Sunday, December 16, 2018

Mormant De Snagov - Depths Below Space and Existence

Mormant De Snagov have been a relatively stable band over the past decade in terms of lineup and production. My first impression of the Finnish black metal outfit's music was off the Triumph of Death split with Abnabak. That split presented Mormant De Snagov as a promising black metal outfit that didn't fall victim to the atmospheric and post-black trends of time. Their second-wave inspired approach with confident melodic movements stood up to several repeated listens. It's been three years and we now have a new album, Depths Below Space and Existence. The lineup is the same as on Triumph of Death. Miska Lehtivuori is the main songwriter and mind behind the band. His vocals oddly sound more in the metalcore / melodic death metal realm for me than they did on the previous recordings. It's the sole sour point here. His guitar playing, however, is excellent. Equally strong is second guitarist Sasu Haapanen's efforts. On the rhythmic front, Pekka Venho on bass is generally not noticeable, a shame. Pekka Jokela on drums is a key driving force for the band and stays interesting and inspired throughout the length of the recording.

My expectations were that we'd get another heavily second wave inspired black metal album with strong riffs and memorable songs. This is ultimately the case, however there are moments that indicate a shifting movement of influences. The second wave influence was not immediately clear to me. It was like eating a cake covered in vanilla frosting and discovering the fluffy insides were chocolate. Miska explains: "Mormânt De Snagov started as a very traditional second wave black metal band. In the beginning the idea was not trying to create anything new or unheard but simply make good music that we ourselves like and would listen to. It was kind of something that just had to be done as this kind of art has been big part of my life for very long. Also, the lyrics were very straight forward back then. That as well was something that I just had to get out from my head. Since then we have changed our expression on each album keeping the black metal core present. To this day we still are not trying to create anything new but the focused aim to write good songs remains. Apart from the black metal side one can hear influences from death metal, thrash, progressive and even from melodic metal in our music."

There is still the underlying black metal techniques, but from the first few moments of "Never Speak Aloud" the progressive elements are much more pronounced and the melodic hooks that are built into the songs are more integral. "This time the material was again pushed to more polarized direction: more progressive and beautiful melodies but on the other more extreme and aggressive death metal riffs as well. This kind of material required more polished production and as we had gained some experience on recording we decided to make it as hi-fi as we could." "Battle Neverending" is another track that points away from the black metal genre, yet is written to be immediately captivating. A solemn tremolo melodic intro pulls the listener into the most memorable arrangement on the album. Big melodic spikes provide the required catch, against otherwise nuanced themes. "Writhe Infinite" opens with a rhythmically unstable motif that reflects Ghost Reveries Opeth before leveling out into a more standard second-wave black metal track but Miska claims it's the album's lyrical peak.

"Stories Untold" is my choice for the best song on the record. The progressive elements return with a massive piano movement cracking the song down the middle like a giant canyon between cliffs. It adds a sense of patience and craftmanship to the album which lacks elsewhere. Stories Untold" also draws heavily from the Death Metal farm; lower growled vocals are used on the verses, the solos and leads sound like Allen West, and the verse riffs could fit on a Suffocation album if Mike Smith were blasting away beneath them. Topping over nine-minutes, it's the longest track and deserving of the time partitioned for it. It is also Miska's personal favorite. "The long keyboard part in the middle of "Stories Untold" is something I’m very proud of. The melody theme is simple and beautiful, and originally it was a long Burzum -like part where the melody as repeated over and over again unchanged. At some point we decided to change the game and start layering the melody instead of just repeating it. After a while we realized that keyboards will be needed on this one and immediately after that we realized none of us could play it because of lacking the skills."

Luckily, I knew a local professional jazz pianist Matias who promised to help us. He came over to the studio, I played him the melody theme once or twice and we started recording almost immediately. It was a magical moment to hear someone so talented playing stuff that I had written. He nailed it and we were very happy with the outcome. Finally, when I was recording guitars to that part Sasu suddenly walked in to the studio and told me he had yet another layer to add to that part. It’s the last guitar melody that kicks in at the very end of that part before the music calms down to the piano break. The final version includes so much layered stuff which is growing little by little, that it’s hard to understand it on the first listen. I recommend having plenty of time, a glass of wine and a pair of good headphones when listening to it... It’s kind of our magnum opus. Despite that it’s a long song it’s still quite simple and easy to approach. The chorus is catchy as well."

Mormânt De Snagov's Depths Below Space and Existence is a rewarding listen. There is a sense of experimentation and thought across the album. Melody plays the biggest role in transitions between segments and riffs and for this, offers some unique perspectives on the usage of melody in contrasting sections. After a solid ten or fifteen listens I feel the record wears well on repeated listens but had the vocals been more traditionally black metal in sound, I feel the material would have been more effectively fused. "I’m a self-taught singer so can’t tell much about the style or technique. The way I do it just feels good and comes out easily and naturally. I like to scream and growl as clearly as possible to make the lyrics understandable without reading them which also makes our music catchier." This cleaner style does make the lyrics audible, but for me it takes something away from the aggression.

"Someone said that 'you’re not black metal anymore’ after hearing our latest album. If one defines black metal as the first and second wave stuff then yeah, I guess we’re out of that scope. We think differently. First of all, lyrics are an important thing. The content of our lyrical side has not changed much. The expression might be more subtle but the hateful, frustrated and anti-religious approach is still present very strong. Secondly the music is still dark and powerful just like it used to be on our two first album. The core of the music is still there, and the riffs come out from the same hands even though some layers of the music are very different... Give it a good spin. It might be different from what you would expect from Mormânt De Snagov and also different than what the artwork suggests. Actually, the artwork is visualizing the ending track “The Roots of Grief” which is a fact that isn’t too easy to discover. When you dig into this album deeply you’ll see that the black metal core of Mormânt De Snagov is still there. And finally, when you’ve gotten familiar with this album I recommend you prepare yourselves for our next full-length album which will change the game again a bit. We will keep expanding our expression to more brutal and also more melodic direction." I'm looking forward to the next record after Depths Below Space and Existence. Mormânt De Snagov are a forward looking outfit always looking to create something new.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Monthly Blast: November 2018

Recently, Baal Zebubstein and myself, after traveling to Brooklyn to see a show and realizing I had gotten the date wrong, wound up staying for a few songs from some deathcore bands. Neither of us were impressed. The mechanical feel, the repetitive and clinical execution... the music felt as if it were copy and pasted together live; I can only ruminate on how sanitized a recorded version would sound. Walking back to the car, we passed a bakery in a brick building. Looking inside we saw a crew of bakers hand kneading, rolling, and pushing dough into the ovens; the smell was incredible. Constantly increasing and decreasing intensities of earthy, roasted, and cooking bread drew us to practically stumble into the bakery. I think about it now - how much more satisfying something natural is compared to something unnatural and artificial.

Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, in his famous work, Entretiens Sur La Pluralite Des Mondes or Conversations on The Plurality of Worlds, makes a worthwhile observation on a shared characteristic of all natural things while discussing the potential variety of life on distant planets. In the book, his female student, the Marquis, eloquently states "My imagination's overwhelmed by the infinite multitude of inhabitants on all these planets, and perplexed by the diversity one must establish among them; for I can see that Nature, since she's an enemy of repetition, will have made them all different." This astute description on the nature of the natural world is notable in musical criticism as well. In describing a recording as 'natural' we imply the feeling of the music as having been produced without digital trickery, that the sounds arranged to create the music were produced in a natural manner of performance, and that we are not being duped by mass-production or artificial articulation. The best of the best music within the genre does not hide behind post-production perfection.

Is this not the single-most important component of what we know to be the traditional metal genres of Heavy Metal, Doom Metal, Thrash Metal, Death Metal, and Black Metal? I find it worth pointing out that much of the material reviewed here that impressed me had this natural disposition. Abazagorath's live recording: absolutely natural in every way. Disciples of Power's dizzying death thrash: definitely recorded with no cut and paste repairs. The Autocrat and Black Knife material? Humbly natural in it's presentation. These nuanced recordings emphasize a character of natural being that exists inertly within. The feedback of drone and doom, the rawness in production of black metal, the creativity of guitarists throwing elaborate solos in damn near any place possible, and importance and preponderance - even still - of demos and physical media all further strengthen the tie of the natural world to Metal.

