Vision Divine – 25th Hour – 4/5
Anyone who has heard Mr. Chan’s rants will have heard the name Labyrinth – perhaps one of the few power metal bands we can agree on – but sadly, since their early days things have been going downhill for them. What’s perhaps a little surprising about this artist is how they succeeded in performing under my radar despite claiming host to the bassist, lead guitarist and keyboardist from the aforementioned Labyrinth. Performing with a vivacity that feels distinctly more ‘Italian’ in that softer symphonic manner, combining soaring vocals with Labyrinth’s hard-hitting aggressive virtuosity; this 2007 release sees what may as well be known as a Labyrinth/Rhapsody collaboration recombine to produce solid power metal, that whilst breaking no boundaries does precisely what it says on the tin.
The vocals retain a powerful quality essential to the genre, thick in their tone but not without their elegance; the emotional weight he can carry with each note evident (particularly in “The Daemon You Hide”). Not incapable of demonstrating the variety of pitch in his melodies, he shows no reluctance to hit his upper register with ease without allowing them to become overly dominant. The keyboards assist in carrying his melody, broadening the overall tone of the composition for many of the tracks; their main strength lying in not becoming too dominant and smothering the sound in the end result, but rather in creating a separate complementary layer. Like many of the musicians, he proves his abilities with the multiple gentle piano passages and neo-classical solo’s, often playing off the guitars in a manner that matches their capabilities.
And it is the guitars that prove to be one of the strongest aspects to this artist; both rhythm and lead performing interweaving melodies as opposed to the two following each other as is frequently found. One often allowing his notes to ring out whilst the other continues the rhythm – even allowing the bass to be subtly heard in the back – and whilst the core of their sound is built on a certain simplicity that treads the line between elegance and aggression, it is with the solo’s that they prove themselves. Constructed primarily to suit the track at hand, they demonstrate an overt neo-classical style that is kept short and to the point to avoid becoming stagnant. In this stellar line-up it is perhaps only the drumming that feels like a weak link; competent enough to keep the beat and provide the occasional fill, all too often they feel unimpressively relegated to the back.
The manner in which the tracks succeed in bleeding together, each track distinct from the last, showing a steady transition between them creating a cohesion without monotony. Each key member is given ample opportunity to prove themselves, and whilst lacking that certain impact that separates them from the masters of the genre, succeed in doing just that. There is unfortunately little that truly stands out in either a positive or negative manner, catchy vocal melodies and guitar riffs abound, nothing feels truly remarkable. They break no new ground, but deliver on some solid power metal that retains a strong keyboard element without forgetting to give focus to the guitars.
Highlights: 25th Hour, Alpha & Omega, The Daemon You Hide, A Perfect Suicide
Over the years this has grown into my own personal project, reviewing the artists that I discover and interest me. If you wish to see more of my work, particularly my more metal-orientated material, you can find me as a regular contributor for the online magazine
Motohiro Nakashima – We Hum on the Way Home – 4/5
After a short absence from writing music reviews, finding something that truly sparked my interest enough to write about seemed to be waning until I stumbled upon this Japanese artist. Performing what I can only describe as a form of Avant-Garde Ambient, seamlessly combining subtle nods to the simplicity of pop, the rhythm of jazz, the warmth of folk and the emotional power of classical music. And yet despite the breadth of tones, and the layers of instruments interwoven into each passage, the result is an atmospheric simplicity that conveys a sense of beauty that cannot be described. At times with an earthy folk-like quality delivered by the warm acoustic guitars, at others conjuring images of lying alone in a field, watching clouds go by as the flutes whistle past.
For the most part of the album the music is comprised of two layers; the base either an acoustic guitar or gentle piano, it forms the rhythm which allows the gentle flow of the other instruments to meander over. On top of this is the primary focus, never drowning out the instrumentation behind it but rather weaving around the main rhythm of the piece, and whether they are comprised of his favourite choice of flutes, or his sparing use of saxophone, accordion, xylophone, violin’s or any number of them all, the result maintains a source of intrigue whilst still feeling minimalist; constant fluidity to the instrumentation without ever detracting from their atmospheric purpose.
Each note allowed to resonate, rising and fading naturally, filled with a constant feeling of warmth that fills the room, it’s all too easy to become caught up in the soothing serenading melodies that succeed in providing an odd sense of relaxation and comfort. Music that strives to strike an emotional chord is very difficult to write, and often has a variable degree of success, and since he says what needs to said so well perhaps the simplest way is to listen for yourself . For me, this is music that transforms my mood with a single listen, and that is surely the mark of a great piece of music.
Highlights: Tragedy of Our Field, Tow Horses, A Cat See the World Spinning Round
Aske (Fin) – Saatan Legio/Goatfuck – 4.5/5
A compilation from their first two demos that was released last year, it’s not difficult to see the attraction. A raw sounding black metal band breaking the conventional stereotypes; the prominent bass preventing the sound from getting too thin without detracting from the atmosphere strived to accomplish by the guitars; this is an album displaying an impressive degree of creativity from all its members, none left feeling redundant they traverse from familiar territory to slower more melodic styles, seamlessly weaving to form one of the better underground releases I’ve had the pleasure of hearing.
