Monday, February 25, 2019

Kaarmekristus - Kuolen Musta Virta

Finland's Kaarmekristus has been active recently with a tape release in 2017 and a CDr demo in 2018 which surprised me as I once again revisited Kuolen Kusta Virta. Back in 2015 Ophiuchus had sent me the demo tape, and I have been listening on and off coming to some opinion on the material over the course of two years. Why it's taken me a long time to develop an opinion is partly due to occasional conflicting opinions on the music as well as just simply being overly busy outside of endless reviewing. I felt it best to wait to review the tape. I have been in contact with Ophiuchus since the debut demo tape and have felt somewhat protective over reviewing the material. Knowing how personal Ophiuchus has made the process - hand-dubbed tape runs, all instrumentation done by himself, lyrical content that is a window into his deep personal beliefs, entirely DIY off-line presence - I wanted to approach everything from a similar level of respect and acknowledgement which I don't always afford modern acts. It's done me well. The patience I took to come to know the previous two releases has been somewhat instrumental in my own overall opinion on lo-fi black metal and what music can represent to it's creator.

Not much has changed between Cosmic Satan and Kuolen Kusta Virta. The raw, lo-fi, underground production of early Black Metal is still on display with skillful usage. The ambient, yet aggressive rhythms are once again at the forefront, this time with additional melodic focus and movements. Ophiuchus' vocals are once again deep growls and and snarls layered with reverb. The guitar tone is a tinny static distortion with little low-end. The bass and drums are integral in melodically driving songs along while the more subtle shifts in emotion are left to the guitar. The drums sit far back in the mix with the vocals, with the kick and cymbals most prominent. The production is strongest when played loud to compensate for the lacking low-end and allow the kick drum to 'punch' through the mix. Played at a lower volume, the tape is not impressive sound-wise. Burzum is a close go-to comparison, especially the rawer material, or some of the early Polish acts like Arkona.

Production has never been entirely the strong point with Kaarmekristus, though. I have been drawn to the project simply for the enticing and expertly written songs. Kuolen Musta Virta is no different. I am still not entirely sure where between Cosmic Satan and Kuolen Musta Virta the two-song Saturnaalinen Siunaus falls, but the tracks here are more in line with Cosmic Satan in style, being 'laid back' or 'conversational' in quality, as opposed to exuding hatred and anger the way that Saturnaalinen Siunaus' main song did. With four songs, all slightly different, the tape runs at a meager twenty minutes, however that is enough to execute. Ophiuchus has, up until this point, preferred to offer shorter length releases that shine a lunar glow on each ritualistic track individually. I'm a proponent of shorter songs and releases when everything presented is given the spotlight.

Opening with "Tie (A Road)" Kuolen Musta Virta starts out extremely strongly on all fronts. The song has a big, swelling build-up with long ringing notes and then launches into consecutive false starts. The song eventually truly gets going though. The main body of the material is based around a somber mixture of notes and ringing guitar notes. A tremolo melody line is added that gives a more monumental air to the track at the four-minute mark. I have come to really like the track. Initially I thought the multiple false starts detracted from the intensity which naturally explodes during the first fast riff. I go back and forth between still feeling this way. "Matkani Kosmoksen Syvyyksissa (My Journey Into Depths Of Cosmos)" follows with a descending main chord progression through the majority of the song. In this way, it is the most minimalist of the entire demo.

"Muum Siipeni Palavat (My Wings Are Burning)" has an interesting melodic movement shifting between two riffs throughout most of the track until the middle section enters a song which reminds me of a lo-fi take on the melodic experimentalism of Taake or Thestral. It is dreamy but strong. It is a memorable track for this reason. I also like the lyrics to this song, particularly the final few phrases, "And what higher I get, that strong my wings are burning, and eternally I will burn too." It's a rough translation to English, both original Finnish and the translation accompany the tape in the J-card, a nice touch proving how important the lyrical content is for Ophiuchus. Final track "Monumentii (A Monument)" is a bit less focused than the others and for this is kind of passes me by when I listen to the tape. It is the sole track I would consider filler but it still has some strong elements like the snare rolls mixed throughout.

Kaarmekristus / Ophiuchus - has a strong sense of what he wants to accomplish and what he feels Black Metal should represent. His songwriting is strong. The effort he puts into the project is greater than a lot of bands that walk this planet and somehow get notoriety. For these reasons, I truly enjoy this elusive project. With all the focus now on the Lords of Chaos movie, I have been going back and re-reading parts of the book. Euronymous was adamant that Black Metal be more than merely music, that it represent something dark, personal, and evil. Kaarmekristus may not be 'evil' in the manner which Euronymous intended, however it is extremely personal and individualistic. In my opinion, that is more important and what truly separates Black Metal ideologically from other genre's in which the music and content is a sum of it's parts. The singular philosophy and creation of Kaarmekristus is that of one man, and one mind. It is a more faithful homage to Black Metal than most and Kuolen Musta Virta is a good example of what and how Black Metal can still be.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Ordinul Negru - Faustian Nights

