Saturday, March 28, 2020

Sodom - Live in der Zeche Carl (1994)

Somewhere, somehow, a bootleg version of Sodom's 1994 VHS tape, Live in der Zeche Carl, ended up in my hands. There's something indiscriminate about the way in which collections and music hoarders such as myself go about their business of nonchalantly ingesting any interesting nugget of potential relevancy that we come across and then relegating it to a box or shelf or some place easily forgotten. When I picked up this bootleg, I do know it was before the popularization of Youtube and the imminent destruction of all that is obscure. It may have come my way back when I was a frequent poster on Zero Tolerance forum; when forums were the way in which obscure music was dredged from the depth at a semi-reasonable rate of speed, allowing a given number of aware readers a chance to listen, consider, discuss, and place the artifacts more appropriately into a given position. Live video in the late 80's and early 90's is the only visual documentation of these events and shows outside of pictures and so, bootlegs of hard to find and difficult to play material are incredibly valuable and worth saving in every circumstance, even if they are third-tier mementos.

Sodom's previous live video was 1988's Mortal Way of Live, documenting the classic Sodom lineup of Angelripper, Witch Hunter, and Blackfire tearing through material up to Persecution Mania. Mortal Way of Live highlights a twenty five-year old Angelripper with youthful confidence oozing out of his pores, a too-loud bass tone, and an at best awkward nonchalance; it's thrash to the bone and a key window into this era. Of the three major players in German Thrash, only Kreator would also disseminate a video tape within this general historical period though, releasing in 1990 only two years later, it was still a far different musical climate than 1988. Filmed equally professionally, however cut with black and white moments, carefully chosen cuts, and a better production, it had a more serious and cinematic quality, echoing the shift towards a more serious and mature late 80's / early 90's disposition. Venomisms and Motorhegemony are largely absent, one could say. So where then does Live in Der Zeche Carl fall aesthetically and professionally in all this?

Well, the first major implication of being a mid-90's Sodom release is Blackfire and Witch Hunter's replacement by Andy Brings and Atomic Steif (Guido Richter). We get guest appearances from the past members - including Blackfire on "Remember the Fallen" - but the show is largely the '94 lineup. The overall mix is more balanced than Mortal Way of Live with Brings being more audible than Blackfire and Richter's drumming slightly more subdued. The camerawork on the video is locked and loaded with interesting bulletpoints such as extreme closeups of Angelripper's nostrils from a microphone camera, odd punctuation pauses, and willy-nilly transitions. Where Kreator brought a polished professional aesthetic to framing, the same can not be said of Live... The camera angles and shots are not as crisp as Mortal Way of Live and the overall camera shots are often wild and frantic. The movement contrasts what I would describe as an average energy level. The crowd is practically stationary during some songs like "Jesus Screamer" and - somehow - during moments of "Tired and Red", my personal favorite from Agent Orange. The best reactions are for the classics, as would be expected.

It is easy to find highlights - Ausgebombt is one of these - but essentially what you are getting here is the 90's equivalent to a fan shot youtube live video today with better audio. I must point out that Angelripper's vocals are exceptional throughout the concert. Deep, powerful, raspy, and full of pent up pressure and intensity, words explode off his Westphalian lips like kernels being flicked off a table. One could point to his performance here as archetypal. I thoroughly enjoyed the shots of Richter in the middle of songs as his eyes go froggy and his expression transforms to sheer enjoyment only when he is going fast, as if speed is his happiness gas-pedal. I also appreciate the inclusion of errors and not overdubbing things like Brings' missed notes in the "Outbreak of Evil" solos. So there is a very genuine feeling to the presentation. The set list highlights the band's complete discography. Homage is once again given in the form of several cover songs, including "Iron Fist" which was the second track on the Mortal Way of Live video also. At an hour and a half, you won't feel ripped off, but a few songs could have been culled to make a less intimidating session. While this is not an entirely necessary video in the way Mortal Way of Live is historically, it is nonetheless an enjoyable video for Sodom fans and thrash fans generally.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Malus Clump #1 - Crabapple

