Monday, October 29, 2012

Snakeskin Angels - Witchchapel

When the first seconds of Snakeskin Angels' debut Witchchapel kicked I immediately remembered the first time I heard Midnight Chaser's Rough and Tough EP. Pure oldschool proto-metal in the style of fellow Swedes In Solitude but with a slightly less obvious Mercyful Fate influence. Another reference point would be Witchcraft from the UK - both bands go for a stripped down, vintage guitar tone but Snakeskin Angels leans less towards the Sabbath worship and more towards early 70's Priest. The emphasis falls solely on the guitar playing of Grim Vindkall and Daniel Kvist and the riffs which they craft. Drums are somewhat subdued and mixed lightly, there is little emphasis there which separates Snakeskin Angels from what I would call a true oldschool throwback since there was such an influence on big bombastic drums during the late 70's and the period which they are drawing main influence from.

What we have at hand on Witchchapel, aside from a compound word which shouldn't be - it should be Witch Chapel... there's no reason to combine the two words - are five tracks of average length complete with a large amount of excellent leads and dramatic melodies. Threefaced Saviour is an example of well written melodies and themes with a memorable climax peaking as the song ends and a sweet intro complete with church organs and Deep Purple aesthetic but not a Deep Purple style. Though I'm not sure who contributed the keyboard parts, they aren't as intricate as something Jon Lord would compose, instead settling for simple chord-only background filler and this sets the band apart; they seem to create more of a focus on the overall imagery they music invokes than purely rocking out though they are perfectly capable of doing so at times.

The release comes with this pretty neat looking  patch.

So when third track, Threefaced Saviour beings with an awesome intro riff and carries on through with compelling melodies and leads I expect the whole of the album to be similar. The opening two tracks are decent and nothing worth criticizing really - they have good riffs, cool leads, and though - as mentioned earlier - the drumming doesn't do much, at least the songs are proud of themselves and where they go. Snakeskin Angels are good at composing songs and every song here is a capable contender on the album though Beneath Me felt stiff and repetitive at moment, for others I doubt my qualms would prick a nerve. They solve the repetitiveness near the end of the song with some leads piled above the overused rhythm but for me it doesn't hide the fact that the song rides a lonely horse. The band's strongest point is how they make use of atypical melodies for this throwback style. The title track does this well with Snakeskin Angels and they deepen the mix with some acoustic guitars to balance the strange melodies with something more familiar. They may come across as the band stumbling into an America rehearsal, though.

To round out the whole release, Thunderbolt on vocals really comes across as someone not particularly talented though dedicated. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. The best comparison for his vocals is the unreleased track Virus off Iron Maiden's Best of the Beast compilation. It's uncanny how similar they are in every way. Thunderbolt for this band doesn't need to be something he isn't though. When you look at the whole project, there is a certain garage-band recklessness and bare-knuckles approach. Ultimately, I can't condemn this or denigrate it. A little work and Snakeskin Angels may have something bordering on what Enforcer or a less "metal" Wolf. I like the groups coming out of Sweden doing these things and I hope they take the same turn that the 70's bands did and really muscle up. The band is worth a listen for fans of Heavy Metal oldschool style and hard rock but those looking for something more extreme won't find it here.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sektarism - Le Son Des Stigmates

The French are a weird lot and Sektarism isn't exempted from that observation. While it's becoming increasingly common to see two or three song releases with a run time damn near that of your average Slayer or Megadeth release, it still raises my eyebrow a few inches inquisitively, wondering how in the world a band goes about making two twenty minute songs engaging the whole way through. Sektarism are strange in the fact that they are able to make their songs interesting without actually doing anything. Most of the time I feel like the songs are what you hear before a band begins playing their set live; just each member playing their own little things in their own dreamy world. I find myself listening more to what each member is doing than what they are building as a band.

Le Son Des Stigmates starts with a five minute epoch of minimalist tribal drums and, presumably, vocalist Eklezjas'Tik Berzerk howling into the microphone like a hungry man chained in front of the worlds largest and moistest roast beef sandwich. But the release isn't all starving children in Africa clamoring for anything resembling half-eaten apples and spilled moldy rice. No, on second track "Hosanna Sathana," Eklezjas continues the weirdness with low grumbles and zombie mumbles over some slow drums, drawn out feedback and large chords and bass noodling. The whole thing sounds like everything I do drunk when I have a bass guitar in my hands - sucking in the vast stretches of noise and chord fluctuations while imagining some half-assed drums in the background for bare-bones structure.

The emphasis becomes a mixture of the monotonous drumming interspersed with almost random fills rudely played by Shaamanik B and quite audible bass fumbling emphatically made present by Crüxvheryn K. While the names of the members becomes almost a parody of itself, the band itself all seem totally on board with the messy and flamboyant circus they've decided to pursue on their first full length. I'm fond of funeral doom. I like the crushing weight a band can lay on top of my shoulders with a massive hammer of bass and guitars. The confidence imposed upon the listener through strongly emphasized notes and melodies yet calculated subtlety of at times hazy and misty productions lends the genre a cross appeal. At times totally doomy and other times totally experimental and harsh. The environs which bands like Evoken, Catacombs, Moss or Lordamor inspire are testaments to creative genre stretching and the cracking of mental stability.

While Sektarism do invoke momentary head nodding and brain bobbing, doomed melody and cemetery wistfulness, most of the time spent is a meandering four-dudes-in-a-rehearsal-room with-no-real-direction, all doing whatever they want, compositional ambivalence. So when guitarist Messiatanik Armrek near the sixteen minute mark of "Hosanna Sathana" breaks into a neat guitar riff and no one really gives a crap about putting something resembling effort behind it, I almost don't want to listen to the nineteen minute long "Le Testament." It turns out that "Le Testament" is a far more structured track. The band members actually sound like they are recording in the same room to the same song but I still don't feel like the song heads anywhere.