Ordinul Negru has been the artistic endeavor of Fulmineos for the past fourteen years. Based out of Romania, and having a background of work with other bands, Fulmineos has been prolific in the Romanian scene for the past decade. Faustian Nights, released this past year, is evidence of a highly evolved and focused artistic mind. Not only is the album a perfect blend of numerous styles of Black Metal, but the precision song-writing allows these styles to never overtake one another, fashioning a refined, mature, and educated record. Faustian Nights comes across as thoughtful and patented; calculated usages of black metal technique that boil over into a porridge of well-honed flavors and taste; a recipe which, passed down through generations, finally found the hands of a palate that could improve upon the original combination of ingredients.

"Ordinul Negru was a side project established in 2004," Fulmineos explains, "in order to explore the primitive raw side of black metal, merely working with analog equipment without digital processing of the sound, in the vein of old rehearsals and lo-fi albums from Moonblood, Vlad Tepes, Belketre, Ulver, Mutiilation, Infernum, but then over the years it evolved constantly... Every album has its own story, with experiments into different topics and sounds, like using keyboards, or not using them, using some old tape-delays or different rooms for reverb effect in order to enhance the atmosphere of various instruments... The new album it is certainly a good step forward, and it was received very well, it is like building bricks…the new one certainly took the reactions for the previous album and got it higher…and now because we are at the end/beginning of a new year, we saw that it was included by many publication among 2018’s best albums, which is a great praise for us. We worked for three years to craft it, so we are contempt (probably content -Orion) that the audience connects with our concept."

The consistency of the album doesn't hint at any difficulty in writing or composition the songs but apparently, the process was initially more difficult than the album lets on. "We had two previously songs composed immediately after releasing “Sorcery of Darkness” and we became a live band, but then it became very difficult due to my obsessive quest for a vision to define the album, otherwise it wouldn’t make sense for me only to compose something to have to release, everything it has to make sense and to resonate through an astral vision, so I continuously scraping songs after rehearsing or playing them live as a test and then not feeling that that are part of the story…but then like it has happened in the past in an weekend I writed three songs that I felt it will become the core of the album, and then Putrid helped me out with some riffs on another song and Orthros composed also a new song, so we worked them out and began preproduction. Urmuz added his ideas over what we were doing in the preproduction phase and that was it."

When "The Apocalypse Through A Hierophant's Eye" first starts I was immediately is reminded of the opening to Candlemass' "Solitude," but I am corrected in my comparison by Fulmineos himself. "I was never a fan of Candlemass, in fact I don’t think I know any song from them, sorry…not a big fan of heavy doom metal." The style portrayed here includes the classic traditional second wave and more modern black metal sound to the bass heavy influence of the geographically local Polish scene which I've covered here in bands like Furia and Gorcyz. But the melodic movements are very Doom-esque or even Greek. Perhaps the single best comparison would be Primordial circa The Gathering Wilderness. There is also a stylistic connection to Negura Bunget. I'm not surprised at this. Fulmineos deciphers the mixture of influences with some additional surprises thrown in, "I saw many times described in reviews that we are influenced by the second wave of black metal, especially from Norway and for me it’s a surprise, because it’s not the case, or maybe unconsciously from our background with what we grew up... I would say that the “modern’ production and sounds of  Satyricon, Ulver, Behemoth, Wolves in the Throne Room, Mgla, Chelsea Wolfe, Nachtmystium, Woodkid, Radiohead, Marilyn Manson, Deathspell Omega are what inspires us today."

The production, handled by a bevy of talented individuals, really brings home all the layers of instrumentation, "It was produced in two environments, DSPro studios were we recorded guitars and vocals with our friend Attila Lukinich and in Consonance Studios where our drummer, Putrid recorded the rest of the instruments, mixed and mastered the material; we preferred to do everything in-house because we are very hectic about our sound, so it was important the translation of our ideas to be as accurate as possible into the final product." Production and Mastering was partly led by Edmond Karban and Cristian Popescu, otherwise known as Hupogrammos and Sol Faur of Negura Bunget. The two are responsible for a large portion of the production, mixing, and mastering. It's nice to have friends like these. "We grew up in the same neighborhood of Timisoara, so we know each other since childhood when we discovered music and that’s how everybody connected in the late 80s/early 90s so we always were passionate about music, trips into nature or at  music festivals…these days Putrid plays with them in Dordeduh and most of his recording stuff is in their studio, so it’s a natural and normal relation of collaboration, they have good experience and they helped or were involved since the beginning of my “official “musical journey in 1997 when I released the first demo with Argus Megere. We worked on many albums together, I have learned many things from them and it’s good to have them around helping out in studio or even in live environment."