Last year I started these three Crabapple trees. I gathered the seeds from a gas station tree in Harrisonburg, Virginia while playing a show with our friends in Earthling and Disintegration. Germination for these was the same as pretty much any seeds you would get for anything in the malus family. I refrigerated the seeds in a damp paper towel for approximately 30 days. After that point, I checked them every week to see if any were sprouting roots. When these three seeds began to sprout roots, I moved them into these starter trays. The soil I used here was regular garden soil mixed with compost. In about two weeks, they started showing their first true leaves.

Due to a lack of light set up, these seedlings looked leggy (long) which reinforced to me the need for a better lighting setup. Either way, they managed ok in the window sill until some warmer weather rolled around. Were I doing this now, I would have waited another month to stratify the seeds. Germinating and getting strong growth indoors is difficult. It did gain me about a month of growth, because they germinated in February instead of the mid-late march which would be ideal, but it's not something I would recommend without a proper propagation light setup. These were some of the first stratified seeds I had worked with.

By late March, I was able to repot them into a bigger pot for growing out. I put them in a standard terracotta pot. For soil, I used Napa Oil Dry 8822 as a substrate. The trees seemed to do very well initially. I encountered very few issues. Once in a while, I would see some aphids on the leaves which I would simply pick off or squish. Crabapples are generally considered disease magnets because of their 'sweet' wood. Insects love them.

By the end of July, the three trees had put on strong growth all summer and were doing very well. The roots had grown so vigorously that water was not draining well in the pot. I punched a hole through the center of the root ball just to give some drainage capability. Fertilization consisted of two applications of osmocote slow release 14-14-14 fertilizer and, towards autumn, occasionally liquid fertilization at low amounts.

By early November, the trees had pushed their fall color - a deep greenish red, almost purple hue. A second flush of growth through late August, September and early October was unexpected but brought the trees to about 14" high each. By this point, I had decided that I would be repotting the trees in the spring again, because I wanted to solve the drainage issues.

I also wanted to get the trees as close together as I could to attempt a fused trunk clump to form. Inspired by old landscape crabapples I've seen with massive triple trunks, I waiting through winter until the first signs of enlarging buds on the trunk indicating the ideal time to repot deciduous trees. These were overwintered by digging the pot into my vegetable garden beds to keep the root ball warm.

Removing the tree from the pot, it was immediately clear that the tree needed to be repotted. Matted roots filling the bottom of the pot were healthy but clearly confined. Raking out the roots and soil to get a better idea of what kind of structure I was dealing with yielded an almost springlike structure of thick, healthy roots. This root growth shows what kind of excellent root mass you can get in a single year.

I simply cut the entire bottom of the root mass off and got individual trees separated. Even removing all the matted roots proved not enough to easily separate the trees. Tangled masses of roots for each tree intertwined and wrapped around each other. I did my best to clean up the roots for each tree, removing roots growing in directions I didn't want. Because my plan was to fuse these three trees together, decided the best front of the trees, and used that as a guide as to where I could remove more roots. I needed to be able to get the base of the trunks as close together as possible. I removed roughly 75% of all the roots that the trees had grown the past year. I was perfectly fine with this and expect the tree to fully grow them all back - and more - by the end of this year.

In order to get the trees into the alignment I wanted them to fuse together, I made a wooden template out of shims to keep the trees separated from each other. I notched out a spot for each tree and pushed it down into the middle of them. I then arranged the roots outward as best I could in the direction I wanted them to grow. You can see in the picture to the left how radical my pruning was on the trees. Once I had the trees in a decent general position, I zip-tied them together to make sure they don't push apart as they grow this year. My main goal is to let the roots establish in this formation.

