Thursday, 30 January 2014

Omega & Ravencult - Split (2013)

Album | Straight Down in Hell / Deifier of Necromancy
Country | Greece / Greece
Genre | Black / Thrash Metal
Label | Evil Spell Records

| Take me from this cenotaph |

While I am a fan of Ravencult's whole discography, I was not familiar with the other act that contributed on this split before the time I got this, the old school black / thrashers Omega. Both bands have put out two full lengths so far, spreading the same kind of traditional eighties extreme metal and that's a fair reason for them to team up and release something like this together. The split contains two songs from each band, one of which is a cover, and it lasts eleven minutes in total. Since it was only released in 7" vinyl, I had the chance to listen to it on a vinyl player instead of digital streaming and that alone is great.

The sound of the record is fairly dirtier than what the bands have released in the past, giving a great, old fashioned feeling that reminds a lot of primitive first wave black metal. I don't consider it was that fascinating but it was surely enjoyable and should not be any cleaner, since there ought to be grimness and unforgiving ear assault. The instruments are audible and they provoke the dusty aesthetic of early bands, as if this record was released thirty years ago, a common ambition that is shared among many bands of today. Personally, I always go along with such attempts and I like listening to them, even though they usually don't add anything new to the genre or it's progress.

The split starts with the two Omega tracks and the opener is "Straight Down In Hell", which is the actual definition of old school black / thrash. It's based on a couple of speed / thrash metal riffs that remind a lot of early Venom, the vocals have the same harsh tone and it is somewhere around a middle going to fast speed, shouting the chorus line "straight down in hell" clearly and repetitively. The structure of the song is familiar too, containing a solo and few variations as a whole. Of course, it's far from original or unheard, but it should be fun jamming and recording it. Then, there is a cover of Zemial's "Fullmoon Necrophilia", done in Omega's way. It's not better or worse, it just is.

When Ravencult kicks in, one can hear their familiar style of playing and their superiority over the previous band. Their track "Deifier of Necromancy" is like a recording originally for Morbid Blood, as the fast paced black 'n' roll rhythms are once again the main ingredients. There is a great compositional arrangement and I loved the same things I loved in Morbid Blood, these being the wonderful riffs and the raw, raspy vocals. It's not a new surprise for Ravencult fans, just another awesome track to listen to. The last track of the split is their effort on Hellhammer's "Massacra", which pinpoints the original direction of the whole release. It's the eighties and you didn't know it.

It's a fact that Ravencult are more recognized than Omega and a comparison would justify that if one took a listen on this split record. Of course, naming who's better is not the point, since it is a great piece of old school black / thrash, with sincere compositions from each band and above all, a sincere feeling. I think all the die hard fans of that music and that era, will see this as a great gift from the bands and they will consider it a gem. It doesn't go any further than where bands have gone and gone again, if you are comfortable around this wave length, it works.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Beherit - At the Devil's Studio 1990 (2011)

Album | At the Devil's Studio 1990
Country | Finland
Genre | Black Metal
Label | Kvlt

| Nocturnal evil |

Beherit had been out of activity for almost fifteen years when they made their return with the well known, but still legit fourth full length album Engram. I tend to think of their discography as a collection that doesn't contain the two electronic efforts they released, not because I don't like them but because they have a completely different sound. If they were a side project by Holocausto (that many bands do) it might have been better. Yet, I don't have the same problem with the Burzum case so I guess it's just my personal disfunction with these guys, always forgetting the 1994-1996 work.

It seems like a main member of the band, Sodomatic Slaughter, found a tape of the mixes of what could easily be the first full length album by Beherit, before Drawing Down the Moon. For their own reasons, they weren't able to release this album so it was buried by time, only to arrive in 2010. Of course, they would cease the moment and immediately release it, fetching the fans with more, unheard material of their kvlt days, even older than their opus in 1993. In At the Devil's Studio 1990, there are two unreleased songs, as well as different versions of their old tracks, so I guess it's already easy to guess what this contains.

It's not clear to me, why they decided to release this as a full length, and not as a compilation, since it's just a collection of old tracks. In fact, it has the exact track listing structure of new, pointless compilations: demo / rehearsal versions of known tracks plus a couple of new ones. Even if it was intended to be a full length album twenty years ago, it's not how it should be released today and they could have chosen a better format. Of course it doesn't make the tinniest difference whatsoever, since the music would be the same either way, but still it bothers me, for some reason.

Maybe it's not right to judge this album, since it wasn't released as a new effort by the band but mostly for archival purposes, they know old record hunters are dying for anything that was released a bunch of years ago. I would also release a tape of my two decade old music, especially if I had built a legit name back then. Imagine being a die-hard fan of the band, I think you would have been filled with joy listening to the news on this record and you would save money for an LP as well, just for the sake of the collection. I made the mistake and listened to this as if it was a real record, and there it has nothing more than mediocre, monotonous black / death, half the size of Profanatica's dicks.

The production is quite dirty and a bit sloppy, as the volume of the guitars is higher than needed, covering the sound of the drums (I could only listen to the cymbals, unless I wanted to hurt my ears trying to find the rest of the kit) and the gargling vocals. It's sound is naturally affiliated with their demos at the time, which is understandable but still somehow unbearable, making me think that it would be so much better if they completely re-recorded it. Then, it might fit the title of a full length as well, or at least it would get a little bit closer. I don't have many comments to make on At the Devil's Studio 1990. If you are a fan, you will enjoy it. If you try to review it objectively, in the 21st century and not in 1990, you will see that it's frustrating and boring.

DAMAGE: 3/10

Monday, 27 January 2014

Beherit - Engram (2009)

Album | Engram
Country | Finland
Genre | Black Metal
Label | Spinefarm Records

| Spirit of heroine |

The majority of the black metal scene today is familiar with the wagon of Beherit and their followers, mainly for their significant contribution in black-death metal and their early album Drawing Down the Moon, which was "cult" and raw but really not much more. After their two albums of electronic music, they vanished so that they would return many years later as a force of primitive brutality. Engram is a reminder of the roots of genre, simple as can be, noisy and faithfully anti-religious, in the vein of no other than Beherit themselves.

