Friday, February 21, 2014

Solothus - Ritual of the Horned Skull

It's rare to get a perfectly balanced combination of genres. The norm is to lean a bit off to one side as if in a drunken stupor. Solothus however are as two perfectly halved and ripe fruit, perfectly joined in the middle and then delivered on a plate made of dusty bones. Ritual of the Horned Skull is pretty much what Satan dreamed of before casting himself into paradise and tempting Eve to eat from the forbidden tree. It's a delicious snack that reminds of what some hard-nosed metal can offer. Half of the fruit is the somber bitterness of doom while the other half is moist and sweet death metal. When it comes to demo tapes, and a demo tape is what this is - though I got the promo as a demo cdr to be dubbed to tape by myself later since the awesome Nihilistic Holocaust sent me the J-card - four tracks as strong and as diverse as these offer more than many full lengths. As much as I hate to admit it, I find it way easier to offer a short burst of energetic listening to a twenty-minute tape than a marathon album.

Ritual of the Horned Skull opens with the weakest track though. "A Call to War" feels out of place just a bit thematically but closer examination reveals that it also is a newer song. The remaining three tracks are exhumed from the older 2011 demo with the same title as the release under the microscope here. Hints of the older tracks and their more drawn out doominess still pokes through on this track during the lead sections. "A Call to War" is a bit faster though, and even though I like it less, it's the most appropriate opener for this tape. "Throne of Bones" crawls itself into some top-notch Swedish death metal similar to Mandatory's Where They Bleed EP or doomier versions of Entombed's slow moments from Left Hand Path. Lacking is a production quite as murky but what isn't ruined is the feel of age here. There is nothing obviously modern and there is an unabashed rawness. Deathevokation's debut demotape is another point of reference for overall approach to both "Throne of Bones" as well as the entire album - even if Solothus lacks any depressing acoustic passages. Key though is the equal amounts of Death and Doom here.

A rummage through the occult vibes of "Embrace the Cold," a that climbs into the air like a wisp is still heavy as smog due to a monstrous clunky bass tone and ugly melodies played with some creepy effects. It points out how Solothus use repetition and subtle details to create enjoyably simple yet totally rewarding dirges. The mid-song weaving of notes and melodies here is an impressive example of frolicking guitars that make you want to skip to your own demise... happily. It's not hard to imagine differing visions and places which these songs might appear. Maybe you're the torturer, and this is your theme song as you enter the chamber with your famous tools of pain. It's the cue for enjoying a miserable harrowing experience. "Darkness Gathers Here at Night" retains this vibe as well and the pairing of these two songs is key to the continuity of the tracks. After removing the tongue and eyeballs of the victim, gentle pokes with hot prongs while the bridge plays in the background is enough to make one go insane. Left to wander the world blind and unable to speak, the victims of Solothus stagger around the world humming the happy-go-lucky death hymns of their masochistic wardens.

Tyrant's Blood Interview with Marco Banco

Tyrants Blood is an exciting death/black metal band hailing from Vancouver Canada whose members also happen to possess a fine metal pedigree. Here we get a chance to hear from Marco Banco, the band's guitar player on his thoughts about the band's music, particularly their 2013 "Into the Kingdom of Graves" full length, his own musical history, and of course what is in store for the future. Stay awhile and listen.

Apteronotus: Hello Marco! How are you doing today? For the sake of anyone unfamiliar with the projects you have worked on in the past, how would you describe your musical history?

Marco Banco: Hi, I'm good thanks. The projects I did in the past are;
Witches Hammer from 1984 to 1989, Blasphemy from 1989 to 1993, a bunch of local bands between 93 to 98 that I filled in for on studio work, song writing and live shows. Now of course, Tyrants Blood, since August 2005 until now.

Apteronotus: Along the same lines, what has the journey with Tyrants Blood been like so far for you?

Marco Banco: Well we started hammering out songs, and trying to get our original drummer, and founder, Kevin Volatile, up to speed on how to perform extremely aggressive and brutal music, as he had not played in this fashion before.

By 2006 we had our solid lineup, and put together the songs that are on the first release. After that recording we began writing an E.P , but unfortunately Kevin was not able to keep up with the way the riffs were moving, so we lost him and hired on Matt Blood from Abuse.

Since then we have recorded our 2007 e.p., and 2 more full lengths with pretty much the same lineup, except that our original vocalist, Andrew Russell, moved into the north and was replaced by Infernal majesty vocalist Brian Messiah back in 2008.

Apteronotus: How do you feel about the amount of attention that has been given to your work in Blasphemy?

Marco Banco: It's good, the internet, especially back in the myspace days, really made them popular back around 2003. Since then, they have really had a resurgence that has worked well for them.
Personally, I'm proud to have been a part of that time, but also satisfied that its in the past also.

