Sunday, December 27, 2009

Moonblood - The Winter Falls Over the Land (1995)

The Winter Falls Over the Land is the third official demo from Germany's Moonblood, though it is actually their sixth release. Rising from the ashes of Demoniac, Moonblood was a very busy band, releasing many rehearsals and demos, sometimes mere weeks apart. Some will claim that only the two full-lengths and some of the splits are worthy of attention. To believe this would be a serious mistake, as almost every one possesses some level of brilliance. This is not some talentless band that hides its inadequacies behind poor production; there is much to discover by listening to these recordings.

The demo begins with a brief intro that features the sound of the waves crashing against the shore and some eerie keyboard piece that is similar to something in an old horror film. It does well to set the tone.

"Nightly Mass" then starts with a single guitar, followed by a grim scream. The rest of the instruments follow, building tension with mid-paced and memorable riffs that one may not have expected from this sort of music. It's almost reminiscent of Burzum, in some aspect. It's not the typical tremolo riff over blasting drums. The main riff is a simple, down-picked, melody that creates a cold and morbid feeling, coupled with the possessed vocals. The lyrics are absolutely fitting to the overall atmosphere, though one might say the vocals are a little high in the mix. However, it does not pose a problem. Keyboards are used in a very tasteful a minimal manner, accentuating the atmosphere. The freezing darkness envelopes your being and pulls you in the coldest shadows. This is haunting in every sense and, once it creeps into your brain, it shall never leave.

"A new nightmare begins..."

The next song is "The Gates of Eternity", beginning with some clean guitar that is joined by simple power chords. Though the sound is not perfect, it is far better than how some people describe it. I have the luxury of owning an original copy of this, so perhaps the bootlegs have some drop in quality. At any rate, this song bears a similar pace as the previous one, for the most part. The middle section picks up the speed a bit, but nothing too extreme. The feeling is rather epic, much like the last one.

"A Land Where the Sky Is Black" starts with tremolo riffs, blasting drums and possessed screams. Despite the hissing of the tape, the melodies are still quite clear. After about a minute, the tempo slows down and there are some thrashier moments, before returning to the first riff. The placing of this song was very well thought-out, as they used the earlier songs to build and epic atmosphere before unleashing such a furious assault, and building the tension even more.

This is followed by "In the Shadow of Inverted Crucifix". This one begins at full speed and seems to have been recorded at a different time, as the sound is less clear than the previous songs. After a minute or so, the pace slows down and takes on a more ominous tone. The dark feeling then comes over you once more, sending chills up your spine. It speeds back up, though never losing the feeling of dread.

"The Winter Falls Over the Land" is next, starting out with similar down-picking as in the first song. It's rather mid-paced and epic in nature. Things pick up after a minute, and the melody begins creeping into the darkness of your mind. The riffs are very memorable and filled with an old school feeling. This is where the production almost compliments the songwriting, as it gives the sense that it could have been recorded a decade earlier. After a few minutes, the fast drums and tremolo picking dominate the sound, yet the vibe is still maintained.

As if the atmosphere of this demo wasn't epic enough, the outro comes along to underscore this fact. It's a shame that this wasn't recorded and released as a proper L.P. since it is absolutely brilliant and these songs deserve to be hailed alongside the other classics of the era. The Winter Falls Over the Land may be considered some obscure demo by a little-known underground band to some, but I would say that it is quite essential. You can take countless modern Black Metal releases and their combined worth is still hardly comparable to this single demo. Seek it out, in whatever manner you are able.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wolfsmond - Die graue Saat (1996)

Forming in Thuringia, Germany in 1993, Wolfsmond joined the growing ranks of the Second Wave Black Metal bands. Rather than mimic their neighbors to the north, they brought their own unique approach to things. The music on their second demo, entitled Die graue Saat, is very dark, hateful and somber in tone. Released in 1996, this is a good representation of the murky wold of German Black Metal, at this time. Also worth noting is that, while the band shares some members with Absurd, they make a point to distance themselves from the latter's ideology, as it regards this project.

