Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Satanic Warmaster / Clandestine Blaze split (2004)

In late 2003, Werwolf of Satanic Warmaster and Mikko Aspa of Clandestine Blaze came up with the idea to do a split that featured both bands. However, their approach to this was a little unconventional. With both of them being the sole member of their respective bands, they decided to include a few collaborative tracks. So, to go along with the one song, a piece, that each band contributed, they also recorded four as a two-piece. Werwolf handled the guitars and bass, while Mikko takes care of the drumming. They trade off on the vocals, each writing their own lyrics. The results were released through Northern Heritage, in February 2004.

The split begins with "Intro/My Torments", the intro being adequate enough, almost reminiscent of something from the Hellraiser series. After a couple minutes, it fades as Werwolf begins to scream and the guitars follow. He handles the vocals, on this song, though one might guess that Mikko had some input regarding the opening riff. About four minutes in, the song finally starts. The vocals are weak and the drums are mixed too high. It's very fast-paced, in the vein of Transilvanian Hunger. To be honest, though both bands have long used the aforementioned album as a template for their own works, they usually added a bit of their own feeling to the songs. Here, it seems more generic than usual. The production quality is similar to a garage rehearsal, though this isn't always a bad thing. In this case, it drags the music down, a slight bit. All in all, a below average start for the split.

"Sacrificial Fires" starts with some feedback, before going into a slow Celtic Frost-inspired riff. This song was, obviously, written by Mikko as he has a tendency to include similar songs on every single release in Clandestine Blaze's discography. It's not terribly bad, but it's grown a little boring by this point. Some riffs are taken directly from Morbid Tales, only slowed down a bit. I guess this is fitting, since Gabriel had previously stolen the riff from Venom. So far, this split is hardly worth the effort of taking the CD out of its case.

The next song, "Conspiring Winds of the Abyss", starts out with more feedback. This is already annoying. Thankfully, it's one of the better songs on here. Werwolf is back on vocals, as the song is yet another tribute to Transilvanian Hunger. It consists of cold tremolo riffs and fast drumming. The vocals are a far cry from the masterful work of Nocturno Culto, but that's no surprise. The main riff is one of the best on the split. It's completely derivative of Darkthrone, but at least it's done competently enough. The pace slows down, near the middle, giving a nice eerie feeling. This doesn't last too long, though it produces a nice trance-like riff that is reminiscent of early Mütiilation.

"Disease" is another song with Mikko on vocals, beginning with even more feedback. He really lets loose on this song, with some shrieking mixing in with his usual vocals. Musically, it's another fast-pace, tremolo-driven song in the early Norwegian mould. There's a little variation in the drumming, but this is overshadowed by the fact that Mikko seems to really be struggling to keep up on this track. There is a cool lead solo, late in the song, that kind of salvages things from being excessively boring. It's not too bad, but I expected a little more from both of these guys.

This is followed by a Clandestine Blaze song, "Guided By the Black Light". Here, Mikko returns to the deeper style of vocals that he is known for, while the guitar playing is a little heavier. The slow parts of the song possess an eerie feeling, yielding some haunting melodies. The faster parts are quite awful, really, being poorly executed. It's sad, but I've rehearsed with worthless garage bands that played tighter than this. The worst part is that it's a result of pure laziness, as anyone familiar with Clandestine Blaze knows that Mikko is capable of much better. It is clear that hardly any effort was put into this.

"To the Legions" is a Satanic Warmaster song. The opening is not very good, as the attempt to match the tortured screams of Count Grishnackh come off as laughable. Once beyond this, the rest of the song is actually fairly decent. It features a rather catchy take on the typical Celtic Frost-type rif. The vocals are a bit strained, but far better than the weak screams that opened the track. A few minutes in, the song picks up speed and returns to the Darkthrone worship that preceded this. Despite this, there are also more riffs in the Finnish style that one would expect from the same guy that recorded Opferblut. A lead melody flows through, temporarily, to add some epic sense to the proceedings. Mikko should have played drums on this one as well, since the timing is off at one point. Outside of the first minute, this is probably the most enjoyable song on the album, after "Conspiring Winds of the Abyss". The outro is completely necessary, but it's pleasant enough. It has kind of a somber feeling, which goes nicely with the disappointment that the listeners are surely experiencing.

This split is little more than a Finnish Black Metal tribute to Darkthrone. There are a couple decent songs and a few nice riffs to be found, but it's hardly something that is worth any great amount of effort to track down. I have to say that both of these guys are capable of better, though I get the impression that this release was meant to have that rehearsal/jam feeling. If that is true, they certainly achieved this. The raw production is is fine, but the sloppy playing is unacceptable. Though both bands rely heavily on their influences, they've also managed to incorporate their own style into the mix, moreso in the case of Clandestine Blaze than with Satanic Warmaster. Either way, here, this element seems to be lacking for the most part.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Darkthrone - Hate Them (2003)

Hate Them is the tenth studio album from Darkthrone. Recorded and mixed at Pan lydstudio in 26 hours, during December 2002, it was released in March 2003 on Moonfog Records. This album marks the return to a more stripped-down sound, compared to Total Death, Ravishing Grimness or Plaguewielder, the latter being filled with several good ideas but being quite underrated due to the colorful artwork and the higher quality production. Hate Them can be seen as a bit of regression, back to a more raw and primitive sound. There was also a conscious effort to distance themselves from some of the criticisms received for the cover art of the previous album. All of their energy was well spent as they created the most raw and old school album since 1995's Panzerfaust. It's a shame that this wasn't released in 1996, as it seemed they simply went through the motions since then, with a few exceptions.

I was eagerly awaiting the release of this album, as I was still in an optimistic phase where I continually expected some bands to return to their previous glory. In this case, I wasn't too disappointed. I didn't get exactly what I wanted, but it was enjoyable in a different way. I picked this up, a few months later, at a record store in Stockholm. I'd already heard "Striving For A Piece of Lucifer", on my friend's rado program, so I was somewhat aware of what I was getting into. At that point, I was just satisfied to get another slab of ugly, primitive Black Metal from Darkthrone.

The album begins with a fairly useless intro, which doesn't really add anything to the song. "Rust" finally starts almost a minute in. From the first moments, a deadly cold atmosphere overtakes you. The dissonant open-arpeggio riffs create a desolate aura that is primitive and grim. As the drums kick in, the song moves along at a slow pace, with the raw guitars and rumbling bass providing the background for Nocturno Culto's hateful and misanthropic vocals. This feeling isn't very far from that present on Under A Funeral Moon, in a sense. As the song progresses, it gradually picks up speed and one can hear influences from the first Bathory album. A little past the half-way point, the trademark Darkthrone sound is unleashed, complete with tremolo riffs and pounding drums. Trash the worthless intro and alter the weak lyrics to match those of the old days, and this wouldn't have been too out of place on A Blaze in the Northern Sky. It's certainly one of the strongest songs on here, and a good way to start out the album.

"Det Svartner Nå" bears more of an up-beat tempo, returning to the Hellhammer / Celtic Frost style that they so often pay tribute to. It's not as bad here as on Ravishing Grimness, thanks to the more primitive production. The hideous sound and vicious vocal delivery really help and, somehow, the strong Rock vibe isn't so out of place. On the last couple of albums, this type of song would have stuck out a bit more, and not in a good way, but it seems to really fit in well and to add something to the overall feel of the record. The song ends with a riff that is completely reminiscent of Motörhead.

The next song is "Fucked Up and Ready To Die". It's the shortest track on the album, but definitely one of the most memorable. It begins with the fast-paced drums and tremolo riffs, sounding like a typical Darkthrone song. The atmosphere is much more gloomy than on the previous song. It utilizes a variety of tempos, going from fast to mid-paced and then slowing down even more with a bleak Doom riff, giving a morbid and hateful feeling. Things speed up again with a Punk / Metal approach, as the song reaches the end, and Nocturno Culto's vocals really convey a sense of hatred for life.

"Death just takes a moment
Suffering is forever"

"Ytterst I Livet" is one of two songs with a Norwegian title, though it's the only song to have absolutely no English lyrics at all. It's fairly mid-paced and uneventful. It speeds up, later on, but the song is still kind of average. Some of the transitions are a bit sudden. This, by no means, should be taken as an indication that it's bad; it's simply not one of the songs that jumps out at me. It's still a decent song, quite superior to most of what they'd release on subsequent albums.

This is followed by "Divided We Stand". At this point, it's probably evident that Fenriz has long since lost his ability to write the Satanic poetry of the past. His style is interesting, at times, but it can also be tiresome. Musically, the song features a nice tremolo riff, but with a complete Death Metal feeling, and has a little more energy than the previous song. The first minute is rather fast-paced (for this album), but it soon slows down. The tempo continues to alternate throughout, as this is quite a dynamic song. There are some interesting (almost mournful) melodies to be found here and, while it's not the greatest song on the record, it's very solid. The d-beat section at the end is quite memorable, as well. With Death, Black and Speed Metal riffs, mixed with a bit of Punk Rock, one can tell that the band was really loosening up at this stage of their career.

