Friday, October 23, 2009

Immortal - All Shall Fall (2009)

Sometime in 2003, it was announced that the mighty Immortal was no more. In the years that followed, Abbath, Demonaz and original drummer Armagedda collaborated on the Between Two Worlds album, from the side-project I. It wasn't too long after this, in 2006, that word got around that Immortal would be reuniting for some live shows. Still, it was unclear whether or not this was purely a nostalgia deal or if the band was truly back. In January 2008, Abbath, Horgh and Apollyon began rehearsing and writing material for their first album in several years. Of course, Demonaz was still there to provide lyrics, as always. After playing many gigs, the band finally began recording in April 2009. They recorded in both Abyss Studio and Grieghallen, for the first time since Battles in the North. Finally, in late September, All Shall Fall was released.

This album can be summed up with one word: forgettable. While it is a competent effort, it is ultimately unnecessary and feels overly safe and predictable. Musically, this record does well to pick up from where Sons of Northern Darkness left off. The passage of seven years, in between, is hardly noticeable. The guitar riffs are freezing cold, throughout the album, which is dominated by a good number or blackened thrash riffs, with a decent amount of inspiration from early Bathory. Quorthon's influence can be heard throughout the album, from time to time, such as the acoustic sections that come along to give you the feeling that you are sinking into frigid waters. The title track is one of the only memorable tunes here, even including a sombre and haunting tremolo melody. The songwriting isn't bad, with tracks like "The Rise of Darkness" and "Norden On Fire" easily capturing the same feeling that was present on the last few Immortal records. Several of the compositions are boring and lackluster, making it a tedious endeavour to sit through the album as a whole. It ends on a high note, thankfully, as "Unearthly Kingdom" returns to the traditional theme of Blashyrkh and is the most epic piece on All Shall Fall. From the eerie intro to the cold and desolate mid-paced riffs, as well as the sorrowful clean guitars and insanely grim vocals, this piece best captures the epic vibe that the band was going for. 

"Entering the sacred world of might
To where the stormy kingdoms home
Here naked winds blow cold and free
All black and dead on frozen ground"

Lyrically, it's very good to have more material from the mind of Demonaz, as it's gotten rather lame that most Black Metal bands are getting deeper and deeper into Judeo-Christian mythology for their lyrics, in recent years.

As for the production, it suffers from the same overly modern sound as on the previous records, but it could be worse. For what it is worth, the guitars possess a sharp edge that give the riffs a very frozen sound. The drums are thunderous, at times, but only when necessary. Otherwise, they sound quite similar to At the Heart of Winter. Of course, the vocals receive enough clarity to allow the utter grimness of Abbath's voice to be felt.

Several years ago, Immortal had gone out on a high note, so many were skeptical of whether or not they could live up the standards that they had set for themselves. While All Shall Fall exceeded the expectations of most, it occasionally drags and listeners may get the sense that they have heard this all before. Nevertheless, there are a few decent tracks here, and the album should please fans of the band's later efforts. 

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Gorgoroth - Quantos Possunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt (2009)

The story behind this album should be well-known to most. In late 2007, two weaklings attempted to usurp control of Gorgoroth from its very creator. This act of betrayal split their fans into opposing camps. Some of the more braindead followers seemed to think that the utter mutiny of these two was, somehow, justified. However, the true force of Gorgoroth was Infernus. This was plain and clear, not only from the overwhelming support shown by his true fans, but by the Norwegian legal system. The battle seemed to be drawn-out but, in the end, Gaahl and King were defeated and cast into oblivion. during this struggle, Infernus worked long and hard to restore this band to its former glory. He assembled dedicated musicians to assist him in this task, secure in the knowledge that he would prevail and that a musical statement must be made. He had been working on material since before the split, and this treasonous nonsense seemed only to inspire him all the more. The resulting album, Quantos Possunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt, was released in October 2009, through Regain Records.

The album begins with "Aneuthanasia", and the distinct vocals of Pest are joined by the trademark guitar riffs of Infernus to recreate a feeling lost since over a decade ago. The pace speeds up as it goes along, as Infernus unleashes a vicious thrash riff to accompany the high-pitched rasp of Pest, who has long since been missed. The song is rather short and simple, but sets the tone very well. The only complaint I would make would be against the mechanical drumming of Tomas Asklund.

As "Prayer" starts out, we can see that the awful songwriting of the former members is soon to fade from the memories of those who gave up on the band after Under the Sign of Hell. This is classic Gorgoroth, something that has been missing for some time. I was completely unable to enjoy the Gaahl era, as I found his vocals grating and unfitting of the band's great legacy. This song is rather mid-paced, with a dark and sorrowful tremolo melody that will stick in your brain, alternating with thrash riffs, in the vein of Pentagram and some somber arpeggios.

"Rebirth" is the longest song on here, clocking in around six and a half minutes. The open arpeggios set a melancholic feeling, as Pest's vocals are filthy and misanthropic, just as on Antichrist. This one is mid-paced and very atmospheric. The feeling is dark and epic, in the style that Infernus is known for. You can feel some primal force rising within you as he screams, "rebirth of Gorgoroth!" This is a very powerful moment, and one filled with poignancy. You are taken on a black journey down into the depths, from which you will not emerge the same as before you started.

This is followed by "Building A Man", which slowly builds in speed. The tremolo riffs flow into some melodic thrash sound, with the double bass rumbling beneath. The drumming could have been a little lower in the mix, but this is a minor complaint. The riffs that Infernus has created are truly brilliant and take precedence over all else. The overall sound is very clear and powerful, not too different from the earliest Gorgoroth albums. As the song goes along, the intensity increases, til the end.

"New Breed" starts out with a riff that could almost have been on the last Dissection album. The transition from the previous song to this one is very natural, and it's worth mentioning that this doesn't feel like just some 'collection of songs'. There is a flow and a strong sense of coherence. Everything seems to fit together, very well. After a minute or so, the pace slows, but this is very brief as a melodic and memorable riff soon erupts, joined by blasting drums and Pest's hateful voice. Around the middle, there's another change. This is too brilliant to really describe. It pierces your spirit, letting your essence bleed out onto the frozen soil. There is something haunting and beautiful about the dreary feeling that this riff creates. It continues through the remainder of the song, leaving you utterly drained by the end.