Next year, I will do a less severe cut back of the roots and attempt to scar the surface of the trees where they come into contact with each other so that their cambium layers can fuse into each other. This would be similar in function to a graft. By allowing the roots to grow into each other this year, next year I can remove the zip tie and use wire to hold the location of the fusing together.

March 3rd, 2020

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Acer Negundo #1 - Box Elder Maple

Acer Negundo - Box Elder Maple
Age: about 4 Months

September 2018: This small box elder maple started this summer as a small sapling in the front yard growing wild. I initially thought it to be a Red Maple, but after five sets of ever-morphing cotyledon the tree's leaves finally fully formed into the identifiable three-leaf box elder leaves so often mistaken for poison ivy. Unlike poison ivy, box elder maples have opposite leaves while all poison ivy forms have alternating leaves on the stem. Close inspection of the trunk at this point shows small buds where the earlier leaves fell off. I may potentially get some new branching there in the spring. Currently the tree has about six sets of fully formed leaves. I'm not sure with the weather dropping in temperature if the final set that is budding will form. Currently, I've stopped watering the tree, because the soil has remained moist and has not dried out for several weeks. Soil in this pot is basically a mix of organics and small bark chips for drainage. I plan to repot in the spring into a more suitable mixture.

The true leaves have not yet begun to turn autumn colors but I expect that within the next week or two, with the colder temperatures we expect, that the tree will begin to lose it's leaves. My over-wintering plans for this tree is, once it loses it's leaves, to place it in the back shed where it will stay out of the wind and elements. My watering schedule will likely be every other week. I may attempt to slow water it with a block of ice or snow on top of the mulch. I've heard this is a good way to allow the roots to stay slightly wet throughout the winter, while still keeping them cold and in a dormant stage until spring. I am hearing we may have a mild winter, however, and if this is the case, I will likely give a small amount of water every other week.

March 23, 2019 (Age - 11 Months)


After keeping the Acer Negundo through the winter outside mostly, with a stint inside to slowly unfreeze the root ball, I decided to replant it to get it into a better soil that would prevent the plant from being in something as moisture retentive as the potting soil / bark mixture I had it in. I repotted it a week ago.

To keep the tree healthy over the winter, I mostly left it in my shed to protect it from desiccating winds. I occasionally misted or watered the plant when the soil felt dry but because the tree doesn't transpire at all during the winter, I only did this every three or four weeks starting mid November. At one point in January, the root ball had completely frozen. Because Box Elder is such a hardy species, it could withstand the freeze however other trees would potentially die from this. I was concerned that the roots would not handle the constant freeze and refreezing if left in the shed so I moved the small plant into a spare refrigerator inside and I covered the soil with ice. As the ice slowly melted into the soil in the fridge, the tree slowly underwent a thaw cycle. Once thawed, I was able to place it back outside.

The repotting process on this tree was very simple. I raked the root ball out so I could see all the roots. I started with the root ball as in the first image above. Using a small rake or bent fork to look like a rake, I removed the soil. I kept the roots misted to make sure they did not dry out. The root ball had a lot of healthy roots. I pruned the tap-root back slightly to encourage more roots near the base of the tree. I made sure I had some finer feeder roots above the point I cut the tape root to make sure the tree would be healthy. I then replanted into a new pot with new soil. For the soil, I used sifted diatomaceous earth (Napa 8822). The drainage and retentiveness of the 8822 makes it a good soil component. I have also used this with regular potting soil in a 1:1 mixture as well if I want a little more moisture retentiveness.

The tree started leafing out the past few days. After doing the root work, I did not want to risk the tree freezing so I have it in my attic near a window that gets good sunlight throughout the day. The first three photos were taking over a period of three days. The second three photos were taken a week after the third photo, then another two weeks, and then two months later, after I had moved the tree back outside. I am letting the tree grow out this summer to thicken the trunk up.