The real genius of this operation is the drummer; so much more than just providing your generic blast beated rhythm, he demonstrates a creative prowess present in the form of constant variation, using of all the drums at his disposal to create fills and crashes of the cymbals to accent the vocalist, as well as his numerous solos; heard prominently through the instrumentation it his performance that frequently overshadows the other musicians. The bassist is relegated largely to the most basic of riffs, but his mere presence constitutes something unusual. The keyboards too, are carefully not overused, lending a sense of diversity or enhancing the atmosphere at critical points, it is seamlessly integrated into the composition of the track to maintain raw element essential whilst lending a unique tone to the proceedings.
In addition, the guitars lend more than just a simplistic tremolo riff to the proceedings, often lending a simple but effective melody to distinguish between the tracks, with an assortment of variety in styles and tempo, never straying too far from what we come to expect of a guitarist in this genre he nonetheless performs as another cog in this machine that runs so effectively. It is only the vocals that perhaps shows weakness, with a distinct lack of variation in pitch he can frequently be heard shrieking in a manner that operates as another instrument, so easily capable of becoming monotonous if not for its sparing use.
What separates this artist from many others is their impeccable sense of melody; many can play raw black metal with an insatiable ferocity, an emotional conviction and atmospheric depth which sustains interest in their music, but this artist have gone a step beyond that. They have combined that impeccable insatiable aggressive tone with a marvellous sense of creativity, expanding on the style whilst remaining loyal to all that it could hope to accomplish. It is this that pushes them far out in front of the competition, and makes this such an accomplished work.
Highlights: Crushing the Throne of the Impotent, Countess, Black Mass
Insidious Omen – To Cast the Last Shadow [EP] – 2.5/5
Without my beloved collection temporarily, I find myself in the mood for something raw in tone, seizing upon this opportunity to explore beyond what usually sits in my playlist, and whilst this may result in an impressively discovery, in the same manner it can result in something like this, a release that initially showed promise until the final ‘epic’ track, where someone forgot to point out that more than length is required to make such an endeavour work. Nonetheless, this is still an artist that perhaps shows promise.
What initially intrigued me was the careful balance between maintaining that raw tone, and allowing each instrument to become distinctly heard, it succeeds in allowing the three elements presented to be distinctly heard, and this becomes critical when we realise that there is a wealth of excellent ideas presented in such a short period of time. Everything about their work comes back to the idea of consistency through simplicity, performing a simple but addictive guitar riff over an ever changing drum beat, never spending too long on one style or abusing blast beats. The vocals, too, are not overused, lending a mid-ranged guttural scream, reeking of despair in a tortured tone, rather than symbolising strength it seems to take the approach of the helpless victim being sodomised by the icy black torment. Despite the number of interesting ideas, certain riffs went on too long, and whilst showing promise got tiring before their conclusion.
But this is all in reference to the first half of the EP, for it is the latter half, consisting of a single 17 minute track that has me questioning, just what were they thinking? Consisting of a single monotonous tremolo riff of a single note, changing about once a minute (briefly), the same drum beat over and over, and what appears to be an amateur zombie impersonation (again, all in monotone), if this is the level of quality they are attempting to use to attain a record deal then they haven’t got a chance. I maintain that there is some promise shown here, but as it stands they are firmly in the swarming masses of an overpopulated scene filled with mediocrity.
Blood Stained Dusk – Black Faith Inquisition – 3.5/5
No mere Emperor clone, this is a mid-paced symphonic black metal band with one major difference; the production feels warming. Gone are the icy depths of the genre in favour of a more palatable option, and with plenty of tasty tremolo riffs that aren’t overpowered by the atmospheric keyboard work, this results in solid (if lengthy) slab of satanic mayhem.
Unquestionably the major driving force behind this performance is the constant presence of the guitars, frequently relegated to rhythmic duty they perform a variety of tremolo riffs that the accommodating production allows to feel crisp and clear, providing a simplistic variety that whilst none too memorable sustains interest for much of the albums duration. It is, however, his all too infrequent solos that show off his creative capabilities, often feeling more akin to power metal in the manner it succeeds in sustaining the flow, with a tremendous variety of pitch it lends an odd, yet not entirely unfitting tone to the proceedings, succeeding in breaking up what could become a monotonous affair. Combined with the keyboards, the lengthy tracks (most hitting the 10 minute mark) feel epic in proportions, almost ‘Viking’ in tone in the same manner as Summoning succeeded in doing so with their opus magnum “Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame,” in their majestically bombastic in nature.
