Empyrean Grace - Bestowment of the Seraphic Key

Among the many different, mainstream and not, releases that were scheduled for today, I was also waiting for Iskandr's new EP Gelderse poort, the next recording step of that project after the marvelous Euprosopon from 2018. However, by listening to that and then going into the label housing the Dutch underground group named Haeresis Noviomagi, I stumbled upon this demo by one of their new bands, Empyrean Grace. Needless to say, all the bands related to this label are nothing short of fascinating, yet this project still caught me off guard as it doesn't fully comply with the musical methods of its compatriot acts.

Bestowment of the Seraphic Key consists of one twenty-eight minute track. In case you are familiar with this family of artists and by chance had Imperial Cult's Spasm of Light come to mind, don't expect similar material here. Empyrean Grace's approach emphasizes on layers of opaque soundscapes, it's more soothing and mesmerizing, puts everything around the listener to a halt and it forces you to just lean back. They are not afraid to employ monotony and it's used to their advantage, creating a deep, lethargic atmosphere, coherent enough and with wonderful variations in parts, to make it a magnificent piece for its duration.

Once the sense of engagement has set in, the elements unlock. The track's contemplative nature thwarts movement but isn't demanding or draining, instead it stays in between and makes up for a truly rewarding listening experience. I don't easily stay tuned with endless tracks of almost ambient black metal, however I played this a second time back to back. I don't know any information about Empyrean Grace at the moment, but it just proves again that the turbulence coming from this side of the Netherlands, is not an accident.

Five albums released on October 16th

A blog was born in mid October, 2012, but this is not that kind of anniversary I'm referring to right now. On the otherwise quite unimportant date of October 16 happened a far less glamorous event, and that was of course, that it was the day when I was born. I don't know if you have ever wondering what was going on in the music world during the time that you arrived in this life, or important related events on that date etc.., and maybe this might be too much of an overkill even for listening nerds to keep track of. And while the world was jamming off "I'll Make Love to You" by Boys II Men during October of 1994, the album that gave me happiness from that month is that Impaled Nazarene's Suomi Finland Perkele was actually released on the 16th. And by the time I was two days old, and also mature enough for it, Stoner Witch by the Melvins came out. What a week!

While there are several general history websites that report events on a certain date, and also some regarding music only, it's not as clear to find such insight for underground scenes like extreme metal. I scanned through (with the help of one and only archival website for the music we love) four decades, from 1980 until today and gathered the most notable full lengths albums for myself, covering material from late Thin Lizzy albums to Throane's latest EP Une Balle Dans Le Pied, which was released this morning. Just the process of going through all these records gives a good grip on something that is important only to you personally, so I hope this post works not so much to spread music knowledge but as an idea to other list obsessed fans of music, or movies, or whatever you're into.

Interview with Reign of Erebus

A new record by Reign of Erebus, a band coming from deep into the underground black metal scene in the UK, feels like the awakening of a forgotten demon from the past. With their first steps back in the late nineties, there was a decade long hiatus starting from 2005, it seems the group got back together in 2015 and quietly worked its way to their third full length album De Morte Aeterna, a follow-up to Inversion Principle which was released in 2004. Reign of Erebus have years of experience and they have not attracted huge attention so far, maybe 2020 and the overall sharpening of their sound, might mark a new era for the band. Chthonian, the vocalist and also the longest running member of the -by now- trio, shared some insight on the state of Reign of Erebus today.

Sepulchre by the Sea - Conqueror Worm

After a single track demo in late 2019, this one-man project from the UK comes out with the debut full length Conqueror Worm, to be released in November of this year. Openly influenced by themes of Edgar Allan Poe, the band's name could be a reference to one of the poet's last works "Annabel Lee", describing the perseverance of the protagonist's love towards his then deceased woman. As mournful as that piece is, Sepulchre by the Sea aims to convey the same atmosphere through a mixture of traditional black metal and elements of melodic / post-black in Conqueror Worm, which last almost an hour and features six tracks in total. 

Among them, the track from the demo has been re-recorded for the album, and the wider use of different instruments broadens and shows more clearly the musical palette of the project, which combines a variety of characteristics around the basic black metal pattern. Sepulchre by the Sea also employs solid clean vocals at times, most notably in a the wonderful "Slices of Death", while the most intense moments line in the great guitar lines of the self-titled track, "And So It Crumbles" and the middle part of "Behind the Walls". The last of these three takes a calmer turn towards the end to give way to the final track of Conqueror Worm, "Plutonian Shores", a lengthy composition that touches seventeen minutes duration and goes through all the phases of the band's sound, from clean to heavy parts and in between. 

