Friday, December 15, 2017
Inevitably, the CD called out to me once more, its simple, scratchy cover runes confidently requesting that I take another chance, since I was being so stubborn the first couple runs. I failed whatever Saving Throw it is that I fail so often when experiencing the creations of these Norwegians, and then found myself listening to it again. And again. And six more times after that...
Gods. Damn. It. I was hooked by another Enslaved record.
E is not an effort that will surprise any of the band's following over these last 17 years since the band took a significant leap in nuance and originality with Mardraum: Beyond the Within. Many of their hallmarks remain: a hybrid of triumphant melodic black metal, progressive and psychedelic rock elements, bright tints of post-metal or 'blackgaze', gnarled and clean vocals. They've gotten so well trained on this blend that these traits are distributed quite evenly among the tracks, all spun up into a heavily varied rhythmic stew which, while not offering any specific nuances that you'd feel stand out from the rest of their 21st century discography, still seem like they have a lot of stones unturned, so the precise melodies, percussion patterns, atmospherics and vocal patterns here remain fresh and memorable, hardly doppelgangers of what they've already produced over the last 4-5 albums. Add to that what is, alongside In Times, some of their cleanest production yet, and you've got another effort which transcends the boundaries of their initial genre, with seamless integration of its musical ideas into not only one another, but also the philosophical application of folklore and ethnic Scandinavian religion which they use to manifest timeless, interesting lyrics and imagery.
You'll hear a few straightforward, driving pieces here redolent of an Isa or Ruun, where they were first adopting this brighter, accessible brand of modern Viking, but despite the consonant, shining and warm vibes carried through a lot of the soaring backup vocals or the glint of upper range guitars, they also maintain a subtle air of dissonance that keeps the listener just on the edge of lapsing into a truly safe space. "Axis of the Worlds", a personal favorite here, just rocks itself out with a mesmerizing and evil rhythm guitar slathered and harmonized by wonky, wailing, eerie leads. "Hiindsiight" spits out horns into a comfortable, numbing flow of prog that it feels almost Rush-like, but riding on the fjord-waters out to sea with a shifting sun bearing down on the guitars from over the horizon. What truly surprised me, though, is the band's cover of "What Else is There?" from the 2005 album The Understanding by electronic countrymen Röyksopp. They manage to transform the original into this organic wall of chords, clean and growled vocals which is entirely their own, paying tribute to a cool band and song while not interrupting the natural progression of originals that led up to it, just a really great closer that I would never have expected going into this...
There are euphoric moments on this record where it lives up the drug that shares its namesake, and then heavier passages which remind us that they haven't, for one fucking second, forgotten where it is that they came from, and it's this 'eternal cool' factor, an eternal relevance, which is one of the most attractive aspects of their existence. Enslaved is one band that I know I can trust, that I can always take seriously, that doesn't ever seem to put out a record for the sake of it, and yet has enough professionalism to keep the content flowing along at a normal pace. There are those that will forever denounce anything this band has written since Frost as high brow intellectual pap for neckbeards and progsnobs, and their opinion is very unlikely to change with this 14th full-length, but yet again I've got an album here that I feel I can share with those who lounge on the periphery, or outside the den of extremity, an easy recommendation for anyone that just likes good music, that you can either chill out to or rage alongside in equal measures. And I predict it won't be the last. Thank the nine realms for plans that backfire.
Verdict: Epic Win [9.25/10] (the mind-knot will hold)
Friday, December 8, 2017
I could tell you that I picked up fragments of Canadian alienists Antediluvian or Mitochondrion here, or perhaps scraps of the dissonant French masters Blut Aus Nord and Deathspell Omega, and all of that would be true; but the psychedelic submission and trauma of Finland's Oranssi Pazuzu is perhaps the closest equivalent, though Tongues don't rely strictly on such exotic walls of atonal sheen in terms of songwriting. Hreilia is intelligently set up by the slow, evil, subliminal grooving of the track "Perennial Waves", behind which you can make out all manner of scaling and falling ambiance that gives the impression you're in the wake of some midnight atrocity, the victims' remains cooling around you, bathing in the lunar rays, much like the cover. The album can grow much more savage, with faster blasted parts that rely on busier progressions of chords, but it's generally the rule that the material remains slower or mid-pace, extremely bewitching and atmospheric, and they play around more with the riffing structures and bass lines that actually matter, while using a guttural lead vocal as a constant that helps rein in and bind the material to a sense of bleak oppression.