Abazagorath - Disciples of Sacrilege (2018)

Disciples of Sacrilege, a live rehearsal from legendary US Black Metal band Abazagorath, channels darkness and hatred from beyond in a way few live releases are capable of doing. Recording handled by Abazagorath at Wrong Planet Studios, - in reality just the home studio of guitarist Ciemnosc and the same location where the band recorded their recent full length, The Satanic Verses - the tracks span a large portion of the band's discography with tracks included from their debut album, Tenebrarum Cadent Exsurgemus, their second offensive, Sacraments of the Final Atrocity, as well as from splits, EPs, and demos. Ultimately, this is a perfect entry level release to discover the band with only a few classic tracks not making the set. The packaging and layout comes across as underground and minimalist, in step with the raw and barbaric production and clearly natural energy. Songs like "Ancient Steel", "In The Heart of a Dying Star", "Buried In Hell" and "Ancient Steel" are presented with purified and renewed energy and effect. Warhead is, as always the case, impressive drums, however he handles all of the vocals here as well and is as vicious behind the microphone as he is behind the kit. He has been one of the top black metal drummers for a long time in the US scene, and there is no reason to doubt his fanaticism for the art of black metal here. Ciemnosc and Aversario add the necessary final elements. Joe Aversario's bass playing is of note, being integral for the punchiness and power this live album conveys. The production is stellar; everything is clear and audible, but mixed to leave in the dirt and grit, especially on the bass. This is a must-have tape. The songs are huge, powerful, and reek of the old-school black metal and death metal of the late 80's and early 90's. Easily one of the best live releases I've heard in a long time. Procure this from Eternal Death. Abazagorath have been going for a long time and maintain their rank as a top tier US black metal band. I hear there are good things in the pipeline as well. Stay vigilant!

Coalescer - Album No. 1 (2018)

The opening minutes of Coalescer's Album No. 1 are promising: lush textures which resonate rich and vibrant in one respect but ring cold and at times industrial. The album thusly yields a very confounding atmosphere. It's like being in an art-deco theater with huge rusting and slowly moving set-design pieces that are built to mimic space exploration in the far off future. In truth, throughout the record, these Swiss musicians create some very interesting and potentially rewarding music in the experimental / electronic sphere. The problem is that these inspired segments are never enough to hold a song together and often slide in and out of existence much like an turtle slips gently into a pond. For example, "To The Town," is decisively obnoxious with God-knows what making whooping noises throughout and samples from police scanners or something used as a vocal element, but culminates in a dark rock-noir climax with vocalist Ben Plüss sitting right on top of it crooning. It's my least favorite overall song, but one of my favorite singular moments here. "Destroying the Planet" mimics the progression implied in the title by slowly getting more percussively chaotic and industrialized over time. In some songs, modern electronic dance seems to hold an influence. "All You want, My Money," is one example where at times the music would fit relevantly on a Garbage album but also has long sections that sound closer to Sloth's Slow As Shit. There are some themes which Coalescer seem to return to throughout Album No. 1. The first theme is that of trees and forests. "It Has Started In A Forest", "Back To The Forest", "Trunk Marks", and "When The Forest Becomes Silent" all refer to the arboreal not to mention the inclusion of a band member named The Monster of the Forest who supplies the album's "screams" which I am not actually sure exist. Interesting experiment in textures but I'm not sold on how everything here comes together. The whole thing sounds like something Marilyn Manson would put on in his dressing room as he zips up his best androgynous stage gear. The best moments are when Coalescer is not trying to incorporate the rock elements and essentially compose texture experiments of which "Trunk Marks" is the best creation here.

Disciples of Power - Ominous Prophecy (1992)

This reissue of Ominous Prophecy, Disciples of Power's sophomore album, is frighteningly excellent evidence of the sheer number of hidden gems from the 90's in the death / thrash genre. Once again this one has been resurrected by Vic Records, the obscurity reissue magicians. These Canadians manifest a truly twisting and unpredictable technical outing that shows an influence from defining period bands such as Gorguts and Atheist. Where Disciples of Power excel is quite simply in the riff architecture itself. Every riff - and there are swarms of them - is refined to the point of being individually powerful enough to carry an entire song. Disciples of Power never ride any particular riff long, though, and are more prone to simply mutate riffs into new riffs and phrases using sharp transitions and accents. Ominous Prophecy has an experimental flair to it without being pretentious. Songs like "Sleeping Dead" transport the listener into compositions which are, for lack of a better description, contorted miasmas of fluidity. These compositions are laden with details, frills, and shiny parts to make the listener come back over and over to once again engage with the songs. It's tough to pick out singular tracks and so, this is an effort that is best experienced as a complete unit. Ominous Prophecy is a volute of complicated rhythmic and melodic creations that will surely appeal to those that enjoy more technical death metal and thrash that hasn't yet lost it's balls by infusing jazz tubas solos or fusion keyboard segments. Just death metal and thrash with insane riffs. Well-worth the investment and time. I'll be rummaging through the rest of their discography for sure.

Infected - Dark Century (1989)

One of those oddball, one-and-done outfits from the late 80's, Infected's Dark Century is most likely to be run into while researching off-shoot bands via the Messiah connection. Drummer Steve Karrer was involved in Messiah's early 90's period. Recently remastered by Vic Records, Dark Century is not a must-own for everyone but it does have a place in collections of fans with a heavy interest in late 80's thrash. Infected find themselves nestled between the thrash and death metal genres, with a slant towards bands like Morbid Saint but with definite Teutonic influence. The only death metal component in their sound is Amos Gersmann's vocals which are more of a guttural yell with a snappy quickness. At times, more traditional influences appear such as during "Headless" which has an early Iron Maiden gallop and bass integration. Theo Hilfiker on bass is a key ingredient in Infected's sound, being very prominent across the record, he adds low end and power as well as a layer of auditory interest to what are sometimes mediocre riffs. I am put off by the somewhat lame song titles such as "Backstabbing Small-Talk", "Brutalities Behind Your Back", and "Media Control" which come across as amateurish. This extends to the bonus track "Money Rules" as well. That said, musically, "Backstabbing Small-Talk" is the best track on the record. The intro is engaging, with a heavy mixture of instruments coming together to create the potential for something above the norm. Tapping bass and guitars weave slick and angry melodic undertones before transitioning into the verse, a standard Germanic thrash riff. The central instrumental section is atonal and interesting but could have improved by removing the plunky rhythm. For me, when considering Dark Century, I immediately think about the standard for Swiss thrash from this period, Coroner. The album does not come close to fellow countrymen Coroner in quality and for a 1989 album, No More Color is superior. Dark Century, though, is a commendable effort and will find acclaim with fans of some of the aforementioned thrash bands looking for the next obscurity to latch onto.

Onset - Unstructured Dissemination (2018)

What initially caught my eye regarding Onset's recently released EP, Unstructured Dissemination, was that Mirai of Sigh status provided additional keyboard and synth accents. If this doesn't rattle your interest sensors you may be in need of a trip to your local bio-mechanic; there are more hints at the quality within. While the artwork immediately reminded me a certain famous cinematic moment in Phantasm, also standing out was the release was backed by Weird Truth who has put out a quantity of solid material over the past years such as Hyponic, Ataraxie, Stargazer, and Mournful Congregation. Onset (ӨПƧΣƬ occasionally for whatever reason) is in fact the duo of Singaporean craftsman Shamtos and Calvin. Two statements are made on Unstructured Dissemination for a total of twenty five minutes worth of material. "Permeation: The Ordeal" is a moving piece that combines powerful driving rhythms drawing from the world of doom that borders funeral doom but doesn't quite give in to the temptation of the 'ultra-slow' with solemn and worried atmosphere. In many ways this reminds me of the previously mentioned Hyponic or Ataraxie. Guitarist Calvin is left to handle the melodic movements, which he does cleanly. His melodic guitar lines are full of emotion and the weepy guitar tone he's chosen to highlight in these sections works spectacularly, giving a depth of tone against the bruising rhythm guitar work. Shamtos' drumming is slow and calculated. It provides solid footing for the foundational bass playing. Second track "Pestis: The Suppressing & Recurrence" has a quicker pace however is structured similarly: Calvin entices on top with a melodic guitar line while a shifting foundation churns beneath with only minor variation. Both tracks are patient and textural; themes and subject matter entirely expressed through the layering of sound and lack there-of of urgency. Additional nuanced subtlety is added with the mid-song synths of Microchip Terror that lends a spacey, futuristic dread. A captivating listen that could be serviced with more narrative elements and dynamic shifts to Onset's otherwise skilled sense of movement and emotion to create climax and a greater evocative sense.