 August 20, 2019: (Age 1yr, 4m)

After letting this tree grow out the majority of the summer, the result is some nice compact foliage and smaller leaves. If you look at the last of the photos from the previous series, you will see some yellow tips at the corners of the leaves where new growth was sun-scorched after removing from the shaded attic to outside.

As this tree grew, I clipped off individual older leaves as newer leaves grew in to reduce the strength of the growth. This seemingly kept the leaves from this otherwise often-maligned species nice and small. The tree has been in full sun throughout summer. The tree is still growing strongly. I recently applied my last round of summer fertilizer at a strength of 14-14-14. I was surprised at how quickly this tree formed a rough bark on the trunk.

October 19 / November 8, 2019: (Age 1yr, 7m)

A few shots with some fall color from October.

For whatever reason, none of my trees this year had much autumn color. I think it has something to do with watering and fertilization. I hope to rectify that this year. The bark on the lower part of the trunk gained a nice texture over the course of the year. At the beginning of the year, the trunk had a reddish brown hue with small nodules of bark formation. At the end of the fall, the trunk had fully lignified and the reddish twiggy trunk formed a grayish bark lower on the trunk. The top of the trunk retained the reddish hue.

March 11, 2020: (Age 2yr)

Trees are beginning to come out of dormancy so it's a good time to repot.

Interesting amount of roots compared to the repot last year. I cut about seventy-five percent of the roots off to get a nice clean root structure. I also removed roots growing downward and which were high up on the trunk to maintain the proper 'root plane' where a strong impressive nebari will form. 'nebari' refers to the flaring root formation at the base of a bonsai tree. It is regarded as one of the most important design components in the tree.

After cleaning up the roots, I repotted the tree back in it's pot for this coming season.

My main goal for this tree at the moment is getting it into the spring healthy. I will wait to fertilize until I begin to see new growth. Fertilizing now could damage the tree. As I did last year, this tree will remain above freezing for the remainder of the year. Ideally, it will be out in the sun on days where temps are in the forties.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Deceased / Sacrificial Blood / Nauseator / Redundant Protoplasm / Covered In Sores

Another show in Philly. Deceased headlining. We will be obviously playing songs from the now-finished new album, as well as potentially adding in some older material unplayed in a while to the Sacrificial Blood setlist. Nauseator, Redundant Protoplasm, and Covered in Sores round out the evening.
 Full Sacrificial Blood show lineup as of now:

April 11th w/ Satan, etc - Blades of Steel Fest @ Club Garabaldi & Cactus Club (Milwaukee, WI)
April 17th w/ Deceased @ Cousin Danny's (Philadelphia, PA)
April 18th w/ Massacre, Crucifier @ The Kingsland (Brooklyn, NY)
May 16th w/ Vivisect, Atomic Cretins @ Meatlocker (Montclair, NJ)

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Dekonstruktor - Eating The Universe

Natural live sludge coupled with brief moments of electronic artificiality combine on Dekonstruktor's Eating The Universe to create a surprisingly coherent whole. Somewhere between Electric Wizard's Come My Fanatics and Eyehategod's definitive early albums, the album's sparse mechanical elements blend nicely with the low-end resonance of extremely chunky bass rhythms. The conceptually industrial elements present in what could be aesthetically perceived as a Soviet style layout are a strong and clear-headed choice. Bold red coloring, utilitarian font choice, and that the band is Russian, provide sound support for this claim of iron curtain nostalgia - the band gives no indication of any ideological orientation; this is a comment solely on aesthetics. Lyrically, Dekonstruktor's focus seems more on the cosmological front than EHG's deep personal malaise. Though the album can be construed as dull, the use of effects and subtle improvisations give enough variety to lift the album past boring but only barely.