Sektarism, for me, are mostly interesting as an example of why funeral doom turns people off. Somewhere out there people's first experience of funeral doom is a band like this. Who would want to listen to a band that doesn't sound like they care about their own music? More interesting for me is that bassist Crüxvheryn K played in one of my favorite French black metal bands, Fornication, under the name Kobal. Going full circle, this is a weird project and maybe people out there would be into what appears to me as indifference but I don't see a reason to spend time on it.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dødsengel - Visionary

This is a nasty album in so many ways. Nasty in a totally prime sense. The shear amount of material here to digest as a reviewer - especially myself since I have a short attention span for a lot of stuff - is difficult to swallow. With a running time of an hour and twelve tracks, including an intro, interlude and closing piece, it's a large angry beast to ride. And here I am trying my best to size it up. Ultimately, this Norwegian band has done well here. Visionary is an album that anyone into black metal will enjoy. The flow is right there emphasizing lot of really enjoyable moments spanning the entire length and the relentless approach here is admirable by even casual listeners to the genre. Elitists can enjoy rougher edges and an experimentation within a strict traditional framework which Dødsengel champion across a couple of the tracks. I'm unfamiliar with the material which follows this album but I can assume that they've taken some of the curiosity expressed here and translated it into some a bit more outright original.

The band is two members: Kark, who handles all the vocals - and there are a handful - the guitars and bass. The drums are performed by Malach Adonai. It goes without saying that there is a strong focus on expertly performed black metal but what I like is that at moments such the solo at the end of opening track Word of Uncreation, the band seems to just allow natural noises and feedback to happen. It makes the album sound much more personal and truly black metal. The  multiple releases of the album - originally in 2009, on wax in 2010 and again in 2011 - are warranted and deserved since this is something that can sit in a CD player for a while without losing effect. It is surely one of the better black metal albums I've heard that could be at both considered modern and mainstream and yet still appeal to underground circles.

So after a tone-setting minimalist piano intro, the immediacy of opening track "Word of Uncreation" is a hint that Dødsengel is not going to allow the listener time to breath. It's fast, like a lot of the rest of the songs, memorable, also like a lot of the other songs, and like other tracks rummages through riffs and rhythms like a starving homeless man in a five star restaurant's dumpster. But with a track like "Void" These Norwegians prove they are capable of doing more than taking a proven modern black metal style and recycling it. What Dødsengel does is what a band like Watain hasn't - they've exercised their ability to experiment. Void sounds like one of those cardboard guitars you made as a kid with rubber bands and a tissue box... but distorted. Vocally, Kark engages in just about every style of vocals you can imagine in black metal - he screams, screeches, whispers, grunts, belts, moans and decrees. His performance is a lesson that on a long album, a variety of vocal styles goes a long way to prevent boredom and monotony from setting in.

"Djevelens Lys" and "Warfare By Witchcraft" pull stylistically from Immortal for most of the durations in the rhythmic department but are laced with a slightly anthemic sound, like the melodies on Beyond The Wandering Moon - anthemic and proud - but not as formal nor as glorious as Aeternus were able to explore on tracks like Sworn Revenge or Vind. Dødsengel also doesn't have the thickness of either band's guitar tone - there the band sounds more like Primordial's earlier efforts though with a heavily enunciated twang. 1349's Hellfire is a good reference point overall for Visionary but I wouldn't settle for such a simple and surface association. While the similarities could lead one to write Dødsengel off as a clone of any number of more generic bands, the fact is that they really aren't that simple to pigeonhole - they have enough of a personality to surpass that.

The second half of the album, after the Interlude, itself not really an interlude but more an intense ambient piece with ghostly vocals, piano and some other sounds, picks up right where the first half left off. "Raziel" habitually switches back and forth between riffs, almost sounding like the song is arguing with itself. "En Hyllest" is what most people would consider a filler track - it doesn't have it's own personality really - and aside from some high pitched screams and vocal moments is a forgettable five minutes. "Frelserens Ord" is the shortest of the tracks on the album at just over three and a half minutes. It also has one of the strangest endings of a black metal song ever - a chromatic riff that descends over and over with screams of different kinds over it. It's fascinating to say the least.

Glorious Salvation is a seven minute black metal exercise but doesn't do much for me. I get where Dødsengel wanted to go with the album - end with a monster track that paints a grandiose image by way of Enslaved style relentlessness. The main chord progression has a finality to it, and while the track builds from a slower starting point into a blasting and bombastic effort it also becomes flat somewhere in there. Just when you think the whole thing is going to end you can enjoy a four minute synth piece to end the album. Honestly the inclusion of the synth piece at the end sounds like an afterthought and I would have left it off. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Gates of Eternal Torment - Imprisoned Beneath The Ice Of This Cold Black Void (CTP-006-I)

For several years, this release has been a labor of love for the wandering man behind the project. Recorded in multiple places, pieced together like a puzzle while traveling by freight train across North America and tossed back and forth between being released and having promises broken, the honesty and emotion on this release is such that soulful is an understatement. Few releases have a story that spans as much time and space as this. A unique and pure exercise in raw and emotionally distilled black metal.

CTP - 006 - I (QTY = 88 Copies) $5.00

Copies Available
Promo's Available For Review

12/15/2012 - Destructive Music

It’s time for a cold dark slab of Depressive Black Metal from the ever blossoming or should that be deeply withering US Black Metal scene! GATES OF ETERNAL TORMENT are new on the scene and is the one man project and brainchild of Firthornn, and this debut demo release entitled Imprisoned Beneath The Ice Of This Cold Black Void’ has a really old school doom and gloom feel to it, in both it’s bleak artwork and the grim face of it’s lengthy title!
What you get with ‘Imprisoned Beneath The Ice Of This Cold Black Void’ is a classic piece of Black Metal savagery muffled by it’s shoddy production values, so the end result is a distorted cacophony of distressed desperate vocals, catchy blast beats and drumming sequences and a truly bleak perspective on just about everything. Within the four tracks on offer, and the soul crushing lyrical statement that comes with this release is a blistering cry of anguish, reaching outwards seeking solace from the gloom of this world, and on a more musical level exploring the self made cave of sound that is feels the Gates of Eternal Torment is playing from!
Those of you who like streamlined modern sounding Black Metal will hate this. This is a release for the more old school Black Metal fan, those who can dig through the dirt and grime, see past the poor production into the very blackened heart of the music. It’s underground potential is enormous, that’s for certain but generally this is an emotionally crippling bout of Black Metal brutality!

