Here at Don't Count On It Reviews, you can read reviews from different artists from different styles.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Immolith - Storm Dragon (2012)

Band: Immolith
Country: New Jersey
Style: Black Metal
Label: metalhit.com

For all my love of experimental, weird, and progressive forms of music, sometimes I just need a good smack to the face for a reality check. As we all know (or should know), black metal didn't start being weird until the late 90s, before that we had brutality and atmosphere. I don't always need a super original album, I just need a kvlt album.
Even just looking at the cover of this album, it's pretty obvious what you're going to get yourself into. I honestly don't blame anyone who says they're more into experimental black metal and, I guess, less "extreme" forms of the genre, I certainly have my own prejudices and preferences in the genre, but there's something about unbridled brutality that appeals to me. Granted, I always advocate variety, and I always will, so I do like songs to vary in some form or another as well. When it comes to the whole "trve" and "kvlt" albums, which I don't think I cover all that often actually, I guess you could say I'm a bit more picky than when I see the tags of experimental, post-, progressive, etc. because of prior experiences. Don't get me wrong, I love the early work of bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone, and Ulver, to name a few, but I've been burned by the likes of bands similar to Dark Funeral. I just can't handle an album full of songs that essentially are just blast-beats, tremolo picked riffs, and Satanic vocalizations, I understand the appeal, I just never got into that band. Luckily, this was not the case with Immolith.
When listening to this album, it is certainly a very true to form style of black metal, most of the riffing is tremolo picked, the vocals are throaty wretches, and the drums pound along, but it's not monotonous. The use of all-out brutality and unbridled aggression (in the form of blast-beat driven songs) is kept to a minimum on here. Most of the songs, while more than certainly black, have the sort of vibe where you can still hear the influences from thrash and even death metal in it. There's also bit of an old-school doom influence on a couple of these tracks as well, namely The Ghost Tower of Inverness, which I happened to think was a nice touch. I don't know if saying that an album has traces of these other genres makes you think of it as less kvlt or not, it does allow this album to flow better and seem less like a single song that is just stretched across eight tracks (in this album's case). These songs also tend to make it pretty apparent that even when they are blasting forward, that what's on top of them, the riffs, are actually worth listening to and remembering. I'm not going to say that all of them are great, but they're more than certainly a lot better than a lot of other groups who just tremolo pick over the blasting, and provide nothing worth remembering at all.
In a case like this one, I really don't need a whole lot of originality, if the songs are good, I'm perfectly ok if the album/band plays their sound pretty by the books. I love riffs and I love good songs and I love variety, this album has those things and it's what makes it a good album. It's not going to change the game of black metal, but if you happen to enjoy more straightforward black metal this is must for this year.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Storm Dragon, The Ghost Tower of Inverness, A Pact of Blood

2012 - Technical Death Metal

I know some people might not like the fact that I'm just lumping these three albums together into a single review but two of these are a couple months old at this point so I just think it's easier to cover them this way at this point. Besides the fact that all three are, essentially, within the same style. (All three reviewed from 1-10)

Abazagorath - Abazagorath EP (2012)

Band: Abazagorath
Country: Wayne, New Jersey
Style: Black Metal
Label: Novisible Scars

Speaking as someone who loves black metal, I really have not delved into the early American scene as of yet. Not to say that I'm not familiar with the bands that came out and helped to form the ideas which would go on to establish the later American groups, but I have yet to really just explore more than a handful of bands. I've certainly been aware of Abazagorath's debut Tenebrarum Cadent Exsurgemus for quite a while, I know it's cover art well, but this new EP will have been the first time I've listened to any of their music.
After a rather impressive opening, which really did build a nice atmosphere, the band launch into no-nonsense old-school black metal. It's intense in its performance and old-school in its approach, reminding me of early Darkthrone and Root records, at times bringing in a little bit of a Dissection vibe as well. I mean, the songs on here are certainly well executed and aggressive, but aside from that I just couldn't get into it. The riffs were fine, but nothing that was enough to hold my attention. In fact, I felt like these tracks just sort of dragged on, which is never a good thing, but it's like they started at point A, the band blasted away and whatnot for a couple of minutes, and by the end of the song they were still at point A. Immortals was the only track where I felt like the band was diverting away from the standard form of black metal that they were doing on the other tracks. The incorporation of a more groovy middle section and a very melodic closer really drew me in. Closer, Storms of Destruction starts out really promising but then just descends into standard melodic black metal territory (not to say there aren't sections of the song that redeem it). In the end, it was more of a hit-and-miss sort of release for me. There were some cool songs, but a lot of it just sort of dragged on and didn't do a whole lot that I haven't heard before.
Maybe I just don't listen to enough old-school stuff, but this really didn't do a whole lot for me. I wish I could say something more positive about this release but sadly it just didn't provide me with anything that I haven't heard before. Old-school fans will more than likely get more out of this than I did and I definitely recommend you check this out if you happen to enjoy more 90's oriented black metal.
Overall Score: 6.5
Highlights: Immortals, Storms of Destruction

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Black Shape of Nexus - Negative Black (2012)

Band: Black Shape of Nexus
Country: Mannheim, Germany
Style: Sludge Metal/Drone-Doom
Label: Mainstream

When it comes to sludge metal, for myself anyway, it's a pretty hit/miss sort of genre. There are certainly bands that I like, but more often than not, a lot of what I hear just tends to bore me, so I'm always elated when a band I actually enjoy manages to release new material. B*son just happens to be one of the most recent bands in that genre that I actually enjoyed (and it was before hearing this album, in case you were wondering).
There's no point in starting anywhere until I point out that this is a heavy album, and I mean it's really HEAVY. This album just has so much bass it's not even funny. In addition to that, the fact that these guys have dabbled in the likes of drone-doom on previous albums, as well as this one, only adds to the sheer destructive power this will have on your speakers if you play it as loud as I did. Opener Illinois is just a slap in the face for anyone who thinks you need to open an album with a minute long intro. This six minute piece that filled with droning noise, guitar feedback, and political samples, but in no way felt long. I just goes and goes before finally giving way to 400H, then your speakers blow. Now, for all the destructive power this album has to offer, I'm probably exaggerating just a little bit because this obviously isn't dubstep or music that relies on blasting your speakers into utter oblivion with the power of low-end, this is a sludgy doom metal album. Bass is important, but to say that this album is only bass would just be wrong. So, hopefully that came out right, it will destroy your speakers, but it's not going to overwhelm you with bass.
If you take out that opening track, what you have left is an album that is pretty evenly divided, at least to me anyway. You get three shorter tracks that are more straightforward doom/sludge metal tracks with heavy and bluesy riffing an some pretty intense vocals. Personally, as someone who really doesn't enjoy a whole lot of sludge metal, I really do dig what this band does with these shorter tracks. They do everything a good sludge metal song should in my opinion. But then, you have the other half, where every song clocks in at over ten minutes, with two hovering around the twenty minute mark. These tracks were hard to get into because of their length, and I know I've said in the past that I love long songs and this is also coming from a guy who likes quite a bit of funeral doom as well, but that doesn't make slow music any easier to digest. These tracks are also by no means traditional either. It's on these longer tracks where the band's drone side really comes out, with album closer Neg. Black is actually a full-on drone-doom psychedelic jam out, though they don't completely abandon songwriting. And what songwriting it is, as someone who's heard enough blues based riffs, licks, and solos for a regular person's lifetime, I find it really hard to tolerate when bands simply rely on tried and true blues riffs for songs, and while I will not deny the fact that the guys in B*SON do rely on those very riffs which usually frustrate the living hell out of me, they just make them so damn heavy and crushing that I can't help but bang my head or tap my foot to them.
Because of both the length of these tracks, and the length of the album as a whole, it's a tough listen but ultimately, when I listen to the whole thing, I inevitably find myself being swallowed up by it. Whether or not that's a good thing really depends on how much you enjoy just giving yourself over to an album, and I actually found it quite refreshing on this one. The longer tracks felt a whole lot more brooding and psychedelic when you don't even try to understand what's happening in them. Just open yourself up to the experience and let the music devour you.
In the end it's probably one of the only sludge based albums that I actually find interesting to listen to on repeat because of all the little intricacies that are held within these tracks. Like I just said above, the length of this album is pretty intimidating and will more than likely wear on some listeners, but if you can overcome that problem, you're in for a hell of a record. Sludge and doom fans, and even drone fans, definitely look into buying yourself a copy of this record, it's more than worth it.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: 60 WV, 10000 µF

