Ulvegr - The Call of Glacial Emptiness

Posted on Tuesday, March 03, 2015

This is my first time hearing Ulvegr, but this is their third full-length album. The reason I wanted to check them out was because the two guys in the band are longtime members of the Ukrainian scene. Odalv, the drummer, is a member of Elderblood and has also spent time in Nokturnal Mortum, among many other bands. Helg, who plays everything else and does vocals, is also in Khors and KZOHH, plus some others, a few of which also contained Odalv in the lineup. Both of these guys have been around a while, and when you listen to Ulvegr, you can tell that they know what they’re doing. The Call of Glacial Emptiness is a very well rounded record. It goes a lot of places and ties everything together in a way that makes sense. There are songs that are blisteringly fast, others that are slower and heavier, and still others that are brutal as fuck. Each track has its own identity, and while there is a lot of ground covered, all of them sound like Ulvegr. This takes a lot of talent and even veteran bands can’t get it right a lot of times. By giving themselves a large range to operate in and also establishing a distinct “core” musical sound, they can bring in a diverse array of musical influences but still create songs that don’t sound out of place. This LP has elements of Black Metal, Death Metal, Thrash and even a little Doom and Traditional Metal in it. I was somewhat surprised that Ulvegr doesn’t include a significant amount of keyboards in their music the way that Elderblood and Khors do, but I guess it makes sense that they’d want to do something different with this band. They use the keyboards only in intro or outro sequences, with the rest of the music being guitar-based. In terms of production, they have a power and clarity that didn’t used to exist in Eastern European Black Metal. Even the best sounding bands weren’t this heavy or brutal until Behemoth started adopting the more Death Metal oriented production, and the proliferation of this sound has had a net positive effect on other bands from the region. The sound is fairly punishing and the guitars are nice and prominent. You can even hear the bass, which is a rarity even on records where the production is stellar. The combination of excellent production and some seriously high-quality Black Metal makes this a package that fans of bands like Behemoth or Vader will surely appreciate.

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Taekaury - Spirit of Koguryo

Posted on Monday, March 02, 2015

It’s not very often that I hear Metal from South Korea, so I look at it as something of a novelty. There are probably a lot more bands out there than you would think, but because they don’t have any internationally recognized acts, most Metal fans would be hard-pressed to name any Korean groups. As extensive as my Metal collection is, most of my Asian Metal comes from Japan, though I do have a fair amount from China now. Taekaury is a one-man band that, up until recently, was known as Apparition (“애퍼리션” in Korean). The music of Taekaury is sometimes referred to as Black Metal, which is the genre that Apparition was lumped into, but this is more accurately described as Pagan Metal in that Heukmae/武神蚩尤/黑梅/Black Blossom (he’s listed under a whole bunch of different names - his Facebook page lists him as Black Blossom (黑梅), but Metal-Archives.com has him listed as Heukmae for this project, and as 武神蚩尤 under his entry for Apparition) is going for a more traditional pre-Christian Korean influence. It’s very nationalistic in some ways, but very anti-Korean in others. The main distinction seems to be that the anti-Korean stuff seems directed mainly at the government and the “Christian” values it represents. I guess his problem is that he sees outside influences (such as Christianity) as corrupting his culture, which is a valid complaint in a lot of ways. It certainly fuels his fire and makes him write some evil sounding music. Musically, Spirit of Koguryo is very “European” sounding. It has a lot of influences from Scandinavian Black Metal (primarily Swedish and Norwegian scenes), though it also incorporates some Traditional Metal and Thrash into the song structures. The more Black Metal influenced parts seemed a bit generic to me, though the addition of Thrash riffs and some blistering guitar solos did spice things up considerably. Spirit of Koguryo is a well executed LP that kicks all kinds of ass. When I researched this band, I was afraid that this would be another one of those “the message is more important than the music” type of albums. I’ve listened to countless NSBM and ultra-nationalist bands that put their message first and released records that were essentially so musically bad that they were unlistenable. My fears were unfounded here. This LP is a very solid release, and I hope to hear more from Taekaury.

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Ptahil - Born Against

Posted on Friday, February 27, 2015

Indiana’s Blackened Heavy Metal horde, Ptahil, is back again with their third full-length LP and if you liked their brand of massively distorted and reverb-laden Black Heavy Metal before, you’re getting more of what you love. Ptahil has always used the “giant ball of Satanic noise” style of production, which is something that makes their music very hard to discern. The riffing is pretty straightforward Heavy Fucking Metal in style, and if you’re looking for things like guitar solos or flashy playing, you’re not going to find any of that stuff here. These guys are a no-frills bunch, and if it doesn’t stave your face in, it isn’t included. It’s power chord heavy, ass-kicking, no-bullshit Heavy Metal from the first song to the last. Even if the playing is sloppy, you’d never know because the amount of distortion they’re using blends all of it together. Loose or not, the music does get your head banging right away, and even though the songs are longer this time around, the additional length is anything but a problem. One thing I always liked about this band is that despite all the distortion and reverb, the vocals are still mostly understandable. Even without a lyric sheet, it’s possible to follow along after just a couple of listens. Luathca has a delivery style that reminds me a lot of bands like Chicago’s Usurper, or Nunslaughter. It’s a bark that has a harshness to it, but it’s not so brutal that you can’t understand what’s being said. Things never devolve into the typical “gurgle-gurgle-gurgle-Sataaaaan!!” stuff you hear from the average Satanic Death Metal band and I appreciate that. More than anything else, I like that Ptahil doesn’t really sound like anyone else out there. In a scene so full of bands that seem the same or derivative of each other, it’s nice to hear one that kicks ass all over the place and still stands out from the crowd. Given what’s on this album, though, I would say that seeing them live is probably a better medium. As much neck damage as Born Against will give you, catching a live performance would probably land you in the ER.