"Striving For A Piece of Lucifer" was the first song that I heard from this album, and it remains my favourite one. It erupts with a catchy riff, reminiscent of old Burzum, along with some double bass thundering underneath it. The riffing style is interesting and quite different from a lot of their earlier work. Either way, it's memorable and it works. It does contain more of a blackened rock feeling, at times, but it's ugly and primitive-sounding. One can really hear that Fenriz and Nocturno Culto seem to be more inspired and to have more energy on this album, compared to the previous few, as there is a certain liveliness that is present in the execution of these songs that was lacking for a few years. It really seems that the band had regressed, in some ways, as this is classic Black Metal that doesn't seem to have anything in common with whatever else was going in, this year.

"Some tombs will never be silent"

The album concludes with "In Honour of Thy Name", which starts out with something more akin to the classic sound of old. This is mixed in with the catchier, almost punk-like sections. I guess that's fitting, as this album was kind of the beginning of the more recent stage of their career. This is absolutely dripping with a primitive, old school atmosphere. There's also an old school Celtic Frost riff thrown in, for good measure. It serves to slow things down, briefly, and adds a darker feel to the track. The song speeds up again, before giving way to a pointless outro that is similar to the intro of the album. It's definitely got nothing on the intro/outro used on A Blaze in the Northern Sky, or even the intro from Plaguewielder, for that matter.

"Join the dead"

Hate Them isn't a return to the classic era of Darkthrone, yet it hearkens back to those days in its own way, going for an uglier and more primitive sound. This record actually marks the beginning of the band's modern phase, though many think that came later with The Cult Is Alive. It is here where they showed a sharp change in attitude, no longer giving a damn what anyone thought of them and just playing what they felt. While two of the songs are rather mediocre, the rest are actually pretty good so long as you're not expecting to hear the second coming of Transilvanian Hunger. If you open your mind and accept it for what it is (a bloody solid, old school-sounding record) then you'll certainly get your money's worth.

Satanic Warmaster - Black Katharsis (2002)

Released on Northern Heritage in 2002, the Black Katharsis E.P. features nearly twenty minutes of raw Finnish Black Metal. This offering seems to be somewhat experimental, as the songwriting approach is very consistent and does not seem to possess many similar characteristics with either Strength & Honour or Opferblut. This is not the highpoint of Satanic Warmaster's discography, but it is not without its appeal.

"Remembrance of Times Forgotten" is the highlight of this brief recording. Upon first listen, the mournful tremolo riff and accompanying mid-paced drumming is reminiscent of Burzum, yet the actual guitar melody is of the sort that would go on to make up the bulk of the second Satanic Warmaster effort. It is very haunting and memorable, with a rather introspective and sorrowful quality. The reverb on the vocals adds an obscure quality, with Werwolf's voice reminding one of Ihsahn on Emperor's Wrath of the Tyrant. With such a primitive and stripped-down sound, this track would not have been out of place on some mid-'90s Black Metal record. "Cursed Emperor" has more of a harsh feeling, owing some inspiration to Moonblood. The somewhat eerie atmosphere present in the first part of the song is eliminated with the more upbeat riffs and drumming that emerge later on. "...Hiljaisuudesta" takes the rawness to its most extreme, for this recording, almost as if it came from a different session. It's rather aggressive and straightforward, with a part that is similar to something from Watain's first album, probably by coincidence.

All in all, Black Katharsis isn't a bad release, though it lacks a sense of unity and does not quite flow together well. Then again, the purpose of releasing these tracks in this format may have been simply to get them out of the way before moving on to write a more cohesive full-length album, which is precisely what Satanic Warmaster went on to do with Opferblut. While some of the ideas presented here are not so impressive, others are quite good and the first track, alone, is worth picking this up. It has since been re-released, so shouldn't be too difficult to find. 

Deathspell Omega - Inquisitors of Satan (2002)

Inquisitors of Satan is the second full-length album from Deathspell Omega, though it might be more accurate to consider this their first proper L.P. considering the fact that the previous album consisted of four new songs and then several demo tracks. Deathspell Omega made quite a name for themselves through the release of the previous album, as well as a series of splits they did with Clandestine Blaze, Mütiilation and Moonblood. If anything will establish a band as one to keep an eye on, this certainly did the trick. In each of these cases, it was as if the other bands featured on the split as endorsing these guys, which probably helped get their name out there and to earn them a bit of respect. Released in May 2002, on Northern Heritage, Inquisitors of Satan stands as a tribute to the first era of this band... an era which some prefer.

I heard of this band for some time before actually checking them out. It wasn't until the release of the Kenose E.P. that I actually saw a Deathspell Omega album in a record store, so this was my first exposure to the band. I knew practically nothing of them, as I'd never even bothered to research them online. It didn't take long to realize that Mikko Aspa, of Clandestine Blaze, was handling the vocal duties. At any rate, I was interested enough in what I heard to seek out more. The first album that I purchased was Inquisitors of Satan, since it appeared to be the first true full-length (after doing a little reading). This became the album from which I derived my opinion of this band, and it's still the first thing I think of when I hear the band's name. It also possesses some sentimental value as it arrived in the mail on a very significant day for me. They've gone on to create some decent music, but I don't think any other album bears the consistency that this one does. To this day, it remains my favourite and it's the single album from them that I most recommend to others.

"From Unknown Lands of Desolation" starts as if it's already in the middle of something, in a way. It's similar to movies that begin with a dramatic scene that will later be explained. The fast drums and tremolo riffs work along with the possessed vocals to create a sense of tension and chaos. This is the only way that I can really describe the guitar riffs of this period of the band's existence. The tempo alternates from blindingly fast, in the Transilvanian Hunger vein, to something a little more catchy. After a couple minutes, the riffs transition to something with an increased sense of urgency. One gets the feeling that it is building toward something dreadful and apocalyptic. This is certainly good music for the end of the world.

"Our skies are forever black
Here is no signs of life at all
For burning spirits we are
Consuming your small universe
Slowly but surely"

The next song, "Torture and Death", begins in much the same way as the previous song ended. Of course, one can make another Darkthrone comparison by stating that several of the songs may seem quite similar to those who don't bother to actually listen. Once you do, it is easy to differentiate the various melodies, though they may be played in a similar manner and maintain the same speed. Shaxul's vocals still sound like Hat, of Gorgoroth, and his style fits the music so much better than Mikko. I am a fan of Clandestine Blaze, but I do feel that Deathspell Omega would have benefited from retaining Shaxul's services.

"Desecration Master" begins with a catchy riff, sounding almost like a sped-up Celtic Frost riff. It soon speeds up a bit more, though not matching the intensity of the previous tracks. There are also some dissonant arpeggio riffs thrown in, adding to the obscure feeling conveyed by the music. Lyrically, the song keeps within Satanic and anti-human themes. For some reason, the band considers their earlier lyrics to be too immature or sub-par, as the reissues don't include them. This comes off as a little pretentious, as there's nothing wrong with the lyrics, at all. One doesn't always need a thesaurus and a bible when writing lyrics. Song lyrics need not always read like a research paper. Simplicity is, sometimes, underrated.

"I need to see and feel humans suffering
Eyes full of fear imploring my mercy"

The more straight-forward approach returns on "Lethal Baptism". Worth noting is that the overall sound gives the impression of being raw, though it sounds quite polished when comparing it to old Darkthrone, for example. It's, somehow, raw and clear at the same time. The guitar sound is relatively sharp, but slightly dulled.

"Succubus of All Vices" features one of the best riffs on the whole album. It maintains the chaotic spirit that is prevalent in the rest of the songs, but this one possesses a sorrowful feeling that bleeds through the hatred. The pace shifts, a minute or so in, and the mournful atmosphere becomes more overpowering. The cold tremolo riffs produce a melancholy aura that haunts your mind. This song has to stand out as one of the most dynamic and well-structured of the band's career. This memorable song bears some epic qualities, taking you on a blackened journey.

The title track begins with a more relaxed feeling, being far less intense than the previous song. The speed picks up a little, but it's nothing too extreme. This one is a little more melodic in nature, at times. The tremolo riffs are clear and nicely contrast the raw vocals. Oddly enough, I recall thinking this band had to be Finnish when I first got this album, since it reminded me of Horna and Sargeist, in some way. I suppose it's natural that the share some characteristics since they were influenced by the same handful of Norwegian bands.

"Decadence" is the final song, and it may very well be the most epic song on the album. It starts with a slow pace that serves to create a desolate atmosphere. After a couple of minutes, chaos is unleashed as the song speeds up, transitioning back to the tremolo riffs and blasting drums. The guitar melodies in this song are, by far, some of the best of this band's career. The tension has increased to such an extent that you feel your soul being pulled from all directions, slowly tearing apart. This is the feeling of being consumed by the chaotic forces beyond. However, before you are torn to shreds, the pace slows back down and a morbid feeling falls over you. Your spirit becomes disconnected from your body, floating above as your corpse falls into a fresh grave. The end is here. You are free.