Phylactery - Phylactery Demo (2016)

One of the blessings of being involved in underground metal is that it's quite common to learn and self-educate based simply on band names. Phylactery are an example of a band that have chosen a word for a band name which I've never heard before and, after looking up the meaning, am more curious as to why they decided to pick this word as their band name. Phylactery: A small leather box containing Hebrew texts on vellum, worn by Jewish men at morning prayer as a reminder to keep the law. Are Phylactery 'keeping the law' with their debut demo? It appears so! I'm impressed with the production presented. Heavy bass and drumming in the mix gives a really in-your-face live feeling to this death thrash mixture. Vocals are a little higher in range, with a snarl and screech that makes me look towards a more blackened influence. Overall the mixture is not unlike Deathchain's excellent Deadmeat Disciples; thrashy riffs, death metal drumming and mix, and black metal vocals. The drumming is particularly driving. K.T. - who also handles vocals - is an impressive hell-raiser and you can hear how he has built the drumming around the vocal lines in a song like "King Of Ruin." Each fragment of vocals is interrupted by a new and interesting drum line that leads back into the next vocal section. K.T. uses every opportunity to highlight the riffing with drum accents. It creates unique composition and arrangement moments. Though the riffing of guitarist T.G. is often complex and nuanced, it never obnoxiously intricate. The three piece is rounded out by bassist J.M. who is integral in pulling everything together by adding the constant low end that the mixture requires. It's almost as if K.T. plays lead-drums with T.G. and J.M. playing the rhythm section. The mixture is identifiable and unique enough to march onward with. Though the three tracks are all solid, the band is best on "King of Ruin." It appears that K.T. and T.G are partners in Dire Omen.

Punebre - Manananggal (2018) / Rehearsal Demo 101718 (2018)

With a collective run time of seven minutes, Punebre, which features Calvin of Onset on drums and vocals, and their two available releases is a quick blitz of grinding death metal. It's almost too quick, but nevertheless there is enough here to pass judgement. The verdict? Power and brutality in short bursts team up with Filipino horror samples for something unique. "Patay Na Ang Diyos" is a highlight for me and evidence that Punebre has the creativity to stand out. As the track just seems to get going, it ends. And it ends on a strong note that after two listens to the under-one-minute song. It is like a fruit that was picked just before ripe and still tastes delicious. The melody is supplied by samples on two of the tracks from Manananggal and done well. The final track, "Anita" is a one-minute blunt-object bludgeoning at just over mid-tempo. The rehearsal demo doesn't impress as much when compared to the better Manananggal. A live version of "Anita" does not sound as powerful. The final track, "Halimaw" is Punebre's longest effort at two-and-a-half minutes long. It is not nearly as grindy as the other songs, borrowing mostly from the Swedish style of bands like Grave and Entombed. It could be simplified, shortened, and pampered to fit well with Punebre's other material and I hope that this rehearsal version is not in fact the finality of the composing process for this track. What is most lacking on the rehearsal are the samples which gave the debut demo a sense of identity. The rehearsal recording could be anyone. The band's highlights are "Patay Na Ang Diyos" and "Anita" from Manananggal.  Both demos are free to download off their bandcamp.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Atavisma Interview

France's Atavisma have been covered on Contaminated Tones before. On a previous Monthly Blast feature, I covered their recent 7" EP, On The Ruins of a Fallen Empire. Way before that back in 2014, I gave similar praise to their debut demo, Where Wolves Once Dwelled. Additional releases, such as a 7" Split with Maur as well as some compilation appearances and positive press have preceded their new full length album, The Chthonic Rituals. The album mostly continues where Atavisma previously left off: destructive and murky death metal that is often doomy, commonly blistering, but always old school death metal in it's bones. The Chthonic Rituals is merely the natural progression of their purpose. Also remaining is the lyrical content which focuses on an almost tribal elementalism. On The Chthonic Ritual, this is symbolized through the cumulative connotations associated with Lovecraft and his descriptive manner of realizing the unknown and the ancient. Atavisma seek what their moniker hints at - the lost connections of primitive man with nature.

Being a fan of the band for a long time, and being in occasional contact with G, I proposed an interview to explore the band further and elaborate on some of these concepts which I found fascinating and interesting. Phenomenal band and amazing people, G. Presents Atavisma not only as a top-tier Death Metal band but in subtle ways which match my own perspectives and philosophies. This connection endears me to them more than before: "All of us are individuals with their own way of thinking and we value that a lot, and that's what made the strength of the band."

CT: How did Atavisma come into being? Tell me about the band's early history prior to the Where Wolves Once Dwelled demo in 2014. How did you decide on the band's name?

G: Hey Jon, first of all, thank you for taking some time to do this interview with us. I'm from a small city in the South-West of France, and finding people to play extreme music was very hard there. Things got easier when I moved to Paris, but I still had to find the right people. I played in two different bands that weren't heading anywhere before meeting L. We shared a common taste in music and other interests so it clicked right away. I remember asking L. about doing vocals on some demo recordings that I had after he got refused by another band for which he auditioned. He agreed and we decided to record our first demo a month after L. found our moniker "Atavisma" after some discussion between us and the themes we wanted to structure our songs around. He came up with the name quite easily and fast, and it sounds great to the ears aswell.

CT: Your logo was drawn up by Christoph Szpajdel. At what point did you decide to have him do the logo, and was he easy to work with? I never realized how many bands that I'm familiar with have used him as their logo designer.

G: Well that's quite a funny story. Actually, our first logo was done by a nice person from the US who volounteered for doing our logo. It really looked like the Dismember one, but way more raw. The reason why Christoph made the logo is linked to my origins. I'm actually from the country of Georgia in the Caucasus region. And it happens that Christoph is really passionate about Caucasian (Georgian, Chechen, Ingush, etc) culture and music and I stumbled upon his youtube profile under some georgian folk songs that I was listening to. So I decided to contact him since I had some recordings I've done on my own where I mixed metal and georgian folk songs for my own pleasure, and asked him if he would like to listen to them since he liked both of them. That's how it all began, and it was before I moved to Paris and formed Atavisma. When we had half of the demo written down I've sent the tracks to him and he kindly agreed to do a new logo for us, which we accepted with great pleasure and he did exactly what we had in mind with great ease. We didn't even needed to do corrections to the logo and I think that's why he's such a great artist and why a lot of bands use his skills for their logos.

CT: Were there specific bands which you decided to sound like? I hear Asphyx as well as Grave but occasionally also some more subtle influences from doomer entites like Disembowelment or Evoken. Did the style of Death Metal which you are playing come naturally or did you set out to create the band with the intention of playing within such a framework?

G: The genre that we decided upon at the begining for the band was old school Death Metal, specially in the Swedish way. So fast and brutal stuff. The first Death Metal band that I heard when I was young was Unleashed, followed by the other Swedish bands of course, and that's when I knew that this was the kind of music I wanted to play. My taste evolved of course, and you're right about quoting Asphyx. The Last One on Earth was one of the first Death Metal albums that I bought with Unleashed's Where No Life Dwells and Across the Open Sea, so naturally I went into doomier and slower stuff. Obviously I found out Incantation and that was the game changer for me. Disembowelment and Evoken are also two bands that I really like, and although we didn't went for really slow and long songs with the demo, it still was influential. The first song that we recorded was "Forsaken" and prior to that, I have never heard L.'s vocal skills so I didn't knew what to expect. So after recording him for the first time, and having my mind blowed out, I knew that his voice would perfectly fit slow paced rhythms, and that's when we slowed things down tempo wise.

CT: Similarly, the lyrical content has remained consistent in themes across the releases you've put out. Was this also something decided upon or just a natural direction based on personal philosophies and interest?

G: Well, with a name like ours, we had to have something close to it, lyric wise. L. and myself are interested in themes revolving around Nature, the Humankind and so on, but since the demo we expanded a bit our lyrical themes, even though they're still connected somehow. Our philosophies and interests, as humans, evolve, so obviously what we have written about five years ago isn't the same as today. We try to not limit ourselves as much as before.

CT: L and yourself both handle writing the lyrics for Atavisma. Explain the process you go through in writing the lyrics. Do you both work on a song together or individually?

G: We both have different approaches to lyrics. I tend to write down lyrics based on the songs or the riffs, so it influences the way that they are sung/pronounced. L. on the other hand writes them based more on instinct that the music. Writting the lyrics together gives us the opportunity to mix both ways and create diversity in the vocal lines aswell. There are some songs on which either L. or myself didn't write, such as "The Savage One" or "Ashen Ascetic" were written by me, "Invocation.." or "Extraneous.." were solely written by L.

CT: With your demo, Where Wolves Once Dwelled, you handled all the instrumentation on the demo. Why did you decide to not wait til you had put together a full lineup? What was the recording process like for that album for you?

