Friday, November 24, 2017

Progenie Terrestre Pura - oltreLuna



Progenie Terrestre Pura’s (aka qTp) second full-length oltreLuna is the band’s best release to date and is undoubtedly an essential album for anyone with an interest in the fusion of metal with electronic music. In addition to electronica and ambient music the band’s sound is also heavily influenced by industrial black metal, where a number of sub-styles have emerged over the years. It has ranged from mechanically pulverizing bands like Mysticum to lighter dancier bands along the lines of Samael. oltreLuna falls firmly in the latter category, to the point where the release can be described as what Samael’s Passage would sound like if it was released today instead of 1996. Yes, you are reading that right. This album is at least as good as Passage.

Despite the band’s really cool space aesthetic, the electronic influences give off more of a techy general science-fiction vibe. It’s probably better to say that you shouldn’t go into the album expecting something cosmically oppressive like Darkspace or trippy like Oranssi Pazuzu. While the band’s dry black metal croaks are similar to Vorph of Samael and some of the tribal drumming and crunchy guitar trills wouldn’t sound out of place on the Samael’s song “Jupiterian Vibe,” Progenie Terrestre Pura’s approach is entirely of their own creation. Each of the songs has an excellent sense of pacing, balancing soft electronic or the airy synth parts that transition to catchy/interesting riffs and mesmerising drumming before cresting into all out black metal tremolo picking and blast beats.

It’s easy to overstate the electronic elements on this album and give the misimpression that it isn’t a predominantly metal release or that every moment has some kind of step sequencer. But the electronic feel, while often subtle in the mix, is really enhanced by the album’s ultra digital production. So, even moments that structurally seem atmospheric come across as more electronic influenced. The ultra-sterile production style makes every last element of the mix perfected, digitized, and probably accounted for in some kind of a ledger or spreadsheet. While on the balance you weigh something like the outro on [.oltreLuna.] that has a dubstep kind of wobbly bass section, against a bunch of more straightforward metal riffs, it still comes across as more experimental than what you would think by just looking at the sheet music. Fortunately the music’s hard edge is never sacrificed, and it ends up feeling like something you would hear in the 2016 version of Doom (the game) minus the lethal adrenaline overdose.



Many aspects of the album that I consider as downsides essentially boil down to the release being a smidge softer, less abrasive, and more produced/clean than I prefer. For those that don’t take issue with that, parts of the album like the delicate outro on [.Proxima-B.] or the mournful viola on [.Pianeta.Zero.] will be rewarding in their relaxed atmosphere and crystal clear sound. Even the parts of the release that take cues from dance music have enough variation and rhythmic complexity to keep things interesting. [.Deus.Est.Machina.] however is an exception to the album’s extremely high quality because it stacks up as “only” a fine song in comparison. It lacks the energetic and memorable elements that make the rest of the album so great. Despite the album’s 55 minute run time being divided across just five songs, this slump comes across as minor because it is followed by the 15 minute monster closing track [.Proxima-B.]

One deeper flaw however shows up when the eponymous song [.oltreLuna.] starts off by abusing the living hell out of this world music sample that uses overtone vocals. It repeats for nearly two minutes straight pulling the listener out of the band’s atmosphere into a 90’s alt-rock hellhole swirling with ankh tattoos, Charmed the tv show, baristas saying namaste, and Enigma’s “The return to innocence.” Overly dramatic? Maybe, but think about how you feel when an album you otherwise love has a part that outright pisses you off. Fortunately putting the intro aside, the song is absolutely superb and the only other hint of this problem is during the brief female vocal section on [.subLuce.], which actually works quite well as a pivot point to transition between melodies.

The synthetically crisp production and brilliantly executed aggression swells from electronica to blastly black metal and back on this release are a one of a kind experience and the punchy rhythmic riffs are absolutely top notch. Despite digging into a bunch of sub-genre minutia in describing this release, oltreLuna is the kind of album I’d suggest to anyone who likes metal at all. However, if you like industrial or electronica influenced metal, this is a necessary album.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Cyclopean Eye Productions Interview



My first interview for CT include an in-depth chat with Mr. Sandesh Shenoy - the boss hog behind India's very own Cyclopean Eye Productions.

Interview conducted in October 2017 by Mongrel.

M: Fucking hails, Sandesh! How's things going in Bangalore? In addition, could you give us some details about your activities and also a little background on how it all commenced?

S: Greetings my friend! Things are usual in Bangalore. With every passing moment, things are getting shittier by the day - weather, traffic, crowds, pollution, rotten scumbags. The place has turned into to a dump-yard from a pristine paradise originally know as the Garden city and Pensioner's paradise of India. I live in this shit-hole only because I have my folks and good friends staying here. Enough of about the city, and more about the music - It's been 7 long years since I first began Cyclopean Eye Productions in 2010 as a distribution service and things are still going strong. I have a ton of upcoming releases and a couple of gigs that I am working on.

About the label's humble beginnings, I started the label officially at a difficult time when most Indian labels were either dead or dying (99.9% of them were distributing and releasing crap mostly). I was already very familiar with the metal underground world-wide as a metal fanatic and despite stopping my previous effort of running a distro (Soul Erosion) after getting ripped of by a big label from Italy (Avantgarde), the urge to do something afresh was always on my mind. So I decided to restart my efforts under the Cyclopean Eye Productions moniker first as a distro and use all my contacts in the underground to source some of the best extreme metal music for metalheads in India. In 2012, things went a step further when I first signed Genocide Shrines, a Sri Lankan Death Metal band that now has received recognition world-wide and probably is the biggest Asian underground Metal band along with Sabbat, Abigail,Impiety, Sigh and Wormrot despite being a lot younger than these Asian legends.

Things progressed from there and I signed many more acts like Dying Embrace (India), Dusk (Pakistan), Serpents Athirst (Sri Lanka), Konflict (Sri Lanka), Reek of the Unzen Gas Fumes (Japan), Formless Devotion (South Africa), Blood Division (Singapore), Beelzebud (Singapore), Jyotisavedanga (Indo-Russia), and finally Bell (USA) a Power Electronics / Ambient act that was recently released on tape and will will be getting the CD and Vinyl treatment shortly. I will release two more killer acts - In Obscurity Revealed (Mexico) and Abominablood (Argentina) before the end of this year.