09/03/2013 - Goul's Crypt

Little is known about Gates of Eternal Torment. Firthornn, the sole member in the band, hails from New Jersey, USA, and his lyrics seemingly draws inspiration from terminal illness, desperation and suffering. Gates of Eternal Torment released their first demo "Imprisoned Beneath the Ice of This Cold Black Void" in 2012 through US label Contaminated Tones Productions, a label that has a history of releasing black metal demos and EPs of the depressive and atmospheric kind.

Given the label's history one is hardly taken by surprise when the bastard tunes of depressive black metal fade in with "Dungeon of Tortured Souls". It is immediately obvious where Firthornn is coming from musically. It's a musical universe where acts like Burzum and Xasthur are king, and though there are a lot of different influences in the music it is by far the influence of the top dogs of the genre that shine through on "Imprisoned..."
Gates of Eternal Torment makes use of a few layers of instrumentation, usually comprised only of vocals, guitars and drums. By no means unusual, but used effectively with ponderous drumming and fairly long guitar tremolo-laden riffs.

It seems to be a general theme with Gates of Eternal Torment that it really is nothing out of the ordinary. "Imprisoned..." doesn't feel unique enough in a genre where there are so many bands, and the fact that it doesn't sound nearly as bedroomy as many others isn't enough to carry the music on its own. It's a good example of textbook DSBM, but it really is too much like some of the bands that have already been established within the scene. Apart from a few strange samples here and there it might as well have been an early Xasthur demo. The band has a lot of potential, and it's not the songwriting in itself that's lacking, but moreso the lack of cultivation. The band and the demo would benefit a lot from working out all the minor kinks and finding that thing to make it special and stand out. 6/10 guitars.

Desolate One Interview

A while back, I conducted an interview with Montandon of Desolate One, a short lived project that released two demos, both ripe with the anger of solitary individuals so often ignored by the establishment. I did review their two awesome demos, the first demo, the self titled Desolate One, and the second bombardment, Desecrate The Night, both are most likely totally sold out now, with little chance of being found outside trade forums and little known tape distributors.

CT: How did Desolate One arise from the graves to spew forth such vile music?

M: I was a pissed off 14 year old that was listening to an unhealthy amount of early black and death metal demos. The first few songs were really undeveloped, but I think they had a good spirit. Nothing very original, but I enjoy the early demos.

CT: Tell us about your two demos?

M: Well the first one is self-titled, recorded early 2009, and released June 2009. It lacks bass guitar, and I didn't pay much attention to mixing it well. Also, I wasn't very good at drums at the time. The second demo, Desecrate the Night, is a much rawer experiment, borderlining on pure noise during some sections. It shows lots of untapped potential. My personal favorite track is the final "Serpent's Blood", which was supposed to have vocals, but I never could arrange a meeting with the session vocalist, Possessor. Again, I play all instruments, though the insert lists "Magus of Hades" on bass.

CT:  Both of the demos were released on Darkness Shade Records. How has DSR been to work with? Are you happy with the promotion that the label did for the Desolate One releases?

M: Well, I haven't contacted DSR since January. I'm thankful to the label for doing exactly what I had asked them, they simply printed some demos and sold them all. But, they couldn't go the next step and print 500 or so copies, they don't have the means of selling that many tapes, which would stay in stock for months. As far as I know, Desecrate the Night will be the last Desolate One release on the label, but maybe I will do more, who knows?

CT: What would you describe as the central component to Desolate One's odor that makes each song reek of the blasphemies of a by-gone era? What previous hordes have influences these characteristic scents?

M: Well the obvious band is Blasphemy, however, newer material is becoming more distanced from that classic Fallen Angel of Doom sound. It's definitely not "war metal" anymore. The vital recordings that influence my sound are the classic Wrath of the Tyrant demo, the perverted Beherit demos, Infester's record, Morbid Visions, Haunting the Chapel, early Graveland, shit like that. Anything that sounds warlike.

CT: What is your opinion of the tape format? Both demos were released on this format.

M: I personally don't give a fuck. Though, this is the preferred format for extreme metal demos right now. This is what distros want to stock, so tape is what I print. I like it for the longer running time, and more classy packaging.

CT: I see that you are looking for a live drummer. Has the search for a drummer been difficult? When you find a drummer, what kind of plans do you have to play live? Will you tour, do some select shows? Is there a chance that Desolate One will come to the east coast to play?

M: It's been extremely difficult. I'd like somebody from my hometown, so I don't have to travel for rehearsal. I love my small community, they are hardworking people, but definitely not the metal type. I'd like to gig as much as possible when the time comes, though. Travelling to the east coast is not in sight until we gather more attention. Nobody would give two shits if we went right now.

CT: What will be Desolate One's next ritual? Are you planning on releasing more demos or will there be a full length out soon?

M: The next release will probably be a demo of higher quality than the last two. A better label, better material, and probably better production.

CT: What do you feel that Desolate One represents to fans of metal? Why do metalheads enjoy the crusty filth that is Desolate One and other bands of the same style?

Original Desecrate The Night Cover.
M: I'd like to think people appreciate us for what I try to convey. (Referring only to previous material not upcoming:) I wanted my songs to be grating hazes of death and war. But the majority of this crowd are just in it for the cool vinyl records with cereal box trinkets and photos of dudes in bullet belts.

CT: If you were to climb a pile of skulls and give a rousing speech before sacrificing a goat, what would you tell the onlookers?

M: Turn your lives over to Christ.

CT: Before you die, what would your last words be?

M: I don't fucking know.

CT: Thanks for momentarily taking a break from your torturous hobbies to answer my questions. You may end this interview any way you like.