Mütiilation - Black Millenium (Grimly Reborn) (2001)

For some years, it seemed that Meyhna'ch was dead. This was implied in the liner notes of Remains of a Ruined, Dead Cursed Soul. As it turned out, he was merely on a self-imposed hiatus. Disgusted with the way Black Metal was becoming more trendy and accepted, he saw no other option but to disappear. Yet his anger grew over the course of these years and he then chose to return in an effort to spread darkness and evil and to take Black Metal back for the older cults. This is according to the notes inside the 2001 release, Black Millenium (Grimly Reborn). This album is only the third full-length from Mütiilation, despite the band's lengthy history.

My initial impression of this recording was not very favourable. I was disappointed that it didn't sound more like Remains of a Ruined, Dead, Cursed Soul or any of the earlier demo material. Still, I forced myself to give it a chance and to refrain from comparing it to the earlier works. Once I managed this (and got over the lack of a real drummer), I was able to enjoy the album to some degree. However, the fact that I became acquainted with it during a rotten time in my existence means that it is the album that I listen to the least.

"The Eggs of Melancholy" starts out with a brief acoustic section, with some other effects in the background. This sets kind of a dreary tone, though the tempo soon changes to something much faster and more aggressive. Will's trademark thrash style is still present within the Mütiilation sound, mixed in with the more typical tremolo riffing. Vocally, he sounds bloody possessed and insane. This is the true voice of humanity. That may be one of the things that makes this darker than some other albums, as there is a sense of reality that many others lack. The song slows down, a few minutes in, as a funeral bell adds to the morbid atmosphere of this track. Will sounds like a half-decaying ghoul, looking for a grave to sleep in. Everything about this is dripping with death, sickness and plague.

"No one to bless the funeral, the priest was buried one week ago
Fields are changing to mass graves"

"New False Prophet" begins with a strange and eerie feeling. The guitars are very simplistic, as are the layered vocals, yet it all works well to create a very unsettling vibe. A minute or so into the song, the speed picks up to a blistering pace, yet the vocal lines stretch over several repetitions of the tremolo riffs. I've read someone make a simple comparison between this and early Darkthrone, but the similarities are only on the surface, if at all. The feeling conveyed here is morbid in a very sick and demented sense. The stench of death hovers over all, as these dark and melancholic sounds surround you.

The next song is "The Hanged Priest", which begins at full speed, rather than utilizing any kind of intro. This song features more blackened thrash riffs, while being sort of mid-paced throughout. There are several tempo changes, though nothing terribly extreme. Will's vocal insanity is taken to deeper depths as the song progresses. The demonic voices, added in the background, are a nice touch as well.

"Inferi ira Ductis" is much more fast-paced than the previous song, being very straight-forward in its approach. The tremolo riffs are sharp and the distortion gives them quite a fuzzy sound. The drums are fairly simple, keeping the focus on the guitars and the sickening vocals. The melodies create a chaotic and tense feeling, while Will's screams convince you that you must be trapped in some hellish asylum.

The next song is "Curse My Funeral". It starts with a very eerie intro and maintains this feeling throughout. It's very slow and creepy, for the first couple minutes. The speed then increases with the tormented screams hovering over the mournful tremolo riffs. The sense that you get from this is that of reveling in sin and damnation; to celebrate the sickness and depravity of the human mind, forever abandoning futile attempts for salvation or anything other than simply wallowing at the depths of this abysmal darkness.

"My shadows is creeping on the grey stones
Descending the stares of a forgotten castle
The years have past and war time is over
Are those steps going to Hell"

"A Dream" follows this, though it seems more like a nightmare. It consists of acoustic melodies that are truly haunting, joined by eerily spoken lyrics that sound like something inhuman. The entire effect is disturbing and it succeeds in bringing to mind horrible visions and feelings of terror.

"Black Millenium" is full-speed Black Metal, being very straight-forward. The lyrics deal with apocalyptic themes of destruction, death and disease. It is enough to make one wish that it was possible to watch from the outside as the whole of humanity was utterly destroyed, with all civilization being forever devastated and left in ruins. The riffs are hypnotic at times, sending your mind to wander in worlds beyond.

"The essence of Evil comes from the inside"

A mournful and eerie melody introduces "No Mercy For Humans", though this rapidly transitions into something that is almost up-beat. It is a fairly fast-paced song, with the exception of sections where it slows down for a bit. The slow parts are very sorrowful and introspective. The best quality of the song may be the lyrics, however.

"I hate the way they move and exist but they’re surrounding me
I cried for days because of you, I wish you all die soon
No mercy for humans."

Over the years, I've found myself becoming increasingly disgusted with the mere existence of most humans. It's no longer a matter of them inconveniencing me or causing me any difficulty. Simply looking at most of them, studying their ugly faces and hearing their grating voices fills me with an uncontrollable hatred that will only be satiated when 99% of the human race has died by violent means.

The final real song is "Black As Lead and Death", which starts out with another cold tremolo melody, with the drumming being a little loud in the mix, early on. It's strange how this is much clearer than the earlier recordings, yet the necro feeling is still there in some ways, though not really the sound. The best part of the song comes when everything stops, leaving a lone guitar melody to cycle through a few times, creating an even colder atmosphere of misery. The song slows down, not long after this, as Will's vocals are completely consumed with absolute hatred and insanity. The sound is very minimalist, and this tempo continues through the end of the song. This is followed by an unsettling outro.

Black Millenium (Grimly Reborn) marked not only the rebirth of Mütiilation, but also the beginning of a new era for this grim and hateful project. There were still some ties to the past, with similarities to the solo material that Meyhna'ch recorded in 1996 (included on the Remains... album). Though it is different from the older material, the same morbid feeling is present. It is worth checking out.

Clandestine Blaze - Fist of the Northern Destroyer (2002)

Fist of the Northern Destroyer is the third full-length from Clandestine Blaze. It was recorded in March 2002 and later released on Mikko Aspa's own Northern Heritage record label. With this album, the trademark sound of Clandestine Blaze was fully established and the position near the top of the Finnish Black Metal scene was unquestionable.

After hearing the Below the Surface of Cold Earth demo, I began my search for any Clandestine Blaze material that I could get my hands on. This album had just been released, so it was the most accessible. Looking back, it's a good thing that I ran across this rather than the debut, as I may have given up on the band at that point. This one had enough of an impact that I soon sought out the earlier releases and then kept up with those that followed.

The album begins with "Fist of the Northern Destroyer", which opens with an uncharacteristic scream and a very high-energy tempo. The sound is very similar to the low-fi, organic feeling that was present on the previous release, making these two the only albums in the band's discography that possess such a similar sound. This song is fast-paced and very memorable. It utilizes the familiar tremolo-picked melodies that owe something to the old Darkthrone albums, yet Mikko has created his own unique style of playing, within this basic framework. While one can hear the influences, it is undeniably Clandestine Blaze. The vocals are still on the deeper end of the Black Metal spectrum, being filled with utter hatred and contempt. This is good music for beating someone to death, with your bare hands.

"Praising the Self" features a vastly different atmosphere than the first song, being much slower and possessing more of an epic feeling. The music is very minimalist, as Mikko understands well that musical vision comes before showing off. This is one of the main reasons he has kept this as a solo project, since he knows that many would become bored with the simplistic approach that is required to realize his artistic vision. The song employs more tremolo riffs, for the opening minutes, though they are played over slower drums, thus giving an entirely different feel. The song then shifts toward using the arpeggio riffs as well as some simple strumming to create a more dismal and cold feeling. This is soon joined by a simple, yet highly effective, lead solo that adds to the mournful feeling of loss and hopelessness. The melodies are absolutely haunting and will remain in your subconscious until the glorious day of your demise.

The next song is "Doll of Darkness", which returns to a faster pace. With the fast tremolo riffs and the frenetic drumming, this embraces repetition for the purpose of lulling the listener into a trance, receptive to the dark and hateful message conveyed through the music. This is one of the least dynamic songs on the album, yet it fulfills its purpose.

"Ribs of Virgin" is another song in the vein of Hellhammer / Celtic Frost. This one is slightly more interesting than previous attempts at this style, but I maintain the position that these riffs should be kept only as a part of other songs, as opposed to making an entire song in this style. They are always the most boring ones on any Clandestine Blaze album, for one reason or another. The lead solo and old school drumming save this one, but it's still one of the least impressive songs on here.

The more melodic side of the band returns with "There Comes the Day". The sound returns to the fast-paced Black Metal, inspired by the second wave. The guitar melodies possess a sharper sound, making them stand out quite a bit more. Though it clocks in just under four minutes, this is certainly one of the most memorable songs on the album. The sound is somehow mournful and dark, yet optimistic in the sense that there is hope for the triumph of chaos over order.

