Thursday, March 26, 2015

Wormlust Interview

In this interview with H.V Lyngdal of Wormlust, (parts of which are quoted in the prior article about Icelandic black metal) a bit of background context is helpful, since some of the questions and responses build on topics that he had discussed with others in awesome interviews in the past. In short, Hallucinogenesis is the upcoming album from Wormlust, The Feral Wisdom was the project's latest full-length from 2013 (which was noted to have been created during long periods of time without sleep). Also, the project Martröð, which he mentions later in the interview, is a pending project featuring H.V Lyngdal and members from bands such as Aosoth, Krieg, Leviathan, and Blut Aus Nord. See his thoughtful and expansive comments below:

Apteronotus: What is the current status of Hallucinogenesis and how much sleep deprivation has gone into working on it?

H.V Lyngdal: There were delays, some probably due to putting a time limit on the creative process. Most of it was that every last piece of gear broke down beyond repair and needed to be replaced. Finally the process of going through hours of musical ideas was slower this time around since the quality consciously went up. It is pretty much finished, I had to make a vow to myself that the version I am finishing up will be the last version. No more changing it around because of some idea of perfection. There have been sleepless periods, mostly this offering has been on my mind constantly since I began imagining what it could be 3 years ago. 

A: In terms of hours of music, how much material would you estimate that you have written over the past twelve months?

H.V Lyngdal: Past twelve months has been around 5 hours of riffs and maybe 3 of atmospheric stuff, but I started writing for the album back in 2013 and so everything summed up is around 20 hours, riffs and soundscapes. Some of it very thought out and (each progression) while others have a wider brush stroke that lead to being other themes and variations instead. The principle is that 99% of the effort is utter shit, but the energy going into it will leave 1% of material that is usable and perhaps
half of that is any good. Divide it up again and there is the music you can actually release. Then there is the question of how to compose those pieces together, maybe only one second of a riff was interesting so I will place it in the composition somewhere it challenges you. 

Wormlust - The Feral Wisdom (2013)

A: Why is it that you are so drawn to psychedelics and making chaotic music?

H.V Lyngdal: Saucerful of secrets clicked with me on a spiritual level and sent me on a journey that had me listening to the obscurest 60's rock bands a few years later. What it was is that drew me to it I can't say, but I remember getting really claustrophobic on that first listen of Saucerful, with images of universes being born and dying, Firelit tribes of antiquity worshiping the stars.

The chaos in music in the music can be thought in relation to chaos magic, both artforms are interconnected, the inner turmoil of the self manifested.

A: Which bands, if any, do you feel have had better success incorporating psychedelic music into metal?

 H.V Lyngdal: Mostly the bands that are not trying to be psychedelic, it's the old shamanistic tribal trance that every musician taps into on some level once or twice, through repetition. I could talk about Von in relation to krautrock bands like Neu! easily. That is the basis of the thing, but the other level would be musicians who are conscious of the label like myself. Being aware of the fact can have you playing with the idea of the "song", like in art. Is it still a song if you do this and that with it? Warp it. Destroy something integral to a tradition. Most bands seem to think buying a delay pedal is what makes a psychedelic band, but if you are aware of what you are trying to attain then you have to change your approach to the thing as a whole. By that I am talking of those that think, "I am going to make psychedelic music". It in itself has no defined style so the freedom to alter the music is vast. I haven't really heard many bands utilize the idea total creative freedom to that degree that use the label, but I can give a couple of  names to nail the point in. On these opposite spectrums are f.e Murmuure and Lurker of chalice. One is consciously making weird stuff while the other is made from instinct and emotion. Abigor is the quintessential psychedelic black black metal band for me, Negative Plane is also up there.

H.V Lyngdal Created the Cover Art for the Leviathan / Krieg Split
A: As someone who has studied art history, how do you feel that your education influences how you create music and visual artwork?

H.V Lyngdal:  I can relate it to the movements of happenings, duchamp, dada-ism, surreralism and ad nauseum. Its just like building a god-head and projecting your self unto it, its giving names ,symbols and power to a thing. What I do with music and visually is always a self portrait, that is how I view it. I alone create it and its a reflection of me, a singular entity. I have only done one commission artwork that was not truly from me and it turned out horribly, I am not credited with it. The most important thing I have learned from art is the importance of having your own voice, that is probably why I am not behind a Mayhem clone project.

A: On the topic of visual arts, are there any cover art projects that you are currently working on and can discuss?

H.V Lyngdal: No nothing, my mind does not handle working on music and images in the same time period.

A: Do you think that being an Icelander has an influence on what your music sounds like?

H.V Lyngdal:  Well, I could not really know. Hypothetically I could imagine not being born on Iceland and it is a nice thought. For me my music is just experience. Having played it and analyzed it long enough. Sociologically I can have the distinction of being an "old timer" within the black metal circle here, going back almost 15 years. Done dozens of random things.  I played drums on two rehearsals on what later in essence became Svartidauði, before that I was a member of the only active black metal band around 2000, failed horribly at playing keyboards for Potentiam. Later in 2003 I made 5 handmade copies of my first demos and sent I think 3 of those to labels, that until 2009 was my only effort into releasing my stuff and even then that was at someone else behest. All along I was playing in horrible bands on auto pilot, a band formed during every drinking binge. I was the only when in that situation, and when I think about it I can define how Iceland influenced my music: It gives no support! Want to release something/play abroad/get your efforts recognized? Forget it.

It is through our own efforts like hungry wolves that we are getting respect abroad. Even today for me personally there is not much support here, f.i "experts" like the zine Andfari etc. have never given me the time of day.

Usually the question is if the landscape is a influence on the music and I believe you are getting to that at another and less obnoxious angle. The answer is yes, every black metal project and band stares into the snowy horizon teary-eyed when they write and play their music.

Wormlust - Seven Paths (2009 Demo)

A: You’ve mentioned being unsatisfied with lyrics translations, citing a communication gap. Aren’t miscommunications inherent in lyrics anyways, or is language more fundamental for you?