There are some interesting additions to the contemporary black metal arrangement as well. Cari Tibor offers piano parts to "Sol Omnia Regit". Karban also adds an important layer to the final title track, "Faustian Nights" with his tulnic playing, an irrevocably Romanian inclusion that helps generate the epic atmosphere on this track. It all creates a multitude of emotive ascents and descents across the songs which give the record an expansive feel. For me, it's difficult to find black metal done so well. "I love this evocative style of music, I am not a big fan of “all albums” from a band, but I like astral hours in an album or a song, moments that chills you out so maybe that is the reason that we compose lines like that…but as I have said I think the nowadays black metal it didn’t lost the ability to write good songs…these days I hear all around me "Come unto me Barzabel” chants or guitar lines from “Exercises in Futility” or a stellar drum sound from Frost on  “Deep Calleth upon Deep” and the examples are many…"

Lyrically, the album is as interesting as it is musically. There doesn't seem to be a running concept through the album, but rather a focus on cosmic and occult metaphors. "There is a central theme in the lyrics of the “Faustian Nights” but it not a conceptual album, it’s about the hidden meaning and symbols, the path that we want to follow and about inspiration characters, deities or events that makes us a part of this universe and balance our existence." My favorite couple lines of lyrics are "All alone on my own path, in twilight's even I wander..." from "Approaching The Door of Damnation" and "The past becomes the light to follow the flame, and the spirit to barricade the beauty inside." To me, these songs speak towards inner reflection and strength. "The first line was written by S (our former vocalist) but I can say that both of this extracts transpose the reader/listener into something that is beyond ordinary everyday life, it’s something personal…like in a way black metal was defined, as individualism and a misanthropic system in quest for defining a way of life."

Faustian Nights plays out over the course of it's run-time with ease and a sense of itself that is rare. At times intense, calm, proud, miserable it encompasses a swath of emotions and attitude. Often, bands focus and execute one or two emotions strongly but to flawlessly swirl so much into a single album is masterful. It's difficult for me to pick a favorite track on Faustian Nights, as there are so many moving phrasings and movements. Perhaps the best moment of the album though is the huge bass / drum interplay in "Killing Tristan". Top notch black metal from the heart of the Romanian scene. Fulmineos, Urmuz, Orthros, and Pudrid's efforts here will be getting a ton of play from me for the foreseeable future. This is a perfect jumping off point into numerous musicians and bands worth investigating but I'm going to be focusing on the rest of Ordinul Negru's discography first.

Lustrum - Opening The Portal of Lust

Having reviewed almost the entirety of Lustrum's discography in quick reviews, their 2011 debut demo, Opening the Portal of Lust must not be forgotten and should be valued at more than an afterthought. It is, likely, their best release both in terms of the content as well as a listening experience. While the three splits they've done all facilitate strong material, the songs as tracked on this demo are an essence unto themselves, even more-so than the live tape which, though capturing the energy of Lustrum's attack, does not elicit the same defined strike as these properly recorded tracks. Early Bathory and Venom as well as hints of the earliest and rawest incarnations of Sodom helps Lustrum's compass steer the band towards as ideal a tone for this demo as could be chosen. There is a subliminal attitude that rolls through Opening The Portal Of Lust that is finely honed; an attitude of machismo and borderline-cockiness that suggests, "of course this is awesome." Necessarily, the five songs are perceptually urgent and seem to disappear quickly to demand the listener to pay attention.

Opening with "Until The End", a perfectly structured and written piece as is discoverable, Lustrum, to what would have been uninitiated listeners, effects an aura of confident obscurity through the now defining mix of The Intolerant One's reverb-soaked vocals and massive specific rhythms. Though a slower overall track, it highlights the faster "Wolves of Heresy" which follows. "Wolves of Heresy" defines the foundational black metal and thrash influences of the band leaving no doubt that Lustrum is serious about portraying the evil and maliciousness that resides in their art and not just rabble-rousing. "Temptress (Pact of Satan)" is the most Venom-esque, almost coming clear off the rails during verses but realigning during the chorus and locking further in gear during the middle instrumental section. Either "Buried in Silence" or "Flesh of the Serpent" are the weakest track, yet big rests and pauses are riveting sliced into "Buried in Silence" and "Flesh of the Serpent"'s grandiose culmination is not to be ignored.

Listening to Venom's "Black Metal" at midnight in negative temperatures while driving to Pennsylvania this past weekend, I was amazed at how perfectly the track was composed. It's often ignored in discussions that Venom were not only masters of imagery and shock but also of simple, basic, high-impact songwriting. Lustrum have taken their notes. Songs are replete with transitions that are natural, effective, and Powerful; the big chords that ring through "Wolves of Heresy"'s chorus and pull the listener into the bridge, the highlighted breaks in the verses of "Buried Silence", or the tight alternating melodic movement of "Until The End". If there is one aspect which is missing here, it's the inclusion of the leads and solos to add some compositional elements and depth to the songs. Even without these details though, the songs are powerful enough to hold their own and be engaging through sheer force.