Dekonstruktor's six songs are not obese technically, with hardly a single moment demanding a single iota of musical proficiency, and yet some songs provide a significant amount of fat structurally to bite into. While "Eating the Universe" and "14" both are simple, with repeating central structures, "To The Red Pt. 2" is an example of a much more complex track, with a number of sludgy corruptions before repeating it's verse and recalling one of the three earlier introductory riffs. This then transforms into the second half of the song, which ambles ever onward for another five to six minutes. Dekonstruktor also reduce the feeling of repetition and idleness through the length of their phrases, often exceeding numerous bars before repeating, and often with minor variations, so sections which should feel repetitive don't always come across that way. For example, "Mindcutter" only has four unique riffs. The second of these motifs repeats more than thirty times, but the manner in which is is broken up, spread out, soaked in thick oozing fuzz, and recycled under a solo make its repeat appearances less noticeable; it does something new each time, and it's length - stretched into an almost eight measure length - reduces further the feel of repetitiveness.

Still, even with all these bases covered structurally, I'm not fully overwhelmed with the release. It is hardly true that that this form of sludge is unique; bands have felt compelled to be the drips of Eyehategod and Electric Wizard's spill for quite a while now and Dekonstruktor are no different. Energy is an issue, and so any sense of personal meaning obviously falls short. Mike Williams' deep inner resentment and frustrations which are so prevalent in Eyehategod's work does not have an equal here. Garish's vocals are often reverb-laden yelps off in the distance but without the definition and attitude of Jus Osborne. Boiling this all down: How do you make intense yet near-ambivalent slow music ooze with energy? I think it mostly relies on the vocal performance or manner in which the members show 'attack' on their instruments. If either of these singular elements is executed, there is some chance of imbuing the feel of purpose. I don't perceive sonic purpose here. There's an underlying tone of whateverism which fundamentally saps the life out the release.

Without flapping on forever about this six song tape, I'm nonetheless curious to know if these issues were resolved on a future release. If Dekonstruktor managed to balance the slow patient doom with any form of intrinsic energy on a subsequent release, the outcome would be quite positive. Acknowledging that this balance is difficult to find in the genre and that I'm not normally expecting anything intrinsically timeless any time soon within the stoner doom / sludge genre, Dekonstruktor  could be said to show a foundation to build on. "Mindcutter" is my favorite track, it captures most closely what the band does really well and maintains interest front to back. I'd like to hear a little more of the mechanical elements which I felt give the band some form of originality as well. Eating The World is a good stop for sludge and doom fans of numerous backgrounds. Fans of Electric Wizard and Sleep would especially find the band to their liking, but they likely won't find the energy - wherever that is found - they get from the best in genre.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Valgrind - Morning Will Come No More

Italians Valgrind have been slogging death metal for quite a while now. Their 2012 album, Morning Will Come No More, recently re-released on tape by Nihilistic Holocaust, is quite a beastly release, drawing influence entirely from the US death metal scene - particularly premier acts such as Death, Incantation, and Morbid Angel. The old school flavor and production sets the stage for a solid hour of intense death metal in a classic and uncompromising tradition of brutality. The band adeptly structures songs to highlight outright technical prowess while adopting simplistic barbarity at key moments in tracks to give the the intellectual ear brief moments of respite and the emotional heart room to rampage and drool. After several listens, Valgrind prove themselves worthy of being listed among the best the genre has to offer, especially when compared to many of the often touted modern death metal elite.

After a short intro, the album begins proper with "Fifth Nightmare," highlighting the mixture of influences which will be found across the album. The production in many spots reminds me of the deep, low-end focus of Death's Human. Massimiliano Elia and Emanuele Ottani pair to form an enlightened guitar duo, particularly where lead work is considered. Rhythms are buoyed by Marcello Malagoli on drums and Elia once again handling bass. The four man unit with Daniele Lupidi enforcing with his powerful bellows hammer home the refined and decisive bludgeoning. With this natural throwback tone set from genesis, it's difficult to do anything but be enveloped in soothing extremity. As the album progresses, other influences and comparisons become more readily apparent depending on the tracks. "Dark Dressed Shepherd" is nostalgic for Incantation, "When Mortal Skin End To Be" immediately resurrected the more obscure Mortal Decay's Forensics at opening, and "Rebirth. Pt. 1" will remind listeners of Morbid Angel's seminal Altars of Madness.