What makes this album a lot different than their early material is not the music but the production, which is a lot clearer and thicker than what you might be used to. As a pure black metal album, the guitars' cutting sound and the raspy schrieks are dominant in it's entirety, while the drums are a bit lower in volume. Some samples of church bells are used in "Pagan Moon" and there is an introduction where Holocausto confesses "because, I just fucking hate this world" in the beginning of the first song, just for the listener to feel more comfortable.

I think the sound of Engram is a lot better than the sloppy first album, try not to choke on your black metal bullet belts on that comment and learn to appreciate the profits of a solid studio for once. I'm glad they finally cleaned their instruments and got out of the attic, at least in terms of sound. The music is at the same level as it has always been, only that this time the compositions are too repetitive. They are more repetitive than your average black metal record, revolving around a simple riff or two, both fast (in the tracks "Suck My Blood" and "All In Satan" and middle / sludgy (in the track "Demon Advance") paced.

Even though the band has not improved or changed it's style very much, I seem to enjoy Engram more than anything else I have listened by them so far. It's straightforward and simplistic for it's own good, a solid representation of what Beherit do best with the proper production and character. It exerts enough hatred and doesn't put too much philosophical pressure behind it, making it great just to sit back and enjoy. You can even share a listen with a couple of friends, how about that.

DAMAGE: 7.5/10

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Sunday, 26 January 2014

Beherit - Drawing Down the Moon (1993)

Album | Drawing Down the Moon
Country | Finland
Genre | Black Metal
Label | Spinefarm Records

| Black haired witches |

It's often hard to point out the difference between hard working, serious musicians and a bunch of anxious teenagers experimenting with extreme subjects, especially when sound as primitive as can be is easy to make and doesn't require that much music knowledge or technique. I almost can see the guys from Beherit jamming around as kids, back in the early nineties, when the band started it's infamous path. This band always comes second to mind when talking about Finnish black metal of that specific period, right after Impaled Nazarene, when third goes Archgoat and Barathrum (there wasn't a big movement over there, as it was in the neighbor countries).

A common characteristic of these bands and almost any other Finnish one back then, is the complete lack of melody or rhythm in their music. The bands there preffered to create dismal and blasphemous material, draining their music from any radio friendly elements, so Beherit is no exception. That's why one can relate them more with bands on the other side of the planet, like the Canadian Blasphemy, or Von / Profanatica and so to say. All these bands never made the way to my top favorites, even though it's fun to listen to them, but as Drawing Down the Moon is widely regarded as a masterwork, I thought deeper insight would be useful. Inside my head, I was hoping that this would last around half an hour and I really wanted to dig it as much everyone does.

It has come to my understanding that the record is a love it or hate it issue, since it's up to the fan's tastes and patience in cases like this. I probably lean towards the second group and even if I don't think this is extremely bad, it is surely way overrated for it's kind. If you have listened to any of the aforementioned bands above, you will know that bestiality is the key element and Drawing Down the Moon has plenty of it. Not only the guitars but the sound itself is raw and distorted, keeping the recording as authentic as possible. The album mostly moves in an oppressive, middle paced tempo and it presents it's monotonous, droning buzz in a way that's not the easiest to follow.

If anything needs to be said about the production, it's dirty and focuses bass tones in every one of it's instruments. To me, each one of them sounds neat by itself, but the mixing and the balance of them all together lacks the expected power. The guitars seem to have a distance from the drums and the vocals, creating holes in the overall sound, making it significantly weaker than it would probably go. I know it's not even the first priority here, but still I wanted to be overthrown by it's blasphemous strength and I wasn't, so it was kind of a let down there. Drawing Down the Moon lasts forty minutes and it included thirteen 1-4 minute compositions, which are more than needed in my opinion. Filler tracks make the album even more fragile.

There are a few signs that give away the band's later efforts with peculiar electronic music, and these are mainly the instrumental tracks and the track "Summerlands". I can't blame them for liking other genres that include more electronics (in fact, Holocausto is DJing trance these days and has come to Greece for shows too) but I can't help but blame them for mixing them with this black metal. Even if one is fully enjoying it's raw brutality, one get's frustrated when these funky space sounds arive, like that track "Nuclear Girl" which is one of the weakest moments of the album, and it would be better if it was not included. With kick ass titles like "Salomon's Gate", "Nocturnal Evil" and "Sadomatic Rites", which in fact make good tracks as well, there should be no place for this child synth playing.

Musically, the album has a simplistic and typical structure, with the songs built around common riffs and repetitive drums. The sure thing is that Necroperversor could do more in the drum post and that is obvious in faster tracks like "Thou Angel of the Gods" and "Werewolf, Semen and Blood" where he doesn't really follow properly at all. The guitar work is average too but fairly enjoyable, being the memorable element of album, along with the vocals. They might be one part of the album I had no problem with, the nightmarish and diverse vocals and chanting in the songs, a little above the overall mediocrity. From the lyrics I caught, there are references to occultism and Satan, the latter being the band's name in Syriac too.

"Gate of Nanna" is a bad example of the album, for it's boring rhythm and dull, frustrating drumming / riffing and "Black Arts" is a good one, since the power of Holocausto as a singer and composer is shown there. Drawing Down the Moon is not the worst stuff I have listened but don't flatter yourselves with overwhelming comments about them either. The first Impaled Nazarene albums are equally raw and way richer and more interesting than this, if there should be a comparison. I don't think Beherit managed to overcome the barrier of Von's sluggish level and since I don't enjoy them either, I can't say much about this. I get why the fans consider it a gem and it might be one, but I was completely turned off in some points, in a way that the couple of solid moments could not save the day.