It is perhaps a shame that in their crisp and clear style more effort could not have been made for the drumming. Feeling left behind, only the snare really making a notable presence over the cacophony of the guitars and keyboards, too often heard blast beating in the background his lack of fills and interludes felt sorely missed, and indeed appears only capable of the most basic of beats. Even worse then is the status of the bassist, unheard for the most of this piece. The vocals too feel too often mediocre. Unafraid of letting the instrumentation reign, he layers a high pitched growl for much of the proceedings, far too monotonous, only really with his deeper growl and occasional cackling breaking up the proceedings. Instead it his all too infrequent clean vocals that surprised me, proving his capabilities outside of his normal style, and whilst too feeling fairly mediocre, certainly succeeded in shaking the style too readily observed.
I can appreciate the effort that has gone into working each of the layers in a coherent manner; particularly with regards to the keys and guitar work, where all too often one dominates the proceedings, the choice to clean up the production results in the sensation that it is missing a certain hard-edged to it, still retaining a sense of darkness about it but without a certain bite and inevitably forcing a somewhat unenthused sound at times. There are some excellent shows of creativity, but feels as though much of it could do with a trim - the 5 minute introductory track highlighting the issue of being excessively long – and yet despite this creativity there is little that feels distinct, whilst performed well, it feels as though the ideas have been done before. To conclude, this is a solid piece of music which warm toned production may well serve as an interesting introduction to the genre, but is perhaps likely to be all too readily forgotten.
Lucifugum – Sectane Satani – 4/5
So naturally this exploration into the genre is to include the artist the spurred the idea, the owners of the ‘Propaganda666’ label (whom many of the bands reviewed are signed under) and musicians in their own right, this duo of Stabaath on vocals and guitars and Khylst programming the drums and writing the lyrics provides a healthy dose of raw evil-toned goodness, icily distorted and demonically cackled; what it lacks in variety it more than compensates for in attitude and complete belief in their purpose.
Make no mistake about it, if satanic themes are a concern of yours (one would perhaps question why you’re reading reviews on black metal), then this is one to avoid. Shrieked with an absolute conviction, this falls into that slim category of artists who leave no question as to whether they’re using it as a gimmick or not. The drums are programmed with a startling variety, the mechanical tone may often feel out of place in many line-ups but here feel completely at home, prominently blasting its way through the fuzzed out production this artist sports.
The twin guitars are often simplistic tremolo riffs, blended into the track to supply the heart of the rhythm, none to memorable but heavily distorted with an icy cold treble-tastic tone, performed with a chaotic dissonance the bass provides a subtle bombastic pulsating tone, allowing the guitars to provide their fill of high-pitched melodies. Whilst fitting the tone of the music, superbly produced to provide the integral wall of sound whilst still allowing for a melody to develop, don’t feel special on their own. Once again, the main attraction comes from the vocal prowess of Stabaath, demonically cackling, shrieking and hissing with a venomous intensity that has never felt more powerful. Oozing with a ferocious determination as with her other work it doesn’t take long to forget this is performed by a human and not some possessed demonic entity, let alone a woman!
With only one track written in English (the rest in Russian – their native tongue), the lyrics are awe-inspiring and once again leave no illusion to their intentions with the music, and whilst the smoother sound detracts from the vocal attack, this is only a minor issue and feels a shame that no translation was provided after the effort that had gone into their work. Even the level of detail in the grim-looking cover is awe-inspiring, with demonic imagery of Christ on the cross upside down, dark caverns and dying angels, this may not be the most unique or experimental in style, but its one of the most fanatical and believable releases of modern times. In their own words “Though apostles are already fed by his flesh and lie lifeless, we continue the devastating procession.”
Highlights: Track 1, Track 3
Bloodthrone – Shield of Hate – 4/5
Another one that sparked my attention, maintaining a raw element to their sound that reminisces back to the 1st wave, where black metal felt fairly heavily thrash influenced in tone, never forgetting what lessons have been learnt since. What this results in is a well performed sound capable of maintaining an aggressive and raw atmosphere with enough of a melody to sustain interest. Whilst not the most original of pieces, adding little to the fold that sets them apart from those before them, they simply perform the style well, living up to the high standard already set.
The highlight of this outfit is unquestionably the phenomenal guitar work; the bass capable of fleshing out the sound, prominently heard delivering the heart of rhythm allowing the lead guitars to go off on a tangent (which they frequently will). From treble-filled tremolo riffs to catchy slower paced ‘demonic grooves,’ and even a fitting Kerry-King-esque shredded solo, as the album progresses their abilities only seem to improve, and where most aspects tire – failing to bring something memorable to the track – they prove themselves consistently capable of varying their pace, retaining that essential melodic yet dissonant chaotic tone; that required ‘wall of sound,’ to the proceedings.
The drums perform in a manner to be expected, a superb raw furious tone emerging from their production, prominently heard performing a number of high speed beats without shifting focus from the melody produced by the guitars. Whilst his ability to use all the drums at his disposal is notable, and demonstrates his capabilities in providing a number of interesting fills, the heart of the beats that he performs often feel remarkably similar, and ultimately unmemorable. In a similar manner the vocals often present themselves in a monotonous fashion. Providing an immense sense of energy; his powerful high-pitched shrieks can be heard fighting against the instrumentation to be heard, they simply falter in providing much variety to the end result.
