Friday, November 27, 2009

Sigh - Scorn Defeat (1993)

Sigh was formed in 1990, being significant as one of the very first Black Metal bands in Japan, consisting of Mirai Kawashima, Shinichi Ishikawa and Satoshi Fujinami. Further proving his interest in exotic things, Mayhem's Euronymous signed them to his label, Deathlike Silence Productions. Their debut full-length, Scorn Defeat, would only be released after his death, in late 1993. What one will find here is an album that gives a different perspective on the old school Black Metal that had influenced countless others, creating something unique.

Side Revenge begins with "A Victory of Dakini". This begins with a dark, mid-paced riff and vocals that are similar to some others that I've heard, yet possessing a feeling all their own. One can tell this is the strained rasp of a naturally thin and distant voice. As the song progresses, the tempo slows even more, joined by an acoustic guitar, before returning to the main riff. There is some traces of desperation in the vocals, though the sound is dominated by something darker. Things slow even more, by the middle, with some clean background vocals and a slight touch of piano to accentuate the mood. Then, strangely, it goes into a wild lead solo befitting a Motorhead song, before abruptly going silent for a few moments. Another dark and heavy doom riff then erupts from the quiet to annihilate you. This is joined by a depressive organ melody and some miserable clean vocals in the background. It possesses an epic feeling, as a black and occult feeling is created, producing a wealth of human suffering.

This is followed by "The Knell", which opens with some morbid harpsichord that continues the feeling from the previous song, for a few moments. Suddenly, some violent Death Metal riffs blast from the calm. The vocals are much more intense, almost reminding one of Mille of Kreator. The death riff alternates with some more typical thrash riffing, with a nice lead solo thrown in. Never a band to be labeled one way or the other, the song then descends into darker territory, as a melancholic doom riff slowly rolls through, like a tank over the bones of small children, dragging your spirit to abysmal depths. The keyboards are used to great effect, not being overdone at all, and Mirai adds some morbid vocal touches as well. In no time, the intensity returns and bears a sound reminiscent of something from Fearless Undead Machines, by Deceased (which came a few years later). The song ends with some fit of insanity, casting you toward utter oblivion.

The next song is, quite possibly, my favourite one on here. The main riff of "At My Funeral" is very similar to something on Bethlehem's Dark Metal, released the following year. For this song, they utilize some slower form of alternate picking for the miserable and bleak main riff. Some keyboards and random piano sounds are added, really building this dark and epic feeling.

"The funeral is for me, it is meant to be"

There is something absolutely haunting and otherworldly about this song, as it creeps into your brain and makes a home there, amongst the tragic memories, forgotten dreams and the coming madness. There is a brief lead solo that gives way to a slower section, all designed to build the tension. Some clean vocals then join the harsh ones, having a sound hard to describe, but almost similar to some Norwegian bands like Isengard or Enslaved (though before either had really done much of anything). There is a conviction found in the vocals that one can truly feel, deep in your bones.

"My funeral will end, and my soul will descend
Into Hades to burn, to scorn defeat"

This morbid and deathlike feeling is maintained on the next song, "Gundali". The lyrics are occult in nature, and the funeral organ carries the feeling of a black ritual. The drums are pounding out a primal beat, taking the listener back to times forgotten. Dark is the night and the torches surround the fallen body, as the blood is drained and the grave is prepared. This cursed journey is over. Serpents slither from your eye sockets and blood appears so black as it runs free. The final breaths escape your body and all life fades, as does the sound of the organ. It is replaced by a somber piano that has some strange beauty as your spirit is now released from its prison of flesh. It goes beyond the coffin lid and rises through the layers of dirt, ascending into the night sky and then dissipating in the moonlight. From nothingness you were born and into nothingness you shall return...

