Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Clandestine Blaze - Night of the Unholy Flames (2000)

Night of the Unholy Flames is the sophomore effort from Finland's Clandestine Blaze, the solo project of Mikko Aspa. This album was the first full-length to be released on his own label, Northern Heritage Records, right before Deathspell Omega's Infernal Battles. In many ways, this should be considered the true debut from Clandestine Blaze, as Fire Burns In Our Hearts was more of a demo than a real album. This release takes the basic concept of what Mikko was attempting on that release and finally sees it through.

An ominous intro precedes the first song, setting the tone for what is to come. "Chambers" erupts from the calm, racing forward at a fast pace and slaughtering every living thing that it comes upon. The guitar tone is cold and somewhat sharp, but not hard on the ears. This hearkens back to Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger, with the minimalist songwriting and execution. The song features mournful tremolo riffs with blasting drums underneath, keeping a decent pace but never going too far. There are moments where the guitar is left to stand on its own, which really helps to add a sense of gloom and melancholy to the atmosphere. While owing quite a bit to his Norwegian idols, Mikko uses the same formula but his melodies have a distinct sound and vibe of their own. What he has done is to build upon what came before, rather than simply imitating it. The lyrics are a bit controversial, discussing the extermination of Jews and Christians. One has to wonder why it is alright to criticize one group and to wish them dead, yet it becomes wrong to apply the same idea to the originators of the Judeo-Christian mythology that has plagued the world for so many centuries.

"Cross of Black Steel" is not the most impressive track, as it is one of the earliest examples of Clandestine Blaze attempting to utilize riffs inspired by Celtic Frost and these songs always seem to fall flat. This mid-paced tune is not all that bad, but it is rather uninteresting and seems to be a waste when compared to the other songs. Nonetheless, it does serve well to break up the monotony of the album, shifting gears for a few minutes, though he could have worked harder to make the song more dynamic.

The title track returns to the faster tempo from before, utilizing a similar overall structure and approach. This song features a very hypnotic main riff, within the framework of raw minimalism that Clandestine Blaze excels at. Mikko's vocals are deeper than those of most other Black Metal vocalists, but it works well as yet another element to separate this band from the countless others that employ a similar style. The song is very repetitive, but never boring. The guitar melodies are haunting and will likely remain with you long after the album has concluded.

"Invisible Death" continues the fast-paced and minimalist approach, while standing out from the others and maintaining its own identity. The atmosphere takes on a more bleak and dreary feeling, as a mournful guitar melody emerges, from time to time. There are no instances where one gets even a brief glimmer of hope. This drains your spirit and leaves you nearly empty. Everything is very subtle, and yet highly effective. The production helps, as it is raw and yet with a clear focus on the guitars. This shows vast improvement over the first release.

The less-than-stellar Celtic Frost vibe returns on "There's Nothing". It is a shame that Mikko did not try to work this influence into the songs in a different manner, rather than writing bland songs that stuck to the basic formula and fail to keep the listener's attention. As with the previous mid-paced song, it at least works to break things up and give you a chance to rest.

"Aikakausi on Lyhyt" shifts back to the Transilvanian Hunger style, though with a little less success than some of the previous songs. This is not a bad track; however, it does not quite stand up to the earlier ones. It is the only song on here with Finnish lyrics, something that Clandestine Blaze did not often do.

The final song is "Future Lies in Hands of the Strong", which is a slower song with influences from Burzum. It is more of an outro, really, as there is no definite structure and the only vocals seem to be distant screams and gargled noises that are difficult to decipher. After a few minutes, the same ominous sound from the intro returns to end things.

All in all, Night of the Unholy Flames is a very good album and reall shows a lot of improvement from Fire Burns In Our Hearts. This is the moment where Clandestine Blaze really developed its own sound and rose to the top of the Finnish underground. This shows a very good re-interpretation of the Second Wave Black Metal sound, as defined by the Norwegians in the early-'90s. Mikko takes a good amount of inspiration, and upholds the traditions, yet adds his own vision in order to create something unique. If you are a fan of raw, minimalist Black Metal, seek this out.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Necrophobic - The Third Antichrist (1999)


The Third Antichrist, released by Black Mark in October 1999, is the third full-length album from Necrophobic and the first effort without David Parland. After going from the Satanic Death Metal of The Nocturnal Silence to the more Black Metal approach of Darkside, it should not have surprised anyone when the band's next album saw a yet another shift in their sound. This time around, things were about as similar to the previous outing as possible, yet with a more varied style and a greater emphasis on melody.