H.V Lyngdal:  How I wrote those particular lyrics was basically untranslatable, I used Nordic compound words that would be incoherent when translated over to anything else. The loss of communication in lyrics comes mostly from not understanding the overall idea behind them is. You basically do not understand even though you can easily read it. Not being able to give people at least words so that they can try to decide on their own makes the whole idea of having lyrics useless. Trying to convey an idea, narrative etc. with a gag over your mouth. Placing such importance on words I derive from the orthodox side of myself where lyrics are transmuted into scripture.

A: Of all of the feedback you had heard or read about The Feral Wisdom, what has been the most memorable?

H.V Lyngdal: Getting to know other musical creators is the best thing to come as a result of that release,  I joined a project "Martröð" early last year. This project has been the impetus for getting better at my craft, I would write 1-10 things a day for it for a month and try to do better or at least differently on each try. It is a much needed construct of discipline. But I also enjoy hearing stories of people tripping to the album, using it as a table coaster to sniff things off of etc.

A: There has been a lot of press coverage about Iceland having its first pagan temple in a 1,000 years, with construction beginning in February 2015. How do you feel about this?

H.V Lyngdal: I did not know anything about it, I have been living in a cocoon basically, all our medias are owned by political parties now so I have stopped reading them. Things are going very wrong. My stance has always been the abolition of all religion basically. People tend to confuse the amazing Icelandic sagas with what the heathen religion of today is. For starters there are no reliable written records of anything concerning how heathen held their beliefs so there go the ties to tradition. What is there left then? Folk in costumes in opposition to the ruling religion that is Christianity. I can also take my favorite literature, marry it to my beliefs and give it a name - and I do. All within the comfort of my own home and definitely not inside a post-modern toilet-sculpture like the "heathens" seem to be doing.

A: Well that is all for questions, I appreciate your time. The last words are yours.

H.V Lyngdal: I would just like to acknowledge that this is one of the few interviews I have answered where the questions are well thought out.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Mannveira Interview

Mannveira's EP Von Er Eitur was released back in March of 2014, just over a year ago now. Despite this being a well received release, and the project's only one to date, there was little information about the man behind Mannveira, Illugi. Fortunately, Illugi was available to do an interview to shed some light on the nihilistic project and answer some questions about his past, present, and future along with some comments that went into the prior article about Icelandic black metal.

Apteronotus: What is your earliest memory of listening to metal, was it something you enjoyed immediately or did it take time to click?

Illugi: Luckily for me, metal is something I grew up with so I've always been very fond of it. It did take me some time to really appreciate more extreme stuff when I was a teenager but it grew on me like a tumour, eventually.

A: Why did you form Mannveira?

I: Because I wanted to use the material I had written and I wanted it to sound like I had imagined it.

A: Before Mannveira, you played in Abacination. How did everyone in Abacination get to know one another and will those demos ever be re-released?

I: I think everyone in Abacination met through the internet because they were looking for some like-minded people to make music with, and then I joined because I'm friends with the singer and he recommended me as a bass player. I am fairly certain though that the demos won't be re-released, due to lack of general interest.

A: The label you are on, Vánagandr, has a fairly sizable group of black metal musicians, some of which you have played with before. What then is the driving force behind creating the music Mannveira mostly individually rather than collaborating?

I: It is mostly because Mannveira is the first music I made that was specifically the way I wanted it to be and I didn't feel like it needed someone else's input. However, I collaborated with some people to write some new material and will probably continue to do so from now on.

A: My understanding is that Mannveira translates to human virus, and Von Er Eitur translates to Hope is Poison. Are these fair translations or is some meaning lost? Do you feel that art, and your lyrics in particular, can truly be translated?

I: Your translation of the titles is absolutely correct, but I feel that the lyrics and the atmosphere surrounding them would be completely lost in translation.

A: When it comes to musical influences, how do you think the bands that you enjoy have impacted how you make music?

I: Of course, there is a great impact from the artists I enjoy in my music, but I try my best not to imitate anyone and to develop my own sound.

A: Many outsiders comment on Iceland’s unusual geography when interpreting Icelandic music. What do you think of the idea that the mood of your music is somehow shaped by your physical surroundings?

I: It makes sense to a certain degree, the connection between the two maybe isn't that strong, but of course your environment has an effect on you no matter what, so the extremely dark, long and unforgiving winter in Iceland has an effect that we can't deny.

A: While there are many metal bands in Iceland, is there a defined or separate black metal scene, given that the country has so many black metal bands that incorporate large amounts of dissonant sounds?

I: The number of black metal acts in Iceland has grown considerably in the last 2 years or so, which has turned into a pretty specific scene that maybe doesn't get involved too much with bands involved in other genres, but there's always a small bit of interaction between the black metal band and bands from other genres (live shows and such) for diversity's sake.

A: What gear did you use to get the sound on Von Er Eitur and are you satisfied with the end result?

I: Honestly, I borrowed pretty much all of the equipment that was used to record, so I can't really specify what was used because I'm not so sure myself. I was very pleased with the end result though and it is only fair to mention that those who assisted in making it did an excellent job.

A: What are your long term goals for Mannveira and are you working on any other projects?

I: There is a split release being planned for sometime in 2015 and plans for some live shows as well, although I can't really go into any details regarding neither one of those plans yet.

A: Illugi, thank you for doing this interview and for your time. Do you have any final comments?

I: Yes, keep an eye out for the Icelandic black metal scene in the coming years!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Icelandic Black Metal: The Dissonant Branch


Breathtaking glaciers, vast tundra, and stark lava fields; Iceland’s landscape is remarkable and unparalleled. This fascinating country has a population of only around 325,000, but it is also home to an unparalleled metal scene. Over 50 black metal bands, with a staggering 30 of them currently active according to the Metal Archives. While it’s never fair to generalize an entire country’s music scene, there is a fascinating dissonant subset of Icelandic black metal. These bands each have a chaotic take on the genre, and while having individual approaches, they are also often compared to one another.