M: How and when did you first get into the wonderful and glorious music called METAL and what kind of meaning does it hold for you?

S: All credit goes to my elder metal-head cousins who introduced me to this music when I was 13 and was still listening to 80's pop like Michael Jackson and Madonna. They introduced me to Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, AC/DC and Napalm Death among others bands. As for what Metal means to me, it is a way of life for me now and I proudly wear it on my sleeve.

M: When referring to a particular scene as "obscure" - I don't think India fits the description any better.  Could you highlight some worthy bands from India as well as give mention to any decent acts from around your neighboring countries?

S: Well, I guess India is "obscure" for people who stay in the Western world, and by that definition the metal scene in your home country - South Africa is pretty "obscure" to us Indians too haha. Among the Indian bands, I would highly recommend Dying Embrace (Death/Doom), Kryptos (Heavy Metal), Tetragrammacide (Raw/Bestial Black Metal), Jyotisavedanga (Noise/ambient influenced Black Metal), Dhwesha (Ethnic Death Metal), Necrodiety (Bestial Black Metal), and Shepherd (Sludge).

From neighboring countries, I would recommend Orator (Death / Thrash), Morbidity (Death Metal), Warhound (Death Metal) from Bangladesh, Funeral in Heaven (Ethnic Black Metal), Genocide Shrines (Bestial Death Metal), Manifestator (Black / Thrash), Dhisthi (Depressive Black Metal), Serpents Athirst (Bestial Black Metal), Konflict (Noise / Black / Grind), Plecto Aliquem Capite (Depressive Black Metal) from Sri Lanka, Ugra Karma (Death Metal) from Nepal, Dusk (Death / Doom) from Pakistan.

M: Your label, Cyclopean Eye Productions, has pretty high standards regarding the bands you sign and work with. Please elaborate on the criteria and what would be the essential factors leading to a collaboration.

S: Thanks for mentioning that! The bands that I choose pretty much reflect my taste in music and ideology. I enjoy bands that innovate and yet stay within the old school metal category.But lately, I have also been signing metal/grind acts with harsh industrial/drone/noise influences (Konflict, Beelzebud, ROTUGF and Jyotisavedanga for example) and have also moved into the pure power-electronics direction with Sathara Ashtika and Bell. On the ideological front, the label welcomes talented bands with serious anti-religious, satanic and nihilist themes. I have a very strong distaste for all organized religions and faiths including Hinduism and Buddhism. So religious bigots / bands / vegans / antifa can fuck off!

M: Tell us about the event you organize in India called Trendslaughter Fest. What's the idea behind it? How did it actually manifest to the point of its success, and which bands have made the bill?

Dying Embrace live at TSF IV
S: Trendslaughter Fest was started to combat a completely limp and dead extreme metal scene in India. Back before we started the fest, the only bands that got live gigs were horrible numetal, funk and shit pop rock bands with one or two exceptions. After my 1st trip to Thailand for the God Beheading Fest in 2010 (where I witnessed Inquisition, one of my all time favorite Black Metal bands headline with some great Aussie and South East Asian acts), I decided that I wanted to re-create a similar scene in Bangalore/India. With my partners in crime, Vikram and Pritham (Dying Embrace) and a close metal-head friend Kiran, we brought Orator from Bangladesh (who I met in Thailand mid 2010) to headline the very 1st Trendslaughter Fest in 2011. We got also got Dying Embrace (Oldest Death/Doom/Extreme Metal band in India), Bevar Sea (Stoner Doom), Gorified (Grind) and Culiminant (Thrash) to play at this gig.

Demilich live at TSF V
We were quite shocked that 178 crazy metal heads landed up at the this first gig and egged us to do more fests like this one. Needless to say, we complied and got other bands like Cauchemar (Canada), Abigail (Japan), Dhwesha (Ethnic Death Metal), Djinn and Miskatonic (Doom), Blood Division (Singapore), Shepherd (Sludge / Doom), Witchgoat (Black / Thrash), Impiety (Singapore), Necrodeity (Black / Death), Ugra Karma (Nepal), Serpents Athirst (Sri Lanka), Demilich (Finland), Anatomia (Japan), Balberith (Singapore), and Hellucinate (Indonesia) to play on our later line ups. We've also brought Genocide Shrines (Sri Lanka), Manifestator (Sri Lanka), Defiled (Japan) and some other bands but under the mantle of other gigs like Doom over Bangalore and Echoes from Beneath.

M: Are there any current bands that makes your skin crawl and whom you would like to see play Trendslaughter? Do you think the festival has reached its full potential yet or is there still much to triumph over? Also, tell us about the attendance.

S: Yes, there are plenty of bands that I would love to bring down if I had the money, but the ones of the top of my list realistically speaking are Inquisition, Archgoat, Sigh, Sabbat, Coffins, Reek of the Unzen Gas Fumes, Konflict, Jyotisavedanga, Banish among others.

M: Are there any other metal festivals in India worth a mention? What makes Trendslaughter different?

S: Well to be honest, the only other fest worthy of mentioning is Bangalore Open Air that brings a lot of the bigger bands to the country (This year they brought down Coroner and Nile). As for the difference, Trendslaughter Fest is a much smaller indoor fest and is purely dedicated to the underground extreme metal scene while Bangalore Open Air mainly gets arena bands.

M: Are there any other specific affiliations you'd like to make, special projects you have at heart that are important to you? Have you ever given much thought to the idea of doing a fanzine? And if you ever did one, which bands would you feature?

S: Well besides doing another Trendslaughter Fest, I would definitely like to organize an all Asian Metal festival someday. The Fest would feature bands from South Asia, South East Asia and the Far East. But it still remains a dream! As for a fanzine, I actually made one called Trendslaughter zine that never got released. It featured Abigail, Impiety, Funeral in Heaven, Kryptos, Nektarium, among others! If I ever make another one I would definitely feature Deathkey, Satanic Warmaster, Archgoat, Deathworship, Burzum, Necros Christos, Revorum Ib Malacht, Inquisition, Nocturnus, Acheron, Deceased, Macabre and many more bands.