Putting Lustrum, and particularly this demo, into perspective would be hard outside of recent memory. In 2011, the black-speed metal movement was peaking and Lustrum came of age as Midnight released their debut album Satanic Royalty, Speedwolf released Ride With Death, and a slough of other up and comers were getting mainstream traction. While it's important to note that Opening the Portals of Lust was in no way original at this time, perhaps missing the title of progenitor of the black-speed metal revival in the US by four or five years, what Lustrum did was highlight the more black-metal attitude of the movement compared to the more speed metal angle.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Monthly Blast: December - January 2019

With December being so outrageously busy, I have combined December and January into a single Monthly Blast to start the new year. Enjoy!

I was recently reading an article written by Walter Pall, who is a well known American bonsai artist, in regards to a question of semantics relating to whether to call American bonsai ' American bonsai' or "bonsai in America" or something altogether different, due to stylistic difference and whatnot. I saw a parallel with this critique to the way in which critics, fans, and scholars discuss metal:
 "Japanese bonsai is about discipline, knowing rules, respecting rules, respecting masters, respecting the old ones, not sticking out your head, not trying to be something special, something different etc.. This has made Japan successful. But in art it is a burden. Japanese bonsai is generally not treated as an art form. It is a well defined craft. This is changing right now in America as well as in Europe. In the Eastern view a good artist is one who does what he was taught so well that his master could have done it. In the Western view an artist is one who tries very hard and successfully to find something new, to be different, to excel, to be a rebel."
In the Metal realm, we are confronted with similar issues in identification, qualification, and criticism. There are often similarly two schools of thought found in Metal fans and critics. One follows this 'Japanese tradition' of "discipline, knowing rules, respecting rules, respecting masters, respecting the old ones, not sticking out your head, not trying to be something special, something different" and we find this predominantly in black metal, death metal, and thrash metal where many older metal fans and nostalgia-ists (nostalgists) simply classify 'good material' as that which falls in this realm of unbroken formulas and rules inspired by other accepted artists in the style. The second school is that in which "an artist is one who tries very hard and successfully to find something new, to be different, to excel, to be a rebel." We find this often in heavy metal, progressive metal, and doom metal - fans and critics that are not afraid to consider the potential in a wholly unique band or mix of styles and, though influenced by the original artists, often look for something new.

It's not that there aren't examples otherwise. There are as many different perspectives on what constitutes good art as there are individuals that have opinions. It is not uncommon to meet these two types of people that feel their judgements, based on these schools of style, are correct. What the similar issues in both mediums - Metal and Bonsai - points out is that there can only be subjective appreciation on an individualized level from these vantage points and that understanding the critics' preference in style can inform whether their opinion should be considered. Objective criticism must come in the form of looking at technique and purpose. If the goal is to create a raw lo-fi black metal album and the production is clean but the guitar tone is thin and weak: failure in technique and purpose. If the goal is to create a long slender literati style juniper and there is too much trunk flair and branching which is otherwise lovely: it's a failure in purpose and technique.

Disintegration - Demo (2016) / Cruel Slaughter (2018)

Richmond, Virginia based Disintegration features Leland Hoth of Vorator on drums, Ryan Zell of Antichrist Siege Machine on Vocals, and Drew Brooks on guitars. The band is lacking a bassist however it doesn't seem to reduce the voracity or bludgeoning effect of this death metal / grindcore outfit. The two demos together span a whopping eleven minutes and in that time a lot of potential is realized. Short, spastic songs with death metal riffing and grunting growling vocals is the key across both demos. Think Repulsion slowed down twenty percent. "Worthless To The Cowards" stands out as a pummeling minute and a half long crusher on the 2016 Demo. On the first demo also is a Verbal Abuse cover. Two tracks, "Cruelty" and "Proxy War Eternal" appear twice. Cruel Slaughter is better produced with a deeper and fatter sound to the guitars. The two new tracks are not quite as enjoyable for me as the two older tracks and have one too many noodly riffs. This is evident in "Celestial Bodies" which, I felt would have been better reduced to just the swinging death metal main riff motif. "Nailed Again" is the best of the new songs here, sticking to the catchy repetitive nature which I prefer in songs this short. "Cruelty" is a fourteen second blast of noise but the longish "Proxy War Eternal" will be Disintigration's standout track for most. It is well arranged for impact with smartly placed transitional hooks and a never-ceasing driving percussive attack. For what it's worth though, "Worthless To The Cowards" is still my personal favorite. Would like some screaming solos mixed in but without the bass to add low end I can see the conundrum. Really cool band for fans of short, blasting, grind and death metal. Both demos are sure to please fans of early Napalm Death and Repulsion. 