This is one of those black metal albums that have done nothing to try and break the mould; they wont be winning awards for creativity or for pushing any genre boundaries (in fact, if anything their sound feels as though it has regressed in time), but it is simply a style that is performed well. The raw energy proving once again that melody and raw production are not mutually exclusive, and whilst many aspects may quickly be forgotten, the guitars succeed in providing a constant source of intrigue to one of the better bands amidst a stagnating style.
Highlights: Seven Daggers, Betrayed by Blood
Chthonic – Mirror of Retribution – 4.5/5
First they impressed me with “Relentless Reverence,” then they packed in more venom with every lyrical punch in “Seediq Bale,” and continuing their streak of self-improvement this album proves no different. Maintaining the strong black atmosphere and melodic core to their sound, part what makes this release stronger than before is the inclusion of the ‘erhu’ – a sort of two stringed violin with an oriental folk-like earthy timbre – adding a layer of sorrowful torment, combining with the distant, soft backing vocals to provide more than just simplistic demonic aggression. Like the odd lovechild of “The Red in the Sky is ours” (At the Gates) and early “Sigh,” it is tremendously worked and more than worthy of equal praise.
Dealt with in a manner that almost feels theatrical or operatic in the manner each track feels like it has a specific purpose, telling the story that was intended. From the opening ‘Autoscopy’ (meaning an out-of-body experience), it chronicles the journey of Tsing-guan who in 1947 delves into (Taiwanese) Hell, through the hundreds of layers (of which the mirror of retribution is the first, forcing you to observe your sins to determine which layer you belong) to steal the ‘Book of Life and Death’ and return back to Taiwan. This is all so he can kill the Chinese tyrant responsible for the 228 massacre. Whilst reference to their interpretation of Hell proved difficult, I believe it is a reference to ‘Diyu,’ somewhere between the ‘Buddhist’ and ‘Taoist’ equivalent of hell, consisting of 18 layers suited for different sins, with a further 18 sub-layers depending on the severity or specific nature of the crime. The history regarded the 228 massacre, however, is well documented, and indeed is one of those atrocities ‘The History Channel’ always forgets to mention, and with the government body responsible for allowing it to happen recently re-elected it seems an apt a time as any for such an endeavour. Black Metal with a purpose beyond the religious seems rare enough, but finding an example of it performed well, and with an absolute conviction in their beliefs (and it isn’t hard to see why) is like finding a needle in a haystack.
With prominent drumming and an audible bass line, it would seem the crisp production (by Rob Caggiano of Anthrax fame) has done excellent job of making each instrument crystal clear. The bass maintains a steady framework and the drumming complements this aptly, with no shortage of styles beyond the blast beating, they combine with the vast quantities of layers presented to provide that all important wall of sound. Riffs are supplied in two main forms, the almost Gothenburg-influenced pedal noted style and the blackened tremolo riffs, they retain an essential – if simplistic – melody that alone may get tiring, but is seamlessly integrated into each tracks composition to work as another intriguing layer to this well woven tapestry.
Adding to the composition further is the lavish keyboard work, never becoming dominant as in more symphonic work, the style is broken up between ‘Imaginary Sonicscape (Sigh) like snappy keyboard riffs and a backing chord work assisting the flow of the more gentle passages, which they aren’t afraid of displaying. The vocals are used sparingly, the lead vocalist growling as though he is desperate to remove the poison that is killing him inside, spitting out a venomous rage in an uncontrollable fit of chaotic aggression, complemented by soft ethereal female vocals that serve to add a mournful torment to the chaotic torture. And this is not forgetting the strong, prominent work from the erhu, lending an unconventional, distinctly ‘oriental folk’ tone to the proceedings, it blends into the music begging why hasn’t anyone done this before? Slow and emotional, its use wouldn’t feel out of place in a slow classical music epic (in fact, the first artist that it reminded me of was the recently reviewed ‘Kono Michi,’ a classical violinist), but here provides a startling contrast, a connection that despite its simplicity, draws in the listener, and gives you something harrowing to cling on to through this anarchic journey through the hell they’ve created.
And despite the number of layers – easily enough to sustain my interests for multiple consecutive listens – they never lose sight of the beautiful, haunting atmosphere being strived for. So much more than the simple satanic aggression contemporaries in the genre seem to sport, a genuinely emotional and powerful work as fascinating as the subject matter it explores. I am a fan of sigh – I make no attempt to hide this fact – but as excited as I am of the oncoming prospect of orchestral arrangements and a new vocalist for the forthcoming release, I can help but wonder if this year will see a new champion for my affection. And after all is said and done, the only question that remains is when do they tour?