Side Violence starts with "Ready For the Final War". A death riff slowly fades in from the silence, before shifting to a slow and majestic doom riff. This creates some epic atmosphere, and also shows that the lasting influence of Black Sabbath will always be present in whatever form Metal takes. The song speeds up for a moment, before slowing down and being joined by some keyboards and hateful vocals. The song then shifts, once more, to an old school Hellhammer / Celtic Frost riff. Of course, Mirai sounds infinitely more evil than Tom Warrior could ever have hoped to sound, even in his worst nightmares. This, somewhat, 'catchy' part alternates with the previous doom riff for a while, before the earlier death riff comes back to build the intensity of the song. There's some memorable harmonies to be found later on, joined by a bit of piano. Sigh truly seems to defy categorization. The final moments then take on a darker tone, with only keyboards, yet the feeling then becomes somewhat optimistic. Visions fill your head, of a final war to end all of humanity, leaving so-called civilization in ruins. This human race must die, forever.

"Disorder and chaos, let all the light disappear"

"Weakness Within" has some strange feeling of moving fast through the air, hunting some form of prey, then the ephemeral sections accompanied by the piano are much more peaceful, and one can almost envision descending a bit to pass through the depths of the forest. Strange mental images are created by this song, indeed. Another, more mid-paced riff, then carries the song to its conclusion, as the vocals take on a more misanthropic sound.

The album comes to a conclusion with "Taste Defeat", a song that opens with a heavy doom riff, reminiscent of Trouble or Candlemass. In this case, there is no depressive feeling being created, only that of impending doom. All gets quiet for a moment, with a brief section of clean vocals and a touch of acoustic guitar, before another doom riff crushes your skull. This alternates with shorter parts with faster riffs, before transitioning to something altogether more epic. Later in the song, there are clean vocals that are reminiscent of Trouble or Pentagram. This is an album full of surprises, surely. A menacing piano then sweeps through, sending a chill over your heart, before fading into nothingness.

"Death means nothing, life means less
The key to go beyond it which I possess"

Scorn Defeat is a fascinating take on the old school sounds of Black, Thrash and Doom Metal. Here, all of these influences are combined to create something unique and memorable. The sound is very dynamic, and the production has kind of an old sound yet truly suits this in all ways. As the only culture outside of Europe that I have any respect for, it's no shock that the Japanese have managed to make something this remarkable. This comes highly recommended.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Abruptum - Obscuritatem Advoco Amplectére Me (1993)

The last rays of the sun are gone and night hovers over you once again. The nocturnal veil envelopes the sky and darkness consumes the last fading rays of the dying sun. Again, you are imbued with melancholy and a great sense of despair, contaminating your soul, severing you from this feeble reality, ensuring unnecessary suffering. Time is abruptly suspended, the hours and days become seemingly endless. In deepest solitude, you lament this bleak and dismal existence. Suddenly, lacerations form upon your body and your flesh is stained by crimson streams flowing from countless wounds. Yet they are not the same as before. And then comes the grief. The pain that keeps you alive through another day. The misery that will, inevitably, come to an end… one day. How you long to be released from the pale clutch of this existence, to know the comfort of a grave, to rest peacefully in death’s cold embrace. You await her arrival with arms outstretched. Death shall soon come. you can hear her footsteps approaching. You can feel her frigid breath on the back of your neck…

Obscuritatem Advoco Amplectére Me is the first full-length from Sweden's Abruptum, consisting of two tracks that clock in at nearly half an hour, each. Released in March 1993, by Deathlike Silence Productions, this album is the type that elicits one of two possible responses; either it is embraced for what it is, or it is utterly despised for what it isn't. What this is not, is a conventional Metal album. As a matter of fact, this wouldn't be considered conventional in any sense. It's not a collection of songs dealing with similar themes, working together to form a cohesive whole. The two tracks can hardly be called songs, at all. To describe this as some form of dark ambient isn't too far off, as the sole purpose of this music is to create a hellish atmosphere. Sounds of misery and self-mutilation are heard on this album. This is the audio representation of the depths of human depravity. Musically speaking, this is the miserable bastard child of Hellhammer's "Triumph of Death".

