Sunday, November 9, 2008

Rotting Christ - Thy Mighty Contract (1993)


Thy Mighty Contract is the first full-length album from Greece's Rotting Christ. After some demos and EPs, the bands sound shifted from a more grindcore sound toward Black Metal. This album is very symbolic for the band, as it possesses the raw and aggressive feeling from the early days while also displaying the melody and dark atmospheres that the band would come to be known for.

I discovered Rotting Christ while listening to "The Haunted Mansion", several years ago. The song, "Iced Shaped God", was from the band's second LP, Non Serviam. It took a long time for me to track that down, and I actually only acquired it due to my girlfriend's kindness. After properly digesting that album, I sought more Rotting Christ but was not as pleased with Triarchy of the Lost Lovers. Over a year would pass before I got my hands on Thy Mighty Contract, which impressed me from the very first listen.

"The Sign of Evil Existence" begins with a very ominous tone. The usual staccato rhythmic, yet melodic, riffing is present from the very start along with some added keyboards for effect. The build-up is brief, but effective. This song unleashes lightning fast, razor-sharp riffs and high, raspy vocals. The album immediately slices the listener's throat with this one. It's brief, but definitely sets the tone for things to come.

"Transform All Sufferings Into Plagues" is next, and begins much slower than the previous song. It is reminiscent of early Tiamat or Varathron, in the atmosphere and approach. This song features nice harmonized riffs, as well as some slower doom riffs and even some keyboard usage. There is a nice solo, near the end, before the pace slows back down.

There is a strong Heavy Metal influence to this album, which is very apparent. Also, the bass has a more prominent role, at time, giving a more organic feel to the music. Often, the harmonized riffs are supported by slower power chords, giving an epic feeling of doom. There is no shortage of memorable riffs on Thy Mighty Contract, which is pretty typical with Greek Black Metal. The vocals range from the dry and raspy vocals, heard on the opening song, to more throaty deathlike vocals. They synth is present only when needed, adding to the atmosphere but never overpowering the sound. This is handled by Magus Wampyr Daoloth of Necromantia, who also provides some vocals. "Exiled Archangel" even features a spoken passage. One of the true hihglights of this album (there are many) has to be "The Coronation of the Serpent". From the evil and instense beginning, this song goes on to be quite epic in nature. This is a good lead-in to the final song, "The Fourth Knight of Revelation".

On this album, Rotting Christ does well to combine the occult Black Metal atmosphere with the melodic Heavy Metal influences and create something mystical and unique. Along with Varathron's His Majesty At the Swamp and Necromantia's Crossing the Fiery Path, this is one of the cornerstones of Greek Black Metal and it is highly recommended that you pick this up or suffer impalement.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Master's Hammer - Ritual (1991)


Master's Hammer was a Black Metal band from the Czech Republic. They were from a time just before the Scandinavian sound came to be the be all and end all of the genre. This band has more in common with Tormentor, Imperator, Samael and Rotting Christ. I got into this relatively late, as it wasn't something that was common among people I've met. In truth, I rarely ever hear anyone talking about this band, at all. Ritual is the first full-length by this band, though they were around for many years prior to releasing this.

Many seem to have the misconception that Black Metal all sounds the same. In the early days, there was quite a variety. Even by the early 90s, there was still distinctive qualities between different bands. It was after the explosion of the Norwegian scene that the later bands decided that they must focus only on these influences. However good the early Norwegian bands were, that sound does not encompass all that Black Metal is.

The album begins with an intro, suitable for a horror score. This helps to establish an obscure atmosphere and leads into the first song, "Pád Modly". Immediately, one can sense the old school metal influences. The riffs are absolutely brilliant and this oozes metal. The vocals are completely different from anything I've ever heard, maintaining a very distinct style. Surely, the Czech language adds to this. There is such power and feeling in the music and the vocals. This is epic and the memorable riffs will continue to haunt the dark recesses of your brain for some time.

"Každý Z Nás" continues in the same vein, while remaining entirely distinct. Still present are faint keyboards, used to accentuate the atmosphere, not create it. Master's Hammer manages to sound evil as Hell without a grim or minimalist approach to songwriting. This is filled with metallic power, much like the early Black Metal albums.

The next song is the instrumental title track, "Ritual" which features brilliant thrash riffs and is like a mini-epic, similar in feel to Mercyful Fate. This is meant to be listened to at full volume. If this doesn't inspire you to set fire to a nun and defile her as she burns alive, then something is wrong with you.

