Thursday, June 15, 2017
Now, where a lot of demo or rehearsal or 'early days' style collections get by on little more than the novelty of hearing a band's roughshod roots, Evil-Minded is actually quite consistent and possibly even worthy of being considered a debut album in of itself, at least in terms of the material. The production values seem to bounce around between the metal cuts and the more ambient pieces, on both ends of the album, but I think despite this tonal disparity the tracks work in lockstep and present an appropriately mournful, dismal sound which lives up to the translation of the band name, which would be either 'departed' or 'passing from life'. Sir N. excels in crafting very simplistic peaks and valleys of driving, primal, grooving black metal via some of the bands I mentioned above, and these ominous or melancholic instrumental segues which focus a lot on haunted synth tones plus a little bit of percussion and guitar (listen to the close of "Vanhelga ljustes gestalt" to hear a good example).
Rather than an impish rasp, he uses a broader, more tortured growl which adds a weight of suffering to some lighter, more melodic elements in the chords ("Ohelighetens helgonbild"). In addition, while the percussion here is very tinny, it's satisfying, and his bass lines are just thick enough to matter rather than get drowned out by the rawness of the mix. There's also a tendency towards these hazy, shimmering guitar passages which fit snugly into the mold of blackgaze, or post-black metal, as if Hädanfärd was dipping its toes into that style but grounding it in the Scandinavian conventions of the black metal medium. It makes for a listening experience that holds its value through 35 minutes, with almost all the tracks held down to 3-4 minute experiences which don't overstay their welcome. The one issue I had is that some of them seem to cut out or end too abruptly, not necessarily by mistake, but also not in a very satisfying way. Ultimately, though, like a number of Sir N.'s works over various bands, this is a relatively immersive and underappreciated album which will appeal to those who use the genre for introspection and soul-searching more than emotional church-burning.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
Tuesday, June 13, 2017
The sound here is best compared to Swedish and Norse acts ala Dark Funeral, Marduk and 1349, but where Kâhld deviates is in their unwillingness to commit too seriously to convention alone. For instance, the track "Existence - Environment - Experience" segues into a strange bridge of organ tones, percussion exploding everywhere, feedback and sparser broken riffs and bass lines that are quite unusual given the rest of the song's context. You'll find this happens often, as in the intro to "The Step Outside" which also grafts those shimmering, evil, dissonant chords to some rumbling and potent fills before escalating into a real black/thrashing head jerker. While the Germans can easily just launch into a blast beat where it serves them, the way they put tracks like this together gives the material a more curious, urban, post-industrial feel to it, especially when they incorporate those deeper clean vocals to create an atonal chanting effect, another component they have in common with a lot of what the Scandinavian bands evolved into for the 21st century. This isn't all wolves, moons and serene, cold woodlands, but staring at cracks in the pavement of civilization, gaps that if left too open swallow cultures whole.
No Fertile Ground for Seeds also sounds pretty damn clear, perhaps not the most neutered or polished production in its field, but extremely fulfilling, with both the bass guitars and the incredible drums making their mark against the rhythm guitar and rasped, angry barking. It's an album just unique enough to create a particular mood beyond the necro newspaper-print baseline of its genre, and I think for that reason that it lives up pretty well to the recent, more outward branching records by bands like Enthroned, Merrimack or Marduk who have attempted to evolve their sounds, if ever so minimally, into something studied, semi-intellectual and borderline esoteric rather than just endlessly recycle their roots. As such, this was a fairly compulsive introduction to a band with some degree of potential, perhaps not the strangest or catchiest in their niche, but certainly one that can go the considerable distance of an hour of black metal and keep my interest level in the black. Another promising entry into that newish German wave of darkness which also features Entartung, Sarkrista, Dysangelium, etc.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
Thursday, June 8, 2017
We've heard these streams of chords, with only slight gradations, tens of thousands of times at this point and the material on N.A.H.A.S.H. does little but entertain the most predictable patterns, even if they are delivered with a genuine frenzy and ferocity that might still please some diehards who have just mentally never left that space for fear of abandoning its purism. I don't personally have an issue with the most primal and conventional black metal, provided its simpler note progressions clench on to a sense of timeless cruelty, a harsh catchiness which betrays the ages, but here I just felt like the selections were so lacking, affixed to the clamorous, often clumsy beatings of the drums which felt like a soulless charge for 50% of the record. Don't mistake me, this is one unrelenting duo and they don't perform at a level far below most of their peers, and once in awhile the chords become a flood of jarring aggression that makes its point despite its crudeness, but apart from the occasional segue into something more atmospheric and vague, like the cleaner guitar in "Fallen Angels from the Sky", it's altogether too obsessed with setting and sticking to its Satanic status quo.