There's no real production to speak of, as the songs are best labeled as improvised noise. One has to wonder whether or not any of this was planned before entering the studio, or if it's simply the result of some dark ritual that was captured on tape. There's not much here that will really catch your ear; no melodies to stick in your skull and have you coming back for more. This is purely mood music, in the darkest sense. These twisted and nightmarish sounds take the listener deep into the bowels of Hell, as sounds of suffering and torment fill your ears. The effect is best when you are in complete solitude, experiencing this in the nocturnal hours.

Vocals are nothing more than demented and tortured howls and shrieks, as well as some painful moaning. The question regarding whether or not there are actual lyrics here is up for debate. aAain, everything sounds quite improvised. If there is an overall structure to these two pieces, I haven't yet discovered it. Due to the length, I've only listened to this recording about a dozen times in the past few years. Whenever I need an Abruptum fix, I'm much more likely to go after the Evil E.P.

All in all, there's not a lot to say about this. It's one of those things that you really must hear for yourself to fully grasp. Some people find this completely worthless, yet I think the disappointment stems from the record simply not meeting some unfair expectations. Or the cynics could simply be total losers. Either way, if you are open to something rather unconventional and you're seeking an abysmal atmosphere, this is worth 50 minutes of your time. This is the closest I've heard to chaos being caught on tape. Just keep the weapons away while listening; once drawn into the bleak audio realm, it's quite likely you'll find yourself carving into your flesh and bathing in your own blood...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mutilated - Psychodeath Lunatics (1988)

After releasing the Omens of Dark Fate demo, as Mutilator, the band changed their name to Mutilated and began work on their next batch of raw and occult Death / Thrash Metal. In June 1988, this would rise from the depths in the form of the cassette demo Psychodeath Lunatics. This is the kind of stuff that kills posers on contact. It's ugly, powerful and has a great underground sound.

"The Crown of Death" begins with a brief intro of demonic voices, calling you from the very bowels of Hell. The music then kicks in, fast and intense. The lead solo is reminiscent of Hell Awaits-era Slayer, adding a really dark and hellish feeling. The production is surprisingly good for an old cassette demo. Underneath the steady drum beat are some bursts of double bass, that almost give a galloping feel. This song seems like a good mixture of Thrash and Death, and things get even faster by the middle. Another wicked solo rises from the hellfire, wrapping around you like a poisonous serpent and pulling you down to the Kingdom Below.

The next song is "Funerarium", keeping the same frenzied pace as before, possibly even more energetic than the first song. The sound here is bloody excellent, as the guitars dominate everything. The vocals, which remind me of Rob Urbinati (of Sacrifice), are at just the right level and the same can be said of the drums. The lead solos are clear and precise, as they take you toward the flames. The vocals on the song are a bit sparse, as it's almost more like an instrumental. Either way, this completely kills most Death Metal that's been put out in the last decade.

The demo ends with "Hysterical Corpse Dislocation", which exhibits a little more of the Thrash influence, though the mix is about 50/50. It alternates between those riffs and the old school Death Metal sound. This one features a lot of blasting drums and speed riffs that build tension until all of this force is released in the solo. There are brief flashes of brilliance, making it a true shame that this band never managed to record a full-length album.

There's no telling how one would go about obtaining a real copy of this, so your best bet is to have connections or to see what you can come up with on the net. It's definitely worth seeking out, particularly for anyone into the more extreme sounds of the 80s. Just a bit of a warning; posers should stay as far from this as possible, as this will tear your head right off your body.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Dissection - Live in Stockholm 2004 (2009)

Live in Stockholm is the official CD release of the audio from the 30 October 2004 Dissection concert that took place at Arenan. Early versions of the Rebirth of Dissection DVD came with a CD as well, but since then it's been bootlegged numerous times. This may have been Escapi's attempt at getting some profit out of this, as the release is rather minimalist and appears that little effort went into it. It seems a bit odd that the DVD was released in 2006, yet this wasn't available until September 2009. Like many others, I had hoped that the next Dissection release would be another DVD; maybe something featuring a live performance from the final tour, including new songs among the old. Regardless of that, I was very pleased to see that this had finally seen some sort of official release.