DAMAGE: 5/10

Friday, 24 January 2014

Burial Hordes - Incendium (2014)

Album | Incendium
Country | Greece
Genre | Black Metal
Label | Hellthrasher Productions

I could not envisage the evolution of this band from their previous material the last eight or nine years, judging mainly from their other two full length albums. They are raw and unforgiving, ravaging upon the familiar patterns of the genre and leaving the expected, used but still welcome impact. However, the last split release with Enshadowed had something to show for the band and with their new album Incendium it's in broad daylight. They have changed their sound into something more orthodox and Scandinavian, adopting a couple of their most classy characteristics that really work any time / any place, if played honestly.

The musical structure of the album does not stray from the path that was hatefully conceived by the legendary, colossal bands of the genre, the ones that I dare not say their name. Powerful and melodic riffing is dominant in every song, very much flourishing from Swedish melody and Deathspell Omega intelligence kind of roots and there is not a single non-intense moment in it's entirety. Apart from the highly toxic guitar lines, the ghoulish vocals are are also skillful and competent, focusing on harsh screams as well as deep growls. For the most part, they differ from the regular and really high pitched screaming of black metal, even though they have the correct tone.

As I already said, the feeling Incendium leans a lot towards northern black metal of the twenty first century, in terms of sound and compositional variety. To that conclusion aids the fact that the mixing and mastering of the album was done at Endarker Studio in Sweden, it seems like more and more bands choose certain locations for their album's editing, we all now the Swedish know the way like the palm of their hand. Since the tracks probably sound like something else you have already heard, I guarantee they don't grow boring any time during the album, as they are still wealthy and well written. As for the drums, they're systematic and accurate, filling the parts with pleasing blasts when needed.

Incendium lasts as much as I enjoy an album in terms of length, which is mostly between forty and forty five minutes. The first three tracks are fast paced and aggressive, except for a part in "Nailed Curse" which is slower brutally painful, such as the parts I really like. There are also middle paced moments like in "Path of Bloodshed" while there is a priest prayer in "Scorned", the longest track in the record. The slow moments of the self-titled track were something I enjoyed quite a lot from the whole album, and the tracks "Abomination and "Black Shrouds of Depravity" contain riffs that remind a lot, maybe a bit more than the rest, of Swedish black metal.

Lastly, this is one hell of an album cover. That baphomet figure at the top of the wretched building and all the demons torturing mortals is really wonderful and people should not ask for anything less than such and associated concepts, we're not in the -take a photo and make it ridiculously black and white to be used as a cover- era anymore. You are neither Transylvanian nor hungry, artistic covers are appreciated and I thank Burial Hordes for that. Incendium is a solid album that gains in entertainment what it lacks in originality, it's respectfully atmospheric and I consider it a step up from what the band had us used with.

DAMAGE: 8/10

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Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Alcest - Shelter (2014)

Album | Shelter
Country | France
Genre | Post-Rock / Shoegaze / Dreampop
Label | Prophecy Productions

| Awaken muses |

I can't estimate how much I have been drawn into the albums of Alcest all these years, since my first listening and absorbing days, as I always had Neige under close attention. Following his projects and the growth of his music, it's easy to grasp on how this band helped very much in creating the modern atmospheric / post-black metal scene, which is now consisted by inferior, similar sounded bands, most of them not as close to their art as they should. One can't blame Alcest for that though, since Neige is utterly bound to serve his breathtaking talent wherever it leads him, taking inspiration from a magical world in his dreams and personal experiences.

Starting as angry teenagers with corpse paint, the band released a demo in 2001, which was a piece of raw and straightforward French black metal, strongly influenced by it's country and Scandinavia. That demo is solid enough but it's nothing compared to what followed in 2005, with the Le Secret EP and the three full lengths of a combination of dreamy post-rock, black metal harshness and a mellow, romantic atmosphere that defined their sound and their style as well. By now, there is no doubt that Neige is a brilliant artist and a visionary, who constantly experiments, goes further and digs deeper into innovation.

As the years went by, he would state in interviews from time to time that he plans to remove any metal characteristics from the music of Alcest and that was more recognizable in the 2012 album Les Voyages de l'Âme, which had clean vocals and no shrieks at all (often used before). Granted that this was the harmless side of "metal", it could be wise to do so and it seems that making softer music has brought the band a whole new bunch of fans, yet I enjoyed his desperate screaming, which made the listening experience even more thrilling and unique. Yet, there is no Alcest record that won't bring something at least intriguing to the table, especially for the calm-minded listeners, who sometimes choose to relax and reach for the sky, through airy sounds and melodies. This is the band for you guys.

There is always a short period of excitement every time I find out about a new record and I felt about Shelter that way too. It looked different from day one, the promotion it got was different, the first couple of songs sounded different and now that it's complete in my hands, it is indeed different. The new Alcest has taken a path towards pure shoegaze / post-rock / dreampop, which might be equally powerful, but it will possibly disappoint some old fans, as myself. Listening to this, I had the same thoughts as I had when I first listened to the black punk albums of Darkthrone, like "this is great, but it's not the Darkthrone I'm in love with". I can't dare and call this bad music, but it won't get as many repeats as the previous albums and it did not have the same power on me either.

Even the arwork has changed. Where are the elegant and outstanding works of Fursy Teyssier, garnishing the album with wonderful pictures and stories of their own? Where is the artistic drawing of the band's logo, where instead lies a default font and a shining picture, clearly more simplistic and less alluring. The art plays a big role in an album and an even bigger one in the records of Alcest, since they ought to be captivating, adding to it's beauty above all. Even if there is a specific explanation and meaning behind Shelter's photograph, I don't think I prefer it over the heavenly swan  or the queen of blue, and I'm sure you don't either.