Highlights: Blooming Blades, 1947, Forty-Nine the Urgy Chains
Bloodrose – Into Oblivion – 4.5/5
Forget the bad gothic-tinged name or any preconceptions of Symphonic Black, this isn’t some sugar coated shadow of aggression presented in the absence of keyboards, this is the ideal blend of both worlds, carefully integrated in a manner that leaves neither side wanting. Epic toned and icy cold with each aspect making a prominent appearance, this poorly known Finnish quartet leaves little to be desired as it meanders through the rapidly shifting path, from all out tremolo aggression to a bombastic keyboard-induced blackened bliss at a moments notice, ever retaining a strong dark-toned melody.
The guitars provide no shortage of riffs with a dazzling variety, retaining that cold, distorted tone to provide a constant thick wall of icy despair, the base chords working with the bass who even the bass gets his foot in the door of the production, heard providing the base rhythm for the track. Layered on top of this is the lead guitars providing the main guitar focus, varying nicely between the cleaner always superbly complemented by the drums working overtime to fluidly enable the transitions in pace, making full range of the weapons at his disposal to work his magic; he provides no shortage of fills and more creative doom-like paced ethereal toned demonic atmospheric work, providing more than just your expected backing blast beats.
Weaving in out of the impeccable guitar melodies the keyboards present more than just your simple chord backing, never becoming too prominent or too much focus devoted to the melodies they create they nonetheless provide an integral component to the atmosphere, only further improved by the use of vocals. Never fearing to let the instrumentation carry the track, they emit a drawn out high pitched growl often heard struggling to fight through the instrumentation, what they lack in pitch variation they compensate for in passion and the prevalent emotion running throughout.
What makes this release so strong is not any single aspect performed spectacularly; this isn’t a showcase for one talented musician but rather an opportunity for the entire band to come together to produce seamlessly integrated black metal, each member able and willing to assist each other to create a relatively raw toned masterpiece, the keyboards proving how effective they can be utilised within the genre. A shame they disbanded shortly following this release as they prove to be a testament to the merit of the genre.
Highlights: Shattered Dreams, In Death Lies My Destiny, Kun Kuoleman Harso Laskeutuu, …Final Darkness Falls…
Morgart – Die Schlact – 3/5
Based upon the writings of the monk Winterthur, pertaining to the battle of Morgarten in Switzerland, 1315, those amongst you who dislike keyboards in their black metal should probably stop reading, for this is an artist who has taken it beyond mere gratuitous use, but actually built their sound around the majestic keyboard melodies that have been created. Barely feeling like Black Metal at all any more, and almost more akin to a blackened ‘Wagner’ composition, he utilises multiple layers of keyboards to simultaneously maintain an atmospheric presence as well as provide the main rhythm for the track.
The drums are all done utilising a drum machine, and whilst they feel as though effort has gone to not simply maintain a repetitive beat, they nonetheless feel mechanical and lifeless (as one would expect) though can be clearly heard through the keyboards. Vocals are used sparingly, not performed superbly but nonetheless succeed in providing a little more variety to the proceedings. Likewise, the guitars assist in creating a basic rhythm, but despite this instrumentation more often than not it is the keyboards, with their variety of orchestral programming providing multiple layers, supplying the rich atmosphere.
Often consisting of two layers, a synthesized backing playing basic chords, creating a thick tone to the proceedings, this is then combined with some form of organ or piano melody supplying the main ‘riff,’ in place of the where the guitars ordinarily would. It is this that takes the centre stage, working well with the guitars (even if they feel too far back in the mix, and supply the most basic of riffs).
This is a piece that aims to supply an atmosphere, and they have succeeded in doing so. It’s not so much a dark or evil toned presence, but the thick keyboards lending a more depressive manner, at times attempting a more bombastic nature with limited success; there is a number of interesting keyboard lines that whilst they could quickly become monotonous, are assisted by the albums short length. In doing research for this album, it didn’t take me long to notice the large number of excessively low reviews. Take it for what it is; as far removed from Black Metal as is feasible whilst still being ‘the genre of best fit,’ filled with fantasy-inspired soaring depressive keyboard lines, fans of ‘Summoning’ may find much to their liking. For the rest of you, skip it.
Highlights: Sinfonie 2, Sinfonie 8
Diapsiquir – Virus STN – 4.5/5
I should make it clear that I am a fan of experimental music, the bizarre merging of styles no limitation on what I’m willing to try. I want to make this perfectly clear, so you fully comprehend my meaning when I point out that this is one of the most chaotically insane albums I’ve ever heard. This is ‘Unexpect’ taking a stroll through the French slums high on LSD, ranting about the ills of modern man whilst the bowels of hell unfold onto the unsuspecting city; a circus in the underworld with axe-wielding clowns jumping out from the shadows, forcing you onto a horizontal spinning wheel so he can throw knives at you. Except he doesn’t miss.
