Friday, June 26, 2020

Black Knife - Spell Caster

Black Knife's 2019 debut full length, Spell Caster, is exactly what I would have expected from the Kentucky based Blackened Punk band. The more I listen to Black Knife's discography, the more punk and black metal influence I hear and the less thrash influence. So for fans of blackened punk rock, Black Knife should be on the short-list. With Spell Caster, the band offers eleven tracks, four of which are re-recordings of tracks which have appeared on numerous splits earlier in their career. The album clips at thirty minutes long, a quick pace for the eleven tracks but not for Black Knife's often truncated simplistic riffs. A big part of the punk influence which is heard comes from the prevalence of Hellwulv's provided D-beat drumming rhythms and the super stripped down song structures.

Regarding the new tracks served, there are a couple standouts. "Graveyard Bitch" reminds me of Midnight - in fact a lot of the tracks remind me of Midnight. Black Knife drop any of the NWOBHM elements from their sound so nowhere to be found are the more metallic elements or guitar histrionics. "Ripper on the Loose" is unique in that Hellwulv's vocals remind me of Countess' Orlok - quick sharp barks of blackened rasps. Of the new tracks, It's my favorite. The opening sample and quick angry rummage through standard rock and roll structure, including a spiffy solo interlude, give just enough variation compared to some of the other tracks to be a definitive highlight.

The re-recorded tracks: "Devil's Rock N Roll", "Full Moon Suicide", and "Beyond The Mortuary", "Bury Your God", all worthy of a full length position, occupy their central positions on the album with aplomb. Fans of the band will appreciate these classics tucked in to keep the album's energy pushing forward; it's this neighborly love giving "Ripper on the Loose" it's tits, making it my favorite of the newer tracks. Tucked in between "The Devil's Rock N Roll's" anthemic Venomesque battle cry and "Full Moon Suicide's" blitz, it floats by association. Perhaps the same goes for "Graveyard Bitch" then as well, packed neatly into the space rounded out by "Beyond The Mortuary," a track that adorned with bells, whistles, and power windows would just almost pass for an early Witchery click track. It's this back and forth of new and old that drive the majority of the album for me, but with each song having some identifiable personality, my familiarity with the four returning cuts doesn't skew my perception.

Hellwulv / Bast
In truth, the album's two opening tracks do little for me. "Pentagram of Rats" is where the album grabs me, starts shaking me, and never lets go until the last moment. Spell Caster is a well done release, compiling the bands best songs with toppings, and is the most accessible of their music to date format wise, being in a standard album configuration. I have concerns at this point of where Black Knife can - or even should - go next. It's all fine and respectable to rinse and repeat with such simplistic music - hell it's worked for the mighty Abigail - but it's easy to stagnate as well. How can a band push boundaries and stay honest to their sound when a sound is largely defined by such simplicity and stripped down attitude? There's room to add in my opinion. Some attention to creative melodic usage and depth is one area for either Hellwulv on guitars to employ or bassist Bast to explore underneath, as currently her playing generally follows the guitar riffs admirably yet with little variation.

Ultimately, as is usually the case with well done Punk influenced metal albums, if anything is gained, it's the desire to hopefully catch Black Knife live some time. They are truly the type of band which deserves a packed dirt-floor basement romparoo, endless cheap thirty-packs of the local standard, well endowed scenery in leather and denim, and not a watch, clock, or time-piece on the premises. There's nothing like emerging from a mid-week basement show and realizing your late for work. As Dio famously sung, "It's the same old song, you've got to be somewhere at sometime, and they never let you fly... you've got desire, so let it out! you've got the fire! Stand up and Shout!"

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Xenoglyph - Mytharc

The email subject line read, "Greetings sentient organism," so clearly it was not another mass promotional email sent by a hired sales-drumming company; it's so easy to tell these days. In fact, I am simply no longer even looking at most of the requests that come across now unless they are direct from the artists... or in Xenoglyph's case, direct from a distant species' terrestrial messengers. I'm not sure what the two beings from GJ357D are trying to tell us about their world on Mytharc, but the decision to model the soundscapes with vacuumous and echo-laden atmospheric layers mixed with sharp snappy drums perfectly expresses what the icy gases of their Gliese-world must be like. Mytharc is less a narrative telling or cinematic score and more the sound-image of specific scenes flashing into the imagination. In this respect, the album takes a decisively different path than albums which I associate with cosmic elements such as Arcturus' Sham Mirrors. I can find some general similarities to Benighted in Sodom's Dismal Ethereality Stellar Celestial Void, but Xenoglyph are far removed from the Depressive Black Metal austerity. In truth, the atmosphere is void of emotion. It is only a gateway for us to perceive the objective architecture of other intergalactic creatures.

Mytharc is quite light and airy. It is heavy in refined melody and guitar activity. This combination of weightlessness, and continuous downplayed intricacy teems with vista-fabrication. The percussive elements throughout the album are used not to add intensity, brutality, or complexity but the exact opposite. Set back in the mix, the snare and resonant high hat work are complemented by the undulating rhythm guitars which only occasionally find themselves riffing, such as the memorable mid-paced breakdown riffs in "Repression Regime." The percussion and rhythm gently propels the listener like a tourist guide wooing the listener through one finely decorated room after another. One element which I felt took away from this effect were the heavily effected vocals. Each throaty rasp smeared with an almost endlessly drifting reverb. While the reverb theoretically fits, the usage here interrupts from the scenery and draws my attention away from where I want it to remain; gazing at distant alien oilfields, hovering angular military escarpments, and tubular transportation hubs. Restraining some component of the reverb here, to provide more clarity could benefit the overall atmosphere; a shorter length to the effect, a quicker decay, more attack up front; the impression that these words being provided to us are the best these beings can do to mimic our Earthly pronunciations.

