Sunday, June 9, 2013

FOREST GRAVE / THUNORSLEAP: Split tape

In addition to Through Thickets and Trodden Paths, Path of the Wolf released another tape at the same time, a split between Forest Grave and Thunorsleap. The latter is totally unknown to me and, as far as I’m aware, this is their first appearance ever.

Forest Grave, on the other hand, does its job here as safely as always. “Through These Old Forests” begins the journey in characteristic low-fidelity soundscapes: drums pummelling somewhere there with mostly snare, bass drum and accented crash hits audible, guitars firing their positively monotonous tremolos, and Nox delivering deadly screeches. An acoustic guitar line on top of the black metal is a nice addition, bringing something relatively fresh into the game. “Echoes of Eternity” follows very similar patterns, with a somewhat more heroic approach in the melodies.

When Thunorsleap kicks in with “Storm Winds”, you know immediately that this new band will not disappoint. It’s possible to make several comparisons to Forest Grave – as in the harsh production, the vocals, and the slightly ritualistic, repetitive approach to composing – but Thunorsleap seems somewhat more focused, structured, and more carefully played (not to underrate Forest Grave’s unique style). The band combines sombre and hateful moods very eloquently, not entirely unlike such Finnish names as Sargeist and Cosmic Church. The two songs here are pretty much perfect pieces of underground black metal, both tracks hammering like old doers in the field, knowing their game already (which makes me wonder if this is truly the band’s first effort).

Two somewhat similar acts presenting great tracks on a same tape, an apt format for both bands, so I really can’t complain. A mandatory purchase for Forest Grave followers, and a good way to introduce a really promising band on the same go.

4 / 5

Saturday, June 8, 2013

RAVENMOON SANCTUARY: “Winter Desolation of Death”

It’s no secret that Poland is clearly among the best countries when it comes to quality black metal today: while Mgła is deservedly conquering the planet with several festival appearances, Dark Fury, Ohtar and Selbstmord related personnel among others keep garnering the praise of a slightly smaller, yet truly devoted audience. New projects seem to be founded all the time, such as Ravenmoon Sanctuary, an appropriately titled band that on their debut album Winter Desolation of Death present dark and atmospheric black metal. Unsurprisingly, it sounds fantastic.

Winter Desolation of Death is absolutely not about racing or technical abilities. The key here is, as clichéd as it sounds, the atmosphere. The band tends to crawl in mid-tempos, playing rather sloppily, focusing on dark and sombre soundscapes. The desperate shrieks would even nod to depressive black metal’s direction, but that is not the deal here at all. Like the artwork and song titles tell, the album is more a journey through wintry forests and graveyards… Ravenmoon sanctuaries? The band name may seem pretentious, but in truth it’s quite fitting.

Much credits for the atmosphere go to the keyboard mastermind GrimSpirit, better known from the synth-heavy Evilfeast, whose work on this album is admittedly admirable. The grand intro “Gravespirits of the Frozen Woods” alone brings the chills, not to even mention how sweetly the keyboards are incorporated to the black metal on latter tracks.

Ravenmoon Sanctuary doesn’t offer anything truly new on their debut, but since when has that been the most significant point? Once again, you may look at the artwork and song titles and decide if you can stomach a rather traditional Polish black metal album without the slightest sight of anything modern. I sure as hell can, as long as it’s done as tastefully as right here.

4 / 5

FOREST GRAVE: “Through Thickets and Trodden Paths”

The ever-consistent Nox behind Forest Grave (among other low-profile acts of the underground) hasn’t rested much since the first FG tape in 2008. While the discography is huge, the listener base is less so; but I do need to raise a hat for the endurance of keeping releasing short runs of his material for the specific audience. Through Thickets and Trodden Paths is chronologically the tape number god-knows-what, and I bet I’ve seen all the five words of the title appearing on previous tapes, and the riffs aren’t anything new either really, but in some perverse way it’s always such a joy to uncork a new Forest Grave tape. You kind of know what you’re going to get, but it’s never going to disappoint or even bore me either, it seems, as years roll by… 

Through Thickets and Trodden Paths presents the harsh metal side of the project (for those who aren’t familiar, there are some occasional acoustic releases). Two long and crude songs that wander mostly in mid-tempo, drums beating simple patterns and guitars firing constant tremolo (with some slower breakdown sections), the characteristic Forest Grave combo. Whereas the songs don’t compositionally present anything revolutionary and the playing isnt’t the world’s tightest, the feeling and the atmosphere – the most important elements – are always there, haunting, evoking pictures of raw nature, as raw as the rehearsal-like music here recorded on four analog tracks. Comparing this to some previous releases, I don’t find this quite as captivating as some of my old favourities, like Change & Renewal or Where the Land Is Silent, but if you are one of us few who don’t mind Forest Grave’s unoriginality from a release to another, there is absolutely no reason why you would not acquire this tape.