The atmosphere changes, quite a bit, with "Cleansing Fire". This one is faster and more upbeat, in a sense, during the opening moments. Despite being only a few minutes long, it's still quite dynamic. Near the middle, there's another great riff that brings the feeling down somewhat, taking it to a darker place. Production-wise, this is beginning to remind me a bit of Reinkaos, come to think of it.

"Human Sacrifice" begins with an energetic thrash riff, but the song soon transitions to something less intense but darker and more sorrowful. This song seems to be building some sense of tension, as the album nears its end. It's fairly simplistic, yet highly effective. As with the rest of the album, the riffs here are very memorable and executed with great skill. Pest sounds as lethal as ever and the rhythm section handle their duties well, also.

The next song is likely to be the one that most are drawn to. "Satan-Prometheus" is a massively epic song that is absolutely certain to haunt your mind even after the first listen. Then again, what else would you expect from the brilliant mind that crafted "Maaneskyggens Slave"? It starts out with the classic Gorgoroth sound; raspy vocals spewing hatred over fast tremolo riffs and blasting drums. The melodies are dark and somber, weaving through your mind like venomous serpents that are soon to poison you and leave you for dead. After about a minute, a feeling of there's a brief section with clean vocals and a slower riff, to accentuate this. Following a thrashier section, this is repeated with additional tremolo riffs joining the Black Mass. The effect that this creates is very powerful. In a sense, it hearkens back to the feeling of "Sorg", though being quite different. Late in the song, the whole feeling changes and the pace is that of a funeral march. The track ends with hellish screams being drawn out over mournful melodies.

"See the hordes ascend
Crushing the face of god
See the horns rise
The eternal reign of Satan"

"Introibo ad Alatare Satanas" is a brief outro that closely follows the feeling established in the latter moments of the previous song. It possesses a Satanic and deathlike atmosphere and is a very fitting way to close out this masterpiece of an album.

This is the record that I've been wanting Gorgoroth to release for years. It's as close as you'll get the the classic period of the band's career and, really, sounds like a natural extension of those albums. It really does sound like an updated version of the musical vision that began back then, as if the middle period was some nightmare that has now been forgotten. One can only hope that Pest remains for the next album, as he has been as missed as Infernus's songwriting. Quantos Possunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt is a worthy addition to the musical legacy of Infernus and the mighty Gorgoroth. Buy this with confidence.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Darkthrone - Dark Thrones and Black Flags (2008)

Dark Thrones and Black Flags in the 14th studio album from Darkthrone, released by Peaceville in October 2008. This album not only follows in the style of the last couple albums; it perfects it. The journey was long, filled with many twists and turns, but with this record the band has come full circle, in a way. It was recorded and produced, by the band themselves, in their own Necrohell II studio. For the first time, it seems that Nocturno Culto and Fenriz shared equally in the songwriting, as well as the lyrics. The result is the best album these two have put out in years, as well as less emphasis on the ridiculous lyrics of Herr Nagell, from recent years.

I, officially, gave up on the band after Sardonic Wrath. It left me feeling very disappointed, with much less than even 50% of the material holding my interest. The Cult Is Alive only added to this, as I was displeased with the path they were traveling. I didn't pay much attention to F.O.A.D., at the time, giving it only a brief listen before dismissing it as yet another useless album. When I decided to check out this album, my expectations were low. However, from the first moments, I was hooked. As usual, with these later Darkthrone records, there are some things that one must get used to; however, Dark Thrones and Black Flags is overflowing with incredible riffs and that is what is most important. It's just one album, but it was enough to rekindle my interest in the band.

"The Winds They Called the Dungeon Shaker" starts out with a somber tremolo riff that hearkens back to the band's classic era. It's very haunting and possesses a dark feeling. As the song gets going, it has kind of a Punk feeling, though it all flows really well. The song title seemed odd, at first, as well as the clean vocals during the chorus. Actually, I thought it was pretty awful until I realized that is was stuck in my head for the rest of the day. This is definitely the kind of thing that grows on you. Now, I couldn't imagine it any other way.

This is followed by "Death of All Oaths (Oath Minus)", which begins with a nasty and dark sounding thrash riff. If you're not headbanging to this, you've got a problem. This has a great old school feeling, and the raw production adds quite a bit to this. Again, Nocturno Culto isn't utilizing much of his old sound, but these riffs absolutely demand that you ignore such things. Near the middle, there's a slow doom riff that sounds as if would have fit on Soulside Journey or Goatlord, easily. That's one of the great things about this album; it is like a mixture of all the various styles the band has used. Here, everything is tied together and it works, exceptionally well.

"Hiking Metal Punks" is next, and it goes back to the less serious sound. It also features horrid vocals that make you cringe on the first listen, while making you sing along by the third. The first part of the song is okay, but nothing terrible fascinating. By the middle, there is a howling that is followed by some incredible old school riffing and a killer solo. This is certainly worth waiting through the first half of the song. Like on the last album, things seem to just get better as they go along.

The next song is "Blacksmith of the North (Keep That Ancient Fire)". It starts with some eerie effect, before going into a wicked-sounding riff. This track brings things back down, into a darker place. The solo is haunting and adds to the sinister atmosphere of this song. The song is rather dynamic, featuring some variation in the pacing.

"Norway in September" is one of the real highlights of this record. This one possesses a feeling of dread and has Nocturno Culto's name written all over it. As opposed to the last few albums, this one seems to be much more consistent with the dark feeling. The cold tremolo riffs weave throughout your mind, painting grim visions. After a couple minutes, things slow down and the guitar seems to be wailing in agony, as the season of dying is upon us yet again. Another tremolo riff comes in, this one having an otherworldly tone, creating a creepy effect. The song then transitions to another riff, bring things from those abysmal depths, just enough so that you can survive until the next assault.

"Those cold nights are back again
Norway morning greet my daily toil
That old familiar smell
Fallen leaves return to our soil"

An ominous sound introduces "Grizzly Trade". This slower riff soon gives way to a faster one, with a catchy Punk beat underneath. It then shifts back to the slower sound, during the latter half. The dark atmosphere is maintained, though there doesn't seem to be much about this song that stands out, on its own. Still, as a part of the whole, it serves its purpose.