Rather than lumping the bands all together or even tackling each individually, this article will delve into the dissonant Icelandic black metal scene as a whole. In addition to background information, we'll also have previews of how some of the bands feel about their influences, their language, and their environment. Part of this will include looking at data take from the Metal Archives, band websites, and pulling quotes from past interviews. Additionally, I conducted three standalone interviews with the following bands: Mannveira, Wormlust, and Azoic. (These will be posted in their entirety over the course of the next couple of days.)

So, who are some of the dissonant Icelandic black metal bands? Here are the first that come to mind, a diverse crowd for sure, but not an exhaustive list:

Top Row: Svartidauði, Carpe Noctem, Wormlust
Middle Row: Azoic, Mannveira, Vansköpun
Bottom Row: Naðra, Sinmara, Misþyrming
Lonely Row: Nornahetta

Perhaps the most well known bands among this scene are Svartidauði, Carpe Noctem, and Wormlust. After that, the risks of leaving out bands increases, but it is safe to include Sinmara, Naðra, Mannviera, Vansköpun, Nornahetta, and the newest of them all Misþyrming, who have had a meteoric rise in popularity. While Azoic leans very heavily on the death side of black/death metal it’s probably also fair to include that highly dissonant project as well. Keep in mind that this is focusing only on a certain sub-style of black metal, so Icelandic black metal bands like the doomy 〇, the famous Sólstafir, or the relatively traditional Curse or Úrhrak aren’t today’s topic. That said, there are always gray areas (Árstíðir Lífsins for example flirts with some similar sounds) and if there are more bands that fit, I’d be glad to hear about them. While we're name dropping bands, NYIÞ is basically in the same vein of dissonant Icelandic black metal, but without the metal. Worth checking out for anyone who enjoys the ambient sides of these bands.


To start us off with getting an idea for the scene as a whole, here is a timeline of what this particular group of bands has been up to since 2002 when Svartidauði first formed:

This chart doesn’t include splits, compilations, or live albums; but you can see that the bands in this group haven’t been particularly prolific. All in all, there were no full-length albums before 2012, and there are only six in total now, as of March 2015. Despite all of the recent attention and formation of younger bands, you can also see that the roots go fairly far back. Releases under former band names are in parentheses.

Band Member Web

 (This is a diagram only of band member overlaps and is not intended to reflect musical similarities.)

Considering that the island nation has a small population, with about 122,000 of those living in Reykjavik, one might expect a great deal of band member cross-pollination. Looking at the above web, you can get a good impression of how often this has happened and how the band's members connect to one another. With around 30 individuals among these bands between current, former, and session musicians this web strikes me as showing only a small amount of overlap given the close-knit circumstances. Nornahetta has no member information publicized at this time, but considering that they are also a Vánagandr signed band, you might be able to make some educated guesses.

Some points worth noting:
  • Abacination is split up, but everyone listed as “current” in the chart was part of the last known lineup. (Illugi of Mannveira has said that he fairly certain the Abacination demos won't be re-released.)
  • To keep things clean, I’ve ignored name changes, so for example Kristófer is a “former member” of Wormlust, but only by virtue of playing with the band when it was called Wolfheart. 
  • I’ve included H.V Lyngdal as a former member of Vansköpun based on his September 3, 2013 statement in a Puro Ruido interview that Pestuus (formed in 2008) mutated into Vansköpun. 
  • Don't read into the two groups not overlapping. If you were inclined you could connect members of Naðra and Svartidauði through the death metal band Shrine (formerly known as Gone Postal).

Interestingly, you can see from the above web that two labels in particular have a very strong presence in this scene, Vánagandr (an Icelandic label) and Terratur Possessions (a Norwegian label). Carpe Noctem is signed to Code666 (an Aural music subsidiary), Vansköpun to Barghest, and Wormlust to Daemon Worship Productions. Azoic is the only unsigned group of the bunch. 

Vánagandr is run by Dagur and Tómas. As you can see above, both of them are also involved in multiple active bands. Dagur in particular is especially busy, being credited with the mixing work on releases by Mannveira, Naðra, and 〇. Stylistically, Dagur's thumbprints leave a rawer and savage sense of chaos compared to some of the more heavily produced bands.


While Terratur Possessions has a larger overall roster, two of the Icelandic bands there also share a common recording studio: Svartidauði and Sinmara, who have both worked with Studio Emissary, which has worked on recording, mixing, and mastering for many bands. This studio is run by Wann, also known as Stephen Lockhart, who is also heavily involved in making music and is an active member of Sinmara. (See above web). As a trivia note, Wann is originally from Ireland, which is pretty amazing when you consider how much he has contributed to this scene. In contrast to Dagur, Wann's productions are razor sharp and clean, giving breathing room for technical flourishes.

"There was never an option in our minds to have somebody else then Wann handling the whole recording process with us and we will be working with him again in the future." - Svartidauði in a Mortem Zine interview.


When you are talking about any number of musicians, you are going to come across a variety of musical influences. More often than not though, when reading reviews about these bands you'll see a comparison to Deathspell Omega. Now, no matter your opinion on the quality of that band's 2004 release, Si Monumentum Requires Circumspice, it certainly has had a major impact in black metal. For better or worse, the name Deathspell Omega has also become nearly synonymous with dissonance. Just like any comparison though, thinking about a particular band can be useful in a general sense, but becomes less so when you take a deeper look at the scene. While it is ultimately up to each listener to decide whether the comparison is fair or superficial, let's see what some of the bands have to say about their influences:

 We don't really recognize it as 'the French sound', there are some similarities but bands all around the globe are scanning the obscure path of extreme genre mixing. - Azoic when asked about the influence of the French sound in Slaying Tongue, (where the interviewer also lamented that all bands experimenting with dissonance are automatically compared to DSO)
“Svartidauði is Svartidauði” Svartidauði fielding a question in Mortem Zine about constant DSO comparisons. Blunt but understandable.
“...the classic NoEvDia bands from the turn of the century....This particular movement was undeniably a strong influence on Chao and still holds a place in our hearts, although we have widened our horizons a lot since then.” Sinmara's  response to an Andfari inquiry about Orthodox black metal influences.
We are not a single entity, we are five different individuals who each draw from different types of music, art and experiences when making Black Metal. Alexander of Carpe Noctem, when asked about influences generally, noting the collaborative nature of songwriting in a Metal Temple interview. 
Of course, there is a great impact from the artists I enjoy in my music, but I try my best not to imitate anyone and to develop my own sound. Illugi of Mannveira in the Contaminated Tones interview, wrapping up the issue elegantly.
The range of reactions here is unsurprising, but this last quote gets to the real heart of the issue. Most artists want to create their own individual  sound and not be pigeonholed as a clone. What's also important is how this shows that Icelandic black metal, even when looking at only the dissonant variety, isn't a monolith. The bands may have similarities, but is comparing them to any single band without saying anything more nuanced any better than comparing all black metal bands to Darkthrone? At the same time, no band is a special snowflake existing outside of all influences, but there is a real value in recognizing shades. Hell, Azoic, Wormlust, and Svartidauði all have mentioned enjoying the band Swans, which surprisingly may have been referenced more than any other band.


Snorri Sturluson - Icelandic author, believed to have written one of the Sagas

Black metal as we know it today has its roots firmly in Norway. But it isn't commonplace to hear black metal in the Norwegian language, and the majority of the founding bands favored English. In contrast, the Icelandic scene's dissonant branch has made heavy use of the Icelandic language, with more þ's and ð's than you can shake a stick at. (As a side note, many people seem to think these letters are both D's, but they both make "th" type sounds that I have been assured I don't pronounce correctly.) Supposedly Icelandic is quite close to Old Norse, yet you won't find much in terms of Viking-themed metal among these bands.

This got me thinking though. Why do so many Icelandic bands write in Icelandic, especially when so many bands have English lyrics?
"I feel that the lyrics and the atmosphere surrounding [the lyrics] would be completely lost in translation."  - Illgui of Mannveira on why his lyrics are in Icelandic, Contaminated Tones Interview.
"it is my native tongue, so meanings and ideas can be communicated in a personal and direct manner, not hindered by translation into another language" Alexander of Carpe Noctem, in a Metal Temple interview, where he also talked about how Icelandic has phonetic properties that fit well with black metal. 
"How I wrote those particular lyrics was basically untranslatable, I used Nordic compound words that would be incoherent when translated over to anything else..."   - H.V. Lyngdal of Wormlust, an excerpt from a broader discussion, Contaminated Tones Interview.
"The Icelandic tongue fits well to some aspects of what we do and will play a bigger role in the future. Also, it gets exhausting quiet quickly only writing lyrics in your second language and Icelandic does feel more fitting for some parts. ... languages are very different. Expressing emotions can be difficult in your own mother tongue let alone in a second language. So music or art in general can channel emotions or a certain atmosphere cross any language barrier. “Gateways” tries to characterize this, perhaps in a metaphysical way."- Benedikt of Azoic explaining the band's bilingual approach, Contaminated Tones Interview.
While it's only speculation on my part, you have to wonder if living on a relatively linguistically isolated island contributes to these beliefs. So, how many of these bands are singing in Icelandic? Well, in an interview with Blight of Plebians, H.V. Lyngdal of Wormlust noted that Vansköpun inspired him to write lyrics in Icelandic. So, if we put Wormlust in the Icelandic language column and make some educated guesses based off of song titles when lyrics are unpublished, things look like this:


In the world of fine wines and some other high-end food items, there's an idea called terroir, where geography supposedly imputes unique flavor-characteristic into items. Some people expand this disputed concept to almost spiritual levels, believing that flavors can capture the "essence" of a region. Others take this idea and apply it to music, and in a way this a common theme in discussions about Icelandic metal bands. It's almost as if people believe that the extreme geography must have an extreme influence on the music. 

Now don't take the skepticism here as a suggestion of the other extreme, that a person's surroundings and experiences have absolutely no influence on their music. In sum though, does anyone really think that the environment or geology are huge factors of what makes up a person's artistic direction or personality? This is another topic that Icelandic bands have fielded a number of questions about, so here is another sampling of quotes on the topic:
"The Icelandic environment is also definitely something that affects the atmosphere of the music." Dagur of Misþyrming in an interview with noisey.
"It makes sense to a certain degree, the connection between the two maybe isn't that strong, but of course your environment has an effect on you no matter what, so the extremely dark, long and unforgiving winter in Iceland has an effect that we can't deny." Illgui of Mannveira, Contaminated Tones Interview.
"Usually the question is if the landscape is a influence on the music and I believe you are getting to that at another and less obnoxious angle. The answer is yes, every black metal project and band stares into the snowy horizon teary-eyed when they write and play their music. "- H.V. Lyngdal of Wormlust, answering a question about whether being Icelandic influences his music, Contaminated Tones Interview excerpt.
"I’m studying Geology which I got into because my passion for understating our surroundings (the mountains, rivers and volcanoes)."- Benedikt of Azoic, Contaminated Tones Interview. 
I went from initially thinking it was too stupid of a question to ask, to ultimately sitting in surprise while reading Benedikt's response. It goes back to the idea of how it isn't fair to stereotype these bands. Sure, the influence Iceland's geography has on its metal bands it probably overplayed, but you can see a range of responses: explicitly acknowledging a musical influence, accepting an influence in a more abstract sense, humorously mocking the idea, and finally a band actually named after a geological era and created by someone studying geology.