The first song, "Ich sah dich fallen", starts with an eerie intro that has the feeling of shadows spreading over you. The first riffs are, somehow, similar to Mayhem's Deathcrush, yet slower and more dreary. The vocals are very hateful, as you can feel it in your bones. There is nothing beautiful about this. It's ugly and harsh. The pace picks up, just a little bit, as things progress. The production is about what one would expect from a cassette demo from this period. It's on the same level as some of the Moonblood stuff, more or less. It's clear enough to pick up on what's going on, and far from distracting. Near the middle, there's a mournful melody that is almost reminiscent of something from early Katatonia, regarding the vibe it creates. Near the end, Managarm emits some truly blood-curdling screams. The hatred oozes from the speakers.

"Zeit der Macht" begins with another mid-paced, miserable riff. The feeling is not so far removed from the oppressive and claustrophobic atmosphere of Bethlehem's Dark Metal. The vibe goes from near-melancholy to something more doom-filled and dreadful. This isn't so much the expression of a tormented being; rather, this is the cause. There's almost an epic feeling, as the song progresses, but the production doesn't allow for certain riffs to shine through as much as they might, otherwise. Furthermore, the band doesn't really bother to expand on this.

The next song is "The Arsonist's Dream", which again brings to mind the early work of Katatonia and Bethlehem. It consists of clean guitar notes and some distant vocals, with the sound of raging flames and cold winds in the background. One has to wonder whether or not this is some tribute to the churches that perished by fire in the preceding years.

"Your god is dead"

The final song is "Die graue Saat". It begins with a clean guitar, similar to that used on the previous piece. There seems to be some thunder in the background, though it's not very clear. After a minute or so, the song truly starts. As with the rest of the material, it's mid-paced and bleak in nature. There's very little of what one would label 'typical' Black Metal picking on this release. It is mostly made up of power chords and simple progressions. This is definitely not about impressing anyone with technique; it's primitive and ugly. The true purpose of this recording is to create a dark atmosphere and convey feelings of hatred and misanthropy. It oppresses the spirit of the listener, and you almost feel as if there is a weight on your chest. Breathing becomes more difficult and you think of this wretched life that you've been cursed with. The hatred builds within you, more and more. The tremolo riffs make a brief appearance, used to build a sense of tension. Just when you think that you'll finally burst into flames of hatred and despondency, the pace slows back down and takes you to yet a darker level of the abyss. This cycle then repeats, building the intensity and then dropping you yet deeper. The thunder returns as the song then fades.

Die graue Saat is, possibly, not a very well-known piece of Black Metal. However, it's some hidden treasure waiting to be discovered. Here, Wolfsmond created something dark and possessing a great deal of feeling. Seek this out, in whatever manner you may.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hypocrisy - Inferior Devoties (1994)

A short time after the release of Osculum Obscenum, Hypocrisy found itself with the problem of having to eject their vocalist, Masse Broberg. Rather than recruit a new member, Peter Tägtgren simply stepped into that role as well. He had already done vocals for the title track of their 1992 debut, Penetralia. In an effort to ease himself (and the fans) through this transition, it was decided that the band would record an E.P. In October 1993, the band entered Studio Rockshop to create Inferior Devoties, their first release as a three-piece.

The E.P. begins with a re-recorded version of "Inferior Devoties". Musically, it is extremely close to the L.P. version, with only minor differences. One might assume that the point of doing this was to prove that Peter could handle the earlier material, though it comes off a little weaker than the original version. His vocals were not quite as refined as they would be on The Fourth Dimension. The atmosphere is much the same, with an added crispness to the sound, which is barely perceptible. In a way, it was wise to lead off the E.P. with this song, as it addresses the issue that many would have as it regarded comparing the two vocalists and determining whether or not Peter could fill Masse's shoes, so to speak. While the difference is noticeable, he proves himself fully competent in this role.

The following song is much stronger and is used as the first track (the title track is omitted) on the digipak version of Osculum Obscenum, which includes the songs from this E.P. (as well as from the Pleasure of Molestation E.P.) as bonus tracks. "Symbol of Baphomet" It a fairly intense song, that utilizes some thrash riffs to go along with the Swedish Death Metal assault. There's some otherworldly quality to the solos, which is something Hypocrisy was well known for in those days. About halfway through, the pace slows down a bit and begins building an ethereal atmosphere, which includes some spoken word bit, in the background. Shortly after this, things pick up again and the song ends with much the same intensity that it possessed in the opening moments.