M: I understand you also have a deep love for classic horror, especially of the body horror variety. What are some of your favorites? Beside the classics, are there any horror films of recent years that have excited you?

S: I pretty much grew up on horror as a kid as my dad was a massive horror movie buff. He'd get at least 3-4 horror movies along with some action movies and we'd watch movies nonstop on the weekends. I adore horror in all its glorious forms - psychological, occult, body/gore, sleazy and cheesy. I do have a thing for body horror though and some of my favorite ones are - The Fly, Altered States, An American Werewolf in London (Werewolf movies are body horror too in my opinion), The Thing, Society, Hellraiser and From Beyond. Among the more modern ones I quite dig Uzumaki, The Void and especially Tokyo Gore Police for it's sheer ridiculousness!

M: What are your thoughts on bootlegs? Some seem totally against the concept while some see their validity. But what about obscure and hard to find demos from the 80's/90's that never saw a reissue?

S: When you are a label and release original stuff, it's pretty obvious that bootlegging is something that you cannot condone. On the other hand, many fans support bootlegs because music is sometimes real hard to obtain. It gets even tougher when it comes to merchandise, when you can find many killer bootleg patches and tee shirts (sometimes of better quality than original merchandise released). It's a really thin line. I completely avoid buying bootleg CDs and Tee shirts, but when it comes to patches it can be very difficult to get original merchandise.

M: What are some of the best bands you've seen live and which bands would you like to see still?

S: Just naming some of the best acts I've seen so far - Judas Priest (The Apex and Epitome of all gigs I have seen), Iron Maiden, Slayer, Morbid Angel, Samael, Inquisition, Archgoat, Anatomia, Necrophobic, Root,  Revenge, Genocide Shrines, Orator, Ugra Karma among others. Bands I would love to check out in the future - Black Sabbath / Ozzy Osbourne, WASP, King Diamond, Alice Cooper, Sigh (I believe they are batshit insane), Graveland, Absurd, Nokturnal Mortum, Kroda, Temnozor, Intolitarian, Deathkey, Genocide Organ, Mz412, Trepaningsritualen, Bizzare Uproar, Death in June, Boyd Rice, Blood Axis are just some of the few artists I can think of right now.

M: In your opinion, what makes Asian scenes and bands different compared to the rest of the world?

S: Well strictly talking about the South Asian scene, it's probably the political chaos, hunger, anger, poverty, corruption, war and daily strife that fuels the hatred of extreme metal here. On the other hand, we also have a huge influence of Indian classical music, pagan religion, mythology and mysticism that also lends a special flavor to the music. Added to that we also have an influence of culture and literature of at least a hundreds different languages.

M: Give me your opinion on the following bands:

S: W.A.S.P - Pretty much my favorite all time Heavy Metal band along with Judas Priest! I worship at the altar of WASP, in fact some day I want to release an underground compilation with extreme metal bands covering WASP. Too bad Blackie has turned Christian today and spouses religious bullshit (I think it's the fear of nearing Death that does that to most of these older guys), but I'd still go watch them live!

Metallica - Never been a fanboy like other Indians/South Asian fans. It's blasphemy to many, but Megadeth appeal to me a LOT more.

Dissection - One of my all time favorite Extreme Metal bands, the amount of respect I have for this band is incredible! They are the very epitome of Occult Metal! It was my greatest moment to meet Set Teitan a couple of years ago and talk about Jon and Dissection over a few drinks!

Type O Negative - Peter Steele's acerbic wit and black humor is what makes Type O Negative such a special band, not to mention Peter's haunting vocals and the great music. This is another band that I have great respect and adore.

Master's Hammer - I prefer the Finished and The Mass demos to the later material!  I still remember my friend Pavel from View Beyond Records (CZ) sending me CDRs of all their demos back in early 2000. Really ugly stuff!

M: I know you're more of a black / death guy, so I'd like you to give me a list of some of your top black and death metal albums (in no particular order).

S: These are the albums that come to the top of my head at the moment -

Morbid Angel - First 4 albums
Deicide - First 3 albums
Dissection - All albums
Nocturnus - All albums
Acheron - Rites of the Black Mass, For those who have Risen, Anti-God / Anti Christ
Hypocrisy- First 6 albums
Burzum - Det Som Engang Var / Filosfem
Nokturnal Mortum - All albums
Hate Forest - Blood and Fire, Purity
Drudkh - Forgotten Legends, Autumn Aurora, Swan Road, Blood in our wells
Hateforest - Ritual
Temnozor - All albums
Old Forest - Old Forest, Tales of Sussex Weald
Winds of Black Mountain - Sing Thou Unholy Servants

M: Tell us about your upcoming releases.

S: Before the end of 2017

Bell (USA)- Secrets from a Distant Star (CD / Vinyl)
Konflict / Reek of the Unzen Gas Fumes split Vinyl
In Obscurity revealed (Mexico) - Path of the Seeker CD
Abominablood (Argentina) - Abomination Continues CD

2018

Aempyerean (India)- Fire Born CD
Nocturnal Kudeta (Indonesia) - Orphic Soul
Chaos Cascade / Tetragrammacide / Konfict / Jyotisavedanga / Phosphor Blanc CD,
Heresiarch / Genocide Shrines / Serpents Athirst / Trepanation split CD,
Konflict - Third World Control (full length tape)

M: Last but least, how can folks get in touch if they have any inquiries? Thanks for taking the time to answer this interview. If there's anyone whom you'd like to greet, credit, or curse, the last lines are yours.

S: Folks can email me at mail@cyclopeaneye.com or message me through my Cyclopean Eye Facebook page.

Thanks a lot for having me on your webzine James and I wish you all the best! As for the people at large, Cyclopean Eye has put out many killer releases in the past and is coming up with many more interesting bands in the near, so you might want to head to the official Soundcloud or Bandcamp page to check them out!