"...yes, every black metal project and band stares into the snowy horizon teary-eyed when they write and play their music"    - H.V. Lyngdal of Wormlust


Listening to, reading/writing about, and interviewing these bands was a really rewarding process. Rather than making this post even longer, the interviews will appear separately over the next couple of days. I encourage everyone who read this to read the full interviews, along with those conducted by other websites, in order to get the full context of what the bands are saying. Links to the Contaminated Tones interviews below will be active once they're up:

Mannviera Interview

Wormlust Interview

Azoic Interview

Thursday, March 12, 2015

CTP-023-I: Hellripper - Manifestation of Evil

Hellripper's awesome demo "The Manifestation of Evil" is out now. Speed Metal of high caliber for fans of Midnight, Speedwolf, Venom, and Maximum Oversatan. Accompanying this release, you can get both Manifestation of Evil and the Sacrificial Blood live tape for $8.

Limited to 100 copies.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dustbin of Demos: Vol XI

Beware, there's dust in the dustbin, literally and figuratively. Dust, dirt, and mold. I spent a bit too much time sorting through old boxes of audio and video tapes this week and found myself with a nasty cold, yet no nasty, cold black metal. 

Burnt Offering - Demo
Black metal from Germany

Basement demo-quality black metal which seems based on rough approximations and poor interpretations of prominent works. This band has absolutely no idea of the function of each part in the flow of each song - they jump from samples to brooding noodling to blast beats to mid-paced stuff constantly. They borrow the first riff from Mayhem's "Funeral Fog" but change the notes slightly so it doesn't have the eerie tension to it, just sloppy crap. There's a Celtic Frost "UGH!" in the same song out of nowhere, but the song is lost at that point and continues wandering without even getting into a proper homage with an intense moment which would follow Fischer's grunt. The band's drummer was Nargaroth, which simply underlines the point that this is a mediocre imitation of black metal.

Scythian Fall - Demo
Sludge/doom metal from Germany

Lots of lame breakdowns that seem to just be thick tone-basking, because they hardly have a place within the song, nor are they groovy on their own. There are two decent riffs on the demo, yet no concept of placement, building around the riffs in time nor instrumentation. Find a riff, wear it out, and eventually devolve into a breakdown. One hook to catch attention, then drag it out to bask in the aesthetic before going to a breakdown because it isn't headed anywhere. Dragging an aesthetic nowhere, because they have nothing to say. Puzzlingly boring stuff.

Fiendlord - Dust on the Chamber Floor
Symphonic black metal from Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

Black metal predominantly driven by keyboards, though the guitars work in some tension in the chord patterns beneath that. Though the keys and guitars, mostly the latter, manage to find their way to the lead at times, it seems like it takes the first two thirds of each song to get to a bridge section where all of the instrumentation finally resolves and meets before splitting off again. The drums are mostly a timekeeper and the vocals little more than a minor accompaniment, though there are some decent clean vocals on one song. There are some interesting quirks to the instrumentation, but large portions of it are entirely uninteresting, thus this demo is lackluster.

Elegiac - Demo 2014
Black metal from San Diego, California, USA

Comfortably atmospheric, somewhat dark through a relatively clean production, but it also feels uncomfortably clean and tame. The riffs hint at a certain feeling, but they just don't fully materialize anything, and the song structures don't really progress at all to shape the music. There are stretches where long melodies start to shape a story, but they soon dissolve into poor transitions, including several sections of feedback as a song ending or transition. I suppose this demo achieves marginal success by imitation, rather than demonstrating the ability to write a song about something, as the fragmented writing seems to suggest.

Cryptic Rising - Demo II
Post-black metal from Nashville, Tennessee, USA

Lo-fi garage rock meets bedroom black metal. Sloppy three-chord rock with a warm, harsh sound - a contrast to the cold sound of most black metal. There's a lovey-dovey shoegaze sound similar to Lonesummer, a proudly obnoxious moping feeling of mop-top-rock. Sheer existential affirmation with few merits - a kid with a guitar, a high-gain amp, and no idea how to record. Perhaps this aims for a campy lo-fi rock vibe like Pavement mixed with the ethereal howl of black metal, but it fails at both. Terrible bedroom music.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Phobonoid - Orbita

Industrial black metal isn't exactly the most crowded subgenre around. But when you think about the usual bands associated with that label, it’s obvious how competitive the field is. With that in mind, it’s impressive just how tall Phobonoid’s debut EP Orbita stands among its peers. Stylistically similar to a blend of Blut Aus Nord and Thorns, this 20 minute release comes close to matching the very high standards set by these well established acts. Just in case the title, band name, and cover art failed to make it obvious enough - this release also has a strongly spacey vibe to it. This vibe, coupled with cold tones and mechanical percussion, makes the EP nestle right into a niche that begs to be filled.

Orbita almost seems to be spilling over with more ideas than the solo project can manage effectively. This is a great problem to have, and even though some of the songs come across more like patches of musical vignettes, the overall mood is never interrupted. Overcoming this issue and establishing stronger senses of individual songs or recurring motifs would go a long way toward propelling Phobonoid well into the top-tier. In part, the issue is that Phobonoid doesn’t have much in terms of a high end melody to direct the songs. If used in moderation, this missing piece would help further the mechanical feel, but the high end’s absence goes a bit too far here. “Deimos,” the closing track, is a great contrast for this, showing exactly what was missing elsewhere. Although the soaring guitar melody only starts at around 1:40, it still congeals the song together in a profoundly compelling way. While the subdued and sparse vocal style can’t really fill the lead melody role, Phobonoid obviously has another tool available. 