Monday, May 28, 2012

Ahab - The Giant (2012)

Band: Ahab
Country: Munich, Germany
Style: Funeral Doom Metal
Label: Napalm

I've mentioned my dad in a couple of reviews before and how he's the one who helped me get into power, prog, and trad. metal groups when I was younger, but believe it or not, he was the one who turned me onto Ahab, if memory serves. He's in no way a funeral doom fan, but because the band was signed to Napalm, I think he checked them out and told me about them. Since then, which I believe was just around the time that The Divinity of Oceans was coming out, I've been a fan.
I guess it's worth stating right off the bat that to me, Ahab's debut full-length, The Call of The Wretched Sea, is one of the best funeral doom albums to have been released in the last decade. I'm not going to say that it was a totally unique or super original sounding album but the songs on that album and the way the band harnessed the funeral doom sound, created an album that stands head and shoulders above a good ninety percent of other funeral doom releases from the last decade. In addition to that, the concept that they were using on that album, which has obviously translated to both this new album and 2009's The Divinity of Oceans, was perfect for that album, or the sound was perfect for the concept, whichever you prefer. Now, on that 2009 album, the band definitely introduced more melancholic clean passages into their songs, which helped the dynamics of their sound, but some of the songs didn't really stand out as much as others on it. Up until maybe a month before I got this album, I had no idea the band was working on an album, so I wasn't really sure what to expect when I first put it on.
Once I found out about this record, I looked around a little bit to see what was being said about it, either from the record label or from people who had maybe heard snippets of songs or a full song and it seemed like a lot of people were on their toes. People weren't sure how this album was going to wind up being because the band was embracing a whole lot more post-rock than ever before into their style. Make no mistake that the band certainly still have their extremely heavy and crushing metal passages, but that post-rock influence has really bled all over their sound. Even during those heavy parts, the air of melancholy still remains like salt in the air while drifting among the seas. I mean, unlike other funeral doom, really doom in general, bands out there, Ahab are one of the few who can make music as monolithic as their music. Despite being more melancholic and not quite as heavy, their songs always manage to reflect the overwhelming power of the ocean. There's also been a significant decrease in the amount of growling vocals on here, which may or may not please fans, but personally, while I wouldn't say that I miss their presence, I do think that some of the clean vocals, when they're not done by Herbrand Larsen of Enslaved, maybe could have used a little more work. As the album progresses, so do the clean vocals, but album opener Further South just sounds really odd, vocally, because it just sounds like Daniel Droste kind of forgot what he was supposed to sing and so he kind of just mumbled. Maybe I'm exaggerating just a bit for dramatic effect, but they seriously sound weird compared to the rest of the sung vocals on the album.
I know that there are some who are quite disappointed by the route the band has taken on this record, but honestly, they pretty much released a classic album for the genre with their first full-length so why try and repeat themselves. It's still heavy, slow, and powerful so I don't have a whole lot of qualms with it. I think the band do a very admirable job on here delivering something that is a bit different while still retaining their own sense of individuality. I realize that funeral doom is a genre that really hasn't given birth to the most creative of bands but these guys are going out on a limb and trying something a little different while not abandoning what they founded the band on doing musically.
I suggest that you do check this album out for yourself, because of how divided this has apparently been received thus far, I would say that you should rely on your own ears for this. Personally, I really like the path the band have taken on here, the dynamics are just great and it contains some of the band's best work to date. I wish more doom bands would go out on a limb and take a chance like this, but then again, not every doom band is Ahab.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Aeons Elapse, The Giant

Aldebaran - Embracing The Lightless Depths (2012)

Band: Aldebaran
Country: Portland, Oregon
Style: Funeral Doom/Sludge Metal
Label: Profound Lore

I can honestly say that I was not familiar with Aldebaran before hearing of their signing to Profound Lore. Apparently the band's brand of sludgy doom, or doomy sludge, was quite well thought of in some groups, but I guess I just missed it. This new album does have the band moving more into the realms of funeral doom, which has apparently garnered some mixed reactions thus far.
Before even hearing this record, I had seen a couple of lines in some other reviews and in the press leading up to this album's release that kind of put the idea into my head that this album was going to be an epic record. I don't remember specifically, but I can recall seeing something that said that this album was essentially one hour-plus long track, which immediately kind of caught my attention because that seemed a little surprising that Profound Lore would be releasing a record like that. Sure, they've been putting out quite a lot of doom records as of recently and they have that Evoken record coming out in a few months as well, but the label never really seemed like the type that would put out a band that would just have one song on a record. Not that it's a new idea for funeral doom, but it's just an idea that seemed a bit surprising to me at the time. Having seen the track list for this album since then and listened to this album, I understand what the label was going for. Instead of a single song, the album divides that one song, essentially, into five separate parts.
If you were like me and you saw that track list you'd probably be thinking, "Oh, well that'd certainly make the album a bit easier to digest," and you'd be wrong like I was. Despite being split into five tracks, three of them act as an intro, interlude, and outro, with the two other tracks acting as "real" tracks. That wouldn't be so bad if the "real" tracks in question weren't both over twenty minutes long, with the second one almost hitting thirty. Honestly, the length shouldn't bother me as much as it does, coming into this record, I knew it was a doom record, I later found out it'd be funeral doom, but that only reinforces the idea of long songs, so it's not like I didn't already know there was going to be long tracks, at the time, track, but it's like, when I want to listen to funeral doom, this is just not doing it for me. It's not bad, mind you, I've certainly heard a whole lot worse, but this just doesn't feel anywhere near unique enough to keep my attention for the extended periods that it needs to for these tracks to have their full effect. It just feels average, it doesn't have the majestic songwriting of a group like Mournful Congregation or Omit, it doesn't embrace more outside influences like post-rock for example like Ahab or Esoteric, and it doesn't have that cathedral sense of epicness (cathedral the church, not the band, just to clarify) like Skepticism or Ea. In comparison to groups like those, it's like, why would I need to listen to something like this which just sounds like a first attempt at this sort of style for the band.
Maybe I'm being overly critical of this album and just need to take it as a whole new experience. Having never heard any of the band's previous recordings, which I've been told are actually pretty good for sludgy doom metal, but it's like, after I've heard this, I have almost no interest in hearing them do that. This is average funeral doom that is overly long, a bit boring in spots, and not all that impacting when it all ends; and so it doesn't really inspire me to go out and have any desire to listen to their older material. I don't think I'm asking for too much when I say that when I listen to a funeral doom record, I would like to remember something about it other than, it was really slow. Honestly, this thing isn't all that heavy either, there are plenty of other bands that wield more weight with their guitars than this. I'm sure that if these guys continue down this path they'll get better, but this was just too standard for me to really find a whole lot to love about it.
Like I said above, this isn't a bad album, it's just really, really average. I'm sure if you happen to love the genre or are some newbie who's never heard a whole lot of it you might enjoy this record, but this just did nothing for me. It's the sort of record that I doubt I'll be coming back to any time soon for pleasure's sake.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Forever In The Dream of Death, Occultation of Ocular Tauri

Ulver - Childhood's End (2012)

