Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Orphaned Land - El Norra Alila

Orphaned Land has been a hit or miss band for me. My first impression of the group was with their 2004 breakthrough album, Mabool - The Story of the Three Sons of Seven. I truly found that album to be rewarding on several levels but felt that the harsh elements weren't totally congruous with the Middle Eastern sentiments. I had largely forgotten about the band by the time their next album, The Neverending way of ORwarriOR was released in 2010. I was not impressed by that album at the time, nor do I retain any kind of overwhelming emotion to it now. Thus, predictably, the band drifted off my radar. Somewhere within the past two or three years, I encountered the band's sophomore album, El Norra Alila at a garage sale or flea market somewhere for a few bucks and picked it up for the sole reason of finally hearing some of the songs which I had only previously heard on the live bonus disc which accompanied Mabool. Having not heard the band's recent albums, I still feel confident proclaiming that Orphaned Land's second album is their best record. To my ears and judgement, El Norra Alila should be considered a transportive album, carrying the listener to a truly new landscape of sounds.

While there are several key tracks on the album, the album opener, "Find Yourself, Discover God" epitomizes what makes El Norra Alila special. The weaving guitar lines are nuanced and enlightened by a native honesty. While Western artists have often opted to lift middle eastern themes for placement into songs - the iconic acoustic fill in Megadeth's "Holy Wars, The Punishment Due" comes to mind quickly as one example - guitarist Yossi Sassi seems to mindlessly play through endless variations of traditional phrasings which I find breathtaking. Kobi Farhi's vocals are another unique element which instantly give a grandeur to the track. Deep spoken word sections and hymnal-esque segments are interrupted with occasional black-metal rasps to form a deeply religious and spiritual atmosphere. At all times, this is complemented by Sassi's lead guitars. Other times the vocals follow the rhythm guitars by Matti Svatizki building deep harmonious combinations. As if all this wasn't enough, Orphaned felt inclined to elicit the help of a number of guest musicians to add numerous folk and traditional instruments to the mix. As an opening track, it doesn't draw you into the album as much as it pushes you off a cliff into Orphaned Land's musical universe.

Another key track - or tracks - is the combination of "The Path Ahead" and it's tail "A Neverending Way," the latter of which was one of my favorite tracks on the Mabool live bonus disc. The track there is a mostly a cappella rendition and always spine-tingling. Here, the original version is no less incredible but we are given the full context of the song. As "The Path Ahead" treks forth through memorable leads and elegant sections, it also moves through some darker moments. I think in this song more than any other, the influences of classical composition is apparent. The song flows with little repetition, giving Farhi room to explore vocal usages and invoke imagery. Split by a highly emphasized overdriven vocal moment, the song slowly morphs into the violin opening moments of "A Neverending Way", the song hearkening back to it's preamble track lyrically. It's easy to hear why the track is a fan favorite on the Mabool bonus tracks. It's big chugging verse moments, long vocal lines, poetic lyrics, and clear concise ending are indicative of the band's confidence in their craft.

Lyrically, the album is beautifully jammed with what I could call a treatise on spirituality in poetic verse. While it's possible to, of course, look at the lyrics in an interpretive manner and not literally, I believe that Orphaned Land is fairly clear in their content and it's not surprising given the cultural surroundings. "I'm down on my knees, I worship you with awe, I'm down on my knees, my belief forever strong, And I call out to you my lord of light, Watch my faith how it glows (Flawless Belief)" or "Find your self, discover God... You are his begotten son (Find Your Self, Discover God)". Much of the album's lyrical content is a call to find solace and love and one's relationship with God. There isn't a set denominational statement and the lyrical content is less proselytizing than your average Satanic black metal album, giving the listener a breath of ideological space. Nevertheless, one of the drawbacks on this album for me is the lack of diversity of thought to match the diversity of musical influences. I wanted to see some form of conflict, of hesitance, of intellectual battle, but it is quite dry in that regard.

Other noteworthy tracks for me are "Flawless Belief" with it's truncated rhythmic syncopations and impressive structural scale emphasizing the rhythm section of the band comprised of drummer Sami Bachar and bassist Uri Zelcha. Also "Like Fire to Water" and "El Meod Na'Ala", one of two songs sung in beautiful Hebrew. My main concerns with the album are relatively few. I find El Norra Alila to be more cohesive than it's follow up Mabool and a big step up from debut Sahara in maturity and vision. There are moments where I am not entirely satisfied, particularly towards the end of the album where there are some filler tracks such as "Of Temptation Born" and "The Evil Urge". The album is long, a blemish which I can overlook in this instance, but does detract from my likelihood of listening to the album more than once in a while, even for as good as it is. I'm not sure the hidden track warrants the additional ten minutes of blank time to hide it at the end of "The Evil Urge". The production overall elicits a feeling of dryness, especially the harsh sandy guitar tone which is ideal for the atmosphere yet after an hour of music, could be found to be grating.