I'm not in love with the production here, either, which sounds fine for the rhythm guitar and the vocal but doesn't score many points elsewhere. The drums have a very forward, crashy, thudding jam room feel to them which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but betrays the potential atmosphere they might lend the rhythm guitars if they had been more distant and echoing. Bass guitar is buried somewhere in this, but it's just never creating any interesting lines, and is suborning to the guitars and adding little other than ballast. Most will find the mix here more up front and approachable than on prior albums like Primitive Humans Desecration or A Necessary Dehumanization, and surely this has a more robust, less dry feel to it, but I think I rather preferred the more level, cold and sinister feel on their 2012 effort Voices of the Ultimate Possession. Ultimately, where my tastes in French black metal tend more towards the esoteric and outside thinking bands like Peste Noire, DSO, Blut Aus Nord and Merrimack, I didn't get much from this, but it's not a bad record if you're seeking a stock, savage 1992-1996 black metal sound with little nuance or nonsense.
Verdict: Indifference [6/10]
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
Perhaps not so surprising that One Foot in the Grave functions best when it IS trying to define a little more of a melodic sound, as in the intros to "Pay to Pray" or the title track, which seem like really excellent setups for some great, memorable tracks. Alas, once we get to the actual pounding and thrashing of the tunes, they become a little more indistinct, and suffer from a sameness to the band's prior material which I've honestly been feeling on and off since this 'modern era' of Tankard had started with Kings of Beer when Andy Gutjahr joined on guitar. Now, don't get me wrong, I think Andy's a fucking ace riffer and a hero, and I credit his tenacity for a lot of the long-term relevance of survival of this band against the trendier nu-thrash landscape. But it might just be the band's very consistency itself that causes its own problem, because very rarely do I get super excited about the riffset being used through the verses or even into the chorus parts. Leads are well done, and there are some points where I feel that intensity and excitement, but it just doesn't completely scorch me.
Not a deal breaker, of course, because elsewhere, Tankard still sounds so amazing. Gerre's venomous voice works equally well with its more sustained phrasings over the more melodic, almost power metal feel of a lot of the riffs. The bass can't compete with the rich rhythm guitars, but it does sound fat and formidable where it can pop its presence out into the mix. The drums also sound extremely potent and, really, the production of One Foot in the Grave in general is just so excellent and well-balanced that it sounds perfect coming out of my speakers at any level. Lyrically this one doesn't focus too much on the pub crawling, but more on current events, which again is nothing new for this band, since they've always been about 25% getting smashed, 25% utter goofiness and another 50% singing to the choir about things that actually might matter in the world. To sum it up, this is yet another 'good' record from the Germans, just not necessarily great. Nearly on par with its predecessor R.I.B., but no cigar. A lot of the core riffing could benefit from a little more risk and unpredictability, but the stuff just sounds so pure and professional that it compensates a little for not having the most ear-sticking verses or choruses.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
Thursday, June 1, 2017
This is a spacious, assured album swollen with memorable moments that are created merely by the shifting of note progressions, and just slams you with walls of emotional, dramatic atmosphere that aren't the product of too many gimmicks within the instrumentation...only its presentation. The vast, painful rasped vocals serve as just another icing atop the cosmic, drifting currents manifest through the guitars alone, often just tremolo picked with a natural ebullience, or plotted out in simpler chord structures that carry the lower end, nigh-on-droning weight. It's another of those albums in which the objective might seem strictly darkness, but those lighter, pervasive, 'warmer' elements of the songwriting narrative are what provide its most catchy components. This contrast works even where the album takes an instrumental turn, as on "Reborn", which is naught but shimmering guitars hitting a crescendo that takes them straight into the evening stratosphere. Sonic override, and you can even hear little hints of New Age guru Vangelis in the backing synthesized tones near its climax!