Apteronotus: What is the story behind the very first time you started playing the guitar? What, if anything, made you pick the guitar of all instruments?

Marco Banco: I was going to play guitar no matter what. From the first time I listened to my dads Chuck Berry and Stones albums, I knew what I wanted to do there. From my earliest memories of sneaking into my cousins basement, and staring at those Kizz, Sabbath, Nugent posters and albums, I was fascinated and instantaneously chained to its allure.

I would say it all became an addiction really. No matter how much my parents wanted me to learn Piano and Brass, I always grabbed the bass at school band, until I finally got a guitar and never put the damned thing down since.

Apteronotus: Tyrants Blood has several years of history as a group now, and y’all are experienced musicians at this point. How does that influence your musical process?

Marco Banco: I say it makes thing quite smooth as far as writing goes. At this point, we are able to find what we need fairly easily, and use many different styles and techniques in putting together a song when we want to.

Not to mention, it also makes live performances move along properly, because we know what we need to do without becoming lost on stage or the road.

Apteronotus: How does the songwriting arrangement usually work in Tyrants Blood?

Marco Banco: Usually someone will bring in a song idea, sometimes the song will be written in its entirety, but it rarely stays intact. What will happen then is whomever has some ideas will add their time changes, riff ideas etc. and we decide whether it works or not until we feel the tune is completed.
At that point, I'll usually get an idea lyrically, or have them written already. Or what happens a lot of times, is Vinnie will have a story line he'll want myself or Brian to read and conceptualize lyrics for the tune that way.

Apteronotus: A lot of the time on “Into the Kingdom of Graves” the band gives each member a chance to be heard more as an individual: the vocal intro to the album, the bass intro to “Disowned and Defiled,” the instrumental and drumless “Within Outer Scars,” guitar solos, and massive drums fills throughout. How did these kinds of musical interchanges come about on the album?

Marco Banco: Naturally, they fall into place simply because they work for us. A lot of that stuff just goes by because of feel as we're jamming out the song to see how it plays out. Those parts will fall into place like that almost subconsciously many times. We'll often record the song and then shape it from there, so that it fits together properly.

Apteronotus: What kind of gear do you think is best for what you have been playing, is there any other kind of gear/equipment out there you wish you had access to?

Marco Banco: I think there are a lot of types of gear now that work well for this style. You really have to look at it all to decide for yourself, because the market for guitars, amps, effects, rack systems is vast.

I used Peavey for years and moved to Mesa Boogie now. But there is still tried and true Marshall, Laney, Roland, Crate, Line 6, Orange, Black Star, Jackson, Gibson, ESP, Ampeg, Carvin, Washburn, Ibanez, Dean, Ludwig, Pearl, and on and on and on and on. I have access to everything, so I am satisfied with my choice for now.

Apteronotus: What is up next for Tyrants Blood? What made the band decide to do the “Coven” compilation?

Marco Banco: Lets see, we have some shows to do here from March until May, and then we have an E.P. that we just wrote that needs to be recorded, a Live album from our European tour last year that needs a bit of mixing and also a Scandinavian, European tour that we are putting the plans together for also. Lots of stuff going on.

Tridroid records approached us to to a digital album of our past material from our first 3 releases, we decided to let them run with it. Never had a digital only release before, so that will be interesting to watch and see where that goes. Its compiled as a sort of "best of" album,with about 3 or 4 tracks off each one.

Apteronotus: What are your own personal musical plans for the future, short-term and long-term? Can you ever imagine getting sick of writing, playing, and performing metal?

Marco Banco: Write now, I have some short term goals with the band I'd like to accomplish that were answered in the last question, then from there long term I'd say that another full length for sure, and then getting us off into Asia would be great as far as touring goes.

Apteronotus: What would your ideal tour situation be like in terms of location, travel arrangements, brand of beer in the keg, other bands playing, etc.?

Marco Banco: I suppose going wherever , whenever, on our own terms.I don't really have a specific brand of alcohol or other bands I am dying to perform with.There are all kinds of those out there , and we're good to go all the time, so whenever with whomever really. We've met and performed with a ton of great acts, so anybody will do from that roster. But just to have the freedom to go at our own leisure would be where its at.

Apteronotus: What specifically do you and the rest of the band do to try to make Tyrants Blood stand out from the countless other bands out there?

Marco Banco: hmm, well when we started this band, the city we are from was terrible as far as metal acts are concerned, a real d rated talent roster. So we knew right from the gate that we were going to be bringing a pretty deadly game to a dead city. Since that time though, the talent has picked up considerably, and so what we do is basically be ourselves.
We are not trying to be, or wanting to be, or impressed by or influenced or looking up to anybody. We are what we are, heavy, fast and uncompromising as far as bending to any fashion or outside influence. We leave that weak shit for the rest to eat, and we dont give a rats ass what anybody else is ''trying'' to become.