If the album has a flaw, it's length - as is often the case for me. Squeaking by in just under an hour, it's a lot of material to digest, even as powerful and strong as each song is. A couple of weaker songs could have been dredged and deposited somewhere else, such as on an EP or refined further. A note to today's bands: Onward to Golgotha clocks forty-five minutes, Altars of Madness clocks in at forty-four, Dawn of Possession at forty-two, and Human sprints by at thirty-three. Great death metal albums should mug you; should release violence urgently; should come and go like a sharp blade through flesh. It's not that a band should be tied to any length restriction, but it takes an adept artist being candid with themselves to acknowledge when to reign in album length.

Nonetheless, Valgrind handle this lengthiness with appropriately placed short instrumentals throughout the release to give momentary cleansing of the ears. The first of these instrumentals, "Quest for Immortality" opens the B side of the tape. So aside from turning your tape - or allowing auto reverse to kick in - the track helps cue the listener back into the album and prepares them for "Rebirth Pt. 1" and "Rebirth Pt. 2." I felt a Testimony of the Ancients flavor which was odd considering the rest of the album is so US centric. The second of the instrumentals also appears on the B-side of the tape before the second to last song. It's akin to the common "we've got two more songs" warning I seem to hear every show I go to. At thirty-five seconds, it's fine where it is and makes sense though I think I would have preferred this second instrumental right before the final track because...

The album ends with masterpiece, "Only Human Beings Corrupt Their Will". Here, Valgrind leave any regrettable concern over experimental absences covered. The track is likely my favorite along with the two "Rebirth" tracks. Opening with memorable deep tremolo picking riffs before disappearing on and off into Morbid Angel territory, the song shifts to big cosmic chord moments with keys backing tapping guitar melodies and a blistering guitar solo section in a Nocturnus vein. With unique textures subliminally rumbling beneath slower repetitive chords, the song is a mixture of a number of stylistic tendencies of Valgrind while showing that there is no shortage of creative arrangement ideas available for the picking for this band.

I often wonder if exceptional albums such as this find their way to the right ears. It's easy to pass over phenomenal newer albums and a lot of old-school death metal fans seem to shy away from hearing worthwhile modern releases. It's not surprising with the amount of over-hyped music circulating along with the high saturated market that many simply do not give a modern band like Valgrind a chance. Morning Will Come No More deserves the comfort of an old school death metal fan's crusty car stereo. I also really found rewarding here were intangibles such as the memorable song titles and deep red monochromatic artwork. I wish there were some sort of lyrical accompaniment with the J-card however I am well aware of the difficulty of satisfying such an extreme layout. This all is minor; Morning Will Come No More is a major reward.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Orphaned Land - El Norra Alila

Orphaned Land has been a hit or miss band for me. My first impression of the group was with their 2004 breakthrough album, Mabool - The Story of the Three Sons of Seven. I truly found that album to be rewarding on several levels but felt that the harsh elements weren't totally congruous with the Middle Eastern sentiments. I had largely forgotten about the band by the time their next album, The Neverending way of ORwarriOR was released in 2010. I was not impressed by that album at the time, nor do I retain any kind of overwhelming emotion to it now. Thus, predictably, the band drifted off my radar. Somewhere within the past two or three years, I encountered the band's sophomore album, El Norra Alila at a garage sale or flea market somewhere for a few bucks and picked it up for the sole reason of finally hearing some of the songs which I had only previously heard on the live bonus disc which accompanied Mabool. Having not heard the band's recent albums, I still feel confident proclaiming that Orphaned Land's second album is their best record. To my ears and judgement, El Norra Alila should be considered a transportive album, carrying the listener to a truly new landscape of sounds.