"There comes the day
When streets are colored with blood
And burden of humanity
Is left behind"

"Goat - Creative Alienation" returns to the slower style of emulating Celtic Frost. The song also features riffs reminiscent of Burzum, and the two are mixed quite well. The melodies are hypnotic and dismal, giving the impression of having your soul dragged through the shadows of Hell. Nothing is entirely clear, but the sensations are undeniable. This is the feeling of terror and dread just before the true torment and suffering begin.

The album ends with "I Have Seen...", which is an epic song that clocks in over ten minutes in length. It begins with the sparse chords being played along with a distant tremolo melody, creating an abstract feeling. This changes as the drums come in, carrying things along at full speed. The nearly-gargled vocals instill a sense of utter contempt and hatred, though this isn't as aggressive as the first song. About halfway through the song, the pace slows down once more and atmosphere darkens. The open-arpeggio riffing that is synonymous with early Burzum is on full display here, creating a very desolate feeling. After a couple minutes, the speed picks up again and continues through the end of the song, where an otherworldy outro finishes things off.

"When pulling out the knife from believer
I have found god in myself "

Fist of the Northern Destroyer is highly recommended. It is one of the best Clandestine Blaze albums, as well as being one of the few from the modern scene that I find to be worthwhile. One cannot categorically label all newer music as bad, but it's increasingly difficult to discover anything of substance. This is one of those albums.

Deathspell Omega / Clandestine Blaze split (2001)

By 2001, Deathspell Omega has only released a demo and one full-length (which actually contained only four new songs, with the rest taken from the demo). Clandestine Blaze had two albums already, though the first one was of lower quality than most demos. The point being that neither band was as established as they would become. As a result of this, as well as the fact that Mikko seemed to be pretty well acquainted with Shaxul and Hasjarl, they decided to release a split album through Mikko's label, Northern Heritage. Neither band had truly realized their own styles, fully, and it is doubtful that either knew that they would later combine their sounds to create a new identity for Deathspell Omega. At any rate, the songs here are fairly strong, though not the most impressive of either band's career.

Side A features Clandestine Blaze, starting with "Will To Kill". This lengthy song takes a minute or so to really get going, presumably in an effort to create a dark atmosphere. Once it gets going, it is the standard fast style in the vein of early Darkthrone, complete with blasting drums and tremolo riffs. The sound is better than that found on their first album, though it doesn't seem to be at the same level as Night of the Unholy Flames, though it's not far off. His vocals, as usual, are a bit deeper than one might expect from this kind of music, which may help in differentiating it from some of the bands being emulated. While Clandestine Blaze would go on to forge their own identity, while still maintaining this sound at their core, this was still developing by this point. An additional lead melody, near the end, brings more life to the song but doesn't last very long.

"Blasphemous Lust" is pure Hellhammer / Celtic Frost worship. One has to wonder if Mikko was actually so much a fan of these bands or if this is simply a continuation of his tribute to Darkthrone, perhaps being ignorant to the fact that they had taken this sound from the aforementioned bands. Either way, it's quite boring. Almost all of the Hellhammer-influenced songs from Clandestine Blaze are tiresome and far too derivative of the original to warrant its inclusion on the album.

The next song is another short one, though it's far superior. "Raping the Innocent" features a very clean-sounding tremolo riff (that seems to have had some distortion added after the fact). As the song really gets going, the riff changes and the listener is left somewhat disappointed. A couple minutes later, the more interesting melody returns. However, it is ephemeral. It is always frustrating when a musician drops something that has a lot of potential in favour of less-inspired riffs.

"Genocide Operation" is the longest song on the split, clocking in over eight and a half minutes. It is also the best of the Clandestine Blaze tracks. This one reminds one of Burzum, with the slow pace and the style of riffing. It has a very cold and mournful atmosphere, with additional notes flowing through to increase the sense of despondency. This epic composition may be one of the more ambitious efforts from this point in Clandestine Blaze's career. It is very minimalist and primitive, yet it manages to create quite a dreary feeling. It leaves you feeling drained of all energy, simply waiting for your inevitable death. As the cold hand rips into your chest and takes your weakened heart within its icy grip, you have neither the will nor the desire to resist.

Side B features Deathspell Omega, and they waste no time in getting started with "Bestial Orgies". In total contrast to the atmospheric song that ended Side A, the band unleashes cold tremolo riffs, semi-fast drumming and raspier vocals that are more suitable to the music. The drums actually sound real, as opposed to those on Infernal Battles, so this is already an improvement. The guitars possess a sharp sound, but not nearly as raw as the old Darkthrone albums that they are hoping to recreate. With this first song, the band displays that they have improved quite a bit in the time since their debut album was released.

"The Suicide Curse" is the highlight of Side B. It begins with a very clear tremolo riff that appears to be the focus of the song, above vocals or drums. This is a very good thing, as the guitar riffs should always come first. The style employed here is almost reminiscent of Hirilorn, the previous band of Shaxul and Hasjarl, in the sense that the lead melodies are very clean-sounding. As the song progresses, the pace slows down and there are some open-arpeggio riffs that add depth to the atmosphere, hearkening back to the old Burzum albums. However, the feeling is quite different here. The song then speeds up again, utilizing a different tremolo riff but maintaining the high tension. This transitions back into the first riff, which is utterly brilliant. Regardless of whether or not it's based on some earlier work of Darkthrone or Gorgoroth, this is pulled off very well.

The split ends with "Seal of Perversion". It appears that the songs should have been placed in a different order, as this can in no way compete with the previous song. It's solid enough, surely, but very few songs could have successfully followed "The Suicide Curse". This one is, again, in the Transilvanian Hunger vein, consisting of blasting drums and tremolo riffs. There is definitely a chaotic feeling that runs through Deathspell Omega's work, yet it's always very cohesive. Mid-way through the song, the pace slows down a bit and becomes oddly catchy. It then returns to the previous tempo. The song, probably, goes a little longer than it should; it might have had a stronger impact if it had been more concise. However, there are no serious complaints other than the poor placement of this song. It feels anti-climactic when following something of such high quality.

All in all, this release displays the further development of these two bands, with Deathspell Omega showing marked improvement over their previous output. This is a worthy purchase for fans of either band.

Deathspell Omega - Infernal Battles (2000)

Deathspell Omega was formed by two members of Hirilorn, following the demise of that band. Rather than carry on the more epic and melodic sound of their previous project, the opted for a more straight-forward, raw approach. Their first full-length, Infernal Battles, was released in 2000 on Northern Heritage Records. The peculiar thing about this album is that it would have been better suited to have been released as an E.P. There are only four new songs, here, as the other four were taken straight from the Disciples of the Ultimate Void demo. The problem isn't that they re-used the material, but that there's such a disparity between the quality of the two halves. It makes it incredibly obvious that they are taken from different sessions. Also, there is speculation that former Hirilorn drummer, Yohann, performed the drums on the demo tracks. However, the new songs featured on Infernal Battles sound very much like a drum machine is being used, despite Shaxul being credited as the drummer.

The album begins with "The Victory of Impunity", which wastes no time going right for the throat. Immediately, one can get a sense of the trademark melodies of Deathspell Omega, always creating a great deal of tension. The urgent tone to the vocals increases this feeling. Shaxul sounds quite similar to Hat, from Gorgoroth, utilizing a raspy and high-pitched style. Musically, the early work of this band is often compared to old Darkthrone. They are usually credited as being among the best of the legions of clone bands, but it would seem that this negates the strong influence of early Gorgoroth, as one can really hear a lot of this in the melodic structure of the song. This is also noticed in the alternating thrash and tremolo riffs. That being said, the band was already forging a sound of their own, mixed in with these influences. It's just that, by this point, they hadn't fully realized their own style, so it was more like a work in progress.

"Drink the Devil's Blood" continues the fast-paced Black Metal assault that was present in the previous song. The opening melody is one of those that sounds familiar from the first time you hear it. Perhaps it is taken from elsewhere, but I can't put my finger on it. In this song, one can hear hints of what would come, but it's not quite realized here. The song would later be re-recorded, with completely different lyrics.

The next song is "Extinction of the Weak", which starts out like the previous songs. After a minute or so, the pace slows down and the tremolo riffing is replaced by some open-arpeggio work. This gives the song more atmosphere and helps to differentiate it from the others. It also has a somewhat darker feeling. After a few minutes, its speeds up, with Shaxul sounding completely possessed. His screams almost remind one of his countrymate, Meyhna'ch. Lyrically, the whole album is drenched in themes of Satanism and blasphemy, yet it would appear that they turned their back on their earlier lyrics, as the reissue of this album has most of the lyrics censored, as if they were so inferior to the more Orthodox style of the band's later period.

"Sacrilegious Terror" is another fast-paced song, though the drumming is a bit more relaxed. As with the rest of the songs, it's dominated by fast tremolo picked riffs that flow through your brain, frozen and mournful. The song is rather dynamic, as there are a number of tempo changes throughout. Another brilliant melody is unleashed around the 3:00 mark, giving the feeling that the band really wanted to re-create "Maaneskyggens Slave", because that it what this sounds like. That's not a bad thing at all, and I find no fault in the lack of originality on the part of Hasjarl (presumably, the one responsible for most of the songwriting). After all, it is their first album.