"Hanging Out In Haiger" features more pointless lyrics, but the overall feel is somewhat light-hearted and paying homage to the older Metal bands. Strangely, this makes me want to go listen to some Exciter or something, though it doesn't sound like hat band, at all. The cleaner vocals are terrible at first, but it's strange how quickly you'll find yourself getting used to it. The real brilliance of this song doesn't come until the second half, where you get a killer NWOBHM riff.

The title track is actually an instrumental, consisting of some very good doom riffs that hearken back to Black Sabbath, while an additional melody adds an eerie atmosphere. The song is fairly short and basic, keeping the same riff until fading out.

"Launchpad To Nothingness" starts out with a semi-thrash riff that alternates with a sorrowful tremolo melody. Strangely, this song kind combines various elements to create something rather complex, by this band's standards. In some interviews, Fenriz has mentioned that the earlier albums came together very quickly while the songs on the last few have taken up to two months to get just right. It's easy to see why, as they're far more dynamic that the classic releases.

The album ends with "Witch Ghetto". This one loses the dark feeling that dominates the majority of the album in favor of a sound that is less serious and more Hellhammer-oriented, in a way. The song seems a little boring, until the 2:30 mark where the pace shifts and the riffs get far more interesting. It ends on a strong note, leaving a good impression on the listener.

Dark Thrones and Black Flags may not appeal to everyone, but as a fan of the earlier albums I can say that this is the strongest release since Plaguewielder (which was criminally underrated, in my view). They've taken pieces and parts of their various phases and put them together to create something new yet old; dynamic and yet primitive and old school. This probably won't appeal to those who only appreciate the Unholy Trinity, but it is tailor-made for old school maniacs that like raw and ugly Metal. This is easily the strongest album from this era of Darkthrone's career.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Darkthrone - F.O.A.D. (2007)

F.O.A.D. is the 13th studio release from Norway's Darkthrone. It is their second album since returning to Peaceville and it continues along the same lines as the previous album, sometimes feeling more Punk than Metal. The members of Darkthrone have always been successful at reinventing themselves in order to remain relevant, to some extent. Again, for the thousands (or millions) that wanted yet another Transilvanian Hunger, they were disappointed for the ninth time. This record fully solidified the direction that had begun with Hate Them. One could say that The Cult Is Alive did this, but some may have still thought it a fluke. But this was the album that made it very clear that Darkthrone had no intention of regressing to their previous sound, nor of giving one damn what anyone thought of them. On the one hand, that's admirable. It's good to see a band doing what they believe in and not catering to anyone's expectations. On the other hand, they seem to spit in the face of the fans that prefer their earlier albums, sometimes to the point of speaking in a derogatory manner about those albums. Fenriz is more guilty of this than Nocturno Culto, as the latter usually speaks fondly of the early days. At any rate, in late September 2007, this album was released and, as expected, continued to keep the band surrounded by controversy.

The first samples of what would be found on this album came in the form of the NWOBHM E.P. I listened to this, in the summer of 2007, and was put off, quite a bit. It didn't make me eager for a new Darkthrone album; however, it did make me want to go listen to some old school Metal, such as Angel Witch and Exciter. I guess this is similar to the earlier albums helping with the sales of old Bathory and Celtic Frost records (so they claim). Anyway, it took me quite a while to, finally, give this album a full listen. What I found was something that both intrigued and disgusted me.

Production-wise, it's got the same primitive and under-produced sound as on the previous record. It sounds filthy, raw and old school. These are all very good qualities. As someone who gave up on them ever going back to their earlier style, all I can really ask for from Darkthrone is something ugly and cold. Despite the Punk influences, they still deliver in this regard. Vocally, Nocturno Culto isn't exactly at the top of his game, but I've heard worse. In any event, he's the more consistent of the two. As for Fenriz's vocal contributions... well, his are the type that have to grow on you. The main problem with the vocals of both members has to do with the awful lyrics. Surely, many good points are made throughout, but this is not how one writes lyrics for a Metal album. Fenriz really lost it, and looks as if he's not even trying anymore.

On the bright side, the album possesses many good riffs. The main riff from "These Shores Are Damned" is actually very good, while also being memorable. It's kind of a mixture of Black Metal, Thrash and Punk, with some emphasis on the Black Metal feeling. Call it what you want, but the atmosphere is still dreary and autumnal. The song manages to get better as it goes along. That seems to be the case with several of these.

"Canadian Metal" pays homage to bands such as Sacrifice, Slaughter and the mighty Razor. Sadly, the music lacks the kind of energy and force that those bands were known for. Thankfully, a decent tremolo riff shakes things up, mid-way through. There seems to be a formula for the songs, as they unleash their most memorable moments during the latter half.

"The Church of Real Metal" has a ridiculous title, but the riffs aren't too bad. Again, they get more memorable as they go along. As a fan of old Darkthrone, there's not a massive amount that I find worth my time, here. However, as someone that has an appreciation for tons of 80s Metal (having grown up with it), as well as some Punk bands like GBH, this approach has a way of growing on me. The last couple riffs really leave a good impression.

The first thing I think of as soon as "The Banners of Old" begins is Black Sabbath. The mid-paced riff gives way to a tremolo riff, which serves as a transition to a somber riff that haunts your mind. Say what you will about the goofy lyrics, the terrible song titles and the sub-par vocals; these two have a way with the old school riffs.

The title track really gives that Punk feeling (at least, to the ears of someone not terribly educated on the subject). It has, probably, the worst vocals of the album, up to this point. They're done in a really cheey manner, which would make you want to skip to the next track; however, there's a trademark Darkthrone riff that pops up and keeps you listening, at least for a bit longer. It's a shame that they don't try a little harder to maintain some serious feeling, but perhaps that is part of what they're attempting to get away from with these later records.

"Splitkein Fever" starts out with a healthy pace, though not being very fast. The riffs have a dismal feeling, though the lyrics are weak as hell, for the most part. I get the point being made, but it seems that there was no effort put toward approaching this in a creative manner. Again, the riffs get better as the song goes on. If you can get past the vocals, it's not half bad. That really sums up the whole album, in a sense.