El Norra Alila considered within the appropriate context of it's creation makes it a quite astounding album for something created in not only a non-traditional metal market but in an area of the world where just several miles away in a different country, such an album could cost the musicians their life. Released in 1996, it is one of the earliest examples of metal to appear in Israel, and the Middle East as a whole, which would reach audiences beyond. It also makes no attempt not to remove the regional and traditional elements and mimic western archetypes. It is unabashedly local. Compare this to other material of it's time and there is a significant change in how these elements are portrayed. Melechesh - who are trumpeted as being purveyors of Middle Eastern cultural motifs on their albums - on their 1996 album, As Jerusalem Burns... Al'Intisar, do not incorporate such clearly defined folk influences.

Also of interest is the usage of harsh and clean vocals as a singularly atmospheric element - a combination which, to my knowledge, was at this point in time still rare and obscure to find. Orphaned Land, two years prior, on Sahara, were also mixing vocal styles and patterns however on El Norra Alila they have truly specialized into using the technique to convey atmosphere. Opeth used the mixture of clean vocals and death metal vocals as an atmospheric element similarly on their albums - at least through Deliverance - and Orphaned Land predated them on both their debut and El Norra Alila. In the Sahara insert, Holy Records defines the band as Oriental Doom Death. It's actually quite accurate but nowhere near as comprehensive as it should be. El Norra Alila is a true progressive gem, advancing Metal in a unique way.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Sacrificial Blood Official Website / News

Mike finally got tired of facebook so all Sacrificial Blood news can be found on his new blog which will have the most up to date information on the band as well as what I am sure will be an exceptionally entertaining laundry list of opinions and thoughts.

Recent band news... the album is in mixing. Artwork has been revealed and looks awesome. We have shows coming up. More details in the link on those. Artwork below for the new album. 

Those looking for copies of the sold out Okketaehm - Stones, Maximum Oversatan - Too Evil For Hell, or Diseased Oblivion - Portals of Past and Present can find some copies at Mandarangan Records. I have long been sold out of the Okketaehm and Maximum Oversatan tapes and occasionally get requests for them. 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Juniperus Virginiana #2 - Eastern Red Cedar

I collected this Eastern Red Cedar from my Lawn of all places in February of 2019. I did some basic root pruning and planted into a plastic container with Napa 8822 as a growing medium. The almost-purple foliage is common on this species in the winter. As the tree enters dormancy, the foliage "bronzes" to this color. Junipers of all species as well as pines go through this process.

I had no special plans for this tree other than to save it from being digested into my lawnmower. I was actually surprised to find the tree at all in the lawn. There are some nice examples of Eastern Red Cedar bonsai online. I am planning on styling this tree similarly to this one by Vance Hanna. His was collected older and already grown but shows the kind of quality that proper care of the species can produce.

 I fertilized throughout this past summer and was able to get a significant amount of growth on the tree. I was not expecting such a strong flush of growth. As color returned to the juvenile foliage the tips of new growth turned a light green and started to expand (left). By middle of summer, the growth had mostly subsided as the tree entered summer dormancy in August.

By September, the tree had roughly tripled in size and was growing very healthily. I even did some minor pruning on branches mid-way up the trunk to get the tree into a roughly conical shape. I remove downward growing branches as well, leaving new growth at the ends of the branches and the upwards growth. My intent for leaving upwards growth is that when wiring branches downward, the new upward growth would now be facing outward, providing a possible point to cut back to in the future.

In November, at our monthly bonsai club meeting, I spent time wiring the tree into a shape and putting some movement in the low branches. These low branches are the most important at the moment because they will likely be the branches left on the tree long term as the top gets repeatedly cut back and rebuilt. The tree at the beginning of the winter and end of the year left me with a real strong feeling about the progress of the tree. I recently pulled the tree from it's wintering quarters and removed the wire. The branches had all set. Plans for this year are a new pot, and strong growth.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Enthroned Serpent Interview

Band Photo: Dove Tatiana

Impressed by Enthroned Serpent's debut demo, Ancient Witchcraft, and their new EP, Towards the Unknown, I was pleased to contact the band and gather additional information for my readers. Thank you Enthroned Serpent for providing some enlightenment!

Enthroned Serpent: Greetings from Athens, Greece. Thanks again for taking an interest in our music regarding our latest release Towards the Unknown.