Sunday, November 5, 2017

Place Of Skulls - Nailed


Victor Griffin's work in Pentagram, along with iconic albums from Sabbath, Trouble, etc has become universally recognized as the iconic style of Traditional Doom, but fewer have ventured into his non-Pentagram repertoire. 2004's Late For An Early Grave was my first investigation into his other work. That led me to Place of Skulls. Nailed is the first output from this solo project. In my estimation, it's easy to understand that the known Christian, Griffin, would want a secondary outlet from Pentagram. Where Place Of Skulls truly differs from Pentagram is the hard-rock oriented pacing and riffing. The somberness and dour attitude is still present in almost all the songs and with Griffin also providing the vocals on the album, there's a sincerity and concern that accompanies the material. Ultimately, though, there is less of the chugging and attack one would find on throughout the Pentagram catalog. The album's insular lineup is rounded out with short lived Pentagram drummer Tim Tomaselli and Death Row's own Lee Abney.  

There's a host of new material here all of which is worthy but there are also remnants of older tracks that are recognizable. "Feeling of Dread," appearing on the aforementioned 2004 release, sounds great with the updated production that captures the thick signature guitar tone of Griffin. My favorite of the material, "Never Die" is a re-recording of "Pistonhead." It's a song which I can never play loud enough, and never sing forcefully enough. For me, it tops the greater majority of Pentagram material and is offered in pristine form. These two songs make up the totality of older material but what is evident is that Griffin's style has never shifted away from these earlier songs. Original tracks are similar in sound and composition and the flow throughout the record is very easy to follow.



As far as new songs here, "Dead" follows as my favorite of these. Truly distressing and solemn, Griffin presents the suicide-tinted verbiage expertly. As the lyrical content shifts towards a feeling of thankfulness for the end of life, the musical side of things becomes noticeably upbeat as well. Opening track "The Fall" is a solid opener and comes in close second for my pick from the album's own songs. "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" is a cover of The Animals. ",,," is the closest the album gets to Pentagram's heaviness musically and Griffin even sounds like Liebling slightly here. It's the shortest track on the nine-song Nailed. These tracks lack something subtle. While all powerful examples of Doom's marriage and reliance on Hard Rock for inspiration, I'm not entirely sure they capture the same soul which is found in "Never Die." "The Fall" and "Dead" do come close, though, to supplanting the verdict of the newer tracks don't live up to the older tracks.

Nailed is an album which can stand on it's own outside the context of Griffin's past. With sturdy doom and hard rock moments, this album would most likely appeal to those already familiar with Griffin and Pentagram, but coming across the album on it's own without being familiar with the better known groups isn't a bad thing as well. Nailed gives insight into Griffin as himself, outside the larger influence of Pentagram's status as Doom magnates. Place of Skulls, then, is really a much more personal look into Griffin and his natural riffing attack and songwriting habits, without the curtain of Pentagram hanging over everything. This makes it also an important album for Pentagram and Doom Metal fans in general that are trying to get better understanding into what makes Pentagram tick and Doom Metal tock.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Daxma - The Head Which Becomes the Skull




Daxma’s debut album The Head Which Becomes the Skull is a solemn post-metal/doom album that responds to the idea of human mortality with a feeling of resignation and inevitability. One part of the band’s approach that really fits in with this overall mood is how the vocals are relatively low in the mix, enhancing the buried and distant feel. While many bands that explore post-metal style à la late-era Isis end up with an unpleasant contrast between gruff vocals and relatively relaxed guitar work, Daxma’s vocals are stark cleans (male and female) that are in harmony with the rest of the band’s instrumentation, which also includes a violin. The vocals are a really critical piece of what make this release work so well, and surprisingly for a band with three members providing vocals we don’t hear any until about a quarter of a way into the release.

When you think of the release’s theme, the song structures and album’s pacing make a lot of sense. It’s a slow march with few diversions along the way, each song melds well into the next one just as the vocals, guitars, and occasional violin meld into another. The narrative isn’t difficult to parse starting with “Birth” and ending with “The Head Which Becomes the Skull,” but this simple theme is probed with a philosophical eye. Without going off on too much of a tangent,  band’s promo materials note that they draw influence from Marxism, so it’s interesting to consider how the band’s song “Aufheben” fits their into a Marxist rather than Hegelian dialectic - to roughly quote the lyrics “There is no space, there is no time, all is death, which shapes our life.” Despite the oppressive theme and homogenous structure, the music is rich enough to make the slow pacing a laid back but engaging listen. 



Basically, Daxma’s approach to spicing up their songwriting is to expand “vertically” by adding harmonic textures to the main melody without deviating too far from it. For example, on “Our Lives Will be Erased by the Shifting Sands of the Desert” even some of the most melodically free violin work tracks close to the guitars and bass. Daxma’s harmonic focus is so strong that the smooth changes between male and female vocals also add detail to the mood without altering the release’s atmosphere. Everything mixes so well that the band doesn’t need much in terms of melody or counterpoint to be successful. With so much of the music consisting of instruments and voices acting in unison it also helps to thicken the sound to the heavier end of post-metal. So while the overall vocal style is more on par with a band like Jesu, the release’s atmosphere is more on the doom metal side. The band’s use of harmony is super cool and you can hear it most powerfully towards the end of “The Head Which Becomes the Skull” where you have harmonized violin, guitars, and vocals. It’s a killer finale to the band’s promising debut album, but it also makes you wish the band played to this strength more often.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Methadrone - Better Living (Through Chemistry)


Craig Pillard is best known for his vocals on Incantation's seminal debut album, Onward To Golgotha, his work with Disma, and - according to some people - some controversial past statements on varying subjects. To me, he's the former two individuals. He's also the guy who complimented me on my jacket in the local bagel store several years back and so I currently have a positive view of the individual. Methadrone is his ambient/electronic project which he's been involved with for some time. Better Living (Through Chemistry) is the most recent release from the project but, having been pressed into it's oversized cardboard layout sleeve roughly eight years ago, it's definitely not a new album by any means.

While all the music was written and recorded by Pillard, the album is also heavily a work by Thierry Arnal, who supplies a large contingent of vocals, some instrumentation at times, and also put together the layout for the release. Collectively, the collaboration on this effort results in something which is much richer than an individual effort. Arnal's soothing and breathy vocals give the release a much lighter overall aesthetic, while the music drones on in a more melodramatic, soundscapely manner. Arnal's shoegaze influence is either causal or effectual: causal in that it lends the work it's airy frivolity at times, and effectual in that the music composed by Pillard perhaps requires such vocal attachment.