Band: Ulver
Country: Oslo, Norway
Style: Psychedelic Rock/Pop
Label: Kscope

Anyone who thought I wasn't going to cover this as soon as possible obviously has no idea how huge a fan of Ulver I am. I love every one of Ulver's albums, though for different reasons, and I welcome every new recording with nothing but the highest of expectations and the utmost joy. I've been aware of this project for something like a year and a half or two years because of an interview the guys did and I'm glad that it's finally being released.
I guess one of the reasons I've been anticipating this album for so long is because not only is Ulver one of my absolute favorite bands, but I'm a big fan, and geek, of 60s and 70s psychedelic music. Having said that, even I didn't know about all the bands covered on here, with groups like Pretty Things, Curt Boettcher, and the Chocolate Watch Band being completely new to me. So with that in mind, I came into this record expecting to simply love it. The cover of The Electric Prunes cover, I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night, has been around for a while so that kind of gave a bit of a representation of what direction this record would kind of be, sonically. The band also did Everybody's Been Burned, by The Byrds, at their first live performance, so that one had kind of been floating around. Then you had In The Past and Magic Hollow released within the last couple of weeks as well, so a fourth of the album's songs had been released, in one form or another, before this thing came out.
I have to say that when I first heard about this, I was under the impression that the band was going to be doing a psyche-rock album, the key word there being "rock", but what come as a shock to you, as much as it did to me when I finally listened to this, was that there is very little "rock" on here. Sure, I understand that that's kind of relative because most of these songs were rock songs when they originally came out, but even in that context, they were still pop songs. This is more of a psyche-pop album, and I have to say, I'm almost glad that it is more of a pop album than a rock album. The band do a great job at adapting these songs to their own style. While I think that Ulver could have done a great job adapting the likes of Genesis, King Crimson, or Magma, I don't think that at this point in their career that the band would have even wanted to do that. Anyone who's listened to either of the band's last two full-lengths could have guessed that the band have little interest in songs that are more "rock" based, favoring more arty and the obvious experimental realms instead. I'd say if you want a rock song, Street Song and 66-5-4-3-2-1 are not only the heaviest tracks on here, I'd go so far as to say it's the heaviest and most rocking that Ulver's been since Blood Inside. I honestly never thought I'd ever hear Ulver make use of a blues guitar riff in a song, but in both of those tracks I just mentioned, that's exactly what they do.
I remember Daniel O'Sullivan mentioning in an interview that he and Garm were interested in making a record of pop songs, and that turned into the opener for Wars of The Roses, but I can imagine this being some form of accomplishment, or at least another step in achieving that goal. These are short songs, a good portion of them don't even top three minutes, and are pretty straightforward. They are all, ultimately, pop songs no matter how trippy and psychedelic they might be. I have to say though, eve before I had heard these specific songs, I just knew that Ulver would totally make the likes of Today, a Jefferson Airplane song, and Velvet Sunsets, by Music Emporium, their own. Just knowing those songs and listening to them after finding out about them being covered, I could just hear Ulver taking those songs and making them their own. Maybe in the future they'll craft an even more "pop" oriented album, which would certainly be interesting to say the least, but for what this is, music that I already really enjoy listening to, this is the first "pop" album I've heard in years, if not decades (no, I'm not that old, but in music years), that's this good.
I'm aware that this is yet another change in sound for the band, and that once again people might not enjoy it, but like all their previous records, I think the band are just fantastic. I loved this sort of music to begin with anyway, so I was sort of predetermined to like this record, but I totally get that some aren't into the whole retro and psychedelic sound. Great stuff and a great way to find out about a number of great bands, I think it's well worth getting.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: The Trap, Today, Street Song, Velvet Sunsets

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Shining - Lots of Girls Gonna Get Hurt EP (2012)

Band: Shining
Country: Halmstad, Sweden
Style: Depressive/Alternative Rock
Label: Spinefarm

I am a fan of Shining and it's vocalist Niklas Kvarforth, I figure I should just clear that up first. I know that a lot of people may enjoy the music but can't really get behind him as a person and his various opinions and stage antics, but I am a fan. What he does live I think is all part of the moment and the same can be said about his various views on whatever topics, all I really care about is the music.
Shining appears, from my point of view, to have definitely grown as a band both sonically and in popularity with their last three or four releases. The movement into more progressive territory and inclusion of clean, or cleaner, vocals into their sound I think has definitely improved their sound and I think many would agree, though the weight of the depressive atmospheres from their earlier works has certainly not been as easy to transition over. I also think that some might not have enjoyed the decrease of aggression on the last two releases either. This EP is not for those people. The four covers on here are no return to the depressive roots of the band, and instead show the band at their least metal, embracing more of their "pop" influences. For My Demons, a Katatonia cover, is honestly the most metallic song on here, and, in all honesty, isn't that different from the original version. Kvarforth does a really good job at sounding like Jonas Renkse, whether you want to call it an imitation or his natural singing voice, but he manages to sound almost exactly like Jonas. The other three songs are the pop songs I just referred to. The covers of Kent, Imperiet, and Poets of The Fall are actually pretty well done, they're certainly darker and more foreboding than the original, but aren't anything all that special. The Poets of The Fall cover, Carnival of Rust, I actually think is really good, but I don't think that it's a really substantial piece that compares with anything original the band has released.
If you're a fan of the band, I think this is well worth checking out, but if not, I wouldn't say that it's a must. The covers are solid, and I will most likely return to two of the four often enough when I feel like listening to Shining, but they're not amazing. If this turns out to not be your cup of tea, Kvarforth has been saying for a while that their next full-length is going to be an intense black metal record, so I wouldn't worry too much over it.
Overall Score: 6.5
Highlights: For My Demons, Carnival of Rust

Ihsahn - Eremita (2012)

Band: Ihsahn
Country: Notodden, Norway
Style: Progressive Metal
Label: Mnemosyne Productions

Not that he really needs an introduction, but Ihsahn has proved throughout the last two decades to be one of the most unique and creative men within the metal world. In all of his various projects, he has created some of the most timeless and inspirational albums within the worlds of avant-garde, progressive, and black metal. I know that not everyone who's an Emperor fan followed Ihsahn into his solo ventures, but I've found that he's actually made some of his best work since leaving his past band behind.
I guess one of the biggest draws to this album, if people weren't coming into this for an Ihsahn album, would have to be the high profile guests on here. Though both Mikael Åkerfeldt and Kristoffer "Garm" Rygg have participated on the main man's first two solo releases, I think that having Devin Townsend, Jeff Loomis, and the lesser known, but no less talented, Einar Solberg on here will draw many into this album. Ihsahn has also brought back Jørgen Munkeby from Shining, who was on After if you didn't already know that, to do saxophone on here. From my point of view, despite having such high profile guests like these on his record, none of them overpower Ihsahn on their respective tracks. In my opinion, besides Munkeby, who performs on numerous tracks, the tracks that are just the main man himself prove to be the most powerful on the entire record. I know that there was a good portion of people out there that felt like the saxophone on After ruined that album because it was a pretty eccentric performance, and I realize that it did make that record kind of polarizing, though I wouldn't change anything about that record. On here, the sax performance from Munkeby is a lot more controlled by comparison. It doesn't stick out as much and tends to play more melodic lines than on the previous record.
As much as all his solo albums have been leading up to this point, black metal has largely been abandoned at this point by Ihsahn in favor of a more progressive sound. Though there were still very key moments on After that retained that black metal style of riffing or that harshness, very few points on this new album hold that same sort of identity to them. The sound used on here is, from my point of view, a very unique form of progressive metal that to some might not even think to call it progressive metal. Is this still an extreme album, for sure, but it's extreme in a very different way than both Emperor or Ihsahn's first two solo albums. There are points on here where the sound moves into what I'd like to call "avant-doom". Tracks like The Grave and Departure are slow and heavy but are extremely rich in texture and sound, and I don't use the term "avant(garde)" lightly, while retaining the sense of darkness and solitude that the rest of the album does, but transforms it into a very different beast. It might please some to know that Departure in particular is the closest thing Ihsahn has produced recently that sounds like his very underrated and underappreciated project Peccatum. Not only does that track have a similar sense of melancholy as that project did in its later stages, but it also features the man's own wife and other half of that project, Heidi Tveitan, on vocals as well.
In terms of accessibility, I found this the most challenging release Ihsahn has released since Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire & Demise back in 2001. Most of the songs on here feature melodies that, at least for myself, were nowhere near as immediate as on his earlier releases. It is a far more abstract kind of record that will not reveal itself on a first, or even second listen, but one that slowly worms its way into your head through repeated listens. In that regard, I do think it was a wise choice to pick The Paranoid as the first single for this album, as that and Something Out There are probably the most immediately catchy tracks on the entire album. Though, I would still say that the hooks on those tracks is still quite different from those I've heard on other records, in general. There are points on here where the music veers into really weird, and unexpected, territory, hear the last two tracks, that show a side that I never thought I would hear from Ihsahn, which I for one am glad to hear. I am not only impressed at the exploration into more abstract territory, but I commend this man for pulling it off with applaud, I know firsthand how hard it is to take a risk and just throw in an odd part into a song and it's by no means easy, even if Ihsahn makes it seem that way on here.
As much as I love this sort of stuff on a record, I know that it's not going to be for everyone, despite all the critical praise that I'm sure will come once this is released. It's not as immediate a record as I thought it would be, but in the end I actually think this is my favorite recording Ihsahn has released under his name (and is certainly near the top of all of his releases in my book). I certainly suggest you check this out as soon as you can, it really is worth your time even if "prog" isn't typically your cup of tea.
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Track Is A Highlight

Orob - Departure EP (2012)

Band: Orob
Country: Toulouse, France
Style: Progressive Black Metal
Label: Independent

