Monday, November 21, 2016

Heavy Temple - Chassit

 Heavy Temple out of Philadelphia are back with a child named "Chassit," to be de-wombed late January. I've been given a look at the sonograms. With their previous offspring, a self titled EP, from a couple years ago being a unique blend of numerous genetics, namely Black Sabbath as evidenced by tracks like "Dirty Ghost," this new release is defined by more matured blood. This isn't to say that the 2014 EP isn't a bad-ass rocking gift - because it most certainly is - we just have a much more nuanced and refined essence in "Chassit." Let's say their parenting skills paid off after their firstborn and this new child isn't privy to the growing pains of new parents or caretakers. There's plenty of rocking and doom to be had here but also, a certain reflective quality missing on the debut.

High Priestess NightHawk is still at helm, belting out lovely cadences and supplying a majority of the rhythmic work on bass. There have been changes in the trio's lineup with Archbishop Barghest on guitar taking over for Rattlesnake and Siren Tempestas replacing Bearadactyl (sad to see him go as his was easily one of the best names I've heard in a while). From the immediate lashings of "Key And Bone" the decadent wall of sound on Chassit looms. Heavily over driven bass, with occasional effects - possibly a chorus and flange pedal mixture of sorts - is very upfront in the mix with guitars filling in a lot of the space behind and supplying hums, buzzes, ghost tones and other psychedelia. Notable is the distant snare giving a very "live" atmosphere to the heavy and hot mix. From the first musings of "Key and Bone," NightHawk's vocals stand out. There is an unrestrained intensity and allure to her commanding vocal style.

Initially NightHawk's vocals are tied to the chord progressions but come "Ursa Machina" and especially "in The Court Of The Bastard King" (yes - I looked for obvious King Crimson nods but found none) there is an overall looser and experimental flair. Heavy Temple offer an originality in the spacey vibe they softly convey through the guitar and bass effects and the steamy recording. It's true in terms of sheer riffing and structure of compositions Heavy Temply fall short on originality, jumping into new riffs through use of common transitional methods and essentially jamming about for prolonged periods of times across fairly standard motifs and keys but the riffs are cleanly written and smooth. The grit and caked on scuzz of excellent tone help the material rise above. Heavy Temple do their doom well. The single most unique section of the EP is the first minute or two of second track "Ursa Machina," with a big tense formation built on a simple four note bass pattern with a dramatic half-step drop. 

Heavy Temple conjure the images their moniker would want you to formulate: Smoke drenched biker bars along forgotten stretches of cracked highway; hazy hissing amplifier tubes droning behind the occasional crackle of unintended instrument noise; a sweaty greasy mechanic in a straw hat and oil-soaked overalls sips whisky along a splintered bar top; empty booths against a far wall trapping wisps of unknown ethers; the trio that rolled in on a cloud of van-dust filling the space between normally disparate images with that ephemeral glue that could only seep out of their hands; a small child in worn and patched jeans and a crisp white tank top playing in the corner while her mom works the bar, beading droplets of moisture on tanned skin glistening as another cold round gathers condensation.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Signist - Of Worlds, Endtimely Enshadowed

With a shift towards regression swelling in the ocean of releases and bands, Signist are swimming against the stream by re-releasing and remastering their 2006 demo. It's easy to support the claim that the tendency in metal is to not push beyond the defined genre-prison with so many bands aiming for traditional sounds. And yet the Russian duo and their 2006 demo, Of Worlds, Endtimely Enshadowed, while a release that contextually is easy to place at that original time-period, is not so easily dissected as being purely defined by the discernible melodic death metal influences on the release. It is to be viewed outside the currents trends and the decision to re-release is, if anything, counter intuitive to the current metal climate.

There is a very specific guitar tonality on this recording which identifies it as a Russian release; a certain hollowness amidst the otherwise generic timbre that I have heard before from a host of Russian artists both contemporary with the timing of this release (Hell's Thrash Horsemen) as well as quite earlier in time (Aspid) whom all share this uniquely Russian tone. It's also appeared elsewhere in the east such as on Aum's 2012 Of Pestilence. It's a different feel, revealing Signist as going against the tide at this point in time, perhaps slowly drifting in the same waters, but observing a more careful route than that carried by the debris. Guitarist Ixaxaar handles most of the instrumentation and is impressive across the release while partner Axalcathu on drums complements capably. Both handle vocals throughout and exit with strong credentials.

