Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Predatory Light - MMXIV

Most band names are just empty bravado, but that’s not the case with Predatory Light. The band’s debut demo “MMXIV” is fantastically transfixing black/doom metal that you will want to consume you as you sit quietly, frozen in place like a frightened animal. This music is so addicting that I always listen to it multiple times. Always. Granted, the two songs total less than 18 minutes, but this release still has a gripping and iron-clad sense of completeness that refuses interruptions. Blending black and doom metal, Predatory Light isn’t doing much new, but they are doing everything much better and more dynamically than the vast majority of their peers. A fair benchmark for comparison is Negative Plane - take the same top-tier quality and similar lush cascading reverb, but drop the hints of surf rock in favor of a more ponderous mood that is elegantly feathered with touches of dissonance.

An excellent drummer can make an enormous difference in almost any type of band, and Predatory Light is thankfully no exception. The percussion’s expressive intensity accents the guitar’s moods while simultaneously breathing life into repetition, making the riffs insist on being heard over and over again. This concussive variation gives Predatory Light free reign to marinate in mood and atmosphere without sacrificing even a scintilla of excitement, which is an incredibly rare and special combination. Even the exemplary plodding riff in the second song “Spiritual Flesh,” which goes on for over three minutes, is fantastic due in large part to the varied percussion. When that mesmerizing riff switches over to clean guitars, the drums keep adding flavor, making the return to distortion feel absolutely necessary. Small changes like these are clear signs of the band’s excellent overall songwriting intelligence.

Having a the ability to write an absolutely crushing riff like the one in “Spiritual Flesh” is a pretty great trick for a demo, and even for a full-length. But “MMXIV” is so much more than that. Despite what you may expect from doom metal influences, this striking demo still is peppered with vibrant energy and is even up-tempo at times. Take for example how the massive speed jump at about 1:50 into “Changing Skins” builds on the slow sinuous melodies it follows. Bold tempo changes throughout the demo make for an experience more like a hazy fever than the typical walk into a murky cave. Single notes blur into one another, yet each riff is distinct and dynamically segues into the next. Helping to tie these riffs together is the warm and round bass. Much clearer than the shimmering guitars, the bass also soaks into the mix as a superb mediator between the distant melodies and the immediate punch of the percussion. This is in contrast to the vocals, which play a minimal but apt role; the low growls and muted screams are almost background accents.

By excelling simultaneously in both atmosphere and energy, Predatory Light’s masterful debut demo is immensely satisfying and will leave you eager for more.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Fides Inferno - Correspondence

Fides Inferno’s “Correspondece” oozes with a sense of heat and vastness to that point that it’s like a sun-scorched trek into a desert - a desert that also happens to have a stadium seating view of the universe. This drone-doom-experimental album is unlike anything else out there, and is surely one of the finest example of whatever sub-genre it may fit into. Simultaneously heavy and desolate, vast but penetrating, “Correspondence” births a new musical world. Downtuned echoing acoustic guitars give off a vaguely Western feeling, but with a profoundly apocalyptic mood. If Ennio Morricone had died in a desert and then had every last molecule of his body scattered across space, this is the music those molecules would make.

While best thought of in terms of blended textures, this album is not without riffing moments or a sense of melody. That said, depth and enormity are the most prominent features, and these are achieved through a slathering of reverb, echo, and thoughtful dynamics. As echoes and quietness both reflect distances in the real world, their varied uses here imbue the music with a sense of representing a physical location - and also a sense that that place is otherworldly. Loud sounds can seem far away, and quiet ones can be close enough to be crystal clear whispers. Even the sample of running water in the intro to “Immortal Response” is paradoxical, as it does nothing to quench the sense of heat; a musical mirage.

Depth, especially on a cosmic scale, is difficult to convey - but Fides Inferno carves a musical landscape with dynamics that continually pull the listener deeper in. This isn’t just a mix between acoustic and electric guitars; the volume weaves sounds together by contracting and dilating across instruments. Few musical acts utilize even half as much dynamic variation. As an example, “Vacant,” the opening track, begins with a low drone note swelling into existence. Next, a single twangy acoustic chord rings out into strummed notes that make the album’s characteristically low and quiet growled vocals seem to arise out of nothingness. This clothes the highly minimalistic composition in a shroud of lush intertwined textures. Aside from some of the guitar work, all of the sounds here are textures rather than instruments. Vocals are rumbles, notes tumble over their own echoes, and nearly indiscernible rattles permeate the mix. Is that a cymbal, didgeridoo, a gust of wind, fret buzz, or a rattle snake? If you focus on it, the answer is clear, but unimportant to the experience.