Trying to explain each instrument would prove a futile task as they shift so rapidly throughout each track, each so vastly different from the last to produce the end result that it is this that should be focussed on. With a core rooted in progressive black metal, and a healthy does of industrial coming through in the form of sound clips – from crying babies to Russian opera singers – the music flirts with trip-hop, ambient, doom and a theatrical tone, resulting in a new twist on the old satanic style, taking the notion to a new, modern setting. The decay of modern society, the anarchic nature of man and the spiralling madness as it all goes out of control; this doesn’t represent Satan as some ethereal construct, or ancient concept of evil, this is for the child beaten by brutish parents or the drug addict vomiting their lives away, and it strikes far closer to home than most in the genre ever could.
The emotional passion in the vocals as he roars his anguished cries feel distinctly human, easily evoking images of a bad LSD trip as he cries to passers by on the dark desolate streets as they ignore his pleas for help; the slow increasing level of insanity as the sudden recognition of the ills of modern man sinks in. The delicate piano melodies giving an atmospheric ambient/neo-classical like feel, the slow trip-hop-like introduction quickly giving way to cacophonies of noise, walls of chaos from the frantic guitars and the petrified drumming, yielding once again to demonstrate nauseating psychedelic rhythms with bombastic synthesizers.
In case it is yet to be made abundantly clear, this album carries a strong word of caution. This is experimental beyond experimental, this is the difference between Mengele’s diabolical experiments in the Auschwitz and the decision to use a different recipe to cook a curry. You probably won’t be able to keep up with the rapidly shifting progressions and on first listen, it may well come off as rapidly shifting tempo’s of noises, but when you are finally able to sit back and enjoy the chaos, the dark dementia of the music being played comfortably lodged in your mind, it all clicks into place. Many of you will never ‘get it,’ but the rest may find themselves coming to welcome this masterpiece of madness amongst their collection.
Highlights: Venin Intemporel…, Diapsiquir, TEST1M5N2O
Satan’s Penguins – Birds of Darkness – 4/5
A band that has done its rounds a while back, but often feels left out of conversations. And sure, they have an amusing name, and they sure as hell don’t sound like many other black metal artists, but beneath the jokes lies an unconventional brand of enjoyable music. Pass them off as another band using a gimmick in place of actual talent and you may find the joke is ultimately on you.
I’m apprehensive to refer to this as avant-garde, for whilst its unique at no point does have that bizarre edge where the collision of multiple genres that – by all expectations – shouldn’t work together form something cohesive, and instead feel firmly rooted within the black metal genre, even if they have taken a few liberties in the manner its performed. Neither does it give off that crisp and experimentally keyboard-heavy melodic feel of post-black; retaining a black core they subtly dabble with ideas lifted from other genres within each track, often with excellent results. Not feeling entirely raw in production – each instrument is too carefully balanced, too easily discerned – neither does it give off an overly polished feel. The tremolo from the guitars still feel heavily distorted and packed with plenty of icy cold treble, the drums suitably earthy and filled with life, even the bass making himself known. Transitioning between soft ethereal passages and the more aggressive, it seems to take a lot of influence with regard to pace and its ‘groove’ from traditional doom titans. Throw in a few Viking-esque epic melodies, a couple of folky tunes and some acoustic guitar and we have a recipe for unconventionality galore.
The drums make liberal use of the cymbals in their quest for the right tone, but whilst easily heard they contribute to the atmosphere without becoming dominant, and with no shortage of styles, each drum can be heard playing their creative – if not as fast paced as many others – style. The guitars maintain a balance between tremolo riffs and melody, displaying a variety of influences beyond the black, from the thrash-inspired riffs to slow bombastic doom, even working with the bass to provide a blackened cover of the beginning of Vivaldi’s well known ‘Summer Part III’ (four seasons), towards the end of the opening track. The bass, too, isn’t left out of the mix here, providing the bottom end of the scale and adding a thick background to allow the thin sounding guitars to maintain their icy presence without making the overall piece feel too thin or ‘tinny.’
Finishing the line-up is the vocalist, who in this sinfully good variety of musical styles, perhaps feels the least impressive aspect here. At times a little monotonous, his not overly aggressive mid-pitched growls maintain the tracks momentum whilst adding little to the musicianship shown by other members. With the occasional sprinkling of soft ethereal vocals that perhaps wouldn’t feel entirely out of place in a Nightwish clone, here it adds short bursts of ambient-like interludes to break up the track. Fluidly transgressing throughout its 45 min track length, the unusual title show more than just the lighter side of the genre, but also the versatility that exists within it. This may not be amongst my favourites albums within the genre, but they’ve taken a stab at shaking things up a bit and emerged with an array of tones that more often than not work wonders.
Highlights: Antarctic Winterstorm, An Evil Shade of Pink, Mutant Ninja Penguins (From Hell)
Angst Skvadron – Flukt – 3.5/5
Sci-Fi themed black metal? How could I not be intrigued. With a real 70s like tone to the eerie, warbling electronic effects, it maintains a black tone whilst adding that little something different, separating themselves from others in the genre. Atmospheric, in a tone that you wouldn’t expect from such a genre, relying more on sounding alien and ‘creepy’ than overtly demonic, it works surprisingly well. The main problem is that as unique a sound as they present, this is the only reason it really stands out; the musicianship is perhaps mediocre overall, and the compositions a little bland, if retaining an essential sense of melody and not simply sounding aggressive.