G: As I said earlier, I moved from my small town to Paris. I was basically a nobody and I didn't knew people from the scene or interested in the genre that I wanted to play. So L. and I decided to write down and record a demo in order to find people interested into playing with us more easily. But it didn't help that much since it was still a struggle to find a drummer and a bassist. It took almost more thant a year to have a stable line-up. As for the recording, I did everything on the demo, from the recording to mixing and mastering. It was all done in my small flat with very bad gear, a budget of zero and poor skills. It was my second recording ever and I was limited by the gear, specially the computer which is ridiculously old (Windows XP with 2gigs of ram and a single core processor for those interested..). Added to that, I really had bad knowledge about recording and all of that. Of course, at this day, I have improved a lot and our demo recordings sound thousand times better than what we did on WWOD. But I don't regret recording it the way it was. The composition phase was wery quick and instinctive, it took me like a day or two by song to finish them, and I didn't wan't to wait for a long period before releasing the songs, and that added the raw and primitive feel to the demo that we were actually looking to achieve considering the fact that I didn't have good skills at the time regarding the recording/mixing.

CT: "The Savage One" and "Nature's Warfare" are represent the iconic Atavisma sound. It mixes the faster and slower parts all with the thick Swedish Death Metal tone. The lyrics are exemplary of the band's seeming theme of a return to primitivism and the enduring inevitability of nature outlasting humans. When you think back to the debut demo, how do you view it now in relation to where you are at as a band?

G: Well, the composition and recording quality became better, but we still tried to keep that primitive feel you spoke about, of course it will also depend on the track and the subject it is about. The desire of writing how nature overcame of humans came from the fact of how the life in the city alienated me. In my home town, I lived in the suburbs and the longer we lived there, the city's officials tried to push us further away from the downtown by raising the rent and living costs (the suburbs are actually were people with low/poor income live in France, contrary to the US if I'm not mistaken). The same thing happens here in Paris, plus the fact that there are more and more people living in small neighborhoods and smaller spaces, which is really suffocating, and during my first months here it was a very difficult experience. In the end you get used to it but you still have the desire to "breathe" and somehow channel that frustration which we do with our music. The one thing that didn't changed that much from the demo years and today are our live performances. The goal from the very begining was to deliver pure sonic violence and savagery, even during our slower parts, and during the years, I think, it has gone more and more brutal during our shows.

CT: I first was introduced to Atavisma through Gabriel from Nihilistic Holocaust. How did you first come in contact with Gabriel and what it was like working with him to get the demo officially out on cassette. Will you be working with him more?

G: I think he contacted us by mail and asked us if he could produce the demo on tape. Since it was the original format on which we wanted to release it - it was released first on MCD format on Dead Center Productions - we agreed to do that with him. He did a great job and has spread our music all around the world, and we're really grateful for that. Although there are no future plans for working with him again, and he already invested a lot in the band so I don't really know what the future will tell us about a new collaboration with Nihilistic Holocaust.

CT: You did a split with Maur, an Indonesian band, a year after the demo and submitted a single song for that split. How did that combination come together?

G: I was composing the track, A Subterranean Life, and the band contacted us and were interested into doing a split with us. As simple as that. We liked their music so we agreed to do two single tracks for each band around 10 minutes and that's how the split came to life. We never heard of them after that so I guess the band is no longer active anymore, maybe I'm wrong.

CT: The next release afterwards was a 7" EP titled On The Ruins of a Fallen Empire. This release features a full lineup. How did you meet the rest of the members at this time? Was there a reason why L and yourself decided it was time to get a full lineup?

G: It was really difficult to find the two other members for the band. At first we recruited our first drummer, C., after around 6 months of searching for someone. And afterwards it took us around 6 months again to find W. who joined us on bass. Our main goal with the band was to play live shows, it is a practice that we're very passionate about. Having a demo, that had a rather nice success in the underground, and not finding members to play live was extremely frustrating so at some point L. tried to do the vocals and play bass at the same time, we thought about playing without a bass player, and so on. But patience is the mother of all virtues so once the full line-up was set up, we were ready to unleash hell on stage whenever we could.

CT: The most noticeable effect this seems to have had was that the drummer improved significantly. Were there other subtle changes in how you wrote songs or lyrics when you got the full band lined up? Was it integral that the incoming members had similar thoughts and philosophies that fit with the overall themes and content that L and yourself had focused on.

G: When C. joined us, it was his first real band and he didn't have a lot of experience, but as I said before, we were patient and he has progressed very quickly in a short laps of time. W. was already a high skilled bass player, although not that familiar with the style since he was more into black metal. But we all progressed together as a band and a live act and that was really a great experience. When it comes to themes and philosophies around the band, both of them were more or less familiar and everything went smoothly. All of us are individuals with their own way of thinking and we value that a lot, and that's what made the strength of the band. There are things on which we don't always agree, even L. and myself, but it has never created any problem among us. If we'd agreed on everything I think our music wouldn't be as interesting as it is today.

CT: Your new album, The Chthonic Rituals, is now out. You used the same recording studio as the EP - Mannaz Records. Was this out of convenience or simply because you liked the way the EP came out?

G: The EP was recorded partially in Mannaz Records actually; we only did vocals, guitars and bass over there, the drums were recorded in another studio and the reamping, mixing and mastering were done at Worship Studio. At the time, Johan, the sound engineer at Mannaz was only doing basic home studio recordings. Now he has a bigger studio with more space and possibilities, so for the album we recorded all the instruments, drums included, and did the mixing. He was a live soundman basically and he did a gig or two for us, and later on he evolved into studio recordings. The good thing with him is that he isn't that much familiar with our sound, he's used to recordings and working on the sound of very modern sounding bands. That allows us to push him out of his comfort zone and find ways of working with the sound which he's not used to, and he also does the same with us, to summarize it, we're breaking our boundaries mutually. We came back to him because of convenience but also that we wanted to do better than the EP with which we were not that satisfied soundwise.

CT: What was the writing process like for the new songs on the record?

G: I've recorded everything by myself at my home, basically demos that we took afterwards to rehearsals and then played on our shows. So gradually we were adding a new song to our gigs and saw how the public reacted to them. All the songs were written during the last four and a half years, and I'm quite glad to say that there were no "leftovers" that didn't make to the album.

CT: To me, Lovecraftian symbolism is apparent on the record. Tell me about the usage of these metaphors? Was it you or L. that this inspiration stems from?

G: Both of us are great fans of Lovecraft's works, but we never wanted to write songs about it because there are already a lot of bands doing it, some really well, and others very badly. We prefer to develop our own themes and subjects rather than to write on someone else's, not that it is a bad thing, it's just that we didn't wanted to fall into the cliché of being a death metal band that writes about Lovectaftian mythos. Of course alot of the characteristics of our sound may fall in the Lovecraftian inspiration, because we listen to bands inspired by him, but it was never intentional. It's just that dissonant, downtuned death metal suits the theme well so people will automatically hear the ressemblence, specially since Lovecraft has inspired and had such a big impact in the metal sound and imagery.

CT: "Sacrifice Unto Babalon" was the first track that gripped me musically - the final riff that ends the song is wicked -, and then lyrically, I felt it was very representative of Atavisma thematically, offering submission to what I interpreted as the natural world. What are your thoughts on this track musically and lyrically?

G: It's a track that I personally love to play live, it has a lot of punch and the final riff always kicks the crowd in the guts when I play it, so glad that you like it ! You're right when it comes to the theme of the song. Babalon, the Mother of All Abominations, can be interpreted as Mother Nature.

CT: "Invocation of Archaic Deities" is the second longest of the tracks on the album and is quite musically involved, with it's slow opening dirge, twisted unpredictable shift prior to the faster parts, screeching feedback and noise, and funeralesque outro. How did you envision this during composition?

G: It's simple, the track had to be a depiction of a ritual. The slow begining and the rise until the climax that unleashes the fast and unrelenting trance, the entrance in the world of the Deities, unknown and incomprehensible, and the slow and soulcrushing comeback to the world of mortals.

CT: Who do those at the top of the monoliths symbolize, if anyone?

G: Those that are devoured by their own greed, always wanting more which leads them to their own demise, and eventually leads to the fall of all Humanity because of their position and choices that impact everyone. To put it more simply, all those that have power and money.

CT: "Ashen Ascetic" is the most Swedish of the tracks I feel. Any thoughts on this track?
The album ends with two older tracks. How did you decide which of these previously recorded and released tracks to revisit for The Chthonic Rituals? Did you make changes to these older tracks for the album versions?

G: Ashen was written under influence of mind altering substances during a boring day. The lyrics came to me out of nowhere and I have written them down on paper and haven't modified them at all. It was like a mystique moment when angels, demons, deities or whatever spoke to people whom they have chosen to spread their message. As for "Amid.." and "Subterranean Life", the reason was simple. We wanted to record "Subterranean.." with a better production, and "Amid" was the song that almost always preceeded "Subterranean.." during our live gigs, creating like a huge, neverending and crushing track of almost 20 minutes. And since we wanted to create a "live" feel to this album, the choice was evident.