Reasonably, the music itself is a bit distant from the band's past. The distorted guitars are fewer and fewer, when the ambient  sounds, clean guitars, ethereal vocals are a lot more and describe the album's overall sound. It is not worse or better but equally effective as what Alcest are capable of writing and that's why it does have memorable moments, great tracks and amazing musicianship. Yet, I have a feeling that it now applies to a different scene, closer to the modern pop rock or indie rock culture, or it's melancholic self at least. The guitars are unadorned and similar to modern, easygoing pop. I don't feel any passionate drumming either, the music is vocal driven and focuses on a sum of sounds that create it's engaging atmosphere. Meaning that, I appreciate the album every time I listen to it and it's really good. Yet, I can't feel more or even the same as I felt with his other, truly monumental records.

Shelter is mainly spoken in French, which is a poetic language by definition and the impressive voice of Neige is a main and deciding element in each track. There are more than enough moments to dive into, like the introduction of "Away" (where his voice has a tone similar to the clean vocals of Kvarforth in Shining, strangely enough), the post-rock journey of "Opale" and "La Nuit Marce Avec Moi" or the notable "Deliverance", all of them strong points in the record. The multiple layers of the songs are built around various vocal patterns, which co-work nicely in the album (i.e. in the introduction "Wings", is purely vocals). It flows peacefully, accomodating the listener with a feeling of euphoria and I think it's the album that will make Alcest more known to the world.

It is true, you can't demand from an artist to stay the same forever, new ideas should be welcome as a neccessary and natural continuation of things in a constantly changing world. Bands should not be stuck to the past because they are missing the progress, so Shelter is what would sometime come around by Alcest, sooner or later. Personally, it's the least appealing album by them today, since it feels a bit lowered down, less intense, less vital. While up to this, Alcest were ideal for sitting alone and thinking about inner and outer space subjects, Shelter feels more appropriate as a background music during a morning in bed, cuddling with your lover. Even if this isn't their best album musically, it probably is the most indie approved and radio friendly one. Alcest is on the spotlight right now, when the shoegaze / blackgaze movement has finally exploded, I am happy about them. Like every groundbreaking album, many people will love this and many will loathe it, so I can't wait for the future.

DAMAGE: 7/10

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Sunday, 19 January 2014

Innsmouth - Consumed by Elder Sign (2014)

Album | Consumed by Elder Sign
Country | Australia
Genre | Death Metal
Label | Abysmal Sounds

This is an obscure band I found about by listening to their excellent demo The Departure of Shub-Niggurath in 2010, but I didn't know about this album until I saw the label flyer the day it was released. Innsmouth keep a low profile and seem to avoid excessive promotion, since they don't have a personal webpage at all. All the fans can learn about them is through the news of their label, unless they choose to create a digital headquarters some day. Consumed by Elder Sign is the debut full length release by them, containing six tracks and a sum of thirty eight minutes of music and it is a very good starting point, after six years of activity and three solid mini releases.

Their whole musical approach is based on the old-fashioned and cherished sound of the past decade, staying away from a crystal clear and often too loud result. The production of the album constitutes an atmosphere of a time thought to be long dead, it offers a dynamic and sincere sound for the fans of vintage instead of triggered, studio metal. I'm not very strict when it comes to this subject and I'm not crossing out records or approving other just solely from the fidelity, but i surely appreciate one more when I see a high score, especially in new albums. Consumed by Elder Sign has a legit sound and I totally enjoyed it, it's very close to what underground black and death metal bands had during the early nineties.

Despite it's label as death metal, there are sparse elements of black metal in their music, without missing an ounce of doom here and there, all coming from the depths of the nineties of course. Apart from a couple of times, they do not tend to play very fast and they stick on a middle paced rhythm, similar to groove or doom / death metal, like in the opening song "Dead In the Water" or "Thrice Blessed Shub-Niggurath", which is the only track they re-recorded from their first demo. The last one, "Borne By The Winds" contains groovy riffs that fit to the early U.S death metal, even though it has great shrieks and weird reciting vocals. The track "Five Branches Against Doom" is very similar to the Satyricon of Dark Medieval Times - Shadowthrone, and the vocals used there, which are pure black metal typed, are used frequently in the whole album.

For some reason, I kept thinking of Marduk's Dark Endless era, which was close to death metal in terms of the instrumentation, but had high screams instead of growls. Innsmouth go further and add some doom / death lines, along with some child yells and introduction samples, making a remarkable album. In the veins of classic bands, their first effort is delicate and full of entertaining moments, shrouded in a cloak of mysticism that all the metal nerds enjoy the most. It is an unknown band that you might have found first and probably all the people of tradition in metal will enjoy it, go and suggest it to them. DR14 is a rare thing too, one can't really go more decent than that!

DAMAGE: 8.75/10

Friday, 17 January 2014

Aurvandil - Thrones (2014)

Album | Thrones
Country | France
Genre | Atmospheric Black Metal
Label | Eisenwald Tonschmiede

| Harvest of treachery |

Bands who focus on long, droning compositions, lacking the intensity of pure black metal but boosting on the serene and complacent side of sound, have been under my attention for some time now. Looking for new bands, I was hooked up to the new album by Aurvandil long before it was released or shared, only by looking at the album cover, something that often works as a driving force for me when choosing what to listen. The band had released more than enough mini records before their debut album Yearning in 2011, which defined their heavily atmospheric sound and made their name a little bit more known to the scene. After a legit basis, the band moves on to their sophomore Thrones with hard work and high hopes, from France with love.

These two guys use several components in their music. While the arrangement of the album is mainly established upon a constant switching of epic distorted riffs and gripping acoustic melodies, there are also clean vocal chants and abysmal screams in the tracks, giving a complex but easy to absorb result that goes along the likings of any, i.e. Wodensthrone fan. The lines themselves don't break any new grounds here but they are still alluring for the most part, meddling with a pagan aesthetic that gives the feeling of sounds of the wind in dense forests, never explored by humans before. I recognized the strength of the guitars from their powerful riffs and their thick sound, as well as their major and leading part in the album.

