Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Troll - Trollstorm over Nidingjuv (1995)

As my introduction to the band, Troll's debut album left a bad taste in my mouth. Drep de kristne did not make a good impression, at all. Even worse, I knew of Nagash's involvement in horrible bands like Dimmu Borgir and Covenant, so I completely wrote this project off, for quite some time. Years later, I was urged to check out the first demo from this Norwegian Black Metal act, being assured that it was better than what I'd previously heard. So, with some hesitancy, I gave a listen to the 1995 demo, Trollstorm over Nidingjuv

The first minute or so of "Når natten endelig er her" only confirmed my concern that this was to be a waste of time. The synth intro isn't nearly as bad as the goth-like spoken word part that accompanies it. Nonetheless, from the moment that the guitars erupt from the relative silence, the entire complexion of the release changes. The first thing worth noting is the superior quality, compared to the first L.P. This was clearly recorded in a proper studio, instead of in a garage (though how a high school kid could afford this, I cannot say). Rather than the weak and soft sound of Drep de kristne, here the guitar tone is sharp and helps to give a harsher feel to the music. Even the mid-paced section of the title track maintains a respectable level of strength, compared to the utterly limp feeling of the material Troll offered up the following year. 

Overall, the material is much more solid than on the full-length. However, Nagash certainly takes some liberties with the songwriting, heavily influenced by his predecessors in the Norwegian scene. In particular, Satyricon and Darkthrone seem to have been favourites of his. Of course, no one really comes into a Norwegian Black Metal release from the mid-'90s expecting too much originality; the template had pretty much been established by '92/'93. That said, Nagash basically lifted riffs, note-by-note, with no shame whatsoever. While the Satyricon influence is quite obvious from the intro and the second half of the title track, the riff around the middle of "Over daudens kolde mark" is really leaning more toward plagiarism. Elsewhere, the inspirations are a bit more general, with cold tremolo riffs that call to mind classic Mayhem, as well as the vocals that are reminiscent of Ihsahn's early work with Emperor. The compositions are fairly straightforward, possessing rather natural transitions that flow in a natural manner (as opposed to Satyr's back and forth, manic songwriting). The CD version, released a year later, contains the most damning evidence of plagiarism. On "I et hedensk land", this guy just outright lifted Darkthrone riffs (from "Slottet i det fjerne") and passed them off as his own. Sure, it sounds good, but that is because Fenriz was a master of creating dark and dreary Black Metal riffs, back then. 

In the end, Trollstorm over Nidingjuv stands as the best release to ever come from Troll, by far. If one can overlook the riff thievery (and to be fair, the worst offense was only a bonus track on the re-release, not included on the original tape), this isn't a bad recording. It's pretty standard Norwegian Black Metal from this period, which was filled with a lot of kids that wanted to follow in the footsteps of the masters. It's certainly worth fifteen minutes of your time. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Thornium - North Storms of the Bestial Goatsign (1994)

My introduction to Thornium came in the form of a Maxell cassette sent to me by a penpal from Latvia, many years ago. Side A featured Nifelheim from Throne of Ahaz, while on Side B was Thornium's debut album, Dominions of the Eclipse. I remember the latter was so long that it didn't even fit in its entirety, and certainly failed to impress in the same manner as Throne of Ahaz. It was only some years later that my opinion of the band became more favourable, upon hearing the 1994 demo North Storms of the Bestial Goatsign

Musically, this is pure northern darkness. The guitar riffs are cold and dismal, just dripping with the typical mid-90s Black Metal feeling. "In the Depths of Northern Darkness" is equal parts fast tremolo melodies and mid-paced gloom that allows the music to breathe a bit. The title track picks up from where the first one left off, before speeding up and utlizing a riff reminscent of classic Mayhem. All throughout, Typheus' hateful vocals add to the overall atmosphere. His voice is mostly dry and raspy, with bits of near-hysterical shrieking, and really calls to mind Abbath's performance on Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism. The subtle vocal changes help to give life to the songs, as do the variations in tempo. It's all very straightforward and primitive, yet still possessing ambition and feeling. The droning riffs that emerge in the later part of "North Storms of the Bestial Goatsign" are haunting and memorable, with melodies of a similar style to be found on "Min Vandring Till Mörkrets Furste". 