Guitar tones aside, the contributing factors to the material would be several notable Swedish bands. Opeth's progressiveness is apparent early on in opening track "Premonition of the Endless Night" as the song dissolves into an acoustic interlude for it's majority. I hear a mix of Amon Amarth and Dark Tranquility in "Stillborn Mind Reflection." What is not prevalent are American Melodic Death influences and metalcore influences which factored into the "great blandening" of those years. There are lots of flourishes of experimentalism and progressive ideas incorporated into the tracks. "XXI Century Presuicidal Reverie" is a strong showing of this experimental penchant and passes attention to progressive masters thirty five years prior in title.

Perhaps the best combination of the influences on the album manifests itself in album highlight "Bells of Oncoming Winter." A twisting and extended riff opens the track and grips the listener in the culmination of the phrasing before layering additional effected clean guitars as an accompaniment cuing the verse. Later in the song, after a syncopated section of lead guitar work, clean vocals cue in the harsh vocals in a similar manner. Simple and smooth transitions of melody hold the ideas together. This is also true in "Dark Coulors Breeder," a big track with a demure interlude splitting it's ends. A cover of Katatonia's "This Punishment" is the final strap on the jacket for Signist's album.

Of Worlds, Endtimely Enshadowed, was artfully crafted amidst influences which overpowered a lot of music at the time. Signist recognized the original influences of the melodic death metal style and incorporated them heavily into their sound. This release will not appeal to everyone but may find a respected place for fans of the late 90's and early 00's melodic death metal material. The idea to resurrect the release now, after trends have died down, whether purposeful or not, affords a more unbiased look at material, which several years prior, may have been dismissed and disregarded.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Witchcraft Zine Issues 666 and 777


The metal universe is full of interesting people doing interesting things artistically and with a fervor and gusto that draws curious onlookers in, forever capturing and enrapturing them like a spider catching flies in its web. For myself, underground zines were a big part of my descent into the nooks and crannies. Originally it was Metal Maniacs in the late 90's and early 00's. I remember the first issue of Zero Tolerance being released in 2004. I became fully engrossed in what I found to be a more artful journalistic venture in the British pamphlet. Eventually I ended my subscription around issue 34 or something and went my own way. But those magazines gave me, at the time still young and impressionable, a certain ground to stand on. So today when I pick up a zine I want it to seem more than just some interviews and reviews. I want it to have a certain life to it beyond the regular feature. I want it to add to my understanding of this universe.

A full twenty pages of zine listings like this appear in issue 666. A veritable who's who of zines for metal librarians.

When I was sent issues 7 and 6 of Witchcraft Zine out of Germany several months back, I was met with something beyond the typical. Each booklet was laid out more like an issue of National Geographic than the typical fanzine. Of course contained were some interviews and reviews but editor Stefan also managed to include extremely useful reference material and data that caters to collectors and maniacs that have reached a point beyond simply being "interested." Stefan literally must spend his entire life savings and time on putting these together and they are done so well and are such a useful resource for those like myself who don't particularly care for looking and learning everything through the digital dreamscape which has taken much of the physical and material reward out of the collector side of metal.

A small segment of the The Crypt collector guide in issue 777.

Issue 6, a square booklet in full color and impeccable layout with Motorhead on the cover which, looking at it now, produces surreal vibes - staring into the eyes of two dead warriors will do that - offered a vast amount of space to content ignored by the largest reference sources online - zines! Yes, pages thirteen through thirty-four offer a complete listing of every known heavy metal zine big and small to the author. It's an incredible quantity of information and research. Each country is represented with no one left out; who knew South Africa had two metal fanzines!? And to follow up is a huge collector guide on Nuclear War Now's vast catalogue. Interviews with label owners and bands like Hellbringer and Hatespawn are enjoyable as well. Oh, and it comes with a huge Celtic Frost poster for kicks.

Issue 7, comes packed in a folder containing the ninety-two page zine and two posters. The oddly sized vertical zine will surely reap havoc on anyone who gets annoyed with things not fitting easily onto shelves. The layout also switches from being read upwards to downwards and sidewards numerous times forcing the reader to literally have to be involved in the act of exploring the pages. NWN is once again featured with some updated collector notes. Also featured are a whole new slate of zines not included in issue 6. The Crypt also gets similar page space with a collector dissection of their releases as well. Order From Chaos get interrogated as well as a host of other smaller features on numerous artists.

These zines are really beautiful and experimental in both layout and content. They have a personality and character to themselves. Stefan has done with Witchcraft zine that which could never be done in the mainstream toilet paper; artistically explored areas and depths of the underground with an encyclopedic skill and interest that suits collectors and genre veterans.