Synthesizers are used tastefully throughout, whether in some of the shorter instrumental pieces or to accent the metal components with heightened, fell grace. They also use a saranji, an incredibly atmospheric Eastern stringed instrument which by itself can create all manner of depth and drama, and it balances off against the harsher sections of the albums smoothly. The mix is a fraction oblique, sacrificing polish for a more dingy and alien feel that better serves the blend of instruments, but this all works really well as a package alongside the crude, creepy colors of the artwork and the arcane symmetry of the band's logo, or the imagery of cosmic/weird horror and dread which permeates the lyrics. One of the strongest and most sinister new voices I've heard on both the Danish scene and the I, Voidhanger roster in some time, Hreilia is a record which is not immediately impenetrable, but still picks up accumulative value the more you listen through it, with its spooky and subduing licks that massage and violate your mind in equal measure. Euthanasia for happiness.
Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (seraphs become larvae)
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Hypnotic, atonal ambiance and poetry inaugurate this sophomore full-length before the tumultous chords erupt, coiled and dissonant but with a subtext of melody that creates a warmer feel than your garden variety newsprint black metal. Costin proscribes to the tortured soul, huffing style of snarled vocal which is slightly higher pitched than many of his peers, suicidal in shape, and very likely to drive half the potential audience mad within moments of hearing it. I am not in that half, because I appreciate the strange contrast it creates against the busier, roiling mold into which the riffs are formed. Organic rhythm guitars teeming with melancholic chords, whether configured into pure black metal chords or flights of thrashier picking, often with an alien feel reminiscent of a band like the mighty Voivod, though that is not always the rule. Nicely balanced bass lines that often hum just below the frenzied fretwork, but occasionally swell up to a more distinct, popping fervor with a few curious lines of their own. The drums are splashy, constantly attentive, and laced with the fills and footwork requisite to fulfill the demands of the eclectic riffing progressions.
I want to say I'm reminded of high-brow progressive metal acts like Opeth or Cormorant, only with a lot more natural, less processed, less 'safe' tone and structure to the guitars and presentation, and capped off by vocals that are far more in the vein of bands like Weakling, Bethlehem or Burzum, but not copies. The album is super well rounded in terms of how harsher passages are countered off by gentler moments and then swung back around to a passionate, frenzied crescendo. You'll find differently structure riffs and harmonies in all the metal tracks, revealing that Chironeau is well-versed in a lot of metal beyond just the blackness at the core of the project, occasionally glazed with gloomy pure heavy-metal or progressive rock. The guy has been in a large number of other bands in the past, and you can tell he doesn't cast any of those aesthetics aside, instead inserting them whenever they flow a track in an interesting direction. There's a real treat, a novelty in listening to a Bloodway album that puts them easily into recommendation territory, especially if you're into eclectic stuff like Blut Aus Nord, Deathspell Omega, Enslaved, or other entrepreneurs in the medium. Never less than impressive, if you're willing to decode the nuances.
Verdict: Win [8.5/10] (a tongue for sonic leaks)
Monday, December 4, 2017
Hail Satan might have an overt, provocative title, but in truth is not thematically abstracted from other Drug Honkey efforts. Subjects like drug abuse, depression, and institutional rebellion are legion, and often represented with extremely minimalist lyrical patterns that care about little more than getting their point across (i.e. "Reject Religion"). These actually work to the benefit of the songs, because Honkey Head's performance here is positively manic, the true driving force of the disc, and these succinct and straightforward lines becomes mantras that he can repeat over the dissonant mire of the instruments, altering his pitch between barks, growls, nasally cleans, and other tones that head even further out into the deeps, stretching at the outer membranes of sanity. Slathered in reverb and other effects, they definitely become the most pronounced feature on the disc, possibly a little loud in the mix on some sequences, but critical to narrating the tempest of emotional turmoil that the album is created to deal with. I stress this because for some listeners, they'll prove the make or break factor for immersion into the album as a whole, never shying away from an overload of eccentricity.