I rather enjoy scouring the web in search of new bands to listen to, maybe it's more of a job now than a hobby, but nevertheless, I find it enjoyable. I always welcome finding a new band with a sense of joy because there's always that chance that I could get blown away by what I'm hearing. It was only recently that I found the quartet called Orob, and I was most certainly interested once I pressed play.
Having listened to quite a bit of black metal from France in the last couple of years, and being quite a big fan of the country's output, it's hard to really expect something from a new band, except for maybe quality anyway. The four songs, and an intro, on here definitely show a band that is not trying to go for a popularized sound, and having been witness to the rise of blackgaze and post-rock influenced black metal in the last couple of years, it's nice to find a new band not trying to capitalize on that. It's still pretty apparent where some of the band's influences lie though, with traces of Opeth, Emperor, and early Dark Tranquillity, though I wouldn't say these guys are at the level of any of those bands yet. So with those sort of influences popping out, at least to me anyway, it leads to a pretty diverse batch of songs that run the gambit from more straightforward black metal kind parts to much more adventurous atmospheric sections. To a certain extent, the sound demonstrated on here reminded me of the sophomore album, Mantra, from Norway's In Vain. They both retain a very riff driven sound that keeps the ideas rooted in their more extreme roots while sort of dipping their foot into more progressive pools. It really isn't until the closer, Of Shores and The Wind, where the band really show more of their prog-edge.
As a debut release, I think it's quite interesting and one that's certainly worth hearing. There's certainly still room to grow and expand into a more unique and consistent sound, but for what it is, it's well done. If you're a fan of progressive tinged forms of extreme metal, definitely seek this out, I do not think you'll be disappointed.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Departure, Of Shores and The Wind

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ab Imo Pectore - The Dissociative Path Demo (2012)

Band: Ab Imo Pectore
Country: Portugal
Style: Experimental/Atmospheric Black Metal
Label: Debemur Morti Productions

When it comes to black metal demos, there are really two different breeds that you can get. There are those that are extremely raw and are pretty strict to the traditional sound of the genre, and while there's nothing really wrong with that per se, I find those to be a bit dull. Then you have demos that, while the production may not be the best, the music is more interesting than your standard kvlt one-man bedroom band.
As many people who read this site will already know, I love my black metal (metal in general really) weird and so when I put this on for the first time I got something I did not expect at all. Since this is the first release from this band, obviously I had never heard of them before getting this and based on the cover I kind of expected it to be either more of a traditional sort of black metal record, or it would be a more ritualistic kind of record, ala Echtra or Reverorum Ib Malacht. What is on these six tracks is a far more, let's say avant-garde, experience that is far more interesting than anything I was expecting. This is the sort of band that makes use of all those weird, dissonant, and jazzy riffs that call back to the likes of Ved Buens Ende and Blut Aus Nord and that's the sort of stuff I just love. With all that being said though, it's a very well recorded release, that honestly sounds better than quite a number of albums that I've heard in recent years. It's clear but there's still a very mystical atmosphere that encompasses these songs, which come from both the weird instrumentation as well as keyboards and synth effects.
It's the type of demo I'm glad I listened to because I don't hear a whole lot of demos that impress me, I most likely will never post about the ones I hate, but this is a very good one. Definitely for all the weirdoes and psychedelics out there who love black metal with a twist. If you haven't listened to this yet, definitely look into it, I doubt you'll hear something as interesting as this from a demo this year.
Overall Score: 6
Highlights: Mothers of Mothers, Sulphur Garden

Friday, May 25, 2012

Aus Der Transzendenz - Breed of A Dying Sun (2012)

Band: Aus Der Transzendenz
Country: Austria
Style: Atmospheric Black Metal
Label: I, Voidhanger

Despite this album being out for a little while, I haven't really heard, or seen, too much press done for it. I know it's a pretty underground debut release, but still, I'd thought that it'd be a record that at least some would be doing press for it. I've had it for a little while already, but now I'm ready to finally do my part and, hopefully, spread the message.
This sort of album really makes me think of early atmospheric black metal, but in a good way. Off the top of my head, I can't recall any Austrian black metal groups, but this one definitely brings me back to hearing groups like Lunar Aurora (in their mid-period), Ulver, and Emperor for the first time years ago. There will be those who listen to this album and link it to the whole post-black metal movement even though, to my ears, besides the wall of sound style that's used on here, and the occasional clean vocal part, this doesn't really recall the likes of post-rock or shoegaze all that often, if at all. I think that because the atmosphere on here is so dense and pervasive will have it liked to that style, even though it honestly recalls more of the bands I just mentioned. A Dream of Ghosts was the track that really made me think that others would be able to lump the project into that style because it does have a more moody feel to it and does kind of have a similar sort of ambiance to it that I think could be found in a group like Altar of Plagues or Fen. It's a rather intense record, though I wouldn't say that it ever became monotonous, that relies of tremolo picked riffs and harsh screams and moans, but still manages to make use of melody and dynamics. Not every track on here blasts throughout its entire length, to the extent that I found myself rather impressed with the range of tempos used on here while still making the whole thing feel like an aggressive record. A Pathway to Rebirth is probably the best example of the variety used on here as it moves from blackgaze-ish mid-tempo beginnings into more epic sort of territory in its middle before closing with some intense, if rather straightforward, black metal blasts.
Probably my biggest complaint about this album would have to be the drum programming. It's not bad at all, but there are times when I found it to be rather irksome. There were certain patterns played/programmed that I found to sound too robotic sounding and it didn't match the overall vibe of the record at all. It's a little disappointing because the pattern I'm referencing happens to be in the opening title-track, which isn't a bad song, but based on my distaste for the programmed pattern, it led me to believe that this album would have at least a few other sections that featured a similar kind of mechanical sound. That wasn't the case though. The way these tracks are programmed is actually really good and it fits the music. Aside from that, there really isn't a whole lot more I found to be wrong with the album. I enjoyed the occasional uplifting sounding melody injected into these songs and thought that it provided a nice contrast to the more intense and traditional sounding parts, though I'm sure some will disagree. I just happen to think that this record gets better every time I listen to it.
I think it's a good debut that various factions of the black metal realm should really take note of. Coming into it not really expecting too much, I really thought that this was a nice listen that was nice and quick, and has yet to become boring after several listens. If you like old-school atmospheric black metal or if you happen to enjoy some blackgaze or post-rock influenced black metal that just so happens to feature a bit more of an edge to it, this is the sort of record that you'll probably love.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Hymns of Ruin, The Secret Revealed

Yayla - Sathimasal (2012)

Band: Yayla
Country: Namrun, Turkey
Style: Ambient Black Metal
Label: Merdumgiriz

I can't recall many bands that I've listened to from Turkey, or I guess what I should say is that I haven't heard many bands from Turkey that have made me remember them. I have had a rather troubled past with metal bands from eastern European countries, so I usually try to avoid them unless I'm already familiar with their work. With this sophomore release from the one-man band Yayla is poised to take the world by storm based on what I've heard and read about it thus far.
I guess I should start off by saying that when I stack this up with the other black metal releases from Eastern Europe that I've heard, this one, from a pretty underground project, is pretty good. I mean that in pretty much all categories too. In production, atmosphere, and intention, this thing pretty much blows away most albums I've heard from any band that's come out of that side of the world. Now, I'm not saying this is the most unique thing you're going to hear this year, the bands that influenced this project are still pretty apparent from early listens, but for what the project has done on here, it honestly tops most of what it's influences have been doing. I hear Burzum (and honestly I haven't cared about any of Varg's post-prison albums at all), Emperor (broken up, still great, but not doing anything so...), and some Incantation in there as well (when they actually put out an album I'll care more than I do now). I don't want to sound cynical, in which most reading this probably think that I've gone way past that point already, but when I listen to this record, it sounds fresher than anything I've heard from those projects, and others in over a decade.
The production on here really fits the music being played. It really helps to create this wall-of-sound sort of vibe to the guitars that really makes the entire record sound huge. It's not so overwhelming that the bass and drums get swallowed in the mix, though the vocals do at some points. The reason I'm starting there is because unlike a lot of other groups and projects that mix together ambient styles with black metal this one doesn't feel like someone had a bunch of random black metal-ish songs and a couple of ambient parts and thought they'd work on an album together, these two styles, if I'm being simplistic about it, are fused together. The riffing really recalls that of the band's mentioned above, being very old-school tremolo picked, along with blasting drums for the better part of the album as well. These are epic songs, with the shortest one being the seven and a half minute instrumental opener. In all honesty though, that is probably the album's biggest fault, the length of these tracks. As most readers probably already know, I am a fan of long songs with lengthy passages of experimentation, but unfortunately, while this album holds long sections that are mainly instrumental, they'll carry on that same part for minutes at a time without really changing anything, and that can get rather dull. Sure, on first listen it's kind of an endearing quality to this album, but multiple listens just prove to be more taxing than they need to be.
It's a well done piece of work that is, honestly, one of the best releases I've heard from a band on that side of the world in a long time, it's just bagged down by some overly long tracks. I have yet to hear the most recent release from the project yet, titled Fear Through Eternity, yet so I can't really say how the sound has progressed, but if the tracks can become a bit less repetitive, I think it will do a world of good. Definitely check this album and project out if you're a fan of atmospheric black metal that recalls some of the vibe of the early and mid-90s bands.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Emperor; Elegy to Wars Never Fought, Conjurer; Prophetillars Will Hollow