Thrones contains four tracks, and they might be a little longer than what you usually enjoy. Clocking from nine up to eighteen minutes, these compositions will hardly have any effect to fans of more enterprising stuff or other, more combative extreme metal acts. Inside the borders of it's style, the album shall have a good run among the interested. As for me, I can't say it completely met my expectations, because I innocently expected for more action when listening to it's almost full hour of length. The band knows well how to play and present it's material, but I did lose track somewhere in "Summon the Storm" when it felt a little repetitive, a little monotonous, at least stuck to a higher than average level.

What really messed up my experience with the record is the production. First of all, there is a constant and ongoing noise by the time the distortion guitars come in, which probably means their sound was given too much effect and volume in the studio, to an extent that it's not needed and somehow dismaying to listen to. It seems like the producers of the album tried too hard to add a gloomy and lugubrious feeling and they partly succeeded, as it's obvious that the dusty sound was not a mistake but a choice. Yet, it ruined it's organic elements and some of the compositional beauty has been forever taken away. Moreover, once again the drums sound a bit unnatural and often tremble in and out of the track, since they take a step back when the main parts (which have the guitars at full distortion volume) go on. Not to mention that the toms are absent, as if they were never used.

To me, it seems like Aurvandil have what's needed to create a monumental atmospheric black metal album, but limit themselves with overproduction at the studio and use of the same pattern. If the sound of Thrones was cleaner and more dynamic, it would but much more enjoyable for me, despite the fact that I liked a couple of moments inside, and the whole "For Whom Burnest Thou". Anyway, I don't discourage you to listen to this, it more than nothing for you to find out, especially if you are a supporter of this style. This is the threshold of the new year's releases observation for me, as it's the first 2014 record I'm going through! Way to go, stay around.

DAMAGE: 6.25/10

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Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Eastern Front - Blood On Snow (2010)

Album | Blood On Snow
Country | United Kingdom
Genre | Black Metal
Label | Candlelight Records

| Pools of frozen blood |

One of the many subjects bands deal with in this music is war, forwarded as history, awe or just the epitome of pain and suffering (which they are). It's one of the least tangling paths to choose and it's rather easy to acquire, given that you avoid unessecary genocide worship or racial hatred that will turn you into a moving target. Personally, I don't get why people go near extreme metal if they have not decided to come in terms with extreme ideologies and I support any band that holds tight to some beliefs, regardless of my thoughts on them. Eastern Front are a relatively new, British and warfriendly black metal band, as you can suspect from their name, and they are good storytellers as well as musicians. Their album Blood On Snow has an obvious concept around historic wars of the modern times, dealing with that in the entirety of the album, so there isn't any anti-religious / satanic/occult bubble talking here.

They have been promoting their 2008 Promo very much before releasing a new album and their efforts were awarded, as they signed to a big label like Candlelight for their debut release. Therefore, the production of the band has been positively predisposed towards a nice and clean balance, avoiding the no-fi syndrome of black metal and instead building it's own wall of disastrous noise. The instruments are audible and the sound is pleasingly polished, widowing the album as gratifying and easy to follow. I don't believe Blood On Snow sounds that bad, even though it has not escaped the vortex of modern mixing tricks and it certainly has some volume of it's own, but still I was happy listening to the various musical elements it contains and the intriguing "soundification" of it's concept. Within it's eight tracks and almost fifty minutes of length, one might as well attend a trip to cold and somber battlefields of wars.

The basic component of the album's compositional structure is definitely the variety of the guitar melodies. They aim a lot on creating epic and powerful riffs in each song so that the feeling of war is captured right away, especially in the amazing lines that have been written for the self-titled track "Blood on Snow" and "Where Warriors Once Fell". Along with the heavy, distorted guitars, lie a couple of acoustic filler parts in the songs, like in the latter of the previously mentioned or the introduction of "Motherland", also adding a lot to the atmosphere of the record. Generally, the fact that the band tries as much as they can to use their own ideas in their songs and avoid repetition and rip off techniques, is apparent and self-evident. They have a personal style in terms of structure and complexity.

I am also very fond of the distinct vocals. They are executed perfectly and in various forms, as the record contains cutting shrieks, ferocious growls and manly clean parts, the last being mostly in a narrating sense than any other. The tongue of the singer Nagant (a name also related to World War II, look it up) is delicate and forceful at the same time, varying a lot throughout the tracks and autharitarian at moments. An example is again the song "Blood On Snow" which is one of the top tracks of the record, for it's epicness, it's breathtaking main riff and the war sound samples. The use of various army, gun and battle samples used in the tracks, as well as in the wonderful instrumental "Dvenadtzat kilometrov ot Moskvy", which has synths and a piano, voice chants, a parade pace, are very accurate and give the album a whole better character.

The combination of the above characteristics is blended wonderfully here, creating a solid and very interesting album structure to listen to, as one doesn't feel as they know what's coming, a common weakness of other black metal bands. Not only that, I think it succeeds in shaping a warlike feeling, since the compositions and the melodies are not vaguely dynamic, but instead infuential and targeted to that particular direction. Blood On Snow could easily be used as a background or soundtrack to a documentary / movie / video collection (if the audience is intimate with the sound of course, hahaha). However, I was a bit balked by the distressed, simplistic lyrics, which are sadly not very effective on their own. I always expect some poetry behind the unfathomable screams, but I didn't get it here. Yet, that hardly reduced my joy listening to it.

In general, the album includes well thought ideas, presenting strong riffology and variety in it's style, while the musicianship is acute and direct. I had the chance to watch these guys live once in 2008 when they participated in a local festival around here, from what I remember they delivered really cool, despite the technical problems and the broad daylight. I'm not sure about the musical plans of the band but they are still active and I hope to see new material some time soon, as Blood On Snow grew on me and it's one of the records I come back to from time to time. If you want to take a break from purely religious themed bands and want something a little bit closer to reality, give this album a spin.