Musically, the album is also really simple, with dingy and distorted guitars splayed out in largely patterns of open notes, thinner and buzzing rather than dense and choking, and sometimes striking some hideous and disturbing dissonance, which creates a contrast against the more predictable notes ringing out. Bass-lines are leaden, almost industrial grooves, and the drums limp along in a drugged, hypnotic certainty that allows all these conflicts to crash above them and alongside them. Add to this a bevy of electronics, ambiance and mix effects, and depth is created even where there is an utter lack of complexity. Some tunes are less structured than others, or creep along at a funereal doom pace not unlike an Esoteric, where others revel in an archaic industrial metal framework redolent of Godflesh or Treponem Pal. The deeper into the album, when you hit on a tune like "Silver Lining", affairs become even stranger, like layers of thick and angry skin have been peeled back and you're entering another level of confusion. The whole experience has a live, improvisational backbone, perhaps with a few initial directions that are then left to mutate into bedlam.
It's cool. It's not Cloak of Skies cool, nor Ghost in the Fire cool, because there are added layers of exhilaration and texture on those records. But, being forewarned about what sorts of ugly and hallucinogenic aural hues the Chicago quarter tend to choose to paint with, I certainly connected with the aggravation and despair that swells up in every single track here. The album feels like you're being slowly dragged, at some heightened level of intoxication, through the streets of a filthy urban sprawl, possibly by someone who just mugged or drugged you, listening to the sounds of abuse, addiction and anxiety being shouted from the higher story windows of dank alleys, occasionally being nudged by street refuse, manhole covers half-ajar, or splashed through the piss and rain and whatever the fuck else has mixed in with them. Exhausting, entropic and effective.
Verdict: Win [7/10] (I found them down in flames)
Friday, December 1, 2017
And while they certainly arrive at the end of that path, they unfortunately don't do so in such a timely matter. Perhaps the great intro this album, 'Dolen - Exiting the Real' raised my expectations a bit too high. It's a swelling, droning ambient piece that has little in common with the rest of the album, but damn is it ominous and really sets the anticipation level to have your soul crushed. Once the metal proper actually arrives, though, it's rather dry and predictable, which is not a great combination when you're moving along at this pace. That's not to say they pick the most generic riffs available, but when you're putting together 8-10 minute tracks as a rule, even having a few moments where the energy is lacking or the doom riffs don't sound that sad and evil can cripple the rest. Hoodest Priest are not a band lacking in dynamics, between mid-era Cathedral hustle of "These Skies May Break" or "Herod Within", to the more lurching mechanics which land somewhere between Candlemass and My Dying Bride, you get a good range here...they're not trying to endlessly repeat themselves or bore you at all, but once in awhile, like when faced with the intro riff to "Call for the Hearse", excitement was hard to come by.
Also not a huge fan of the vocals. They've got a wavering edginess to them, but sometimes this is obscured by a goofier, more conversational tone that he flexes between the mid and higher range, and it doesn't really live up to the music beneath it, even where that itself is mundane. I'm all for these sorts of 'honest' doom singers who use natural tones in the Ozzy tradition rather than just growling the whole time, but where it works in some cases (Blizarro, Reverend Bizarre, etc), it's a little inconsistent, also the more glaring when you've got such a long tune to cover. Nothing awful, mind you, but just awkward enough that it detracts from the overall quality. Now, with all this said, you might think I hated The Hour Be None, and that's not the case. It's competent enough, and even fairly cool throughout "These Skies May Break", my fave among these cuts, but there were points during tunes like "Call of the Hearse" and especially the 10 and a half minute "Locust Reaper" where I was phasing out completely from what was happening. If you're a true addict for the style, and dig a good cross-section of the bands I've name-dropped, or a few others like Solitude Aeternus, Dread Sovereign, Cardinal's Folly or Memory Garden, then check it out; you might get more from it than I did.
