Wednesday, June 22, 2016
New Jersey Epic Heavy Metallers, Fiakra, and their Alive At Ravenforge rehearsal EP are out now. $6. For fans of Omen, Manilla Road, Axe Battler, Greek shit. $6. Buy at the online store or via old-school email communication.
Tapes are pro-dubbed silver cassettes:
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Alkerdeel is one of the many bands that follows the traditional Norwegian black metal path, but their album Lede also adds in a bit of an unconventional approach, and it’s fairly decent. In general terms, there is a really strong Under a Funeral Moon vibe here. It’s worth mentioning because Alkerdeel has a much stronger than average Darkthrone influence. More specifically, the amount of repetition and the bass’s prominent position in the mix harken back to the sounds on that particular Darkthrone album. Since the band goes off the rails a bit, you almost get a subdued Furze vibe, but the release isn’t quite so experimental as that, so maybe it’s just the cover art creating a superficial connection (“fürze” means “farts” in German after all.) The well placed contributions from Mories (of Gnaw Their Tongues etc. fame) also give the album a small push away from conventional sounds.
Outside of the traditional influences in the dirty primitive riffing, a couple of stylistic deviations pop up throughout the release. Alkerdeel’s particular take on dissonance shows up both in tremolo picking atypical intervals and inharmoniously placed bass notes. These bass lines often follow a shuffling kind of rhythmic pattern that further pulls them outside of the main harmony - it’s an interesting effect. One of the better, but dragged out, moments has a spoken word interlude. There, the bass slowly marches notes over a quietly pulsing and crackling wall of guitar notes. Sometimes the tremolo picking jumps from the low end with quick flashes onto the higher frets and strings. The main feel though is a familiar one, like the vibe you get from the simple descending four-note pattern on the track “Lede.”
The intro and effects on “Gråt Deleenaf” are by Mories, and they fit into the music quite well. The distant howling notes especially create a strong sense of tension and discomfort, a clear break from Mories’ usual habit of mixing unadulterated chaos into his effects. His restraint here meshes into the album’s overall atmosphere and mirrors the effect’s light touches elsewhere on the release. It’s a clear hallmark of genuine and thoughtful collaboration, rather than a mere guest appearance solely for the sake of padding the liner notes, but the song itself is still a tepid affair. On the topic of Alkerdeel’s weakness, it boils down to creating songs from a bunch of riffs that are only just “fine” or serviceable. It will work at any given moment because of the interesting mood, but too many ideas seem to circle in on themselves.
Lede’s quality and atmosphere make it good enough to be engaging throughout the entire runtime, but it unfortunately doesn’t leave much of an impression afterwards. It’s only particularly strong point is how the vocal performance is cleverly panned with reverb to create a huge amount of depth to the vocals during sustained screams. So file this one under “likeable but forgettable.” It’s coherent and has its interesting moments, but almost nothing other than it’s somewhat unique approach sets Lede apart from the incalculable volume of other releases out there.
Monday, May 2, 2016
Sassu Wunnu, one of New Hampshire's few high-quality metal acts, released a sad announcement fairly recently. The band is planing to go on an indefinite hiatus, and luckily enough I was able to catch them live during what may be one of their final shows. Below is a brief write-up on their performance.
Sassu Wunnu is the kind of band that blurs your usual genre lines, so it's not ridiculous to take note of their metal influences ranging from doom, black, and sludge. There are moments where they bask in big fuzzy sounds, rhythmic stop and starts, wild tremolo picking, and carefully arpeggiated melodies. Despite the fuzzy tones of the power trio's strings, they were fairly tight in their timing which was further highlighted by the crisp drumming of Puke Commander as his furious movements animated the glorious tattoos across his chest.
The key strength of the band though, and something rather rare, is how well the bass and guitar play against each other. Trading off melodies like they were both guitar players, but never delving into the bass wankery of technical bands, Lykos and King Trash held a great sense of pacing. Some call and response, a nice guitar solo, bass taking the high melody, it was all really cool stuff that never stifled the band's sound. It was even more surprising how well this worked live, because threesomes often struggle to simultaneously maintain a big sound and dynamic song structures. Sassu Wunnu played well and the show was an admirable sendoff for an interesting piece of New England metal.