The material can be quite evocative at times, giving off uneasy and nebulous waves of sound that sooth, but form an inquisitive and meditative state of mind; the thematic content, fitting nicely with this, is echoed in Arnal's grey rippled cloud cover art, invoking flight as well as uncertainty. It would easy, however, for many to put this off into the category of post-rock or shoegaze, a genre which at the moment carries a negative denotation from the very people which would perhaps be interested in Pillard's other work. Methadrone would, then, get much more love from fans of Arnal's experimental shoegaze and post-rock projects.

It would be hard to choose one track that best summarizes the entire release in a nutshell. Were it not for the importance of Arnal's vocals in setting the overall tone of the release, "Buprenorphene" would be an easy pick, with it's endless slow ultra-low tuned bass rumbling beneath the other wise bright and spacious reverb laden twang of guitar and droning keys. The track oscillates both literally and figuratively as its genesis is bitter melody that turns sweet (as in the flavor profile and not the "yeah dude, totally, high-fivin' sweet") in the bridge/chorus selection.

Better Living (Through Chemistry), and Methadrone in general, are interesting asides in Pillard's storied career. The project offers insight into another side of the death metal icon's musical interests. The curiosity factor of the release readily gives way to the product here, a product that has more depth than the typical fare in this style.


Friday, October 13, 2017

Todesstoß - Ebne Graun


Todesstoß is a super weird band, which is worth mentioning just in case the cover art featuring a colorfully illuminated Charon-like figure standing over a cellophane wrapped body wasn’t a clear enough hint. When it comes to spotting a black metal band’s influences, the usual points of reference are Darkthrone, Burzum, Mayhem, Emperor, or Immortal. With Todesstoß though, the music is best thought of as exploring a more esoteric branch of black metal that was initially developed by a fellow German band: Bethlehem.

Quick history lesson. Bethlehem’s unique debut full-length Dark Metal was released in 1994, the same year as Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger. Naturally it wasn’t a release that simply copied other black metal bands, because it was still a nascent genre at the time and the concept of black metal hadn’t quite coalesced. As time went on though, Bethlehem became progressively weirder, with their 1996 release Dictius Te Necare and then Sardonischer Untergang im Zeichen irreligiöser Darbietung (aka S.U.I.Z.I.D.) in 1998. This is important because S.U.I.Z.I.D. is an excellent starting point for understanding what Todesstoß sounds like: massive warm bass, mid to slow tempo riffs, and pained wailing vocals that make you question the singer’s mental health. In other words, absolutely nothing like your typical icy Norwegian tremolo-picked black metal.

‘Ebne Graun’ is a single 46 minute long song, and it works out just great. After a ponderously slow introduction, the song moodily meanders around a recurring four chord theme. While the tempo never seems to vary, we still get a lot of variation, and some sections are played in double-time. In fact, the song has such a strong narrative feel, that you never really get a sense that Todesstoß is meditating on the main theme, and the repetition isn’t immediately obvious. The progression is merely the framework for the song’s structure, and with all of the empty space left by the slow pacing you are able to seep into each section’s unique flavor. ‘Ebne Graun’ draws you in slowly, piece by piece, and the downside of this strength is that you can’t really just sit and listen to one part of the album in the same way you don’t open a book and just read chapter 23.



The album starts off by establishing a mournful kind of discomfort using a dissonant ghostly organ melody that creates an overbearing and uncomfortable atmosphere. What makes things extremely weird is the medieval-styled flute. It feels really out of place until you start to recognize that periodically the flute jumps into some ridiculously high note and awkwardly lingers there for a moment. This weird mix combined with the off key notes really accents the unsettling introduction. Slowly the layers of typical instrumentation pop in, we don’t even have guitar and bass at the same time until about seven minutes in. So, not only is the tempo slow, but the song development itself is a gradual process, creating a languorous mood.

The features that most obviously distinguish the album are the vocals and the bass. To a lesser extent, the unique guitar work colors the overall feel, particularly with its high gain and less distorted than usual tone. This helps to set the mood because of how frequently notes will ring out for quite some time. More unusually, the bass takes an extremely active role as it sits high in the mix, has a larger presence than the lead guitar, and there isn’t even a rhythm guitar parroting it. Similarly, the drums take a light touch, often playing in half-time on what is already a meandering album. When the occasional chain rattling pops into the mix you can’t help but feel that you are slowly being ferried into the afterlife. Aside from quirky snare hits and some nice rolling fills, the percussion sits somewhat in the background. By placing snare hits off of the main beat Todesstoß throws off your sense of order without losing the album’s dirgey atmosphere. Fortunately the bass keeps the rhythm together fantastically. It serves as a point of clarity in comparison to the wild drums and distant guitars.

Vocals are pained howls that sound like the pathetic cries of someone having a breakdown. This is a huge contrast to how most metal vocalists go for the “demented” sound because typically singers are more focused on fitting into some kind of metal tough guy aesthetic. It’s also a different vocal style than the affected depressive (i.e. histrionic) black metal movement that Bethlehem has also influenced (e.g. trash like Shining). Drawn out moans like the one at around 24 minutes sound like a burn ward patient whose morphine drip just ran dry. Each vocal line has a dissociated feel as the lyrics are delivered in wildly varying pitches and levels of intensity, as if a madman started to explain his life story to you. You don’t understand what’s going on, there’s intermittent screaming, and things seem to shift from neutral, to sad, to angry without any regard to the story’s emotional context.

Overall ‘Ebne Graun’ is your gradual ferry ride into to hell. The deathbed suffering of someone contemplating all of their mistakes in life, every moment of remorse congealed into a single experience just before death. While this is a really solid album, keep in mind that you have to listen to the whole thing. While a huge number of metal bands relish long songs, ‘Ebne Graun’ is more than a closely related grouping of melodies - it’s one song and one experience. Unless you have 46 minutes to focus on one piece of music, you aren’t getting a real sense of the album. The slow build up, the engaging variations, and the inevitable ending are all moments that mean less when taken in isolation.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Excoriate - Of The Ghastly Stench




Excoriate's ...Of The Ghastly Stench drips and dangles it's murk into your brain with dangerous effectiveness. This death doom mixture is the result of over ten years of refinement in their trade. There is a lot here that reminds me of other South American death metal such as Mystifier or Headhunter DC, but also there is a twisting usage of melody akin to the Dutch scene. There is also something nostalgic about the presentation overall; the raw and unrefined guitar tone, the black and white cassette j-card, the improper capitalization of song titles, and the overwhelmingly swampy sound of the four tracks.