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Albion - Campanula

Posted on Thursday, February 26, 2015

This is the debut album from Japan’s Albion, a relatively new all-girl Metal band that plays a keyboard-heavy form of Power Metal that sounds somewhat like a Gothic Metal version of Cyntia. Like Cyntia, the keyboards provide the bulk of the heavy lifting, delivering both the atmospheric elements as well as more orchestral/symphonic parts. Keyboardist Saki Hasegawa is obviously a skilled player and while the other members of the group do step in and occasionally add some technical flair, she’s the one you notice the most. The music is fairly well executed, but there are some parts of Campanula that need to be worked on. A few of the songs, such as “Paranoia,” don’t flow as well as they should, and the songwriting and style are on the uneven side. The songs themselves don’t suck, but there are things that could have been done better. “Paranoia” stands out the most as an example of the band’s inexperience. The music sounds like something out of a carnival for a fair portion of the song, and the general atmosphere seemed off. When you compare it to the other tracks, it lacks the same Gothic/Classical air. It disrupts the flow of the album and that’s what does the most damage. Though Albion has a lot of skills, they need some time to develop as a band. That and considerable rehearsal can iron out many of the group’s problems. My guess is that Albion may have rushed a bit to get this LP out. For a band as young as Albion is, having a debut album come out not long after their first single is released seemed a bit too soon for me. This may have been a stronger release had it been an EP, showcasing their best material, reserving the others for a time when everything has been tightened up and the wrinkles smoothed. When Albion can get things right, the band shines. They’ve got a long way to go before they’re serious contenders, but potential is here. If they can get a competent studio engineer (one that knows how to record Metal, because the bass drum tone on this sounds horrible) and put together enough solid songs, people are going to take notice. It might not happen overnight, but in a couple of years, we might be mentioning Albion in the same breath as bands like Aldious, Mary’s Blood and Destrose.

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Demonic Slaughter - The Haunted

Posted on Tuesday, February 24, 2015

[Editor’s note: The CD and “digital” versions of this album have somewhat divergent tracklists, and even slightly different titles, with the “digital” officially being The Haunted, while the CD is simply Haunted, no “the.” Why anyone thought that would be a good idea is open to discussion…]
I’ve quietly become a fan of Poland’s Demonic Slaughter. The main reason for this is that they sound like old Mayhem. Face it, the Mayhem of today doesn’t sound much like the band that produced De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas all those years ago. Every album after that has gotten progressively further and further away from their old sound, and if you really liked the whole Dead & Euronymous era of Mayhem as I did, you’ve progressively gotten more and more fed up with the band. Where you find that evil atmosphere and the demented vocal style that Attila used on De Mysteriis now is with bands like Demonic Slaughter, who took the torch and kept it lit. Even though Xaos Oblivion is involved in a bunch of other projects (including his own solo band), he still manages to keep the music of Demonic Slaugher dark and evil sounding. The Haunted starts off hard and heavy, with “Mystic Rites” pounding away with almost military precision drumming and riffs that get your head banging with the rhythm, musically channeling equal parts old Mayhem and early Darkthrone. This song sets the tone for the rest of the album, marching steadily along at a pace that keeps the dark and evil atmosphere intact while not getting monotonous. Even at higher speed ranges, such as on “Monks of Cold Mountains,” Demonic Slaughter manages to keep most of their dark and gloomy atmosphere intact, which is something that a lot of veteran bands have trouble doing. Their best work, though, is in the slower speed ranges where their heaviness and dark atmosphere can work most potently. If there is a detraction to the contents of this LP, it’s that Demonic Slaughter hasn’t progressed very much musically since their previous release, Downfall. If you’re looking for titanic shifts in songwriting and production, you’re going to be disappointed. Demonic Slaughter has evolved somewhat, but those changes are on the micro scale. Xaos Oblivion’s shift to the Attila-style vocals full-time has given the band a darker and more twisted sound, and while the music is still very similar to their previous works, they’ve tightened up and tweaked things a bit, too. How far they’ve progressed is debatable, but if you liked what you heard from them before, you’ll enjoy The Haunted. It’s solid, evil Black Metal with a dark atmosphere, and that’s what I look for when I want to listen to evil music.