The demo tracks begin with "Raping Human Dignity". As some have commented, the track does open with some sort of feedback that sounds like a ringing telephone. Whatever the case may be, the song is as solid as the previous four. The only difference is the drastic drop in sound quality. However, despite this, it is by no means the most terrible production one can expect to hear in the realm of Black Metal. To anyone that says that the guitar riffs aren't discernible, all I can say is that you must not be listening. As for the music, the main riff is a tremolo melody that sounds like something from an old Darkthrone album. It is true that far too many bands have attempted to capture the same cold, minimalist feeling that Darkthrone achieved on Under A Funeral Moon and Transilvanian Hunger, but Deathspell Omega (even at this stage) stand out as being one of the better bands to follow this style. And, really, why should no one try to pick up from where they left off, since they abandoned that sound many years ago? It should be left to only the more skilled and musically adept bands, but it's not entirely impossible that someone could come close to doing it justice. It's just that most shitty bands mistake the low-fi sound of those albums to equate lack of skill (which is incredibly erroneous) and think that they can hide their own weaknesses by emulating that style, not realizing that it actually did take great skill in songwriting and that it's not something to be spewed out by every wannabe with a guitar. But, I digress.

The next song is "The Ancient Presence Revealed", which begins with a thrash riff, strangely. Actually, it's completely a rip-off of Darkthrone's "Blasphemer", from the Total Death album. This brings up a good point, as Deathspell Omega seemed to favour a guitar style that was quite similar to the sound on this album, back in their early days. What I mean is that you can hear the similarities in the very clean sound they used, at times. It's kind of odd, as not too many bands would look to a weak Darkthrone album for inspiration, but they certainly found something of worth, here. At any rate, the song transitions from the thrash riffs to the high-tension tremolo riffs that they were known for. Few guitarists manage to convey such a sense of urgency in their melodies, but Hasjarl does a hell of a job with this. As the track progresses, the temp changes a few more times, including a slower section that doesn't quite reach its atmospheric potential.

"Knowledge of the Ultimate Void" maintains the sense of tension and dread, though the song then goes more into the realm of Hellhammer influences, possibly filtered through Darkthrone. Late in the song, the pace slows down and the atmosphere becomes quite hellish, for a few moments. Unfortunately, they don't fully capitalize on this.

The album concludes with "Death's Reign (Human Futility)". While the production may be similar to the level of quality found on some of the Mütiilation demos, there are some nice epic melodies mixed in, though these do not dominate the song. Still, it maintains an identity separate from the others, though not quite as satisfying.

Ultimately, Infernal Battles is something better intended for those who appreciate old Darkthrone and Gorgoroth. It's not as good as the album that follows it, but it certainly isn't worthless as some pathetic losers seem to think it is. This was but the first step for this band, so it's naturally that they were struggling to find their own identity, while also trying to keep the black flame burning. No, there's nothing incredibly unique going on here, but they already displayed quite a bit of promise and would go on to prove themselves superior to many of the other bands so influenced by the Norwegian scene.

Abyssic Hate - Suicidal Emotions (2000)

Abyssic Hate is a one-man band, from Australia, created by Shane Rout in 1993. The style of music could certainly be categorized as suicidal Black Metal, with heavy influence from Burzum, Strid and I Shalt Become. After a string of demos and an E.P., Abyssic Hate finally released a full-length album. This was released by No Colours Records, in May 2000. As of this writing, it's the only L.P. that Mr. Rout has managed to put together. Nonetheless, this single album has made Abyssic Hate very popular, in certain circles, with many still dying for a follow-up. Unfortunately, the only release since then was the compilation, A Decade of Hate, featuring earlier demo material.

Suicidal Emotions consists of four songs, with three of the four clocking in well over ten minutes long. The scarred-up figure on the cover of the album suits the feeling quite well, as this is the type of music that you listen to when you are overcome by great sorrow and a longing to spill your own blood. The dark melodies of "Depression Part I" are both hauntingly miserable and beautiful at the same time. While listening, you almost become lost in some ethereal realm of sadness and despair. Agony is the air that you breathe while pain washes over you with every passing second. This feeling continues on through "Betrayed" and "Depression Part II". The sound is almost a mixture of the aforementioned bands, as well as some Katatonia. These are the sounds of eternal damnation; no, not in the fictional Hell of Judeo-Christian mythology, but rather the very real Hell that exists on this earth as we know it. There is something almost hypnotic about the compositions, here, as they are structured very well. There is enough repetition to allow one to drift off, as if in a trance, yet the songs are dynamic enough to take you on a journey through the dark recesses of your own feeble mind. This is especially true of "Despondency", which is the longest song on the album.

The album utilizes, mostly, tremolo riffs and an abundance of open-arpeggio riffs. The guitar sound is cold and sharp, cutting through your skin like the razor that you hold between your fingers. You welcome this sensation, as each caress from its rusted edge brings to your view another crimson stream that flows in the candlelight. Sometimes, you may be pushing yourself to reach for an end, to go deeper and deepeer until you've gone too far and the blood begins to gush forth, unceasingly. Other times, you just need to see the blood. It almost calms you, in some unknown way. And there are times when the pain that you suffer is so severe that you want the outside to match the inside; it helps to see some visual sign of that which afflicts you internally. Then again, there are times when you begin to feel nothing at all, as the emptiness consumes your soul, and the blood is a reminder that you are still alive, though you may not feel it. As the album progresses, the melodies become more like razor wire that slowly wraps around you, loosely, while you are only moderately aware of what is happening. As the mournful sounds fill your ears, you unknowingly tighten the grip of the razor wire around your body. By the time you realize it, it's too late. Freezing and alone, your every move causes your flesh to be shredded to pieces. As time goes on, you continue to tear away at yourself, just through your pathetic efforts to live. Everything you do, every choice you make only causes it to become worse. The only solution is death. This is the dark beauty of this music.

The primary weakness of this album, and the most detrimental factor, is the vocal delivery. The vocals are buried in the mix, seeming to be flat and lifeless. It is even possible to ignore the programmed drums, as it isn't really an issue. However, the vocals are sub-par and are incapable of conveying the same sense of melancholy that is imbued in the listener via the guitar melodies. He tries, but effort does not always equal success. This is why one-man bands are often ranked among the average and mediocre, because one person simply cannot do everything and realize his full potential. Despite this, the depressingly epic guitar melodies carry this release.

Suicidal Emotions is marked by Shane Rout's musical influences, yet it is all filtered through his particular vision to create something so bleak and dismal as to take the listener to a much darker place. The melodies truly reach inside of you and tear at those things which you attempt to keep hidden, even from yourself. One cannot help but feel an oppressive sense of pressure, as if someone is sitting on your chest, while listening to this. It becomes difficult to breathe and the dominating though on your mind is to seek an end to it all. There is no forgiveness, no redemption for your mistakes. You are a failure and your life has amounted to nothing. You have brought nothing but disappointment and grief to those unfortunate souls who have been associated with you. Everyone would be better off if you would end your life. Most importantly, you would be better off. Life is pain. Death is what you seek.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Clandestine Blaze - Fire Burns In Our Hearts (1999)

Fire Burns In Our Hearts is the first full-length album from Finland's Clandestine Blaze, released by in 1999. Truthfully, this is not a very good representation of the band, as it sounds very much like an extended demo. The quality is very much below that which one would expect from Mikko Aspa. It is difficult to discern whether or not he was aiming for a necro sound, or if he simply lacked the resources to make something that sounded better than this. Either way, this is not a good first impression.

I purchased this album after already picking up Night of the Unholy Flames and Fist of the Northern Destroyer. I had a fairly high opinion of the band, as far as Third Wave Black Metal is concerned. This release nearly killed that, though I obviously took note of the fact that this preceded the others. I tried to get into it, but it simply wasn't worth my time. There was no point in listening to some third-rate Darkthrone rip-off when I could just listen to the real thing.

Musically, there is nothing original going on here. This is highly derivative of the early Norwegian Black Metal albums, though entirely lacking in quality. There are a couple of interesting tremolo riffs, on "Anti-Christian Warfare" and "Native Resistance", with the latter being the best song on here. However, the song structures are weak and each goes on far too long. This would all be fine, for a demo, but this is supposed to be a debut album.

One of the biggest problems with this recording would have to be the vocals. Mikko sounds terrible, and one has to wonder if he's attempted to use some effect to alter the sound. If so, all it did was make the issue worse. It sounds less like a Black Metal vocalist and more like a fork that got sucked into the garbage disposal. He's not really known as one of the best vocalists around, anyway, but the performance here is quite dismal. Then again, it matches the overall output.