M: I'd like to let everyone know that Desolate One will most likely be undergoing a name change soon. And I will also be getting rid of Possessor. Thanks to CONTAMINATED TONES for the interview.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hammer Fight - Hammer Fight

The Impression I get from this New Jersey based band is of a really good high school band. They've got some really excellent songwriting ability and are excellent musicians but have yet to mature into their style. Overall Hammerfight is a hard rocking band borrowing sounds from both the stoner scene and the traditional metal scene but rarely doing anything to highlight either. Evidence for this appears in the first two tracks, Down the Line and Disas-tour. The band is having a good time playing the part of being caught in the middle, moderates in the scheme of metal extremism, neither adopting a full fledged sound from any particular class. Hammer Fight are preoccupied with rocking as mightily as possible and songs such as "Stuck in the the Chamber" and the inimitable "Get Wrecked" embody this up beat flavor. Not all is so peachy and fun though. Stand out track Tears of Unfathomable Sadness really takes the cake in terms of being atypical. It sounds less influenced by Thin Lizzy and Les Zeppelin and more influenced by any number of local metal bands that I heard trying out for my high school open house. The title alone stands out as the outrageously melodramatic.

"Stuck in the Chamber" is one of the faster songs from this rather short release which clocks in just over eighteen minutes; just under the time it takes Lance Armstrong to both finish a four hundred mile cycling marathon and simultaneously lose all his cycling medals and awards. Steroids aside, while Hammer Fight enjoy heaving and ho-ing along with their brand of decisively New Jersey flavored riffs, some steroids may have done the band well going into studio. Where as a band like God Forbid or Killswitch Engage enjoyed success in terms of record sales, Hammer Fight won't enjoy that success unless they can imbue their similarly styled efforts with some gusto. Fourth track "Tears of Unfathomable Sadness" retains the most distinctive New Jersey Melodic Hardcore stylings of the seven tracks here but throughout the whatever-this-is (I can't decide if it's a demo, EP or what) moments arise which hint at influences across the board.

The one thing most noticeable about the one-hundred percent unimaginative self titled effort is that for all the totally sweet and groovy leads spread across the attempted rock-solid release there rarely are any really exceptional backing riffs behind them. With a smearing similar to an insufficient amount of butter on an untoasted bagel, this just is a bit hard to swallow, especially with the closing re-do of AC/DC's "If You Want Blood (You Got It)" which highlights the kinds of riffs that Hammer Fight need to stay on par with their peers and influences. Where AC/DC are able to recycle riffs throughout the entirety of a song and retain the ability to be awesome, Hammer Fight on their original tracks are unable. On most tracks they shuffle through simple chord progressions in a manner that sounds amateurish for a band playing the same circuit as bands such Sacrificial Blood and Anvil Bitch.

Performances on the release are strong though. I can't complain about the band being sloppy or poor musicianship wise. Thought there is little real mentionable subject matter here, and the guitars sound a bit slippery and... local... the weakest performance, for me at least, is that of Drew Murphy. Vocals, for me, have to more substantial than some belted out yelps and gargled syllables. While Drew handles the vocals and doesn't do much of note on bass either, Rob Guiidotti and Todd Stern handle some inoffensive leads and solos with ease (perhaps too much ease). Justin Spaeth is left to his own devices on drums and does a commendable job. I guess the greater criticism I have of Hammer Fight is that, well, it's just so rehearsed. It's good to be rehearsed and all but these guys sound like they've played these songs so many times they don't like them anymore. It's a strange predicament to be in for sure. I don't think I'll come back to this much in the future even if there are some cool riffs spread out amidst the blandness. I have many better options. This will end up being the highlight of family members' CD collections and girlfriends' iPod playlists.

Autumn Myst - Black Fucking Demo

(An older review originally titled "Boring Fucking Demo" on Metal Archives back in 2008)

Autumn Myst's "Black Fucking Demo," is the black metal equivalent of a fourteen year old fat Gothic teenager crying in the corner, feigning the desire to be alone, while simultaneously hoping that someone who cares might be watching her. Why was this even released? I won't deny that there were moments in the songs which I enjoyed however none of these moments haven't been done before with more proficiency and heart. Unless your primary and ultimate goal in life - a goal that should be accompanied with immediate suicide - is to own every unwanted Canadian black metal demo, I wouldn't go out of your way to acquire this release.

The drums are distant and vague in nature and act more as a metronome, in many instances, than an instrument. The first track is a prime example of what I would label as boring black metal demo drumming: little variety; few if any well composed fills; minimal use of the toms; overuse of the ride and high-hat. The melodies are like dirty, used and abused whores which Adrammalech, the sole member of the band, can't seem to escape from. These stagnant melodies are accompanied by stagnant tone. The release gets better near the end with "Summoning The Prince of Armegeddon" containing several moments to stop and enjoy and its last riff being the sole worthwhile reason for listening to the demo. It is too short though, only repeating once, never allowing for enough time for its hidden wraiths to escape.

If the nature of a demo is to demonstrate ability and render an image of future capability, I have not been swayed to seek out more material from this band. My needs haven't been satisfied and at the end of this release I am left feeling a need for something much more fulfilling.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sickness - Primordial Brutality Demo

An older review...

Primitive brutality would be a more apt name for this Greek band's first demo. Clearly worshiping the altar of the US death metal scene, particularly Obituary and early, pre-Human, Spiritual Healing even, Death, Sickness do not do enough to separate themselves from the packs of other death metal bands. Some slight tremolo riffing techniques jut from the landscape, leading me to feel comfortable citing Darkthrone and Mayhem as repeat offenders in guitarist / vocalist Christos Tsihlas' cassette and record collection. He seems to also have taken some of the signature wails observed on Soulside Journey and stuck them in a blender with John Tardy's tazmanian devil-like yelps.