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Mardelas - Daybreak/Phantasia

Posted on Friday, February 20, 2015

Mardelas is the new band featuring former Destrose vocalist, Marina Hebiishi. After what appears to be a less than amicable split from her previous band, Marina has bounced back with all the fire and passion she brought to Destrose intact and maybe intensified. Though this EP only has two songs on it, it has a lot of impact. I heard that this was originally going to be a four-song EP, but the band decided to reduce it to two songs because they wanted to focus on quality over quantity. If that’s true, it was a wise choice because the two songs here kick a lot of ass. “Phantasia” and “Daybreak” pick up where the 霖 -Rin-/MAZE EP by Destrose left off and continue the musical pummeling. If the new EP (The Prologue) by Destrose (the first to feature their new vocalist) is a musical punch to the face, this EP by Mardelas is the equivalent of getting the shit beaten out of you by an enraged Mike Tyson in his prime. I knew that Marina was a fire-breather already, but I was somewhat unprepared for the amount of damage my neck was about to receive when I pressed “play” on my media player - and this is after having heard the 霖 -Rin-/MAZE EP. My head was banging, my hand was raised in the sign of the horns and I was screaming “Fuck Yeah!” at my computer for the duration of this EP, which was sadly only about ten minutes long. If there’s a detraction, it’s that two songs isn’t enough. I wanted more and I wanted it really badly. If you like anthemic Heavy Fucking Metal in the vein of old Loudness or maybe the new Mary’s Blood LP (a band that is ironically also composed of former Destrose members), Mardelas delivers the goods as potently as any band in the scene. Hopefully, this is a harbinger of more awesome music to come because I really enjoyed listening to it. If you liked Marina’s work with Destrose, particularly the 霖 -Rin-/MAZE EP, you’ll love Daybreak/Phantasia. Destrose may be having issues with finding out who they are, but Marina Hebiishi knows who she is and what musical direction she wants to go. If you feel like following along, just look for the ten mile wide path of destruction littered with broken bodies and smoking ruins.

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Weightlessness - Of Lachrymose Grief

Posted on Thursday, February 19, 2015

Exactly how much you will (or won’t) enjoy the debut recording from US Doom merchants Weightlessness hinges solely on one singular question, and just in case anyone from Massachusetts is trying to read this, I’ll dumb the question down a little: Does it bother you when bands sound exactly like other bands? For a lot of critics, this is the bane of their existence. Every band must have a totally unique sound all its own! You can tell by the horrible shit they like. Sure, the album sucks leper barf through a straw, but hey… it doesn’t sound like anybody else. This ideal has never made much sense to me. I don’t mind a copycat whatsoever, as long as they’re copying something I like. Say you have a favorite Italian restaurant, and their lasagna is the best you’ve ever had. Then for some reason you have to try a different Italian joint, and you find out their lasagna’s basically the same but just as good. Does that bother you? Lets say you break up with your old lady and start dating someone new, only to find out she gives the exact same deep throat, no-hands-except-for-ball-fondling, slobber-crazy blow job that your ex did. You upset about that? You gonna dump her for a lack of originality? I think not. Now, I get the gripe completely if the original idea being copied was lame to begin with. Like these Hollywood directors making the same goddamn Liam Neeson-as-the-ultimate-bad-ass movie every 2 months. “They took somethin’ from me! I’m gonna use m’skills to get it back!” No one wants to hurt your family, dude. Please go away. Then every other 2 months it’s the Denzel Washington movie where he plays an omnipotent, omniscient superhuman who has 90 minutes to get to the bottom of something, co-starring your pick of outwitted pretty white boy. If it seems as though I’ve gone too far off topic, it’s because I have, but finally back to Weightlessness. They sound identical to the band Loss. If you don’t know who Loss is, then congratulations on a happy life. Take the family to go see Taken 18 (“They took m’Sunday paper! I’ve gotta use m’skills!”) and then kill yourself. For those familiar with the abject hopelessness of Loss’ beyond-despondent Funeral Doom style, Of Lachrymose Grief is 4 songs/40 minutes of that same style from a different source. Again, who cares if you have to use a different weed guy as long as it’s that same Couchlock? Hell, Mike Meacham himself does guest vocals on the band’s cover of Black Sabbath’s “Solitude.” Clearly he’s not upset about it, so why should I be? Sure, the similarities are so striking that, under the right circumstances, it could actually be comical. For instance, I’d probably refer to these guys as Weightlossness in jest if there were ever anyone around to talk to. But there isn’t. So, at the end of each miserable, meaningless day, I need miserable, meaningful music to soak my life-destroyed brain in. Original or not, Weightlessness is able to serve that purpose as well as anyone on any given evening.

“Hope is the refuge of the hopeless, and I have forsaken such weakness.”
-Victor Von Doom

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Arathgoth - Dark Like Space

Posted on Monday, February 16, 2015

This is my first time hearing Arathgoth, and the Sci-Fi nerd in me likes this band a lot. Their music isn’t especially groundbreaking, but anybody that can reference Battlestar Galactica, The Running Man, Captain Harlock, Dune, Transformers, and Alien on one record is cool in my book. As a music critic, though, I have the unpleasant duty of telling it like it is from a musical perspective. Arathgoth has an identity crisis. They don’t know whether they want to be Electronic Ambient/Industrial or Atmospheric Black Metal. Some of the songs are Black Metal in style, incorporating Gothic/Industrial keyboards and elements, coming off similar to old Aborym with Sci-Fi elements. Other songs are wholly Industrial/Ambient, incorporating mechanized drum beats and atmospheric keyboards, shedding the guitars and raspy vocals entirely and going instrumental only. Taken individually, each song is good for what it is, being either Electronic or Black Metal. As an entire LP, though, it doesn’t gel as well as it could. The Electronic stuff is passive and atmospheric, with the Black Metal parts going the opposite direction and being aggressive sounding, creating something of a schizophrenic whole that is at times dark and tranquil, while others, twisted and violent. This might have worked as an Atmospheric Black Metal album with Electronic Ambient/Industrial interludes, but unfortunately, the reverse doesn’t. Fans of Electronic Ambient music don’t want Black Metal interludes because it breaks up the Ambiance. In this case, there’s too little Black Metal for this to work as a Black Metal release. My suggestion for the band is to decide what they want to do: either be Black Metal or Electronic Ambient. Electronic Ambient/Industrial elements can be incorporated into Black Metal with a great deal of success. Many Black Metal bands have done this. Having separate Black Metal and Electronic Ambient/Industrial tracks just makes things confusing. Given the amount of Electronic/Ambient stuff on this LP, I’d say that going wholly Industrial/Ambient is probably the direction they’re headed. If Arathgoth ditches the Black Metal stuff entirely, they may find a more receptive audience for their music in the Gothic/Industrial scene, where they would fit in better.