Friday, April 29, 2016
This album is heavily dominated by the rhythm section, to the point where the trance-like drumming is often the focal point. It’s not some kind of dull tribal drone either, the beats are far too unusual and addicting. Calling the syncopation on this album creative is as much as an understatement as saying Escher was creative with drawing stairs: the repetition always seems to be progressing onward. Bass lines are the other side of how the band flips the usual order of the instruments. They fill in the melody for long stretches, weaving into the drum’s rhythm and pulling the listener into the low-end of the mix. Vocals and guitars don’t sit idly by however, they pop into more traditional melodic roles, and also often accompany the music as trippy echoey ornaments.
If it wasn’t clear from reading about the album’s hypnotic qualities and rhythmic focus, this isn’t the kind of release that has many riffs to speak of. Still, there are a handful of incredibly strong moments in the guitar work. “Hypnotisoitu viharukous” for example has a really cool interchange between a fast riff and a slower chord progression. Both parts are somewhat stripped down versions of what the bass is doing, but an octave higher (see, I told you they flip things upside down). The guitar’s contribution makes a huge impact though because it add a harsher and chaotic element to the melody, which is then taken to the extreme in the song’s effects laden outro. It’s a role the effects play really well throughout the album in how they always fit just right into the composition rather than sticking out like a guitar player just screwing around with a fancy new effects pedal. See for example how all of the howls, beeps, and noises fit into the earlier part of “Vasemman käden hierarkia.”
Some exceptionally cool bits are worth pointing out individually. On “Lahja” rhythmic interaction between the strings, the xylophone, and tom drums is nothing short of stunning. It also shifts the song’s flow in a really intriguing way when the xylophone’s chimes go from a 4/4 to 6/8 feel, a simple touch that adds worlds of interest. The way that “Vasemman käden hierarkia” swings back into the earlier motif at about twelve minutes in by incrementally adding drums, bass, and vocals to the flanged tremolo-picked note is absolutely brilliant. It simultaneously brings back the song’s earlier mood in the bass melody while also creating a new feel to keep the track engaging. Then closing it off with cracked out yelling, screaming, and eventually plain old fire noises really drills home the song’s thematic progression.
Värähtelijä is a hell of a ride because it has such an earthy rhythmic side to its vast spacey sounds. Even the relatively weaker track Havuluu is really strong, it’s repetitive two-note theme mutates into a howling mess that’s so unhinged that you have to love it. The album’s mellower sections and the tame closer “Valveavaruus’s” drum free parts are stern reminders of how compelling overall pulse is. I remember the band’s debut release having two really powerful tracks, here it’s all seven. Oranssi Pazuzu abandoned a lot of the traditional rules of making metal, and still crafted a top notch release.
Sunday, April 24, 2016
|Otargos - Xeno Kaos|
After being fairly impressed by Otargos’ No God No Satan album from 2010, I was initially excited to give a listen to this 2015 alum, Xeno Kaos. While it's not the biggest letdown around, I was fairly disappointed to find that this once interesting blackened death metal band had tried and failed to recreate Behemoth’s Demigod album. Hell, it even has the vaguely eastern sounding lead guitar work, similar vocals, and triplet chugging patterns; but it ultimately falls short of that influential album. To be clear, there is nothing really shoddy or awful about the performance or production, but the composition has the stale taste of rehashed material and uninspired ideas.
Xeno Kaos is the kind of album whose aggression is clearly unquestionable; it’s rhythmic, heavy, crisp, and keeps a consistently crushing atmosphere throughout. It just feels so soulless. If you take the bleak approach of looking at the songs in strictly a melodic sense, they are very predictable and flat. Simple cadences occasionally broken up by inconsequential chugging fills. Sometimes the high end is filled up with tremolo picked notes for entire bars of music, but in a way the removes the melody from black metal and the rhythm from death metal. The quick palm muted 8-note chug patterns sometimes help give the impression of creating more dynamic parts, but it’s ultimately still very predictable.