Apteronotus: Are there any particular movies, books, or non-musical types of artwork that have inspired you musically?

Marco Banco: For sure; As a kid , movies like Dawn of the Dead, Evil Dead,The Exorcist, Nosferatu, Fire and Ice, Heavy metal, etc. these movies had an big impression on me. Books like Dragons tears, The Shining, Suffer the Children, Hellfire, and series by Dean Koonts and Clive Barker, Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, all were HUGELY influential on me.

Apteronotus: Just for fun, below is an ink-blot similar to those used in Rorschach tests. What do you see in this image?

Marco Banco: I see two strange birds facing each other.

Apteronotus: What are the downsides of playing in a metal band in your experience as a musician?

Marco Banco: A bunch of artists all trying to paint a similar picture on one canvas, good luck if your an A moral personality suffering from any form of anxiety, depression, ADD, panic attacks or high blood pressure. luckily for me, I do not have these issues. I find this stuff challenging and a good time. I know that many musicians find this impossible to cope with and drop out.
In fact you have to find what some find hard as a good time, and what others see as hard as easy to make this type of foray work for you I think. Of course Im speculating a bit on this, because its not an issue for me, but only from a perspective of what I have seen over the years.

Apteronotus: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview! Any final comments or anything you would like to add?

Marco Banco: Yeah sure, thanks for taking an interest and your support. For what you do in the music scene, it is a lot of work. All power to the underground and to all the Hell bangers, firebreathers, witches, black metal skinheads and destroyers out there.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Colosus - Blestem

Colosus is a one man black metal band with music that comes nowhere close to the enormity such band name would suggest. While taking cues from the more somber and wistful moods of black metal’s often maligned DSBM sub-genre, Colosus’s barren “Blestem” is firmly in the atmospheric school of black metal, which can also be maligned a bit in this case. Imagining a castrated and stripped down Walknut provides for a good starting point in understanding Colosus’s sound. “Blestem” also invites comparisons to Coldworld due to the cover track “Red Snow” and from the dry electric fuzzy approach. “Blestem” is certainly more organic and warmer than anything from Coldworld, (not that that says much) but in deviating from that extreme production approach Colosus also becomes much more indiscernible. A stale atmospheric band with less atmosphere than Mars.

A colossal problem on “Blestem” is the inclination towards ambient filler, and when all is accounted for time-wise the album is about 30% filler. Accounting is a revealing word here because the ambient sections make the listener ask questions like “how much is left?” “how long has this gone on for?” and “is this a prudent investment of time?” The answers to these questions do not bode well for Colosus. Ambient sections here are filler because they are overwhelmingly unnecessary and flat. An example of the unnecessary aspect is how the very first song is a four minute ambient track, presumably acting as an overly long introduction for the album. The very next song however has about a minute and a half intro of its own. Flatness on the other hand is most obvious on the excruciating title track “Blestem,” which is essentially one note extended over four and a half minutes with interjections of bass rumbles and random screaming. Even the act of describing this song leaves me in disbelief, I had tried listening to it many times before realizing it was essentially one long shimmering note. While enormously terrible, this is slightly less worse than one would expect a single note song would be. This is because the song comas away consciousness or induces what psychologists refer to as song skipping behavior, a coping mechanism also known as avoidance. Speaking of psychology, it’s possible that these ambient parts might be an influence from dsbm - weaving the inclinations towards self harm into the fabric of the music itself by using these parts to commit musical suicide.

Filler aside, the rest of the music isn’t terrible. Light and slow synths progressions have guitars draped over, often with tremolo picking to create that familiar black metal wall. This is enough to give off the impression of grandeur but Colosus doesn’t execute it effectively as the riffs lack much depth. Each of the palatable notes seem to switch off without much foundation of mood or more than a vague relationship to one another. Part of this is caused by the abundance of whole-note transitions, giving the progressions an especially predictable and slow character. Small melodic figures are often stretched out over a long period of time. Large parts of the album consist of shifting between two chords or the use of figures with just a handful of notes to build songs. This could be fine but there is little rhythmic variation and as noted above the note choices lack a sense of melodic curve. While the drums are varied enough to provide some sense of drive with their stalwart beats and able fills, the vocals contribute very little to the music. A more verbose vocal style would be a good vehicle to add depth through a overarching melody over these songs. Instead, the vocals act as a flourish of little consequence. These issues all paint a barren backdrop to all ready dry music, which makes the liberal use of flat ambient sections all the more tiresome. Imagine a tech-death band using guitar solos as a break from techy-stuff. This dances around the main issue a bit though, the variation problem is only an issue of inelegantly changing between two different musical problems.