3.5 / 5

ARSONIST LODGE: “Iänkaikkinen, pysyvä, muuttumaton pimeys”

Although having possessed a copy of Perkele, antikristus ja väärä profeetta in my shelves for a number of years, I’m not sure if I’ve ever given Arsonist Lodge a chance, but luckily I had the opportunity to see what the band is about on their new full-length Iänkaikkinen, pysyvä, muuttumaton pimeys, which, in fact, is their debut album – ten years after the band’s foundation. If it took a long time for them to complete a full-length, so it did take time to write a review of it, for I’ve had really mixed feelings about the album which has delayed and delayed the writing. And I’m still not sure where I stand with this record, because half of the music seems lacking, while the other half simply beats every other Finnish effort in the field this year.

To demonstrate the frustration I have with this album, let us consider the first four minutes of the album. Things start with “Intro”, a nice one-minute, solely sung intro. Okay, I can take that. Next up is “Unleash Armageddon”, so now things must really pick up, right? But the first minute of the song is weirdly diminished in a way that you barely hear a simple drum beat somewhere in the distance along with a rumbling guitar. When the true sound kicks in along with vocals, the band is almost unleashed, but not quite: there is still a confusing, humming sound on top of the instruments, portending harsher things to come. Just when you think that now all hell is loose, the song ends before the three minute mark.

Then, fortunately, we get into the real meat. “Instrument of All-Evil” is such a menacing, devastating piece of black metal that I seriously haven’t heard so grabbing a composition from the Finnish soil in a while. Arsonist Lodge balances somewhere between straightforward, sheer, Satanic killing and convulsing, hooking, almost groovy rhythms. This pure joy continues for a couple of tracks, but then there’s the interlude “Prayer I” which kind of ruins the flow the band had finally captured. Two long, great and even epic black metal pieces (of which I just must mention “The Arsonist” in its completely thrilling clean vocals and organs) compensate after the interlude, but I can’t help feeling that this album never really got off the ground, and that it’s held back with all sorts of unnecessary features.

That said: what a perfect, 5-song extended play this would have been! The production, surprisingly warm yet evil (which would fit vinyl format admirably), is nailed very well, the band plays smoothly together and there’s a seriously sinister atmosphere (much thanks to the vocalist’s possessed output). The music reeks of authentic devotion and Satan. But, as it stands as a full-length which includes the intro(s) and the interlude, and thanks to which there’s a shortage of real material, I can not rate Iänkaikkinen, pysyvä, muuttumaton pimeys much higher. A really good and promising effort, which would have worked better either as an EP or as a fuller-lenght.

3.5 / 5

INFINITY: “Non De Hac Terra”

Infinity seems to be one of these bands that no matter how efficiently they execute their well-done black metal, nobody really notices them. Is it the overused and unimaginative band name, or rather the overused and unimaginative style of black metal, I’m not sure, but despite all unoriginality that one might find from the band’s fifth full-length Non De Hac Terra, it can’t be overlooked that they’ve done their homework here, and that they have crafted a qualified piece of modern, extreme black metal.

Right from the first rhythms of the eponymous “Non De Hac Terra”, the album introduces its sharp and tight instrumentation. Every instrument is played with such care and determination, only augmented with clear studio production, that the listener’s focus is directed more to the coating, the surface of things, rather than the content. The real meat, beneath the sweet and utterly precice playing, might not be so mind-blowing in its Keep of Kalessin and The Legion influences, but every now and then I do enjoy to put on something like this and just enjoy the straightforward ride, like watching a simple movie and not expecting it to provide any deep personal revelations or catharsis.