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Rage Nucleaire - Black Storm of Violence

Posted on Friday, February 13, 2015

Lord Worm (ex-Cryptopsy) is back again with his Black Metal band, Rage Nucleaire. Though I was never much of a Cryptopsy fan, I do find myself liking Rage Nucleaire a lot more. I missed their first LP, 2012’s Unrelenting Fucking Hatred, but after listening to Black Storm of Violence, I think I might try to track it down. While I’ve heard this band described as having a similar sound to Anaal Nathrakh, I don’t hear Rage Nucleaire as being that Industrial. They have a similarly mechanical drum sound, and the riffing style is in the same vein, but Rage Nucleaire is more stripped down. Both bands have keyboards as part of their arsenal, thoughAnaal Nathrakh uses them far more than these guys do. When I heard that this band contained an ex-member of Cryptopsy, I expected it to be hyper-technical, but this isn’t the case at all. It’s very simplistic, and the no-frills, no-wankery approach makes Rage Nucleaire far more listenable. Lord Worm sounds like a psychotic Donald Duck raging into a microphone with so much reverb on it that you literally can’t understand a damn thing he’s saying - which may be the point. If you think of him as just another instrument, this works very well. One of the detractions I’ve heard about this album is that only Lord Worm sounds like he’s totally into it. Having listened to this multiple times with that in mind, I have to say that this is a valid point. While he sounds like a raging psychotic, the other members do seem a little on the flat side. I wouldn’t say that the other players are lifeless, just that things sound a little too clean and precise. Maybe having a rawer or more distorted guitar sound, and a more natural drum tone would have made this better, though it might have had the opposite effect and turned everything into a bigger ball of sound than it already is. I still found this LP to be something that I enjoyed. While it could have used a more powerful production, particularly where the guitars are concerned, I still recommend checking it out, if for no other reason than to hear just how insane Lord Worm sounds.

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Empyrium - The Turn of the Tides

Posted on Thursday, February 12, 2015

I’ve been following Empyrium for quite a while. I first heard about the band back when they were playing a form of Black Metal that was similar to early Ulver, mixing acoustic and atmospheric elements in with the harsher stuff in a way that was pretty interesting to me at the time. Over the years, the group shed their Black Metal edge and went more and more into the realms of Neo-Folk, sounding more like Sol Invictus than Emperor or Burzum. I’ve never been a huge fan of Neo-Folk, mostly because a lot of those bands are dreadfully boring in my opinion. Still, I always made time for Empyrium because they were one of the few bands out there that could make an acoustic album work. The Turn of the Tides is very much in the same vein as their last release, the live Into the Pantheon, which captured the essence of the band’s style. Two of the songs from The Turn of the Tides, “Dead Winter Ways” and “The Days Before the Fall”, were played on Into the Pantheon so if you have that release, you have a good idea where this LP is going already. The difference between the live renditions of those songs and the studio versions, though, is pretty noticeable. The live versions were good, but the studio versions are positively epic. They have far greater atmosphere and bombast, mostly because the keyboards/symphonic elements are more prominent. It borderlines Atmospheric Doom at times, channeling that dark and somber feeling extremely well. The Turn of the Tides has a more symphonic quality, and while not full-on Metal, it is more complex and interesting than your average Neo-Folk release. If you’re already a fan of Empyrium or you like Neo-Folk that’s more atmospheric and complicated than the “two-man acoustic jam” style that seems to be prevalent in that scene, The Turn of the Tides is an LP I recommend checking out immediately.

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Savn - Savn

Posted on Tuesday, February 10, 2015

This is the debut full-length release from Norway’s Savn, a group composed of ex-The Sins of Thy Beloved members (Stig Johansen and Anders Thue, though Anders was only a live musician) and Carmen Elise Espenaes (the sister of ex-Theater of Tragedy member Liv Kristine, who guests on the song “I Am Free”) of Midnattsol. Their only other release to date is the single for “Hang On,” though if you own this, you’re not missing anything because both of the tracks from the single appear on this album. If the more lightweight material from The Sins of Thy Beloved is your cup of tea, Savn will definitely appeal to you. Right off the bat, I noticed that the music here wasn’t exactly intense or brutal. It’s essentially Gothic Metal that’s heavy on the “Gothic” and light on the “Metal” to the point where it almost sounds like the Metal parts were an afterthought. Even then, the riffing could easily qualify as Goth Rock. The guitar’s aren’t even prominent, being that the music is primarily keyboard and vocal-driven. I had hoped that this would be darker and more Doom-influenced than The Sins of Thy Beloved but given what’s here, it’s all sunshine and daisies compared to the new Lacuna Coil - and if you’re a Metal band, that’s bad news. Lacuna Coil isn’t exactly My Dying Bride, and if you’re not darker or heavier than they are, you may as well get some Techno/Industrial drum beats and start singing about how your job selling My Little Pony T-shirts at Hot Topic makes you feel all emo. The music doesn’t suck, but when you’re marketing to a Metal audience, it’s not exactly what most Metal fans are looking for. We want dark and heavy music, and Savn really doesn’t go there very often. It’s symphonic and atmospheric the way good Gothic Metal should be, but it’s just too lightweight. My recommendation to the band is to go darker and heavier. The band members have the skills to do it, which disappoints me a bit more than if they were a bunch of new kids. Dr. Ychoril prescribes old My Dying Bride, Mourning Beloveth and Eye of Solitude LPs in large quantity, all of which should give object lessons in what “dark” and “heavy” mean.