With an album that is over an hour long, the amount of filler appears puzzling until one also considers the melodic stretching and repetition throughout the album: “Blestem” lacks enough ideas to support its own weight. As an aftermath of this the album turns from something that could have been fine, if run of the mill, and degrades into unpleasant territory. It should be apparent that a large portion of the review has been about ambient laziness that takes up less than a third of the album. Music’s quality however cannot be translated into pure mathematics, and on this album that truth demonstrates itself through the major and negative impact these parts have. Sometimes an awful third makes for a bad whole, especially when the remainder was nothing special to begin with. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Progtronic - Mortis Metallum

The extreme end of technical death metal is a masturbation contest, and this guy just won the masturbation contest. It's so technical, it's so hard, you deserve a fucking medal for being hard! Take every bit of commentary in the mid-00s wank-deaf scene and pile it on here, because this album is nothing but a war cry for prog-loser bukkake. It's got everything from completley over-the-top, inane shredding to drumming that sounds like a seizure. The unnaturally jerky, spastic wanking on all instruments is extremely tasteless and nonstop. The drum tones are the most obnoxiously clicky drum samples I've ever heard. The worst part are the nu-metal rhythm guitar tones, complete with some technical nu-metal bro-downs that should make fans of Periphery take note. It's completely tasteless, completely directionless, and conceptually meaningless. It's so bad that it makes me see redeeming value in Soulfly's "Jumpdafuckup."

This one man-band is a machine! All of those years at Berklee, those eight-hour days of practice, the long hours in a rehearsal room just to slide your hands up and down the neck of a guitar as quickly as possible. A decade behind a drum kit doing your best impression of Shiva on PCP and LSD. A pathetic and pitiful waste of talent that would be, to make complete garbage with that skill set. Fortunately, there's no talent being wasted here as it's all synthesized, the most glorified MIDI bullshit you've heard since Wintersun's last album. If a semen stain were a shotgun blast on sheet music, this is what it would look and sound like. In fact, that's probably how this was conceived. Should've been tossed in the trash can and disposed of with shame.

This album lowered the bar. Lower your bar, you fucking wanker, this is garbage.

Armus - Armus

A goat's skull surrounded by two concentric circles, in turn adorned four times by the a the Nintendo seal of quality with a triangle containing the Type O Negative logo. That sounds so much more interesting than a goat and some symbols and designs that have the aesthetic value of black metal clip art! It might even be a good logo for an Illuminati-themed steakhouse, but to speculate as to that is to conceptually escape the grip of an album that figuratively lacks salt and pepper shakers, though it might come with a bottle of ketchup. That's not to say that this band doesn't have some good ideas, they're just presented like a small fries in a paper sack with ketchup packets.

There are some good ideas here - at times the guitars and vocals remind me of a one-guitar version of Unanimated's "Ancient God of Evil". It's certainly blackened, but the melodic, slightly muted tremolo riffing feels more like melodic death metal, particularly like Unanimated, though without anywhere near the same intensity. The song structures are weaker though, they're simplistic but feel drawn out with repetition due to the lack of flair and nuance. The beginning of "Eyes of the Necromancer" is an example, a simple pattern that is a bit reminiscent of a certain Verge song, but lacks the supporting cast, so it's just an arpeggio that resounds but doesn't build to the abrupt speed of the onset of the song. The black metal side doesn't shine at all due to the complete lack of atmosphere - it's dull production that sounds like a very dulled death metal demo, which is a poor contrast for this style.

The positive aspect to this demo is that there are some fragments of ideas that could be good if they are worked out. The negative side is that these are unrealized ideas and there's hardly any listening value to it.

Eternal Storm - From the Ashes

Eternal Storm are a melodic death metal band, following the school of post-2000 Dark Tranquillity. That's it, review is over. That's all that needs to be said. OK, you get the point, I'll continue. They've got the style down, with a relatively modern sound with a few nods to the older Gothenburg style while sounding firmly like something from the last decade, though thankfully without keyboards. They perform well, they've got the aesthetics and the style down, and they play it fairly well. It's competent, but it's completely lackluster - sounds nice while listening, but it goes in one ear and out the other. Monkey see, monkey do.