If it seems unfair to chalk up Xeno Kaos as a second (or third) rate imitation of Demigod, then just give “Dark Mechanicus” a quick listen. This has to be the epitome of dumb homogenized lowest common denominator blackened death metal. Triplet triplet rest trip-trip-chug bullshit rinse and repeat. It’s a half decent bridge or two painfully stretched out into the length of an entire song. Also, you can tell without even listening to the album that I’m not overplaying the Behemoth influence, one of the songs is titled “Chariots ov the Godz” after all.
As noted above, Dagoth sounds a lot like Nergal, barking out each extremely compressed line with a steady, rather monotone, delivery. A more dynamic approach would have really helped flesh out the album’s straightforward approach without detracting from the band’s blunt force trauma approach to music. Speaking of which, the blasting kick drum really bleeds into the space the bass ought to operate in. It makes it seem like the double bass bits have a constant and clicky open-e bass strumming pattern. Frankly, this isn’t all that far from how parts of the songs are actually written, so it’s likely a composition issue rather than a mixing problem.
In the end it averages out as a wash of an album. The unremarkable songwriting plus the hyper produced and competent musicianship makes for a perfectly neutral experience that’s well suited to situations where your attention is focused elsewhere. I don’t mean that as some kind of veiled insult either, it truly is a very moderate experience. Aside from how bad “Dark Mechanicus” is, I struggle to remember much of anything about this release. Sure, bits of some of the songs have their moments and it’s heavy overall, it’s just not the kind of music you’d expect to come back to after hearing it once.
Friday, April 15, 2016
Nyciene is a black metal project whose debut demo starts off with a striking intro melody. Its main riff has this ridiculously addicting 8th-note slide at the end of it that keeps drawing you into the song. With a raw but quite full sound, the band clearly flirts with Burzumesque minimalism by delving into trance-like repetitive riffing. It’s simple, but the melodies have an added layer of tension by hiding under the steady pulse of the lower notes. This makes the intro in particular much more intriguing than a simple droning riff would be, which makes a lot of sense because the rest of the music is relatively dynamic and high energy in comparison.
This demo is around 20 minutes long, but still pretty lush with ideas. The initial Burzum feel is fleeting after the first track. It’s an interesting facet to the band’s minimalism; they conjure up a great deal of atmosphere by tapping into both first and second wave black metal riffing styles. The production’s clarity and the doomy atmosphere however make the demo feel very much like a modern release. In fact, despite all of the fuzzy-crunchy tones in the wall of sound, a lot of care has been put into making this mix work quite well. You can hear it pretty obviously earlier on in “Mercy in Quietus” with it’s strong (but not attention seeking) bass and well placed synth noises.
Naturally, when the music dips into the more straightforward riffs, the drums and vocals are there to flesh out the musical space. It works well because the guitars are a smidge low in the mix, which helps to highlight the band’s dynamics. For example, check out the really cool cymbal work during the bass part on “Mercy in Quietus.” After what seems like too short of a time, this demo closes out with some droning notes and ethereal effects. Even as someone with little patience for ambient nonsense filler, the finale makes complete sense in the context of the demo’s minimalist approach and rich atmosphere.
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
Cult of Erinyes’ “Transcendence” EP is a very enticing sample of what this Belgian black metal band has to offer. To be frank, the music here sounds a lot like Mayhem (and that’s not even including the well done, but superfluous cover of “Pagan Fears.”) Specifically, the EP sounds like someone took a musical midpoint between DMDS and Chimera. The riffing is sometimes more Euronymous sounding, other bits are more like Blasphemer. It’s especially obvious in the vocals too, which have deep nasally lines reminiscent of Attila and also invoke the catchy rhythmic delivery of Maniac (but in a good way).