Filling out the rhythm section are Yiannis on bass and Nickos Samakouris on drums. They competently keep time with ease and add some heaviness to the demo's primitive mix. Though this is a demo and was, most probably, recorded with whatever they have around at the time (8 track?), the production is something I hope they improved on their 1996 Enthroned Demo - their only other release. The guitars are a bit low in the mix and the rest sounds somewhat jumbled together. There is not enough frequency separation between the instruments.

My suggestion is to fast forward though side one, and flip the tape to side two. I found "Afterlife" and, to a lesser extent, "Deplorable Conviction," to be stronger songs than the two tracks on side one. Though each track has moments worth attention, "Afterlife" is the standout track. Primordial Brutality is worth a quick listen for this track but if you never hear this demo, you aren't missing much.

Bestia Arcana - To Anabainon Ek Tes Abyssu

All guns blazing is a metaphor used to describe the exciting death of tragic heroes in movies but I wouldn't consider Bestia Arcana's opening salvo to be the death throes of a band spending it's last sputtering breath devastating ears and minds with some vicious and furious black metal might. Instead, Bestia Arcana on To Anabainon ek tes Abyssu simply let loose with all the ammunition I expect young bands to have. I mean seriously, if you're not going enter the arena without a properly prepared attitude, just stay out of the way. You're not doing yourselves or anyone else a favor. While Bestia Arcana is a new project the members have some history together already, mainly with Nightbringer. I'm not too familiar with that entity but only Naas Alcameth currently resides there still with fellow Bestia Arcana troops Nox Corvus and the singularly name-shortened K. no longer being active with that band. History aside, this five song release is gnarly and Daemon Worship Productions is becoming a go-to place for some really strong black metal releases.

Opening the madness is the excellent "Cup of Babylon," a gritty, nasty beating mass of distorted fuzz and warlike thumping. It's thick and misty like a decaying body laying in a swamp amongst bullet riddled trees. Highlighting this track and the five minute "The Poison of Mannaseh" is keen use of shrill, tremolo guitar accents which arise out of nowhere and end before they settle nicely in the abdomen. It lends the demo an out of control and frightening sub-texture both auditorily and structurally. The layers of background depth - static, subtle melodies, bass thwomping, ambient surges and vocal experimentation - coat the inner mouth of listeners with the tastes and smells of a complex of endless torture chambers and masochistic residents. The release is all about this feel - hell manifested into a listening experience to revel in.

Other songs are more experimental at times. "The Pit of Sheh-ohl" starts with a long ambient mixture of pulsing drones that echo layered vocals living amidst a cake of reverberation. This last the entirety of it's eight minute length. Maybe a bit too long for some. I think the track drags maybe slightly but when "Feverwind," fades into the vista with a dramatic melody, murky drumming and pessimism reserved for elitist pundits, I am reminded of the earlier tracks and their best moments as well. It continues the slow, dragging tempo of the ambient track and hints at influence from funeral doom as much as the USBM influence on the rest of the album. The longest and final track on the release is "Shepherd of Perdition," a song which pulls together all the elements presented up to that point and jams them down your throat. Von (old) comes through in a repetitive theme overlapped throughout the song and Greek and Mediterranean bands are also in force in the guise of dense swampiness and increasingly noticeable synth backgrounds atonally layered across the decaying surface of the track. It just kind of gives out and gives up, releasing torrents of vitriol into your life.

If there is a complaint about this it would be that although all the strong points that I mention, for someone else the harsh production could be a turn off. It's not the most welcoming of productions even for black metal. Nowhere near as raw as some material out there of course but nowhere as acceptable as many of the albums which get favorably reviewed. For me, I adore the production. Additionally while this is a really sweet listen, one worth going back a few times over, Bestia Arcana aren't doing anything that isn't done by others out there. This new layered approach to black metal in an effort to create depth and atmospheres isn't new and isn't particularly innovative in anyway either. There is a genericism here which can't be argued away. It doesn't make me think less of this album though. The songs are awesome, enjoyable and exciting. The variety of material squeezed into a five track release is commendable and the flow of the release is great for a late-night session with your favorite bottle or intoxicant.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Diseased Oblivion - Portals of Past and Present Review #5

Review #5 for Diseased Oblivion's Portals of Past and Present echo my sentiments exactly as to the essence of this nasty piece of machinery. Whereas the vast majority of bands just float around on the surface, Diseased Oblivion sinks way down into the murky depths of uneasiness.

Check it out at Destructive Music or on the release's page here on Contaminated Tones.

Okketaehm Review #4 - Destructive Music

Another review for Okketaehm's Stones proves that this release is a must have for fans of black metal.

Check out the review on Destructive Music's site or on the release page for Okketaehm's Stones with the other reviews.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Immolith - Storm Dragon


Immolith is a band I've become intimately familiar with since my earlier reviews of their Hymns To The Countess and Sojourn demos. This, Storm Dragon, is their full length album available digitally, in a small CD run and on tape. Me, well, I think you already know which direction I prefer. Let me say this, I originally heard the tracks when they were being mixed and enjoyed them but didn't feel any incredible elated feeling of hope for the black metal mediocrity we've been suffering lately in New Jersey. Listening back now, I'm impressed and acknowledge that though this album is not in any means innovative or more extreme than other stuff out there, there is good song writing here.

First though, production needs to be mentioned. Produced by Woe's Chris Grigg, the engineering is expectedly awesome. He's done a phenomenal job on this release. The instrumentation is clear but visceral. Guitars sound angry, bass sounds full and plump and the drums are expertly mixed and crystal clear. The kick cuts through the mix and is punchy, not clicky, something lost on a lot of releases in this modern black metal arena. Vocally, Isiamon is excellent on here and sounds regal and incensed. His vocals crisply tackle the common problem of dull and bored vocalists with ease though, I can see listeners finding his screech and clenched teeth approach monotone possibly. On a production note that has nothing to do with sound or engineering, I did detect a flaw that often arises with cassettes - there is a HUGE gap between side Black and side Metal. Now, I understand that this is sometimes the case but a 5 minute gap on the first side is tough to stomach through sometimes. It would have been a perfect place to squeeze a redone version of Slaughter the Legions (Isiamon will laugh at me for this because he knows that is my all time favorite Immolith track but it's just such a catchy romp!).