The earlier songs lean towards melodeath/metalcore, while the latter ones could fit in with any of the generic Finnish DT wannabes. There's a complete lack of character in the vocal performance and the guitar work borrows the forms, but none of the purpose. They open and close with some acoustic pieces which are adequately performed, but feel more like a backing to something than a piece which the focus is on. Both the performance and the production lack the emotional charge and feeling of the old Gothenburg bands where pieces like that carried the feeling of the album rather than feeling like nothing more than bookends. That's how the whole album feels, like they're copying other melodeath bands with no real direction nor purpose to it. It's precise and unadorned to a fault. It's upbeat and pop-tinged melodeath without a purpose to the melodies or any residual feeling of the darkness of death metal to it.

Technically adequate but absolutely soulless music. It's surface-deep and these guys just don't get it.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Deafheaven - Sunbather

Aesthetics are often the most noted aspect of black metal, an image that reflects the imagery and atmosphere of the music. The grainy black-and-white silhouette of Transilvanian Hunger - itself an homage to Mayhem, or the selective obscurity of the LLN - imitated often, but to little effect. These images paired with the sound, Darkthrone's being a bare, stripped-down shadow, and the LLN having a very rough sound with a very strong ideology and foundation beneath it. Here we have a band from San Francisco with a Peptobismol-colored cover bearing only a title of a ritual of darkening that is nearly foreign to black metal, California's favorite way of getting skin cancer. "It's different!" it exclaims, espousing an alleged virtue that sets it apart from the other records in the store - or, let's be realistic, the other thumbnails on YouTube. 

Deafheaven collide headfirst with the predicament of imitation in black metal, and keep going. When black metal was first commercialized in the mid 90s, there was quickly a flood of second-rate bands who softened it up with a friendlier formula - a bit of blasting fury stretched out into long, wandering songs with acoustic interludes - back then it was sugared up with keyboards, now it's sweetened with major scales and the folky interludes are now post-rock. Despite the superficial updates to the aesthetic appeal, it still follows the same failures - overlong songs that go nowhere for no reason and only hope that the listener follows the trail of candy. Grim gothic/black metal may be a thing of the past, but the same follies are found here without facepaint. A new shade of gloss over the same poor construction, an hour with four songs and interludes. A bitter man once told me that this album was just a repackaging of Orchid's "Gatefold" - at two and a half times the length, this album takes that title at face value. That style of minute-long busts of fury becomes horribly deformed when stretched to 10-15 minutes, like trying to perfectly straighten a paper clip then reshape it to its original form. Dip it in sugar to make rock candy and someone will eat it up.

Same old shortcomings, new superficial gimmick. Yay, Peptobismol!

Shroud Eater - Dead Ends

Shroud Eater, for the first time in about two weeks here at Contaminated Tones, is a band that actually has a cool name to match their music. No offense to Hedlok or Dismemberment, but you can take a lesson here. Names matter. Shroud Eater from the quaint village of Miami, Florida sounds nothing like the tropical bustle or bikini clad sands of the famous seaside city. Instead, on Dead Ends, we get a slow smoky effort that mixes the best of sludge and doom into a cesspool of lights-out, night-worshipping soundtracks that create a perfect atmosphere for late night boozing, early morning toking or mid-day sleazing. Electric Wizard's early material is a good starting point but where Shroud Eater separate themselves is in the clarity of their murk and the precision of their fuzzed out spaces. For a three-person unit, Shroud Eater are thick and full and substantial. There is no thinness, no one-sidedness, no lack of anything required. The balance of guitars and bass on this album is textbook.

Displays of this doomy sludge are visible across the whole release, from opening tone-piece "Cannibals" to personal favorite "Lord of the Sword" straight through pummeling closer "The Star and the Serpent." Each song is distinguishable and it's own dungeon. With a brick-and-mortar simplicity, each song, though varied is held together by the band's standout characteristic approach to memorable rhythms, intelligently placed breaks and the dual-vocal attack of guitarist Jeannie Saiz and bassist Janette Valentine.Their vocal approach is unique as it's almost a gang chant / yell but with a sense of pitch to it that, without knowing, wouldn't be distinguishable immediately as a female's. While most of the album is the slick riffed monster that we've come to love from power-trio bands that skirt through this ether of genre-blending, occasionally, as in "Lord of the Sword" the band finds themselves tackling more open spaces with slow dribbles of melancholy and doomish atmospheres tackled with ringing chords and flourishes that find themselves about as home on Dead Ends as mud at a construction site. "Sudden Plague" draws forth some punk influence but what stands out here is how much it reminds me of Hivelords' debut full length last year which I loved, even if this is a bucketful less black.