The production is fairly good for a Black Metal demo from this period. Everything is mixed rather well, with the guitars up front as they should be. The drumming is still audible, just not dominating the sound as often happens. The vocals are high enough to be clearly deciphered, without drowning out the rest. It does seem as if there was some clean guitar being used at the beginning of the tape, but it didn't come through very clearly, which was probably for the best. 

Thornium's first offering is nothing original, just traditional Black Metal in the northern style that was really coming into its own around this time. The only real complaint here is that it's pretty short. Though, sometimes, it is better to get in and get out and not waste time on useless filler or mediocre tracks that bog things down. All three songs are of the same good quality, making North Storms of the Bestial Goatsign very much worth tracking down and listening to. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Fimbul - Vinterland (1995)

Fimbul was a short-lived Black Metal project from Norway. The sole band member, Ramn, released the first demo, Vinterland, in February 1995. Recorded on a four-track, this lo-fi tape bears similarities to other demos of this period, such as Thule's Der vinterstormene raste and Urgehal's Ferd

Vinterland is rather brief, clocking in at under fifteen minutes. Aside from the intro and outro, there are only two real songs on here, of which "I de norske skoger" is the real highlight. The songwriting is rather straightforward and primitive. The tremolo melodies are memorable and somewhat haunting, reminiscent of something from Transilvanian Hunger. The vocals possess a grim feeling and the drums are pretty basic. "Nattevandring" has a little more variation in the pacing, though the riffs aren't as interesting. However, around the halfway mark things slow down as a mournful melody emerges for a few moments. It is unfortunate that this soon transitions to another less-engaging riff. The outro, "Stillhet (...Norge)", reminds one of "Snø Og Granskog", from Panzerfaust

All in all, Vinterland is a decent little demo, but nothing special. Out of the four tracks, only "I de norske skoger" manages to stand out. That said, it is worth a listen for fans of the mid-90s Norwegian Black Metal sound. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Malevolent Creation - Retribution (1992)

Malevolent Creation's sophomore effort, Retribution, was released in April 1992. By this point, Death Metal had exploded in such a manner that far too many bands were overflowing into the scene, most of them just incredibly mediocre. I recall hearing this band's name mentioned along the likes of Death, Obituary, Morbid Angel, Deicide and so on, all those years ago. This album, in particular, received high praise every time. Yet, when I got my hands on the cassette version of this album, it just fell flat. 

The majority of the music here is quite dull and pointless. The Ten Commandments didn't feature much that was worth remembering, outside of the intense "Premature Burial". However, Retribution is an even more tedious listening chore. One of the things that differentiates Metal from simple Rock music has always been the emphasis placed on the riffs, generally with most bands having two guitarists. Nonetheless, neither Rob Barrett nor Phil Fasciania are the stars of this production. Neither is Brett Hoffmann (whose voice is fairly good but still displays no talent for making the vocals properly fit the music). No, the central figure of Malevolent Creation's second L.P. is the drummer, Alex Marquez. 

This entire album is ruined because of the immensely overactive percussion. Death Metal is supposed to create a dark atmosphere; instead, Retribution offers useless groove riffs and breakdowns and criminal overuse of double bass that undermines most of the very few decent riffs that did manage to slip onto this record. Tracks like "The Coldest Survive", "Mindlocked" and "Iced" are a bit more primitive and straightforward than most of the rest, certainly the best parts of this album, yet the drums still do their best to spoil things as much as possible. 

Of course, the list of complaints could not be complete without mentioning the absolutely atrocious Morrisound production job. This possesses the same generic, sterile sound as almost every other album recorded there during this period. To hear a random snippet from Retribution, without vocals, one would be hard-pressed to correctly identify the band. With the likes of Obituary, Death, Pestilence, Napalm Death and others all recording at the same studio and having their works wrecked by incompetent hands of Scott Burns, it all just blends together. Coupled with the fact that their songwriting is sub-par, it's no surprise that Malevolent Creation never managed to reach the same heights as some of their peers. 