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Ancient Vvisdom - Sacrificial

Posted on Monday, February 09, 2015

Well, I guess it had to happen eventually. Ancient Vvsidom has gone full-on electric. It seems to be the inevitable outcome of every project that starts out as an all-acoustic affair. Is it a feeling of inadequacy, or perhaps vulnerability, in the live setting? Peer pressure? Fan request? Boredom? Musical evolution? Who knows? Who cares? If I seem bummed about it, I’m really not. And if you can admit to enjoying a touch of silk and satin with your Satan, you shouldn’t be either. On Sacrificial, AVV makes the transition quite seamlessly. After all, it’s not like this was ever just a guy on a stool with an acoustic and one of those Bob Dylan harmonica setups. [As a side note, why aren’t cellular providers selling those things for smart phones? All a human being exists for anymore is to stare endlessly into some device. Why not free all these idle hands?] This has been a full band from the start, with percussive and electric elements to enhance the acoustic guitar-centered approach. But now that center is a distorted guitar with traditional drumming, and that’s really all that’s changed for these Pop-flirty pagans. When it comes down to it, all that really matters is Nathan Opposition’s voice, and he sounds terrific as always here. (I’ve been told he can’t pull it off live, but I honestly don’t give a shit. Live is for the living, and I’ve been dead forever.) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this guy could be doing something far more commercially viable than writing love songs for Lucifer if he chose to. He’s got an all-pro Alt/Indie Rock voice to call on at will. However, I for one am more than pleased to have him on the dark side. On the chorus of album opener “Chaos Will Reign,” it occurs to me that this is a voice I truly miss when I haven’t listened to it in a while. The heavy guitars might even serve to give that voice additional weight. Though I must admit, the playing is a tad sketchy at times (particularly on heavily palm-muted rhythm figures), and the actual timing at certain points seems to be off (see, “Worm Ridden Skull” among others). Luckily, Opposition is always there to save the day. Rain or shine, he is here to do the Devil’s work. Just listen to… um… “The Devil’s Work.” Just about every song here —save for maybe the somewhat pointless intro/outro bookends— is a keeper, warts and all. The band may owe partial songwriting credit to Nine Inch Nails for the beginning of “Blind Leading the Blind,” but that’s hardly a complaint. If you like good singers singing Satanic lyrics, then you probably already like this.

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Destrose - The Prologue

Posted on Friday, February 06, 2015

2014 was rough for Destrose. Early in the year, longtime vocalist Marina Hebiishi left in what appears to have been a less than amicable split. The band quickly recruited a new singer, stabilizing their lineup long enough to record this EP. No sooner was The Prologue released, though, when it was announced that their longtime drummer, Haruna, would be departing the band. Mina’s lineup problems seem to be chronic, but you have to give her credit for pushing onward in the face of adversity. I don’t know if there’s some lingering bitterness between Marina and the rest of Destrose, but this EP was recorded and released very quickly, thrown out there in what appeared to be an attempt to steal the thunder from Marina’s new band, Mardelas, who would be releasing their debut EP a month later. I don’t know for sure if this is exactly what happened, but it would explain why this EP came out when it did and also why it doesn’t sound nearly as good as their last release, 2013’s 霖 -Rin-/MAZE EP (the last recording they did with Marina on vocals). In a lot of ways, The Prologue is where Destrose is trying to find a new identity. Of the three songs on 霖 -Rin-/MAZE, two of them were written by Marina, and in a very big way, she defined what the Destrose sound was. Without her, the rest of the band has to figure out who they are. The lack of solid identity makes The Prologue something of an interesting listen. The music has kind of a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach that isn’t all bad because all of the songs still have something of the old Destrose sound to them. Still, there are some rough patches, uneven songwriting and the sound isn’t nearly as powerful as it could have been. The guitars should have been louder and more prominent because there are times when you can’t hear the riffing properly. Mina and Narumi can both shred like it’s nobody’s business, but their impact is blunted because the vocals are so much louder than everything else. Part of the reason for this is because Marina’s replacement, Lisa, isn’t nearly as strong a vocalist. Compared to her predecessors, Lisa has a weak voice. This isn’t to say that she can’t sing. She has a good range and her sense of melody is in the right place, but when it comes to delivering the goods, she lacks the strength and presence that former Destrose vocalists Eye (now Mary’s Blood) and Marina (now Mardelas) have. Hell, Su-Metal (Suzuka Nakamoto) from Babymetal wipes the floor with her, and when you consider that Su-Metal is originally from an Idol Pop group (Sakura Gakuin) that sings sappy Dance tunes, that says a lot. In a way, Lisa’s voice has more versatility, but her tone and style is more suited for Pop music. It doesn’t help that the songs themselves lack consistency. Each of the members of Destrose contributes a song to this EP, and while they’re mostly in the Destrose vein, they go all over the place in terms of style. It seems that each member has a slightly different idea about what makes up the Destrose sound. The track that stands out as the most out of place is the fourth one, “悠遠” (which Google translates roughly to “Distant” or “Remote”). It’s not bad, it’s just a ballad sandwiched between two more aggressive songs. Maybe placing it at the end might have been better, but in this tracklist, it sticks out as an anomaly. Still, when things get done right, Destrose kicks ass. The standout for me was the closing track, “Rewrite the Curse,” which has a driving bass line and it’s arguably the most aggressive and musically like what Destrose is supposed to sound like when their songs are properly produced. Lisa was more in the background and the instruments, particularly the guitars, were more audible. It had strong melody and the intensity level is higher, both of which made the song stand out. One thing that remains unresolved for me , though, is what direction Destrose is going to go now that Marina is gone. I’ve heard the new EP by Mardelas and I know what direction Marina is going - and that direction involves leaving a path of destruction ten miles wide. The Prologue is too unfocused and uneven, flailing about and trying to latch on to anything, but never really finding that special “something” to define their sound going forward. I think that Mina and company really need to figure out what Destrose is supposed to sound like. Once they know who they are and what they want to sound like, they can get back to kicking ass like they did on their previous releases. I haven’t given up on them, and I hope that their next release will show a refocused Destrose that delivers concussions and severe neck damage like I know they can.