I cannot recommend Fire Burns In Our Hearts to anyone, with the exception of fans of Clandestine Blaze that simply wish to own all of the albums. However, I cannot stress this enough, do your best to pick it up at a discount and absolutely do not waste some ungodly amount of cash in an idiotic attempt to track down an original copy. It really isn't worth it. Mikko did a fine job of mixing his influences with a style of his own, later on, but it hadn't happened yet, as of this album. Stick to the later releases.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Darkthrone - Ravishing Grimness (1999)

By the mid-90s, the members of Darkthrone appeared to be very much burned out on creating music. Fenriz, in particular, had been associated with a variety of projects and seemed worn out. After the disappointing release of Total Death, in 1996, it looked like Darkthrone was history. Yet, a couple years later, they reappeared. They also began doing a great number of interviews, which was quite rare for them. It was around this time that they decided to begin the process of killing off the mystique that had surrounded the band for so many years. Many were shocked as Fenriz even went so far as to display that he had a sense of humour in these interviews. It also appeared that, by this time, the band members were quite aware of the impact that they had on the Black Metal scene. One could speculate that this consciousness had some influence on their decision to alter the sound, to the extent that they did. While the previous album was extremely flawed and paled in comparison to the earlier ones, it was Ravishing Grimness that ushered in the second era of Darkthrone.

Released in March 1999, Ravishing Grimness was born into a musical world where Black Metal had seen some severe changes. The cookie-cutter symphonic bands, busy ripping off Emperor and Satyricon, were everywhere. Record labels, such as Metal Blade and Nuclear Blast, were signing them as quickly as they could in an effort to cash in on the new trend. It was a foul time for Black Metal purists. However, that isn't to say that the art form was totally dead; the real Black Metal bands were simply laying low. They were a little harder to find, for the most part, but they were still there. Darkthrone became the symbol of the old guard rearing its ugly head to show the world what real grim and nasty Black Metal was all about. It's quite unfortunate that the album was much more mediocre than expected.

"Lifeless" starts with some strange sound effect before the song really begins. Immediately, there is a problem. Nocturno Culto has stated, in later interviews, that he didn't approve of the slower drumming style that Fenriz utilized on some songs, as he meant for these to be a lot faster. One can easily imagine the main riff from this song fitting onto one of the older albums, if only Fenriz has sped up the drums. There was still room for the slower section, but he certainly ruined the earlier part by being lazy behind the kit. The sound effects that began the track occur again, only irritating the listener. The slower section does have an ugly and grim feeling. The title of the album is certainly dead on. However, one gets the feeling that it could have been better. Vocally, Nocturno Culto does a bloody good job of maintaining the dark and evil feeling he is known for, being one of the highlights of the record. Again, near the end, the drums kill the feeling of the song. It does speed up, but not in the manner that one might expect Nocturno Culto had in mind when he sent Fenriz these riffs. Had the opening and closing moments of the song featured a faster beat, reminiscent of "Natassja in Eternal Sleep" or "Transilvanian Hunger", it would have sounded more natural and been more pleasing to the ear.

The next song is "The Beast", which takes a completely different approach and takes a sharp left turn with regard to atmosphere. In fact, there really is none. This is pure Hellhammer worship, which clearly marks it as one of Fenriz's songs. The concept of each member bringing songs to the table and neither being able to veto the inclusion of certain material seems to fail, here, as this really does not fit in with the rest and would be better suited for a Motörhead record than for Darkthrone. The song isn't horrible, just that it does not fit the overall mood of this album. Still, one has to respect the band for keeping true to its old school roots, rather than following the trends that were popular at the time. Later in the song, there is a bit of Celtic Frost influence, but not done quite as well as in the past, on songs like "In the Shadow of the Horns" and "The Hordes of Nebulah".

"The Claws of Time" is another strong example of Fenriz ruining the song with his lazy drumming approach. For whatever reason, there was a disconnect between the two members, as Nocturno Culto has made it obvious that it was only after this album that he began to insist on certain drumming speeds for the riffs he created. At this point, they weren't even rehearsing together, so it's no surprise that some things fell victim to miscommunication. The main riff is incredibly mournful and the best of the entire album, but it lacks any punch since Fenriz is asleep behind the drum kit. This riff would not be out of place on Transilvanian Hunger or Panzerfaust, had not Mr. Nagell been trying out different things. As it is, the song isn't bad; the problem is that one can tell that it had the potential to be much better. This is only made worse by Nocturno Culto's later admission. The song does drag on, having a few less impressive riffs tossed in as well. Despite its drawbacks, this is one of the better tunes on the album and does well to convey a dark and miserable atmosphere.

Next up is "Across the Vacuum", which starts out with a riff that one might attribute to Fenriz, but it seems Nocturno Culto had also given a few extra listens to Apocalyptic Raids, prior to writing this material, allowing it to seep into the songwriting a bit. However, this is actually a rather dynamic track, with a lot of variation in the riffs. Some of the guitar melodies are really good, actually, though the cleaner production works against them, somewhat. Fenriz almost foreshadows the Bathory influence that appears later in the song with the more primitive drumming utilized, here. In fact, there are a couple different riffs that hearken back to the classic days of Bathory, with the faster part truly taking the listener back to 1985 and reliving the glory of The Return...

"Ravishing Grimness" is the best song on the album, by far. Again, it opens with a fast tremolo riff that would have been better accentuated with a different drum beat, but it actually transitions into the next riff better this way. Though one could argue that the next riff would also have benefited from a faster drum beat, but it all works out a lot better on this song and is sort of reminiscent of early Burzum with its more simplistic approach. Once one gives up the hope that they will revert to the formula used on Transilvanian Hunger, this is quite enjoyable. The tremolo melodies are very memorable, Nocturno Culto's vocals are just right and the whole track is very cohesive. About half-way through, it slows down and one gets the feeling of being dragged into the endless graveyard. The funeral bell chimes in the distance, adding to the morbid atmosphere. Corpses rise from their graves, tearing at your limbs as the moon casts its pale light down on this grim spectacle. This is followed by another Bathory-inspired riff, maintaining the gloomy feeling. The pace then speeds back up, as the main riff returns. This one song is worth the price of the album, as it truly lives up to its title.

"For this I'll burn in Hell, for sure"

The album ends with "To the Death (Under the King)", which is a faster-paced song with a total old Bathory vibe. The drumming is a little awkward, at times, not fully matching the guitar riffs. The more primitive battery turns out to be much more suiting than some of the other choices. Nonetheless, this is one of the better songs on the album, though it would have worked better with more of a necro production. This song is also the only one to feature any Norwegian lyrics, albeit only one line. Finally, near the end of the track, the drumming picks up and they end on a riff that is more reminiscent of Under A Funeral Moon or Transilvanian Hunger.

"What if death can't set me free"

Ravishing Grimness is not only the rebirth of Darkthrone, in a sense, it also represents a lengthy period of transition for the band. While Nocturno Culto was content to continue writing riffs that would have suited the earlier output of the band, Fenriz was determined to slow things down and drown this creativity with conflicting influences. This album is equal with Total Death, really. They both exhibit moments where they could have improved and given us something spectacular, only to come up short. Overall, the record possesses several nice riffs, but they're rarely realized to their full potential due to the ill-conceived percussion. With that said, the title track is very good and worth the trouble of seeking this out.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Horna - Kohti Yhdeksän Nousua (1998)

Kohti Yhdeksän Nousua is the first official full-length from Finland's Black Metal horde, Horna. It was released in 1998 by Solistitium Records, limited to 1500 copies. At this point in their development, the band had only existed for a few years. Enough time had passed that they were skilled as musicians, but the songwriting was not very distinctive. It would take some time before Shatraug created the signature style that he was later known for.

Musically, the Norwegian Black Metal scene of the early 90s seems to have been the primary influence, as opposed to Finnish bands like Beherit, Archgoat or Impaled Nazarene. All of the instruments are quite clear, compared to those whose style they were attempting to emulate. After a brief intro, "Örkkivuorilta" erupts from the depths of hell with aggressive riffs and vicious vocals. The guitars remind of Satyricon's Nemesis Divina album. The more intense thrash bits fade away near the middle to allow a haunting melody to take hold, before returning to end the song in rather violent fashion. "Imperial Devastation" moves between mid-paced tremolo melodies and a riff that calls to mind something from "Thorns of Crimson Death" from Dissection. The middle of the song speeds up, with vocals that are overdubbed with high and low, with riffs that are reminiscent of Dark Funeral.

It must be said that while Horna certainly wore their influences on their sleeve, so to say, the songs are very well-constructed. "White Aura Buried in Ashes" displays the band's skill in arrangement, moving from intense, fast-paced riffs and hellish vocals to a rather strange section that produces somewhat of a haunting effect. Around the 3:40 mark, the tempo changes and a clean voice emerges, similar to Enslved's "I Lenker til Ragnarok", producing an absolutely haunting effect, accentuated by the guitar riff and some faint keyboard in the background. The riff hints at the style Shatraug would later build upon. That said, "Sword of Darkness" and "Sormus ja Silmä" just bleed out the name Gorgoroth in the Infernus-like tremolo melodies that are found in each, and one cannot deny the similarities between the latter and "Sorg" from Antichrist. Nazgul's vocal style is not far off from that of Hat or Pest, so it suits the music even moreso. Regarding these songs, the voice is much dryer and more strained than usual which adds to the darker atmosphere. For some reason, there is a re-recorded version of "Kun lyömme Jumalan kodin liekkeihin" from Hiidentorni that fades in from the latter and is unlisted.