Verdict: Indifference [6/10]
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
The only real piece of 'tranquility' you'll find on The Crowning Quietus is its nightmarish intro piece "With Leaden Hooks and Chains", occult voices barking off against a background thud of drums and hellish, developing ambiance. After that it's off to the races, with a black metal rampage of passages which often resemble hyper-black/thrash note structures from the 90s, only with an almost carnival effect, or a mocking sensibility in how the frenzied higher note passages fly across the frets. As you might have guessed, these guys go with a deeper growl than most black metal vocalists, but it's not to the point of being truly guttural, just a deeper, full-bodied rasp. There are always new progressions of riffs being layered in through any given track, so while there aren't many which really stuck to my brain over the long term, they are definitely exciting and interesting to follow, never taking any safe or exceedingly predictable routes, instead more like a representation of madness, fits of which claim the listener as he's exposed to the shitstorm of the rhythm guitars. The rhythm section is likewise damned competent, with busy beats across the spectrum and a nice, throbbing, distorted bass tone which also helps capture a little of the nuclear thrash mood you can feel from some of the riffs.
Three of the songs are longer pieces, but they represent the back half of the album, which is smart because you'll be tossed into the sinister labyrinth like mice, but given a few simpler mazes to navigate before they just lay it all on in the more advanced levels. That said, they help flush out those 7-8 minute tunes with a broader array of atmospherics and varied guitars that avert needless repetition or redundancy. I'm not trying to misidentify Inconcessus Lux Lucis as some cheesy, overly technical outfit, they simply put a lot of effort into the songs, a lot of pattern memorization and make sure there is more to greet the ear than the same old chords and melodies you expect from a lot of midlist black metal even to this day. Song for song, I don't know that this beats the previous EP, but it's more than evident that they can maintain that style of hectic, energetic composition for about twice the length, since The Crowning Quietus is overall a merciful 35 minutes, knowing when to call it off and leave its audience frothing for more. More potential here than almost any other black metal outfit from the UK that I could name without having to think long and hard about it.
Verdict: Win [8.25/10]
Monday, November 27, 2017
The first track alone was enough to hook me, "Éminence Grise" a swell of strings and synthesizers that rolled into these brick-work double bass batteries and vile guitars before dropping back into these more airy, ambient instruments. When Redemptor get heavy, there are some clear parallels to bands like Morbid Angel, in how they can so effortless shift between these alien, slower sections and then explode into brief blasting spasms, but there's also a choppy sense of clinical death/thrash which they implement to bind the two other temporal poles into one, and then they permeate all this with bends, wails, and whatever tricks they can to keep the ear performing acrobatics to keep up. Riff-wise, they are quite fulfilling, bouncing between sinister note progressions and warmer, melodic phrasings, but I also have to say here that I don't know if there was another record of this type I've heard lately which tested out so many tempos, rhythmic syncopations and riff styles while somehow managing to rein it all in to a cohesive, single-band experience. Every bridge throughout the album, every 'chorus', and every verse is exploring the border parameters they've established, rather than just sitting in the center of the fucking box.
The proficiency is staggering, not because they show off but because they transition so smoothly between all these insane passages, molding a dystopic atmospheric wasteland. Leads are boundless in potential but kept in check with bluesy melodies or tonal shifts into prog shredding that don't wreck the songs surrounding them. It's a band that can not only sate fans of tech gods like Decrepit Birth, Gorguts, and Gorod, but those who really just want interesting, well rounded death metal which doesn't come across as remotely cliche. The lyrics are intelligent, philosophic and might come off as some mumbo-jumbo, but certainly meaningful to the band which wrote them, and a tune like "Semantic Incoherence" lacks nothing for poetic imagery and phrases. The production is clean and rich but pummeling to the gut at the same time, so much flying around but it's all easy to ingest and distinguish from the other instruments and growls. The sum Arthaneum experience might not be the most memorable in the entire death metal lexicon, but it should certainly make some fucking waves if there's an ounce of justice in the death metal underground. Killer album.