CT: Now that you've had the album out, what is your level of satisfaction with the record? I think it's a deep, dark, dank slab of heinous death metal. The atmosphere is very suffocating and hellish.

G: Personally I'm very satisfied with it, and the others do feel the same I think. A lot of effort was put to write lyrics, compose music, and finally recorded them in a real studio. There are somethings, soundwise, that I would have treated a bit differently, but nothing too important so overall it is a highly satisfying album for us as musicians. The overall feeling that you described is what we were aiming for, so I'm very glad that you felt that way when you listened to it. It is that kind of atmosphere that we were creating and still do during our liveshows and I'm very satisfied that we have done the same for the album.

CT: What upcoming projects are planned for Atavisma? Live shows?

G: Right now, as we speak, we have recruited a new bassist and we're planning to go back on the road for 2019 in various cities in France, but we'll also try to play shows in other countries. Studio wise, we have two songs that will come out on two different compilations, one is a new and exclusive track written for We Are French, Fuck You #2, and the second one an old track that we rerecorded for a webzine's compilation, From Corners Unkown, that will reverse the income made by the compilation to an organization that rehabilitates birds of prey in Oregon, USA.

CT: Would you like to add anything to end the interview? Thanks again for your in depth and thoughtful responses.

G: Thank you very much for this interview and your support, it was a pleasure to answer to your questions. A huge thanks to all the people who have supported us until this day and still continue so.


Sunday, November 11, 2018

Ross The Boss - Live at Debonair Music Hall

Back in July, I put together this cut and paste after seeing Ross the Boss on my birthday. It's been laying around so I figured I would post it.

CTP-016-I: Deathfucker - Fuck The Trinity

The next official Contaminated Tones Productions release will be Italy's Deathfucker and their absolutely slaying demo Fuck The Trinity.

I expect die-hards to go nuts for this; death thrash with throwbacks towards classic bands like Slayer, Motorhead, and Death. The tracks are all raucous and vitriolic with a rebellious punk sentiment that carries throughout, even if the riffs, vocals, and other instrumentation is all undeniably old school metal. It's a rare level of maturity to be found on a demo and deserves more than passing listens.

Order HERE

Once again, this will be a pro-tape release. I am proud to finally get this out for Insulter and J.K as it's been in the works for a while since before the move and kept getting pushed back due to financial obligations being what they were. Fuck The Trinity was previously released as a CD demo through Colombian based Trauma Records and as a tape through Thailand based Witchhammer Productions that excluded two of the tracks. It has never before had a proper western release which due to the strength of the material is warranted.

For those that are taking note of my serial numbers, the reason this being labelled #16 is simply because the release that was going to be put out under that number simply has not materialized for several years.

11/11/18: UPDATE Tapes are out now. They just arrived this past week. They look great. 


Thursday, November 8, 2018

Metal Exploration Journal: Ethiopia

With only a single band on Metal Archives, and very little other information out there regarding what is happening within it's extreme music scene, Ethiopia seems like dead space musically for fans of harsher tones and brutality. A quick search yields a single black metal band, Nishaiar, out of the country. My interest in Ethiopian music was initially formed several years back while perusing Awesome Tapes From Africa's page and coming upon Teshome Wolde and Hailu Mergia and a few others doing traditional music from the region. Teshome Wolde's Teshome Wolde and Dahlak Band immediately grabbed my attention with it's oddball rhythms and unexpectedly catchy yet awkward melodies. Hailu Mergia was a different level altogether, with a jazzy free-form mixture of smooth notes and keys. The style of these acts amounts to what world music experts have deemed Ethio-jazz.

2018.11.02: Would any of these characteristics make it's way into the singular black metal band that appears to exist in the region? Unsure, and without demoing the material, I bought Gondar based Nishaiar's discography on bandcamp. A single review from a user on Metal Archives gave positive inclinations that the band was on to something interesting in reference to their album from this year, Irix Zerius. I attempted contact through Bandcamp in hopes that I could get some further recommendations and contacts in the scene from the members. While I awaited response, I jammed heavily Nishaiar's albums before I heard back from the band. The four members include Lord of Zenadadz performing vocals, which I assume only refers to the harsher black metal vocals and guitars. Explorer of the abyss handles the bass which is prominent on all four of their albums. Lycus Aeternam supplies synthesized sounds and vocals as well. On drums is the very capable Arcturian Night.

Nishaiar - Era 1 (2017)

Nishaiar's debut, to underplay my emotions upon first listening, should be considered a monumental achievement in extreme metal for a number of reasons. Putting aside the context of being potentially the first black metal album from Ethiopia, being genuinely unique in tone and secondary influences, and tapping into the imagery of an entirely new atmospheric design, Era 1 is simply an incredibly written and paced record that, from the moment the massive guitars in opening track "Logos 1" punch you in the gut, is evidence that extreme metal taps into a deep inner subconscious regardless of cultural background. In short, there will always be those that "get it" and that it doesn't matter where in the world these individuals live. As I mentioned, Era 1, absolutely rules from the start. The best way to describe the overall feeling of the album is to imagine if Varg Vikernes was actually Ethiopian and Filosofem was written with that atmosphere in mind. The tracks are thick, with a dry rumbling guitar tone. "Logos 1" is the main highlight for me, though what really stands out is the strength of the compositions across the whole album. "Idhar" follows the stoic opening track with a more uplifting melodic movement that carries into the light acoustic "Metamorphosis," which cuts into the heavier feeling of the album. "Ozdhar" is starts out with blistering blasting drums and is the most recognizably 'western' black metal track. Lycus Aeternam has an ear for perfect synthesizer usage in the music and his ability to key into the melodic undertones and feel of the tracks is on par with the melodic brilliance which Negura Bunget produced on Om. It is clear that there is heavy influence from purely atmospheric black metal as well as post-black metal and post-rock here, however this nonetheless is a definitive black metal album and demands attention worldwide.

Nishaiar - Universum (2017)

Nishaiar's second album, Universum, hints at the direction that the band would take on future releases to follow while still retaining a large amount of what made Era 1 so phenomenal. Nishaiar has refined some elements of their sound here, namely the atmospheric component, to truly be representative of their Ethiopian homeland through decisively non-western melodic movements that are more likely to invoke images of towering spires from ancient mosques than the burnt out hollows of churches. I see this  as evidence that the dark underbelly and aggression which draped black metal's infamy has not yet truly found a home within this land; that there is a heavier influence musically from the atmospheric and textural elements than there is from the ideological elements of traditional black metal. What this yields is a positive in that the pure beauty in this music affords Nishaiar operating space within a culture that is still not fully westernized and that it could feed more interest to the genre from which Nishaiar has allowed to flow forth from. "Seinphar" is a great example of the black metal elements combining flawlessly with the atmospheric elements. Vocals across the release incorporate traditional singing, harsh black metal screams, and sampled material to create a rich tapestry of moods and sounds. The percussion on Universum is more black metal oriented to my ears, and this is one of the steps forward from Era 1. More songs have characteristics of the black metal genre such as harsh vocals, double bass and blast beating, hypnotic ritualistic atmospheres, and image-invoking melodies. The album is about fifty percent this black metal mixture and fifty percent purely soundscapes, particularly the second half of the record.

Nishaiar - Irix Zerius (2018)
Irix Zerius is the album which first presents Nishaiar's style of Atmospheric Black Metal in it's refined, perfected state. This isn't to say the album is perfect, but that the combination of influences, sounds, and textures is heightened and coalesced to a degree by which the band is singularly identifiable. Should bands emerge in a similar style, Nishaiar and Irix Zerius will be the origin point. The local folk elements, the non-western influenced sounds and vocals, and the vibe of distant lands and cultures are heightened and empowered by the black metal moments and drumming. The album also shows Nishaiar's ability to create a wide range of variety. While songs such as "Kantorum", "Virgonaut" and "Desenmba" highlight the band's black metal background. A song like "Azief," with it's acoustics, Ethiopian chants, and backing vocals are purely outside the genre. "Liademna" as well fits this template. It was difficult to decide on my favorite track on Irix Zerius. I had believed it to be "Virgonaut," which is heavily undulating, with constant black metal drumming beneath the slowly evolving soundscape that spreads across the song but the sheer uniqueness of it's tail, "Bewatar", makes for such an iconic example of experimentation in the black metal genre. The track incorporates a number of vocal and percussive effects that adds to the intensity and drive, while the melodic foundation is curious and passionate, yet stern and serious. Irix Zerius is loaded with fantastic textures and ideas and feelings. The only weakness I find is that as compositions, the songs don't particularly seem to have peaks, or climaxes. It would be nice, for instance in a song like "Ahrien" to have a decisive moment, which is not there. This is true for many songs. Perfected in style, but there is still room for improvement in relation to the crafting of individual, gripping songs. "Bewatar" is the most complete.