Kohti Yhdeksän Nousua is a very solid record and shows more overall consistency than Horna's prior output. Despite a lack of originality, the songwriting is very cohesive an there are a lot of memorable moments to be found. By 1998, most of the band's musical idols in Norway had fallen, so it was certainly up to someone to pick up the torch and to keep it burning. In that respect, Horna did a very good job with their debut album and would go on to create some immensely dark recordings throughout the years. If you ever run across this, be sure to pick it up. It will definitely appeal to those with a taste for mid-90's Black Metal.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hypocrisy - The Final Chapter (1997)

By 1997, Peter Tägtgren had become a very busy man. He had been doing the bulk of the songwriting for Hypocrisy, all along. He had also been involved with other projects, such as The Abyss (again, taking up the slack for his regular bandmates), Pain and War. As well, he was getting more and more work as a producer, since opening his own studio. So, it was at this point that he decided to lay his primary band to rest, which would allow him to focus on his new role of producer. That's what we all heard, in November 1997, when The Final Chapter was released.

It wasn't too long after this album had been released that my best friend brought it over and tossed it in my stereo. I recall being fairly impressed, though it was more of a background thing as we played some stupid video game and talked about horror movies. However, it did make sure to record it onto a tape. The next night, with only the flames of a few candles to illuminate the room, I listened to it again, placing all of my focus on the music. As it turned out, this music was exactly what my mood called for, at the time. I listened to it again and again, continuing to do so for weeks and months afterward. I had very little melodic or atmospheric Death Metal in my collection, at the time, and The Final Chapter seemed to fill a gap. Really, it had quite an impact on me and, from this time on, I considered Hypocrisy's music to be beyond a simple exercise in listening; this was something to experience.

"Inseminated Adoption" starts the album with a rather mediocre riff and some incredibly lazy drumming that is typical of the era. However, The eerie guitar solo completely salvages this and renders the previous complaint null and void. The vocals are more in line with what was heard on Abducted, being a mixture that mostly placed focus on the higher-pitched approach. The production isn't quite as raw as on the previous album, though quite similar. The pace of the song is not what I would call fast, but it is one of the faster songs, by comparison. This isn't strong enough to stand alone, but it's not a bad intro for the album.

"I will never be the same"

The next song is where the album really begins to shine. "A Coming Race" is fairly mid-paced, but the brilliant tremolo melodies add another dimension that the previous song lacked. This song features a deeper vocal style than on the previous song, hearkening back to The Fourth Dimension. The atmosphere is incredibly bleak and there is a strain of melancholy that slowly suffocates you. The lead solo then pierces your blackened heart and injects the poison that then courses through your veins. Peter utilizes keyboards to accentuate the dark feeling created here, and does it quite well. This song is a good example of the mixing of Black, Death and Doom Metal. Really, this statement could be applied to the album, as a whole. This is definitely one of the most memorable songs of the band's career.

"We fall into our own decay"

"Dominion" is next. This song is much faster than the previous one, which should now make obvious a pattern. The album is constructed in such a manner that it alternates between the faster songs, that make use of the higher pitched vocals, and the slower ones, with the deeper growls and more depressing feeling. This song opens with a thrashy riff and a shredding guitar solo. It goes on to switch between the thrash and tremolo picking. One would think that the atmosphere would be quite different, but as the song progresses the same mournful feeling of despair returns. There is something apocalyptic about the sound of this record. One cannot but feel that the end is near.

This is followed by one of my personal favourites. "Inquire Within" starts with a dismal keyboard melody that is joined by a clean guitar. It then turns into the heaviest and slowest song, thus far, as Peter employs the deep vocals and the feeling is that of utter doom. It is during these slow songs that Hypocrisy really shine and reach their potential to inspire dark feelings of dread and hopelessness. There is also some use of clean vocals that add even more to the helpless sense of misery and ruin.

"Will I ever reach the end? Will I ever see the light?"

Of course, this is something that we all wonder. It is not necessary to view these lyrics only in the context of the concept that dominates the album. In our own way, each of us seeks an end to this miserable existence. It doesn't matter if we die tomorrow, despite whatever goals we may have set for our earthly sentences. With death, we find ultimate freedom. We achieve freedom from the mortal bonds of this shell of flesh and blood. The blood. How many times can we slice open our veins to let the blood run free, appearing so dark in the light of the moon? How many nights must we spend in agony, wishing for an end? Whether you hope to never wake again or you contemplate the various methods by which you can bring this about, all of us seek this one thing, above all else. It is of no consequence, whether or not you recognize this truth.

"I just want to get away from this hell"

"Last Vanguard" is the most intense song, up to this point. As the previous song ends, you almost feel like you're falling toward an open coffin and yet this one blasts in, unexpectedly, nearly crushing your skull. This is one of the more straight-forward songs on the album, almost feeling as a transition between the slower songs. The vocals and guitars are abrasive and razor-sharp, and it all serves well to add a sense of tension to the album.

The next song is "Request Denied" This one begins with one of the most memorable guitar melodies of the album, as this slow-paced doom track begins. The crushing riffs then fade away, leaving only a clean guitar and keyboard. The drums come in with the vocals, which are clean and dismal. As the guitars return, his voice gets a little higher and more powerful, though keeping the feeling of despair. He then returns to the very deep vocals, adding a nice effect. While listening, you can almost see your whole pathetic life flashing before your eyes. You know that the end is near; you beg for it. The lead solo, somehow, manages to bring these sentiments to life when human language is incapable of conveying such dark thoughts and fears. In the end, we're all dominated by fear. This is the strongest of all human emotions, eclipsing both love and hate. Fear drives us in ways that we are not always aware. As time goes on, we live in horror as all of our fears come true. Our nightmares become reality, leaving us in utter ruin and misery, longing for death.

"Memories of encounters
Will never go away
Scarred for the rest of my life"

"Through the Window of Time" is one of the highlights of The Final Chapter. This is, without a doubt, the fastest and most intense song on the album. The formula is broken, here, as this is a faster song but the vocal approach is deeper than on the other songs of this speed. There's a brilliant Black Metal feeling to the tremolo riff featured in the chorus, giving the feeling that they could have built the whole song off of that. Another one is unleashed, about half-way through, that is joined by a shredding solo. This all comes together to create an atmosphere of chaos and impending doom. Again, the true theme is that of finality or of the end. This isn't just about the end of a musical career; this is heralding the end of an age... the end of life.

The next song is "Shamateur", which is very dismal and possesses a tortured feeling. The vocals are much raspier than on the previous song, while the pace is like that of a funeral march. However, the slow drums are counteracted by the fast tremolo picking, though the melody that is created slithers through your mind, in a slow and methodical manner. The atmosphere is actually quite hellish, as there is no hope in this cursed real. You are immersed in darkness from which you will never escape. The middle section of the song adds to this feeling, as the lyrics are then whispered in the background, accompanied by a few indecipherable screams. Your skies have long ago gone from deep grey to utter black, as the air you breathe is forever contaminated. Horrible thoughts plague your every waking moment, as nightmares torment your nights.

"Adjusting the Sun" bursts forth with great speed and energy. This one features a lot of melodic riffs that are easily remembered, as well as lyrics that seem to question everything from religion to civilization itself. There are a variety of tempos utilized, here, making this one of the more dynamic songs on the album. Again, this track seems to add to the overall tension, as things progress toward an end.

The bleak atmosphere if despair and loss returns with "Lies". A slow pace is implemented, here, as is some variation in the vocal delivery. To go along with the deep vocals, you'll also hear some faint clean parts as well. The sound is cold and desolate, much like the abyss in which we all suffer, separately. The title of the song couldn't be more appropriate. Society is built upon a foundation of lies. We're lied to, right from the start. Every time someone tells you that you can be anything you want to be, when you grow up; whenever someone assures you that they'll be there for you; anytime a significant other mouths the three words that we all so desperately need to hear; the way that it is implied that if you study hard and get an education this will somehow improve the quality of your life... nothing but lies. Throughout childhood, the lies are plentiful. They continue on, once we get a little older, but they're usually more realistic. But, at some point, we experience a moment of clarity where it all becomes so obvious. It's all an illusion, from the fictional god that many believe in to the thought that your spouse won't leave the moment things become inconvenient. There is no more "til death do us part", anymore than there is a Santa. The good guy doesn't always win, in the end, and bad things are waiting for all of us. Some people see a little more clearly what this world really is and what kind of fate awaits each of us. The rest are those who are happy in their ignorance. They'll be the first to fall, when the time comes.