Contaminated Tones: Can you give a quick rundown on how “Enthroned Serpent” was formed? How did the current lineup manifest?

ES: We took our first steps as a tribute band just for the fun of it. A few musicians with similar music taste, gathered in the studio to enjoy their selves. Of course back then we went by the name “Ancient Witchcraft” which later became the title for our first Demo. At that time, we performed a couple of live gigs and composed a few songs, but due to several personal reasons the band came on hiatus. It took years to find the right line up to create the band which exists to this day as “Enthroned Serpent”, a name that was conceived by the current line-up.

CT:  Enthroned Serpent, to me, sounds like a veteran band, both on the Ancient Witchcraft demo, as well as on your new EP, Towards the Unknown. What do you believe gives Enthroned Serpent this confidence and sound? As far as I can discover, none of you have been in previous bands.

ES: True, we haven’t been in previous bands not something worth mentioning anyway regarding the extreme metal sound, except of our new vocalist Rex Sanguis who is also the vocalist for Tartarus Depth. Therefore, we cannot be described as a veteran band but you could say we have a veteran sound that resembles the influences we have and the things we like in music all these years.

CT: I hear bands like Sear Bliss, Dissection, Varathron, and Mortuary Drape in your music. What bands would you say have an influence on Enthroned Serpent?

ES: Where to start on this one? We are mostly influenced by the 90’s sound of Black & Death Metal with a hint of Thrash Metal and Heavy Metal as well. It’s a long list that combines all the bands we like individually but the strongest influences are Dissection, Immortal, Mayhem, Slayer etc.

CT: When I first heard Ancient Witchcraft, I was impressed by how captivating the melodic sensibilities of the songs were. There was never a glimpse of anything other than darkness and melancholy throughout. What do you look for in the melodic movements of your songs? What bands inspire you in this realm?

ES: In our songs we explore the nature of human emotions in the concept they describe, these melodic movements for us is the way to go, in order to achieve that. Such melodies are quite common in the Greek Black Metal scene for example another influence we have is Rotting Christ, Septic Flesh etc.

CT: Your music is not predictable, and you do not shy away from an even cinematic quality at times. What kind of imagery does Enthroned Serpent hope to invoke?

ES: What we want to invoke is the reaction which is caused by the extreme metal genre in being different by expressing the spirituality, darkness and evil which exists to this day in a metaphoric sense.

CT: Tell me about your most recent release, Towards The Unknown. It's not a Helstar reference, which would normally depress me but doesn't at all here. Your EP is such a strong continuation of your demo. Did you have anything you specifically wanted to improve upon from Ancient Witchcraft?

ES: Actually yes, we wanted some improvements to take place after the demo version of the songs in Ancient Witchcraft, for they would better represent what we’re trying to achieve. Towards The Unknown is our first release that put us to the test of making something more out of our music, some solid work that gave us experience and helped us reach the strong result you listen.

CT: As mentioned earlier, you picked up a new vocalist, Rex Sanguis, who replaces Angelus Tenebrae. What does Rex bring to the band vocally? How involved has he been, if at all, in the creation of the new material on the EP?

ES: Rex was one of the many trials in vocals who made a difference. He can do a lot with his voice and he experiments a lot in rehearsals in order to intensify the feeling of the songs. His inspiration is not only vocal but in the lyrics as well, as he was a big help in configuring, orchestrating and writing lyrics. Everyone had a role to play in the making of Towards The Unknown as did Rex.

CT: You had a couple higher profile guest appearances by Rotting Christ's Sakis Tolis and Order of the Ebon Hand's Merkaal appear on the EP. How did these partnerships come about and what was it like having them appear on the EP?

ES: At first I ‘d like to say that it is an honor for us to have Sakis Tolis and Merkaal join us in our musical journey for they gave our songs a dynamic we couldn’t anticipate. These partnerships came from good friends that share our love for this genre. I’d also like to point out that working with Sakis and Orestis (Merkaal) means a lot to us cause this is a great support to the underground music by people that made quite an impact in black metal, and their support is of utmost importance!!! Thank you guys, words can’t express our gratitude.

CT: Is it fair to say that "Towards the Unknown" is the most intense track you've released thus far? Other than a short melodic breakdown, it is relentless.

ES: As the title track of the EP it should be. The truth is that a lot of effort has been made for "Towards The Unknown" to reach its state, and we are happy with the result. So far yes, it is the most intense track we have released but there is more to come in our full length album that is in the making.

