comfort zone.

Track listing:

1. Terminal Aggressor II

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Yoth Iria - Under His Sway

Origin: Greece
Label: Repulsive Echo Records
Release: January 13th, 2020
Type: EP

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On a roll with posts of new Greek releases and here's one of the most anticipated EPs that would come out this year, with everyone holding their breaths until it came out. Whoever has been following the Greek underground would have definitely noticed the return of Jim Mutilator (co-founder of Rotting Christ and original Varathron bassist) into action, teaming up with no other than Magus of Necromantia fame to form a new project named Yoth Iria

If you haven't been moved from your seat a little bit just by reading this, then you really don't have a clue on how much these two musicians influenced and helped the promotion and evolution of the black metal scene in Greece, from its first steps, during a time when even in Scandinavia the wave hadn't reached the shore yet. For Under His Sway, the contributing members are George Emannuel from Lucifer's Child on the guitars, and the best underground drummer from Greece, Maelstrom, who has played in all the best projects of our country.

Under His Sway features three tracks, from which one is a Rotting Christ cover and two brand new compositions from the duo. Even the choice of the track they covered, Christ's "Visions of the Dead Lover", made me cheer for this EP without having heard anything. As the most famous band from Greece, Rotting Christ usually have a handful of hit tracks covered by other bands again and again, while plenty of spectacular but lesser known tunes of theirs are left unheard. "Visions of the Dead Lover" honors the Thy Mighty Contract era of the band, and it's executed p-e-r-f-e-c-t-l-y by Yoth Iria. With a fresh air and production, working as if two points in the timeline of the band have absurdly met.

As for the first two tracks, it's like the EP is split into the side closer to Necromantia with the self-titled track, and the side closer to Rotting Christ with "Sid-Ed-Djinn", while that is not a completely definite statement. The melodies in the first are pure and beautiful, with the main guitar riff being quite memorable and the background keyboards (done by Jim's brother, John) are equally great. The second track has patterns very close to the middle paced ideas, as well as the faster parts that Rotting Christ have been using since their inception, with the stellar guitar work completely delivering the expected heavy epicness.

With just three songs, this EP serves as a masterclass of Greek black metal done by its inventors and old legends. While I'm not as much of a fanatic of the scene as others, I can see how people will get completely frantic about Under His Sway, and the only thing missing for me is more music by the project. A Yoth Iria full length album will be a serious issue to assimilate, as they might be the best crossover project the country has seen, and there has been many. In the meantime, as much as you want to replay Under His Sway, it doesn't get boring. Excellent.

Track listing:

1. Under His Sway
2. Sid-Ed-Djinn
3. Visions of the Dead Lover (Rotting Christ cover)

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Empire of the Moon - Έκλειψις

Origin: Greece
Label: Iron Bonehead Productions
Release: January 10th, 2020
Type: Full Length

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This band's first demo was released in 1997 and contained two purely pagan folk tracks, as it was uncommon but not completely unheard of from Greek black metal bands at the time. No one heard about Empire of the Moon since then, and even though its members are involved in the country's underground (for example, with Chaosbaphomet or Wampyrinacht), this project stayed in the shadows. The comeback happened unexpectedly with a debut full length in 2014 named Πανσέληνος (the Greek word for fullmoon), a rather solid album as a whole.

A very familiar musical pattern is actively followed on Έκλειψις (=eclipse), which nails the fixation of the group with the moon and exercises the ways of old school Greek black metal as much as possible. The tracks are epic with slight heavy metal hints, there are frequent keyboard background layers and shrieked vocals, as well as some clean voice chants here and there. It's hard to stress on something that makes Empire of the Moon unique, but I think fans who frantically listen to this type of black metal will enjoy it.

Some of the record's aspects could use some more expertise, like the sub-optimal drumming or the guitar work, which has its ups and downs throughout the listen. Parts of some songs contain the needed intensity, yet often Έκλειψις gets too repetitive for its own good and also doesn't hit as hard as one would expect, as Empire of the Moon may be aiming for a more dark and epic atmosphere than something intense. While they succeed to an extent, the often bland compositions betray them and do not really give the band an identity, especially in a sound so specific as Greek black metal. 

The production also plays its role, giving a feeling that the tracks were given a far from pointy mixing but instead were made warmer than their own good. Empire of the Moon try to strike some punches at times within the record, like in parts of the closing "Per Aspera Ad Lunae – IV. Son of Fire" or "Per Aspera Ad Lunae – I. The Resonance Within", but neither the sound nor the repetitiveness lets them get the message across. I was never a big fan of this kind of ritualistic clean vocal narration either, even when legit bands like Acherontas do it I just skip.