Despite the cold and mechanical mood, the sonic quality here is lush enough to deserve many repeat listens. Take for example the swelling intro to “Vuoto,” which is cracked open with a cymbal hit echoing into the infinity of space. What’s also really nice about this is how the guitar tone isn’t taken to the digital extreme because it fleshes-out and enriches the mix. Perhaps as importantly, Orbita strikes a thoughtful balance between the rhythmic pummeling of industrial and the wall-of-sound guitars that form the basis of black metal. In short, it’s an extra layer of heaviness, not an unwelcome injection of dance music. Even in the absence of individual songs or even strong moments to hit you over the head with the EP’s quality, Orbita is a forceful introduction to Phobonoid. For anyone into industrial black metal this is absolutely a band to pay close attention to.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Dustbin of Demos: Vol X

Most of the demos swept into the dustbin this week are highly derivative - their influences are overt, and their success seems to reflect their ability to find their own voice through the loudness of their influences. Some great bands found their own voice through the exploration of styles very similar to their influences - Judas Iscariot, for example, wasn't much of a stylistic departure from predecessors, but Akhenaten's works were unmistakably his, rife in European musical and philosophical influences, yet prounounced through a distinct and disgusted American view of them. Derivative bands can find recognition too, often if they soften up their idols sound enough to strip it of the original meaning. However, one band below certainly finds their own voice while owning a few pronounced influences. 

Tridentsplit - War Metal
Heavy/black/speed metal from Saint Petersburg, Russia

From the new-Darkthrone school of old heavy metal worship. A mix of heavy/black/speed/punk which basically amounts to rough heavy metal with gruff vocals and nods to everything that took a step towards extreme metal while not being all the way there. Despite some cool riffs, it feels like they trudge through half of each song in the shadow of the style, with unadorned, unfinished metal. The band has an idea of the aesthetic they aim to emulate yet lacks the conviction and drive which shapes whole songs. Only the title track lays down their purpose from their outset and builds on it, though it drags a bit at times. Sorry guys, you don't get points for trying, this deserves to be swept into the dustbin.

Trenchgrinder - Demo 2015
Crust/death/thrash metal from Brooklyn, NYC, USA

Dirty, crushingly forceful death/thrash which mixes early Bolt Thrower with more recent crust/thrash like After the Bombs. Heavy death metal riffs rip with the aggression of rough, punkish energy. They find slower, deathy paces whose buildup is as important as the malevolent churn of the faster sections. Crust meets extreme thrash and the only way to offer the onslaught is death metal. Their delivery is reminiscent of how Repulsion turned death/thrash into a more monstrous beast through their dirty, morbid delivery, though this doesn't manage to take it quite that far. A bit less furious than Repulsion, yet much rougher than most others. Though there is no overarching structure to this three-song demo, this style seems built for the 12 minute burst of aggressive brutality here.

Call Forth the Hordes - Moving Onward
Black metal from Westbury, New York, USA

Well, at least it's a bit different from most bedroom black metal. A melancholy melodic movement begins it, but doesn't convincingly set the tone nor build much of a mood before anything it had going is negated by an overly loud, unforgivably mechanical drum machine drowning out the guitar. Even though slower melodic parts sound alright, the weakness and volume of the riffing under any faster drumming is completely lost. The vocals are coherent, but monotonous and nearly expressionless. Instrumental versions of both tracks are added on, as it if the music wasn't bare enough already The weakness of the production outshines the weakness of the music, and this simply isn't worth the time.

Goatflesh - ...Of Pure Rape and Blasphemy
Death/black metal from Ukraine

War metal. Members with ritual names inspired by Blasphemy. Blackdeathrash nuclearwarcore - need I cite influences? Goatflesh lean a bit more towards death metal, reaching to their toolbox for angular tremolo riffs and some nice deathy grooves, emphasized by production with a full low-end more like Imprecation's "Satanae..." than most war metal, though perhaps the more orthodox citation would be Angelcorpse, as this simply stands out from the archetypal war metal blasting. There's a Blasphemophagher cover in the middle that doesn't even stand out - the band adapts it slightly, but it blends into the rest very well. This is a case, like most war metal bands, where they wear so many influences on their sleeves that they fill up the whole jacket and leave nothing but a stern expression on their face to identify them by. Give it a listen if you're really into war metal, otherwise you can't tell it apart from the next band

Satanic Prophecy - Nocturnal Murders
Bedroom black metal from USA

The raw sound of a corpsepainted fellow moping through the forest. Grim, harsh, primitive. What's that rattle? It's off-time drumming. Tinny tremolo guitars aplenty. Sharp rasps with microphone distortion soaked in reverb. If you've ever heard a black metal, you know all too well what this is, it's a failed attempt to capture the sound of the grimmest black metal, and it certainly has none of the substance. The guitar work is constant tremolo with some melodies which seem to emulate the tremolo parts of the first two Gorgoroth albums - but only that one sliver of Gorgoroth's style - and the pseudo-triumphant melodies of Satanic Warmaster, themselves an emulation of Moonblood and Judas Iscariot, whose works finally trace the lineage to Darkthrone, Immortal, et al. While listening to this is an exercise in estimating the exact influences, that's the content of the review because it is archetypically terrible bedroom black metal.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Abigor - Leytmotif Luzifer (The VII Temptations of Man)

Abigor’s “Leytmotif Luzifer” is a sprawling and ornate cathedral of riffs, dedicated to worshiping the glory of Lucifer. Energetic and passionate by any standard, this album dispels all notions that these characteristic are only in young bands, especially considering the fact that Abigor’s pedigree stretches over twenty years. The guitars, which have been refined and mastered through those years of experience, are the powerful center point of the album. Solos and quick melodic flourishes are peppered into the songs with such elegance that it’s obvious that guitarists P.K. and T.T. play their instruments as naturally as other musicians breath. As a result, the composition is wonderfully free flowing and natural. Every riff and every solo is filled with momentum rather than serving to aggrandize the musician’s egos. Throughout “Leytmotif Luzifer,” that momentum conveys a mood of genuine and regal adoration. Thankfully the casual expertise of the guitars also introduce a kind of playfulness to the album that keeps it from becoming comically serious.

