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. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Cannibal Corpse - Vile (1996)

Upon its release in May 1996, the fifth Cannibal Corpse L.P. was surrounded by some amount of controversy. Chris Barnes had been kicked out of the band and replaced with George Fisher, only known for his work as part of the very mediocre Monstrosity. Along with the new frontman was a new logo, which looked awful. As such, Vile was under closer scrutiny than any of their previous records. The end result was quite disappointing. 

While one would think that Death Metal vocalists are much more interchangeable than someone like King Diamond or Rob Halford, the truth was that many considered Barnes to the driving force behind the band. He drew the logo, came up with concepts for the cover art, wrote all of the lyrics and did all of the interviews. Even though his 'cookie monster' vocal style seemed rather generic by this point, changing the voice of any band is always a tricky move. His replacement didn't help matters by giving a rather half-hearted and weak performance. He failed to either match up to his predecessor's work or to stand out on his own and really leave his mark on the album. Anyone could have taken his place and done a better job. He honestly sounds like any Cannibal Corpse fan trying to do a Chris Barnes impersonation. 

Musically, Vile follows the approach of The Bleeding, in some instances. Whereas the last album sacrificed some of the 'brutality' of the earlier offerings to focus on atmosphere (with songs like "Return to Flesh" and "Force Fed Broken Glass"), the bulk of Vile feels a little more technical and this doesn't really work so well. There are some decent riffs here and there, like the tremolo bit in "Perverse Suffering", though the majority of the track is dull. Similarly, there are very brief parts in "Bloodlands" and "Orgasm Through Torture". Songs like "Disfigured" and "Eaten from Inside" sound like rehash from previous records, something of which Cannibal Corpse would go on to build their entire career. 

By 1996, it appeared that Death Metal had pretty much run out of steam and all of the classic albums were already at least a few years old. None of the bands seemed to really have anything left to contribute, other than to just rehash what had already been done. After hearing the Created to Kill recordings, it is clear that the fifth Cannibal Corpse album was destined to be boring, no matter what (and Six Feet Under's second full-length proved that Chris Barnes had allowed his voice to completely deteriorate and should have quit making music). People can blame the new vocalist or the different logo as the only reasons why Vile is looked down upon, but the fact is that it's just not very good. Making an album of regurgitated ideas, spiced up with extra technicality, was never going to work. If you're a fan of this band, stick with the earlier albums; not just because of the vocalist or the logo or any reason other than that Cannibal Corpse said all that they had to say with those first four records. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Transilvania - Morbid Majesty (2015)

Usually, I steer clear of modern bands and releases, with very few exceptions. However, an acquaintance recently brought to my attention the Austrian Black Metal band, Transilvania. It was said that their September 2015 demo tape, Morbid Majesty, would be right up my alley. Recommendations are often tricky, as I am often a bit too selective, but the old school vibe lured me in, right from the start.

Musically, this could best be described as Black/Thrash, in the vein of old Desaster. Even the vocals are very reminiscent Okkulto's performance on A Touch of Medieval Darkness. The musicianship is rather sloppy, but that actually benefits this style and adds to the raw feeling. Fortunately, the production is gritty and unprofessional, which is exactly what is needed for this sort of music. One of the biggest mistakes made by a lot of 'retro' bands is that they play a bit too tight and have a sterile, modern sound to their albums, thus ruining the whole thing.

"On the Back of Satan's Stallion" and "One Night in Salem" include some pure Black Metal riffs, but these are brief and soon give way to Teutonic-inspired Thrash, which dominates most of the recording. The majority of the riffs are purely '80s-inspired and, along with several of the solos, hearken back to the middle of the decade. For the most part, the songs maintain an intense pace, but there are times when things relax just enough to let the riffs breathe a bit and to accentuate the dark atmosphere, such as in "Moonlight Sorcery". There are even moments that are a little more melodic, showing some old Mercyful Fate influence, perhaps. Rather than just utilizing harsh Black Metal vocals over traditional Thrash riffs, the members of Transilvania do well in composing songs that seamlessly transition from one style of riff to another to create an obscure and hellish feeling.

Morbid Majesty is a great little demo, oozing the sort of old school vibe found on classic records from Destruction, Tormentor, Sabbat, etc. Hopefully, Transilvania will manage to record more material in the near future and, more importantly, maintain the same raw and evil feeling as found on their debut release. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Funeral Mist - Darkness (1995)

Only being familiar with their 2003 full-length Salvation, Funeral Mist is a band that I wrote off a long time ago. It's strange, as I would normally check out demo recordings, but the material on that album was so unappealing that there didn't seem to be any point in doing so. Eventually, someone recommended that I give a listen to their 1995 demo, Darkness. While it's not exactly anything special, it's much better than the later works issued under this name. 

Darkness is quite under-produced, possessing a raw sound very typical of demos of this period. At times, the guitars have sort of a buzzing/whirring sound, which actually suits the atmosphere. It shares a few similarities with Horna's Kun synkkä ikuisuus avautuu rehearsal.  Fortunately, this tape features Typhos (later of Dark Funeral and Infernal) on vocals, rather than the annoying Arioch (who only handles bass duties here). The overall sound is fairly muddy at times, but you can still manage to hear everything that is going on. 

