Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Satanic Warmaster - Opferblut (2003)

Opferblut is the second L.P. from the Finnish Black Metal band with the most ridiculous name ever, Satanic Warmaster. This project was created by former Horna vocalist (and heavy metal superstar of the cock-rock band, Armour), Nazgul aka Satanic Tyrant Werwolf. He has a special place between Kanwulf and Kvarforth in the Black Metal Hall of Shame. At any rate, this was unknown to me when I first acquired this album, and it should really have no bearing on the music presented here. In all honesty, a great number of musicians turn out to be dishonourable, degenerative scum, but that should have nothing to do with the music that they create.

The album begins with the song "Black Destiny". This starts off at full speed with fast tremolo riffs and blasting drums. Lord Sarcofagian did well to study the work of Fenriz, as the drumming is very similar and it is mixed at just the right level. The vocals are mixed well, also, not being too high or too low. Werwolf's style, as in Horna, seems to be quite similar to Hat and Pest, of Gorgoroth. The overall sound owes a lot to the early 90s Norwegian Black Metal scene. In particular, it would seem that these Finns are big Darkthrone fans. That certainly isn't a bad thing, as Darkthrone seemed to give up making that style of music a long time ago. Then again, why would they want to since there are thousands of other bands attempting to emulate them? This song actually features very nice tremolo melodies, memorable riffs and a good structure.

The next song is "Bound in Lust and Hate". This continues with the same fast pace as established on the first song, with very nice melodies, creating a sense of tension as the song builds in intensity. The riffs are very memorable and everything flows nicely. Again, there is nothing very original going on here. If anything, this is more of a tribute to some of the second wave bands. That being said, they do take that foundation and add a little something to it.

On "A Wolf Cries in Anger", the pace slows down a bit and the melodies take an overtly mournful tone. The sound is very similar to Sargeist's Satanic Black Devotion, even the effect on the vocals. While this is raw, it is a little more polished than the Sargeist album. It is also more melodic and not nearly as dark. Everything is executed well, yet there is nothing dangerous about this music. Despite this, it does have some redeeming qualities. The harmonies are very introspective and mournful at times. These will lurk in your mind for some time after listening. Perhaps the thing that Satanic Warmaster adds to the formulaic sound is a certain catchiness that is, somewhat, inherent when it comes to Finnish bands.

"Pentagram & Wood" features some very nice tremolo riffs. It seems strange that so many kids that are new to Black Metal embrace this band as some evil and obscure cult of darkness. Then again, it is easy to see how they are attracted to it as it is catchy and melodic. Each song has its own identity, which is a good thing. There is somewhat of an epic atmosphere created through the brilliant song arrangements. No, this is nothing you haven't heard before, but it is done pretty well.

"A Raven's Song" erupts from the shadows at full speed. Again, it must be noted that the drumming is very suitable for this style of music, being just high enough to keep time but low enough to not distract from the guitars. The simplistic bass lines can be heard, easily, as on Mayhem's De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. As the tempo changes, the unmistakable Finnish melodies are present, which may be the one thing that really sets this off from other bands that exist to pay tribute to the grim cults of Norway. The guitars really work to create a depressive feeling, though never utterly dismal. This song is among the more memorable ones on the album.

The next song is "Rain Falls", which is an instrumental in the vein of "Når Himmelen Klarner" from Burzum's Det Som Engang Var or even "Gjennom Skogen til Blåfjellene" from Isengard's Vinterskugge. This piece creates a very melancholic feeling and allows your mind to drift away into infinite thought.

"Farewell to the Fallen" begins with a total Celtic Frost vibe. After the first minute or so, this transitions to something more akin to Burzum, once more, before speeding up. This may not be the intention of the band, but the music is actually kind of peaceful and enjoyable to listen to.

