Monday, April 28, 2008

October Tide - Rain Without End (1997)


Rain Without End is the first full-length from October Tide, a side project of members from Sweden's Katatonia. Appropriately enough, I first discovered this album on a rainy day, many years ago. As I write this, the sky is gloomy and the cold rain has been falling for hours. A perfectly miserable atmosphere for such bleak music.

October Tide's debut L.P. was recorded in 1995, between Katatonia's For Funerals To Come E.P. and the Brave Murder Day album, despite not being released until 1997. This album has the distinction of featuring the final harsh vocal performance of Jonas Renkse, as he had tortured his throat beyond repair.

Stylistically, October Tide does not deviate from the established Katatonia sound of this era. One may wonder why this album was released under a different name, since it features the same melodic Doom Metal found on Katatonia albums. One reason may be that Anders Nyström was preoccupied with other projects, such as Diabolical Masquerade.

What one finds on Rain Without End is a more coherent version of Katatonia. The riffs are mid-paced doom and the trademark melodies and acoustic passages are present. Average song length is roughly five to six minutes. There's enough variation to keep things moving, yet not so much that is distracts from the flow of the song. The somber melodies and tortured vocals work, beautifully, to create a very bleak and dismal album that is unmistakably Swedish.

Standout tracks include "12 Days of Rain" and "Infinite Submission". This is nearly impossible to find, without paying a small fortune, as it has been long out of print. If you see it somewhere, do yourself a favor and pick it up. Fans of old Katatonia will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Unleashed - Where No Life Dwells (1991)

Where No Life Dwells is the first full-length album from Unleashed. It is also one of the first Swedish Death Metal albums that I heard, many years ago. To be honest, I wasn't quite sure what I was hearing at the time, since most of my Death Metal experience had been with American bands. I was also getting into a lot of second wave Black Metal bands, around this time. The spirit of this album seemed to fall in line more with the Black Metal that I had been listening to, rather than Death Metal. Of course, the obscure cover art and even the inverted cross that is bound in with the logo added to this perception. I discovered this around the same time that I was first exposed to albums such as Left Hand Path, Like An Everflowing Stream and Into the Grave. This was something darker and colder than any of those.

In 1989, Johnny Hedlund found himself ejected from Nihilist, thus moving on to form Unleashed. After a series of demos, the band was signed by Century Media Records. In April 1991, they went to Woodhouse Studios in Dortmund, Germany to record their debut L.P. Where No Life Dwells does not possess the same sound as the many Swedish Death Metal albums that were recorded in Sunlight Studio, under the watchful eye of Tomas Skogsberg. While this does share some characteristics with bands such as Entombed, Carnage / Dismember and so on, it is also quite different. Indeed, the music of Unleashed embodied a lethal coldness of a brutal winter storm, offering no mercy in its attack while destroying all in its path.

The album begins with "Where No Life Dwells", a brief and fragile acoustic intro that is absolutely torn to shreds by the barbaric assault of "Dead Forever". This is a fitting portrayal the band's world view. The song erupts with crushing mid-paced riffs and an overpowering roar. The riffing alternates between fast tremolo riffs and slow power chord breaks. The drum work isn't something really outstanding yet it's extremely frantic and fits totally with the riffing. The bass isn't very prominent and is mixed down with the guitar riffs giving their already dark sound a lower range. The vocals of Johnny Hedlund are dry and cold. They are similar yet different from the classic Swedish style, being very rough (but not too deep) with occasional piercing screams of mortal horror. Guitar solos are short yet intense fast tremolo that have the same tone of the rhythmic guitars.

This album possesses more of an old school feeling than many of its peers, as there are many galloping riffs and thrashy sections, as seen on "Before the Creation of Time". This alternates with the faster tremolo riffs and blast beats that seem to come out of nowhere, thus maximizing the effect. However, where the band truly shines is during the slow power chord breaks, as this allows the your mind to drift into the gaping abyss.

The sound on this album is immensely heavy, with the drums given a pounding, hammering presence through music that takes on the form of a deadly nighttime blizzard. This has a very cold sound to it, but not quite the same as listening to early Darkthrone. An album like Transilvanian Hunger freezes you with bitter cold winds shredding through your flesh. Where No Life Dwells is more like being crushed between two sheets of glacial ice.

As the previous song ends, you hear icy blizzard winds blowing over the frozen plains which serve as an intro to "The Dark One". This song begins with an atmosphere of pure doom. The slow riffs transition, suddenly, into a frostbitten blast of tremolo riffs and pounding drums. Hedlund's dry screams are filled with fury. The rage found here is tempered by a descent into a slower passage, anchored by mid-paced double bass. The guitars then re-emerge from these darkened depths to revisit the previously established theme. This is probably one of the best songs on the album. Also worth mentioning is that the lyrics are inspired by Tolkien.

The lyrical themes of this album are, mostly, anti-Christian but there is also a strong Viking Metal approach as many songs speak of great battles and approach death as an unavoidable fate for all those who live, yet this grim destiny must be faced with courage. "Into Glory Ride" embodies this spirit quite well, and mentions Odin, Thor and Valhalla. This would seem to foreshadow the type of themes that Unleashed would become most known for.