The pacing on this release is spot on. "Teofisto", an instrumental introductory track sets the stage for the expertly twisting "Oh! Peaceful Derketa", which slithers and never truly clicks into a predictable rhythmic pattern or style. It's something which Excoriate do particularly well which befuddles other bands. What could be construed as the chorus in the track is an instantly memorable riff which drops at all the right moments of the track. Midway through the six minute long song-arc, Excoriate borrow some rhythmic influence from Celtic Frost in transition to a slowish section with creepy bass melodies which further morphs into something not unlike the iconic - iconic to me, at least - "Osculum Obsenum" from Mystifier's Wicca.

Where "Oh! Peaceful Derketa" is a slower, brooding track, the pace picks up with "Black Streams on the Ground of Cruelty," but the unconventional riffs and melodies are retained at the quicker tempo. Francisco Rojas experiments heavily with guitar leads and noisy tremolo runs to cast a demonic and evil cloud across final track, and one of the best song titles I've heard in a while, "Ghostly Stench of Mortal Remains." It's the better of the two faster tracks for me, with a seemingly non-repeating main riff full of shifting power chords under flowing tremolo patterns. The song writhes under the serpentine tremolo riffs. Drummer Lino Contreras and Vocalist Fernando Olivares somehow manage to know where the song is going, and while I find it hard to follow from a structure standpoint, it's engaging regardless, and never gives the impression that the band is also lost.

Excoriate take a death metal foundation and finding a way to give it an identity they can call their own style. It's easy to appreciate a band that offers something fresh in each song, never rests on tropes or a stereotypical stamping and pasting of barely nuanced riffs. ...Of The Ghastly Stench is moist, dark, brooding, and definitively creepy. If you've ever claimed there's no good death metal coming out in the early 90's vein, Excoriate stands to correct your assumptions. Nihilistic Holocaust did right by putting this tape out because it deserves some recognition. I'm off to find Excoriate's earlier demos and material.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Montly Blast: September 2017

Cinderella - Night Songs (1986)

Don't knock it 'til you try it. Cinderella would be easy to cast off as 'one of those empty-souled glam bands' but there are some tracks here which hold their own against some of the heavier hard rock and heavy metal that crossed over from this arena such as Dokken or W.A.S.P. "Night Songs" is a tough opener, with a great chugging and catchy bridge. Eric Brittingham's vocals are a cut between Axl Rose and Brian Johnson. Bon Jovi either is the reason why "Nobody's Fool" sucks or he has poor taste as to what songs to sing on as a guest. Tom Keifer shines across the album with some exceptional lead work, particularly in "Nothin' for Nothin'" where he shreds up a slightly extended solo section. "Hell On Wheels" and "Back Home Again" round out the album's best songs on the B-side. Expectedly, none of the best songs from this album were promoted and the band got the raw end of the deal being lumped in with the glam artists perhaps erroneously, but Night Songs can still tug a bit at the nostalgia roused up by 80's Heavy Metal. (Orion)


Elizabeth Shaw - I (2017)

Elizabeth Shaw is a black metal duo from Gothenburg Sweden that is inspired by the movie Prometheus. Surprisingly, their debut EP release, I, is much less spacey sounding than I had expected, and the music has more of a repetitive/droning feel than anything. While the repetition isn’t in Burzum-fuzz style, it’s also not quite the enveloping wall of sound you’d get from a band like Darkspace or the majesty of a band like Mare Cognitum. This is a bit of an issue because the repetition really needs more atmosphere to underpin it, particularly in the first song. The twelve and a half minutes on “Ellie” leave too much space in the mix. Drums are in half time, the soft pads are fairly straightforward, and the guitars kinda slowly lurk from one chord to another. It’s not a bad release by any means, but the band could really flesh out their minimalist approach. This means more layering rather than more moments like the blasting on “Fate of the Engineers” or the upbeat folky lead guitars on “The Covenant.” Bass and vocals would be a nice start, but you can kinda hear in the release how more synth pads could really work well for the band. (Apteronotus)


Gordon Lightfoot - If You Could Read My Mind (1970)

Originally titled Sit Down Young Stranger, Lightfoot's sixth album is best known for it's title track and it's shift towards more orchestration in the tracks, yet for me, the best moments of this album are the tracks which have the least orchestration and retain Lightfoot's true folk-roots such as "Baby It's Allright," and his rendition of "Me and Bobby McGee". It takes time to get to these tracks, though. Opener "Minstrel of the Dawn" sets the stage for a rather dull overall listen and with some darker melodies doing their best to poke through in the opening track, it's easy to get the feeling that Lightfoot never had a chance to fully explore the scope of his moods as he did on some other albums which hold up better in time. There's a heavy dosage of upbeat melodies and transitions away from anything heavier. In my opinion, "Cobwebs and Dust" is a somber track yet gives off an island-vibe for some reason and, therefore, reminds me of Jimmy Buffet which immediately creates resentment. I'd come back to this for a couple of the tracks but overall there's not enough consistency here for me to want to roll with the whole album.(Orion)


Interment - Still Not Dead (2013)

Several incarnations of Interments exist... this happens to be the US conglomerate from Texas' only full length and contains all but one of the group's songs from their earlier demos (omitting "Afterbirth"). The rundown? Style: Death Metal. Predictability: Extreme. Vocals: Pretty damn close to a wild hog. Guitars: Chugga-chugga-womp-womp. You get the idea. Interment's focus is on big chunky rhythms and slick calculated tremolo layers. Simplify Cannibal Corpse's Gore Obsessed into it's bare necessity structures and you could easily take those tracks and put Interment's name on them. Perhaps it's my aversion to this style of death metal which offers nothing subtle or transcendent, but I don't see this as much of anything to go seeking out; no signature standout songs, nothing that speaks to that miniscule part of me which yearns for scorching death metal, - a miniscule component of my being which exists and is extremely unhappy almost all of the time - and with nothing new or unique... nothing at all which would invigorate a seasoned listener of death metal... Interment leave nothing on the table in the midst of a seeming death metal renaissance that is currently under way in the US. Still Not Dead is merely another name in the death metal yellow pages. (Orion)