8+ minute tracks justify their duration by having just enough of these little tectonic, riveting shifts that you never grow too tired of them...even the staggering 11+ opening piece "Rupture", which sets the stage for a lot of what occurs afterwards tonally. Note phrasings don't always themselves seem so interesting or catchy, but it's how the musician (Mick) fashions them into the greater picture which makes it so impactful, and it even seems that the deeper into the track list you go, the better the album gets...like the cathartic and twisting "No Way Out from Mankind" which cultivates a more frenetic and black metallic presence but still segues into these tremolo picked, careening passages that help accent the thundering percussion beneath. Time Lurker might be a disc that requires a few spins to appreciate, since it's not gunning with genius riffs nor is it distinctly original, but once you mold yourself to its peaks, valleys, contours, it's a trip that becomes well worth taking repeatedly.
Verdict: Win [8/10]
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
To that effect, of course, it does possess some charm, as Leatherface's enormous, growling tone leadens down the procession like a gluttonous, obese daemon who emerged from his cave to find that the morning newspaper had already been incinerated on his lawn. Big, dumb, barking, raunchy and lovable gutturals belched out over a riff set that can't have taken more than 3-5 minutes at any point to conceive, hyped up by Reign's bombastic drumming. The tones here sound good, and I actually like that the vox are delivered with such a voluminous swell that lets its ugly sustain carry over the slightly less muscular rhythm tone. Bass is fat as fuck, just listen to that breakdown in "Azrael's Hand", but generally it just tags along with its brother instrument, but the mix of the drums and guitars really hits a shuffling sweet spot that will warmly remind you of a lot of your fave old school punk and hardcore discs given a more ironclad vision. Not every riff pattern on the whole disc is terribly generic, they'll occasionally throw me for a loop, and they also layer on some flimsy but atmospheric leads to round things out.
I won't lie, I had a lot of fun listening here, especially to a handful of tracks like "The Girls of Manson Family", where the vocals and thrust of the instruments concoct a genuine, headbanging elixir I kept putting on repeat...but that is the SOLE reason I'm giving it the positive. When it comes to nuance or genuine nastiness, it falls behind a great many other acts in its niche, so I wouldn't want to mislead anyone into thinking it's glorious for anything beyond its own primal, bloated absurdity. The lyrical subjects are all painfully obvious, few tracks strive for anything beyond a few riffs, and certainly there are tracks which blend into one another on the memory. But when I turn off my expectations, dig the cool logo and cover art, and just want an acceptable hell-blast of leather and spike-endowed excess, then I'm the Devil evoked more than a couple smiles from me and so on some level it's both amusing and successful.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Thursday, May 25, 2017
On its surface, Der alte Thron, sichend im Schatten ('The old throne, in the shadows'?) doesn't seem particularly unique, being a more highly ambiance-focused work rather than one dependent on the strength of riffing patterns, but it benefits from sounding just like it looks, a grim woodland voyage against a sky whose moonlit shades vary between black and gray hues. The mix is very distant and windswept, with simplistic chord pattern and keyboard-enhanced motifs meant to be heard as if they were coming at you from the bleak hillside or rebounding off cold stone castle walls. The album consists of only three tracks, two of which are twice or more the length of the other, but thankfully this hugely atmospheric niche lends itself well to the swollen compositions, and it doesn't feel so barren or pretentious as it does a means to let its fell, glorious mood set in on the listener and thus manifest a more resonant effect. The drums are faint and weak in the mix, despite how the riffs will storm and surge, and bass guitar is practically a nonentity, I could only barely make the instrument out at all beneath the streaming tremolo picked riffs or the choir-like keys that carry the music.