"Mental Emotions" was one of the first Hypocrisy songs that I ever heard. This one begins with a much slower pace, with the doom vibe that the band was quite known for having. After a minute or so, it speeds up while never getting terribly fast (save for a brief blast beat). The production of this E.P. is a bit clearer than on the previous albums, though still a little raw when compared to The Fourth Dimension. Vocally, Peter shows a bit of range as he goes from the deeper growls to the more high-pitched shrieks. This song is very memorable and one that will get caught in your mind after the first listen.

The next song is a re-recorded version of "God Is A Lie". The slight improvement in production is a plus, in this case, as things are more crisp and sped up as well. In fact, it's so much faster than the original that they were able to add some brief sample, near the end, in order to fill in time I would assume. It's an odd sample, as it features part of the intro to the title track of their debut album, mixed with the intro noises from their cover of Venom's "Black Metal", from Osculum Obscenum. Also, the solo seems to have been re-worked and expanded. All in all, it has a bit more punch than the Penetralia version.

Inferior Devoties concludes with a cover of Slayer's "Black Magic", which also appeared on the tribute album, Slatanic Slaughter. Musically, this is very faithful to the original version. Even Hedlund's bass sounds to have a similar tone. The primary difference, of course, are the harsh vocals. Peter does a really good job, showing some variation here. Most surprising of all, is where he actually breaks into a high-pitched scream, at one point. Along with Dissection, Hypocrisy managed to stand out on the tribute album as being among the few to preserve the essence of what Slayer had done. The playing is tight and they've done just enough to add their own touch to it, while maintaining the atmosphere of the original. This is a much better choice for a cover song, than "Black Metal", as it just seems to blend in with the rest of the material, somehow.

This E.P. was successful in giving Hypocrisy fans a taste of the new line-up (sans Broberg), as well as a collection of good songs that places this among my favourite mini albums. The one thing it failed to do, though I doubt this was ever the intent, was to give any indication as to what direction the band would take on the following album. Regardless, this is a quality release and, if it's still available, one that is highly recommended.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Zemial - Sleeping Under Tartarus (1992)

Sleeping Under Tartarus is the first official release from the Hellenic Black Metal band Zemial. This E.P. was released in 1992, by Torched Records. It was limited to only 1000 copies. Though being one of the earliest bands in the scene, Zemial joins the likes of Thou Art Lord, Legion of Doom, Agatus and others, in forming the second wave of Hellenic bands that I discovered, thanks to a good friend of mine in Larissa. Again, I had little idea of what I was to experience, as I first listened. All I could imagine was that I'd hear more of the standard Rotting Christ / Varathron rhythms. This one, of course, surprised me.

"Sleeping Under Tartarus" has, somewhat, of a slow build before it gets going. There is a faint hint of keyboards, but the song is driven by the fuzzy and distorted, mid-paced guitar riffs. The sounds is a bit on the necro side of things, though the playing is top-notch. There's a great lead solo, as the song nears the half-way point. The pacing is very reminiscent of classic Bathory, and could have just as easily come from Scandinavia as from Hellas. There are a decent amount of old school drum beats thrown in. In the latter half, there's a nice cold riff that doesn't truly send chills up your spine, only because of the 'warm' production. Still, the bitter cold feeling tried to fight through this warmth.

The next song is "Falling Into the Absu", which definitely has more of the Greek vibe. It's mid-paced with a lot of drum fills and a very memorable rhythm. The vocals, as with the previous song, are kind of buried in the fuzzy production, but they aren't too low, by any means. There's an epic feeling to this piece, despite being relatively short. Again, the keyboards make a brief appearance, only to accentuate the atmosphere already being created by the rest of the instruments. The whispered vocals add some eerie sentiment to the song, being done quite well.

This E.P. ends with "The Scourge of the Kingdom", which possesses a faster tempo than the last track. It consists of fairly fast drumming, that alternates from almost blasting to a more mid-paced feel. The guitars, naturally, go from the faster tremolo-picked riffs to more relaxed chords. Of course, the song is quite dynamic and flows back and forth, with ease. As with the other songs, some cold melodies attempt to break through the warm sound. While the freezing effect is never achieved, the riffs are memorable. Quite a feat for such a brief song.