So, first the negative aspects of this shall be addressed. The packaging leaves a lot to be desired. The 'booklet' simply opens up to reveal a few photos and nothing more. Only three of the members are pictures, as Tomas Asklund is nowhere to be seen. On the inside, as well as on the back of the CD, the track listing omits "Heaven's Damnation", which is track 9. Due to the time constraints, some of the songs from the performance were cut. "Maha Kali" and the Tormentor cover, "Elizabeth Bathory" both got axed. Strangely, these were not the only ones left out. "At the Fathomless Depths", despite being listed, isn't actually here; only the final seconds. Similarly, "No Dreams Breed in Breathless Sleep" was removed as well. The strange thing about this is that the CD is about 74 minutes long, meaning that both of these would have fit. So, there's no real explanation as to why they were left off. Speaking of the intro, it's listed as track 1, but that track is actually the first half of "Night's Blood". For whatever reason, this song is split onto two different tracks. Track 2 begins with the acoustic section of "Night's Blood". At any rate, this isn't a big deal, really, since most people will listen to something like this as a whole album, instead of going for certain songs. However, it does add to the unprofessional feeling of the release. It doesn't appear that any of the remaining band members had anything to do with this.

Despite these minor issues, this is a must have for any Dissection fan. This live performance is very intense and passionate, capturing the raw essence of what this band was all about. There's a magical feeling that can't be properly articulated with such feeble words; however, it's something that can be felt. Obviously, the Rebirth of Dissection DVD is the recommended method by which to relive this special night, but Live in Stockholm 2004 is the perfect companion piece, as it allows you to listen to this brilliant live show at your convenience. A couple years back, I actually considered trying to set up a tape recorder to capture these sounds, as I wished to be able to listen to this in my car, etc. I'm not usually so fond of live recordings, but Dissection was a very special band and that really came through during their shows. Much like Live Legacy, you can really tell that this isn't a band that simply goes through the motions when on stage; the songs come alive and take on added dimensions, in this setting.

The sound quality is top-notch, and the energy and passion of the band, as well as the interaction with the crowd, comes through as well here as on the DVD. After so many years away from the Metal scene, Jon Nödtveidt had returned in a blaze of hellfire. He'd assembled musicians to serve as his tools, to convey the message and the dark magic that he set out to conjure, and you can really feel the intensity in his performance. Regardless of the cheap packaging or the errors, the end result is yet another fitting tribute to the legacy of the mighty Dissection. This album captures an incredible live show and is especially desirable for anyone as obsessed with the DVD version as I am. Buy this!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Unanimated - In the Light of Darkness (2009)

In 1996, after releasing two full-lengths of Black/Death Metal, Unanimated finally lived up to its name and was no more. In the years that passed, much has changed in the Swedish Metal scene. However, it seems like many of the old demons have been rearing their ugly heads once more, crawling from forgotten graves to assault unsuspecting victims. Over a decade following their premature demise, Unanimated rose from the foggy graveyard to unleash darkness once more. They've done this in the form of their first album in 14 years, In the Light of Darkness. Released in April 2009 through (who else?) Regain Records, this album destroys any doubt as to whether or not the band can still deliver.

It begins with "Ascend With the Stench of Death, featuring dark arpeggios and a feeling that is quite similar to Watain, oddly enough. However, once the solo kicks in, this kind of passes. This intro does well to set the tone for the album, giving warning that this will be a much darker affair than Ancient God of Evil.

"Retribution In Blood" slowly builds up, creating some epic feeling that is reminiscent of Dissection. After a minute or so, things get moving at full speed and the trademark Unanimated sound is ever present, though a little blacker. The frozen tremolo riffs surround you like a murky fog, while the powerful drumming pounds your skull to oblivion. The production is very strong, but not overdone. The guitar riffs are clear and piercing. Micke Jansson's vocals have lost absolutely nothing, as they're as venomous as ever. Sebastian Ramstedt, of Necrophobic, handles lead guitar duties on this one. After a vicious assault, the song then returns to the more eerie sounds found at the beginning, before fading into the next one.