 DAMAGE: 8.5/10

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Saturday, 11 January 2014

Slaughterday - Nightmare Vortex (2013)

Album | Nightmare Vortex
Country | Germany
Genre | Death Metal
Label | F.D.A. Rekotz

| Corpses in shallow graves |

The newborn child of F.D.A. Rekotz stoop up out of nothing and released a first demo, to let the fans know their message comes from the underground and they are not here to play around. That demo had a fair impact on me but not more than a band's obscure debut, short before they disappear, so I chose to wait and see what the Germans would do next, hoping for a record in 2014. They did not fail to surprise me with a full record ready the same year, which was promoted more than enough for a previously unknown band and yet it has the merit is was credited beforehand.

The album welcomes you with this gripping and captivating album cover (done by no other than Mark Cooper), depicting a rotten kingdom in chaos, surrounded by thick clouds and rivers of blood. The details and the combination of blue and red are amazing, providing the record with a wonderful and positive first look. Nightmare Vortex contains eight tracks (plus a limited edition Pentagram cover) and it involves forty minutes of  heavy and straightforward death metal. It's the full outfit, from the art, to the feeling, to the music, to the lyrical themes, everything praises the notion of not being friendly and easy going.

Slaughterday (the weird name must be taken from an Autopsy track, if anyone wondered) come from a place a little souther than the usual suspects in Sweden, but the ground is not unharmed in Germany either, since it's a country that has been trampled again and again by huge metal acts of all subgenres, still suffering brutal quality to this day. I'm not surprised when an adept and brilliant band comes from these lands, especially when they nourish their freshness and creativity, like these guys do. Their music is extremely powerful and it's not looking up to other bigger bands, instead it freely moves around combinations of menacing melodies and it creates a really cool, comforting piece of work.

I'm not saying that Nightmare Vortex is something new entirely, as the common progressions and patterns are often used throughout the album, maintaining a standard structure of fast and middle paced moments. Still, the main content of the album is very well factual and skillful, undergoing series of concrete riffing that is played in a way that it's memorable, personal and unmistakable. You  might as well squeeze your mind a little harder trying to find the exact band(s) that Slaughterday have a strong similarity with and maybe you'll come up with nothing, since they have made a chemical of 10% influences and 90% own inspiration.

Axiomatically, the guitar work in the album is bone-breaking. I can't choose with certainty among these crushing riffs that characterize every single song, with "Nightmare Vortex", "Unearthly Evocation", "Morbid Shroud of Sickness" and "Cult of the Dreaming Dead" being severely barbarous. Of course, the solos in various moments have a certain beauty and destroy in their own way, like in the opening "Unearthly Evocation" and in "Cosmic Horror", while the punishing slow paced part in "Obsessed with the Undead" is an intense twist that can be found in other tracks as well.

There is also a great vocal delivery as well. Over with the groovy rhythms moans a deep, powerful voice that goes from growls to semi growling / shouting at some points, spitting comprehensible words most of the times, so you probably won't have a problem singing along. Take "Addicted to the Grave" (which is definitely among the album's best moments with it's bell sample and a catchy chorus) and follow the lyrics to get an idea. Moreover, the drumming is rather standard but not poor, with lot's of know-how demonstration going on. I don't think Bernd Reiners lacks the voice or the drumming skills.

I could not point out any highlights when it comes to the bass playing, since it doesn't make itself present that much, possibly due to the loud and thick production. Listening to the tracks carefully will let you know that there is a grumpy noise going on behind the guitar sound, but it didn't make a big difference to me and there is not much attention to be spent in that direction, as the awesome distortion melodies will fill any blank spots in the album. This is some well written brutality and has all the potential to get bigger in the near future, if the band doesn't give up for any reason. Nightmare Vortex is everything a death metal fan loves and more, without necessarily relying on a heavy sound or studio atmosphere tricks, but aiming to melt your face from start to finish. It's sound is crystal clear, it's compositions amazing and nothing could possibly go wrong with you partying on this for a long time.

DAMAGE: 8.75/10

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Thursday, 9 January 2014

Catarrhal - Fleshgrave (2013)

Album | Fleshgrave
Country | Belgium
Genre | Death Metal
Label | Rotten to the Core Records

Apart from Aborted and Enthroned, not many Belgian bands come to mind as I speak and I'm not thruthfully sure of what's going on with metal at that northern country, located just below England and near France. From that aspect, I'm always keen in a lesser known and lively band of almost any genre, like these guys Catarrhal, who have been active for more than ten years now. The band focuses on a time-honored pattern of death metal, bastardized with sparse, eerie melodies and very few elements of grindcore, the last not really difining their music.

Fleshgrave is the second full length album by the act, a follow up of their now seven year old debut Putressence, which was unleashed in 2007 on the same label as the one that promotes this one. The record contains ten tracks that climb up  to fourty one minutes in length, mirroring a conscientious and veracious attitude, directed to all the fans of traditional extremity alike. It does not lack originality and it's barely a copycat album, for I noticed several nice textures in it's miscellaneous parts and I can't say I disapproved them at all.

The production of the album is fairly muddy, creating a foul atmosphere that rarely comes up in straightforward death metal albums. I would prefer if it was a little more dynamic (scoring a DR5), something that has mostly damaged the drums in this particular case. Apart from their technical regularity, they sound a bit trampled and daunted, not achieving much as a signficant part of the instrumentation. Apart from that, the essence of the sound is right on the spot and very pleasing, assuring a solid outcome that fits the underground scene very much.

There are not many variations in the vocal delivery of Serge Massin, who uses the natural, brutal growls for every note in the album. As direct the album was, he furthemore avoids any clean singing or high pitched screams and his work is pretty good too. His vocals reminded me of a mixture between nineties Benton and Mullen, striving for the same kind of sound and angryness. Apart from that, I loved the bass sound in the album, which is finally given enough space. Sometimes it's not an outsider in the music at all, stepping forward into the stage to demonstrate it's beauty.