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mats Gustafsson - Bengt (2012)

Band: Mats Gustafsson
Country: Umeå, Sweden
Style: Avant-Garde/Free-Form Jazz
Label: Utech

I guess when it comes to the whole jazz style, this is perhaps the realm I feel, more or less, comfortable in. When the music is totally devoid of anything resembling an actual song and is basically an exercise in self-indulgence, and patience for the listener. Having said that, it's not like I spend my evenings listening to the likes of John Zorn or Evan Parker for kicks.
Free jazz is something that I can only describe as mood music, since it really isn't something that I'd call everyday music. I mean, in the pantheon of free jazz and avant-garde jazz, as whatever other sub-genres and sub-cultures of the genre you want to throw in there as well, there are obviously those who are more listenable than others; but, even knowing, essentially, what this record was going to be, and seeing as I didn't listen to any of the clips that Utech posted on their site for it, I was coming into this somewhat fearful. After a handful of live improvisation records from John Zorn, which kind of tainted the whole genre for me for a long time, anything attached to the world of free jazz instantly makes me slightly turn. The incessant squawking that permeated those recordings was enough to turn me off of Zorn's recordings for a long time.
But talking about this record, having never heard any of Gustafsson's previous recordings, all I can say is that this is far more tolerable and listenable than any free jazz album I've heard in recent years. Sure, if you're coming into this expecting to find anything resembling a melody, you'll be looking for a long while before you find anything even close to something accessible. But far be it from me from saying this isn't interesting. I mean, depending on how you view the whole free jazz thing, maybe you find the entire genre to be a point of interest, but in a style full of misses and not many hits (from my experiences with it) I found the two lengthy pieces on here to be interesting enough to hold my attention. The use of techniques on here that range from the absurd to the simply mind-melding is enough to keep even the most ADD person captivated for at least a little while. Moving from frantic squawking to ambient-ish breathing, and everything in between, is certainly an interesting experiment.
I'm not even going to pretend to know how else to talk about this record or the theory or motives behind it. This really isn't the sort of record that I usually talk about because, as someone who is a real novice when it comes to theory, the entire idea of an album being based on it really just sounds more like an exercise to me, and one that sounds frankly boring. For everything that went into this, it's certainly commendable and I do respect Gustafsson for it, but like I said above, I don't see this being anything more than a mood album for me.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Side B

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lorenzo Feliciati - Frequent Flyer (2012)

Band: Lorenzo Feliciati
Country: Rome, Italy
Style: Jazz Fusion/Progressive Rock
Label: RareNoise

It's weird to me that I've somehow fallen into reviewing jazz music because I honestly don't think my thoughts on it could be all that interesting. I'm sure I know about as much about jazz as a regular guy on the street, maybe I like a bit more weird stuff, but I can't say that my references are all that great from the genre. But, I guess since I've somehow fallen into covering it, I better get busy and start listening to more.
Coming into this album, I wasn't really sure what this was going to sound like. Since it's his solo album, I assumed that Lorenzo Feliciati was obviously a talented bassist, not that I can say I've listened to anything with him playing on it beyond this album; but it's like, what kind of album are you going to put together. I mean, it could've been a total bass only album like the one Evan Brewer released last year, but you also could have had a more traditional fusion or jazz record. Now, I don't know if this was done in that old-school way of Feliciati being the leader of a group and them following his lead or if he just brought in session guys to fill out his vision of what he wanted his album to sound like. What apparently came out is a rather varied record, both in ideas a quality. Obviously, the bass is kind of the main feature on here, but it's not like every track is solo after solo of Feliciati basically just wanking off in your face and showing you how talented he is, there are songs on here. There are songs on here where the bass actually takes more of a backseat role and just lets the other instruments, whether it be violin, saxophone, piano, or whatever take the lead for a little while. Though I do question the use of vocals only being used on the closer, Thela Hun Ginjeet, it's not a bad song, it just seemed a bit odd to me. I actually prefer when Feliciati falls back a little bit more.
The variation I spoke about comes, mainly, in style on here, because while there are certainly similar ideas that connect each track, there is quite a large gap in styles on here. You have everything from more modern sounding lounge stuff like 93 or Never Forget which are really mellow and relaxing, actually, and don't sound all that dissimilar from what you might hear in the background while walking around some sort of mall department store or something. I don't mean that as an insult or bad thing, but it's more or less the sort of thing that I tend to associate more with background music than foreground music. Tracks like Riding The Orient Express or Gabus and Ganabes on the other hand feel far more interesting and borrow a bit more from the electric side of fusion or jazz-rock, without really ever succumbing to that sort of sound. I'm also not going to just ignore and pretend that there aren't some tracks on here that feel more like an exercise in bass acrobatics. The likes of Groove First felt, to me, more like Feliciati just showing off, which is all well and good, but while I certainly enjoy music with long winding solos, I usually like it in the context of a song, and these just felt more like the solo had devoured most of what was there. As these sorts of tracks are kind of used throughout the entire album, it's a little hard to kind of get a feel for it on the first few listens, but I've reached the conclusion that my favorite pieces are the ones more akin to fusion and jazz-rock, which also happen to be found at the end of the album. I don't think that has as much to do with me liking heavier forms of music as much as those tracks just didn't feel as taxing to listen to repeatedly.
It's not bad but it really isn't my kind of thing, if you even want to apply any worth to any of the above any way. There are a handful of tracks on here that I think are pretty cool, but there are also those that I just find rather boring and don't really appeal to me. Jazz fans, bassists, and I'd even say fans of prog-rock check this, you might wind up digging this a lot more than I did.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Riding The Orient Express, Perceptions, The White Shadow Story

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dødkvlt - III: Domĭni Ascensiōnem (2012)

Band: Dødkvlt
Country: Helsinki, Finland
Style: Experimental/Melodic Black Metal
Label: Misanthropic Art Productions