"My world is cold and white"

The next song really takes the feeling, that this album is a jam session, to the next level. More good points are made, lyrically, but it's absolutely not subject matter for Metal lyrics. The vocal approach is bloody awful as well, making this very hard to get into. To make matters worse, the music isn't even worth suffering through the rest. There is a cool solo, near the end, so my advice would be to just skip the first couple minutes of the song and go for that. Otherwise, this one's pointless and laughable.

"Pervertor of the 7 Gates" opens with a pretty good doom riff, which wouldn't be out of place on a Sabbath record. As the song progresses, the riff changes to something more in line with Celtic Frost, though it's hard to tell as it's a bit low in the mix, during the first verse. The volume seems to level out, afterward. There's a half-decent solo, later on, but nothing too important going on here.

The final song is "Wisdom of the Dead", which starts out with a great tremolo riff that is accompanied by sloppy drumming. The song is rather repetitive, but solid. It possesses fewer faults than most of the other songs, so it earns a few points for that. The primary riff sounds very much like something that could have been found on an earlier Darkthrone album, so it's good to see that they've retained some elements of their previous sound.

All in all, this is an album for either completists or those simply more into 80s Metal than modern stuff. It's got a ton of problems, mostly regarding the vocals and lyrics. If you can get past all of that, there are some good riffs waiting to be found. However, one has to question whether or not it's worth the effort considering that there are better albums out there.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Necrophobic - Hrimthursum (2006)

Hrimthursum is the fifth full-length album from Sweden's Necrophobic, featuring cover art by Tyrant, of Nifelheim. Four years had passed since the release of Bloodhymns, and some had speculated that the band had split up. However, in May 2006, they returned with what was, possibly, their most ambitious release. Tobias once described it as a work of art; creating this album was like making a painting. The epic compositions required that the band hire a professional singer, Sandra Camenish, who assisted in the choir sections that were utilized, here. In the end, they not only expanded their own boundaries, but those of their fans as well.

It actually took some time for me to warm up to this album, initially. I heard one or two of the songs that they put online, and was a little put off and surprised as I'd been hoping for something more along the lines of The Nocturnal Silence or Darkside. However, I gave it another chance after seeing the video for "Blinded By Light, Enlightened By Darkness". It was on this cold winter day that something just clicked, and I obtained the album a short time later. Though it's good to be selective, I had been asking far too much of the band; that they should regress and repeat themselves. Once I opened my mind a bit, I was able to truly appreciate this record for what it is: an epic work of Swedish Black/Death Metal.

The dark atmosphere starts with "The Slaughter of Baby Jesus". This intro, slowly, builds up, as the ritual is about to begin. You heart the crying of an infant, in the midst of chanting and an ominous drum beat. The guitars come in, joined by the choir, creating a monumental feeling. This does well to set the tone for the album. It ends with a simple melody that carries over into the first proper song.

"Blinded By Light, Enlightened By Darkness" features the dark and nocturnal sound that one would expect from Necrophobic, though this is rather fast-paced and straight-forward. It is cold and hateful, slicing through your soul and leaving you reeling. The production is clearer and less raw than on Bloodhymns, actually sounding closer to the sound from The Third Antichrist. The riffs are incredibly solid and the lead solo not only fits the song well, but it truly adds to the feeling being conveyed.

The blade that cuts me loose
In a cloudburst I leave
Into darkness so cold"

The next song is "I Strike With Wrath", which begins with an ominous melody, leading into a mid-paced riff that serves well to add to the epic nature of the composition. It seems almost as if Johan and Sebastian have kept David Parland's songwriting in mind, as they do a decent job of trying to use elements of the early albums. Once the song gets going, it resumes a similar speed to that of the previous song. The tremolo riffs are cold and quite memorable and the vocals are vicious in their approach. Near the middle, the song slows down and a brilliant solo is unleashed, adding to the haunting effect of the song. This is accentuated, as the track ends with a somber piano piece.

"Age of Chaos" begins with a slow-paced sound, building on the epic atmosphere with the return of the background choir. There is a melancholic feeling that permeates this song, as it tells of the destruction of life with the coming of the giants. Around the time the album was released, I read that the whole album was to be centered on this concept, but that there was some difficulty in stretching it out so they dropped the idea. Mid-way through, you can hear the sounds of a woman sobbing, which only further adds to the sorrowful feeling of the song. Still, there is something quite sinister about it, as the giants are then hailed and named off, one by one. There is an interesting tale here, and the music is quite memorable.

"We all are falling, we turn into dust
We are cast into oblivion, into the shadows of the past"

This is followed by "Bloodshed Eyes", which opens with a furious pace. The tempo alternates a bit, as slower parts with cold tremolo riffs weave throughout, making for a dynamic listen. After a minute or so, there's a guitar riff that is accompanied by more clean vocals, making for a really memorable section of the song. This is well-constructed, delivering the maximum impact and haunting the mind of the listener. Immediately after, the venomous vocals and lethal pace return to drive the stake into your black heart.

"Blood is everywhere, the pouring source of life"

"The Crossing" is the longest track on here, nearing six and a half minutes. An eerie guitar riff fades in from the darkness, getting louder and louder. It then slowly envelopes your mind as the misanthropic screams and funeral bells overtake your being. The song shifts, then, to something fairly straigh-forward and intense. One can even hear some old Slayer influences, which have always been with the band. After a frantic solo, the pace begins to wind down a bit and Tobias is joined by the choir, in the background, as he proclaims that, "Death is everywhere". Not to overuse the word, but this is bleeding with an epic atmosphere that is only increased by the incredible lead solo that follows. This is one of the best ones on the album, as it possesses a lot of feeling and suits the song very well. As the funeral bells return, there is a feeling of finality as it all fades to nothingness.

"Listen to the haunting choirs of the dead
They sing their hymns in horror and ghastly dread
They chant in reverence for all bewildered souls
They gather, they call us, they keep us forever"

"Eternal Winter" starts out with an intense pace, with the guitar melodies slowly building in the whirlwind of winter and chaos. Similar to "Retribution - Storm of the Light's Bane", by Dissection, this song manages to incorporate some thrash riffs in a fluid manner that works well within the context of the overall piece. Later in the song, the tempo drops and another great solo is to be found. As with many parts of this album, the refrain is very memorable, especially thanks to the cold melodies that it features.