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Burzum - The Ways of Yore

Posted on Tuesday, February 03, 2015

I must be a masochist because I keep reviewing Burzum albums knowing that Varg’s musical heyday is over. That said, The Ways of Yore isn’t that bad. Sol Austan, Mani Vestan, Burzum’s previous LP, was about as musically exciting as watching paint dry without the benefit of inhaling the fumes. It was dreadfully boring at best. The Ways of Yore, though, is far better. It still isn’t great, but at least it goes somewhere. It’s keyboard based, but it’s more in the Neo-Folk vein this time around. If you can imagine what early ’90s Mortiis doing renditions of his favorite Sol Invictus songs sounds like, you’ll have a pretty good idea how this album sounds. One of the hallmarks of Varg’s style is the level of minimalism omnipresent in the music of Burzum. At times, that minimalism creates its own atmosphere, keeping things simple, memorable and even trance-inducing. In other situations, the minimalism creates a void where other instruments or melodies could have filled the gap and made the song more potent. What really hurts this record far more than the musical minimalism is the vocals. Varg either needs to learn how to sing or hire a vocalist. He can shriek like nobody else, but his clean vocals are terrible. If you’re old enough to remember how the singing was on the old animated versions of The Hobbit or Return of the King (from the 1970s, I believe), Varg sounds remarkably like that. It’s that fucking bad. Even when he’s just talking, he sounds horrible. His spoken word passages are terrible because he sounds so congested that you almost want to go out and buy the guy some cold medication. If the music can be bumped up in complexity a little and Varg can sort out his vocals (or hire someone else to do them for him), he may be able to reinvent himself as a Neo-Folk artist in the vein of Death in June or Sol Invictus. I doubt they care about his Neo-Nazi affiliations because that scene also tolerates the likes of Blood Axis and others who have fascistic leanings. He’d probably fit in fairly well with those folks and frankly, his music is more in line with their scene than any of the sub-elements in Metal these days.

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Shores of Null - Quiescence

Posted on Monday, February 02, 2015

Given that Quiescence is the debut LP from these Italian Melodeath upstarts, I suppose it’s excusable that I know virtually nothing about them. The members of this quintet all moonlight in various other projects, but I’m assuming names like Zippo, The Orange Man Theory, and Noumeno aren’t going to ring too many bells outside of Lazio’s small club circuit. The one thing I do know is that when these guys fully commit themselves to writing an incredibly memorable melodic Death Metal song, they succeed on a big-league level. Trouble is, that only occurs roughly half of the time on album #1. Let’s start with what they excel at: clean vocal harmonization and soaring majestic melodies. Four songs on this record have those in spades —”Souls of the Abyss,” “Night Will Come,” “Ruins Alive,” and “Quiescent”— all of them, oddly enough, grouped together in succession as tracks 3-6. “Souls of the Abyss” starts with an infectious hook right out of Insomnium’s playbook, and then digs yet deeper into the listener with layered clean vocal harmonization that buries the verses into the cerebral cortex permanently. There’s an all-pro quality reminiscent of Staley/Cantrell when lead vocalist Davide Straccione teams up with guitarists Raffaele Colace and Gabriele Giaccari for 3-part delight. “Night Will Come” continues the vibe, yet it’s the harsh vocals this time that really drive the chorus home. On “Ruins Alive,” it’s back to the cleany goodness as Straccione expands his range over a backdrop of saccharine melodies that would’ve made the guys in Pyogenesis jealous before they turned queer. And finally with “Quiescent,” the band takes a Doomier crawl towards more clean-sung perfection. It’s difficult not to (try to) sing along to these verses, and don’t be surprised if they follow you into the shower later. The downside to Quiscence is that, aside from this flawless 4-song EP placed smack dab in the heart of the record, the rest is pretty forgettable. Despite a few good riffs here and there, none of the other tracks are as brilliantly arranged or as commanding as the fantastic four. And really, once they lay those harmonies on you, everything else this band does just seems like second best. I’m not saying ditch the harsh vocals and more aggressive bits altogether, but clearly it’s the cleanest that’s the meanest for Shores of Null. If they could ever carry the momentum of that “4-song EP” over the course of an entire full-length, it’d be a masterpiece with Album of the Year potential.