The best songs on here are "Dreams of a Time Before Time" and "In Black Silence". The opener is much better than anything that follows, building some unrealistic expectations and giving way to a small measure of disappointment. The latter utilizes a bit of synth, giving somewhat of a horror vibe. Many of the riffs seems to take inspiration from bands such as Emperor and Marduk, leaning more toward the former. The keyboard interlude, "In the Shadows I Wait", may not be all that necessary, but its inclusion doesn't hurt anything, either. The guitar melodies found in songs like "Funeral Mist" and "Blasphemy" (as well as the overused synth in the latter) give the music a lighter feeling, losing the dark and evil vibe that such a necro recording could have created. 

All in all, this is a fairly average recording. It is weaker than other Swedish Black Metal demos of the time, such as Moloch's Cutting Holy Throats or Härskare av den svarta natten by Skuggmörker. It should, of course, be of interest to those who are searching for solid mid-90s Black Metal. That said, Darkness is only remarkable in any manner by comparing it to Funeral Mist's better-known (and incredibly awful) releases. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

King Diamond - The Eye (1990)

The fifth King Diamond L.P. was recorded in Sweet Silence Studio (of Ride the Lightning fame) and released in October 1990. As with Conspiracy, this album pales in comparison to Fatal Portrait or Abigail; however, The Eye was my first King Diamond album, so it holds a fair amount of sentimental value.  

It was a cold October night when a girlfriend of mine came by to interrupt my homework. In her bag, she had a handful of CDs, some of which I was either already familiar with and others that seemed entirely uninteresting. One album stood out, however, that being The Eye. For whatever reason, though I loved the old Mercyful Fate material, I'd not bothered to seek out any of King Diamond's 'solo' albums. Upon hearing the opening riffs and vocals of "Eye of the Witch", I was hooked. 

The best songs on this record feature very memorable riffs, quite similar to Conspiracy. Nevertheless, with the abundance of keyboards and clean guitars that are utilized throughout the album, The Eye comes off as a but softer than its predecessor. Tracks like "The Trial (Chambre Ardente)" and "Two Little Girls" are fairly weak and are yet another example of how concept albums tend to let the story dictate the flow of things, rather than the music itself. Placing these, essentially, 'throwaway tracks' so close to the beginning of the L.P. really kills the momentum before it even had a chance to build. Some of the other songs don't seem fully strong enough to stand on their own, like "Into the Convent" and "Father Picard". In fact, this is probably true of every track aside from the opener and "Behind These Walls". That said, despite a few speed bumps, the album works really well as a whole. The Eye still possesses a strong '80s Metal feel, due to the style of riffs and the solos. King's voice is also in good condition on this recording, with some quite infectious vocal lines, such as those found in the aforementioned "Behind These Walls" and "The Curse". Special mention should be made of the brief instrumental track, "Insanity". It does so well to create a really sombre atmosphere and its placement on the album works very well. 

The Eye marks the end of King Diamond's classic period. The strongest songs on here are probably "Eye of the Witch", "Behind These Walls" and "1642 Imprisonment". Truth be told, The Eye is an album that is much more effective when listened to in its entirety. Though it might be difficult to properly assess this record, due to the nostalgia factor, it would be fair to say that it's a solid release and definitely worth checking out.  

Saturday, November 19, 2016

King Diamond - Conspiracy (1989)

King Diamond's fourth full-length, Conspiracy, was released through Roadrunner Records in August 1989. This L.P. features the same lineup as its predecessor and was recorded at the same studio, but is vastly superior. The feeling from Fatal Portrait and Abigail is definitely gone forever, but this is a very solid album. 

Conspiracy continues the story from "Them" and, though the first part seemed quite weak, turns out to be a much more interesting concept this time around. Unlike the previous album, none of the tracks here feel like filler that only exist to prop up the lyrics. While some songs are certainly stronger than others, each one is able to stand on its own. The album is filled with very epic riffs and memorable vocal lines, especially the opening track "At the Graves". The much more robust production really suits the material, as well. The guitars sound much more dynamic, as opposed to the flat sound of "Them". In a sense, the guitars are more geared toward the large-budget stadium rock sound, reminiscent of Ozzy Osbourne's No Rest for the Wicked. It's heavier, but not in the same way as an album like Abigail, which had a sharper and more metallic guitar tone. 

Musically, the compositions here are miles ahead of those found on "Them". The aforementioned "At the Graves" is just a massive beast, perhaps a little too long, but still a monumental track and a good one from which to build the rest of the album. Songs like "Sleepless Nights", "Amon Belongs to Them" and "Victimized" are bursting with the same sort of energetic riffs that will easily hold your interest. As well, King's voice is still in good form here and provides a lot of memorable moments. "A Visit from the Dead" may be the most melodic and complex track on here, along with "Something Weird". It begins with a quiet section that then gives way to some very Abigail-esque riffs. These combine with King's haunting falsetto screams to create a rather dire feeling. "Let It Be Done" and "Cremation" also do well to maintain the horror vibe. 

While it cannot compare to the first two records, Conspiracy unquestionably deserves to be considered part of King Diamond's classic period. It's a very solid album that does well to correct the mistakes made on the previous release. After the very first listen, it's quite likely that many of these riffs and vocal lines will remain in your head for a while. Though none of the tracks can really match up to the intense and epic opener, there's not a bad song on here. This is definitely recommended.