I consider myself a rather lucky guy, over the past two years, I've been able to meet and talk to some very, very cool and talented people, but one of the first was Lord Theynian of Dødkvlt. Ever since his first record, titled I, he's been pumping out some killer black metal. This, his third album picks up, conceptually from where his split with Goats of Doom, Deathcult ov Doomgoat, from last year left off.
When listening through the Dødkvlt discography, it becomes aware that despite any growth that happens musically, each new release does have its own variation on the project's core sound. While that core sound may contain elements of melodic black metal, symphonic black metal, and old-school thrash, each new release presents a new take on that sound. On this album Lord Theynian has obviously been listening to and decided to embrace more progressive influences because not only are these some of the longest tracks the project has written yet, they're some of the most interesting. Honestly, I have to say that I was never the biggest fan of straightforward melodic black metal, or symphonic black metal for that matter, to begin with, but Lord Theynian has a way of has always made a point to never makes the symphonic parts too over the top or cheesy or the melodic parts too obvious. This album continues that in a positive light, advancing the melodic parts into more interesting ones and allowing the symphonic parts to feel less like they're tying the project to a genre that has long passed it's expiration date. Though, I can't not mention the similarities in the symphonic parts to the Clint Mansell score for Requiem For A Dream. There's an obvious point of reference taken from the main theme of that film, but it is a different piece in the end.
I have to say that for a progressive album, there is still a very high level of melodic ideas present, for a black metal record anyway; but I mean that in the sense that the melodies are bigger, feel more pronounced, rather than it simply being melodic. Both A Curse Upon This Wretched World and As I Descend Into The Bottomless Void feature guitar harmonies that bring back fond memories of when melodic death metal wasn't a genre that was so commonly associated with metalcore. The type of melodic sense that doesn't make you think, "Oh, well any band could've written and pulled that off," because, despite some good bands still emerging from the melo-death genre, a lot of them don't have this sort of sense in melody, and you could apply that to melodic black metal as well. Their melodies that not only bring fond memories, but sound absolutely epic on the latter track I mentioned above. Despite all that, I prefer it when Theynian takes the project into more progressive realms, which despite the length of these tracks, doesn't really happen until about mid-way through, not that that's meant as a complaint on my part, just a comment. Whether it's the dissonant intensity that appears in Enlightenment or the slower approach taken on Final Seal Broken, I appreciate those sort of steps being included into the project even if they're not overly huge in scope.
Now, I've been a supporter of this project since its first album was released back in 2010, so maybe it's because my tastes may have changed and I have different preferences, but I do have a couple of things that have changed my perspective on the project a little bit. Listening to this album, and the project's last full-length, the production is just a little to clean for my taste now. I kind of wish there was a little bit more grit and bite to this album because sometimes it can come off a little sterile sounding for black metal. I'm aware that the album was meant to have a clear and defined sound, but I don't think that a little more roughness would have hurt these recordings. I also have to say that opener Dark Void Architect could have used another take or two for the vocals. They're not bad per se, but they definite sound strained, especially compared to later tracks on the album, and wind up sounding like Theynian is trying his hardest to do a Kvarforth impression.
This is certainly the most I've enjoyed a Dødkvlt record and it does improve with each listen through. It's not perfect, and while some of the previous recording have lost a bit of their luster in listening to them recently, this one has yet to feel redundant after several run-throughs. I can honestly say that this is the most consistent and well-rounded album the project has released to date and it'll be interesting to see where Theynian decides to take the project next.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: As I Descend Into The Bottomless Void, Final Seal Broken

Monday, May 21, 2012

TesseracT - Perspective EP (2012)

Band: TesseracT
Country: Reading, UK
Style: Progressive Metal/Progressive Rock
Label: Century Media

I've been following TesseracT for some time now and I think it's probably obvious that I am quite a big fan of the band. Last year's debut full-length, One, from the band wound up being one of my absolute favorites of the year, but with success also came a bit of tragedy as front-man Dan Tompkins decided to leave the band. The band then brought in Elliot Coleman as their new vocalist, to both acclaim and backlash, and this proves to be his first recordings with the band.
I guess I should say first off that I was aware of Elliot Coleman as a vocalist before he joined the band, though his project OMNOM (Of Man Not Of Machine) with Misha Mansoor and Mark Holcomb from Periphery. While I enjoyed the music they made, I was never really sold on Elliot's vocals, they were good, and he was certainly talented, but it never really sat quite right with me. I then heard the EP he played on when he was briefly in Sky Eats Airplane and thought it was pretty solid. Since then I never really kept tabs on him, but when he joined TesseracT last year I became very worried. I can't say that I was all that impressed by the few live clips I saw of him performing their songs, it just didn't sound right to me. I'm more of a fan of Dan Tompkins' vocals for the band, sue me. By the time this EP was announced, I had all but given up in the band, but decided to give it a shot anyway. When it comes to how Elliot performs on here, despite the rather divided reactions I've seen, I think he does a pretty good job. I've seen footage of him singing April live and I thought it was awful, but on here I think he just killed it (in a good way) and totally makes it his own. His rendition of Origin is rather well done as well, along with the Jeff Buckley cover of Dream Brother. Musically, the band are just as good on here as on the album, with the four acoustic pieces retaining their signature ambiances while still maintaining the spirit of their heavier counterparts. It isn't until Eden 2.0, a reworking of the original that I have a problem. I really loved the original version, and while I realize that it may not have been the easier piece to perform live, and that this new one is more geared towards that and radio-play, but the not only did the band remove what was my favorite section of the song, and a part I honestly think Elliot could have really made his own, they also made the song nearly unlistenable. The guitar tone on this new version is just terrible.
It's not a horrible release, and not anywhere as bad as I thought it would be, but it's not great. After hearing this I can't really say that Elliot doesn't fit the band's sound, but I'll still have to hear what he does when he's not singing someone else's vocal lines to really be able to finalize my thoughts. It's solid, not going to shake the foundation of metal or progressive music, but I'd say to give it a shot if you're already a fan.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: April, Dream Brother

Sujo - Diaspora (2012)

Band: Sujo
Country: Ellettsville, Indiana
Style: Industrial Drone/Post-Black Metal
Label: Inam

It really wasn't that long ago that I covered Sujo's last EP, Terran, but he's already had this little release out for a while at this point. Sure, I'm a bit late covering it, but to release another album within this time span is pretty impressive. I was certainly impressed with the EP, but this full-length came with a little note that told me it was more influenced by the likes of Darkthrone, which certainly got my attention.
After an intense burst of noise that introduces the record, Sujo breaks into the sound fans will certainly recognize. Much like his last EP, the fusion of drone, noise, post-rock, and black metal are all intertwining and weaving into and out of each other within each track. The sound is absolutely huge sounding with a grandiose kind of atmosphere that wasn't nearly as well developed as it was on that previous EP. It also retains a similar sense of flow as all seven tracks flow into one another seamlessly. If you're a fan of Sujo's previous work, this one doesn't differ too much from the style that's been crafted up to now. Both feature a very Nadja-esque approach towards ambiance, which I really enjoy, but may prove to be a bit difficult to overcome if you're not a fan of that sort of take on heavy music.
But, this is not just a copy of the last EP with a few modifications. Like the statement that came with the disc said, it has more of a black metal sort of influence to it than before, and that's definitely noticeable. Sure, you'll still get your sections that dominated more or less by harsh noise and industrial drones, but the presence of tremolo picked guitars and noticeable percussion than before. There's a certain relatability in sound to the whole post-rock influenced black metal sound, not so much blackgaze, because in my opinion because this is much more interesting and has influences that are less obvious than the now typical Alcest or Amesoeurs. Having said that, it might be the sort of sound that might surprise those who come in thinking that this is going to sound like another post-rock influence black metal project, because the drone and noise and industrial ideas are far more up-front than any other band I've heard attempt this style. The ideas are not so clear cut to where a random metal head could just pick out the black metal part from the drone part; but like I said above, there are segments where the line is a lot more obvious than others. There are plenty of calmer moments that are more post-rock and ambient like, though the atmosphere from both can be found throughout the entire record in various degrees obviously, but the record doesn't really get intense, to me, and it isn't until tracks like Threat or Landing pop up in the second half of the record, where the atmospherics are just monstrous in stature and the drumming just breaks off into almost free-jazz territory.
I think this is a great piece of work honestly, and it stands that in a world where it seems like every new black metal band wants to suddenly embrace post-rock and shoegaze in order to gain some sort of notoriety, there are a few who can still make that influence sound real and interesting. What's on here isn't contrived in an attempt to break out into the metal mainstream (or less underground world, I guess that'd be more fitting), but a very unique fusion of ideas that is carefully being honed to perfection. I think Sujo is a really good project and that if you're into more experimental forms of black metal, post-rock, drone, noise, etc. this should really be looked into.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Famir, Diaspora

Sunday, May 20, 2012

2012 - Noise

I won't claim to be a huge advocator of straight-ahead noise music, I've heard plenty of good albums and there are still plenty I need to hear, but here are three that are a little different and far more interesting than anything I've heard in the community so far this year. (All reviewed from 1-10)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Dødsengel - Imperator (2012)

Band: Dødsengel
Country: Ålesund, Norway
Style: Black Metal
Label: Terratur Possessions