"I am winter, I am death
Frozen still, but not dead"

This is followed by "Death Immaculate", a song that starts out pretty fast but then goes into more of a mid-paced riff after the blitzkrieg opening. The middle section is atmospheric and utilizes some acoustic or clean guitar, with Tobias screaming in almost a ritualistic manner. A lengthy lead solo followes this, lasting for quite some time.

"Sitra Ahra" is one of the more memorable songs, starting out with an acoustic piece that leads into a massively epic riff, bleeding forth a somber tone. The feeling is sorrowful and dark, as this mid-paced track takes you deeper into the shadowy depths. The riffs are haunting and the backing choir adds to this. As with the rest of the album, the lead solo is very well done and it is soon replaced by some brief acoustic bit. This song builds a sense of tension, as if you are being led down to the underworld, forever to escape the realm of life and light. The end is near, and you are soon to be free.

"Longing for solitude, to sleep with the dreaming dead
In the icecold heart of the totenreich we shall live our lives again"

The next song is "Serpents (Beneath the Forest of the Dead)". It consists of varying tempos, going from fast to mid-paced and including some nice cold riffs, as well as yet another haunting lead solo. It doesn't quite stand up to the feeling of the previous song, but perhaps a small break was needed.

"Black Hate" begins with an odd-sounding riff, though I can't quite place the feeling I get from this. There's a brief moment with only a tremolo riff and nothing else, reminiscent of early Mayhem. One would expect this to be a fairly straight-forward track, but the middle section possesses a slow feeling of doom, and yet another solo that will remain in your brain for some time. In a way, this album is a lot to take in, as there's so many good and memorable things, there is the chance that you'll overdose. At any rate, this song does a good job of leading up to the final one.

It all comes to an end with the title track. This song fades in with a feeling, somewhat, simlilar to "Among the Storms", from Bloodhymns. There sounds to be some distant piano accompanying the guitar melodies, for the first few seconds. It may be appropriate, considering the subject matter, to say that this is a giant of a song. It truly comes off as bigger-than-life, in a sense. This is what the whole album has been building up to, and it possesses some apocalyptic feeling. The guitar melodies, backing choir and the overall pacing come together to creat a great atmosphere. The acoustic piece, in the middle, leads into a spoken word part that then gives way to a solo. The sound is crisp and sharp, like a knife slicing through your flesh on a bitter cold winter day. As you watch your blood stain the snow with its crimson hue, you can feel the end coming soon.

"The wind blows colder now
And the frozen old starts to move
The wolves gather on the hills
And the raven is holding its prey"

Hrimthursum is unique among the other albums in Necrophobic's discography. It shows the band pushing the limits of their sound and creating something that is, at times, quite majestic and atmospheric. In a sense, it had to be done as it added new dimensions to their sound and opened the gates for future relases to have more room to breathe, in a sense. Die-hard fans of this band are recommended to pick this up.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Darkthrone - The Cult Is Alive (2006)

The Cult Is Alive is an important album for Darkthrone, as this marks the point where the truly stopped giving a damn what anyone thought, whatsoever... even their strongest fans. While Sardonic Wrath was extremely mediocre and continued the new direction that began on Hate Them, this one seemed to more fully embrace this new Punk attitude. Released in February 2006, this ushered in an era of disappointment for many Darkthrone followers.

The sound is still primitive and lo-fi, even overly simplistic in a lot of ways. It's quite underproduced, keeping with the traditional sound that the band is known for. There are a few decent riffs, littered throughout the album. There are even a couple nice solos. However, it's difficult to really enjoy much of this as there are far too many distractions. Nocturno Culto's vocals sound as if it's not even him, at all. In place of his trademark rasp is something almost laughable at times. He seems to be drawing a lot of inspiration from Tom Warrior, which is ridiculous as this is a complete drop in quality. With that said, it's not all bad, but too much of it is that it leaves a bad impression.

Regarding the lyrics, what can be said? Fenriz really lost it, years earlier. He managed to change his style and still keep within the realm of adequacy, for a few albums; however, the terrible shift toward outright parody that began on Hate Them has come to fruition on this album. The lyrics are so bloody bad that you want to reach into the speakers and strangle Fenriz for writing such trash. It's bad enough that the music is so uninspired, but this only adds to the problem.

The Cult Is Alive is not a terrible album. It's just not what you want to hear from Darkthrone... at all. It's fine for tossing in if you want some half-decent background music and you happen to appreciate old school Metal and even some Punk. Nonetheless, chances are, you'll only stop and pay attention to the music for the occasional good riff or solo. It's not something to sit and really focus on. Really, you can't pay too close attention to it, since the lyrics are so stupid that you'll want to take the CD out and destroy it with a hammer. At least the band never sold out and began making over-produced pseudo-Black Metal, in some attempt to get music videos on television and so on. And, to think about it, they almost had to reinvent themselves if they wanted to remain 'unique' or to stand out from the rest. Had they continued putting out solid Black Metal albums, with the thousands of clone bands out there, they would take the chance of getting lost in the shuffle. At least, this way, they remained relevant, in some manner. Even if it's someone like me speaking poorly of them, they still managed to maintain a bit of notoriety, albeit negative. As the old saying goes, any publicity is good publicity.

At any rate, despite the few good riffs, this is about as low as it gets, when it comes to Darkthrone. The only reason I'd recommend buying this is if you're wanting to complete the bonfire that includes Total Death, Ravishing Grimness, Sardonic Wrath, etc. There are worse albums out there, but that's no reason to waste your time on this.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Clandestine Blaze - Church of Atrocity (2006)

Church of Atrocity is the fifth and, so far, final release from Finland's Clandestine Blaze. It would appear that, by this point, the band had become more of a side project of Mikko Aspa, as he was investing more and more time onto Deathspell Omega. In a sense, it's understandable, as DsO had really caught on and was growing in popularity, following 2004's Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice. Mikko was still overflowing with enough creativity to produce a monument of his own, in the form of Deliverers of Faith. However, as 2006 rolled around, he'd already contributed to yet another DsO release (the Kenose E.P.) and was working on material for Fas - Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum (an album that I still haven't listened to, all the way through). As a result, he had less and less time for his original band. Though die-hard Clandestine Blaze fans were eagerly awaiting the follow-up to the brilliance of Deliverers of Faith, what they got on the 31st of October 2006 was somewhat of a let-down.