Riff wise, there are a lot of great moments here that draw forth all the influences I know have inspired the band. You obviously have older tracks, two in fact, that have been rerecorded from the original demos. Ghost Tower of Inverness and Hymns to the Countess round out the Venom and Emperor (minus the keyboards) inspiration respectively while other tracks, the more recent ones, are more inspired by the second wave bands like Mayhem, Immortal and at times, such as in Rites Of The Blood Moon, draw essence of grandeur from Bathory and Enslaved. Overall, the songs are all enjoyable. Previously mentioned Rites of the Blood Moon is one of my favorite new tracks on the release and while I enjoy the title track and Torch of Baphomet the real stand out track for me is definitely The Obsidian Throne of Azazel. More on that in a bit. Additionally, the updated Ghost Tower of Inverness and Hymns to the Countess fit nicely with the new tracks, they've been adjusted to sound less Venom-y and more Norwegian-y. They are both still catchy as hell.

So yeah, back to Obsidian Thrones... From the earlier demo's through to this album, there has been an emphasis on catchy riffs that are ballsy. This song has it. It really takes the styling of Ghost Tower of Inverness and creates a really strong, enjoyable black metal experience. It blasts across a minute of intro and expands into a confidently meandering series of Bathory inspired exploration before reinstating the intense attack for a couple minutes longer. There are underlying melodies which peek through the half time section of the track and the whole thing is relatively quick; at four minutes and forty seconds it's the shortest track on the album but done excellently and leaves me wanted to listen to it again - such a rarity in black metal for me: the need to listen to a song multiple times.

Overall, with the album ending strong with Hymns to the Countess and a final new fleshy beast titled A Pact Of Blood which is similar to Ghost Tower at times with hints of Watain too, there is little here to complain about. Aside from a slightly monotone, though mostly energetic, vocal delivery, Immolith's Storm Dragon will probably not offend anyone and more than likely be a pretty enjoyable listen for anyone into the second wave black metal bands that like some hints of older, first wave inspiration tucked neatly into the folds. I enjoyed this on tape though I imagine on CD it would come across as less than it is, as it loses the nostalgia factor that is inherent in the tape format. It's a good listen for sure.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sahg - Sahg II

Another old review...

Sahg's follow up release to Sahg I, which I found to be a phenomenally rendered debut, Sahg II, is very much the "Planet Caravan" of the two albums. This is not quite true in that Sahg II is more mellow or psychedelic in any sense - in fact I find the album heavier and more of a "punch in the face" than Sahg I - but the album flows liquidically, like two converging desert rivers - one lazily winding through the landscape and the other etching an scar unimpeded across the cacti covered hills.

"Desert!" you say? Don't worry. This isn't the follow up to Hex: Or Printing In The Infernal Method. There is not one moment that resembles anything that Dylan Carlson would compose. The desert feel comes from the smuggling of instruments not native to Sahg's doomy sound into their music repertoire. Rattles in the second half of "Star Crossed" alert to the angered rattle-snakes - possibly angered by the song's lyrical content. Tambourines spread across the songs allude to the journey of a lost outlaw. He travels across the album's entirety, his rusty spurs ringing in time with the larger symbolism of his existence; his echoes ringing forever.

I adore King's bass playing to a great extent on this album and while I enjoyed his playing on Sahg I, his playing is more distinguishable on Sahg II than before. I can attribute this to an increased level of memorability in his bass lines but also a slight tonal adjustment. King's tone is much richer and fuller on this album which is a critical detail in songs such as the aforementioned "Echoes Ring Forever" and "Wicked Empress." Olav (Iversen) and Thomas' (Tofthagen) guitar work is top-notch as well. There are some extremely fluid riffs and melodies present across the album's landscape. The leads in "Pyromancer" push the song into a new realm, preventing it from taking a back seat to other songs on the album. "Escape the Crimson Sun" is the "Planet Caravan" of the album. The lead in "Star Crossed" is, however, the strongest moment on the album.

Olav's vocals were one of the most enjoyable pieces of the Sahg puzzle, for me, on the debut album. However, I can't help but feel slightly let down this time around. Don't get me wrong, his vocals soar at times - I memorized the chorus to "Echoes Ring Forever" after only my second time through the song. Other times I found his vocals to fall short and not satisfy my expectations. I also felt that Olav resorted to similar vocal patterns and melodies that he used on the first album and while this, in and of itself, is fine, when coupled with some similar moments guitar-wise I am left with a sense of deja-vu. Deja vu and a slightly exploited fourteen dollars. The similarities were rare, but to my ears noticeable. It could be noted there wasn't a whole lot of progression between I and II.

Mmmm... Flames
I thought the choice of "Ascent to Decadence" as the album opener was the auditory equivalent of watching a tricycle race with one tricycle and no rider. The song is a bit too predictable and not compelling. Likewise I felt "By The Toll Of The Bell," squashed between the interesting yet unremarkable "Wicked Empress" and the longer more grabbing and captivating "Monomania," to be done a disservice. I would have liked to hear the intensity of B.T.T.O.T.B as the opening track.

I found myself enjoying the space between the second to fifth tracks the most and aside from By The Toll Of The Bell, drifting away from the music for what was left of the second half of the album. It's clear Sahg still have a lot of great ideas left and I think that their next album - fingers and toes [star]crossed - will be better than this follow up and might even give the debut a run for its own money. Until it's release, however, I will still enjoy the finer points of this - albeit slightly disappointing album.

As an aside: The artwork courtesy of Martin Knamme is stunning.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Murustrictus - Demo 2012 (Eternity)

Murustrictus' three song demo Eternity, though generic, offers some ingredients that fans of the black metal genre won't mind sinking their teeth into. The five man snooze crew from the United Kingdom emphasize what I don't need to hear at all any day. Though many times such as in opening track "Cycle of Eternity," the band resort to heard it before - don't need to hear it again black metal fast food, they also do offer some interesting melodic interplay. My gripe ends up being not with the genericness of the band but with the regurgitation of simple song structures and previously heard, but not altered melodies from earlier in the tracks. Often, the demo becomes predictable and bogged down in predetermination. Adding to the generic nature of the whole effort are black metal vocals that were hand picked off the shelf in a Wal-Mart aisle dedicated to crap nobody needs to hear again.