Forsaken Peddlers - Songs of Fate and Freedom (2014)

After the split of Fatum Elisum, Hugo, Alexandre, and Christophe fell back to working together as Forsaken Peddlers. To my sensibilities, the change isn't unsurprising. The shift from the long, drawn out songs and subtle melodicism of Fatum Elisum to the traditionally melodic, yet equally extensive framework and narrative requirements of Forsaken Peddlers is not too far of a stretch. The group, already very capable of the longer playing time of songs and cognizant of the need for a constantly interesting yet logical progression in structure shows their merit on this four-song album. The biggest difficulty for me, and an issue which was also covered by Metantoine when the album came out is the sameness present across the tracks. Where I disagree with his assessment is in Alexandre's vocals being grating. I felt that they added a somber layer to the otherwise lacking atmosphere of the record. My complaint wasn't in tone but in usage. The lack of lyrics provided with the release makes it difficult to truly follow the songs contextually but nevertheless I felt there were simply too many vocals on Songs of Fate and Freedom. Being fond of French philosophy and history, I would have loved to have been privy to the lyrics. The album opens with "The Brave," which patiently draws the listener into the heavily distorted guitar-based production after a short vocal prelude over bass and drums. From there, big chunky rhythms recall similarities with Fatum Elisum as well as Hugo's main project Ataraxie, but with a traditional doom flair. "Forsaken Peddlers" has become my favorite offering here. It offers some differentiation with the poetically sung middle section replete with clean guitars however the lack of a guitar lead or solo out immediately out of the section is a loss. The verse melody in this eponymous track is the strongest on the album but it's potential is not fully realized, in my opinion. "All Shall Fall" is noteworthy for Alexadre's passionate and sincere vocal performance during the higher parts but it feels that as the album gets into the last two tracks the tempo is actually falling and thus dragging the songs along. Forsaken Peddlers is a great project that can be much more with some careful adjustment of tempos and thoughtful inclusion of details such as harmonies, leads, and solos.

Khors - Beyond The Bestial (2018)

Ukraine's Khors is an unheralded stalwart band in the genre, getting very little attention regardless of their proximity in connection to Astrofaes, Hate Forest, and thus Drudkh, as well as Nokturnal Mortum; the heavy hitters in the Ukrainian black metal scene of Kharkiv. Undeniably, Khors is a much more progressive and poetic angle at black metal. Incorporation of clean vocals, piano and keys, melodicism, and arrangements all serve as evidence for a focus on songwriting and craft and less preoccupation with atmosphere. Beyond The Bestial runs at thirty four minutes of solidly defined and thought out musicianship. The first three tracks are originals with the final three being re-recordings of Mysticism era tracks. Every song flows evenly and smoothly with heightened moments and climaxes in songs accentuated with lead guitars from guitarist Jurgis. Khorus' bass playing is another key ingredient in the sound of Khors; big powerful bass rhythms set the foundation for the keyboards (Mihaylo Kujba as session member) and the guitars to have free movement. The best track here for me is the rerecorded "In The Cold Embrace of Mist" but if I had to pick one of the newer three tracks, it would be "Through The Realm of Unborn Stars" for the excellent middle instrumental section. I also really did like the instrumental, "Frigit Obscurity of Soul" but the lack of vocals made it feel a little empty compared to lusher previous tracks. My biggest complaint is that the tracks can feel monotonous; a lot of similar rhythms and movements. The constant use of keys underneath the album washes out some of the dynamics that could have been present with a more limited usage as well as softens much of the moments that would otherwise be better served with a more traditional black metal arrangement for intensity. The lack of intensity is a problem. Looking back at Mysticism, the keyboard usage was similar but did not overshadow the intensity as much. There is no track here like "Mysticism" that is hard hitting. Being able to go back to Mysticism and compare is proof of this. 


I came upon Husk Records while following up on material Lustrum had put out up to 'Plays With Madness' which I reviewed last month. Lustrum was in the process of putting out a split with a band called Black Knife on this little micro-label. I contacted the label to get an idea on when I could get a copy of the split. Label owner Josh Lay is the guitarist and vocalist of Black Knife. He was kind enough to give me some recommendations on the stuff he's put out on Husk Records and send over some goodies.

Abigail / Black Knife - Split 7" (2017)

Japanese legends Abigail appear with Black Knife on this split 7" that contains two tracks from each band. Both songs are exclusive to this split. Abigail are given the opening two slots with "Satanik Evil and Souls" and "Maniac." Fast, thrashing black metal comprises both tracks with Yasuyuki Suzuki's crazed scratchy vocals piercing the raw production that would be expected from Abigail. Maniac is more speed metal in riffing style, but both tracks contain some heavy metal flourishes such as the solo sections in both tracks. If you've listened to Abigail, likely since the only potential chance to not stumble upon one of their numerous split releases or demos is if you only listen to your church choir, you have a good idea what you're getting. Black Knife propose "The Devil's Rock and Roll" and "Out On The Streets... and Ready For Hell". Both songs are strong contenders to compete with Abigail: raw, catchy, powerful sleazy rock and roll tracks injected with energy through black metal vocals. It's tough to say who shows better on this album but I actually really enjoyed the two Black Knife tracks here and I think they get my vote against the Japanese madmen. This is a quick blistering split 7" that can help clear out that inner calling for some sleazy extreme metal and rock in a hurry.