I just happened to check the Northern Heritage website, and was surprised to see that a new album had been released just a week earlier. Since Clandestine Blaze was among the few newer bands that I supported, I quickly ordered the album and eagerly anticipated its arrival. In our frozen apartment, I hastily explored this offering, but it did not meet my expectations. I hoped for something that would follow the approach found on the previous album, but this seemed like a step backward. Also, it came off like something that had been rushed. My theory was that Mikko was too busy with Deathspell Omega to truly immerse himself in this project anymore, thus this served as a farewell to his fans.

The title track is up first, and the initial complaint comes right away. The opening riff has no melody to it; it simply exists to create noise. There is no effect, no atmosphere. It is entirely pointless. This is but an exercise in going through the motions, more or less. It takes about a minute for a haunting melody to creep in, and it seems to be buried a bit, in the mix. It also disappears too quickly. Vocally, this is what would be expected; no change at all. Mikko never had the greatest vocals, but they're fairly easy to identify. Things settle down, briefly, in the middle of the song, before speeding back up. If the point of the lifeless, droning riff is to provide some contrast to the bleak melody that is sparsely interwoven into the song, it was not done to its full potential. It dominates far to much of the song, and makes this one less enjoyable than it should have been.

"Ashes of the Eternal Wanderer" is next, and this is the longest song on the album. This epic clocks in at just under twelve minutes, and possesses much more feeling than the last track. One could almost compare this to "Winter of White Death", from the previous record. It's mid-paced and bearing an overwhelming atmosphere of melancholy and sorrow. The production, on this album, is harsher than on the last few, but it suits the music well enough. The bass stands out on a way not previously heard, adding to the miserable aura. It weighs heavily on your heart, making it difficult to breathe. By the time the vocals enter the soundscape, the feeling is slightly less dismal, simply because Mikko's approach is more evil than tortured. In between verses, we return to the main riff and it slowly drains you of all will to go on living. As those things you need so badly are torn from you, your existence is enveloped by a nightmarish chaos from which you know no escape. The depressing sounds serve only to drown any hopes that you have been clinging to. There is no escaping the pain or the loss. Your hopes and dreams shall be reduced to ashes. The song later transitions to something without form or direction, becoming more atmospheric yet less anguished, as the flames overtake all.

The next song is the obligatory Celtic Frost worship, "Storm of Purification". I've observed that every album must have one of these, regardless of whether or not it fits into the scheme of things. This isn't as boring as some of the others, but I've rarely found them to really flow well with the rest of the material. At any rate, it sounds about a thousand times more evil than anything Tom Warrior was ever involved in, so there's something to be said for it.

"Last Morning of Old North" returns to the feeling established by "Ashes...", being mid-paced, dismal and hauntingly dark. At his best, Mikko is among the elite in creating a truly black and hopeless atmosphere through his music. At times, it becomes unreal in a sense, going beyond his predecessors in terms of creating something that can only be described as abysmal and otherworldy. Beyond the opening moments, the song picks up in speed and would best be compared to Transilvanian Hunger-era Darkthrone, though being 100% identifiable as Clandestine Blaze. I've always felt that it is perfectly fine to have obvious influences, so long as you've added something unique to your own writing abilities, to make it different. Later in the song, the tremolo riffs and fast drumming gives way to a return of the opening melody, filling your mind with thoughts of misery and self-torment. The lyrics of this song are among the most interesting, as they obviously refer to the problems being face by Northern Europe, regarding immigration and the way in which most of Europe is being given away to outsiders, while they willingly let this happen and do nothing to defend their homeland. With this in mind, it becomes all the more depressing.

This is followed by "Frozen Angel", a song that starts out with a nice old school Black Metal sound. This one has more of the old Celtic Frost feeling, though filtered through Darkthrone as opposed to coming straight from Morbid Tales. By that, I mean that it really sounds like something taken from Darkthrone's interpretation of Hellhammer / Celtic Frost. It's a fairly decent track that never really builds up much speed, but there's the sense that it could have been a little better.

The final track is "Unforgiven Acts", which takes the listener back to the Darkthrone-inspired tremolo melodies and fast yet primitive drumming. This songs features memorable riffs and could be compared to the final song from the previous album, in terms of structure. It utilizes similar sound effects, in an effort to produce the same nightmarish effect. The end result is not as profound, but this is one of the better songs on the album.

Church of Atrocity has its moments, but I don't feel that it is the album that Mikko was capable of giving us, nor do I think that it is a proper finishing point for Clandestine Blaze. One can only hope that, once the hype surrounding DsO dies down a bit, he may have time to really develop his ideas and make another solo album that reaches its full potential. While the songs on here are kind of hit and miss, none of them are bad. There are a few good songs and a few that needed more time and energy put into them. In the end, the good moments make the album worthwhile, so long as you're not expecting another Deliverers of Faith.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Satanic Warmaster - Carelian Satanist Madness (2005)

Released in mid-2005, Carelian Satanist Madness is the third and (so far) final full-length from Satanic Warmaster. For the uninitiated, this is raw Finnish Black Metal with influences from the old Norwegian style, in the same vein as Clandestine Blaze and Sargeist, featuring the former vocalist of Horna and Pest. The quality of the record drops off from its predecessor, Opferblut, with some inconsistencies in the songwriting. Despite this, there are still some decent tracks.