Licrest - Nothing (2015)

Frequenter of this blog, Licrest has been covered in depth. A quick review of this history, debut Devoid of Meaning hit some excellent high points with a solemnity usually lacking in this dryer style of death/doom. Follow up Misery was lacking. Nothing appeared a couple years ago, sent to me by Armon, and I could never quite decide on it's place within the band's albums. It's a short full length, at just over thirty minutes but Armon has incorporated a lot of what made the first album so enjoyable. Particularly the pummeling chugging riffs and nuanced hints of melodic movements. Opener "Broken Inside" is a fine start to the record with a myriad of techniques and riffs including some clean vocals, big drumming riffs, and even a piano interlude towards the ending of the song. "Nothing" is a highlight track within the band's discography and is reminiscent of "As The Night Goes On" with it's long drawn out melodic guitar lines which bookend the track and passionate mixed clean and harsh vocal performance. Armon's raspy vocals are dry and painful and his clean vocals are surprisingly beautiful and pristine if perhaps too youthful for this style. "What Ends in Pain" is notable for it's extended solo. The production on Misery is more powerful than that of Nothing, yet the material here is far superior and for that, Nothing has my vote as Armon's best work to date with this project. (Orion)


Mandatory - Adrift Beyond (2010)

Mandatory are well known to readers of this blog. Several of their releases have been covered, notably their Where They Bleed EP from 2007. That EP is still their best overall listen, by my reckoning, however Adrift Beyond is  linked to this and other earlier releases. Adrift Beyond contains the first album version recording of Mandatory standards (mandatory Mandatory?) "Crypta Crawler"and "Exelution". There are some newer tracks here which make themselves felt as well. "Into Eternal Sleep" and "Enter The Crematorium" are noteworthy for their tricky yet memorable main riffs. The musicianship is excellent throughout however where Adrift Beyond falls short is in pacing. A full hour of intense death metal that borrows melodically from the Swedish scene and technically from the Dutch scene is not for the faint of heart or for those with the focusing ability of a goldfish - which occasionally I admit I suffer from. That said, this is an enjoyable compendium of material from one of the more stable German death metal bands of the modern era. Worth the purchase for fans of Horrendous, Gorguts' first two albums, Entombed, Grave, and Asphyx. (Orion)


Pawns In Chess - The Blood Of Martyrs Demo (2014)

I was not expecting such a quality release with Pawns In Chess, and yet, this trio from Ohio absolutely obliterates a large swath of other projects skirting the thrash and death metal border. This is not a surprise when I came to learn that Pawns In Chess were formed from the ashes of Descend, a little known death metal band from the mid 90's who I happened to come across after acquiring their 1995 demo at least ten years ago on a vacation pawn shop crawl. The six tracks perfectly emphasize the best parts of this instrumental group while never provoking the listener to wonder 'where are the vocals?' or 'this would be a great chorus.' The reality behind effectively performing extreme metal in an instrumental capacity is in fact simple: riffs, movement, composition. With Pawns In Chess, the tracks are not just a lengthy guitar solo, or texture experiments. There is subtlety wrapped into the riffs which fall outside the commonplace riff-tropes. For me, having written thrash instrumentally in my first band, I can tell that these tracks were written with vocals potentially in mind, yet they simply never materialized, which is unfortunate, as those vocals would have made this release an immediately top-tier and spreadable underground release. Instead, the band added a vocalist and changed names to Curse of Daniel. These tracks will appeal to fans of Flotsam and Jetsam, Heathen, and other more progressive-minded thrash bands. Top track for me is the opening track, Juggernaut. (Orion)


Sdviparg - To Torment The Men (2017)

Spaniards Sdviparg have released their first effort, To Torment The Men, this year and if you've never heard of them, it is easy to understand why. Spain is not necessarily known for it's black metal, and while To Torment The Men isn't a bad album, it won't put the country on the radar by itself. The material here is consistently operatic with grand melodies, dynamic changes, and incorporation of many different arrangement possibilities. Drumming is quite interesting at times with different syncopation and highlighting flourishes. Vocally, we get very dry and harsh vocals throughout reminding me of the early Countess albums. Initially the fifteen track length gave me a fright, but with six or seven tracks which are effectively intros (palette cleansers likely to some) and a run time of forty-five minutes, a listen or two is manageable. The tracks don't truly live up to the press' declaration of 'pulsating bass and thunderous drums' because the lower registers have been effectively dropped entirely out of the mix, but the claim that the guitars are 'meritorious' is an apt description of the melodies. Sdviparg do have some interesting moments here, however. "The Grace of God" has a combined harsh and clean vocal section and "June 2nd 1348" has a strangely Iron Maiden-ish central section with low growled vocals. Occasionally, I feel as if some songs pass too quickly, such as "Dead Path." Put this on in the background a few times and it may grow on you. It grew on me and I'd be very interested to see what Volundr and Funedeim come up with next. I'll be giving this more listens, as it's depth is quite a surprise. (Orion)


Tribunal - Horrors Obscure To The Dove (2017)

For any musicians out there that think good songwriting ability is all you need, Tribunal’s debut self-titled EP is a lesson to the contrary. To sum things up quickly, this is basically a GuitarPro file export that later in the release turns into a glorified MIDI file of what is an impressive Emperor In the Nightside Eclipse styled composition. No vocals, no bass, flat drumming, cheesy synths, and muddy guitars carrying much more weight than they ought to have to. Sometimes it’s fair to downgrade a band’s EP and call it a demo, but this is more like a scratch track or outline than a properly finished release. What’s tough to swallow is that it’s extremely promising. The riffs are solid, the pacing is well above par, and it even manages to convey a lot of atmosphere while being so incomplete. Aside from being unfinished, the “EP” is intriguing although hopefully in the future more will be done to give the music a unique identity and step out of the shadows of its influences. (Apteronotus)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Inquisition, Uada, Volahn, Gamaliel - Live

This was an absolutely killer show, so here are some blurry pictures and an even blurrier write up of the evening...