"Evil Invaders" is a cover song, originally by the Canadian Thrash Metal band, Razor. Much like their covers of Slayer and Venom, in the past, Hypocrisy manage to stick very close to the original. One might say that they add a much needed dose of power, mostly due to the production. Oddly enough, it fits in pretty well with the rest of the songs. If I didn't know it was a Razor track, I'd never have suspected a thing.

"I've got nothing to live for
Only to stay as another victim"

These words carry a meaning deeper than any concept album. One can feel this with the agonized vocals and depressing guitar melodies. Finally, the end is upon us. This is the song that was intended to close out the last album from this Swedish band. As with most of the other even-numbered tracks, this one is slow and filled with a miserable atmosphere of pain and a longing for death. The main tremolo riff creates a slow melody, joined by the slow-paced drumming underneath. The first lines are spoken, followed by clean singing that gives off an ethereal effect. Then, the deep vocals arrive as Peter screams, "They've been torturing me my whole life". Again, the lyrics are quite open to interpretation, and are the only lyrics ever printed inside of a Hypocrisy album, up to this point.

"It's time to put an end to this pain
I want to get away from this hell"

The cold and miserable tremolo melody cuts into your flesh, opening your veins and allowing your blood to flow freely. Yet you are not concerned in the slightest bit. You welcome the pain. Anything, just to feel that you are still alive. Your existence is nothing but pain and grief. As the blood continues to pour out of the gaping wounds, there is no anxiety. This is what you've waited for, your whole life. The torture and the regret will soon fade with the pathetic existence that you've endured thus far. No more lies or disappointment. No more loss. The pain and sorrow slowly bleeds out of you, as you lay silent in a pool of crimson. The knife in your hand... the smile now forming on your lips. It's all over.

"I must take my life to be free
This will be my final chapter..."

Friday, September 11, 2009

Necrophobic - Spawned By Evil (1996)

By 1996, Necrophobic had lost much of the momentum that was built through the earlier demos and their debut L.P. The Nocturnal Silence. There were some creative differences within the band, at this point. Also, Dark Funeral had become quite successful and David Parland was putting most of energy into that project. Right around the time that The Secrets of the Black Arts was released, Necrophobic returned with the Spawned By Evil E.P. Unfortunately, this release marked the departure of Parland. Released in January 1996, Spawned By Evil was not quite what fans were hoping for. Instead of a new album, Necrophobic released this mini-album, which only contained one new song. The other three tracks are covers. This was a little disappointing since, as was later revealed, the band was sitting on a handful of songs that could have been included.

A brief horror intro leads into the title track. It sounds slightly reminiscent of the intro to Sepultura's Schizophrenia, though far shorter. Musically, this isn't much different from the version that would appear on Darkside. The drumming seems a bit stale and repetitive, however. It's much more noticeable on this recording. Another thing that makes this E.P. significant is that this is the first Necrophobic release to feature Tobias Sidegård on vocals. This version isn't quite as raw as the later one, but there aren't too many differences, otherwise.

The next song is a tricky one, as it is a cover of Slayer's "Die By the Sword". The first thing that one might notice is that Tobbe's vocal approach doesn't quite fit the feeling of the song. Here, he goes for a deeper sound that feels a little too forced. The higher parts fit a little better, though. Still, nothing will ever come close to the original. Therein lies the problem in covering such an incredible song; it's very difficult to live up to such greatness. Joakim's drums don't have anything on Dave Lombardo's work on Show No Mercy, either. As far as the guitars, I have no complaints. David Parland and Martin Halfdan do an excellent job of maintaining the feel of the original. Despite the minor complaints, this is actually an enjoyable song. However, any band that tries to match the brilliance of the early Slayer albums is climbing up a slippery slope. Possibly, Dissection managed to get closest to this goal, with their cover of "Antichrist".

A cover of Venom's "Nightmare" follows this. I was looking forward to this, upon first listen, as this is one of my favourite Venom tunes. Here, Tobias sticks with the raspier vocal style, which fits the atmosphere much better. Musically, it's dead on; not much room for error when it comes to Venom. They do a great job of sticking to the original and not straying or changing the feeling. This is a top-notch cover of the Unholy Trio.

Finally, we have "Enter the Eternal Fire". Again, Necrophobic have taken on a hellacious task, as no one could ever possibly measure up to the standards set by Bathory, on the original. However, one must step back and realize that this shouldn't be taken so seriously. Obviously, they weren't attempting to compete with the original bands; instead, this should be looked at as the band simply having a little fun and recording some of their favourite songs. Musically, this is pretty solid. The guitars are dead on. Vocally, it's interesting but not nearly as morbid as the original. The bells and keyboards sound exactly as they do on the Bathory version, and the lead solo was nailed, perfectly. Again, the inclusion of this song is pretty awesome, as this is another song that has meant a lot to me for many years. If nothing else, this E.P. proves that these guys had great taste in music.

Spawned By Evil isn't, necessarily, essential. However, it's worth looking for if you're a Necrophobic fan that also loves Slayer, Venom and Bathory (and who the hell doesn't??). This is a little hard to find, from my experience, so be sure to take advantage of the situation if you ever run across it.

Monday, September 7, 2009

At the Gates - Slaughter of the Soul (1995)

Typically, the early albums from any given band best represent their vision and tend to be the best ones; those fueled by a passion to create. Often, the debut album from a band will be the most thought-out, since the band usually has a few years to perfect their music before getting signed and releasing a full-length. In many cases, bands will progress and improve, over time. At the Gates is a curious anomaly, as they seem to have regressed as they went along. Stylistically, Slaughter of the Soul is a very simplistic, stripped-down album. When compared to the absolute brilliance of their debut, The Red in the Sky is Ours, it seems quite childish. The members of At the Gates were never able to recreate the genius that was so prominently displayed on that album. There were hints of it, but nothing that ever came close. As time passed, they descended deeper into the murky swamp of mediocrity. However, when this album was released in November 1995, it was met with great praise. Truth be told, I was a fan of this album when I first heard it.

My first exposure to this band came when I heard their cover of Slayer's "Captor of Sin", late one night, on a college radio program. My friend picked up a copy of Slaughter of the Soul, not too long after, and I recorded it onto a cassette and listened to it quite a bit, prior to tracking down the CD. After several months, I'd grown tired of it and spent more time listening to Dissections' Storm of the Light's Bane, which I'd also gotten around this time. Some time later, I decided to pay attention to At the Gates again, but I was bored. I ran across a copy of Terminal Spirit Disease and my interest was rekindled. As average as that album is, it still showed a lot more promise than the one that followed it. As I continued digging back into the discography of At the Gates, I grew to respect them a lot more, while becoming even more disappointed with their swansong. I couldn't figure out how or why a band could possibly be capable of such brilliance, only to throw it away in order to seek out mass appeal.

There's no need for an in-depth analysis of each track. This album features several brief Thrash songs and a semi-atmospheric outro that wasn't even intended for use on an album. The production is overdone, sounding too slick and polished. There's also something grating about the sound, in a sense. There's some decent riffs, here and there, but nothing that hasn't been done before. Worse yet, this is all far below what these musicians were capable of doing. This is an extremely dumbed-down version of At the Gates. Somehow, they managed to take the riffing style of Dismember (which they had adopted earlier in their career, only utilized to a lesser extent) and to simplify it even more in an attempt to make the music accessible to every metalhead under the sun (or "Under A Serpent Sun"). Hey, a lame album deserves a lame joke.

The vocals are very much streamlined, possessing very little of the feeling that was present on their earlier albums. There are brief moments where you are reminded of the old days, though the band was so intent on creating another Reign In Blood (yet one more album that saw a great band trading artistic integrity for the almighty dollar) that they never expand upon the few decent ideas that appear, here. The longest song is just under four minutes, which is a departure from the ways of old. Oddly, the lengthiest song on here is the aforementioned "Under A Serpent Sun", which shows some faint signs of their previous style, though the production ruins it. These guys really lost their soul when Alf Svensson left the band. Personally, the only worthwhile song on here is "Need". This one still manages to maintaint he miserable atmosphere from the past, though it's far too short. However, it has some realy dismal guitar melodies and an eerie whispered section, at the end.

"Now let the final darkness fall"

Slaughter of the Soul is an album for those that want instant gratification, without having to put much (or any) thought into what they are listening to. It's simple music for simple-minded people. It's constructed in such a way as to appeal to all Metal fans. However, its effects are temporary. It's an album that you either love or hate, though many love it at first and then grow to hate it. It's definitely overhyped and inferior to the rest of the band's discography. If you truly want the At the Gates experience, seek out The Red in the Sky is Ours. It is the pinnacle of their careers, regardless of what other bands they've been involved in (yes, putting it just a notch above Grotesque). As for Slaughter of the Soul, it's decent if all you ask of your music is to give you something to mindlessly bang your head to, but you'll get bored with it over time. If you must purchase it, do yourself a favour and look for it in the $1 bin.