Nishaiar - Igewanda (2018)
Nishaiar's most recent album continues on from Irix Zerius' more amalgamated composition tendencies. Igewanda never really separates itself from the shadow which Irix Zerius cast. The majority of tracks with the exception of perhaps, "Duhanakhar" fit the atmospheric black metal moments into the arrangements as short bursts of intensity to create transitional effect. This gives the album a much more world-music or soundscape vibe than that of a black metal album. In this, it can be said the album continues the progression away from black metal and more towards electronic and chillstep. What I don't find on Igewanda is a single track which, in abdication of the metal influences, matches up to "Bewatar" in impact and memorability for a track that has abandoned the black metal flourishes. This is disheartening. When the most notable component of your atmospheric black metal album is exactly how little black metal there is on it, it becomes time to reconsider genre labels and boundaries. I say this not as a warning, but as an objective statement. The tracks still remain very enticing and just because the band takes a step further away from the heavier material which only a year earlier they had so masterfully crafted doesn't imply they are no longer relevant. Nishaiar are proving that they are seeking a sound all their own, which I must commend. I'm concerned that they peaked with Irix Zerius, though. If they could better combine the more metallic elements of Era 1 and the atmospheres they are working with now, listeners could be in for a real treat.

The response I got back from the band on October 25th was short. Simply put, they want to allow their music to speak entirely for them and are not interested in conducting any interviews or correspondence. This, to me, is a perfectly acceptable stance to have as an artist. After thanking them for contacting me back, on the 28th, Nishaiar did tell me that there are no other extreme metal bands in Ethiopia that they know of. All the articles online that I could find are simple basic cut and pastes of Nishaiar's own description from bandcamp for clicks on their ill-informed articles with little or no information. Disappointed at the lack of future prospects, I await further correspondence from anyone with more information on Ethiopian metal or extreme music.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Plant Material Scounting and High Point Hike

I spent the weekend with my family at our vacation house in northeastern Pennsylvania this past weekend. Mostly, it was a chance to escape from work and technology and finish reading Diderot's D'Alembert's Dream, which I had only a few dozen pages left of. While there, however, I took time out to do some scouting for potential plant material for next spring to bring back home for conversion into bonsai. We had also planned on doing a little hiking at High Point in Sussex New Jersey on the way back home. It was a good opportunity to break out the tree guides and wander around as well. The foliage was just past peak, and most of the leaves had fallen due to the previous day's rain and windstorm. Some still lingered. 

 Because we had so much rain the previous night, the overflow from the lake was very high. The stream that runs through the woods behind the house (left) and separates our property from the other side of the lake was the highest I've ever seen it. Normally, it is a trickle. This weekend it was a torrent. Everything was essentially a giant wet sponge. The uneven and rocky areas of the forest, covered with grass mostly, were treacherous to walk through. It was easy to trip and loose your footing or step in between two rocks and sink down into a deep puddle without knowing it. A lot of trees had come down this summer as well, making it difficult to navigate.

There are several larger Eastern Hemlocks in the area. I managed to find a few potential saplings to collect in the spring. This single trunked tree (right) was the smallest. It's likely two years old at this point.

I managed to find this clumped grouping of two, maybe three - I didn't examine it too closely - Eastern  Hemlocks (left) not too far away from the first. This grouping looks older than the first and is probably four years old. It would make a nice grouped planting or multi-trunk bonsai. I haven't seen too many Hemlock bonsai but I could imagine these being nice specimens.

I'm not sure of the parent tree for these. There is a grouping of three or four trees (right) about five hundred feet away which are loaded with cones but I'm not sure how likely it is that the seeds spread from them, through the forest, all the way to the other side. There is another single tree in the other direction roughly two-hundred feet away which I could imagine being more plausible, but I did not see any cones on that tree. There were, however, three other small saplings in it's shadow that were no more than a few months old.

 What was easy to find were thousands of Eastern White Pine saplings. I was not even going to attempt to determine a possible parent tree for these... they were everywhere, of all youthful ages. In the spot where I saw these two, there were easily forty or fifty small saplings and throughout the area easily over one thousand. These two, however, stood out to me. I liked the trunk thickness and the second strong lower shoot of the larger tree (left). It's growth was more compact and had a lot of strong growing branches from the internodes on the trunk and branches.

The smaller tree had very long internodes on the trunk between the branches however the truck was covered in pine needles, leaving me to imagine that there is a good possibility the tree would backbud and throw off new branches readily if pruned back. This tree had a nice root spread already, with several lateral roots.

 I ran across this magnificent Shagbark Hickory (left) while on the trail next to the lake's overflow stream. We actually have a Shagbark Hickory in our backyard, however this one has some truly unruly and aggressive bark. Places where branches have broken off have curling and peeling bark encircling them, the large slabs of bark run two and three feet long and surround the tree on the floor is a pile of the old dispelled bark the tree has outgrown. I was unable to find any viable nuts from the tree for potential germination. I'm not sure whether the tree would make for a good bonsai tree or not. The compound leaves are large and would be potentially difficult to ramify and reduce. I'm also not sure if the bark would miniaturize, possibly creating a strange sense of scale with large batches of bark on a small sized tree. I did find some nuts in the backyard however I'm not sure whether they were from the Shagbark Hickory or from what is either a Bitternut or Pignut Hickory that is also in the yard.

Sunday driving home we stopped at High Point. Concerned about the light, we decided to hike the short trail to the monument instead of the longer trail that ran all around the ridge which was three miles long. High Point is the highest point in the state of New Jersey at 1803 feet above sea-level. The obelisk which sits atop the site is a war memorial built to honor veterans. When open, the monument can be climbed. The view from the base of the monument is breathtaking, offering a full panorama of northern New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. The Delaware river, Port Jervis, and the Appalachian mountains are easily visible.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Monthly Blast: October 2018

Diderot, in his dialogue Rameau's Nephew, written sometime around 1761, asks of the eccentric and bacchian musician genius, Jean-François Rameau, whom he shares the dialogue with, "How is it that with a discrimination as delicate as yours and your remarkable sensitiveness for the beauties of musical art, you are so blind to the fine things of morality, so insensitive to the charms of virtue?" Rameau's responds simply, that he doesn't posses or has not been afforded through nature or nurture a sense for right or wrong, that it is simply the way he is. This anecdote speaks to me. So often, fans of extreme music and heavy metal are, from an outsider perspective, viewed similarly; individuals with a great musical sense and understanding whom focus those talents on a genre and interests which, to the outsider, seem to betray common decency and logic.

The narrator represents the outsider looking in, an outsider who is unable to see the morality and virtue in knowing and being the individual one wishes to be. Rameau is opinionated, talented, articulate, and - by all description - a social outcast portrayed to be a clown or jester whom the population laughs and is amused by instead of taken seriously, and yet he comes across as a confident, self-assured, and inwardly thoughtful character. I would rather be the individual no one understands yet admires, than an observer preoccupied with judging others at the expense of my own progression of self. It's no wonder that Rameau often speaks of his station in life as downtrodden and lackluster. True, it is in part self-inflicted by his trickery of his employers, but it also is a conflict of his Being within the social expectations of others.

A big dump of reviews for the month of October. These include interesting releases from noise artists A.Z.A.B and Siege Electronics, some local coverage of bands from Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, as well as a review of Insanity Cult's entire discography. Connecticut's Lustrum find some kind words regarding their recently released live tape as well as Greece's Dødsferd with their upcoming new album that continues their meritorious career.

A.Z.A.B & Siege Electronics - Expulsion Unit (2018)

This collaborative effort between noise outfits A.Z.A.B and Siege Electronics is a textural nightmare. This is good. The album feels like it leans towards Siege Electronics' style more than A.Z.A.B, as the main components of the songs are distinctive samples and sounds, unlike the more static-focused A.Z.A.B. It's clear to me that to enjoy this, requires interest in harsh noise and power electronics. The five tracks clock in at over thirty minutes of ear-raping. Opening track "Nefesh" is a nuanced and subtle, almost gentle example of the genre before the record truly sets off with "Samson Option Pt. 2." Sampled and mutated vocals speak over a rotating rhythm and screeching rusty swinging accents. Finding the foundational rhythm is difficult until it fades into existence during the last thirty seconds. "Our Own Truth (Universal Deceit)" is the first track that comes across as a planned and executed idea. The main motif or sample undulates throughout the song, as two voice-textures contrast each other, one calm and spoken and the second full of anger and distorted. It's an example of a track which represents the genre on a higher level when the simple but symbolic structure is realized in such an effective way. It's an easy track to lose oneself in. "Exist To Decay (Criminology Illumination)" opens with a sample of someone talking about growing up on the streets and being violent and assaulting people. It sets up the track, a twelve minute layered creation within which the protagonist voice fades out a third of the way into the song repeating "And they say crime exists." The rest of the song is a mixture of feedback, static, tones, and a vocalist growling. This section of vocals, while integral for hearing the voice of the collaborators, is the weakest texture presented on the album, thus rendering the longest track, my least favorite. The release ends with "Samson Option Pt. 1." Not sure why they would put Pt. 2 first on the album, however what is noticeable is that there are some similar textures in the material. Deep beneath the static is some remarkable nuanced tonal products that are given a peak at during common breaks in the static. These breaks act like windows to the beauty within. On this record, "Our Own Truth" is the highlight for it's textural maturity.