The material on this L.P. sort of skips that which was found on ...Of the Night and returns to the more direct and concise approach of the last album. Songs like "The Vampiric Tyrant", "Eaten by Rats" and "666" are quite straightforward and hearken back to the Black Metal of the mid-'90s, consisting of melancholic and sometimes epic tremolo melodies. The songwriting is quite memorable, with the latter track bringing forth an unsettling dreariness. "My Kingdom of Darkness" does not stray too far from this formula, including a haunting tremolo riff that hovers in the distance. "True Blackness" is not a bad song, but somewhat inconsistent with the lifted "Deathcrush" bits standing out from the more melodic melodies; not that the arrangement is awkward, just that the Mayhem worship is quite overt and distracting. "My Dreams of 8" slows things down quite a bit, featuring the sort of open-arpeggio riffs that are also found on the ill-fated title track. It reminds me of I Shalt Become, just not as sorrowful. As for the title being a reference to Hitler, I'd say just be open about it and hail the man and not care what anyone thinks or says about it. Either way, these sort of riffs were handled much better by Varg Vikernes, a dozen years earlier. The outro is not too bad, perhaps a bit long, but works well enough.

The production of Opferblut was preferable to what is found on Carelian Satanist Madness, for my personal taste. Here, the drums are a bit higher in the mix than need be, and the double bass creates a rumbling distortion that is rather unwanted. As such, the coldness of the guitar tone is lessened. As well, the vocals are a little clearer and lack the obscure feeling that was possessed on the last album. Regarding the more negative aspects of the songwriting, it primarily boils down to the lengthy title track. It is seemingly hijacked by a very out-of-place section that possesses an uncharacteristically upbeat vibe. It is quite reminiscent of Absurd's Thuringian Pagan Madness and just does not fit in with the rest of the riffs. This is compounded by the fact that the track is so long and the listener is repeatedly subjected to this. It manages to neutralize the sombre opening riffs and its placement so early in the album means that the rest of the tracks are forced to try cleansing this bad taste from the listener's pallet, rather than purely standing on their own.

All in all, Carelian Satanist Madness is a decent album, especially for the time period during which it was released. It fails to match up to the likes of Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne, Disciple of the Heinous Path, or even Rattenkönig, yet it is not bad at all. Had the production been a bit more in line with the somewhat colder and harsher sound of Opferblut, as well as scrapping the title track for ..."Of the Night", this L.P. would have created a better impression. Nonetheless, Satanic Warmaster does its own part in maintaining the traditions set forth in the previous era, something well-needed with the continued rise of plastic, sterile and commercial Black Metal. Fans of previous works will likely find something here to appreciate.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Darkthrone - Sardonic Wrath (2004)

I remember that it was a cold autumn day in November, when I went into Sound Pollution (in Gamla Stan) and checked out the new Darkthrone album. It had come out a couple months earlier, but I had not bothered to listen yet, despite looking forward to it. I had some reservations, assuming that I might be let down. For some reason, I was still hoping for more of a regression to the classics of old, though I finally gave up on such a notion, around this time. Sardonic Wrath was their final release for Moonfog Productions, which pleased many fans. It follows pretty closely to the sound and style found on Hate Them, though not as successfully. This would mark the last time that I anticipated a Darkthrone album in such a manner. However, it's not as if I'd invested too much in it, since I didn't even pay for it; rather, I traded a CD player to my friend working the register. Released in September 2004, Sardonic Wrath truly belongs to the middle/transition period of Darkthrone.

After a worthless intro, "Information Wants To Be Syndicated" starts the album out, properly. It blasts forth at hyperspeed, with a very nasty and primitive sound. On the surface, it appears to deliver everything that fans claim to want out of this band. Yet, somehow, it's not enough. The bass is too loud, the riff is mediocre and the whole thing seems a bit sloppy and below-average for Darkthrone. Things come together a bit, later in the song, as it slows down. Still, it doesn't seem strong enough to lead off the album.

"Sjakk Matt Jesu Krist" is next, with the obligatory Hellhammer worship. There's not much to say about this song; it's fast, without really being fast, and has kind of an upbeat feeling. This is the kind of stuff that might be alright for background music, but it doesn't hold up under close scrutiny. In other words, it fails to impress.

The next song is a good example of a problem that has gotten worse over time: Fenriz's lyrics. "Straightening Sharks in Heaven" is an awful song title, for any type of Metal. For Black Metal, it's beyond ridiculous. But it's not just the poor song titles; Fenriz seemed to lose whatever skill he had for writing lyrics long ago. Actually, his creative bankruptcy should have been obvious when they got others to write the lyrics for Total Death. After that, he changed his style and wasn't too terrible, but on Hate Them and Sardonic Wrath, it began to cross the line. It would only get worse with time. As for the music, this song is one of the better ones. However, that's not saying much. There are several interesting riffs, though they don't seem to be constructed as well as they could have been. The ending has a nice, morbid feeling, which leaves you with a good impression.

"Alle Gegen Alle" is more filler. It's simply there, adding nothing to the album. It's not bad, but it's not good either. It's weak, plodding and easily forgettable. At least "Man Tenker Sitt" has the usual Celtic Frost feeling to get your head banging, or to get you drumming on the nearest surface. It seems poised to become more interesting as it goes along, but never quite makes it. Either way, it looks pretty good compared to its boring predecessor.

The next song is one of the more interesting ones on here, though it seems really out of place. "Sacrificing to the God of Doubt" is another song with an upbeat feeling, in the early moments, being quite catchy. After a minute or so, the pace slows down and the feeling is completely morbid and suitable for a Darkthrone album. This cold riff is one of the best of the album. The song is very memorable and would have been more fitting to start out the album, despite the strange feeling of the opening/closing riff.

"Hate is the Law" sounds very similar to "Inn I de Dype Skogers Favn", being fast-paced and creating a trance-like effect. Nocturno Culto sounds consumed with hatred at this point. One might expect this to be a sae track, until the Punk-sounding part. In retrospect, this was probably the band stretching their boundaries again, before really going all out. In the end, it's another average song. I could take it or leave it.

Finally, the album ends with "Rawness Obsolete". I have a theory that this song was added after the initial recording session, probably due to the brevity of the album. For one, the lyrics are absent from the booklet (in a similar case to "Hans Siste Vinter", from Panzerfaust), as well as the fact that the sound is a little different from the rest of the record. It seems a bit more organic and the bass is more distorted. This track is very reminiscent of "The Dance of Eternal Shadows", from Under A Funeral Moon. It has the same morbid, funereal atmosphere. This one song is the best one on the whole album, in my opinion, and it's the primary reason I've kept this one as part of my collection.