While there are several key tracks on the album, the album opener, "Find Yourself, Discover God" epitomizes what makes El Norra Alila special. The weaving guitar lines are nuanced and enlightened by a native honesty. While Western artists have often opted to lift middle eastern themes for placement into songs - the iconic acoustic fill in Megadeth's "Holy Wars, The Punishment Due" comes to mind quickly as one example - guitarist Yossi Sassi seems to mindlessly play through endless variations of traditional phrasings which I find breathtaking. Kobi Farhi's vocals are another unique element which instantly give a grandeur to the track. Deep spoken word sections and hymnal-esque segments are interrupted with occasional black-metal rasps to form a deeply religious and spiritual atmosphere. At all times, this is complemented by Sassi's lead guitars. Other times the vocals follow the rhythm guitars by Matti Svatizki building deep harmonious combinations. As if all this wasn't enough, Orphaned felt inclined to elicit the help of a number of guest musicians to add numerous folk and traditional instruments to the mix. As an opening track, it doesn't draw you into the album as much as it pushes you off a cliff into Orphaned Land's musical universe.

Another key track - or tracks - is the combination of "The Path Ahead" and it's tail "A Neverending Way," the latter of which was one of my favorite tracks on the Mabool live bonus disc. The track there is a mostly a cappella rendition and always spine-tingling. Here, the original version is no less incredible but we are given the full context of the song. As "The Path Ahead" treks forth through memorable leads and elegant sections, it also moves through some darker moments. I think in this song more than any other, the influences of classical composition is apparent. The song flows with little repetition, giving Farhi room to explore vocal usages and invoke imagery. Split by a highly emphasized overdriven vocal moment, the song slowly morphs into the violin opening moments of "A Neverending Way", the song hearkening back to it's preamble track lyrically. It's easy to hear why the track is a fan favorite on the Mabool bonus tracks. It's big chugging verse moments, long vocal lines, poetic lyrics, and clear concise ending are indicative of the band's confidence in their craft.

Lyrically, the album is beautifully jammed with what I could call a treatise on spirituality in poetic verse. While it's possible to, of course, look at the lyrics in an interpretive manner and not literally, I believe that Orphaned Land is fairly clear in their content and it's not surprising given the cultural surroundings. "I'm down on my knees, I worship you with awe, I'm down on my knees, my belief forever strong, And I call out to you my lord of light, Watch my faith how it glows (Flawless Belief)" or "Find your self, discover God... You are his begotten son (Find Your Self, Discover God)". Much of the album's lyrical content is a call to find solace and love and one's relationship with God. There isn't a set denominational statement and the lyrical content is less proselytizing than your average Satanic black metal album, giving the listener a breath of ideological space. Nevertheless, one of the drawbacks on this album for me is the lack of diversity of thought to match the diversity of musical influences. I wanted to see some form of conflict, of hesitance, of intellectual battle, but it is quite dry in that regard.

Other noteworthy tracks for me are "Flawless Belief" with it's truncated rhythmic syncopations and impressive structural scale emphasizing the rhythm section of the band comprised of drummer Sami Bachar and bassist Uri Zelcha. Also "Like Fire to Water" and "El Meod Na'Ala", one of two songs sung in beautiful Hebrew. My main concerns with the album are relatively few. I find El Norra Alila to be more cohesive than it's follow up Mabool and a big step up from debut Sahara in maturity and vision. There are moments where I am not entirely satisfied, particularly towards the end of the album where there are some filler tracks such as "Of Temptation Born" and "The Evil Urge". The album is long, a blemish which I can overlook in this instance, but does detract from my likelihood of listening to the album more than once in a while, even for as good as it is. I'm not sure the hidden track warrants the additional ten minutes of blank time to hide it at the end of "The Evil Urge". The production overall elicits a feeling of dryness, especially the harsh sandy guitar tone which is ideal for the atmosphere yet after an hour of music, could be found to be grating.