Verdict: Win [8.5/10] (fragile and wicked acts)
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
On every technical level, The Deviant Chord is a success. Between Conklin's nuanced, Dickinson influenced wailing and howling, to Tafolla's controlled shredding, to a rhythm section anyone would be happy to have at their backs. Soaring, anthemic power metal which is busy and majestic enough to capture the European audience, with huge chorus sequences, backing harmonies, and a nice mixture of rhythmic variation between hard-hitting mutes, triplets, open atmospheric chords, and other standard but seasoned techniques to permit these songs to feel distinct from one another, even if they're all barking up the same tree. The Tyrant's sustained howls still sound comparable to a couple decades ago, with perhaps a small measure of understandable strain, but even at his mid range he knows how to let that voice get a wingspan over the workmanlike hustle and bustle beneath. When the band needs to slow it down, and get a little meaner, they do so, as with the title track. When they want a chance to flex their 'sensitive side', they do so, also in the intro to the title track, or during their metallic transformation of the traditional English folk song "Foggy Dew", which is seamless.
But if this album lacks anything, it's just having killer cuts that are going to ricochet back and forth through your subconscious until you can satisfy a craving by listening again. The Deviant Chord is a pleasure to experience while in the act, and proof positive that the Panzer hasn't skipped a beat despite its six-year hiatus since The Scourge of the Light (itself coming after a seven year period), but it doesn't really stick around for long after the listening. They simply haven't stumbled upon the level of hooks that their genre gods like Maiden, Priest or even Helloween have, but there's no way you can write that off as any 'lack of trying'...this is some carefully constructed, dramatic, graceful, melodic, occasionally fist raising metal by a bunch of elder statesmen whose proficiency levels simply exceed the songsmithing by a small order of magnitude. But you know what? It's enough. I'll listen to it again, and I'll listen to their next one, because Jag Panzer doesn't fuck around, and doesn't waste your time, and if you enjoyed records like The Scourge of the Light or Thane to the Throne then I'd be shocked if you didn't also get something out of this one too.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (each note rings out a glimpse of truth)
Monday, November 20, 2017
I Am Legion continues with the prior album's lineup, the veteran trio of Jensen, Corpse and D'Angelo joined by Angus Norder on vocals and Christofer Barkensjö on the drums, and they give an earnest attempt to mix a little of their late 90s style with some more varied, ranging, dynamic, bombastic songwriting, which often results in simpler, more warlike riff patterns and a little bit of dissonance through the black metal chords they apply to the more straightforward chords. The album has a few strange choices in pacing, like opening with the titular, drab instrumental Slayer-thon of "Legion" and then lapsing into the horror-theme organs which anoint "True North", which in truth should have been the opener since it just makes more aesthetic sense, and sounds brasher and brighter with its flowing mid-paced gait and potent if predictable riff-set. There's a real 90s groove/thrash feel to a lot of the material, generally derived from that era of Slayer, with a few flourishes of Swedish blackness to create a more suffocating, evil atmosphere, and a hell of a lot is reliant on the loud rasped delivery of Norder, who sounds like a loyal mix of his two predecessors Toxine and (ironically) Legion, but lacks a bit of distinction on his own.