What I appreciated the most in the record was the guitar work. It's not fancy or complicated, as if the guitarists were trying to prove how good shredders they are during the recording sessions, while it's not disgustingly convenient either. The album is filled with authentic, cutting riffs, awesome fills and adequate solos that appear often, sometimes more than once in the same track. When the band attempts to get more melodic, it does not disregard it's original brutality and therefore, Fleshgrave is a heavy album from start to finish. More specifically, I liked "Disinter" for that reason (and the wonderful and crystal clear bass line), as well as the self-titled "Fleshgrave", which has a fascinating intro melody.

I was not aware of Catarrhal before and I must say I'm a bit into them after this album. There are solid ideas in Fleshgrave and even though it does not have what it needs to be a standout album or a year's highlight, it's pretty legit and enjoyable in overall. The guys have as much talent and appetite as they need to create good death metal and their excitement can be felt at moments, bringing some modest, probably unheard material, to suggest to your old school metal friends.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Askuror - Des Zornes Eiserne Brut (2013)

Album | Des Zornes Eiserne Brut
Country | Germany
Genre | Black Metal
Label | Bleichmond Tonschmiede

I first met Askuror with their 2005 split release (here's a link) and they are one of these obscure findings you encounter now and then in black metal, when you're not so sure about how it arrived in your hands after all. I did not know of their activities until I run onto this album not while ago, which is their first ever full length album, twelve years after their birth. I did not have high expectations but just wanted to listen to it, because of the familiarity I had with the band.

Askuror present their German rites not only with the album title, but also with the titles of the songs, which are all in German and not German / English, as they used in their past releases. Des Zornes Eiserne Brut means "The Wrath of Iron Brood" and it contains four tracks, each one lasting around six or seven minutes. The total running time of the album goes a little below half an hour and it's fairly enough to display the musical approach of the band, which is safe, steady and moderate as a whole. The band maintains a certain kind of chilling atmosphere throughout the songs and keeps it like that, without overtrying or experimenting at parts.

The whole album revolves a lot around depressive black characteristics, without actually embracing them so that one would call them a DSBM band. Think of a band similar to Kaltetod but a bit inferior to it, caressing both atmospheric and raw black at the same time, while heavily depending on the fuzzy and cold sound of the guitars and and the howling vocals. Looking into it's compositional strength closely, one will stumble upon simplistic, easy to write parts, not having that much of depth or innovation. The drums follow an ordinary playing and they don't make a huge difference to the feeling of the album, as the overbuzzed sound of the guitars, aiming for a sense of isolation and despair, are betrayed by the weak riffs and melodies of the songs.

Aske controls the vocal post in the band and I somehow enjoyed his vocals on Des Zornes Eiserne Brut. He goes with wolfish shrieks, used in atmospheric and depressive black a lot, indistinguishable and painful at all times, lacking variety but keeping a legit level. They're not exactly stomach screams or screaming sheep ones either, but something between, focusing on being as agonizing as possible. Even though his tongue has power, with the proper instrumentation I believe it would have a stronger impact to the listener than it does now, if it does any.

From the first minutes of the first song, I had issues with the production. The band has added a horn in various moments of the tracks, but it it has a watered down, splashed sound that ruins the result a bit, which makes it look like noise or defect. There is practically no bass anywhere, except a second or two, while the drums are too low in volume to be listened at all. You can only listen to the high hats clearly and nothing else from the kit has a decent sound, ensuing a bothersome tone and strongly effecting the overall hype. The album is generally slow, apart from a couple of more agressive black metal moments, which are  also restricted by the damaged mixing and mastering.

As a whole, I was disappointed by the new album by Askuror, even though they are a mediocre band anyway. It is poorly written, limited in variety and ideas and has serious problems with the production and the provided sound. I'm not sure at all if four songs was a good choice for a full length, as this would be ideal for an EP and not a full album as they labeled it. I can't say that this will appeal to anyone outside the genre, or even inside it and it's not something I would suggest you check.

DAMAGE: 3.5/10

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Kult of Taurus - Divination Labyrinths (2013)

Album | Divination Labyrinths
Country | Greece
Genre | Black Metal
Label | Forever Plagues Records

| Lost in chaotic madness |

I don't remember when or how I first listened to this band, but I remember it was the Fallen EP they released in 2009 and I was intrigued by their execution style. Naturally, I completely lost track soon after until I got this album, which is also their debut full length after six years of activity, which are more than enough for a band to bond and find it's own personality. Divination Labyrinths is a solid effort that should reach the ears of as many fans of hellenic black metal as possible, as it isn't repetitive or significantly weak at any point, while not breaking through any borders either.

If you haven't noticed already, Vicotnik of Dodheimsgard has been giving the helping hand to various Greek bands (most importantly being in Naer Mataron) and he is involved here too, since the mixing and mastering of the album was done by him. Taking good care of the band's sound, it's not dusty at all, but still hostile to outsiders, while there are no glitches or annoying imbalancies among the instruments and the vocals. It is also a major improvement compared to their previous releases, which had the low-fi, one channeled black metal production plague. The album lasts a little bit over half an hour and contains eight tracks, including two instrumentals.

The musicianship of the album is relatively insightful and legit, worshiping a pure black metal philosophy that's based on satanism and occultism. Despite their semi-mythologic name (if you want to know more about Crete and the minotaur, click here) which also confused me a bit at first sight, the band does not speak that much about Ancient Greece or other pagan subjects,  keeping track of the core of the genre. I found a couple of really good guitar lines among the generally authentic work and most of the tracks have an eventful moment or two, something that I think is decisive in my final and positive view of the whole album.