As shown with the Pest project, Werwolf is very skilled at emulating those he admires. This shows very well, throughout Opferblut. Satanic Warmaster does not manage to sound as dark and evil as the bands that they hail, such as Darkthrone, Mayhem, Burzum and Gorgoroth. Despite that, it is easy to appreciate this album for what it is, especially considering the atmosphere of melancholy that hovers over this. While not being quite as raw as some bands, this doesn't sound slick or over-produced. Anyone with a bad taste in their mouth from Horna's Sudentaival need not worry.

This is recommended for those who don't mind obvious hero-worship in their music. Out of the countless bands that play this same style, Satanic Warmaster proved to be somewhat competent, on this album at least. This is, more or less, the only release of theirs that might be worth picking up. That said, it does not come nearly as close to capturing the dark feeling of the old Norwegian bands as fellow Finnish groups like Sargeist and Clandestine Blaze. This is a band whose popularity has been cultivated through image and marketing, making millions of pathetic internet kids think that this is the epitome of true Black Metal. If anything, this should serve as a gateway, imbuing you with the desire to seek out the true originators of this sound.

(Nov. 2006)

Monday, November 6, 2006

Horna - Sudentaival (2001)

Sudentaival is the third full-length album from Horna. Released in March 2001 on Woodcut Records, this record sticks out like a sore thumb, when compared to the rest of the band's discography. For a band that has long been one of the pillars of the Finnish Black Metal scene, they made a severe misstep with this release. Thankfully, they learned from their mistakes, down the line.

Musically, this is not terribly far from the material that was heard on Kohti Yhdeksän Nousua. The band took several years to really find their own style, and this album is a product of that confusion. At this point, Shatraug's brilliant guitar melodies had not yet taken shape, so there is a mixture of generic ideas and some that demonstrate a shred of the potential that would soon be realized. The atmosphere of this L.P. is anything but dark or evil, which is a shift from the previous outing. While Haudankylmyyden Mailla was plagued by an overall sense of unoriginality, there was definitely an effort to pay home to the early-'90s Norwegian scene. Sudentaival seems to have been reaching out to more modern tastes, at the time. The overall approach sounds more in line with later Marduk, as the vocals and percussion dominate the sound. The blast beats seem to crush any attempt that the guitars make at creating a dark feeling.

The production is as much at fault for this atrocity as the songwriting. It sounds extremely fake and plastic, suffering from a sound that is similar to what one would expect from Abyss Studio. This gives off the impression of being horribly-produced Death Metal, moreso than having anything to do with Black Metal. The drums are way to high in the mix and the guitars are buried underneath everything else, when it should have been the other way around. I recall the confusion when I first put this CD in, as I thought I had been sent the wrong album. While the band's earlier efforts were all slightly too modern-sounding for my taste, this one crossed a line that no one can deny. The fact of the matter is that Sudentaival is not completely worthless, musically, but the horrible sound makes it nearly impossible to enjoy. Only during the slower sections are the sombre guitar melodies allowed to breathe. It is a shame as, with a more underground production and a little more work on the material, itself, this could have been a decent album.

Sudentaival is the one Horna record that I would not recommend. The few positives that it possesses are not really worth enduring the rest. Obviously, this did not have the greatest effect for the band members, either, as Nazgul left to start Satanic Warmaster and Shatraug began putting most of his energy into Sargeist, not long after this. After developing his style a bit more, with that project, the following Horna releases began to really take on an identity of their own. My advice would be to skip this and move on to Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Horna - Haudankylmyyden Mailla (1999)

Horna's second full-length album, Haudankylmyyden Mailla, was released by Solistitium Records in 1999 and limited to 1500 copies. Though hailing from Finland, the music on here sounds very similar to the output of the Norwegian Black Metal bands, several years earlier. This record draws a lot of inspiration from early Darkthrone and Gorgoroth, in particular, thus it was well-received at a time when many of the bands that headed up the Second Wave had moved on to something else.

The album begins with a very strange intro, sounding like something from a horror movie (or, perhaps, a science fiction film). The feeling it conveys is rather sorrowful, however, so it does serve some purpose in putting the listener in a negative state of mind.