This is followed by "The Endless Beyond", which opens with more icy tremolo riffs. The pace of the song is varied, going from fast parts to more mid-paced sections with the typical Swedish Death Metal groove, for lack of a better word. Thankfully, the haunting tremolo-picked melodies continue to weave throughout the song, giving it life. Later in the song, there's a quieter part that is kind of similar to "The Light That Burns the Sun", from Watain.

"Diabolic Voices" starts out with an eerie sound, before bursting through the gates at full force. Micke really sounds like he's attempting a similar style to Jon Nödtveidt, vocally. Of course, there's nothing at all wrong with such a thing. Sebastian's presence is, again, felt on lead guitar. You can really sense the Necrophobic style bleeding through during the solo. Come to think of it, this album manages to tie together many of the Swedish elite; There are obvious Dissection and Watain influences, the Necrophoic guitarist and, of course, Unanimated themselves.

The title track is more mid-paced, beginning with some nice solos before going into a plodding main riff. Truly, it is quite apparent that this band mainly shines when the tremolo melodies are being utilized. That's not to say that the rest is bad, but those are the most memorable moments. Here, the solo work adds nicely to the atmosphere and the vocal performance is excellent. Surely, with repeated listens, it will grow on me more. The refrain definitely sticks with you, even after the first time.

"The Unconquered One" features Set Teitan on lead guitar, and returns to a faster pace and includes some nice tremolo riffing. This song has a nice frozen atmosphere, standing out from the last several. It's dynamic, utilizing a variety of tempos, but maintaining a dark feeling throughout, making it one of the highlights of the album.

Necrophobic's guitarist is, once more, taking care of the lead guitar on "The Enemy of the Sun". Cold winds accompany the acoustic guitar intro, blowing so hard that you can almost feel them freezing your skin. Soon enough, a crushingly heavy riff comes in, but soon gives way to more acoustic guitar and some distant lead work. The set-up works very well. Once the riff returns, the scathing vocals enter the scene and provide a nice effect. The lead solo is very well done, adding kind of an epic feeling.

"Serpent's Curse" rises from the darkness with another freezing cold tremolo melody. The opening moments really remind me of Casus Luciferi (as a matter of fact, so does the cover art). After the initial moments, the pace slows down and the approach is a little less frozen. There are limited bursts of speed, as the song progresses. Later in the song, the tremolo melody returns. Micke's vocals sound particularly possessed, here. This is far more raw and dark than their last album, while still retaining a good sense of melody.

"Death To Life" gets better as it goes along, being fairly slow but having a memorable chorus section. I can't place them, but some of the riffs sound familiar. The solo work is exceptional, but that should be no surprise since this is another song with Sebastian Ramstedt on lead guitar. The song builds in speed and intensity for a bit, interrupted by a slower section that darkens the atmosphere even more, before raging toward the abyss. As the song ends, everything slows down once more and a haunting solo fades into the nothingness.

The album ends with "Strategia Luciferi", an somber acoustic outro. Mid-way through, a distant tremolo melody can be heard, as if from another plane of existence.

In the Light of Darkness cannot claim to be the most original piece of music, as Unanimated is really showing several of their influences here, but this does not take anything away from the fact that they created a very enjoyable album. This is much closer to what I wanted them to sound like, long ago, anyway. With any luck, this won't be some one-off reunion deal; it would be far better if this was more like a rebirth. If you're a fan of Dissection, Necrophobic, Sacramentum or, of course, Unanimated, then there's not much to think about. Buy this.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Necrophobic - Death To All (2009)

Three years after their epic opus, Hrimthursum, Sweden's Necrophobic returned with their sixth full-length, Death To All. It was released on Regain Records, in late May 2009. After such a long wait, I found myself very eager for this release; probably anticipating it more than any of their other albums. This increased as, days before I departed for Berlin, I conducted an interview with Tobias Sidegård. What I found, upon its release, was exactly what I'd hoped for. This album isn't as overtly majestic as the previous outing, yet it retains some of the same feeling. Actually, one can find elements of all the previous albums, here, as this serves as an excellent representation of the band.