El Norra Alila considered within the appropriate context of it's creation makes it a quite astounding album for something created in not only a non-traditional metal market but in an area of the world where just several miles away in a different country, such an album could cost the musicians their life. Released in 1996, it is one of the earliest examples of metal to appear in Israel, and the Middle East as a whole, which would reach audiences beyond. It also makes no attempt not to remove the regional and traditional elements and mimic western archetypes. It is unabashedly local. Compare this to other material of it's time and there is a significant change in how these elements are portrayed. Melechesh - who are trumpeted as being purveyors of Middle Eastern cultural motifs on their albums - on their 1996 album, As Jerusalem Burns... Al'Intisar, do not incorporate such clearly defined folk influences.

Also of interest is the usage of harsh and clean vocals as a singularly atmospheric element - a combination which, to my knowledge, was at this point in time still rare and obscure to find. Orphaned Land, two years prior, on Sahara, were also mixing vocal styles and patterns however on El Norra Alila they have truly specialized into using the technique to convey atmosphere. Opeth used the mixture of clean vocals and death metal vocals as an atmospheric element similarly on their albums - at least through Deliverance - and Orphaned Land predated them on both their debut and El Norra Alila. In the Sahara insert, Holy Records defines the band as Oriental Doom Death. It's actually quite accurate but nowhere near as comprehensive as it should be. El Norra Alila is a true progressive gem, advancing Metal in a unique way.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Sacrificial Blood Official Website / News

Mike finally got tired of facebook so all Sacrificial Blood news can be found on his new blog which will have the most up to date information on the band as well as what I am sure will be an exceptionally entertaining laundry list of opinions and thoughts.

Recent band news... the album is in mixing. Artwork has been revealed and looks awesome. We have shows coming up. More details in the link on those. Artwork below for the new album. 

Those looking for copies of the sold out Okketaehm - Stones, Maximum Oversatan - Too Evil For Hell, or Diseased Oblivion - Portals of Past and Present can find some copies at Mandarangan Records. I have long been sold out of the Okketaehm and Maximum Oversatan tapes and occasionally get requests for them. 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Juniperus Virginiana #2 - Eastern Red Cedar

I collected this Eastern Red Cedar from my Lawn of all places in February of 2019. I did some basic root pruning and planted into a plastic container with Napa 8822 as a growing medium. The almost-purple foliage is common on this species in the winter. As the tree enters dormancy, the foliage "bronzes" to this color. Junipers of all species as well as pines go through this process.

I had no special plans for this tree other than to save it from being digested into my lawnmower. I was actually surprised to find the tree at all in the lawn. There are some nice examples of Eastern Red Cedar bonsai online. I am planning on styling this tree similarly to this one by Vance Hanna. His was collected older and already grown but shows the kind of quality that proper care of the species can produce.

 I fertilized throughout this past summer and was able to get a significant amount of growth on the tree. I was not expecting such a strong flush of growth. As color returned to the juvenile foliage the tips of new growth turned a light green and started to expand (left). By middle of summer, the growth had mostly subsided as the tree entered summer dormancy in August.

By September, the tree had roughly tripled in size and was growing very healthily. I even did some minor pruning on branches mid-way up the trunk to get the tree into a roughly conical shape. I remove downward growing branches as well, leaving new growth at the ends of the branches and the upwards growth. My intent for leaving upwards growth is that when wiring branches downward, the new upward growth would now be facing outward, providing a possible point to cut back to in the future.

In November, at our monthly bonsai club meeting, I spent time wiring the tree into a shape and putting some movement in the low branches. These low branches are the most important at the moment because they will likely be the branches left on the tree long term as the top gets repeatedly cut back and rebuilt. The tree at the beginning of the winter and end of the year left me with a real strong feeling about the progress of the tree. I recently pulled the tree from it's wintering quarters and removed the wire. The branches had all set. Plans for this year are a new pot, and strong growth.