"Rise of the Infernal" is an intro that possesses an apocalyptic feeling, which is exactly what the band was going for. This is achieved with an acoustic guitar and a bit of synth. One really gets the sense that something dreadful awaits.

The opening guitar melody of "The Third of Arrivals" is in the same cold Black Metal style as the band utilized on Darkside, though any hopes that this will be in the same vein are crushed with the introduction of the thrashier riffs that accompany the vocals. Though similar in approach, the aggression is not the same. The two themes alternate, until the middle of the track where things slow down a little and a nocturnal lead solo emerges. Though Parland is gone, the band does their best to continue on the style that he established.

"Frozen Empire" starts with an ominous melody, before launching into a bitter cold riff that brings a chill to any who hears it. Sidegård's vocals are still in the same style as on Darkside, though a bit less raw. He sounds somewhat similar to Jon Nödtveidt, in a sense. As the song progresses, more lead solos are employed, really building the epic atmosphere. The guitar tone is still kind of thin, but thicker than on the previous album. The sound is a bit more polished, as well, losing the raw edge that was present in the past. However, it is not over-produced by any means and the haunting melodies reach a level of quality not often achieved, in the past. The lyrics do a good job of keeping in line with those of the past, while also suiting the music well.

"Mournful, silent is the night
In white, the nature lies asleep
Whining winds are blowing cold as ice
Frozen is the valley of shadows"

The next song is a little weird. "Into Armageddon" features sections with only bass and drums, underneath the vocals, in more of a Rock style. The pace is slower and the overall feeling is different. There is still a sort of gloomy feeling here, with brief a brief backing choir that is slightly reminiscent of Viking-era Bathory. The speed and intensity pick up, around the middle, soon followed by more melodic lead solos. The tremolo riff, that was present at the beginning, reappears and teases the listener. This definitely could have been developed more, but that was not what the band was aiming for.

"Eye of the Storm" starts out with a mournful melody and consists of thrash riffs mixed with tremolo riffs. There seems to be some effect on the vocals that adds an icy feeling. Nonetheless, Tobias sounds like his throat is shredded and this works very well with the vibe of the music. The tempo of this track switches a few times, but the general mood is kind of low. The lyrics also show the first real attempt at incorporating themes of Norse mythology into Necrophobic's music, something that would be further explored down the line.

"I search for the balance of fire and ice
From Nifel to Muspell with longing in eyes
I search for the wisdom the one-eyed once gained
Metamorphosis obtained"

"The Unhallowed" is a shorter track that features more of a straightforward approach. At times, it utilizes thicker power chords with a cold tremolo riff weaving through it. The lead solos show the skill of the guitarists and a really professional level of musicianship.

This is followed by "Isaz", which is one of the standout tracks on The Third Antichrist. Starting out with a fast tremolo melody, it soon transitions to a slower riff. The melody that comes in-between the verses has more of the cold, nocturnal feeling that dominated much of Darkside. The middle section is incredible, building a sense of dread and adding an epic feeling at the same time. The lead guitar solo carves through your mind with its frigid sound and carries you into the shadows.

At this point, the album kind of loses steam. "The Throne of Souls Possessed" shifts gears and goes from Nordic themes back to more of an anti-Christian sentiment. This track is a little less memorable than some of the others, though not for any lack of quality. It includes more great solo work and maintains the cold atmosphere that is found throughout the rest of the album, yet it seems to work better as part of the overall record, rather than standing on its own.

The first few riffs of "He Who Rideth In Rage" are kind of generic and one gets the sense that this song was less developed than the others. While the first part has kind of a Death Metal feeling, the later section is reminiscent of Bathory. This suffers from a lack of consistency, with the most enjoyable riff coming at the very end.

"Demonic" returns to the nocturnal atmosphere, though the riffs sound like rehash of earlier songs. It is mostly fast-paced, though it slows down for a bit and includes a very brief bit of clean guitar and a spoken-word passage. It is a fine song, but it does not stand out enough from those that preceded it.

The final track is an outro that imbues the listener with a very gloomy and horrible feeling. "One Last Step into the Great Mist" features a tremolo melody that is played quite low, with a very simple drum beat and almost-whispered vocals. Actually, this would have made for a great song if the riff had been utilized in a normal way, with fast drums and typical Black Metal vocals on top of it. Still, it works well to end the album on a dark and sombre note.

The Third Antichrist is where the band really established the sound that would persist for the next several years. Taking what David Parland set forth on the first two albums and building upon that, they created a brilliant style of melodic Black Metal that should appeal to fans of the band's later works, especially. Anyone into Dissection, Sacramentum and even Watain should check this out as well. Overall, it is a very solid record.