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Clouds - Doliu

Posted on Friday, January 30, 2015

Doliu is the debut album from Clouds, an Atmospheric Doom band with an all-star, international lineup. One of the main reasons I wanted to hear this was because Daniel Neagoe of Eye of Solitude is in this band. He wrote the music and most of the lyrics for this album, and based on his previous works, I was excited to hear what Doliu sounded like because the man knows how to write quality Doom Metal. Added to the mix are the other members of the band (Jarno Salomaa, Déhà, Kostas Panagiotou, Pim Blankenstein, and Jón Aldará), all of whom have been playing dark and atmospheric Doom Metal for a considerable amount of time. Though Eye of Solitude is also Atmospheric Doom in nature, Clouds isn’t the same, and it’s easy to see why the two are separate projects. Where Eye of Solitude is punishingly brutal and heavy, Clouds has more of an an ephemeral/ethereal quality. It gives up a fair amount of intensity, but it more than makes up for that by capturing the feeling and underlying sadness that makes awesome Atmospheric Doom. It’s two parts Katatonia, one part My Dying Bride and all parts melancholic and depressing. From the opening seconds of “You Went So Silent” to the closing moments of “Even If I Fall,” you get some of the most despondent tonal arrangements I’ve heard in a while. When you consider that the music on this record is dedicated to “departed ones, loved ones who now, are no longer amongst us,” it makes sense that none of it is even remotely upbeat. It’s happy music only if you’re idea of “happy” involves watching someone you care about slowly die of cancer. It puts my mind and my thoughts in that nice, sweet spot between deep blue funk and suicidal depression that feels as though I’m looking at the sky as I sink to the bottom of a lake. When you’re talking about this kind of Doom Metal, that’s always a good thing. If you’re looking for some dark and melancholic music in the vein of old Katatonia, this is an LP to check out.

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Abigor - Leytmotif Luzifer (The 7 Temptations of Man)

Posted on Thursday, January 29, 2015

Though Austria’s Black Metal stalwarts, Abigor, have been around for a long time, it’s only after their reformation that I’ve really been into their music. I liked their old stuff well enough, but I always thought that they were one of those bands that could have been better. I was a huge Summoning fan (and still am), so I always gave them the benefit of the doubt because Silenius was a member of the band, even when what they were playing seemed derivative of the Norwegian scene at the time. Still, it wasn’t until Abigor reformed and started going down the Industrial Black Metal road that I started paying more attention to what they were doing. Leytmotif Luzifer is their fourth LP since reforming and it sees Silenius and Protector of Summoning appearing on it as guest vocalists. The return of Silenius was something I didn’t expect, mostly because I remember that he was asked to leave because the other members felt that he wasn’t into what they were doing anymore. He and Protector are only guesting, though, so they don’t bring any of their Summoning style into the music. This LP isn’t about epic bombast. It’s a very different animal in that respect. They do, however, bring a considerable amount of caustic and evil sounding vocal-work to the album. When you consider that the music itself is already dark and nightmarish to begin with, it only makes things all the more hellish when you put them together. It’s at times ambient and atmospheric, and at other times, twisted and brutal, ebbing and flowing like one of the rivers twisting through the underworld, bringing death and misery with its currents. It’s certainly an interesting listen because it’s a constantly moving and churning experience. I don’t know how many guitar tracks are here, but it must be a huge number. There are so many layers of guitars that it creates a complex and dense web of sound that has a demonic atmosphere that you’re not going to find in many Black Metal releases out there. If the act of going to Hell had a soundtrack, this LP is it. Though I was given the “digital” version to review, I recommend tracking down the physical version if possible. It comes in an A5 sized digipak format and the artwork and layout for it is excellent. This one is well worth picking up if you’re a fan of dark and evil Black Metal. From the music to the packaging, this is a top notch release that I heartily recommend.

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Bridear - Light in the Dark / No Salvation

Posted on Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Fukuoka’s Bridear isn’t the most prolific Japanese all-girl Power Metal band. It’s been roughly a year since they released their debut LP, Overturn the Doom, and though they’ve played a bunch of shows, they haven’t really produced much new music. This EP is their latest release, and as the title of it implies, there are only two songs here. While I wasn’t really impressed with their full-length album, I have to say that I really enjoy listening to this EP. The band has changed considerably over the last year, and while the lineup is still the same, they’ve gotten darker and heavier. They always had something of a Thrash influence in their music, though you only heard bits and pieces of it on Overturn the Doom. On this release, it hits you in the face almost immediately. The riffing is Thrashier, sporting a heavier guitar tone and more aggressive playing. They also added a raspy Death Growl in as a counterpoint to Kimi’s soaring clean vocals, reminiscent to what was done by Doll$Boxx on their Dolls Apartment LP. The net effect is two songs that rock harder and appeal more to someone like me, who enjoys darker and more brutal forms of music. The production on Light in the Dark / No Salvation is also noticeably better, with a more powerful sound than before. Everything has more impact and I think I got more neck damage from one song on this EP than I did on their entire full-length album. If I have a complaint about this, it’s that it’s too short. Unless I have this on repeat, it ends just as I’m really getting into it. As a teaser for a full-length LP, though, it’s perfect. It gets me hungry for more. I have no idea when their next release is going to be, but I’m definitely going to buy a copy when it comes out.