For the most part, the riffs seem like an average grab-bag of Jensen and/or Corpse's vast arsenals which hadn't wound up on any other album, taking but a few minutes to string together into other like-minded sections, but that's not to say they entirely lack energy on a primordial level, which is really the way to approach this. The choruses aren't going to be as infectious as something like "The Reaper", so they compensate with a little more diversity in how the tunes are timed out and placed up against one another. There's also no lack for some atmosphere in cuts like "Welcome, Night", "A Faustian Deal" or "Dry Bones", and some of the hammering, harder hitting fare like "Seraphic Terror" hits you with a few tasteful licks like the trilly guitars between the verses, but overall I'd say the riff patterns fire off at a rate of 2-3 forgettable, and then one with some genuine force to bore into your brain. The drums and bass sound good, the rhythms thick and muscular compared to some prior albums, especially where they rely on slower stuff in the vein of Celtic Frost, Darkthrone or the black & roll Satyricon records, which a lot of riffs here resemble.
The cover art is a little generic, obvious and boring, but to be fair this album is the closest I've come to truly enjoying one since Dead, Hot and Ready, and superior to Symphony for the Devil; so I have to give Witchery some props, even though it feels a little contractual and phoned in on the instrumental side. Lyrically, however, I think it's pretty solid, if not clever or intellectual, with a measure of effort placed into their prose, imagery, and general flow. As a side note, I also dug the video for "True North", which doesn't seem like what you'd typically expect from the band due to the themes they usually toil around with, and that reflects in the music itself a little. Despite my issues, I Am Legion is an effort that would likely please a lot of listeners up front, and does give a little hope that the band is starting to get back on the rails that it, after all, never left for any great distance.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Friday, November 17, 2017
That's both a good and bad thing, because while Vorphalack and crew are clearly intent on dressing up and expanding those aesthetics, there are numerous moments here where you'll feel as if you're getting deja-vu for a synthesizer or guitar progression, drum pattern or fill that you've already heard two decades ago. For the most part, they're coming up with new chord patterns, which works out really well in a tune like "Red Planet" which is a new take on the warlike space opera of a "Jupiterian Vibe" which will have you marching in similar step. Most of the melody in modern Samael music is provided solely by the synthesizers, which have the same martial, striking, sweeping feel to them here as they cultivate both a militaristic and Eastern sheen. It's up to the beats, lower end guitars and Vorph's distinct, eternally accented snarls to provide the metallic bedrock, and they do so well, with a lore more cutting, kinetic passion to them than you'd hear out of comparable hybrids of industrial and metal aesthetics such as those of the Neue Deutsche Härte persuasion. I also have to praise the bass playing here, from new member Drop, who lays out these awesome, fat, rolling lines that support the clamorous, choppy majesty in tunes like "This World". While the drum programming has long been a point of contention for some fans, I think Xytras does another great job layering in thick enough and 'real enough' percussion pads without abandoning the martial and mechanical coldness.
The lyrics these days continue the themes of social consciousness and social unity that they first embarked on with Eternal, but they're also willing to spark up a little pseudo-controversy with a cut like "Black Supremacy", and if you've seen the video there you'll probably have seen a lot of the responses. Hint: it's not really about what you think it is. There are also some self-referential pieces like their namesake "Samael", or "Angel of Wrath", the former of which is like a giant socialist shout out to celebrate the band's following, and their message. It's a little heavy handed, but not as corny as, say, Reign of Light; and it wouldn't be the first time, since it does fit the band's modernist, corporate or empirical vision and minimalist visual branding which manifests in both the sleek packaging and fattened new logo variant (which I think is an improvement). Samael is just one of a kind, and while I can promise that those who have shunned everything they've released since 1994 will find no end here to pulling out their own hair and seeking sanctuary in the shadow of some inverted cross where no keyboard dares to tread, I readily admit to having enjoyed the hell out of this.
A couple nicks and dents here or there, a few songs not pulling their weight quite as much as others, but they even manage to transform "Helter Skelter" into something of their own, and the bonus track "Storm of Fire" is one of the coolest on the album. They also don't pull back too far on the heavy spectrum, for example "Black Supremacy" would have felt right at home on Above. Hegemony might not ultimately emit the level of timeless material that Passage was built from, but it certain does a fantastic job of capturing its ebullient, storming magnificence.
Verdict: Win [8.75/10] (light and force have a name)