Flaws on “Correspondence” are few and mostly minute with the exception of the song “Why Are Your Eyes So Cold.” That song, in a complete reversal of the usual course of events, is the most metal and also the weakest. It isn’t a per se problem that the song deviates from the vacant, soundtrack style. It falters by being overly repetitive and flat. Abandoning the dynamic strengths would have been forgettable enough, were it not also for the excessively long stretches of the same fast three note runs. While the album’s overall tendency to overindulge in repetition is nearly unnoticeable in light of the overflowing atmosphere, some may view it as problematic, particularly on this song.

“Why Are Your Eyes So Cold” also reveals another weakness - the dull and flat drum samples marring an otherwise vast soundscape. The percussion ends up not being a real issue because it is so sparse and nearly subsumed by other instruments. For the more minute flaws, the only one worth mentioning is how a small portion of “Immortal Response” is vaguely reminiscent of “The Streets of Cairo,” a well known song that is an irritating Eastern music cliche, but this part ends quickly. Despite these minor issues, “Correspondence” is still a powerhouse of an album.

Clocking in at around 35 minutes, this album is absolutely necessary for anyone looking to spice up their drone, doom, or ambient music with something enjoyably engaging yet comprised almost entirely of atmosphere. Fides Inferno is one of the few bands that can successfully balance the two in such a minimalistic setting. With a foreboding vastness contrasted against reflective quiet that persists long enough to delve into bleakness, “Correspondence” also deftly dances with varying volumes to manifest sounds into a physical, alien, world. The central question is, do you enjoy echoes that cascade across the entire universe before hitting your ears? Well in the case of “Correspondence,” you really should.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Kaarmekristus - Saturnaalinen Siunaus

I respect artists' desire for privacy. In the black metal world, that goes a long way sometimes. A couple years back, I had the pleasure of reviewing Ajan Lopun Alku, the debut demo from Ophiuchus' project Kaarmekristus. It had ups, it had downs, but it was personal and pure black metal through and through. Ajan... was finer than most of the ephemeral promos that get emailed to me and forgotten about. I had forgotten about the tape for almost a year or two when two more Kaarmekristus demos landed on my doorstep. The first was Cosmic Satan. Also included was a second tape, Saturnaalinen Siunaus, an unreleased demo which was sent out to a few people Ophiuchus apparently likes. 

The album translates to "Saturn Blessing" or "Blessing of Saturn" - I'm not an expert in Finnish in any way but I can admit to be well versed in the language of black metal. This release is dedicated to fellow countrymen IC Rex and is similarly frigid and cold in vibe. Kaarmekristus has improved in some areas on this release even if it isn't meant for mass consumption. The songwriting is a bit more convoluted and intricate and less static compared to Ajan Lopun Alku. Stylistically then, the similarities to the release it claims to be a tribute to are keen.

The production is rough for a normal / average listener. Lo-Fi fans would have a feast with this if they could get their hands on it  as it is all the perfection we seek - rough hewn guitars, miserable vocals and general sloppiness in sound at times. It feels as natural as if one were actually in a rehearsal where perfection is forfeited for emotion. Ophiuchus is still influenced by others and the initial Darkthrone and Beherit respect is shown in the two unnamed tracks. Opening with an ambient intro before the track takes off, the first salvo is the longer of the two but the second quicker track is where Kaarmekristus shines. More unique, with a spoken lyrical style that carried through the composition which sports an apocalyptic and sullen atmosphere over the scraping guitars. Unfortunately, at only a eight minutes long, this tape is over too quick.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

News - September

A quick news update because of a bunch of stuff going on. First, the Crypter tapes are out so be sure to grab one for some kick-ass Celtic Frost / Hellhammer inspired thrashin' madness! The tapes came out great (as was to be expected) and the band will have a bunch of copies before the month is out.

The next live release is under construction but may not be out until October. I have a bit of work to do with it before I want to announce it. It's going to be excellent though.