"Geniové" is a bit different, featuring some chanting. This song gives the feeling of being on a long journey, with no end in sight. Perhaps riding through the mountains on a black horse, tired and covered in the blood of your enemies. All that you possess is your sword and a canvas bag full of their heads.

"Černá Svatozář" is next and begins with a thrashy build-up. This is one of the most perfect Black Metal albums recorded. Surely, they had many years to work on these songs. Far from being raw, the sound is powerful and the production is rather clear. In this case, it suits the music well. By this song, one begins to wonder how each song can truly stand out so much. There is no filler on this album. The epic, thrashy riffs and frantic vocals are joined by a killer solo, near the end of the song.

The next song is "Věčný Návrat", which begins with a wall of razor-like thrash riffs that assault the listener as the manic vocals soon join in. This song contains another wicked solo that is somewhat reminiscent of the theme from the Twilight Zone. The assault doesn't let up as "Jáma Pekel" is as fast and unrelenting as the previous song. This song, especially the chorus, has an anthemic quality to it. The guitar solo, at the end, is a nice touch as well.

"Zapálili Jsme Onen Svět" begins with a darker riff than the previous songs. As the drums and insane vocals come in, the the song slowly builds up in a great piece of nightmarish Black Metal. This blasts right through the gates of Hell and casts you at the feet of Satan himself.

"Vykoupení" is one of the last stops before the Ritual nears its completion. This song begins with only a sorrowful guitar riff and sparse drumming, before the rest joins in. For a brief moment, it gave the impression of being stranded at the top of a lonely mountain, in utter darkness, calling out into the shadows. The vocals and the guitar melodies have an extra sense of desperation and sickness. There is a sense of tension created with the guitar melodies that is well suited for building toward the end of the album.

Ritual ends with the masterpiece, "Útok". Even on an album filled with such great songs, this one manages to stand out as quite exceptional. It begins with a brief bass riff before everything else kicks in. The riffs here are even darker than the rest. This morbid epic is like a funeral dirge, at times, and contains some of the best melodies of the whole album. The vocals are inhuman and anguished, really reaching a climax with this song. There is almost a touch of real insanity in there. At times, it is reminiscent of Chopin's "Funeral March".

This album is as much metal as it is black, something that is often avoided in recent years. Master's Hammer created something majestic and unique here and it is a shame that they fell into decline shortly after this. However, nothing will take away from this monumental album. Seek this out, at any cost.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Samael - Worship Him (1991)


Samael are from Switzerland, the same country that spawned Hellhammer. Worship Him displays the inevitable influence that this band had on Samael, as well as other early bands, such as Venom and Sodom. This obscure and occult band rose in between the first and second wave of Black Metal. This possesses a very dark atmosphere, as if in a deep dungeon illuminated by torches, preparing for black rituals.

I discovered Samael in high school, through my best friend. I recall recording this album from him and listening to it for the first time while taking a long drive, through the winter night. That memory has never faded, nor has the impression this dark album made on me that night.

After a short horror intro, the album begins with "Sleep of Death" which is one of the faster songs on here, while not being excessively fast. The bass drum work gives the impression that it's faster than it is. Despite this, the guitars maintain a dark and occult tune, inspired by Hellhammer. The vocals are similar to what Abbath would use, a couple years later, on Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism. The lyrics on this album keep to esoteric and occult themes. At certain times, such as on the epic masterpiece "Into the Pentagram" there is a bit of a shriek to the vocals, but nothing too extreme.

"Worship Him" alternates between, somewhat, faster parts and slow, crawls. The guitars really dominate this album and often play open chords to give more of this doomy feeling. This is pure Black Metal. While Darkthrone was still a Death Metal band, Samael had already taken the spirit of Hellhammer and carried it to its logical conclusion, as heard with "Knowledge of the Ancient Kingdom". This song bludgeons the listener with its sheer power. The assault continues with "Morbid Metal", which speeds up the attack. This song is reminiscent of "The Third of the Storms". This song crushes your body under the weight of old tombstones and then hacks off your limbs with a rusty axe. The thrash riff, near the middle, wouldn't be out of place on a Sodom or Kreator album. Immediately following this, the song begins to descend into the pits of Hell. The atmosphere changes to one of dread and demonic voices surround.