There are a lot of interesting ideas in Conqueror Worm, which wouldn't make it just typical post-black metal, still I think there is space for improvement in terms of cover artwork and production, with the latter having the potential, in my opinion, to give a completely new dynamic edge to the project if handled properly to give space to the compositions to really show their worth. Sepulchre by the Sea's first effort is a fine offering of black metal that isn't direct and raw, for fans of atmospheric / post-black metal artists and of course, for lovers of Edgar Allan Poe.

Anaal Nathrakh - Endarkenment

By now, and by the frequency Anaal Nathrakh come out with a new album, it feels like it's effortless from their side to make new music. And since they have such a good grip on their own fairly distinct and personal sound, they have become a band with an almost secured fanbase, with the odds of this changing to be very low, as they would need to seriously mess an album up to alienate people who dig their material. What I pinpointed in Endarkenment was that a lot of unusual -and to some, possibly including me, unnecessary- electronic elements that had been circulating in the last few albums are now gone and we are back to a more straightforward, Anaal Nathrakh-ish brutality. The album throws dirt on many global subjects of today, having the band heavily criticizing social / political issues while painting a rather dismal picture of the current status of the planet, without missing the vulgar lyrical touch that makes them appalling but at the same time, effective. Yes, this time you can tell parts from the lyrics from Dave Hunt's vocals, which the textual parts more understandable, but part of me always longs for the catastrophic vocals of once-upon-a-time Anaal Nathrakh. As I couldn't get into their last couple of records too much, I reckon some of the most characteristic, potent and dynamic guitar lines they have composed lately can be found in Endarkenment, even though you can't say that they haven't relying a bit on muscle memory. It's been eleven albums so they deserve a break, what I can say with certainty is that Endarkenment grows on you the more you listen to it, and you will listen to exactly what you expect: an undulating combination of scourging guitars - apocalyptic vocals, epic melodies with clean vocals, including high falsettos to remind us once again that Anaal Nathrakh are big fans of King Diamond. An issue I have had with many of their albums is the plastic drum sound, however with Endarkenment they are brutally convincing, and to me achieved some even heavier levels than Desideratum, The Whole of the Law and A New Kind of Horror. All in all, a very intense and vile album from a band whose heart is in the right place. 

Sunken - Livslede

Funnily enough, I remembered that Sunken were preparing a second album about a month ago when I was browsing through a record store in a city near here and found not their debut Departure, but their first demo The Crackling of Embers, originally released independently in 2013 but re-released through Vendetta Records on vinyl in 2018. The Danish band have already come a long way and left a deep mark in 2017 with Departure, which might have not get the exposure it deserved but still featured some of the best atmospheric black metal of the recent years. 

A turn has been taken to their native tongue with Livslede compared to their first full length album, which also has a elegant, beautiful cover that has been drained of all color. This goes along with the conceptual approach of the record, which paints a picture about the world that is rather helpless and desperate, often making references to the natural elements (storms, the vast sea) to correlate with living life. In these bleak lyrics, it feels like the protagonist is not trying to avoid the suffering but find the meaning in going through it, while contemplating death as the final cleansing towards peace of mind.

Musically, Sunken hit hard and at the same levels as with Departure, with a marvellous sound that efficiently combines potent atmospheric black metal and elements of post-rock / post-metal, the latter being more obvious in the track "Delirium" and the second part of "Foragt". There, the band has created a small partition to Livslede that slightly strays from the more direct black metal sound they have in the rest of the album, but this will most likely go unnoticed due to the overall fantastic flow. The production is clear and apart from the long guitar lines, aching vocals and synths, credit ought to be given to the audible and neat bass work.

Since I rarely find merit in such instrumental introductions to such records, I skip them more often that I would like. Not the case with Livslede, as the touching introduction "Forlist" with deep, echoing piano opens the album, immediately setting the stage and hooking up the listener, it properly directs the attention to what Sunken is about to present and works exactly as what an introduction piece should. Of course, it gives way to the album's highlight "Ensomhed", which shoots all that Sunken can do in top-notch fashion, and it there's one piece you have to listen to from Livslede, this is it.

"Dødslængsel" is as capable of closing the record as was the "Forlist" of opening it, swinging back and forth from middle-paced thrilling melodies to fast-paced atmospheric black metal, and ending with a melancholic clean guitar / ambient outro. It's now two quality albums in a row for Sunken, which should make the fans of atmospheric black metal keep and note and look out of this band's movements from now on. Livslede is a well-written and emotional album, without falling in the disease of being corny, as sadly several bands in this sub-genre of black metal.