Still, it’s best to think of the influence as a ballpark for this EP’s sound. This isn’t a straight up clone band or even an uninspired imitation. “Transcendence” has some incredibly memorable vocal lines that tend to ride on top of the rhythm rather than mirroring it. The intelligible lyrics will leave you reciting bits of “Degrees of Solitude” or the apt line of “remember my name” that is repeatedly barked out on the EP’s eponymous track. “Transcendence” is the stronger of the two tracks due to the rolling 6/8 meter’s interplay with the slower fanfare sections. Also, it’s really cool how pulled back and subtle the double kick blasting is as the track closes out - this really preserves the song’s atmosphere.
Although the Mayhem influence is heavy here, the material is obviously far from one-note because of how creative and memorable the two original tracks are. The EP is definitely interesting enough to make me want to check out some more of the band’s music than only these two solid songs.
Thursday, March 31, 2016
Wederganger’s first full length release, Halfvergaan ontwaakt is a deliriously trippy foray into mid-tempo black metal that is infused with black n’ roll, done just the way it ought to be. Utilizing a slew of simple and straightforward riffs that you may expect to hear from bands like Craft or later Carpathian Forest, Wederganer isn’t afraid to drop tremolo picking entirely for long stretches. In their willingness to somewhat give up the usual wall of sound the band is able to explore a broad range of dark and unusual sounds. Most striking of all the band’s experiments are the showstopping clean vocals that, while used in moderation throughout the album, are still incredibly powerful and commanding.
Even setting the vocals aside for a moment (as hard as that may be) this is a really well done album that would be hard to forget even if it was an instrumental one. While bands like Glorior Belli have flirted with incorporating rock influences and been less than entirely successful, Wederganger keeps this album incredibly catchy without devolving into overreliance on trite rock licks. The dark and muffled guitar tone carries enough crunchy edge to make the tremolo picked sections entirely convincing and also lets the calmer moments have an added layer of depth. Even the interchange between the more psychedelic watery vibrato moments and traditional black metal is itself given an interlude with “Schimmenspel.” It’s song that relies on a lonely piano whose morosely reserved melodies echo parts the emotional palate found elsewhere on the album.
One really great thing about the riffs is just how bouncy they feel. I don’t mean this in a dumb rhythmic chugging kind of way, instead the riffs and staccato drumming often develop a genuine sense of leisurely flow. Even the vocal delivery has some rather interesting rhythmic patterns, which is rather unusual for black metal where the vocals normally serve as a melodic ornament. Another odd tidbit that works in the band favor is how the bass sometimes takes over the low riffs while one guitar does a high melody and the other is partly drowned out because of its subdued tone. This creates some space between the melody and rhythm, which strengthens the band’s rhythmic presence.
Now, onto the vocals. They start off amazing with a razor sharp black metal rasp brilliantly harmonized with deep somber clean vocals in the opening track. Then, with “Gelderse Drek” we get ripped apart by the vicious black metal vocals nearly on there own as the cleans add oos and aahs that create a theremin-like vibe. The absolute standouts are however “Dodendans” and “Vlammenvonnis” where you can just bask in the lush baritone notes. Despite how grand the vocals feel, they still fit well into the relatively subdued atmosphere on the album. It’s largely due to how well the lines are parsed into drawn out syllables and slow but interesting melodies. it’s so compelling that frankly the only reason I probably don’t have the lyrics memorized is because they are in Dutch (what English speaker couldn’t love words like Halfergaan and ontwaakt?)
While black n’ roll may sound like a terrible idea to some, this album is definitely a chance to see what can be done with it. It’s a unique experience and will show you how great music can come from a handful of simple riffs when a band has a bunch of talent and creativity. Wederganger have crafted an engaging, memorable, and vocally stunning album with Halfvergaan ontwaak.
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Sgt. Rock's gritty crossover will easily interest anyone with a curiosity in the formative years of the genre. The material is also of historical interest as well to Impetigo fans with vocalist Steve-o's involvement being linked. No Visible Scars once again does a great job with the tapes, which come in military green. The J-card has an enjoyable array of pictures and images along with lyrics to a bunch of the tracks. The choice of putting this on tape was wise. It maintains the aesthetic which originally applied to the demo material provided here and it triumphantly carries the impression the original material must have had to a new group of listeners. This is still definitely a niche tape not for everyone.