"...And the Laughter Has Died" begins with much the same barbaric fury as can be found all over this album, yet here we find some of the darkest atmosphere created by this band. In the heat of battle, you have been fatally wounded. The blood is pouring from the gaping wound in your chest. As the riffs slow down, a truly haunting and abysmal lead melody coils around your cold body, suffocating you near total lifelessness. A terrified shriek wakes you from this dark winter nightmare. The song speeds up, once more, as you realize that the battle is not quite finished.

As through many of the songs, "Where Life Ends" features many slow doom riffs that are accompanied by the double bass rumbling beneath, creating a suffocating feeling. The only complaint here would be the lack of the funeral bell that was on the version of this song found on the ...And the Laughter Has Died E.P. as it added a nice touch.

At its most energetic, the songs on Where No Life Dwells carry an absolutely barbaric feeling. During the slower sections, the atmosphere is dark and filled with dread. As with most bands, Unleashed made their defining statement with the first L.P. so this one is the most essential of their catalogue.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Darkthrone - Soulside Journey (1991)

The band that would become Darkthrone formed during 1986 in Kolbotn, a small suburb of Oslo. They were a death metal group by the name of Black Death, and its members were Gylve Nagell, Ivar Enger and Anders Risberget. In 1988 the band changed their name to Darkthrone and were joined by Ted Skjellum and Dag Nilsen. During 1988 and 1989 the band independently released four demo tapes: Land of Frost, A New Dimension, Thulcandra, and Cromlech. As a result, the band was signed by Peaceville Records.

Early on, they appeared to have ties with some members of the Swedish Death Metal scene, as Tomas Lindberg (of Grotesque / At the Gates) assisted in the creation of the Darkthrone logo and Uffe Cederlund (of Entombed) was present in the studio during the recording of their debut L.P., Soulside Journey, in 1990. The album was produced by Tomas Skosgberg, in Sunlight Studio (known for such albums as Sumerian Cry, Left Hand Path, Dark Recollections, et cetera). This is the only Death Metal album that the band recorded, as they went for a primitive Black Metal style, not long after this was released.

Soulside Journey begins with a brief, horror-inspired intro before the song "Cromlech" comes thundering in. To those not familiar with the band's origins, it may sound strange to hear technical Death Metal from these guys, but here it is. One of the first things to notice is the fast tremolo riffs. This style was already somewhat common in Swedish Death Metal, yet Darkthrone utilized these riffs far more efficiently. This goes to show that the band didn't change so drastically, with the albums that followed this. As for differences, Nocturno Culto's vocals are deeper, yet not too deep, and Fenriz is quite active behind the drum kit, showing his high level of skill.

"Sunrise Over Locus Mortis" continues down the same dark path as the first song. There are a lot of tempo changes on these songs and quite a bit of doomy atmosphere created during the slower sections. In those early years, it didn't seem to matter what Darkthrone did. Whether they were playing Death or Black Metal didn't make a difference, as they excelled at both. Honestly, there wasn't much of a reason to continue with the same musical direction after this album as they had accomplished something great.

The opening moments of the title track sounds pretty close to what the band would be doing a couple years later, beginning with cold tremolo melodies and fast drums. Of course, the speed does not remain the same as there are so many different riffs and tempo changes. Even on the instrumental track that follows this, "Accumulation of Generalization", it is clear that the riffs are the most important thing to this band, despite Fenriz's technical prowess being difficult to hide. The atmosphere, throughout the album, is one of horror and doom, as one can easily gather from the opening moments of "Neptune Towers". When keyboards are used, it is very sparingly and only to add to the dark atmosphere, like a horror score.

"Sempiternal Sepulchrality" is, possibly, the most energetic and thrashy song on the album. This is filled with riffs and is one of the faster and more aggressive songs found here. This is counteracted by "Grave With A View", which returns to the doomy atmosphere and features a nice part in the beginning, with some chorus of demons calling from beyond. This song also features a brilliant solo. Nocturno Culto truly excelled when it came to lead solos, far beyond many of his peers.

As "Iconoclasm Sweeps Over Cappodocia" plays, one cannot help but think that Soulside Journey features more use of the freezing cold tremolo riffs than many of their other albums. They are separated by many doom riffs and even some thrashier moments, yet they are all over this album. Songs like "Nor the Silent Whispers" and "The Watchtower" display influences that range from old Slayer and Kreator to Death and even Black Sabbath.

The album concludes with "Eon", a brilliant instrumental that features some use of keyboards to accentuate the dark and foreboding atmosphere, possessing a sinister and twisted feeling quite similar to the score of a 70s horror film. There is also a very noticeable Death influence found here.

There is some debate as to what subgenre this belongs to, as the lyrics and atmosphere, as well as many of the riffs, seem to belong to Black Metal. However the percussion and the song structures, despite the unorthodox timing, belong very much to Death Metal. The vocals also lean more in this direction, as well. Whatever way you wish to classify this album, you must appreciate the music

For those who seem to think of Darkthrone as terrible musicians because of the primitive and minimalist path that they chose after this, you really need to give this a listen and realize that it was, indeed, a choice. Many that wish to emulate them simply hide behind the low-fi production and primitive musicianship because that is all that they're capable of. The members of Darkthrone are masters of creating dark atmospheres, regardless of the way in which they set about achieving this.

This is recommended to those wishing to see the early days of this band. Also, for anyone into the early Swedish Death Metal bands such as Tiamat, Entombed, Carnage / Dismember, Unleashed, et cetera, this will probably appeal to you, though this has as many differences as similarities with the early albums from those bands. This is actually far superior to most (if not all) of them.