Panzerfaust - The Suns of Perdition - Chapter II: Render Unto Eden

Last year, I had almost skipped Panzerfaust's Chapter I: War, Horrid War. When I finally listened to it, it didn't take me that much time to place it among the albums to return to for the rest of the year, and until now. A band completely unknown to me with a long history starting from the early 00's, which lived through a very obvious change in their path by releasing War, Horrid War in 2019, which lifted them from the average underground corridors of extreme metal to the high peaks of artists to constantly keep an eye out. Momentum has now been growing even more, with the second chapter in this concept tetralogy, Render Unto Eden, attracting the attention of an even bigger portion of the scene. And it's by no mistake.

From all the war-themed metal albums in the world, how many would you tell manage to convey the message and provoke the feeling adequately enough to avoid being crushed by their own pretension? The atmosphere Panzerfaust construct is unique, and with subtle compositional fixes show how well they know how to play and what they're doing. By nature, Render Unto Eden has space for interpretation (compared to a more direct War, Horrid War in my point of view) and has been improved in terms of musicianship, production and mainly, flow. The band masterfully builds the album's intense moments, maintains a dim, menacing character throughout the listen, having placed together five tracks that go along in absolute brilliance. 

While the sound is very characteristic of them by now, slight traces of other famous bands of our time can be found in sparse riffing and the more general approach of their aesthetics. Mgła influences can be found in some potent guitar melodies of "The Faustian Pact" (and the stunning structure of this song), but more clearly in "The Snare of the Fowler", just by listening to the drumming session in the middle of the track and on. In Render Unto Eden, the guitar lines have grown, the bass work is impressive and should not be overlooked, drumming is on point, and the depth of the compositions certainly surpasses its predecessor. 

Apart from Arkona's Maria Arkhipova, who is featured and contributes to a breathtaking part of the introduction track "Promethean Fire", I also adore the chosen cover for Render Unto Eden, which could be taken from the works of Käthe Kollwitz and specifically The March of the Weavers in Berlin, one of her more popular pieces. Other than the fine aesthetics, "Areopagitica" is the total banger of the record, deserving to get higher exposure, as it is addictive from the first seconds and quite memorable. I think all five tunes are of high quality, but only once the listener invests into the band's world. The closing of Render Unto Eden with "Pascal's Wager" is plain melancholic, offers a smooth transition back to reality and makes up for this hell of a listening experience.

There is backstory to the tracks and the complexity of the album is not so much in terms of technicality but more in the level these musicians understand what they want to write in their music. In my opinion, it's really hard to achieve this and shows endless compositional potential. I know for a fact that the band can be mistaken for nothing special as I almost was in that loop once, yet Render Unto Eden can make a lot of extreme metal records obsolete, and it just makes me wonder how will the next two albums look like in this story. Until then, listen to Panzerfaust and listen to this, but as a whole. 

Living life with mods

Among the gazillion comment sections where people argue about the case of 1000mods, a user was pointing out -in support of them- how the band has now traveled to the US and Latin America for concerts, something that no other Greek band has achieved and mainly it's what shows their success and quality as a group at the end of the day. This single comment can by extrapolation depict a pretty big chunk of the fanbase that annoys music purists or nerds, without this meaning that these people have any kind of jurisdiction on the scene's boundaries, norms or anything of the likes. However, it does describe the overall situation at least within the country, because I don't know how big or packed the following of 1000mods is outside Greece. The alternative youth glorifies them, the concerts are lit and the movement that started with them worked as a wave that carried fans who are actually into rock music, plus listeners without that background or passion for the growth of this specific musical field.

This situation creates a self-preserving loop of cause and effect that feeds itself, and expresses itself in almost any conversation about 1000Mods that includes a few scene kids and at least one person who feels more entitled. To be specific, some of the long time underground fans have either inner or outer complaints about the excessive exposure the band gets while being a bit hollow musically, and they tend to believe this view more and more when they see the band's directionless audience, which is in their minds a valid reason of the band's potentially negative mainstream nature. At the same time, the fans who have just gotten on this wagon the last few years have no clue of how have we arrived where we are now, were never into this music in the past, not in terms of taste but in terms of mentality, wouldn't get along with the stuck up purists mentioned before. The disagreement between these two groups relies on a set of arguments that all of us have heard again and again in the past, but what matters more, is 1000Mods a good band or not?

Going back to the initial comment, by having said the above, the average 1000Mods listener thinks it's the first band from the country to go to America? I'm sure Rotting Christ are already laughing, having toured to most of the corners of this Earth for thirty years now and even at a time when their music was a real counter-culture, not an overly more accessible and easy-listening sound that goes with the flow. Septic Flesh have done it as well. Not to mention -and I will get a little bit deeper now even though it's unnecessary- Varathron and Kawir, with the latter being inspired from their Latin America tour so much that they immediately composed and released an album after they got back. Heck, Barb Wire Dolls moved and stayed in Los Angeles, after being chosen by Lemmy himself, but I'm sure you already knew all that! Of course all these artists are not in the same sub-style but from a little far away, we can set similar standards for most of the Greek underground scene. Or, did this user mean “the first stoner band from Greece to tour abroad”, though I'm pretty sure it was not that but their ignorance.

