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.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
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
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Last year was hectic in Circle of Ouroborus' release schedule: not only did the two full-lengths The Lost Entrance of the Just and Abrahadabra (both presented gorgeously on vinyl) come out and complete the trilogy of similarly stylized albums, but there were also various minor releases both on tape and seven inch. So for such a rigorous fan as me there was a lot to listen to, but that wasn't all: on the last day of the year, Adamantine Discipline and Laissez-Faire Yantra appeared and symbolically came full circle by providing a compilation of new and old songs: a good starting point for the new year by showcasing previously unreleased material from old days, as well as a handful of songs from upcoming releases. And as the notes in the inlay of this tape suggest, there's a lot to come out of this year.
The first side comprises the five new songs that we're probably going to hear soon on their respective albums or mini-albums. It all starts with the two-minute "Peloton" (from Tarpeeton MLP) which will be warmly welcomed by fans of the band's acoustic output: this is a pure neofolk song featuring a more refined sound than the previous acoustic ventures such as Hiljaiset Sanat or even Cast to the Pits. This is followed by "Puutarha" (from Alttarimyllyt LP), a song that could've been placed on Armon Keitaalla due to its very similar production and style: a harsh yet melodic piece of catchy melodies and good atmosphere. The follow-up "Murtunut valo" (future release unknown) is most likely the weirdest piece on the tape, being such a muddy, chanting convulsion. Growls, moans, a disturbing melody. You could maybe think of "Black Hole Womb" for some reference. Further on, "Synnit pois" brings memories of Crooked Necks because of its complete distortionless. It's not acoustic, no: electric yet delicate riffing with drums and clean vocals. "Antaa kaaoksen tanssia" returns to the vicious sound of the second track – this could've appeared on some of the raw demo tapes of last year.
Turning to side B, we've got the leftover songs that haven't seen the light of the day before. I would guess that the starter "Auringon paljastama" is nonetheless a rather fresh track because it sounds exactly like CoO did in 2012; next up is "An Old Wheel" which is executed with the fairylike, ethereal soundscape of Eleven Fingers, a really grabbing tune that makes me wonder why it was never released in the first place. "Candlewhite Room" goes way back in time to the days of Shores, including Klemi's different kind of clean singing than nowadays. "A Moment" I would place to the times of Islands and Tree of Knowledge, but this is just guessing, of course. The brief "Ajatustenlukua" returns to the so-called 2012 sound of harshness and, in fact, this might be one of the most evil tracks the band has done so far.
I generally wouldn't do this kind of track-by-track overviews but keeping in mind the nature of this release (a wild compilation of material spanning perhaps six, seven years), I see it fit. In a nutshell, the tape has something for everyone who likes even some 'style' of the band's, be it the Joy Division influenced early days, the calmful folk, or what ever. Adamantine Discipline and Laissez-faire Yantra (laissez-faire indeed; this band has always done as they will) is not a necessary purchase for a casual listener but all the hardcore listeners better have a look at this to find out what once was & what is to come.
4.5 / 5
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
What truly enthralled me in Galdr's debut from two years ago was its picturesque, dead-cold atmosphere – talk about a rather perfect evocation of wandering in the mountains in a blizzard – and what is even more amazing is that Draugr, the mastermind behind the band moniker, hails from the soil of Georgia, United States. Ancient Light of the Stars, the follow-up that, if I remember correctly, has been in the making even before the debut was out, sees finally the light of day and provides another audial journey to some very introvert states of mind.
The music itself hasn't changed here: it still follows the steps of slow-paced Burzum on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, a modern equivalent probably being Forteresse's more recent albums. There's not much variation within these song structures, as a song usually features a repetitive and somewhat distant drumbeat along with seas of not-that-harsh guitar lines and ethereal synths. Draugr's rasps are delivered along very similar lines as Varg's, so that only adds to the similarity. But what sets this album apart from Galdr's debut is ultimately the production: whereas Galdr had that distinctive and, frankly, a rather unique sound (harsh, vicious yet beautiful), Ancient Light of the Stars is relatively speaking a lot calmer and warmer. This is probably deliberate considering the album's title and artwork which nod to the direction of night, stars, and all the possible mysticism one might ascribe to such a generally dark theme. So if the debut was a blast of winter, this is more about nocturnal apparitions in a haunting forest, up in the mountain ranges. These clichéd descriptions never get old for me when we consider atmospheric black metal...