What I like the most about Non De Hac Terra is that it’s consistently good through its 50-minute playing time. There are no weak links, and if there is any fluctuation between songs, it’s because of their varying style rather than quality: whereas a track like “The Opponent” simply slaughters in its speed and “The Grey Stone Monument” kills everyone mercilessly in its convulsing riffs and beats, “Reginam Aeternum Noctis” brings some folkish, upbeat melodies into the field and “The Inevitable Darkness” balances nicely between hopeful and despondent melodies. So there is plenty of variation, yet never excessively, making the album a pleasant listen.

An album like Non De Hac Terra isn’t recommendable to the most uncompromising purists of the genre; Infinity is clearly inclined towards a more modern, melodic, heroic branch of black metal, and would hence be ideal for those who demand (production-wise as well as musically) a more professional touch from their music. Even I am able to enjoy the album, and quite much actually, so this is not an over-polished wankery fest at all.

3.5 / 5

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Return 2013

This almost half a year of silence, during which I’ve been enormously occupied with studies and work, will soon come to a halt, and I will return to writing an occasional review every now and then. But as it seems like there’s no way to spend hours and hours listening to and reviewing music anymore, I’m being more and more picky about what records I spend my time with.

I’m glad to see that even during my absence the blog has garnered a fair amount of visits, and a few individuals have even approached me via email. Hang on there, things will pick up more or less some day this month.

Best,
V

Thursday, January 24, 2013

BLACK CRUCIFIXION: "Coronation of King Darkness"

A couple of years ago when Black Crucifixion reappeared after another long period of silence with the new album Hope of Retaliation, I wasn't admittedly that impressed. Although, the negative thoughts that disc evoked were mostly due to the paucity of proper studio material (and, yeah, the cover art), so now that the band is about to unleash a new album, rousingly titled Coronation of King Darkness with sweet artwork and 46 minutes of nothing but novel songs, I was more than eager to hear if everything falls into place this time. And it seems indeed that Black Crucifixion has done a lot better job this time in pretty much every department, so you may expect some syrupy hyping in the following paragraphs – beware.

As soon as the eponymous starter kicks in with a massive wall of blast beats and tremolo-laden guitar riffs, one is introduced into the kind of modern black metal that the band's country colleagues Enochian Crescent played on NEF.VI.LIM. The similarities are further added by the catchy chorus sung in Finnish, and by the band's general ability to loose the pace every now and then and let a bit of melody into the music, like the rather tranquil guitar solo tells on this very song. "What the Night Birds Sang" follows the same route and properly introduces the legendary Wigwam guitarist Pekka Rechardt via the weeping notes in the calmer parts of the song. If this fellow carried any of his prog rock influences to Black Crucifixion, it must be the most evident on the follow-up "Heroic End Up on Gallows" which, in addition to some very fine and rememberable melodies of sadness, contains a long ending of semi-jamming in utterly dark atmospheres.

"Millions of Twigs Guide Your Way through the Forest" continues the journey in a more straightforward style, fluctuating between groovy, mid-paced rumble and faster blast beat laden sections (that just almost bring Nightbringer to mind). "Threefold" slows the tempo to the level of doom metal and introduces some haunting female choral vocals in the background, and then "In the Bright Light of Night I Await the Turning Tide" picks up the speed again and ravages in raucous blast beats and tremolos. This song is probably closest to sounding like proper black metal, except that the same time it's one of the weirdest pieces on the album, for the sole reason that there is this odd flute-like synth sound accompanying the riffing, amidst all the blasting... It's weird but it works and somehow this particular song has grown to be my favorite. On "Lodestar", things get to the murkiness of doom metal again. The ominous, lurking atmosphere is corroborated by the proclamations of malicious intent ("Yössä joku odottaa..."). "Thieves", then, starts with shamanic guitar strumming that presages an epic ending to the album, and that indeed happens throughout the adventurous nine minutes.

One might wonder how I, a sucker for bedroom productions and uncompromising black metal, might enjoy such as modern piece of 'black' metal as Coronation of King Darkness. But somehow, I guess, Black Crucifixion knows how to make things work even with a professional studio sound (it doesn't sound plastic) and skillful playing (it isn't about technical wankery). With all its memorable moments and as a generally competent whole, Coronation of King Darkness is a pleasing listen. What only the listener must realize is to let go off the assumption that the band is forthright underground black metal: that it is certainly not anymore (and hasn't been since 2006's Faustian Dream). It's just because of my personal preferences that I don't think the album is worth of a higher rating, but those with a more open mind for modern and extreme black metal may add points to the score I've given.

4 / 5