"Yhdeksän Yö" starts out with a bass line that carries on the feeling of dread, along with the sparse drum work. Moments later, the vocals come in, overdubbed with high and low, soon joined by the guitar. The mid-paced riff possesses a feeling of doom and works very well to create an atmosphere of hellish darkness. Nazgul gives on of the best performances of his career, sounding more intense than at any other point. After a few minutes, the music speeds up and one can hear the Gorgoroth influence, quite easily. The guitar melodies are very memorable, though the production makes it difficult to experience them in the proper manner, as the guitars seem to be buried in the mix. This becomes much more noticeable during the fast parts, as the drums really begin to have an oppressive effect on the rest. The riffs are gloomy and imbue the listener with images of a foggy graveyard, late at night.

The next song, "...Jeesuksen Verestä ", skips past all of the introductory riffs and gets right into the fast tremolo-picked melodies and blast beats, while the vocalist shrieks over the maelstrom of hatred and evil that is unfolding. This is a rather straightforward track, maintaining a fast pace throughout. Again, the only complaint is that the riffs are buried beneath the rest, though there are a couple parts where only the guitar remains, while the rest falls silent.

"Ylle Kuihtuneen Ajan Ajatusten" is a longer track that features a chaotic, Slayer-inspired lead solo, at the beginning. Unfortunately, it is so low in the mix that one hardly notices it. After a couple minutes of high-speed attack, the atmosphere darkens as the pace slows down. The riffs are reminiscent of Burzum, creating a miserable feeling. Nazgul's whispers add to the eerie vibe and a subtle bit of synth is also utilized. Though the riffs change, the pace remains rather slow for the remainder of the song, which never quite capitalizes on the brilliant middle section.

Things pick back up with "Kun Jumalan Sydän On Murskattu", which is another fast-paced song that hearkens back to early Darkthrone. As with the rest of the album, the guitar tone is reminiscent of Under a Funeral Moon and one can hear influences from that album, as well as Gorgoroth's Pentagram. The best riff of the whole song does not appear until near the end, and really could have been expanded upon. One gets the impression that some of this material was rushed.

"(Kaiken) Kristityn Kuolema" is, more or less, filler. It is another fast song with generic riffs and a bit of synth, at times. With a running time of over an hour, this track really could have been left off. Not every riff needs to be recorded and presented, especially when they are pointless as the ones here.

"Viimeinen Sielu Jumalan Valosta" is a mid-paced track that evokes a bit more or a morbid feeling, similar to the first song. In fact, it is a little too similar, at times, and could have been left on the shelf until it could be further developed.

The title track is one of the shortest on here, coming in at under four minutes, but features much better guitar melodies than the previous few songs. This one maintains a faster pace, though sort of relaxed when compared to other tracks on here. The drumming is a little overactive, at times, taking away from the riffs.

"Hymni Tuomiopäivänä" starts out with a frenetic tempo and more overdubbed vocals, with high and low. This sort of thing is rather annoying in Black Metal and should be kept to a minimum. The music is inconsistent, and includes some thrash riffs that do not fit in very well, along with mid-paced riffs that go nowhere. This one makes at least three tracks that are pure filler.

"Peikkomaille" is another song that sounds under-developed and a little too derivative of the Norwegian bands, without enough original thought put into the songwriting and arrangement. It is not terrible, but seems as if not enough time went into it, prior to the album being recorded.

The nine-minute track, "Epilogi", is utterly worthless and does not even add to the atmosphere of the record. This one is nothing more than filler, as well. That seems to be the trend with this album.

"Kunnia Saatanalle" is the final song and, while not terribly superior to the rest, it maintains a consistent feel and features some really decent guitar melodies. At just under three minutes, there is hardly enough time for it to get boring, which may work to its benefit. The overdubbed vocals are out of place, but the solid riffs make up for it.

While Haudankylmyyden Mailla should appeal to most Horna fans, it really would have been better off if it had been released as an E.P. Several of the songs are either filler or just a little less developed than they should have been. That said, even at its worst, this is not a bad album. It just fails to realize the potential that it hints at. Anyone into raw Black Metal in the Norwegian style should pick this up.