Production wise the demo is acceptable though at times flaws reveal themselves. Second track Purgatory is evidence of a poor mix which emphasizes a mediocre lead rather than the overall effect of the track. The resulting diminishment of dynamic between other instruments is hard to swallow, especially when said mediocre riff appears later in the song with an obvious trim adjustment towards the phrasing's big entry to create 'dynamic.' For some reason there is a gunshot or whip crack or butcher's knife on cutting board cue right before which appears twice in the track, once on the part's recurrence and another times when the whole segment is copied to another part later in the track. Though the percussion throughout the demo tends to be strong, last track "The Path Of Chaos," is evidence of either a lack of interest in the song, a lack of interest on the band to get a better performance or absolutely no time spent rehearsing. The kick is obviously not in time at moments and often lags behind, creating a pure essence of yeah, whatever guys.

Ultimately. I would pass this by. Even though I dig the artwork a lot - it really is a pretty excellent cover - it's not going to change the fact that Murustrictus' demo is oozing with some foul puss when it needs to be bleeding pure blood. It doesn't help that they let the puss dry and harden to the point where it needs to be removed by scraping it off the skin with a small razor. Every song is pockmarked with dried puss. Add to this disgusting metaphor of inconsistency-gone-awry the fact that the whole demo is so short it really doesn't warrant a purchase anyway. Eternity doesn't last long enough to really get a good feel for what the band is capable of and, unfortunately for Murustrictus, it becomes clear that this isn't going to be a demo that I will be sound-checking too often. There are some strong moments but who wants to watch a weightlifter who only works out one arm?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Mother Brain - Straight To Business

Mother Brain have a lot to offer everyone and this 7" is the prime example of it. It just sounds mean. On Straight To Business, the tone of the guitar is thick, crunchy and moist. The introduction track hints at a release that is going to take you for granted, it's going to meet you in a dark part of the park and you're not going to know it was there staring at you from behind those bushes. It's a fast, immediate punch to every part of the body at once. The amount of material here moves so fast and with such fluidity that you don't have a chance to consider what it is you're being subjected to. It's really a great representation of all that Grind has to offer - intensity, speed, immediacy and variety. It's not a noisy mess, not an endless incoherent jumble of riffs. The whole thing sounds like they plugged in and played and packed up and went home - something I witnessed firsthand live, and really enjoyed. These guys know they are good, know they deserve something more than fifteen people in a bar.

Joe Marchese's vocals are a little low in the mix here which is unfortunate because he's such a talented vocalist. He can do so much with his voice from high pitched squeals and ultra low grunts to everything in the middle. Dan Hernandez proves himself to be not only one of the most talented riffers in the grind world, but capable of playing pretty much anything you could imagine and Matt Cutty's drumming rounds out a stellar group of musicians solidly. The demo wanders between ultra-fast blitzkrieg attacks of sonic medicine and dosages of slimy oozing sludge-style groove which slide across the surface of this waxy monument like a bar of soap on a hot metal playground slide in the rain. Though short (the whole fray lasts a measly eleven minutes) the release is spot on for what the band is; anything longer and it's possible that it could overstay it's welcome and anything shorter would be a let down. I'm not going to name tracks in particular that rubbed me the right way but "Unamed," and "Scumbag" hit home hard with a furious reckless abandonment matching the smuggish disregard of a hardened mass murderer crushing baby birds and squirrels under a crusty and stench-emitting boot.

The artwork on this is awesome as well from Ken at Sarafin Concepts. If you've not experienced grind, get this... These guys, should things work out for them, could be touring alongside Napalm Death in a few years and I imagine Napalm Death would have a hard time following them up.

Countess - On Wings Of Defiance


How do you review an album which is so far removed from normalcy that it can not be compared to anything else in the metal canon? It's a problem I run into rarely since almost one hundred percent of all music is not created in a vacuum and since almost all music aspires, acknowledged or ignored, consciously or involuntarily, to be that which influenced it. Countess, however, is not a project that fits either of these groupings. Countess has never existed in a vacuum and, as such, has been influenced by and has influenced countless projects across its fifteen years or so of existence. At the same time though, it clearly doesn't aspire to be anything other than itself... because if it did, it sure as hell wouldn't sound like it does. I'm left trying to describe and analyze an album which can be reviewed from several different perspectives: for someone who is familiar with Countess and enjoyed what they heard, someone who has heard Countess and been able to withstand only several minutes (if that) of Orlok's creations, and someone who has never heard of Countess. There almost have to be three different reviews to explain this album. Luckily the first two groupings of fans are easy enough to review for:

Probably the "worst" of the Countess albums.
If you've heard Countess before and "got it" and thus enjoyed the previous albums, this will be enjoyable as well though I do think it might be slightly too long for it's own good.

If you've heard Countess before and cringed immediately for any reason, you will probably want to continue ignoring Countess. This album will not change your mind and would probably make you want to insert galvanized spikes, railroad ties and decking screws into your ear followed by a strong singular blow with a hammer to drive home the point that Countess should not exist in your world.

So this review is really for those that have never heard of Countess before and have no experience with the Orthodox Black Metal which Count Orlok has devised in some Dutch castle somewhere for nearly twenty years. Here's some background. On Wings of Defiance is the thirteenth (!) Countess album. They are all radically different in varying degrees of production standards though lately Orlok has been enamored with making his guitar sound like an amplified electric razor. The general style Countess has proceeded with since 1993 is difficult to describe. It's like a Manowar tribute album if the only songs chosen were from Louder Than Hell and all the bands that submitted tributes were Russian black metal bands from deep in Siberia. Additionally, Orlok has a knack for writing some of black metal's - actually any kind of metal's - most outrageously happy-go luckily, feel-good riffs. Did I mention the whole thing uses a drum machine? Thematically, this album revolves around invading Roman armies and burning down religious buildings and general black metal anti-religion angst. It's all well and good and some of the lyrics are really pretty good actually. One thing I've always admired with Countess is that it seems that for Orlok, his music is really nothing more than a way to say whatever the hell he wants and I have a feeling that he's actually probably super knowledgeable about history and theology.