What can be heard here is the kind of melodic Black/Death Metal that the band has become known for. On this release, it would seem that the sound and spirit lean more toward Black Metal, as the atmosphere is quite dark. The production sounds quite similar to the previous album, with everything being rather clear but not over-produced in any way. Each frozen note is easy to hear and everything is mixed together quite well. The prime components are the guitars. Johan and Sebastian execute each riff with great precision. Despite the long absence of founding member David Parland, the band tries its best to maintain the dark and nocturnal atmosphere that has become its trademark. Tobbe's lethal vocals have a morbid and depraved aura about them, on this record. As for Joakim's drumming, it is typical of what you would expect of him. The drums are at just the right level, enough to be heard and to keep time, but not so much that they distract from what's important; the guitars.

The songwriting consists of a lot of fast-paced, straight-forward riffs. This album is overflowing with cold and dark tremolo riffs. The hauntingly nocturnal melodies are ever-present, from the very first moments of "Celebration of the Goat". As soon as this begins, there is no mistaking who this is. Naturally, there are a lot of twists and turns, taking you on a dark journey. These compositions are not minimalist in any way. Though the dominant theme is speed, there are slower sections that work to build the epic feeling. In particular, the latter half of "Revelation 666" takes the word 'epic' to a new extreme. The haunting solo that begins a little past the midway point is majestic in all its nocturnal glory. This is one of the highlights of the album, as you are sort of swept away to some dark realm of shadows, far beyond the light. The melody is introspective and almost mournful in tone. "La Satanisma Muerte", abruptly, pulls you from this deep chasm, as the journey must continue. Despite being the shortest song on the album, it is very well constructed and features a slower section with some backing choir to create a hellish and epic feeling.

"For Those Who Stayed Satanic" was the first song made public, as they posted the live video of this long before the album was recorded. Honestly, I didn't think too much of the title, and the performance didn't sound terribly exciting. Thankfully, the album version is much more impressive and makes more of an impact since each riff is clearly heard. Even still, I wouldn't say it's the strongest song on the album. The following track, "Temple of Damnation", completely slays it, especially the haunting middle section that reminds of something from Bloodhymns. As this progresses, Joakim throws in some nice old school drumming to accompany the lead solo. By this point, it seems that there was a lot of thought put into the placement of the songs, as they flow together masterfully. "The Tower" is filled with riffs and solos that would have made Slayer proud, 25 years ago. Though, like the rest of the songs, it's quite dynamic.

As the album nears its conclusion, we come to another one of the true highlights of this record, "Wings of Death". Beginning with a very dark clean guitar, it slowly builds as melancholic tremolo melody is joined by somber thrash riffs. This one isn't as fast as the rest, thought it may be a stretch to really label it as 'mid-paced'. In any event, everything comes together to create something dark and epic; the kind of song that haunts your mind. Tobias sounds particularly possessed on this one, being consumed with utter madness. This all leads into the title track, which kind of picks up from where the previous song leaves off. It would seem like any other song on the record, yet as it proceeds it continues to build. There are several riffs that you might not expect, bringing in a definite old school feeling. After about six minutes, everything comes to a stop, leaving only the cold winds and an acoustic guitar. Slowly, something sounding like a war march fades in, and then slowly fades back into the acoustic piece.

There isn't too much to say about this one. It is very enjoyable from beginning to end and is exactly what you would expect a new Necrophobic album to sound like. There are no surprises here, which may please some fans that had difficulty getting into the previous record. In the end, Death To All is another strong album from one of Sweden's finest. Buy with confidence.