Overall, this was a disappointing release. There should be more than two and a half songs to hold my interest. Honestly, even those pale in comparison to even the weakest songs from earlier albums. Sardonic Wrath marked the point where I stopped caring what this band did. In a way, that was a good thing. They managed to win me back with Dark Thrones and Black Flags, but it took quite a while. As for this, it's not very good and is only recommended to fans who wish to complete their collection.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Clandestine Blaze - Deliverers of Faith (2004)

Deliverers of Faith is the fourth full-length from Clandestine Blaze. This opus stands as the darkest album recorded by this Finnish Black Metal band. Released in December 2004, this album was limited to 500 vinyl copies and 1500 CD copies, meaning that I'm even more thankful to the kind soul that sent this as a gift, over a year later. I can't imagine not being able to hear this album as it is the pinnacle of Mikko Aspa's creativity. This came out many months after Deathspell Omega's Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice, and I'd say that it is the more solid of the two records.

The album begins with "Beyond the Reason", which starts with some feedback that leads into the main riff. Right away, the only real flaw of the album is revealed. The production is a step down from what was achieved on Fist of the Northern Destroyer. I felt that the sound of that album was perfect for Clandestine Blaze. Here, the drums sound odd and a bit louder than I would think necessary. In a way, this takes away from the guitar melodies, which are standard fast tremolo-picked riffs on this song. However, with all that said, one slowly adopts a new perspective as the track progresses. The production works well with the songwriting to create an otherworldly atmosphere; one of eerie detachment from reality. This music pulls you through a portal to another dimension. In this place, everything is just a little off from what you are used to; just enough that you are incredibly uncomfortable and disturbed. This feeling will only grow as the album goes along. Musically, this song consists of sections of typical fast-paced Second Wave Black Metal mixed in with old school Celtic Frost rhythms, producing something ugly and almost frightening.

"Psychopathia Sexualis" continues to borrow the riffing style of Mikko's Swiss heroes. Why he chooses to do this on every single Clandestine Blaze release, I am not sure. It's almost like an obligatory thing, as if he has to include some old school Black Metal references to legitimize himself... or he reallt, really likes these kind of riffs and doesn't realize that he's not terribly good at them. This one isn't all that bad, though it's all the other things that are added along with the main riff that really help to carry it. There are some horrific screams in the background, at certain points, that add to the strange feeling. More or less, this mid-paced song plods along and is one of the least memorable of the record, though it does nothing to take away from it, either.

The next song is the most epic composition, perhaps, of the entire Clandestine Blaze discography. "Winter of White Death" creates an ominous aura of desolation and terror. It begins slowly, with sparse chords that crawl under your skin and a haunting melody that slithers up your arms, moving toward your torso. Once there, it reaches out and tears at your heart while applying awful pressure to your lungs. The sound is utterly dismal and darker than black. A desolate tremolo riff is then joined by the drums, still seeming out of place but adding to the overall effect in an unexpected manner. This song takes you to a place where all of your worst fears become reality; to a world of unending torment and suffering beyond that which you've ever experienced. Here, you re-live the most painful moments of your life and find that even the pleasant times were but an illusion brought on by your own insanity. This song crawls along at a funereal pace, creating this horrific soundscape through minimalism and artistic vision. There are no symphonies or choirs added to this. It is barren and bleak, much like the atmosphere it produces. Even during the best of times, listening to this imbues the listener with an unsettling feeling. This is mournful and cold, suitable for one's final moments on this rotten earth. In fact, this is the type of musical piece that could send an already weakened person over the edge of sanity and into death's embrace.

"Falling" follows with a return to the speed and intensity from the first song. The melancholy tremolo riffs and fast drumming return, doing well to carry on the tradition of Transilvanian Hunger while being immersed within the nightmarish melodies of Clandestine Blaze. Mikko's vocals possess enough reverb on this album to really give a strange and distant feeling to them. It adds to the uncomfortable and disjointed sense that this record bears. Around the middle of the song, the riff changes and is accompanied by a blood-chilling voice that seems to be moaning from deep within the abyss. The tension continues to build until everything slows down, briefly. This is followed by the return of the original riff and more half-shrieked screams to go along with the normal ones. In the closing moments, these screams are joined by the moaning from before, which is no wmuch louder. You are getting deeper and deeper...

This is followed by "Tormented", which starts with slow doom riffs that maintain the rather unpleasant feeling that has been conveyed, thus far. It is, more or less, a slowed-down Hellhammer riff. There also seems to be some faint keyboard presence, adding another layer to the terrifying aura that this music possesses. It fades out, before the hateful vocals begin, returning in between verses. This only increases the sense that you've been pulled from your body and dragged into some unknown hell dimension. Half-way through, a lone tremolo riff rises from the fiery depths and is joined by tortured screams, mirroring those which reside within your own being. As this lengthy journey continues, you find yourself expecting the night to soon end. You look forward to any sign of light, as you are lost in this void of nightmarish despair. But time stands still, here. This night will never end... your suffering has only just begun.

"Grave of Gratification" starts out with one of the most memorable riffs of the whole album. It features a tremolo melody that is supported by fast-paced drumming, building upon the tension and dread already created by previous songs. To say that this bears an epic feeling is an understatement. It is the climax of the whole album, yet in some ways what it represents is only the beginning of your eternal journey through true darkness. This is the kind of music that infects your soul, yet you appreciate it all the more for this fact, oblivious to the slow spiritual death that this will cause. Like a moth to a flame, you cannot help but be drawn to these miserable and tormented sounds. It is pleasing to listen to, as the music is well-crafted, yet the experience is unpleasant and almost painful. It serves to reveal those frail illusions that you've used as a crutch to get through this miserable life. It strips you of all that you hold dear, raping your dreams and poisoning your hopes. In the latter half, things slow down and the eerie feeling is intensified. Desolate screams are heard, coming from all sides, like spectres of your own failures. While your body falls into the lonely grave, unmarked and unmourned, your spirit is taken to depths unfathomable, where the real torment shall soon begin. As the final dissonant chords fade, the final indecipherable screams call out to haunt you for eternity...