It feels weird for a black metal group to release a double-album but I'm all for originality and unique ideas, so I was definitely interested to see what the duo known as Dødsengel would do with so much material. I think if you've looked into the band you'll know that they are a bit more prolific than your typical group, with four releases coming out in 2010 alone, their first full-length was put out back in 2009 and a sole EP was released last year. Given how much material is on here though, I guess I can forgive them for the one EP from last year though.
When it comes to modern black metal, while there are plenty of bands who preach the word of Satan and are all for the downfall of all things holy and whatnot, there has been a surprising lack of authentic darkness in black metal. Sure, there are hordes of bands playing with lo-fi and raw production, and even no production in some cases, and just as many who are totally fine to rip-off the first Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone, and Bathory recordings and not produce anything further than pure worship of those first couple of releases. Then there are those who are totally original and forging their own paths, but I can't really say that they're all that dark and ominous sounding. That's where Dødsengel come into the picture. Unlike dozens of other groups, this duo is one of the very few groups from the last decade, if not a bit longer, that I would say I genuinely believe that they are one-hundred percent into what they're playing, saying, and recording. Not to discount what other bands are doing, as I'm sure most, if not all, of them are passionate about their music, but Dødsengel feel more authentic to me. It doesn't sound like they're just b.s.-ing black metal, talking about Satanism and the occult because it's cool and it's trendy right now, but because they actually believe it.
It's an intense listen, two discs that equal up to around a hundred and fifty minutes is by no means an easy listen. I've easily sat with this record for over a month, listening to it off and on of course, but it's still hard to really digest it fully. When listening to this record, there are plenty of moments where it really isn't even trve, kvlt black metal actually. It's a black metal record(s), make no mistake about that, but it's certainly no super raw and kvlt type of album, the sort that projects like Drowning The Light or Satanic Warmaster have been churning out for the last decade or so. This is a pretty well recorded record, it's not super clean and polished, but if you like you're black metal records fuzzed out and full of non-stop blast-beats, tremolo picked riffs, and vocals that sound like they're being squeezed out of a dying cat, chances are you won't like a whole lot of what's on here. You'll like a handful of tracks, and there will be moments on other tracks you'll be able to get into, but not the entire release. There's way too much on here that's outside the realms of a stereotypical black metal record for fans like that to be able to get into it. Hell, if you're huge into experimental and progressive ideas, you may not even be able to get into this because, even when the duo churn out epic, ten-plus minute tracks, they're still playing black metal. There really weren't a whole lot of moments where I could say, "Oh, that's a doom part, that's a thrash part, that part is more industrial," or stuff like that. Sure, those moments are certainly there, but this is predominantly a black metal record that is just a bit all over the map in terms of ideas.
If anything, one of the most interesting, and probably one of the most polarizing, aspects about this record would have to be the vocals. Yes, you have your typical black metal screams and howls, but you also have clean vocals who appear to be channeling the spirits of Tom Waits and Nick Cave, and maybe even Rob Halford sometimes. The inclusion of female vocals is also a bit odd as well, not so much for their presence on the album as much as how they're used. You won't find a nice cleanly sung chorus on tracks like Apoph-Ra, the vocals are more like ritualistic moaning than anything else, and it certainly sets a mood. It's a really weird style that is a little disorienting to listen to, especially on tracks like Holy Metamorphosis or ΚΕΦΑΛΗΑ: Sabbath of The Goat where the music really isn't even all that metallic, but more atmospheric and industrial in quality and tone. To be perfectly honest, in terms of overall quality on here, I'd say that the entire thing is pretty high. There's nothing on here that I would deem as bad or even mediocre, a lot of it is very good in my opinion, but the problem is, and this is my biggest complaint about the album, that's it's too long. With as much material packed on here as there is, both discs have more than seventy minutes on them, it's hard to really digest it all and shift through the entire thing. I certainly respect the duo for putting out something as ambitious and challenging as this while still making each track unique enough to stand on its own and not have anything beyond length weigh it down, but it's honestly was still a bit too much even for me sometimes.
It's an exhausting listen and one that is none the easier to get through by tracks that usually end up topping seven minutes and feature as weird an array of sounds as this one. It's rough, especially on the first couple of run-throughs, and, not that it really ever gets any easier, it does start to reveal itself more and more. I seriously suggest checking this out, even if you only end up listening to the whole thing once, it's an experience that I don't think should be missed this year.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Momentum: On The Devil & Death, Hymn to Pan, The Serpent's Head, Upon THE BEAST She Rideth, The Surpreme Ritual

Mutilation Rites - Empyrean (2012)

Band: Mutilation Rites
Country: New York City, New York
Style: Black Metal
Label: Prosthetic

Thanks to the nice review my friend Jon wrote for the quartet known as Mutilation Rites' last EP, I decided to check out this new full-length they're putting out. I was wondering to see what had people praising the band about and that only added to my interest. New York City black metal, what could be wrong with that?
Right from second one onwards, this thing just blazed by. Just intense and straightforward black metal done with a sort of punk attitude (no, I'm not saying because Pitchfork said it), and that really drew me in. Straightforward black metal is all fine and good but personally, I always find it more appealing when a band has something else going for it, whether it's the fact that they can throw in the occasional odd influence from folk or doom, or whether it's an attitude that can just be felt from the music. Screw all things kvlt and necro, I dig the whole punk edge on these songs. The thrash vibe is also nice to hear as well, but it doesn't feel as tiring as thrash makes me feel, because unlike punk, after listening to a thrash album for longer than thirty or so minutes, I get bored with it real fast, and that didn't happen with this, though the entire album isn't even forty minutes total. Punk is the attitude, thrashy are the riffs.
I tend to harp on dynamics and diversity a lot in my reviews, along with production, so I guess I should start in with what I think of them on here. For production, despite how old-school I think these guys are trying to sound, the production is not super necro and raw. Granted, it's not super cleanly polished either, but it feels very real and live, like the band are actually playing in front of you (but with a bit more clarity), which I thought really worked for the sound they're going for. I think that a more modern sounding production might have weakened the attutude they have from coming through. As for dynamics and diversity, the band are good, but certainly still have room to grow. I think that, for the six songs on here, they do a good job at making each song flow naturally without trying to cram in as many riffs as possible. A song like Ancient Bloodoath works for its seven minutes because they break up the black metal sections with a more doomy bridge, or for others they might bring out the punk side a bit more. The doomy side is used a little more frequently on the second half of the album, which I actually preferred, which helped to provide a much needed break from the all-out slaughter-fest that were the faster moments. So dynamics are certainly well utilized though diversity is still a little weak in my opinion. For an album that's only around thirty-five minutes, the band can certainly pull off making most songs fast and aggressive without deterring too much from that, but I think that if they ever decide to release a longer album, they'll definitely have to include some more diversity into their songs. I'm not going to hold that against them too much though because the album is so short.
It's a solid debut full-length that works for what it is and nothing really more than that. I think the band has achieved what they wanted to with this release and it's a record that I'll definitely revisit when I want to hear a more pummeling form of black metal, but I can't see it being an album that I come back too all that often. It's solid, check it out if you're into more straightforward black metal, even old-school fans will probably dig this as well.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: A Season of Grey Rain, Dead Years

2012 - Splits: Part II

I actually hadn't heard material from any of these groups except EUS before listening to these splits before. (Remember that splits are graded from 1-8)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

2012 - Njiqahdda/Oaks of Bethel

Here's three new releases from the duo known as Njiqahdda (who released one of my favorite records of last year). After a long period (for the duo anyway) of relative silence and financial troubles, all of the projects under the Nji name are back up and running. (All three are reviewed from 1-8)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Horseback - Half Blood (2012)

Band: Horseback
Country: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Style: Experimental Black Metal/Psychedelic Rock
Label: Relapse