So while the production makes the listening experience somewhat different, it also leads the band towards a less original style. Quite honestly, there are a zillion albums similar to Ancient Light of the Stars and had I not heard the debut before this one, I probably wouldn't regard this as good as I now do. Anyhow, I've had plenty of good time with the music herein and this has been my soundtrack to these dark winter days for some time now. Galdr brings absolutely nothing new to the game of atmospheric black metal dwelling, but does do it better than many others.
3.5 / 5
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Laden with a hefty amount of such characteristic words as anal, blasphemy, perversions and Satan, it takes no many guesses to figure out the general framework in which Anal Blasphemy executes its black metal; or if it still doesn't ring your bells, then take a look at the cover art which ultimately reveals that Perversions of Satan, the band's third full-length, is a dirty, uncompromising mixture of death and black metal to its very core.
In reference to their older material, though, I must confess I'm not hundred percent familiar with their back catalogue. I've grown fond of Molestor Kadotus' other project Musta Kappeli ever since the 2007 demo and tend to follow every movement in that camp (some very good atmospheric forest black metal, if you didn't know already), but somehow the blatant morbid execution of Anal Blasphemy hasn't hit the right spots in me. However, on Perversions of Satan I see evolution into a direction which I'm able to appreciate more. It seems that along with the rusty, nicely clumsy and just plain ugly underground death/black metal there are many hints to more careful composing: these songs aren't just about ravaging to every song's end in as evil and fast manner as possible, but about incorporating more depth and seriousness via rather slow pace and latently sorrowful melody constructions. The element of shivering nostalgia culminates in "Lust for Satan (Sexual Worship)" which features the Anguished mastermind delivering inhuman, ice cold female screams on top of wistful riffing. The result of these combined elements is something very morbid and fucked up even in my ears and I think I've heard plenty of weird stuff in the noise / PE circles.
The band's delivery is constant ever after the Pekka Siitoin sample in the intro (he's such a legend in Finland, just see the recent Uncreation's Dawn album or the new Rivologi tape for more), and the cruelty doesn't end until the last doomy chords of "Altar of Indulgence". In the afterglow, I realize I've come across many sweet ideas on this album. There's absolutely nothing truly innovative here, and that's surely acknowledged by the band, so your taste in music has to have a free spot for some general, disturbed Satanic pummeling to appreciate Perversions of Satan. For me, the album wouldn't be the first choice if I was to insert some menacing death/black metal to the player (that honor would most likely be Archgoat's), but is nonetheless a competent whole that is bound to have a certain listener base – a base who can add at least one star more to the score I've given.
3 / 5
Sunday, January 6, 2013
Seeing Saturnian Productions release material from such a band as Shades of Deep Water is interesting in many ways: first, on the surface level, the label hasn't ventured this far outside the circles of black metal before, and secondly, the band in question does not seem to have at least as clear ideological links to occultism and Satanism as other acts like Arvet or Blood Red Fog from the label's roster do. So, instead of being an elaborate, verbose outlet of philosophical pondering, what Constant Pressure is at its core is simply funeral doom metal. Gray artwork with bare essentials mentioned. Blunt, pithy lyrics. A simple underground sound with no gimmicks whatsoever. How far can you get with these elements?
Very far, of course, if you ask me. It's just that Constant Pressure shouldn't be compared too heavily to what some label might have released previously; and even if we do compare, we see similar kind of negative energy running in the veins of all these bands. Shades of Deep Water's approach is just more simple but not at all less evocative. Lyrics like these hit the spot, indeed, in conjuring some authentic oppression: "I feel the water rising / Weight of dirt compressing / I feel the constant pressure / Waters and dirt surround me".
Musically, the band makes good use of the limited running time the format (seven-inch vinyl) sets: considering the slow-paced nature of the genre, these songs don't of course have time to expand into massive, droning horizons, so the tempo is kept relatively fast, which again allows plenty of variation within songs. My favourite moment must be the above-quoted, magical, clean-sung chorus of the title-track, but not one second of the EP is a letdown. The music crawls through the twelve minutes in destroying, asphyxiating and melancholic sounds, all elements somehow packed together.