CT: "Ghost" is a memorable track for the perfectly written guitar solo that splits the song in two. I didn't notice how well done it was on the demo, but it really stood out to me on Towards the Unknown. Is there any kind of history or story behind this track?

ES: "Ghost" is in fact the first song that was complete and ready for recording. It is a typical occult story in which we find our selves fascinated by in general and that’s the reason we wanted to “transform” it from the previous demo version.

CT: "Elixir of Existence" is your best song, in my opinion. It is blistering and aggressive then, on Ancient Witchcraft, It had a beautiful clean vocal section over acoustic guitar halfway through that really struck me when listening to it from a songwriting and atmosphere standpoint. It reminds me a lot of Primordial at their best, such as on The Gathering Wilderness or To The Nameless Dead. But on this EP you removed the clean vocal section! Was there a particular reason for doing this?

ES: There's no particular reason, other than the Vocalists point of view for the specific section, as he believed that this way has a better impact regarding the essence of the song created by the lyrics and the rest of us agreed, so it was established.

CT: I had seen while skimming social media, that you have been working on a full-length album? How is that coming along? Will any of the tracks from the Ancient Witchcraft demo and Towards the Unknown EP appear on this full length and how many new songs are planned?

ES: That is correct, we are working on new material for the full length album and it’s coming along great, the only factor that stands in our way is the every day struggle with responsibilities outside the band, but little by little, the full length album is taking its form. To answer your final question, The Channeling, song from our Demo, will be in the setlist of the new album that consists of eight songs in total.

CT: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions! If you have any last things you'd like to say...

ES: Thank you all for the support and for listening to our music. For all the metalheads out there, keep the underground flame alive!

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Blast! - February 2020

Coronary - Demo 2018

This Finnish quintet produce solid Judas Priest inspired heavy metal. Though this demo is short, with three songs metering under fourteen minutes, as an interest-garnering device, the tape is very well done. Opener "Firewings" is a strong mid-paced opening track that easily captures the style Coronary is aiming for with memorable riffs and traditional song structures. Vocalist Olli "The True Herman" Karki reminds me of Mark Tornillo from TT Quick / Accept. This becomes even more apparent on second track, "Bullet Train," a more mid paced song with less overall impact for me. The rhythm section of drummer Pate "Batvik" Vuorio and bassist Jarkko "Skip Intro" Aaltonen is given space under the guitar lead section to leave a lasting impression yet settle to simply maintain their steady speed. Third track, "Mestengo" is finishes the demo off. It's an interesting choice as a closer. Subdued verses lead into a chorus which alternates between Olli's emotive performance and backing gang vocals. The song is set in a predictable D-minor progression, carried through the entire song which is not expanded on, but is well executed nevertheless. Guitarists Jukka "Doktor" Holm and Aku "Herr Lederwurst" Kytola present well with the former's noticeably rehearsed and composed solos being one of the best compositional elements of Coronary's demo. I'd like some faster material and see the band, especially the rhythm section, highlighted more individually. A lot of the material here chugs along without much to interest me. Olli's vocals are passionate and present the cliche but well-written lyrics admirably which receives my vote as the best single part of this demo. 

Devo - Freedom Of Choice (1980)

Aside from the famous "Whip It," Devo get little attention, but while Freedom of Choice could be considered a break-out album for the art-rock / new-wave, I doubt anyone hazards to show off their deep-cut of the band at dinner parties. The meat and potatoes of the band is their uniquely synthetic sound which is immediately recognizable. Each instrument is stripped down to it's blips and bleeps and singularity, electronically and pseudodigitally processed, and spit out over what is incredibly not a cheap electronic drum kit. With two sets of brothers, The Casales and the Mothersbaughs, at the helm, this is a Lego ship thinking it can get away with masquerading as twenty-first century CGI. It's nevertheless an excellently captained ship with Alan Myers' drumming really having a massive impact simply for being so mechanical and metered.  Songs have a 'bop' that is undeniably addictive and almost Western. For me, the title track, "Freedom Of Choice", is my favorite. It retains the rubbery guitars and tight drum bop, while injecting just enough rock-and-roll to elevate it's intensity beyond the otherwise robotic demeanor the album carries. "Gates of Steel" is also a highlight, sounding like assembly-line automatons reproducing Joan Jett, once again drawing on the rock influences. It's subtly anthemic in a sense. In a strange way, I can't tell if Freedom of Choice has not aged well or Devo were still ahead of our time way back in the Carter era. Devo should still be on the watchlist for those interested in the evolution and aesthetics of electronic music, and for that, I appreciate their funkery.