With Shroud Eater pulling elements into each song and setting them in place like expert brick-layers, it's hard to point out any individual negatives here. At times, it's possible that Shroud Eater sound a little too simplistic. At moments, there almost could be more added to the stripped down murk they've concocted, I suppose. Sometimes breaks between notes can sound empty and hollow. Those would really be the only things I could think of being negatives but in response to myself, I could say that the album should be as minimalist as it is and the quieter in-between moments offer nice juxtaposition to the faster heavier moments. Fans of Eyehategod would definitely like this as would Converge fans looking for something slower. Really anyone into Doom alternatives and the heavy stoned out outcroppings of their genres would find some solace here, particularly a track like "Tempest" which culminates with a rocking schuss of bluesy riffs.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Mortalicum Interview with Patrick Backlund

A clear favorite of mine for the past few months, Sweden's Mortalicum have been hammering out excellent Doom and Heavy Metal since 2006. With two albums out on Metal on Metal records, debut Progress of Doom and follow-up The Endtime Prophecy, Mortalicum's next release could push the band into the heaving seas of the doom world, which they will surely ride into a gloriously somber and symbolic sunset. Crisp and clean riffs, memorable lyrics, strong vcocals... Mortalicum have everything a fan of bands like Sabbath, Pentagram, Saint Vitus and Deep Purple love. Bassist Patrick Backlund offered some time between the recording, mixing and mastering of their new album, "Tears From the Grave," to answer some quick questions.

Orion: How did Mortalicum form? Where did you all meet each other?

Patrick Backlund: Well, it started back in 2006 when I had the first ideas of putting a band together again. During the first year it was almost only a studio project of mine, but after a while and after some line-up changes things started to happen and we (Henrik, Andreas and myself) have been working as a band since early 2009. Mikael was also in the band from 2007, but decided to quit in early 2013. From then we have been working as a power-trio and it actually was like a new start for us and it made us remaining three to work even more focused on our parts in the songs.

Orion: Was the decision to play Doom conscious or did it just naturally end up that way when you started jamming?

PB: At the beginning, when it was only me who tried out some songs, it was more than doom. But when Henrik started with the vocals it was already decided to focus on the heavier side of the music, so you can absolutely say it is something that has naturally evolved while jamming. Though, we play not pure doom. We have quite a lot of old school metal and classic hard rock in our music as well.

Orion: You guys are from Sundsvall, a Swedish town not known for any major metal bands. There doesn't seem to be a huge Doom scene from your city. Is it difficult to find gigs with similar bands? What is touring / gigging like in your part of Sweden?

PB: Yes, it’s not easy since we are the only band in our region playing doom (at least what I know). However, doom is quite common in Sweden and we currently have two shows booked together with our label-mates in the southern part of Sweden. We do not play much in our home-town, but plan to do a show in March.

Orion: You obviously have a huge Doom influence but you also show hints of classic rock and hard rock influences. What bands have been influential to the sound of Mortalicum and what bands, if any, do you look to for inspiration?

PB: Black Sabbath is the main influence, but also the many great bands and sounds of the 70’s and 80’s. All the classic and good stuff!

Orion: Tell me about your first album, Progress of Doom. In my opinion, it's a really strong debut for the style of Metal you play. There's a lot of strong moments on the album. How did the deal with Metal on Metal records come to happen and how have they been to work with? I assume you've been happy since you also released The Endtime Prophecy with them.

PB: Thanks! Many of the songs hails from the period before the band was actually started. We finished the recording of that album on only four days plus another couple of days for mixing. The basic tracks (drums, bass and guitars) were recorded “live” in a local studio during two days and Henrik used one day for all vocals and one day for all leads. Quite crazy when you think of it, but that’s also the reason there are a few unpolished parts in there. When all was finished we put the song Into the Night up on our MySpace-page which grabbed the attention of Metal on Metal Records. Yes, we are really happy with the label. They are the real deal when it comes to Metal! Our next album will also be released on that label.

Orion: There seems to be a real working-man's energy to the tracks, especially a song like "Power and Control", which happens to be one of my favorites from the album. This is also prevalent in "Revolution in Vain," and "Inner Peace." You're lyrics are all very down-to earth but the themes hint at some real emotional events / feelings. What are your thoughts on the album's lyrics and can you shed some light on the themes and concepts which you were inspired by for this album? It seems a little different lyrically than on The Endtime Prophecy.

PB: The songs on Progress of Doom are written as single songs while many of the songs on The Endtime Prophecy are connected with each other. I don’t see myself as a great lyricist, that maybe the reason they seem down to earth. It’s hard to tell what inspires you to write and I always think I will never be able to write another lyric, but then a phrase, title or riff hits you and the words start to come together. Many of the songs on Progress of Doom share the soul (in different aspects) as the common theme.

Orion: "The Voyager" has a different feel than a lot of the other tracks on the album. It also seems to be far more upbeat and positive than other tracks. Can you shine some light onto this track?

PB: Well, basically it was just a great riff and it also in a way pays tribute to the rock part of the hard rock from the 70’ that we enjoy.