The main reason for the delay is that I really want to focus on getting all the other stuff laying around added to the distro list. I had several packages come in this week that I'm working into the distro and I'm announcing what is being added on the facebook page so that's really the best way to stay on top of what is getting thrown in with the rest of the items for sale. This is also the reason why I haven't posted many new reviews. My time has really been focused with beefing up the store with new product. Once that's all added in, you'll see a flurry of new reviews from me - I have about five or six written that need to be typed up and posted. Hopefully, Apteronotus and Steve will be able to hold you over with reviews while I finish adding all the new stuff to the store.

I also may be doing a "sale" of some sort later in the month to coincide with a week I will be unavailable but more info on this later. For the last week, however, I will not be around so please don't get antsy / upset  / impatient if you email me and do not receive a response. I will respond to all emails the first week of October.

 Additionally, please buy stuff! Money is getting tight and I have some excellent planned releases for late this year / early next year that I won't be able to do without stuff being sold. Spread the word about the label / releases / distro so I can keep putting stuff out. Support the underground, support the hardworking bands that kill themselves each night. I can only do so much without support from all of you!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Kognitiv Tod - Mysteries

Like an abandoned house in the middle of the woods, Kognitiv Tod is a quaint, even rustic black metal solo project whose debut release “Mysteries” is oddly addictive. On the surface level there is plenty not to like. Each and every one of the tones is frumpy, dry, and almost shoddy. This escapes even the usual charms of raw black metal because of the surgically clean and dry approach. Beyond that, the music is very straightforward and minimalistic, taking cues from Burzum with the riffing and overall song structure. Despite not quite being amateur, “Mysteries” tonal quality also gives the release an abrasive atmosphere to the extent that Kognitive Tod doesn’t superficially feel similar to the hypnotic atmosphere of Burzum (amazing how minimal reverb can majorly change very familiar black metal paths.) Given the overall sound quality and minimal heaviness, “Mysteries” comes almost half way to being similar to “DauĂ°i Baldrs,” certainly poor company, but it is still weird enough to be an obvious musical outlier.

What makes these simple melodies so addictive however is the clever and dynamic use of counterpoint. Even transposing a melody to a different voicing, whether it be guitar or synth, and layering it in unanticipated ways allows a few songs to worm their way into the listener’s memory. Contrasting these powerful glimpses of songwriting is the bone-dry flavor that makes it seem like the drums aren’t the only programmed instrument. Still, it works. Instruments jumping in and out to double up on melodies or diverging to accent the harmony help to overshadow what would otherwise be irritatingly dry aspects like the sound the guitar pick hitting the strings. Sadly, the top-notch counterpoint that lends the album a lasting richness also makes up the vast bulk of its charm. This is a problem because only a paltry three of the nine tracks on “Mysteries” heavily rely on that technique: the excellent “Inviolate…” “Dysphoric…” and “Indomitable…”

Apart from these highlight tracks, the album is plainly flat and a rather tepid experience. While these songs make the others stronger in the context of an album format, they aren’t enough to make the entire release particularly strong. To be specific, these three songs all have killer guitar counterpoint riffs. While there is guitar counterpoint elsewhere, it is less frequent and weaker because one melody is typically just a flat background progression. Even in the overall dry vibe the vocals and drums both can be especially tough to swallow and are each used very narrowly. The programmed drums are stripped down to little more than sinew and the vocals are heavily processed and compressed to the point where they have no range in volume or attack. Moreover, there is minimal vocal variation with speed, rhythm, or pitch. Synths however work as a countervailing factor by lightly gluing the mix together while also subtly enriching it.

As the album is so counterpoint dependent, it would be nice to see the project delve deeper into that avenue. Pursuing richer and fuller tones, especially with the drums and vocals, would also help to propel the project onto a very strong path, but the true strength is within the addictively off kilter layers of melodies. Jangling without necessarily being dissonant or angular, these strong moments make “Mysteries” well worth listening to. Given that the project has three similarly situated 2014 full-length releases, Kognitiv Tod is clearly in need of a paring knife; “Mysteries” could have been a strong demo. As a closing side note, it is also surprising that the music is weirder than the cover art, which says a lot because the cover art is a progeria-stricken gentleman, circumscribed with golden hoops, giving a depressed black-robed wizardly man an enema. Weird indeed.