Of just two members, much of the commendation goes to the mastermind behind the operation, responsible for the guitars, piano and vocals. The bass is doom-like slow and adds to the backing, but otherwise contributes little. Likewise, the piano is almost unheard throughout the album, instead relying on the guitar to carry much of the melody. Through icily distorted guitar he plays mid-paced tremolo riffs, providing basic riffs that supply an interesting – if not astoundingly addictive or memorable – rhythm to the proceedings. Often complemented by a far warmer, heavily contrasting in tone, it lends clean, powerfully ‘Heavy Metal’ toned riffs (and even the odd short solo) to the proceedings, sometimes psychedelic and trippy in its manner.
The drums feel apt, providing the odd fill but otherwise doing little more than create a backing layer for the music, admittedly given little time to shine in the end result. The vocals again don’t feel bad, but rather poor at varying emphasis or pitch, resulting in a rather lacklustre affair. Instead the final dynamic added to complement the superior guitar work is the array of electronic effects, notably the minimoog (a favourite of fellow jazz musician and space-nut ‘Sun Ra’) as well as a number of other synthesizers used to create their array of odd effects.
The effects could easily be considered a gimmick, but instead the opposite more often becomes true; where they are used most prominently (notably in ‘The asteroid haemorrhoids…’) sees the albums highlight. Where they try to go for more conventional tones it begins to just slip into bland mediocrity; another mediocre black metal band that does little to stand out from the rest. They display potential to be something superb and unique in a genre filled with bland and cliché clones of one another, and that should be pandered to, explored, and abused. There should be no reluctance to cling to old styles as this album feels it is doing, and hopefully in future releases they’ll have the confidence to push things that bit further.
Highlights: Silent Light,Alien Night, A Song to the Sky, The Asteroid Haemorrhoids and the Drunken Sailor
Thy Catafalque - Roka Hasa Radio – 4.5/5
It would perhaps be futile to try to adequately explain everything that is presented here; no review can truly do this album justice. The simplest explanation I can proffer is, can you imagine how an earthy, ambient passage full of folk overtones evoking images of nature could transgress into an icy, psychedelic passage of industrial post-black anarchy? Or how violins and clarinets could then be integrated seamlessly to provide ‘swing jazz’ like relief from the highly atmospheric blackened doom-like situation they find themselves in? Even after multiple listens I still cannot wrap my head around it, but that’s precisely what they do, combining genre’s that shouldn’t be mixed to create an oddly contrasting yet powerfully themed 70 minutes of avant-garde bliss. It may not shock with its overt absurdity, nor will it bore with unsuited passages of unusual experimentation; this feels far too grandiloquent for such depravity.
I spent a while deliberating its inclusion for, whilst its certainly Avant-Garde of the highest order, much of it feels far removed from black metal; the inclusion of raw heavily distorted guitars and high pitched growls overshadowed at every turn by too many other aspects. Instead I am drawn to the objective of all their variation; whatever techniques they may choose to adopt, the atmosphere almost indefinitely has a strong ‘time and space’ motif, traversing the stars, travelling back in time and forward once more, and it is this overwhelming feeling of darkness, be it in industrial ambient tones, the slow doom-like pacing of the bombastic drums or the melodic violin and clarinet melodies, this proves the only constant feature of this album with more tricks up their sleeve than Houdini.
Much of this atmosphere emerges from the gratuitous use of keyboards, adding a definite industrial tone at times, gentler piano melodies at others and even a more basic symphonic backing, often succeeding in providing an effective soundscape within which the more unconventional instruments are able to perform. Vocals are used sparingly, largely serving as an additional instrument often taking a back seat, presented in a mid-ranged masculine growl, clean rock vocals and softer, almost ethereal female vocals working in tandem with one another. Spoken entirely in Hungarian adds further intrigue to their magnificently worked melodies expertly assisting the feel of the music.
The guitars lend an ever present rhythm, be it full blown blackened distortion or clean psychedelic entrancing melody, they constantly work with a never relenting supply of drum beats to form the core of the sound. It is only in the latter half of the album that presents shorter, more focussed tracks that feel less fluid, less intricate than the epic openers that present the only disappointment in this otherwise unique brand of Avant-Garde. This really does fall into that category of artists unlike any other that simply needs to be heard to understood. Perhaps capable of serving an excellent introduction to the genre, lending a far more natural feel to the manner genres are interwoven, compared to the sharp contrasts played upon by other artists, this is unquestionably one of the better of my recent discoveries.
Highlights: Szervetlen, Molekuláris Gépezetek
The thing about Power Metal is that: it has become quite a skewed genre recently, with some bands doing all sorts of comical things on it which they claim to be experiments and then we have the cloning of Power/Prog scene (Dream Theater clones), so of course with all the stupidity in session you have to get this genre right when you play it and Celesty after a few errors on their previous albums have done just that. For those of you not familiar with them; Celesty are a Power metal band from Senajoki, Finland.