The snarls are heavily sustained so that they feel like clouds grafted to the landscape rather than busier poetic pronouncements, and the entire album seems to feel like it's been channeled through a speaker or pipe so that it creates a faux-monotony. And that's really the charm here, the ability to craft material so simple that somehow leaves me with that majestic pit in my stomach that groups like Summoning have traditionally thrived at. Even where Schattenthron drops out the metal content at the end of the playtime, and just lets a few keyboard notes ring out as a mighty, melancholic mantra, I found myself transported to its universe, almost like a paean to the Dark Ages penned by exiles living in rustic retreats. An enjoyable time, despite the 33 minute length, and whilst I have no idea if this is just some one-off concoction in the brewery of bands/ideas that the band members are involved in, I hope for a little more in the future, though I can also heartily recommend the Idhafels debut.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
A really solid setup here, with eerie and tinny sounding guitar melodies set to the sounds of wailing, screaming and a slow, beating drum, but then he doesn't really knock it out of the park with the riff that launches "Mighty Winter", a fairly predictable chord pattern that is only given some levity by the mechanistic cold created by the beat patterns. The song takes a turn later with a more glorious and less evil bridge riff that gives off a more folksy, pagan impression, and this sort of creates a blueprint for how most of the tunes on the album proceed. Bold if standard black rasping over a sequence of 2-3 riffs that, while catchy enough to thrive in the record's dim, airy atmosphere, don't exactly thrill, nor do they sound unusual or off the cuff enough to really demand a listener's attention when they've been schooled in so much of the genre prior.
That's not to say I didn't occasionally enjoy a bridge or a breakdown here like the melodies of "Sons of the North United", or that evil lick in "Blackened Sight", but most of the tracks just needed a fraction more tweaking and ambition to stick in the brain. I'd also state that Therramon does create enough variety in the riff choices so the album doesn't become a dullard. Some won't like the drum presence that much, which reverts to a mere phantom against the backdrop to support the obvious focuses of vocals and riffs, but I felt more of a lack in the bass department. Some groovier, morbid lines that deviated from the rhythm guitar could have put a murkier, psychedelic twist on even these guitar progressions that would have left more of a mark. All told, though, even if Cold Grave is not an album I'm like to reach for over many others in its field, I did think it was a competent stab at the sort of 'back to basics' vibe I was seeking, and I dug the production overall.
Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]
Thursday, May 18, 2017
Spoiler: having traveled to the future beyond 2006, and survived, I can assure you that once this group signed to Germany's Einheit Produktionen for their sophomore, they gradually improved to the point that I would call their fourth (and potentially final) record Mana Ewah a solid and entertaining entry into the burgeoning field of European pagan/folk metal, checking off all the right boxes for my ale binges and pretending I am from an Era I am not. For Schlachtklänge ('battle sounds?) that was just not the case, as it suffers from a number of 'rookie' shortcomings that render it ultimately forgettable, if not a complete heap of oxen leavings. Before even listening through the album, you can tell it doesn't look like much, with its muted tree photography, bland logo, but just enough of the right symbology and font to clue you in on what style of music this might be...or at least to point you in the right direction. Really, the middling production and values and appearance hint that this is more or less a demo in album-length, one which sets the ground game from which the band could later sprout some more competent and memorable ideas.