Autocrat / Black Knife - Split (2018)

This release stood out from the description on the label page that Autocrat would appeal to fans of Candlemass. I had to pick up the release. While Doomy, Autocrat are not quite in a Candlemass style, sounding more like Saint Vitus or the less complex moments from Revelation's discography. They aren't quite epic enough and have a slightly sludgier riff basis. Either way, the singular song here, "Borges Library" rules hard. Big chords and nice guitar harmonies give the feeling of a band heavily influenced from the NWOBHM school. Vocalist Jon has a really wild style, at times deep and bold as if giving a proclamation to his subjects and at other times harsh and mad like a crazed king. Black Knife fall into the general descriptor of punk and thrash and black metal with an emphasis on punk. The two songs from Josh's project here are energetic and raw. Power is contained in the simplistic rhythms and vocal presentation. First of the tracks, "Dying To Kill You" sets off on a pummeling journey with little regard for nuance; pummeling drums and bass bash around savagely. "Full Moon Suicide" takes a little time to get going, meandering through grunts and growls until falling into a speed metal / punk rhythm that is easy to follow and headbang to. Raise a beer to this tape meant for the underground. It's easy to like Black Knife but Autocrat is clearly the more rewarding listen.

Black Knife / Lustrum - Split (2018)

This split CD has four tracks from Black Knife and three tracks from Lustrum, all three Lustrum tracks appeared on the live album, Plays With Madness. Black Knife once again unleash punk-infused blackened speed metal. The tracks are succinct but identifiable. "Beyond the Mortuary" is the best of the four, with drummer Edweird being key to the introductory section riding cymbals hard to drive the track into the pause-transition to the first verse in which Hellwulv's (Josh Lay) vocals are the standout, a rough rasp with some lower growls mixed in as well. The inclusion of keys round out the track with a horror-inspired atmosphere nicely. Of note also is the eponymous track, "Black Knife", a catchy rock-and-roll track at it's core, which originally appeared on Black Knife's original EP. The bass playing from Bast is particularly pronounced in the track. The Lustrum tracks, "Into Shit Of Nights", "Too Wild For The Crowd", and "Motorsex" pair well with Black Knife. Their blackened sleaze is replete with the curling snarls of The Intolerant One and first-wave inspired black metal riffs. Mostly, the songs highlight memorable motifs. "Into Shit of Nights" opens with one of those too-classic for it's own good riffs before breaking loose into a pummeling second half of double bass. "Too Wild For The Crowd" is a track I loved from Plays With Madness and it charges full rawness here. The chorus demands crowd involvement! "Motorsex" is exactly as advertised. Motorhead rip-off worship done properly. A cool release. I wish there was a lyric sheet attached. Some of the audible lines are worthy of a tyrant.

Jason Schuler - Jason Schuler (2010)

Schuler's mixture of drone and noise with subtle electronics is not far removed sonically from Sunn O)))'s Black One or Earth's seminal Earth2, but without the heavier dosage of doom elements and without the impression of sheer massive volume, this Eponymous tape is much less intense and reserved for use as a background filler or meditation aid. It's not that the four tracks are not without merit. The slow shifting movements of sound are pleasing textures which, through sensory adaptation to find the rhythmic swells and awareness of the deep seated melodies, can be richly rewarding. I found the second half of the first side of the tape - research telling me this would be the second of the tracks - to be the most engaging with a more ominous, ringing, harsh ambulatory dirge to drag the audience into an unpleasant experience of tension. The track is backstopped by a singular ringing pitch which is burdened with a horny sounding wavering drone atop. The second side of the tape is more atonal and ominous, especially the first of the two tracks. It is the soundtrack to an empty abandoned factory at night; a texture-mirror of industrial decay in sound; the creeping slowness of time on durable yet organic substance. I like the tape and I would be interested to investigate Jason's work more after this first foray into his material. Some form of information in the J-card would have been appreciated, but the overall presentation is acutely beneficial none-the-less. Drone, noise, and experimental ambient on tape is the way to go.

Swamp Horse - Subtle Dementia (2012)

Noise / Electronic / Ambient with a horror vibe due to the heavy electronic and what sounds like a theremin playing a role. The two tracks are very different from each other yet share a certain sense of movement nonethless. The packaging on this is rather nice, with a colored 7", sticker, patch, as well as separate print out with information in the sleeve, which looks to have been produced in a long run of print and cut, evidenced by the bleed over onto my copy. The overall impression is very DIY. The men behind this effort are Morgan Rankin and once again Josh Lay. The two tracks top out at just over six minutes in total play time and neither has any semblance of a title from the layout provided. Track one has a definitive horror movie tone to it with a seventies Italian vibe. The synths are the key, adding grit in the form of off putting melodies, this is repeated with nuanced variations being layered behind the high pitched and occasionally buzzing driving theme. The rhythmic foundation is a more airy keyboard chord progression. The second track is more reliant on noise. The main surface of the song being layered wind samples and water of some sort, perhaps a brook... it ends up sounding like the wheels of many horse-drawn carriages in a mucky street. A high pitched synth addition finally gets included, however I think the synth here draws attention away from the otherwise interesting rhythms generated by the textures behind it. Swamp Horse manufacture two interesting tracks on this 7" that will appeal to horror movie soundtrack fans that are keen on noise and electronic music.