So its not often that I come across a flawless album put together by a seemingly all round skilled band. From the powerful varying vocals of Antti to the fluidity of Juha on the keys, this album proves to be a masterpiece to behold. The most impressive aspect of the album is its consistency, whilst certain tracks like Autumn Leaves and Legacy of Hate pt3 may become fixed in your memory, the album can proudly boast of having all rounded strong structure.
To come to the music itself, its pretty flawlessly executed. First the vocals, Antti’s singing seems to have gotten even better than last album, his variation of tones especially his harsh vocal touch on Legacy of hate pt3 is pure genius. He also seems to have no trouble in clean vocals; although the instrument play is loud (having gone for epic approach) Antti’s vocals seldom seem to be relegated merely as background play.
And then there are the instruments themselves, which not only have been played skillfully but have also complemented each other brilliantly in all the tracks. The drumming blends in perfectly with the song, setting the pace for it and providing the epic feel to the tracks, Ari’s work on the bass has be given a special nod here for its consistency, speed and its combination with Rhythm guitars and the drums. It’s true when they say that a bassist is ridiculously underrated.
Mesmerizing I repeat is the impression given off by the keyboardist, like so many of his counterparts, Juha seems to have no problem in doing fast and melodic solos between the songs, but its his basic key signatures that provide a truly soulful atmosphere to all the tracks. It also has to be taken into account how his keyboard play blends in so well with the riffs and the rhythm guitars.
The two guitarists also have been nothing short of brilliant on this album, carrying the structure of the songs so well even providing duets. It would be a crime to ignore Tapani’s obvious skill on guitar, whilst he may be on the Rhythm guitars, by no means does he fail to fuse with the riffs of the lead guitarist and of course blending with the bassist when required. Teemu, on the other hand, looks as if he had underrated his ability over the years, but he certainly hasn’t been shy in doing the solos on this album. From melodic lightning riffs to breathtaking emotional solos, Teemu displays it all.
Another point worthwhile noting would be, that despite being gifted with instrumental skill, none of the members have gone to be over-technical in their play, which serves the purpose of this album nicely. And of course, the tracks never fail to hypnotize by drawing you in their epic atmosphere.
So on a final note, I think this album is a must have for anyone who thinks he likes Power metal or for anyone interested in metal in general. In fact, if you have read this far then you really ought to stop reading and start downloading.
Highlights: Autumn Leaves, Dark Emotions, Like Warriors, Legacy Of Hate pt3
Baroness – Blue Record – 4/5
In the battle between the prog sludge titans, this is the side I fight for. On one side of the bottomless pit lie Baroness; with meandering, ever changing song structures and simplistic, thick atmospheric riffs, and on the other lies Mastodon; taking that prog-influenced technicality shown in their musicianship, they perform simplistically structured songs. Both sides tackle things very differently with unique results, and with the critical acclaim garnered for their perhaps ‘Coheed-ified’ sounding album “Crack the Skye,” demonstrating a departure from their thicker toned sludge tones to more melancholic waters, believe that I would love to come out and say just how mind-numbingly brilliant this album is. But sadly, it isn’t.
From a technical perspective each of the musicians perform as well as before; in fact for the majority they surpass previous efforts. The riffs come more fluidly, displaying a greater variety of styles than ever before whilst maintaining that essential groove, unafraid to show what they are capable of. The drums accent this work superbly, maintaining the beat in an ever changing array of beats and fills, merging within the composition of the track to enhance the overall psychedelically toned atmosphere. The bass can be subtly heard behind the guitars laying the foundations and the vocals soar over the top with a never-tiring roar.
For anyone already acquainted with this artist you’ll find the musicians have lost nothing in their individual abilities, but where it falls short is in the actual song composition. If the title ‘Red Album’ didn’t make itself overtly apparent as to why such a title was chosen, with this – the ‘Blue Record’ – the reason becomes clear. Gone are the aggressive fits of rage that tormented the last, the slow climactic build-up to the big finish vanished from the song compositions, and this for me presents my major gripe. It’s interestingly written but feels altogether too melancholy, too ‘nice.’ No stronger descriptor feels fitting, it’s present but altogether leaves a sense of pointlessness to it; their abilities remain but the energetic passion seems to have dwindled resulting in an odd air of futility to the proceedings.
Flowing seamlessly through its entire length, the album feels like a complete entity and, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad album – in particular the guitars show an increased level of technicality in their playing whilst maintaining a groove that never fails to have you tapping your feet – it’s simply lacking a certain impact or memorability to the end result that set their previous work slightly ahead. With little in the way of truly standout tracks, this is unquestionably a grower; as the unusual beat structures of the intoxicating rhythms sink in, they take a stronger hold on your attention. Fans can expect more technicality, and nay-sayers may take solace in the shorter tracks and album, but ultimately this is one release that just falls short of their last.
Highlights: Jake Leg, Swollen and Halo, Horse Called Golgotha,