Listen to any record from Turisas and their ilk and you'll hear that they go with the bombastic, sweeping sort of intro which synthesized horns, a clarion call to the goofy warfare that ensues, but strangely the Austrians place a three-minute guitar instrumental, which is surprisingly the best produced piece on the record, but has a kind of bluesy, incidental feel that doesn't quite match up the rest of the material. But then it's off to some mediocre, shuffling, middle placed power chords that are dressed up with folk melodies, all of which would prove passable if the mix were a little more even. The vocal growls feel too muffled, and not even mic'd properly, as if the guy might be blaring the backing tracks and then recording it onto tape. In fact, I wouldn't be terribly surprised if this whole thing was done simultaneously live, it has that sort of boxy, jam-room aesthetic which just doesn't capture for me the frolicking brazenness of what this niche should be all about.
This process is repeated through much of the remainder, with the band struggling to shift up its pacing enough to give the album the variety it deserves. Certainly some of the harmonies, which pitch far over the dingy rhythm guitars, stick more than others, and they show a lot of influence from both the Finnish and Swedish ethnic and melodic death metal scenes, but the production and lack of deviation or risk truly fucks everything over from having a positive impact. To me it sounds like this debut was the product of some well-meaning blokes who heard a couple records by Amorphis and In Flames, but were really into their Finntroll, Ensiferum and Eluveite and felt like bridging these two paradigms into a whole, which they might have done under better studio conditions. Don't get me wrong, there are a half-dozen sailing guitar melodies over the 41 minutes which do take you that glorious inner castle, but the weak, slathering vocal mix and the pedestrian crunch of the rhythm guitar, paired with the submissive drumming and lack of interesting bass-lines, detract severely from its potential.
Again, I don't want to come across too harsh on Bifröst, because they took the right strides to become a better band on their subsequent releases and I'd count myself a fan of at least their last two (in 2013 and 2016). If you're new to the band or just looking for more of that festival folk metal you might enjoy off the European territories, I'd head straight to Mana Ewah and then trace their trajectory backwards for as far as you can stand it. The debut is no diamond in the rough, nor particularly majestic or wintry, desolate or mighty, but a rough template from which the group could throw out the scraps and then run with the strengths. Not totally awful, if you think of it as a demo, but nearly tragic in how some of its melodic components really nailed its vision more than everything supporting them.
Verdict: Fail [4.75/10]
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
It does take a couple tracks to really win me over, and with the songs labeled as Roman numerals, you can tell they were going for a sum experience rather than picking out individual highlights. But straight from the start of "VI" (the enumeration continues from a prior EP release), and its slower, biting rhythm and an ominous low choir tone rolling out in an almost meditative manner, you can tell that they're going for a little more of a fulfilling, dynamic range than your garden variety necrotic European black metal entity. This is really brought through in the production, which is huge and clear and bright without sacrificing the aggression the group is capable of ripping into when they explode into a blast beat sequence. The vocals, a familiar, enormous and often sustained rasp, might seem a little more traditional to the style than some of the riffing selections, but I loved how they anchored both the faster and slower progressions with this level of sickening angst that smoothly transitions the two. I think it's the rhythm guitar tone on End of Chapter, however, which exemplifies the record's balance of the jarring and fluid, with a slightly post-hardcore motif embedded in the dissonance of various chord selections.
First couple tunes are solid, no doubt, but once you get into that opening groove of "IX" you're starting to encounter the album's finer moments, where the riffs just cling to your memory with a bit more rock & roll charm. "XI" is also a favorite for its modest but driving, creepy potency. The production and moving nature of their songwriting also has the power to overcome track lengths that I might otherwise find too swollen, especially on the songs near the middle of the order. As with their labelmates Deluge, these guys are extremely consistent, but I find this record a lot catchier and more emotionally resonant. If you're looking for the next Deafheaven or Ghost Bath, you'd be better to seek them elsewhere; likewise, Au-Dessus doesn't get as spastic or grating as modern NYBM like Krallice, but if you'd be interested in what Blut Aus Nord's post-industrial material might have sounded like if it were more vocal-driven and packed a harder punch, track this down.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10]