As in the whole world, rock in Greece had some leaders each decade starting from the 70's, and possibly the 10's will be connected in the future with bands like 1000Mods. I first listened to them with their debut Super Van Vacation in 2011, I had mixed feelings and there was still no frenzy about them. Therefore, I had the chance to follow them as they released their following albums, as the fanbase grew and what it swallowed on the way. In retrospect, the band had tremendous potential from their very first steps, and they have never been the standard, boring stoner group. They have grabbed life by the balls, living the dream as a band especially with the recording of their last album Youth of Dissent, exactly in the eye of the storm: engineered / mixed by Matt Bayles (Isis, Mastodon, Russian Circles, Pelican) in Seattle.

For getting into the band, these are the albums you should be familiar with:

  • Nirvana - “Bleach” 1989
  • Kyuss - “... And the Circus Leaves Town” 1995
  • Lowrider - “Ode to Io” 2000
  • Soundgarden - “Badmotorfinger” 1991
  • Truckfighters - “Gravity X” 2005

Before Super Van Vacation, 1000Mods had a handful of mini-releases, namely two EPs and a split with Wight from Germany, which also contained tracks from their second EP, and that was it. The material was more raw, with a semi-acceptable production, yet a lot of blistering moments in the songs. Going through 2006's Black Reality, you can tell how the band was still in its very first steps but listening to “Dope” or “Blank Reality” or “Boor” should give some hints of compositional mastery. Interesting, above average ideas, nice tempo changes, well written fuzzy stoner guitar melodies and a very accurate “desert” feeling. The sound was slightly improved for Liquid Sleep EP in 2009, with this era of the band being lesser known in general, as the big hit into the stoner scene happened after the iconic debut, and the growth into the worldwide alternative rock scene with their later albums Vultures in 2013 and Repeated Exposure To... in 2016. You can find nuances of grunge in these two EP releases, so their turn towards this direction with Youth of Dissent should not be a surprise as it is based very strongly on the same influences as the ones the band had since day 1 (except if you were also surprised when Darkthrone turned towards punk). 

"Pearl" LP (Maxi Single)

This sparked another series of new discussions on where is the band going next, how they abandoned the stoner sound into something more generic. Since Super Van Vacation is the album that created almost all the stoner backlash in Greece, they have been rigidly connected to the genre. It was inevitable for them to grow and after paying attention to the structure of their tracks, just a little bit more than nodding to the groovy riffs, you'll understand they were never purely “stoner rock”, but instead quite independent from the label. They are catchy, sometimes too catchy for their own good, but they are never dull. “Valley of Sand” from the EP with the same name, released in 2012, a seventeen minute, laid-back, spectacular track, showed how good they were in drawing in the listener. It's still one of my favorite tracks by them, or maybe the favorite.

There's a lot to absorb from their latest Youth of Dissent, especially when compared to previous material. It's not a perfect record. There are weak moments and weak tracks that feel like fillers. It made me wonder of their inspiration at times, but I am very glad for this release. 1000Mods are putting pressure of themselves and pushing forward. A few tracks are nothing less of amazing, and they maintain the same attitude as when they played for just a few people in 2011. When I purchased the Pearl Maxi Single, I just painted a picture of the distant future in my head, within the circles of record collector maniacs talking about rare side-releases of old classic albums and mentioning this very single. From a banging stoner tune like “7 Flies”, to a track like “Young” or “Mirrors” from them, it says a lot. Of course, “Pearl” is the album's absolute highlight in my opinion, but each one has their own. Surely part of their popularity comes from the overall positive trend towards stoner music the last decade, but this is not the only reason. I can think of many many worthless stoner bands, several from Greece. This one is indeed different.

All in all, I can't take a side in this debate. I don't care what other people listen to except if they ask me, but I have never felt shame for enjoying 1000Mods albums just because of so many “clueless” people like them. Frankly, saying you are into stoner in Greece most of the times means the holy triad of Nightstalker – Planet of Zeus – 1000Mods, which is a bit sad and funny, but not as pathetic as someone who would just shit on a person for not knowing better than that. For a band getting this big worldwide, 1000Mods would naturally receive some hate, but the points of view are all completely wrong, and their music not shallow. And if it seems like that, it's you who listened too quickly and moved on. Who's the music nerd now?