Sound-wise, the EP is also strong in my ears in that it's neither too lo-fi for its own good (when it would lose its mandatory grumbling force, given the genre) nor too polished like unfortunately is the case with many new albums in the field. The only thing that bugs me in the end is the total playing time, but I hope it's soon compensated by more material; a whole full-length of as competent material as this would definitely be to my liking. Oh, and here's another surprise for me: I've been an active follower of the co-label Bubonic Productions for years and it's only now that I find out the label has been churning out various demos of the band since 2007 – now that I'm wondering how I've managed to miss those, I've got some catching up to do.
4 / 5
Friday, November 23, 2012
When Fen first appeared in 2007 with their mini-album Ancient Sorrow, its timing couldn't have been more propitious: it was around then when Drudkh had came up with their masterpiece Blood in Our Wells and so had Alcest with Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde – both albums, frankly, belonging to my favourites of all time – so there was unquestionably a lot of demand for atmospheric, natural, melancholic dwelling within the frameworks of black metal. Fortunate for Fen, the band garnered a heap of attention and this resulted in the acclaimed The Malediction Fields in 2009 and its follow-up Epoch two years later.
But where exactly does the band stand in 2012 when people's initial infatuation of 'shoegaze black metal' has pretty much worn out by now and everyone is looking for something different already? Quite interestingly, their third album Dustwalker hasn't really departed from the style that they've been playing for six years or so: and I only find this positive since it verifies that Fen is not just a shallow passer-by to the realms of 'trendy' black metal aesthetics (a.k.a. incorporating elements of post-rock into black metal), but a serious player in the field, a field that's been poisoned by a plethora of mimics. Fen, however, somehow manages to avoid the biggest clichés and provides some of the finest compositions I've heard this year.
What one could have expected after such an introvert, magical and calm journey as Epoch is that the beginning of Dustwalker would also build up slowly with some subdued synths maybe, but that is very far from the truth when "Consequence" quite literally kicks in with a growl and a menacing melody pattern, soon followed by ravaging blast beats. So is this the sound of Drudkh gone all evil? Perhaps something close to that, and I'm already sensing that fans of the band's earlier material will find this element of raucousness, of stark sounds only positive. Yes, Dustwalker is in general somewhat harsher and thus in evident contrast with Epoch, but don't you lovers of calmful meditations worry too much: within these massive and intricately textured 10+ minute pieces you will find plenty of moments to breathe and just indulge in peaceful melodies.
I find it unnecessary to go too much into details of individual tracks but since some of the ideas presented here are simply so enthralling I think I just have to mention some of the album's best parts, like the latter half of "Spectre" which has this addicting distortionless line that culminates into a clamorous wall of instruments: this spectacular, bigger-than-life ending made of pure euphoria serves as a reminder that you can still do plenty of things right with something as simple as reverby tremolo. Then there's the middle section of "The Black Sound" that has this slightly doom metal feeling to it, another section crafted of rather simple ideas yet they've turned it into something very effective.
Let those be just a couple of examples what Dustwalker has to offer. But on the other hand I also want to dedicate a moment for some criticism, which mostly goes to the production of the album. I'm not an audio professional but this sure does sound like it's way too loud, so I wouldn't surprise if there was a lot of clipping in here. In all honesty, the pummelling drums (and the 'wavering' effect they create) almost cause a sickening feeling at times. Neither I'm much fond of the cover art with the album name that oversized and the general photoshopped feeling of the piece.
But I suppose those are just minor rants that deservedly pale in the shadow of the compositions themselves: needless to say by now, Fen has done a great job again with combining memorable riffs and atmosphere. One interesting thing to note is that there's no synths on this album at all, so the songs rely heavily on guitars. Also, remember to give the album a little bit of time. My initial thoughts on Dustwalker weren't as positive as they're now and although I still haven't got fully over the maybe-a-bit-too-rocking elements of "Wolf Sun", I've grown to respect that song too. Dustwalker is a really worthy installment to Fen's catalogue so the score I've given might seem too harsh considering how I've praised the album, but if we compare it to e.g. Epoch of which I can't basically find anything negative to say about (and hence it's rated 4.5 / 5), I hope the rating makes more sense.
4 / 5