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At the Gates - At War with Reality

Posted on Monday, January 26, 2015

The expectations surrounding At the Gates’ first new record in 19 years were insurmountable, inescapable, and downright unfair. I say insurmountable because no Death Metal band short of Carcass can (or should be able to) just flip the switch and pick up where they left off two decades ago. I say inescapable because these Gothenburg OGs seem to be unanimously beloved by the Extremiverse —myself included— and justifiably so. I say downright unfair because the 1995 LP they just so happen to be following up is heralded by said countless minions as the single greatest album in the history of human existence. I’ve been waiting a long time and am psyched to finally be able to proclaim with assuredness: IT IS NOT!! Don’t get me wrong, I do love Slaughter of the Soul. I wore out the cassette in less than a year’s time. But it is not the best Death Metal album of all time. It isn’t even the best Swedish Death Metal album of all time. It’s not even the best At the Gates album of all time! (Take your pick of the first three. The Red in the Sky is mine.) It was probably the best Death Metal album of 1995… but it’s a little too front-loaded (yeah, constantly rewinding Side A is how that aforementioned cassette got worn out so quickly) for that #1 ranking. I think the main reason for its widespread success —aside from those first four songs— was that it was a safe Death Metal record for US teens from Jesus-plagued homes. No Satan, no gore, just razor-sharp angst. Angst that would resonate with those teens who would go on to form 600,201 Metalcore bands from 2000-2005. But that’s another discussion entirely (and another I’m in the minority on). Enough talk of the past. Let’s focus on the gift of a new At the Gates record in 2014. The good news — it sounds like an At the Gates record. They haven’t tampered with the formula one iota, and who could blame them? It literally sounds like the album that would have come out immediately after Slaughter of the Soul. The bad news — it literally sounds like an album that would have come out… in 1997. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself. After all, the ’90s did mark the last time I was actually happy. The problem is this move presumes that the last 20 years of overwhelmingly brutal rape of the At the Gates sound hasn’t occurred yet. And holy fuck has it ever. This isn’t entirely the band’s fault. Who copycats their style is totally beyond their control. But At War with Reality suffers from an uneventful sameness. It doesn’t provide enough separation between the students and the masters. Of course, the students don’t have the real Tomas Lindberg, and his voice sounds as ear-piercingly perfect as ever, but somehow the album is still a chore to sit through. Case in point: on Mondays I get to do deliveries for my employer, and the work truck has a CD player (hail Satan!). When this baby came out, I listened to it for my entire route. It must’ve played half a dozen times or more. That night/the next morning — not a single note stuck in my head. Repeated spins since then have been slightly more rewarding. The album does have a handful of “hits,” so to speak. “Death and the Labyrinth” is a solid high-energy opener, while slow-burning standard edition closer “The Night Eternal” has pre-encore set-ending potential. The title track is unequivocally the best overall song, with melody-rich “The Circular Ruins” and headbangably anthemic “The Head of the Hydra” taking silver and bronze. Unfortunately, much of the in-between can only fall under the category of filler by AtG standards.
Look, living up to this hype would’ve been impossible, and just making this comeback after hanging it up on such a high note took a lotta god damn guts and I applaud these legends for it. I have a feeling the best is yet to come concerning the second chapter of this illustrious career.

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Deep Mountains - Lake of Solace

Posted on Friday, January 23, 2015

When I initially researched China’s Deep Mountains, they were described as Folk/Black Metal. Having heard Tengger Cavalry, another band that is described as Folk/Black Metal, I was kind of expecting something similar. Deep Mountains isn’t even close to sounding like that. Even calling them Black Metal is a bit of a misnomer because Lake of Solace is more in the Post-Metal vein. It reminded me a lot of bands like Empyrium and some of the others that are on Prophecy Productions (Dornenreich, Finnr’s Cane). The Metal is in there somewhere, but the music is on the passive side, consisting mostly of mellow acoustic guitar passages and ambiance. I was a bit disappointed that this wasn’t somewhat darker and heavier, but Lake of Solace was still an intriguing listen. From what I understand, the members of the band really have no lineage in Metal. They’re a collective of musicians that played other forms of music prior to getting together and forming this band. From that perspective, it makes sense that this LP doesn’t follow any of the traditional Black Metal formulas or conventions. There’s some Burzum-esque minimalism present when the electric guitars kick in, and some raspy wails for vocals, but for the most part Deep Mountains isn’t a band that dwells firmly in the realms of Metal. Suffice to say that they’re occasional visitors, but they don’t stay long. Whether that lack of Metal foundation in their music is important or not is pretty subjective. I’m not a purist, so seeing a band take Neo-Folk and adding Metal influences to it doesn’t offend my sensibilities in the least. In fact, I think this album might have been somewhat boring had they not added the Metal parts into it. If you’re a Metal fan looking for something different and more experimental, Deep Mountains is an unusual band and Lake of Solace is a very interesting listening experience.

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