I have it on good authority to call Horseback, or really Jenks Miller, one of America's shining stars in the world of underground metal. His work in Horseback is constantly pushing boundaries into realms of the unexpected and totally brain-boggling, and I have become absolutely smitten with his work. Since I've started reviewing albums, I can say that my anticipation towards releases has weighed, I can say that this is/was one of the few albums being released this year that I have been anxious to hear before anything else.
Despite all the good word coming out about this record from all sources, to simply rely on that as grounds to say that this album is inherently amazing and jaw-dropping would not only be a terrible way to go about covering this album, but it do a total disservice to the music and hard work put into it. Having said that, I was reliably informed from people whose opinions actually matter to me that this was either their favorite album of this year thus far, or one of their favorites. So, that, along with my own excitement towards finally getting to hear this, build the expectations up quite high for this album; and I can say with certainty that it did not let me down in any way. Sure, I certainly didn't expect all the turns that this record would take and all the stylistic ground that would be covered, even from other reviews, but, in a way, it's better that the way I sort of envisioned them sounding in my head was totally different than what's actually on here.
I mean, I was aware that this was supposed to be a sort of companion to 2009's The Invisible Mountain, so I guess you could say that I was able to kind of figure out the sound of tracks like Mithras, Ahriman, and Arjuna because they aren't too far off of the ideas that were present on that last record. The whole americana-meets-blackened psyche rock sound isn't that different, though it is by far more textured and layered on here. It's on these tracks that I believe Jenks Miller has really stretched the boundaries of psychedelic rock, though the entire album could be seen that way for psychedelic music in general anyway, but for these three tracks he really just crafts these minimal sort of ideas and stretch them into songs that are far and away some of the most captivating I've heard since The Invisible Mountain. The entire performance of these songs is simply hypnotic and really makes you wonder why throughout all the years of progressive and psyche rock, and going into metal, more bands haven't been able to craft songs as interesting, memorable, or trance inducing. Tracks like Inheritance (The Changeling) and Hallucigenia I: Hermetic Gifts, on the other hand, see Miller really achieving levels of mind-warping noise and drone that rivals the likes of Merzbow (at his more intense) and Skullflower.
We cannot simply call this another record though. Unlike how every previous release under the Horseback name has offered a very different personification of the project/band, this new one can be seen as the first time all the elements have come together completely. The raging black metal, the krautrock inflected psychedelic rock, the droning post-rock, blistering noise, and various others have finally unified into a conjunctive unit. Much like how the closing trilogy, Hallucigenia, is a Middle-Cambrian creature named for its dream-like qualities which have lead to many discussions as to even if it is a living creature, or just an appendage from another. With scientists arguing over which end is actually the head of it, one could see it as the perfect metaphor for this album. With so many stylistic ventures under the Horseback name, there is no defining sound that one could find in every recording, as the project is always shifting. Also, as Jenks has referenced in many interviews, this album is also meant to represent alchemic transformation and evolution, both of which can be seen in the album's shifting sounds. Much as this album is what follows after the end of The Invisible Mountain, the closing of this album could lead to further transformations. As the ouroboros eats its own tail, it will continue to exist, constantly recreating itself. Horseback will continue to evolve and change with each release, but as of right now, this is the definitive one.
After all of that, I don't think it's a secret that I love this album. It is truly one of those albums that just moves you in a different way each and every time you listen to it. If the dozens of other reviews praising this album haven't swayed you to check it out already, do it now, you are obviously missing something special and who knows when something like this will happen again.
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Song Is A Highlight

Súl Ad Astral - Súl Ad Astral (2012)

Band: Súl Ad Astral
Country: New Zealand
Style: Post-Black Metal/Blackgaze
Label: Independent

It's only been a couple of months since I first found out about and covered Súl Ad Astral's first single and now they've already put together an album's worth of material. Along with that they've gotten Michael Rumple from Desiderium to provide vocals for the album. Although I thought that their first single was alright, I was certainly interested to see how they've evolved within only a couple of months.
From the word go, the band have chosen to lead the album with the evolved form of their single, now titled To Cherish, which I think works as a double sided sword in this case. The only reason I think that is because, while the instrumental song has certainly evolved from its original form, it's length is a little off-putting, due to it being the longest track on the entire album. I don't know if I would have structured the album that way, but hey, that's just me. But aside from that, I guess I'll go into why this track actually does work as an opener. Aside from the fact that it is an instrumental piece, you'll find that it is perhaps the most basic song in style on the album, owing quite a debt to the likes of Alcest and Amesoeurs and the other works of Neige. It's the type of song that is pretty straightforward blackgaze, nothing more, nothing less; and from there the rest of the album only expands with its ideas.
Production wise, this is a major step up from the single, with a much clearer and cleaner sound to it. The drums are no longer buried beneath the layers of guitars and the bass is quite loud in the mix as well, which I actually found to be a rather endearing quality to this album. I don't know if I'd go as far to say that the band have become more progressive, but there are certainly moments on this album that aren't so tried and true to the blackgaze format. Tracks like In Solitude have a nice range of dynamic climbs and falls throughout it's six minutes, while The Clenching Void has a nice doom metal quality to it that for some reason comes across as very violent and hateful for some reason. But it isn't until the two part Persona tracks where things really start to shift into the more progressive areas. While the ideas are certainly still rooted within the whole blackgaze sound, the tracks feature a wider array of interesting features including solos, Nadja-esque shoegaze passages (though they are by no means droning), and more epic sounding doom sections. I know some people have complained about Rumple's vocals on here, but his vocals are actually one of my favorite things about this record. Unlike a lot of other vocalists from this style of music, who tend to, more or less, sound rather similar to each other, Rumple not only makes use of his considerable range but also comes across far more genuine than a lot of other vocalists. His cleans are soft and whispered while his screams and growls sound pained and emotional, hear Amaurosis for a good example. While I do think that his vocals could have been mixed into the music a little bit better, it kind of feels like the vocals were just placed on top of the music in some cases and it just sounds a bit odd, I do think his performance is a real stand-out on here.
It's a solid full-length debut that is certainly a nice change from the rather usual, and by now overdone, blackgaze sound. It's not without its own problems, but as far as I'm concerned originality isn't one of the bigger ones, and I think future releases will definitely have these guys maturing into something special. If you're a fan of more interesting variations on the blackgaze sound, or post-rock influenced black metal, I'd say that this is going to be one of the better albums for that you're going to hear this year.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: In Solitude, The Clenching Void, Persona II: Solar

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Nachtvorst - Silence (2012)

Band: Nachtvorst
Country: Rotterdam, Holland
Style: Post-Black Metal/Doom Metal
Label: Code666

I have to be honest when I say that when I first discovered Nachtvorst, I thought they were just another depressive black metal group. Many of the groups that were being compared to them (check last.fm) were in that vein, so I guess I just lumped them off as being just another depressive group. When I heard that they had been signed to Code666 though, I definitely checked them out, knowing that if they had been signed to a label like that, it could not have been just another stereotypical black metal group.
Listening back to the group's debut full-length, 2009's Stills, I guess it's kind of easy to see why the band was lumped into the whole depressive scene. The whole logo made use of a noose, they had a couple of high-pitched cries of anguish, and the music was pretty morose in atmosphere, they weren't exactly distancing themselves from what was getting press at the time. In between that album and this one they released an EP with a single song on it which I have yet to hear, but it's obvious that there's been a reevaluation of the direction of the band since that debut full-length. No longer is the sound of the band in the depressive vein, and to be honest, based on the press release for the album, I was expecting that they had kind of trend-hopped and moved onto being a whole blackgaze or post-rock influenced black metal group, which wouldn't have been bad, necessarily, but it would have been hard to take them seriously, but that's not what happened. The band has decided to take their sound into a new realm that, honestly, if you had asked me if I thought they'd do or pull off, I probably would have told you that I doubted it.
I'm not going to say that the band have totally abandoned their dark and melancholic atmosphere, but instead of raw sounding black metal, what you get on here is a sound that's much more comparable to doom. While musically, it isn't quite as slow as funeral doom, the atmosphere on these songs reminds me more of groups from that sub-genre, so while musically it's more comparable to My Dying Bride, the ambiance surrounding the music reminds me more of Mourning Beloveth, but that's just me. I hear more sorrow and sadness emanating from this. Not to say the band have lost their black metal edge though. Nightwinds is easily the most black metal track on here, and while it never attempts to touch blast-beat territory, the mid-paced grind it achieves early on does recall the genre's more intense moments while the melodic and post-rock inflected conclusion to the track is something that, while showing a glimpse of light in the otherwise pitch-black cellar that is this album, never goes for that Alcest, Fen, etc. sort of blackgaze sound and remains as downtrodden as everything that came before it. That's probably the track with the clearest reference to the whole "post-rock influenced black metal" scene because the other track favor slower builds that are perhaps more comparable to the likes of Neurosis or Isis, in terms of building and structuring songs more than actual sonic resemblances.
Of all the tracks on here, the one that is more than likely going to turn some heads will likely be the track called Gentle Notice of A Final Breath. Unlike the other songs on this album, including the two instrumental piano interludes, this track just is just seething with depression. While there are certainly moments that are more like the depressive realm they were once more commonly associated with, it is by far the least metallic on the entire record. Bringing an eerie sense of desolation and calmness throughout its eleven minute length, the track rarely escalates into more aggressive territory, favoring a more minimalist take on post-rock over the destructive blackened doom exhibited on the rest of the record. I say that it'll likely turn heads because it isn't a heavy song, it isn't a song that has a whole lot going for it actually, but it's just so bleak and restrained that one can't help but be drawn to it.
I thought this was a very good album and one that I was certainly not expecting from this band, but I was very pleasantly surprised with. It's not going to be for everyone, especially those who can't get past the more depressive parts of the band's past and the dark vibe that permeates this record, but if you can deal with that, you're in for a hell of a treat with this. Dark and depressing music has yet to sound so fresh to my ears.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: The Serpent's Tongue, A Way of Silence