Orion: You released The Endtime Prophecy last year. It's gotten a lot of good reviews. The album is done really well and, I would have included it in my best of lists if I had heard it last year. You seem to have spent a lot of time on it. The songs are a little different to my ears, more doomy, less hard rock. Was there a difference in the writing for this album or was the subtle changes just part of the growing process? What differences do you hear on The Endtime Prophecy compared to Progress of Doom?

PB: Your kind words are much appreciated! The biggest change was most definitely a part of the growing process. We worked more as a band for this one when it came to writing the music.

Orion: Lyrically, there seems to be a greater focus on the self, as opposed to outward at society and larger themes. Your thoughts on the lyrics on the album? What's your favorite song, lyrically, and why?

PB: Personally I like the red line between the songs "Endtime Prophecy", "Devil’s Hand", "Embracing our Doom" and "The End." It’s like a mini concept within the album. It’s basically about our sun being a star that eventually will die out.

Orion: "Ballad of a Sorrowful Man." Tell me about the inclusion of this track on the album and about this song?

PB: Well, for starters it’s the kind of music I really like, with much emotion in melodies and solos. My opinion is also that it was needed to create a good mix of songs on the album.

Orion: Being a Doom band, from Sweden, do you feel a heavier expectation about what you guys should sound like compared to say, what you would imagine a Doom band from Russia would feel? Sweden is one of those countries which is known for their Doom.

PB: Not really, but you will of course always be compared to other bands from your country.

Orion: You've played some large shows and smaller shows I'm sure. What have been some of your most memorable - both good and bad - events playing live and why?

PB: We’ve actually only played smaller shows and festivals, and most have been great experiences. The festival in Wakefield and the classy Malta Doom Metal Festival stands out as the most memorable ones, in a good way of course! The opportunity to play to fans of the genre is so rewarding and during these festivals you meet so many old and new friends and fans, plus you get to see other great bands perform!

Orion: If I were to go to your house right now, what five albums would I be most likely to hear from your stereo system?

PB: You might get to hear Black Sabbath Mob Rules, Deep Purple Burn, Thin Lizzy Fighting, Blackfoot Strikes and maybe something of the older stuff from Saxon, AC/DC, Whitesnake or Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Orion: You're working on a new album as well? What are you current plans for that? What can we expect as far as songs, and style with this new release? Will there be any super long epic doom tracks or will you keep the tracks at a more reasonable length like on the first two albums?

PB: We have actually just finished the long writing, rehearsing, recording, mixing and mastering –process! We were delayed three months last year due to Andreas breaking his ankle. That is not a good thing for a drummer to do… Anyways, there will be nine songs included on the album. In general the songs are longer and many are doomier than before. The longest ones are 9:30 and 11:15 and the others are from 8min down to the more reasonable 4min. So, it will be a longer album than the previous two, but still with a good mix of songs. I can also promise a couple of really great and long guitar solos. I love those, so I always try to find ways to get them in there!

Orion: When can we expect a release of the new album? What will you guys be doing between then and now to help promote the release?

PB: The release is planned for end of April and like I mentioned earlier, we are scheduled to play a couple of shows in March, at the first edition of a doom festival in south of Sweden called Doom Over Scania. We really look forward to that!

Orion: Thanks for your time and killer tunes! Any last words before we digitally depart!?

PB: Thank you for this interview. Highly appreciated! Support the underground!!!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Dismemberment - Embrace The Dark


I'm not surprised at the sound of Dismemberment's so-called highly anticipated 2014 offering, Embrace The Dark. I guess the first thought that crosses my mind when I see an album noted as highly anticipated or some mixture of words that mean the same thing is does any album from an unknown band really constitute something that would be "highly anticipated?" Highly anticipated, often times rings in my head as "too much money was spent on post production," and that is on display here. To be frank, Dismemberment are nobodies. Unfortunately, even though there is a lot of skill on display with Embrace The Dark, I fail to see this whale pick up any krill. Amongst anyone other than aficionados of Joel Grind mixed albums, the extreme metal blend here will probably fail to grip, twist and interest. To say that Dismemberment's album is as anticipated as say, Carcass' Surgical Steel or Morbid Angel's flub Illud Divinum Insanus is playing with one's own illusions. Dismemberment's lineup contains little clout or name recognition, effectively negating that side of the marketing angle as well. Playing a live role for a band that has made a career of dragging people on tour for a year or two then giving them a firm boot to the ass is not going to sell albums. I also don't see the subtextual black thrash attack here moving much either. Also, Dismemberment sounds like a brutal death metal band name, that might also throw people off. Maybe I'm completely wrong, though and there are enough people out there that want to listen to the same boring mediocrity over and over again without actually looking for new and worthwhile stuff. This is days-old sushi. It's not appetizing, no matter how much sauce you put on it.