Sissy Spacek - Horned Beast (2014)

There is Noise and there is noise. Sissy Spacek is the lower-case noise. With seemingly no structures and no decipherable purpose to what's going on, this double 7" seems like a waste of wax for me. Each side of four sides has been culled from different recording sessions. Side A is quite harsh with blasting drumming, high pitched feedback across all four songs, and a constant barrage of static. Side B is much of the same with less feedback but more bottom end that jumbles up the songs as well. Side C is a single track called "Spree." More on this in a second. " Side D is another 4 tracks that is similar to the tracks on side A in it's egregious lack of formed content. During "Barrier Details" one or two moments peak through to what the band could do if there was even just a slight hint of clarity and attention to tone. "Spree" is the single song here that forms a complete unit. The tracks starts with the workings of instruments being plugged in, and set up, and some basic rehearsal room sounds, although muffled and jumbled. This proceeds for roughly half the track, slowly increasing in it's grating and noise-influenced culmination of piercing amp-horn whistles and effect-pedal cacophonies. There is a set difference. The basic simple structure is given a context within which to work: a beginning, a progression, a climax. If the other tracks were similar to "Spree" in the purposeful positioning of noise, Sissy Spacek would have gotten more enjoyment out of me. The vision afforded the layout of the record, with it's nice packaging, decisive imagery, and minimalist presentation suits the material, which unfortunately is the weakest part of Horned Beast.

The Black Scorpio Underground - Necrochasm (2016)

In my ears, this is a noise project with some subtle hints of black metal. The Black Scorpio Underground make use of unobtrusive wavering static elements at different pitches which define the sound on Necrochasm. The album title is a good representation of what kind of atmosphere is to be found here and the music is not unlike what you would find at the bottom of a deep pit. Remove the Metal elements of Nortt and you'll be on the right track. Some of the songs here include some interesting vocal effects which sound like samples of religious sermons spoken by little girls which I find discomforting and contrasting with the overall soundscapes generated in the engine of Black Scorpio Underground; in this setting, this uneasiness is a perfect addition to the dreariness and dread. Tracks like "She Who Cannot Be Saved" and "Slave" move at a slow boil, with only minor shifts in layers. What The Black Scorpio Underground does well with the tracks that are reliant on the harsher noise and static effects is there is still a sense of structure and composition to them. "Garden of Mutilated Souls" for example, uses static and noise as the primary elements however there is enough differentiation throughout the abrasiveness to allow the listener to latch onto forms and shapes within the noise and surface from the track feeling that they've still listened to a song. This is also the case in "Hall of 1000 Degradations." Personal favorite is "Venereal Liturgy".


Morningstar - Heretic Metal (1996)

This 1996 release from Finland's Morningstar has haunted my CD collection forever and it's not until the past year or so that I've truly come to appreciate it. It is aggressive and violent and catchy and a blast to rampage along with. Heretic Metal's foundation is simple and aggressive Heavy Metal at it's core: chunky powerful riffs that are catchy and memorable. The black metal elements are more apparent at the surface level but there are some songs such as "Eternal Darkness" which are more inline with the second wave black metal stylings. Songs like "Crushing Their Legions", "A Great Revolt," and "War And Victory" are all in this heavy metal / first wave black metal formula. The combination falls somewhere between the forefathers Bathory or Venom and Carpathian Forest's Black Shining Leather. It's difficult to pick out a favorite because I like so many of the songs on the album. "Crushing Their Legions" is a standout in my opinion with a big chunky riff towards the end of the track that demands headbanging and flailing limbs. "Bloody Hammer" is one of the faster tracks on the album and reminds me a little bit of Deathhammer with it's fast, thrashy riffs. "Twilight of the Paradise" launches into a doomy, melodic movement which proves Morningstar has a lot of potential ideas stored in their armor. The lack of their usage is just as respected here; too much instrumentation would reduce the primal aggression that carries the band. Heretic Metal best exemplifies how good something simple, vicious, and barbaric can be within the black metal genre. No cosmic pseudo-atmosphere, no long meandering tracks, no -gaze or -core. Just brutal violent old school black metal. This should be a cult-classic. I tried to dig out the CD - all still boxed up after moving this past year - to get a better hi-res of the original CD cover, but I couldn't find the CD. There is a newer cover that was put out with the re-release but I like the original better; way more original, and memorable.