Gamaliel


While it's not fair to Gamaliel I really hadn't heard of them before the show, but their set was still really enjoyable and a good fit. Based off of the strength of their performance, I'll be digging deeper into their music over the coming weeks and regret that I hadn't done so before. It's always better when you go into a show knowing, at least partly, what to expect from a band. That way you get a sense of how they sound in the studio versus live and can really embrace the live experience rather than focusing on absorbing new music.

<iframe style="border: 0; width: 100%; height: 120px;" src="https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=1404839292/size=large/bgcol=333333/linkcol=0f91ff/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/" seamless><a href="http://gamalielofficial.bandcamp.com/album/the-abyssal-gateway">The Abyssal Gateway by Gamaliel</a></iframe>

Volahn
Volahn - Passion and Sweat

Going into the night, I would have put Volahn as easily my favorite band of the set and man did they deliver. While some of the more atmospheric nuances of the music were burnt away by the ferocity of the live performance, the overall meaning of the music was made abundantly clear. There's not much sense belaboring the point, Volahn is an awesome project and I'm assuming the rest of the lineup was filled out with Black Twilight Circle Crew. Part of me was morbidly curious as to how a solo project would be done live (which honestly, I've seen a more times than I care to count).

Uada


Uada - Expert Level Smoke Tech
   
Uada - From 0 to 100
Uada - These Cymbals were Ridiculously Clean and Pretty
Uada's Smoke Tech the Night's Real Hero
Uada is absolutely fantastic live. Just to put things into perspective, Volahn is a huge deal for me and I absolutely love their music and I'm also super into Inquisition. Uada on the other hand I never really got into, but on this night their performance was hands down the best of any of the bands in attendance. Their energy was unreal and they sounded significantly better than what I had heard from them on "Devoid of Light." I'd have to really sit down with the album and hear them live again to totally pin down why the magic failed to translate onto the recording. Despite how much I appreciate the band's smoke tech, there is a substantial difference in their live sound that goes well beyond theatrics.

<iframe style="border: 0; width: 100%; height: 120px;" src="https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=336486757/size=large/bgcol=333333/linkcol=0f91ff/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/" seamless><a href="http://uada.bandcamp.com/album/devoid-of-light">Devoid of Light by UADA</a></iframe>

Inquisition
Inquisition's Banners Hide Incubus from View (Also Note - Real Photographer in Background)
You know what's absolutely bewildering? How Inquisition sounds so immersive with just two musicians in a live setting. In a live venue, similar to music in a vehicle, the high end can often get drowned out. With Inquisition though the lead guitar occasionally occupies some of the frequencies that you'd usually hear from the bass. Also the music's composition darts from high tremolo picking to low bends so frequently that they can somewhat convincingly project greater numbers than they have (a similar effect, albeit much smaller, as what you can hear from famous folk guitar prodigy Leo Kottke who uses virtuoso speed and liberal counterpoint to sound like five people). Another thing notable about Inquisition is how even the vocals are live. You can hear this in similar vocalists like Demonaz, so it may be attributable to the style, but even the brief operatic/bark/cleans (sorry, I'll work on a better term for these) were 100% precise. All in all this was a hell of a night and one of the best shows I've been to. 

<iframe style="border: 0; width: 100%; height: 120px;" src="https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=2574764700/size=large/bgcol=333333/linkcol=0f91ff/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/" seamless><a href="http://inquisitionbm.bandcamp.com/album/bloodshed-across-the-empyrean-altar-beyond-the-celestial-zenith">Bloodshed Across The Empyrean Altar Beyond The Celestial Zenith by Inquisition</a></iframe>

Friday, September 8, 2017

Mesmur - S


Mesmur’s S is hands down one the best funeral doom albums I’ve heard, and by that I don’t mean it’s merely some kind of subgenre revival. S stands on equal footing with the greats of funeral doom, and like any particularly high quality album, it should capture the interest of fans of other metal genres. Funeral doom as a niche genre is possibly one of the shakiest premises to have spawned from the recesses of heavy metal. What if the very pacing of the songs and their structures were, in of themselves, a source of heaviness? Well, more often than not you end up with something that feels more slow and boring than crushing. It’s a wildly challenging balance to strike, but on S Mesmur calibrates the overall atmosphere just perfectly with a detailed landscape of tones.

It’s almost ridiculous to mention given the nature of the album, but even in a genre where everything is supposed to be heavy and a subgenre that is supposed to be crushing, this album is notably oppressive. The heaviness though is more than just thick guitars and bass backed up by what I am sure is an impressive array of gear. What really makes S stand out is how clear everything is, or in other words the impeccable mixing helps to highlight every last bit of the album’s overall sound. The vocals especially are uncannily even and strong. So instead of just being crushed by a falling wall of heaviness you also happen to notice the beautiful bricks and artisan-tier mortar work just before you get pancaked.

Aside from the obvious musical comparisons (Esoteric, Ahab, Mournful Congregation et al.) some of the more relaxed spacier moments remind me of Earth, like when the lush lead guitars take the forefront or start to softly echo around. It’s a nice example of how S keeps things interesting because the high end is incredibly rich without coming across as overly sugary. Many moments in the songs even have a delicate feel to them, some airy riff with effects whirling about in the background like leaves in gentle breeze. These moments however never interfere with the overall song structures, and even help to enhance them, which is critical when you have songs that are over fourteen, fifteen, and even sixteen minutes long.

The only flaw I really picked up on that I can’t chalk up to not being obsessed with funeral doom was how some of the effects are super obvious in the first song “Singularity.” I don’t know if it’s the distortion, fuzz, flanger, or phaser but during parts of the first half of the song I could have sworn there was some loose change or maybe a rattlesnake on top of my speakers. While a little distracting, particularly for such a crystal clear produced album, it isn’t a huge issue for the song or overall music. Otherwise I have no grips with S. It’s worth noting that while the band’s 2014 self-titled debut was pretty damn good, S is definitely a step up. Even after revisiting some of my favorite funeral doom albums (many of which are releases that are widely viewed as lodestars for the genre) I can safely say that S puts Mesmur up there with the greats.

Check out the Contaminated Tones interview with Yixja of Mesmur (and Dalla Nebbia) here.