I'm really fascinated with reviews I've read of Countess over the years which somehow are relatively positive. No other band that sounds like a twelve year old with a Korg who happens to be pretty exceptional at composition would ever receive such reviews. Somehow, across all this time, Orlok has earned so much respect that people just expect the musical equivalent of a Stretch Armstrong doll. No matter what Orlok does, Countess just can't break and people aren't even surprised when halfway through a song he belts out some throaty proclamation that sounds less like a Satanic warlord and more like a fifth grade English teacher pissed that every student in their class wrote book reports on internet facebook memes. It's an uncanny thing really. If Orlok released an album that was to Countess what St. Anger was to Metallica, it would most likely be hailed as a brilliant rethinking of the Countess doctrine. It's so strange to find not a single review which seems to objectively discuss the band. Even the reviews that DO blast Countess are usually short and poorly written. Probably because the reviewer just couldn't handle fifty-plus minutes of someone playing a guitar by rubbing a comb across the strings and listening to those ever-so-remarkably crisp and strained yelps.

Yes, Orlok has the single strangest vocal style I've ever heard. It's something I could never get used to and the first time I heard Ad Majorem Sathanae Gloriam, and consequently Blood On My Lips, I just had this revelation that somewhere out there was a grown man in his bedroom screaming into a microphone as if he was constantly being kicked in the nads while two rooms away his mom was cooking the best rookworst in the world and his dad was watching the world cycling finals on television. What's so great about On Wings of Defiance is that you get Orlok's barely tolerable yet considerably lovable and charming vocal approach for a full sixty-four minutes. Sixty four minutes of short, sharp bursts of snarling angst which is easy to mock and perfect to make anyone stuck in a car with you never ask for a ride again. In a genre which is supposed to be harsh and raw, there is nothing more perfectly ironic than Orlok's crystal clear delivery. It's Danny DeVito as the Penguin in Batman Returns singing over an emasculated Bathory with a Boss OD pedal. It's how Joe Biden pretends to imitate George Bush at family dinners for a laugh. Orlok's vocals are like being trapped in a 1930's horror movie full of actors that were never chosen to play the circus troupe in Freaks. It's listening to an album over ten times - as I have done - and still staring at your speakers not knowing if you should laugh, growl or just contemplate the fact that someone in the world thinks that vocals should sound like a human-cricket hybrid.

But as mentioned before, Countess has excellent songwriting and composition. The songs across On The Wings of Defiance are all excellent when you look deeper than outward appearances promote. Though slightly long, opening track "Where Eagles Die" displays a keen sense of dynamic writing with the inclusion of some keyboards at moments to elevate the song. Across the album there are moments in which Orlok creates a bombastic, regal vibe to accentuate the horny sounding lead guitar tone. Considering the themes across the album it works perfectly. See "Foggy Dew" for not only the best track on the album but a song which uses this feel to shine above the rest. The song is incredibly catchy and reminds me of bands like Forefather and songs like "Wudugast" or "These Lands." When Foggy Dew opens into the melody after the first verse you can't help but love what you're hearing just like when "Where Eagles Die" ascends into the first lead section or "At The Hot Gates I Stand," breaks the three-minute mark and reveals a brilliantly written instrumental section. "An Emperor's Stand" is another highlight for me. Much like other songs such as Sermon of the Devil Preacher (which shares an uncanny resemblance to Attacker's "Slayer's Blade") it opens with a grandiose and memorable intro.

Across the album are a few slower songs such as Invictus which sounds like that Graduation Song (Vitamin C happens to be from my town of Old Bridge... don't I just feel so proud!) that we all sat through during high school proms and graduations though with Orlok's crispy snarl tagged across his excellent piano and keyboard playing like some veteran graffiti artist marking up local highway underpasses with Satanic verse. The album's title track, "On Wings Of Defiance," also starts off with strong piano playing and, something I've not heard on other albums, an accompaniment of keyboards - a unique compositional treat. Across the whole album Orlok really keeps the album from devolving into boredom through expert use of comedic ingenuity and variety. He experiments with all kinds of instrument combinations, rhythms. tempos and collaborations in every song. It's one of the highlights not just of this album but all the Countess albums going back to Return of the Horned One which sets Orlok apart from other projects of this style - not that there are many out there. To believe that one guy out there somewhere is writing incredible music and getting overlooked due, most likely, to production standards which are incredibly high but so far removed from your everyday black metal bands both produced and unproduced is a crime of the metal underground's seeming penchant to write off bands that bear little resemblance to the genres they are supposed to represent. Also included on this are awesome covers of Demon's "Night of the Demon" and "In League With Satan," obviously a Venom cover. Both are incredible.

Ultimately, I would like to propose to Orlok, should he read this, that I offer to engineer the next Countess album should there be one. Countess are a band that deserves recognition for many reasons. Consistent, innovative, totally ambivalent towards what everyone wants black metal to sound like, musically proficient... the list can be long and arduous to finish. To allow production to prevent a band this excellent from prospering and gaining the admiration I believe, and so many others believe. look at the reviews on Metal Archives, they average a score of 75.7% and albums like Heilig Vuur, Spawn of Steel, The Shining Swords of Hate and The Revenge of the Horned One Part II plus several others all have multiple reviews adding up to a rating of over 90%. The most comment complaint is the tone of the albums and the production on them. Orlok has nothing left to prove with Countess and he should take the opportunity to create more masterpieces of the genre with nothing to hold him back such as drum machines - a major no no to many metal fans - and tonality.