A dude named Sarpedon handles the vocals in Divination Labyrinths and his effort is terrific. There is a significant level of harshness and anger in his tone, he steps correctly on the songs and has great capabilities as a whole, judging from the screams and the very few, narrating cleans he does in the album (for instance, in the track "ΠΤΩΣΗ", meaning "Fall"). The drums and the bass also have nice feelings, even though they never get the first role in the album, since the memorable elements are mostly the vocals the guitar. Musically, the album stands above average because of the beautiful and original compositions, like the tracks "Where No Moon Rises", "Hidden In All Ages" and "Channeling End".

This is by no means another regular hellenic black metal album. Apart from the main and intelligent instrumentation, discreet electronic samples have been used very beautifully. First of all, the two instrumental tracks are electronic based. The introduction contains a haunting synth with a man speaking above it, similar to horror movie introductions or serial killer crimes information. Even though it's quite clear, I don't fully get what it says, but it has been made clear by the band that it's a piece of an interview of the psychiatrist Carl Jung. "Tree of Gifts pt. 2" is the outro of the album and includes a wondrous piano line, synths, whispers and generally is much better than the simplistic intro. Anyhow, I enjoy both of them.

Apart from these, there are some weird noises during the end of the track "Channeling End", which remind of industrial black metal, or experimentations of early Norwegian black metal bands with electronics. Same unidentified but entertaining additions have been used in "The Light That Divides the Earth" and "Tree of Gifts pt. 1" (which has a fully ambient part towards the end". The result not only fits the album, but also provides a refreshing sound, fond of innovation and quality. Black metal fused with machine electronics is not a new idea in the scene and it's not completely appreciated by the die hard fans, something I don't go along with, especially when a band uses them correctly.

Divination Labyrinths is a remarkable debut by Kult of Taurus, lacking almost nothing and having a personal facete. Built on solid ideas, it has variety and efficiency in content, even if I think I would not mind if it was ten minutes longer or something. The band's hard work all these years is presented here and it might end up being one of my favorite black metal bands from Greece, if it continues like this with a second release in the next years.

DAMAGE: 8.0/10

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Theosis - Behold the Glorious Night (2013)

Album | Behold the Glorious Night
Country | Greece
Genre | Black Metal
Label | Self-released

| My pale queen |

Theosis is one of the projects led by Astraeos, the Greek musician also behind Mortuus Sum, Vetusmora and Morbid Fog. When the last called it quits earlier this year, I guess his attention was focused on his other projects, all revolved around primitive black metal with a few epic / pagan elements. This is the third release of Theosis this year, since there are already two official demos out, behind this final full length entitled Behold the Glorious Night. The band attempts to worship the obscure bands of the nineties (Vlad Tepes, Moonblood and the likes) with a truthful but average record.

Containing eight tracks (from which one is a Satanic Warmaster cover), the album climbs up to thirty eight minutes in length, more than enough for one to form an opinion about Theosis. A couple of one song demos are definitely not enough but as I got my hands on this, I knew what to expect. The cover art and the song titles as well as the lyrics come directly from the heart of the old school, authentic brand of the genre. Therefore, it shall be a tempting record for any closet brat, who hunts down such underground artifacts within a minute of recognition.

Behold the Glorious Night should only be experienced by the fans of the scene, people who know their way around the genre and have certain standards and likes. The atmosphere of the underground during the second wave is present here, with every composition depending on a few guitar riffs. Seldom are there changes after the introduction and the record keeps rolling at it's own rhythm, not overtrying or overproducing. Sadly, this does not turn very well for the result as a whole, because it seems like nothing more than a comfortable, time approved and repeated effort of older bands.

The production is murky equivocal, deliberately channeled to sound like something of the earlier years. Creating such a sound for the band is no innovation to the genre and if you choose to do it, know that we have listened to it like a thousand times so far so the music must have something really special in order to select it out from a load of other records. I don't think there is any special ingredient in this one though and that's why it will scarcely reach mediocrity to the judgement of an exacting listener. There is no doubt that it will affect many die hard fans that can be satisfied with anything similar to their beloved, dusty sound (and I am partly one of them) but that's it, really.

The first tracks didn't move me at all. There is this church organ / synth made introduction "Celestial Grace" which opens the record nicely, but when the first song "Rise of the Black Legions" kicks in, the instability is obvious. There are two main riffs in the whole song with a few melodies above them here and there, and I assure you that you that these thoughts will come to your mind: "Oh, isn't this the other band I was looking the other day, coming from Kvltland with only a few demos during 1991-1993?" or "Yeah, I wrote this riff as well the other day when I was randomly jamming with my guitar". The first song sounds like a filler and that's not good at all. "Drink His Blood from the Cup of Immortality" is the best track of the album. It has a nice churchlike chant in the beginning and then strikes with a nice and horrendous main part.

"Behold the Glorious Night" sounds like a mixture between early Norwegian / Swedish black metal, as if members from Emperor and Throne of Ahaz gathered for a one-night rehearsal. Again, there is one main riff, which is pleasant enough, even though it's strangely familiar. There are two songs "Blessed be the Black Moon" and "I Invoke the Forces of Darkness" that offer very few to the whole idea, while "Under the Spell of Thy Lord" has a melodic and epic part that reminds of epic black metal and more into early Summoning. Hardly a highlight but still worth mentionable.

Throughout the album, I could not make my mind whether I like the vocals or not. At some points, they seemed really sharp and rigid, and then as if it breaks, it fades out and loses it's power. To me, it's a mere imitation of other black metal singers (I thought of Ihsahn in more than half the songs), mostly indifferent if you exclude a couple of good moments. As a whole, Behold the Glorious Night is one of these lookalike albums. Bands should stop releasing stuff trying to get close to the music of the classic albums, not in their essence but with copying and pasting their music as it is. This record is a trip around Europe, presenting the sound of other bands, resulting in something typical and faceless. Like every other, you won't remember a thing after it finishes.

DAMAGE: 4.75/10

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