My Deathbed - Sickness (2017)

Greek depressive black metal band with a steady flow of releases pouring out since last year. Sickness, a demo with two songs, is the first of their releases. Void is the man behind all the material on Sickness. His songwriting style on Sickness leaves some room for improvement and growth. First track, "Alone" is a minimalist expanse of ringing strummed chords with some atmospheric ambient noises in the background. It moves through the somnambulist melodies expected of the genre. Second, shorter track, "Mind's Madness" is more impactful, with a heavier dose of tremolo moments and a more atonal variety of chord progressions. It is in fact more 'mad' in presentation with ascending sections of hammer-on and pull-off motifs plopped around. What is most notable regarding the material on Sickness is the lack of drums or percussion of any sort. There is no driving force behind the music which gives the impression of a lazily assembled session of random noodling. For most I can't see this being considered a viable listen; with little in the way of meter, composition, or structure there isn't a lot to latch onto beyond basic melodies and atmosphere, an atmosphere more created by the lack of composition and subtle sound effects than the aims and arrangement of the music itself. Would drums, a bass, some form of rhythm help My Deathbed be more approachable? Probably. Would it also deflect from what is Void's desire for My Deathbed to be? Possibly. This is one where we will have to wait and see what happens with the music. If this the goal of My Deathbed is to achieve the feeling of procrastination, indifference, and laziness Void, however, has achieved something great.

My Deathbed - Plague (2017)

My Deathbed, from Greece, proceed further with Plague. The most important addition to their sound: percussion! The overall influence of more wailing type vocals is also made known in this release showing an overall progression forward in adhering to what is a determinate depressive black metal style. Plague is comprised of two tracks; the first track is a long, twenty-four minute journey and the second is a short amendment of only two minutes. "And the Black Death Shall Return For Us" makes up more than ninety percent of the release. I at once point read Nathan T. Birk describe black metal as transcendental and understood him at the time to mean repetitive to the point of meditation. I still ascribe this description to repetitive black metal that is not purely atmospheric in goal. My Deathbed, here, fit the bill. The Burzum-esque repetition is present along with the tormented wails of Void. Also noticeable is the production quality increase since Sickness. Void I have not tracked down, but the slightly hazy fuzz of the guitar chords combined with the simple and plodding bass notes push the opening track oddly forward. I recommend being slightly buzzed or stoned in a dark environment to take the track in. The melody is very well curated. Similar to Sickness, the final track here, "Μυρωδιά Θανάτου," is a more atonal and dreadful sounding object. Reverberating higher pitched notes plucked as if pulling feathers off a bird of prey are presented with little if any structural context. This track is the most similar to the two previously known tracks from the first demo. Does it work? I don't know. It's an interesting listen because there are phantom notes which appear from within the dissonance to possible beauty. To my ears, it's unique but I am not a well versed acolyte with depressive black metal.

Ritualizer - Blood Oaths (2018)

Judson Belmont, guitarist for New Yorkers, Ritualizer, shot me an email to check out their new EP, Blood Oaths, claiming similarity to Mercyful Fate, Judas Priest, and Dio. The email included a press kit and all that jazz. While I was interested immediately due to the proximity of the band and that it was traditional heavy metal, I was downright excited when I saw that the woman behind the lungs of Ritualizer was none other than ex-Midnite Hellion wailer PJ Berlinghof who voiced the band's best release, Hour of the Wolf (also vocalist on the Contaminated Tones Released Bitchin' at Champs!). It was great to see she was still singing; she has a powerful set of pipes! Ritualizer are definitely in the traditional metal realm with a hint of thrash poking through. The three songs here are all on the slightly long side, totalling out at over twenty minutes, and don't always need to be. Such is the case with opener "Blood Oaths" which rumbles irrelevantly past the six minute mark. The thrash shows through in the riffing of Belmont. This is especially evident during second track, "Haunted", where the chorus shifts into a thrashy tempo and riffing style before reverting back to traditional metal. PJ's vocals are at times closer to Nicole Lee and border on death metal in several sections in the song and also at other spots across the offering, yet in most cases her main influences of Dickinson and Dio are front and center. She carries the theatrics of Dickinson's style with the clarity and precision of Dio. With the production being so clear and the bass and guitars given the right amount of space in the mix to carry their own tone, it's easy to hear bassist Denis Lavery's slick bass fills and individuality. To my ears, the claims of similarity to Mercyful Fate, Priest, and Dio aren't wholly supported by the three tracks. It's true the influence may be there, but the songs are too complex to be Priest at their prime, not traditional enough to be Dio, and not narrative enough to match up with Mercyful Fate. I think the ideal comparison would be more like Iced Earth circa The Glorious Burden or Demons and Wizards. Final track, "Night Terrors" reminds me of Icarus Witch for some reason. Cool EP. Haunted is the best track here.