"Rite of Cthulhu" is a brief instrumental piece, featuring a doom atmosphere created with open chord notes, followed by a bit of thrash. This serves as a half-way point in the album and lulls the listener into a sense of calm before "The Black Face" is unleashed. This song begins slowly, before speeding up and assaulting the listener. The vocals here contain a sense of desperation. Following this is the highlight of the album, "Into the Pentagram". This is the epitome of darkness and evil and is the successor of "Triumph of Death". Slow, doomy and dirty, there is nothing beautiful about this song. The flames have been extinguished. There is no light here. The air is thin and it is difficult to breathe. This atmosphere is carried on into "Messenger of the Light". Still slow-paced, the desperation in the vocals has grown.

"Last Benediction" sounds like score music from a Full Moon release, such as Subspecies or The Puppet Master. It is brief yet it does well to maintain the atmosphere of darkness and horror. This leads into the final song, "The Dark". Faster than the previous song, this instrumental features many more riffs and it quite dynamic.

Worship Him possesses the true essence of Black Metal and is essential for anyone's collection. If you haven't heard this, seek it out or kill yourself.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Vlad Tepes / Belketre - March to the Black Holocaust (1995)


Vlad Tepes and Belketre were two of the best LLN bands, while seeming to be the complete opposite of one another. Any fan of the Black Legions should be aware of this split, though acquiring it may be quite difficult as it was only produced in 1000 copies. This is, definitely, one of the best LLN releases.

I first heard "Massacre Song From the Devastated Lands", late one night, while listening to "The Haunted Mansion". I was immediately drawn in, yet it would take three more years before I was able to listen to this full album. Once I did, I kicked myself for being so lazy and not trying harder to find it before then.

March to the Black Holocaust offers, probably, the best material Vlad Tepes has ever recorded, and they begin this monumental album with the brief intro, "Wladimir's March". This features somewhat of an upbeat guitar riff and the drumming compliments this well, serving to produce mental imagery of marching through the battlefield, over the corpses of the slain. Vlad Tepes songs, while relatively short, possess an epic feel. Of course, the twelve minute masterpiece, "Drink the Poetry of the Celtic Disciple" takes this to greater limits.

This is not typical Black Metal. The raw production, dissonate melodies and misanthropic vocals are all present; however, there is a, somewhat, sorrowful yet folky atmosphere that maintains deep roots in old school Heavy Metal. The production is typical for most of the LLN bands, being raw, yet all of the instruments have room to breathe and are clearly discernible. The drum work is simple, often slow and plodding but usually mid-tempo and keeping rhythm and structure. There's no blasting to be found here. The vocals are done by both members at times. The primary vocalist is not far removed from early Graveland. For Vlad Tepes, this is surprisingly good. The bass is quite audible, being less trebly than one might expect. The album is filled with memorable melodies and riffs that will remain with you. Overall, this is my favorite material from this band.

As for Belketre's half of the split... This is very abrasive, raw and hateful Black Metal. This is a complete change in style from Vlad Tepes. This is extremely raw, even by Black Metal standards. The buzzing guitars cut their way through the mix, like a scythe. The vocals are seething with pure hatred for humanity. The guitar riffs are eerie and filled with enough treble to make your ears bleed. The drummer is quite competent, never missing a beat. The bass is low in the mix, though easily audible as it is the only instrument (aside from the bass drum) that actually creates any bass frequencies. The sound quality may be less than ideal, but the musicianship is dead on. This music fills your heart with dread, like being hunted within the impenetrable darkness of your own mind. This music is depraved and nihilistic.

The vocalist deserves much praise for producing some of the most hateful sounds ever caught on tape. The misanthropy spews forth like venom, in a screeching manner. This is not the result of a man 'attempting' to sound evil; it is the sound of a man consumed with pure hatred. This is the predominant feeling created by Belketre; not solitude, sorrow or despair, but hatred.

The majority of the songs alternate between fast drumming and screeching chords and mid-paced drumbeats with eerie melodies. There are a few brief interludes that include slightly distorted guitars playing eerie melodies as guttural, nightmarish vocals reverberate around the speakers. This not only provides a 'break' from the main songs but adds to the ominous atmosphere that is being created. My personal favorite has to be "Night of Sadness", with its sorrowful intro and the hatred being spewed by the vocalist as the guitar riffs twist and gouge at the ears of the listener.

There is no point comparing the two bands, as they are vastly different entities. They both contribute enough quality Black Metal to make this an essential release. Seek this out at any cost.