Opening track, "A Flickering Eternity" introduces the overall style of Mytharc nicely. It is a full, complete track that begins the task of removing us from the world we are accustomed to and replacing it with incomprehensible tests of our understanding of physics; it's turning a corner on a street and peering into a chasm of disembodied intellects drawing soul-material into fetal forms; horizontal tetrahedral habitation structures slowly gliding by; communicative nebula clouds sharing creation plans. The album title track follows. It is the most traditionally riffy to my ears of the five tracks and the most intense rhythmically. It is triumphant in a way. Solemn. A repository of alien warrior bodies preserved for posterity and reverence. Injected cultural nano-memory alteration devices force-assimilating slaves into the Mytharc fold. Mytharc dips slightly with "Shades of Illusion." The track has it's moments, such as an early guitar lead which on first listen sounds out of key  - tertiary listening overrules this poor initial impression - but I feel "Shades..." doesn't have an equivalent atmosphere to the other four tracks. It shifts back into form midway through, but I am lost at the outset.

Mytharc's best moments reside in the final two glimpses into the Hydra-system civilization, "Wraith Chamber" and "Repression Regime," the former being the release's best song. "Wraith Chamber" is a monstrous theo-spiritual journey into the cored out hollows of the Xenoglyphian homeworld's long dim pith. Heavy tolling bells sound the procession of alien coroners and floating vessels. We watch the cosmic decomposition rituals unfold from our vantage by way of what could only be described as an unknown civilizations courtly hymns. Interweaving guitar harmonies ascend and descend as the song's layers unfurl. The sarcophagus lid detaches and lifts against gravitational laws; within, the expired soul resides. Exoplanetary-soulular microbes are applied with precision pneumatic needles and the casket is closed, rotated, and inserted into one of the infinite slots in the compressed gaseous walls. It will be several thousand years for the isolated soul to fully break down. "Repression Regime" is complex structurally. At ten minutes long, mixing chunky rhythmic sections, as previously discussed, amid the albums busy melodies and tremolo guitars, the song properly capitalizes on the stylistic elements previously experienced while maintaining fresh and vibrant new moods.

I am really impressed overall by what Mytharc has accomplished. When the songs debuted on a streaming site a few months back, I felt it was going to be an interesting release, but I never wrote down to follow up on it, so I am very thankful I received a copy. The material and sound sits in it's own throne in the black metal halls. The tape production is done well also. The album art stands out as some of the best of recent memory, the tape release from Glossolia is top notch, as expected, and leaves little to be desired. I think I would have enjoyed some form of lyrical content, but it's absence doesn't negatively impact anything because, for me, Mytharc is all about exploring my own imaginative constructions of alien worlds and unknown extraterrestrial civilizations. I am hopeful that Xenoglyph follow up Mytharc with an equally evocative and colorful sophomore release in the near future and I'm curious to see how the pair involved in it's creation build on this project. I can expect this to be one of my favorite releases of the year.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Whipstriker / Black Knife - Flying Death 7" Split

Whipstriker, the Brazilian speed metal assembly, and Black Knife, Kentucky Black Punk upstarts, link up for an accelerated blast of underground metal titled Flying Death sure to please the studded gauntlet mobs and dirty-denim kutte crowd. Being familiar with both bands - anyone remember that Hell's Bomber / Whipstriker tape that not enough people bought - my sentiments expressed regarding the competitive nature of the split format are less impactful here, assuaged by an ideal companionship and the nuanced differences between Whipstriker and Black Knife. So this quick one-two punch of underground rusty metal is ideal for a quick spin before starting the day and especially while brushing your teeth, as you can spit out those suds at the same time Vic from Whipstriker and Hellwulf from Black Knife spit out their guts. There's plenty of nastiness to enjoy in this small sampling of both bands.

Starting with Whipstriker's offering, "Flying Dead" leads off in all sorts of Venomy and Celtic Frostish glory. The track isn't overwhelmingly fast, however Whipstriker ingeniously arrange the structure to offer something sounding freshly harvested and crisp. The track opens with a half-speed chorus which is then chased by the verse and so on. Simply repeating the catchy chorus first makes the rest of the track sound faster than it is, and is just enough nuanced compositional modification for "Flying Dead" to be worth several listens. Add the memorable guitar harmony that crawls over the penultimate portion of the song and it's a clear target eradicating track worth the price of the 7" by itself. Following is a cover off Onslaught's cult classic Power from Hell, "Thermonuclear Devastation". Before Onslaught became too full of themselves, Power From Hell, and The Force were laid to wax for timeless enjoyment. Thermonuclear Devastation is an apt track for Whipstriker to do justice.

Black Knife's occupation of side B is more rock-and-roll than Whipstriker's metal assault. This is likely due to the clear punk influence which the band relies on. Also providing two tracks, "Chained to the Grave" and "Slow Death" Black Knife are different enough from Whipstriker to stand out stylistically, and present themselves as equals. Even if neither of these two tracks is as gripping as "Flying Dead," as a combination, perhaps Black Knife offers more for the listener who doesn't care much about an Onslaught cover track. Hellwulv's vocals are raw and presented with velocity. Midnight comes to mind immediately as well as Lustrum, who Black Knife have similarly shared wax with. "Slow Death" comes across as the punkier of the tracks, probably due to Hellwulv's simplistic drumming. The two tracks together are a solid pairing and will definitely fill the needs of metal-punks seeking their next band of consistency. Black Knife has been very consistent over the course of their output, and won't disappoint, as they haven't disappointed me. This 7" is available through Husk Records. The noteworthy noire artwork is by artist Yuri Costa.