The heavily punk influenced material is bookended with thrash metal charm in places. There is a sarcastic anti-war / anti-military theme which runs throughout the material. Evidence is abound. Ending the first fourteen tracks from the 1987 My Friend Lost His Face demo, "Be All You Can Be" samples the US Army commercial jingle with an epilogue of someone throwing up. "Military Time" shares a disdain for military order mimicking a wake up call and then trudging along. The subject matter adds to the tape's innate nature as a punk artifact more than a metal artifact and the influence of one subculture is more apparent than that of the other.
Sgt. Rock create an atmosphere of militant indifference and authoritarian criticism by way of a steady variety of marching riffs, trudging beats, and metallic clamor all while poking and prodding symbols of military might. The tracks from the My Friend Lost His Face demo are easily the better sounding, however still rough, cuts. The other 29 tracks are rehearsal tracks, two of which are from a March rehearsal. The April 1987 rehearsal tracks are a fun listen to in their own right. The entirety of them have added energy with some invited bystanders adding their own comments and general drunken tomfoolery in the background.
Ultimately, this tape is going to appeal to fans of crossover, Impetigo, punk, and perhaps those looking for something humorous to toss on every now and then. There are some fun tracks to scream and yell along to like "Grenades", "Rambo", and "My Friend Lost His Face." A Misfits cover appears halfway through the April rehearsal along with three attempts at an S.O.D medley which is finally nailed on the fourth go around. It's very honest rehearsal material which ties current kids rehearsing at home in basements to the perceived golden age of metal and punk.
Friday, March 25, 2016
Stately and powerful, Phobonoid’s self-titled debut album is an industrial black metal voyage into the unimaginably cold and dark corners of space. While bands like Darkspace embrace the infinite vastness of space on a kind of existential or psychological level, Phobonoid’s approach, while grim, reflects a much more curious and awe-inspired view. For this Italian solo project, space is something to explore - and the album’s lyrics are a bleak science fiction journey. We follow the sanda (probe) through an explosion, an armada attack, and even some radioactive ruins. The album’s narrative comes across musically as well. Phobonoid uses a varied set of approaches across the album to give a sense of progression; some songs rely on somber synth pads, while others are heavier and distinctly hostile. In fact, the vocals are so subdued that the bulk of the story is told through the instruments.
The album’s mood is extremely interesting because the sense of exploration is always countered by a kind of disappointed feeling. It’s as if the musical narrative takes you through the expanses of the universe to discover countless planets - each of them long dead and forgotten. Throughout the album, the lead guitar journeys across chord progressions in long single-note patterns. These are contrasted by the pulsing and mechanical percussion samples that act as the album’s ever-steady engine (“Tachyon” is a particularly obvious example of this.) The tremolo picked rhythm guitars often mirror the percussion so tightly that the two are effectively inseparable. A result of this is that the chord progressions are rhythmically (and often melodically) conservative, but this aids in directing the focus onto the lead melodies. It works well because the lonely guitar leads are intriguing enough without grand melodramatic moments. Even the ambient parts of the album maintain the thick mood: the swelling pads are unmistakably wistful, while deep echoes and sparse composition establish space’s magnitude.
It’s worth noting that this is a really unassuming piece of music; even the catchier heavy moments are far from flashy. The quality though, still shines through. A nice grinding low end, aggressive riffing, compressed vocals so subdued and distorted that they seem like they are coming from a brick building down the street. Everything on here is well done. Even polar opposites are executed well: “Eris” gallops along while completely soaked in adrenaline, and later a light touch of panning on the introspective “Tachyon” adds a great deal of depth to the instrumental track. Phobonoid started off with a very promising demo, and this forty minute full-length improves and expands upon that sound. This album is absolutely recommended for fans of industrial black metal or for those that enjoy a cosmic tinge to their music.