Destruction - Bestial Invasion of Hell (2018, originally 1984)

This remaster of Destruction's first demo, Bestial Invasion of Hell by Vic records is, if anything, a good reason to invest in grabbing one of the most important early releases in German thrash metal. Destruction's first demo was among an early grouping of bands including Sodom, Holy Moses, Poison, and Iron Angel to help pave the way for what would later be termed Teutonic thrash. Classic Destruction tracks like "Mad Butcher" and "Antichrist" sound urgent and fresh. The clarity helps discern all the subtle impurities in the sound, like the slight off key moments between Schmier and Sifringer throughout the album that gives the present thrash a dark evil essence or the under-represented leads buried in the mix in favor of the main riffs. I remember initially hearing a copy of this many years ago but never being able to hear the leads very well. Patrick Engel who handled the remastering expertly took the source and found a way to benefit the original material in displaying the grit and rawness of that moment in time through careful attention to not fiddle with too much. The influence of German Heavy Metal is present in the riffing style across the album but Destruction clearly show a migration towards the Speed Metal influenced thrash style the Germans would become recognized for. This is a nice release to include in a collection; the booklet has a bunch of rare images as well as liner notes from all three members, Schmier, Sifringer, and Sandmann. As an aside, I find Schmier sounds very much like Snake of Voivod fame vocally and I never noticed it until re-listening to this demo after so many years. An old school classic for sure and a release that anyone interested in Metal should be familiar with.

I find something very soothing in the art. Maybe it's the colors!

Dissentience - Mask of Pretense (2018)

This Pennsylvania band has been mulling over whether they want to be serious or not for apparently four years. Their demo was released back in 2014 and they are now promoting a new EP touted as being a unique take on the thrash genre. Not familiar with the band, I investigated their demo first. It is clear they are talented and skilled musicians though stylistically I'm underwhelmed. To me, they don't sound unique at all but instead very typical melodic death metal with cleanish vocals reminiscent of the early 2000's metalcore, screamo sound but with a thrashier edge, especially a song like "Bury Your Dead". Some tracks are a bit harder with more guitar noodling but there are plenty of breakdowns and chugging to be had. Final track "The Fallen," is the least dreadful track. Am I clamoring to hear the EP after this... not really. So has the band improved in any notable way in the four year gap? Absolutely. Is Dissentience doing anything truly unique now within the thrash genre? Not at all. For one, the problem is that the band isn't playing thrash and sound more influenced by modern technical death metal than original era thrash. Large swaths of the album sound influenced by the likes of Necrophagist or progressive death metal from bands like Gorguts. The band is at their best when they slow down and show they can write more than just blistering riffs heavy on hammer-ons and pull-offs. I think "Disinter" is my track of choice but mostly because I found moments of the track to best craft compelling melodies underneath all the flare on the surface. Overall the band has steadily improved musically. Conner Valentin and Jimmy Vitale are impressive on guitar. Sean Langer is solid on bass in support of the rhythms Nick Scherden on drums carries across the album. Valentin on vocals is average in the role, managing a raspy growl that is take-it or leave-it. The production of the album is clear and pristine and affords easy separation between all the instruments. It also saps a lot of energy and old school death metal feel. I guess I should be getting used to this by now but I prefer my death metal a bit dirtier and rawer than this.

Dødsferd - Diseased Remnants Of A Dying World (2018)

Immediately Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Alcest come to mind with this however I also get some hints of influence from other places such as Primordial and Burzum. Dødsferd do the style very well on Diseased Remnants Of A Dying World, with the right amount of visual stimulation, catchy hooks in the right place, and small burst of harsher and faster elements to bring energy to the mostly mid-paced songs. The production is crisp and clear with each instrument being rendered with enough focus in the mix to stand tall while not smothering other instruments in the interim. I believe the drums could have been more up front for just a bit more extra impact. Vocals are, as is traditionally the case, mixed most audible and stand out against everything else, especially during the harsher black metal rasps. Often, Wrath, who handles both the guitars and vocals admirably, switches between a bellowing yell and the rasps, providing a measure of variety that really helps keep the songs feeling fresh. One thing missing from the album are distinguishable riffs - the record is reliant on sweeping melodic movements with bass in close pursuit - which would offer a more aggressive element. One song that does happen to invoke this is "Loyal To The Black Oath," which gets my vote for best on the album, as it hearkens back to Opeth in their prime on My Arms Your Hearse or Still Life. The slightly more complex riffs that adorn it's near-ten minute run time paired with a wailing Wrath on vocals is enough emotion to stand above the other tracks. Dødsferd craft well written structures and melodies in their effort to generate longer compositions that will maintain interest and form enticing imagery through sound. I will, however, claim that what Dødsferd do on Diseased Remnants of a Dying World is not quite enough to rise above the best that I've heard from this corner of the Black Metal genre. This one is out in December... worth a listen for fans of any of the above mentioned acts.

Haiduk - Exomancer (2018)

Haiduk have been covered before here, referring to 2012's Spellbook, which was impressive on some levels and not impressive on others. Exomancer has appeared six years yonder from that outing. The main concern I had back then was the lack of attention to atmosphere and songwriting as a whole. Haiduk are best described as like a hornet's nest, a description which not only describes the guitar tone which multi-instrumentalist Luka Milojica achieves. His compositions are a bevy of energy and activity surrounding an small central structure. This is the case for large swaths of Milojica's output (See Demonicon's "Vordus" for a prime example). Exomancer once again follows suit and so I now am convinced that Haiduk sounds this way because Milojica can not play in any other manner. The unique sound and tone which Haiduk has portrayed now on these three albums can be viewed as simply what Haiduk is. Understanding this, objectively I view this album in a different and favorable light. First, a word on the vocals, which are not Milojica's strongest instrument. The deep throaty rasps are sparse, and for this reason sound out of place when they pop into existence. The lyrics often take the form, then, of short poetic psalms. For example, "Evil Art" has in total four words for the vocals. Once again, this is a feature of Haiduk which is simply a given. The real highlight is the guitar playing, specifically how it drives forward the pacing and momentum of Exomancer. Intricate riffs which slowly churn into new variations are backed by stringy twangy chords. The endlessly flowing parade of hammer-ons and pull-offs and tapped out notes march onward. Melodically, the album is solid, with truly unique and mesmerizing progressions of chords and lead work piled high. Songs often have three or four separate guitar lines running around together to create a layer of subtle tonal nuances. The tempos are, across the entirety of Exomancer the same quick rush. It would be difficult to carry the buzzing guitar riffs Haiduk employ at a slower or faster tempo. This lack of tempo is one of two faults in Milojica's style. The second fault is the lack of dynamics due to the requirement of each song being reliant on the tirade of guitar notes. There is little room to allow for other instruments to be highlighted. One thing that is not created is any type of atmosphere, which, if managed, takes Haiduk forward greatly. The programmed drums are passable but not ideal here. An interesting and unique listen that is not like much else out there. Luka has improved his songwriting considerably here. Best track for me is either opener "Death Portent" or the very speedy and tight "Death Ripple."


Insanity Cult - Insanity Be My Kvlt (2014)

Insanity Cult's first demo, Insanity Be My Kvlt, though a super lame title, is not an entirely lame release. For one, the demo truly sounds like a black metal demo in production with thin, tinny guitars, slightly under-produced drum tones, and some interesting choices of mixing such as hard panned guitars. Sacrilegious's vocals are both black metal screams as well as lower pitched death metal growls which adds a level of variety. Opening track, "Son of No Father" is has an interesting build up section three-quarters through within which we are gifted with totally natural guitars and unhidden string noises. "Hymn To A Forbidden Truth" has some interweaving guitar lines - which maybe draw out too long - as well as some clean vocals that recall Akerfeldt's brief moments of clean vocals from the "Eternal Soul Torture" demo track that appeared on the Morningrise rerelease. Much like on the opening track, the last of the three songs, "The Autumn Years" also floats on unique melodic choices and has a strangely triumphant feel. For a demo, there is some creative thought and uniqueness here which could perhaps lend inspiration to others.