"Per Aspera Ad Lunae – II. Two Queens Appear" is one of the fine moments for 'Εκλειψις, as it is a bit more lively, has a couple of good musical ideas, the synths are combined nicely with the guitars and the structure and length well thought. One level above everything else in the album is also the sixth track "Devi Maha Devi", which features much more entertaining guitars and keeps its tempo, so these two pieces would be what I would suggest as a listen to someone getting into it now.

Apart from that, my issues with the soft sound and uninspiring tracks, which are hard for someone to figure out what band it is within Greek black metal, place Έκλειψις in an unfortunate position of being a substandard album. The recent year, new bands have brought the scene to the rise (Synteleia, or Funeral Storm, or many more) with solid offerings and notable music, should ring a bell to Empire of the Moon, who I really hope will find the drive they had in their previous album. It's a pity for such a nice looking logo to be on a simplistic cover art like this one too, just the cherry on top of mediocrity.

Track listing:

1. Arrival
2. Imperium Tridentis
3. Per Aspera Ad Lunae – I. The Resonance Within
4. Per Aspera Ad Lunae – II. Two Queens Appear
5. Per Aspera Ad Lunae – III. Descending
6. Devi Maha Devi
7. Per Aspera Ad Lunae – IV. Son of Fire 

Friday, 10 January 2020

Kawir - Adrasteia

Origin: Greece
Label: Iron Bonehead Productions
Release: January 10th, 2020
Type: Full Length

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There is a distinct difference between Kawir's albums of the 00's compared with the 10's, when the band made a significant success with Ισόθεος in 2012, which might be their most well-crafted record to date and featured a production slightly more accessible to the underground metal scene. Since then, they have been laying on a bed of roses with a series of fine albums as well as world tours on their backs. Of course, the recognition is not uncalled for, as they are one of the first Greek black metal bands and one with a better integrity in terms of music, so they deserve whatever comes their way.

Among many Greek black metal bands, they have always heavily leaned on Ancient Greek mythology with album concepts and the feeling of the music, by far more than any other popular band (there are some obscure projects with strong connections to these aesthetics, you should look for them yourselves), and it has stayed like that for more than twenty five years now. And since this area is a bottomless pool of hints for inspiration, Kawir will never run out of conceptual ideas for their records. 

Adrasteia orbits around the female figure, and the title itself (αδράστεια in Greek) refers to the Goddess of revenge, which also connects to many of the themes of the tracks, which have to do with various macabre stories of Ancient Greek mythology involving women. The cover artwork is another piece added to this puzzle, revealing the thematology of the record. Kawir often use native language lyrics in their tunes and this is heavily used in Adrasteia as well, not to mention the flutes that directly relate to that time.

Musically, we find the band releasing a follow-up to a couple of very prosperous albums and it certainly doesn't seem to stress them at all, as they still sound confident and convincing in the beginning of the new decade. Each track has its story and it's a pity to skip any of them. Their structure is very characteristic of Kawir and quite distinct from the start with "Tydeus", a typical solid Kawir piece. I felt strong Rotting Christ influences in "Atalanti", while the blend of middle paced parts, epic melodies and harsher moments, flute sounds and backing choral vocals, is what puts Kawir on top of their field.

Clean vocals are introduced in the record (e.g. in "Medeia")and handled by Alexandros of Macabre Omen, while the one of a kind, impressive vocalist Lindy Fay Hella from Wardruna is doing the clean vocals in "Colchis". This track is very much in the spirit of Wardruna, with no distorted guitars but folk passages and a repetitive tone, standing as the equivalent Greek spirit of Wardruna, that had me thinking how it would be for Kawir to release a full album like that. That would be really amazing.

"Limniades" and "Danaides" are also amazing tunes, with the latter being quite intense and borrowing black metal elements from Northern parts of Europe, as well as featuring guitar solos of Ashmedi from Melechesh. While "Colchis" was a definite highlight for me, the more standard Kawir compositions were also significantly above average and well balanced tracks to listen and re-listen for a long time. Adrasteia is augmented by a set of amazing featured artists, and keeps the spirit of the band high, who haven't disappointed and will be worshiped by fans of the Greek black metal scene.

Track listing:

1. Tydeus
2. Atalanti
3. Danaides
4. Limniades
5. Colchis
6. Medea


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