For those unfamiliar with the band, Abigor’s main riffing style uses expanses of tremolo picked notes building off of shifting chord progressions to create a layered melody. In the most general terms possible, think of Emperor. On “Leytmotif Luzifer,” though this often includes bursts of high note runs, mini-solos that guide the songs from one riff to the next much like a drum fill. Overall, this makes for a more vicious album than Abigor’s “Natchymnen.” While the band’s characteristic guitar counterpoint is still at play, the mix is now so well rounded that the band feels comfortable occasionally leaving the rhythm entirely in the hands of the bass. Structurally, the songs are strongly linear. Although there is less repetition, each track maintains a coherent narrative - balancing the sleazy, casual, and aristocratic hedonism with the fanatic and reverent adoration of Lucifer. This balance is vital because at one extreme the album would be a stuffy sermon (about a minor character from an ancient fantasy novel) and at the other a bacchanalia. With the album’s subtitle “The VII Temptations of Man” and song titles like “Excessus” and “Indulgence” it almost invites a Marquis de Sade comparison.

Putting the dazzling guitars aside for a moment, every other instrument is stunning. It’s also worth noting how a fair share of the album’s palatial grandeur comes from the vivid and dynamic vocals. Since this happens most spectacularly with the clean vocals in the fantastic climax at the end of “Excessus,” it’s possible to gloss over entire album’s vocal variety. Take “Indulgence” for example starting with the clean line “So let me rise” and how the abrasive background howls reinforce the line before savagely entering the foreground. That style itself is a prelude to double tracked gurgles that are then followed by the standard black metal fare. Incredibly, all of that variation is still secondary to the guitar’s narrative. In the same vein, the drumming and bass are top notch and vary in intensity to match album’s flow but the real focal point is in the guitars. P.K. and T.T. apparently shared bass duty, and with T.T. also handling the drums, you end up with the liberated direction and purpose of a solo project while still having the complete sound of a full band.

Returning to the guitar’s casual precision, you can hear this in the deliberately muted lead notes, feedback, free time notes, and numerous pick scrapes. If it weren’t for the rigid precision elsewhere, these things would appear sloppy, but instead it’s like watching a 250kg tiger play with its kill before eating it. Relaxed in the way only a seasoned predator can accomplish. Again, this all well balanced against the noble atmosphere that it helps to complement. Abigor’s movement along this axis is a major source for the album’s impetus, but not the most important. When building off of the chord progressions, the lead melody has a habit of feeling like it was interpolated between the existing notes while simultaneously also paradoxically deciding the following notes. The amount of energy behind this is incredible, placing the album at the same intensity level as you might ask for from bands like 1349 or Marduk but without falling into the constant blasting trap or “norsecore” label.

“Leytmotif Luzifer” is instantly enjoyable and still extremely replayable. At around 42 minutes, the album wastes no time, and even with the linear song structures has no shortage of intriguing ideas. A good benchmark for how well crafted the album’s architecture are its last handful of minutes. “Excessus’” ending is a microcosm for the entire album and perfect (yes perfect) way to end an album. At about halfway through the 11 minute song you start to get a real sense of approaching finality. Keep in mind that even in the context of a few start-stop moments, that the multi-layered explosion of sound at around 5:30 ecstatically begins wrapping things up. Now, while other bands would cheaply milk that moment, Abigor moves on immediately while still ringing out lead notes to carefully remind you of what they just did. At about 8 minutes in the clean vocals again rise in prominence without resolving the melody; that is until the soaring vocals a half minute later “All earth does worship thee!” the album’s climax. Cue the majestic slow down, fake ending, and subtle reprisal. Wow. Beautifully heavy and conclusive without any hint of melodrama.

This is what architecture sounds like, and “Leytmotif Luzifer” is a palace.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dustbin of Demos: Vol IX

This week, the flavor text comes at the end, once again. This isn't a joke about the second coming of Luciferum Penis in the dustbin, but it probably should be. 

Luciferum Penis - Black Metal Satanic-cum
Black metal from Italy

This band is growing on me, no pun intended. The simplicity of the two-piece - active drumming and a single guitar - lets them shape dark, mystical vibes. While the band uses the standards - blast beats and tremolo chords - the two are well-connected and having a real drummer on real drums with a basement sound gives him a decent degree of expression in how he plays along like an occult rock drummer, rather than a typical metal timekeeper. The guitarist plays some ominous lines which brood in the dark simplicity of the sound, which adds a nice dynamic to contrast the feelings of single-note and chord tremolo lines, even some bouncy riffs. I enjoy this because it has the vibe of two guys crafting a dark style and dark sound, technically unimpressive but creatively intriguing. Great black metal demo vibe without the cliches.

Lost Flood - Demo
Punk/black metal from Lancaster, United Kingdom

A tough demo to get into, as it is both indistinct and unfocused. It's rough, it's poorly performed, and the mediocrity extends to the mish-mash of unidentifiable, undirected stylings. The roughness gives it a crusty vibe, the riffiness makes me wonder if it's supposed to be like old crust punk/heavy metal from the UK. It doesn't really sound like that though. The sheer roughness and punk/rock take on black-ish metal is reminiscent of early Absurd, but god damn, there's not an ounce of pride in this. There's plenty of feedback and rawness, like one of those shitty bands that thing the harsh hostility of Eyehategod is their thing too, but only manage to sound as horribly grating as Abruptum. A headache, that's what this is.

Through Carnage - Demo
Metalcore/melodic death/thrash metal from Radeberg, Germany

As if melodeathrash-metalcore wasn't already the most mashed potato metal style, in true German fashion this weighs heavily on the heavy/power metal influence in melodeath and even throws in a few folky leads. Perhaps something like a thrashier Trivium, or a softened up version of the neothrash of Casketgarden, without that ATG-like air of desperation. Not quite melodic and poppy enough to be Gothencore, not thrashy enough to be thrash, too core-ish to be heavy metal. As these descriptions tell, the band's style is very indistinct and rather uninteresting. It touches on many styles, has a flair for none, and is so generally inoffensive that it's offensive. Now that's something every metalhead can be bored to death by!