Many cite Stillborn as the point when Malevolent Creation proved their ineptitude, but it was already on full display, here. Death Metal is not supposed to be driven forward by the percussion, with the guitars taking on a supporting role. Retribution might be best used as a gateway album to gently lure Pantera fans into harder music, but it is entirely worthless to those seeking pure Death Metal. Avoid this garbage. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Clandestine Blaze - City of Slaughter (2017)

Clandestine Blaze has for several years been one of the most reliable Black Metal bands of the modern era. Never the greatest, but always able to deliver consistent albums that uphold the traditions of decades past. In February 2017, Mikko returned with his ninth full-length album, City of Slaughter

For the most part, this L.P. offers precisely what one would expect from Clandestine Blaze. Stylistically, there is no change from the previous records, which is a good thing. In general, the only thing that Mikko really 'experiments' with has to be the production, which often takes a few listens to get acclimated to some of his more peculiar choices. The guitars possess a rathe favourable tone, maintaining sort of a sharp and rusty sound. As with Harmony of Struggle and New Golgotha Rising, the drums can be distracting at times, mostly due to the volume of the snare. Otherwise, there are no real complaints to be made. 

Some of the songwriting can be described as, well, less-than-grim. "Remembrance of a Ruin" was an odd pick to open the album, with the more relaxed pace and the slightly off-putting backing vocals reminiscent of "Culling Species" from the previous L.P. Things pick up with "The Voice of Our Mythical Past", a faster song with the typical tremolo picking and memorable melodies that Clandestine Blaze has long been known for. "Circle of Vultures" utilizes more of this, though interspersed with mellow sections with sort of a plodding double-bass carrying things forward. Both of these songs feature some of the best riffs on the album, though. "Prelude of Slaughter" is a non-essential track, merely consisting of some synth and backward vocals, basically an interlude that goes a bit longer than it should. 

It leads into the centerpiece of the record, "Return into the City of Slaughter", which is a lengthy song that sounds like something from Darkthrone's Panzerfaust, offering up a great deal of Celtic Frost worship. There are brief passages that add a sense of morbidity to the track, as well as sparse use of eerie background effects. The song is structured well and builds up a sense of tension as it goes along, with even the vocals becoming more intense. Whereas some of Mikko's forays into Celtic Frost territory have been hit and miss, this time he makes good use of Tom Warrior's style of riffing, mixing with his own style of songwriting, to create something epic and memorable.  

This is followed by the more straightforward and primitive "Archeopsychic Fear" and "Century of Fire". Both are characterized by grim vocals, somewhat mournful tremolo melodies and fast-paced drums, though the latter does fall off the rails around the middle. Suddenly, things get rather calm and the drums become a little overactive, playing some ill-placed catchy beat that is just really off-putting. It reappears a minute or so later, which is so near to the end of the album as to leave a lasting impression of annoyance, at least to my ears. 

Much like New Golgotha Rising, City of Slaughter is a rather decent record, overall. Despite beginning and ending with the weakest tracks (and the only two that I'd consider to be flawed), the rest of the material delivers a solid dose of Finnish Black Metal. While not necessarily up to the quality of Harmony of Struggle, it's certainly worth picking up for fans of Clandestine Blaze. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Vampyric Blood - Drowning in the Vampyric Sacrament of the Immortals (2012)

Released in early 2012, just a short time before Ordo Dracul, this split features three songs from the occult Finnish Black Metal project known as Vampyric Blood. The other band featured here is inferior and unworthy of mention. Despite such an unwanted presence, this recording is still notable for the contributions of Lord of Shadows.

The sound is similar to that of the band's debut L.P. in that it possesses somewhat of a distant and cacophonous sound that might take a few moments to adjust to, much like any old '90s demo tape. The guitars and vocals are rather raw and harsh, in contrast to the warmth and clarity of the synth parts. Generally, I dislike keyboards, but I don't mind them if used properly (and sparingly). Overall, the sound here really suits the atmosphere and style of the material.

The first two Vampyric Blood tracks, utilize fast-paced tremolo riffs, while still managing to include slower sections within each song, particularly the former. Of the two, "Grim Tyranny" really seems to stand out and is the most varied track on here. It does well to seamlessly transition between the mid-paced riffs and the faster guitar melodies, making for a rather engaging song, while never losing the lugubrious aura. However, the third composition from Lord of Shadows is the best one on here. "In Sorrow & Misery" is an eight-minute dirge that really lives up to its title. While alternating between open-arpeggios and faster tremolo picking, both the overall melody and drumming dictate a slower pace. This woeful track reaches right into your chest and takes your weakened heart within its strangling grip. The style hearkens back to older works from Burzum and Strid, possessing an unquestionably morose atmosphere. 