Dismemberment's main problem falls with the sterile production of the album and the superlative riffing in spots that drag on and offer little to the listener other than temporary oohs and ahhs if they happened to be monkish enough to be able to stay focused on the music. Songs like "Labyrinth" and second track "Eye of the Keeper" are a mix of too-melodic transition riffs, perhaps drawing comparisons to the aforementioned Carcass but lacking the memorability or finesse and over-thought syncopations. Coupled with a sound better suited to a band like Necrophagist it's constant problems and blunders which offer little to those that would normally latch onto a band like Dismemberment. Opening track "Confess Your Flesh" blasts around some well manicured melodic death metal, but sections of riffs sound incomplete without vocals and the whole tired style of amoebic extreme metal with no real identifying characteristics or originality seems to drag on and on. Even on short tracks like this one and "Eye of the Keeper," I'm left feeling beat and finding it hard to focus. When the first memorable moment of the album, a breakdown riff halfway through "Archaic Wisdom," appears I have no idea what song I'm in or if I cared it happened.

There are some good memories though. Best song for me is "Sacrifice Reality." It has some atonal stuff reminding me of bands like Aspid, Voivod or the more modern and less talented Vektor. It's a well written song that stands out because of the lack of extraneous riffs and parts. Transitions lead to places that I want to go and when Luke Shively's vocals gratingly smear the apocalypse-tinged riffs my attention is piqued. Melodies here are not dull and not used like a stadium toilet. The melancholy acoustic passage that fades out the end of "Sacrifice..." is a nice break from what, until then, was endless guitar phrases and drum blasts. It leads nicely into the slower "Aura of Obscurity," which also has merit for it's engaging and hazy intro. It's ruined by the following parts, which leave the delicious offerings the intro cooked up in the kitchen while they run away to play on empty stomachs. In many ways, it's this emptiness in the riffs which lends the album a weak sound. "Anathema" is another track which suffers a similar fate, though maybe to a lesser degree than "Aura." Dismemberment build a strong intro but leave it behind, drawing nothing from whatever possibilities it created.

Even though Dismemberment are obviously talented musicians, and they've packed a lot of showmanship and ability into the forty minute Embrace the Dark, their technical ability does not propel the songs. There are some great solos and some great parts of riffs but nothing feels as if it ever comes together. Other than "Sacrifice Reality" much of the album lacks individuality and causes problems with flow and maintaining listener attention. With the talented guitar playing of Luke and Jacob Shively, there is a lot of opportunity for Dismemberment to improve in the songwriting area without losing the slightly wild and out of control style they are going for. Drummer Taylor Emerine is great on the album, and lends a great percussion foundation but the too-modern drum tone loses me. Albums like this really need, in my opinion, a powerful, heavy low end from the drum kit to support the thinner guitars. If this album were mixed more like an early 90's New York area death metal album, the whole release would feel stronger. Vocally Luke sounds a lot like Jeff Walker. Not a bad thing, not a GREAT thing. Bassist J. D. Henderly also offers vocals to the album but his strongest additions are his bass playing. He knows when to throw some novelties and fills in, and when to fall back to supporting the rhythm section. The four-man unit has their work cut out for them, and while Embrace the Dark has some negative qualities, it also shows some strong intent.

The grade-school artwork doesn't help much either.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Grom - Reign of Plague (Царство Чумы)

Grom, from Estonia, make some primitive, mid-paced black metal that stylistically feels like it could be from the early 90s. The riffing sounds pretty strongly derived from early death metal - not quite into the ringing tremolo frenzy of second wave bands, rather some primitive techniques that make use of the distortion well like tremolo on one string, some ringing chords, and nice melodic fragments that are worked into riffs. The vocals are controlled rasps, and there are some mood-setting clean vocals too, a male voice that drones and has a similar vibe to what 80s films might use as a spooky Transylvanian tone. Grom set the mood well, like an old school metal band trying to sound dark and evil - strongest asset is their ability to create this sound, though their weakness is the inability to create a feel to match it.

A drum machine is used, and fortunately it's not ticking away on blast beats. There are some uncommon patterns as it isn't entirely programmed like a human drummer, and the mid-paced beats work well and contrast with some fast sections. The drum machine is part of the overall restrained feel of the band, which is the weakness here - the band doesn't have the sheer energy and force that made bands like Profanatica and Bestial Summoning so incredible. It completely lacks that uncontrolled, bestial element that made this sort of primitive black metal so vicious. The rhythmic center of the band literally feels like a metronome and it holds them back. In the end, Grom's approach feels too mechanical and that deficiency ends up matching the music.