 Eerie - Amplifier Theosophy (2011)

I mentioned Matt Gittings last month, and his involvement with recording New Hampshire locals At Night. Eerie is Gittings' project, at this point in their progression sounding very much in line with what Earth was focusing in on stylistically around this point. The slow crawling songs, drawn out twangy chords, and repetitive and meditative structures flow smoothly from Eerie's tools in hand. This demo material is essentially a snapshot of the band at this point. Recorded live in five hours, the thirty four minute demo must have taken several takes to get the feel just right. Where an album such as Earth's Hex: Or Printing In The Infernal Method contained a dry, midwestern flair, Eerie's Amplifier Theosophy is fuller, humid, and wooden. To me, a song like "Sun Ring Broken" captures the pace of the New England mountain towns in action - or lack of action. My personal favorite however has remained second track, "And Graciously, The Maw Opens Accepting The Eleventh Sacrifice." A cinematic instrumental highlighted by big bombastic chords, it nevertheless persists as the drumming kicks in midway through with a subtle beat to accentuate the track's melancholy underpinnings. Gittins' harmony motif is as memorable as you can find in this instrumental doom genre. Larry Vollor, handling the deeper guitar tones, is keen to allow his chords to ring into subtle nuanced hums and resonances. I've had this demo for a while, and I come back to it quite often and Volumetric Addiction as well. Both are strong examples of the stoner sludge genre being deeper than weed and dope. While not perfect - the demo could have taken one step further to differentiate each song melodically - it's a fine release.

Eerie - Ostensoric Night Dream (2014) 

Eerie's final release, Ostensoric Night Dream, is unique within in their discography. It is the only release to contain vocals. It also is less Earth-y, with more elements of stoner doom and sludge peeking through. Most importantly, Matt Gittings retains the atmosphere of lazy New England mountain towns, soggy Appalachia, and terrestrial scents which I felt was of such importance in their previous releases. Though I felt there was still a lot of unique elements and moments in the previous Eerie releases, Ostensoric Night Dream shows a move towards something more identifiable and individual. It's the softness of the guitar tone and swooshing riffs which remind me of winter drives watching forests and rivers pass by driving up through Vermont and New Hampshire. The vocals are a mix of gruff death metal-esque growls and folkish chants and singing - a unique combination of elements - which works well in the Eerie setting. "House of Chains" is my favorite on this release. For me, I imagine myself as a spirit gliding through mountain logging roads passing set-back shanties with overall and flannel clothed bearded men knocking back moonshine and smoking their pipes behind gray unruly beards as they sharpen their axes and move their checkers. Eerie pose a different atmosphere intense in historical depth with songs that are rich in rehearsing and wealthy in perfectly rung out feedback. As Gittings' nears the song's dusk-mark his drumming turns into rolling waves of tom fills, mimicking the endless undulating low hills and valleys which the 1.2 billion year old mountains are known for. Ostensoric Night Dream is a masterful accumulation of subtle insights set among bold melodic riffs. A wonderful expose of originality.

Traumasphere - Voidcall (2001 / 2018)

Originally released independently almost two decades ago, Traumasphere's Voidcall is a revitalizing reminder that while the early 2000's are not normally regarded as a bastion of quality extreme metal, there are nevertheless hidden gems to dig up. This French death metal duo is worth seeking out as a study in harsh uncomfortable melodies. Opener "Eradicated" is a good example of how an atonal melodic movement over what could be construed to be 'jovial' rhythms can create a tense and awkward feeling in the listener. It's the imagery of a clown car highway crash. This is continued in "Awaken in Chaosphere" as well. At times, transitions, sections, and phrases can be viewed as collected parts rigged together, and not as components intended to be fit according to plan. So these songs are less engineered machines with purpose and more the functional creations one would find in Junkyard Wars episodes. Traumasphere's usage in this manner is not as effective as, for example, Voivod or Pestilence but bears fruit in the form of momentary glimpses of genius. "Civilization?" is clearly the most well rounded example of Voidcall's elements. Ivan, on string tools and vocals is impressive here, backed by Guillaume on percussion; it is clearly not a stylistic prototype, but a conscious creation. Ivan's vocals are often multitudes of rasps, growls, and screeches. The mixture of vocal effects helps Traumasphere's haphazard songwriting approach by matching the inconsistency in structure with an inconsistency in vocal texture. There are some odd creative and textural moments as well. "Orbital Grave" reminds me of the previously mentioned Pestilence but, in this case, specifically the interludes on Testimony of the Ancients. It shows Guillaume's synth ability and I wonder why there wasn't an effort to incorporate more of it into the songs. This is a worthwhile listen made available again through Visceral Circuitry Records.