Insanity Cult - As My End Unfolds (2015)

Following the interesting yet not truly impressive "Insanity Be My Kvlt" is Insanity Cult's debut "As My End Unfolds." Some of the songwriting nuances and originality expressed on the demo are available here. Off-speed clean guitars in songs like "The River Princess" show experimentation and 'spooky' clean vocals such as those a minute into "Hymn To A Forbidden Truth" are a direct link to the demo. What is more prevalent are the strummed riffs and reliance on melody over rhythm to drive songs showing a shift towards the influence of the modern atmospheric black metal style. Many of the songs here have the same faults that Insanity Cult's recent album has in terms of watering down the variation and not giving enough separation between different riffs and songs. Sacrilegious, the band's vocalist, does  a great job imbuing the tracks with a sense of integrity and emotion, more-so than on their more recent releases. There are some overly drawn out and amateurish writing moments like the hard transitions in tracks which don't seem to align with anything. I could see this album appealing to fans of modern black metal that enjoy the early Opeth albums which were similarly heavy on acoustic interludes.

Insanity Cult - Of Despair and Self Destruction (2017)

Very little of Insanity Cult's initial qualities can be found on this sophomore record. The biggest issue presented is simply the lack of depth across the various instruments. Unlike the previous record which had some nuanced elements, Of Despair and Self Destruction is tired and forced. Mundane guitar melodies that we've all heard before are presented against sleepy drums and a bass that does nothing to add variety or juxtapose the guitar lines. I found some hornets building a nest on my driveway this morning and I absolutely soaked them with yellow-jacket killer. We need a human sized can. And for fucks sake, don't start your black metal album with a five minute long mundane clean guitar intro. Vocals fall in line with the going-rate of black metal raspy monotonous screams that occasionally pitch upwards to a wailing cry. In Insanity Cult's case, the vocals are tied so strictly to the meter that it dries up any passion that could eek out an existence. This seems mostly to draw from the Eastern European influence of black metal which is now popular. There are no actual riffs present as well to add aggression to the mix. Nothing is memorable as well. Just pitiful.

Insanity Cult / Isolert - Towards The Great Dissolution (2017)

Insanity Cult's tracks on this split with fellow Greeks, Isolert, follows the formula built on Of Despair and Self Destruction. Their two tracks top out at fifteen minutes long, with "Existential Entropy" running over ten minutes. The recording is slightly rawer than the album tracks, with a less full range compared to the better produced Of Despair. Opening track "Thorns of Solitude," is unremarkable until roughly the three minute mark where the normally melody-focused material gives way to a nicely executed minute-long guitar lead. Vocalist Sacriligeous' screams are monotone and do not provide added interest to the music. The ten minute long "Existential Entropy" is a black metal run-on sentence, just meandering and uninspired repetitions of parts that do not hold interest. Isolert's additions to the split are more evocative and passionate in contrast. "Dreams of Emptiness" is a take on the first three post-Soulside Journey Darkthrone albums which also includes gang chanted vocals and well-orchestrated changes in pace and tone. "I Hide My Soul Inside The Trees," has a smaller Darkthrone component and a much more pronounced atmospheric black metal influence from bands such as Drudkh. The track culminates with an awesome guitar solo.  For me, Isolert here is the far superior effort.

My ultimate conclusion on Insanity Cult is that there is very little worthwhile material to investigate here. The debut demo, available for free is a viable listen but I found very little beyond this to be worth my time. There is a lot of monotony and a lack of defining individual songs that are must-listen. I was however impressed with the Isolert tracks on the split and I thank Insanity Cult for the introduction.


Kommandant - Blood Eel (2018)

Kommandant are a band who've been supported in the Northeast by way of Signature Riff for many years now. I have managed to see them live at least three or four times by this point. Their live show is a unique spectacle, portraying a propaganda rally or political rally, with vocalist Marcus Kolar leering at the audience over a podium. Musically, their scathing brand of black and death metal fit the imagery well, yet was never enough to get me to full invest. Blood Eel is the band's first album in three years and has some major highlights but also a few large blunders. The album's four-minute long intro builds a ton of tension however, the title track which follows never seems to start. The drumming maintains their militaristic atmosphere however I feel like instead of an intro and a first song, Kommandant threw at me two intro songs before actually starting the album with third track "The Struggle." What is highlighted in "Blood Eel," however is the melodic style which makes Kommandant a unique musical entity: grandiose movements which mimic the effect of apocalyptic war-marches across radiation-scoured landscapes. Another issue I have with the album is that the lyrical material based on the song titles is not of the same direction as Kommandant previously approached. Songs with titles such as "Victory Through Intolerance" or "Hate Is Strength" have been replaced with "Ice Giant" and "Blood Eel." I'd be interested to see the lyrics for the album. The album has two stand out songs musically, these being final track "Moon... The Last Man," and "Ice Giant." "The Struggle" also has it's moments however suffers from what I would call a lazy incorporation of the chorus. "Moon..." is my pick for the best track here. Snare-heavy blasting and tremolo riffs create a massive militant/industrial mono-mood. This bookends a masterful central instrumental that slows down the song and builds on a simple shifting melody. Marcin Widel and drummer David Swanson both contribute vocals, with Widel taking control of the black metal rasps, and Swanson handling the clean, spoken words. The track culminates in a furious blasting drum section accented with their signature drum-line toms. Kommandant have yet to truly impress me and Blood Eel, though powerful at times, does nothing but extend the fence I'm sitting on farther.

Lustrum - Plays With Madness (2018)

This live recording of Connecticut project Lustrum featuring members of One Master and Morgirion, both of whom have been covered here before, is pretty much a perfect starting point for "getting" what Lustrum is attempting. It's not far removed in spirit from Hellhammer or Venom with a tinge of more modern acts such as Midnight. On the debut demo, the vocals were similar to those in One Master, with large echoing snarl across the tracks however that is not present on these live tracks, instead a much drier delivery is given which allows some of the between song banter to come across clearly and to much amusement. It also gives the recording the feeling of the first-wave black metal bands. There are some truly awesome tracks present here. I love "Too Wild For The Crowd," which almost sounds like if The Rods went black metal. "Temple of Lust" rumbles through several riffs and a definitively minimalist punk-infused drum beat. "Into Shit of Nights" and "Wolves of Heresy" are also on my radar as two songs with catchy unique riffs and flow. "Wolves of Heresy" I remember from the debut demo. The tape ends with my favorite from the release, "Motorsex," which is ultimately just a bastardized remake of "Bomber" to my ears but still kicks ass. This is a fun live tape and gets to the soul of what makes a band like Lustrum enjoyable and rewarding. It's not often something is sleazy, rockin', and bad-ass while maintaining a devilish, blackened, and grim atmosphere. These guys got it right with Plays With Madness. Available on tape from Eternal Death. Cover of the tape is also really cool with a stylized rendering of an image of the live drummer and bassist with a Seventh Son of a Seventh Son Maiden backpatch playing blackjack in a casino - the kind of cover you won't find anywhere else for sure.

Witching - Witching (2018)

From Philadelphia, Witching pumps out some sludgy doom seemingly influenced by Black Sabbath, Eyehategod, and Electric Wizard. The closest pure comparison is Maegashira's excellent The Stark Arctic, however Witching never obtain such imagery or atmosphere. Melodically, the band follows closely with what Electric Wizard were doing on Let Us Prey or Come My Fanatics but the attitude is much more in line with the sludgier and succinct Eyehategod but without the sharper rhythmic focus. Jacqui Powell's vocals don't immediately come across as womanly, though there is a feminine tone during moments such as the clean vocals on "The Demon" or "Burning Girl." Powell's vocals are a key aspect to the mostly mundane compositions. Most times, tracks amble onward through big and deep waves of chords however a few key moments point towards the potential for Witching to truly do something great with their sound. The ending moments of "I'm Still Here" offer an intricate guitar dual harmony that is quite refreshing at that point into the second song. "The Demon" plunges into what isn't a rip off of "Supernaut" but... is pretty close to a rip-off of "Supernaut", and the whole transition sounds cohesive and ends the track perfectly. The closing track, "Desert," is a nice summary of the whole album stylistically. The five tracks clock an appropriate twenty-minutes of time. Strong debut release for Witching, but I'd like to see if they can find their own style within the genre. I think Powell has a strong sense of vocal dynamics and how to place herself in the songs but if the band is going to rely so much on the big slow-rolling chord movements, they need to be more compelling. The recent "False Martyr" single, was a step in this direction, combining both the sludgy overall style, stronger melodic movement, and - what really stood out - moments of atmosphere that create imagery. That track is better than the material on their debut.