Elforg - Demo 2014
Folk/groove metal from Warsaw, Poland

The grandeur of Polish pagan/black metal is astounding, yet Elforg demonstrate poor judgment of here by playing dinky folk metal backed by simple groove riffs that conjure a feeling of stoner, maybe even southern metal when the violin stops playing. The first song is bad groove/fiddle fodder, the second is more upbeat with chuggy heavy/thrash riffs and some more fiddle which complements a folky guitar lead-in. The problem is, the riffs and arrangements are boring and simple, while the fiddle plays to another tune most of the time - it might as well be a different song. Skyclad is eloquent thrash metal with violins; this is like an amateur playing Machine Head riffs with a violinist.

The Arcbane - Demo II
Melodic groove/thrash metal from Shanghai, China

The second vocal-less demo from this "melodic death metal" band. The band has a vocalist, but so far the demos are only instrumentals, and they're clearly missing the ability of the vocalist to create hooks and lead the music. This is mostly mid-paced, groovy melodic thrash riffs that sound at times like American metalcore minus the hardcore parts, at other points like nu-Gothenburg riffing, groovy melodic stuff stripped of any death metal. There are quite a few guitar leads and solos, again quite melodic. Decent riffs, but no interaction nor flow within the band whatsoever. The production is rough demo-quality, which positively sets it apart from the overproduced, overpolished production this style tends to have. However, the band's timing gets a bit off at times, which feels uncomfortable with the mechanical riffing style. While I like the style the band is going for, the music itself is incomplete and extremely boring.

This exemplifies a common flaw in modern demos: the music present is incomplete, yet there are nine tracks and 40+ minutes of music. The context of a demo is different from the 80s and 90s, when a label might hesitate to pay for studio time if a band didn't have a full album written. Homemade demos were rough, but a studio recording of a decent band pressed to CD or LP could sell enough copies to recoup a couple days of studio time that the label paid for. Some bands made longer demos back then because of this, though most bands still opted to refine and finish fewer songs rather than simply present more. However, this has changed, because labels can't simply sell 1000 copies of an album because it contains decent music, and a band who hasn't established themselves isn't going to find funding for a recording much better than this. The best thing a band can do now is to improve and present complete songs as well as they could, because the quality of music is the sole deciding factor to demo listeners, not the quantity. When the listener has access to a virtually unlimited stream of music, they would be better off completing and improving 20 minutes of music rather than presenting 40 minutes of unfinished music.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Vorde - Vorde

For centuries, sailors have used the strong and steady trade winds to navigate across the Earth’s vast oceans. But these winds have also harbored and driven countless violent storms, wreaking disaster in their paths. If you can ignore a very trite metaphor and imagine the band Vorde as an ominous thunderstorm, then the band’s vocals are the trade winds moving it forward. Menacingly towards you. Black metal’s trademark wall-of-sound can often be thought of as fundamentally cloudy. Reverb saturated tremolo-picking partly hides many individual notes and possibly even the overall structure; leaving you with an atmosphere of mass without form. Vorde is a foreboding black metal band that embraces this overall pattern, but with the unusual addition of having the Atilla-esque vocals directing the band’s destination. Vocalist Aziel drives the band through long-sustained syllables and screeches, which distinctively mold each song with a clear structure. The vocal’s odd tone and varied strata of pitches also deeply enrich the harmony on this self-titled album.

Vocal leadership like this happens more often in traditional metal, but it works wonderfully here to direct the band’s raw energy. Thematically, this also makes the album’s approach to violence rather subdued. Sure, the guitars have a bite to them, but it’s often a creeping and sinuous one. At its most extreme, you can even hear this effect in the aggressive riffing towards the end of “Blood Moon.” Despite the swirling cyclone of notes, the vocals continue to push the song forward and dominate the mix. In this sense, the indigo tinted wall of stabbing knives is a very fitting choice of album art. Vorde’s aggression is an almost abstract consideration, one that is secondary to how the vocals color the mood. This isn’t to say that the vocals are excessive or that they are the only thing of value on the album; quite the contrary.

In particular, the album’s strongly sinister mood relies on the band as an ensemble. While taking cues from traditional black metal, the guitar work also has a heavily diminished-scale influence found in many contemporary bands. However, the guitars never quite delve into the usual dissonant riffing that has become so commonplace, and that keeps the album closer to black metal’s roots. Even with the band’s blatantly idiosyncratic style, Vorde doesn’t quite wander into experimental territories. When you also take into account the band’s occasional vintage science-fiction styled synths (which are actually heavily processed bass and guitar), you get a real understanding of how Vorde has such a classically evil sound. Another large part of the mood is the subdued drumming that shows an understanding of how important the absence of blast beats can be in showcasing riffs. Take for example how the percussion controls the intensity throughout “Crown of Black Flame” ranging from a doomy pace with rattling cymbals to steady double bass with strong backbeat.

Vorde’s overall pacing (but not much else) can be compared to musty-ambient projects like Leviathan, but a more malevolent and conservative version. Any hints of melancholy here are reserved, and almost voyeuristic underneath the ominous atmosphere. You can hear this in the intro to “Blood Moon.” Its unsettling feeling is reminiscent of the first Doom game for SNES, in part from the effects’s retro sound, which is much more enjoyable than the game’s MIDI soundtrack. (The song still successfully recreates the experience of futilely trying to crouch behind a barrel of radioactive waste to hide from a cacodemon.)

Vorde’s self-titled 2014 album is also the band’s first full-length album, and this is an extremely promising start. Sure, there are weaker parts, like how “Transformations of the Vessel” becomes tiresome with the too even 123123 of the main riff, which after a couple of minutes may as well be a Morse code distress signal begging for a change in the rhythm. Overall though, this album strikes a wonderful balance of being fresh and creative, but still conservative enough to avoid being whacky. Even without taking the fantastic vocals into consideration this would be a strong release because Vorde captures a kind of foreshadowing mood that you don’t run across too often. Vorde is obliquely evil black metal, a genuine storm on the horizon.