Though Drowning in the Vampyric Sacrament of the Immortals was limited to 1000 copies, it's probably that one can still track down a copy. Whether or not you are a fan of the other band on this split, the Vampyric Blood material is well worth hearing, especially "In Sorrow & Misery". This is some of the best raw and gloomy Black Metal that I've heard in ages, so it is very much recommended. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Darkthrone - Arctic Thunder (2016)

Though I'd intended to ignore the latest release from Fenriz and Nocturno Culto, several have requested my thoughts on this record, so I'll take a stab at it. In general, I'm not one to advocate remaining loyal to a band once they no longer make quality music. However, in the case of Darkthrone, I've been far more lenient and tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. For my personal taste, they've made some of the best Black Metal albums in existence, but those days are long past. 

The disappointment began with 2004's Sardonic Wrath, which I found to be mostly dull and quite a drop from its predecessor. Then came the polarizing The Cult is Alive in 2006, at which point I fully gave up on the band for a while. Their new direction grew on me, with F.O.A.D. and Dark Thrones and Black Flags (my personal favourite of this period). I thought that Circle the Wagons was rather weak by comparison. That was followed by The Underground Resistance, which seemed like an improvement at first. The problem is that, other than "Valkyrie" (which is the least Darkthrone-ish of all the songs on that record), I haven't felt compelled to listen to it since the night I wrote my review for it, back in March 2013, which was only the second time I'd listened to it. With regards to that album, my first impression was that of mild disappointment. Perhaps it was out of some sort of loyalty that I tried to find something positive to say about it anyway. Or it could be that it was a fine album, but just nothing worth going back to. 

However, with the October 2016 release of Arctic Thunder, I'm hardly inspired one way or the other. After they released the first track, I kept seeing comments online about them "returning to their Black Metal roots". I knew this had to be some form of lunacy, so I wasn't surprised at all to hear for myself that this was definitely not the case. I wonder why people even bother bringing up the old days when talking about a new Darkthrone album. All I hear is the same sort of stuff that these guys have been doing for the last several years, for the most part. A lot of '80s-inspired riffs that don't do much more than to make you want to go back and listen to the old school Metal that influenced this material, as opposed to listening to the album itself. Fenriz refrained from contributing lead vocals this time around, thankfully, but Nocturno Culto's voice has been pretty bad for over a decade now. He doesn't sound quite as awful here, but his performance is still a far cry from those of the past. It's difficult to imagine that it's taken over three years for them to come up with this, much like the previous album. "Tundra Leech" has some decent doom riffs with a tremolo melody on top of it. After the first couple minutes, it sort of loses my attention until the lead solo, which still utilizes the strange tone that they've been using for the last several years. Songs like "Burial Bliss", "Boreal Fiends" and "Throw Me Through the Marshes" feature more generic and forgettable riffs that could have been taken from any random song on the last four or five records. The latter includes some clean guitar parts, reminiscent of "Valkyrie", but far less epic in nature. It reappears, from time to time, giving a little bit of a gloomy feel, but nothing really worth remembering. The solo is similar to the one from "Black Mountain Totem", again hearkening back to Aldo Nova's "Fantasy". Just in case you're wondering, that is not a good thing. "Inbred Vermin" is another song that fails to stand out, until the doom riffs at the end come along to create a sombre vibe. This is completely ruined by the more upbeat title track that follows. "Deep Lake Trespass" begins with a somewhat interesting riff, then crumbles less than a minute in, alternating with generic passages that seem rather disjointed. As for the closer, more random Celtic Frost worship that sounds like it took about two minutes to write. 

Arctic Thunder isn't a terrible album. It's not the worst record that Darkthrone has ever released, by any means. In fact, had it been the follow-up to Hate Them, I'd probably look more favourably upon it. But with so few ups and so many downs in the last several years, this L.P. just fails to impress. The songwriting is sort of dull and mediocre. It has its positive moments, but nothing really stands out, sadly. It can serve as a solid album of background music, but there's not much here to hold one's attention nor to justify the three-year wait. They should be able to pump out this sort of haphazard material about twice a year, easily. The latest offering from Nocturno Culto and Fenriz is thoroughly old school and primitive, but it's also utterly forgettable.