With my lack of knowledge of this musical scene, it's impossible for me to say just how much of an impact Sleeping Under Tartarus had, but considering the quality of the material and the year it was released, I'd have to imagine that it had a decent impact back then. Seek this out, if at all possible.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Agatus - Black Moon (1994)

For many, the Hellenic Black Metal scene consists only of Rotting Christ, Varathron and Necromantia. This was true for me, for quite some years. I never bothered to look deeper into things as I couldn't imagine there being many more bands coming from this area. Upon asking a friend of mine if there were any other decent bands to check out (assuming there might be one, if I was lucky), I soon discovered that there was a whole world of music waiting to be explored. Among the first that I was introduced to was Agatus, via the Black Moon promo. This was, actually, their second release. The first thing I noticed was the photo of the Chindia Tower, in Romania, on the cover. This has some significance, as I've actually visited this place. I was already interested, based on that. The next thing was the fact that the running time was under six minutes. Usually, this would be seen as a shortcoming, but it served as an inviting factor in getting me to give these guys a chance. Even laziness couldn't prevent me from checking this out, as I had no excuse not to invest six minutes in this.

"Black Moon's Blood" begins with a brief, yet majestic, intro. The Greeks were always much better at this type of thing than many others. Immediately, the song shifts to full speed. The sound is remarkably clear, while possessing enough character to suit the music. The guitar riffs are the standard tremolo-picked style, accompanied by powerful and blasting drums. The vocals are quite frenzied, though sparse. As a matter of fact, the only lyrics seem to be the title of the song being repeated a handful of times. It all ends with a brief 'choir' section, similar to something Dissection or Hypocrisy might have used around this time. For a song that clocks in under three minutes, it certainly makes and impact and leaves its mark.

The second song is "Force of Desecration". It picks up where the previous one left off, going at full speed. It appears to have more lyrics, as well. After about a minute, the pace slows down, briefly. Then, the feeling becomes a little more... 'epic' wouldn't be the right word, I suppose, but it definitely has more feeling during this section, as it builds a sense of tension. The lead solo serves as the climax of the song, continuing toward the conclusion. Again, for such a short song, it's very memorable and sticks in your head for some time.

While this release offered nothing terribly original, it does provide another dose of quality Black Metal, far superior to the legions of over-produced, substance-lacking bands that would follow. Black Moon is a very succinct release, giving just a small taste of what was to come on their debut full-length, Dawn of Martyrdom, which exceeded the lofty expectations created by this promo.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Deceased - 13 Frightened Souls (1993)

Deceased was formed in the mid-80s, releasing a number of demos, along with an E.P. and a full-length, by early 1992. It was at this point that they entered the studio to create one of their very best recordings, the 13 Frightened Souls E.P. Their style is very much rooted in old school Death/Thrash, maintaining the early feeling of Death Metal as opposed to blending into the crowd and going for the same boring sound that everyone began aiming for by this time. Deceased was a band that I didn't get to hear until quite a while after I should have; furthermore, I was finally exposed to this E.P. only recently. On one hand, I wonder how I managed to miss this so long ago, yet I guess it's better to have things to explore later on as well.

This E.P. bursts right out of the gate, with "The 13 Frightened Souls". The sound is somewhat dirty, still keeping a strong 80s Thrash Metal vibe. It's so refreshing to hear something from this period that wasn't recorded in Tampa. Musically, this is quite powerful. There's a lot of feeling here, and this is most evident in the lead solos and the vocals. The tempo is dynamic enough, with some old school drum beats tossed in, but the real highlight has to be the deathlike vocals of King Fowley. Instead of trying to sound as deep and inaudible as possible, he has a very suitable voice for Death Metal. It's the sound of a corpse that has escaped from his grave, possessed and utterly consumed by madness.

"Robotic Village" is another fairly short song, clocking in around three minutes. There's some feedback in the beginning, leading into very intense riffs, joined by blasting drums. The feeling is very frenzied. There are many different riffs and the pace changes a lot, for such a short song. Near the middle, there's some bass solo that takes us into a quieter part that has a somber feeling and some strange effect on the vocals. The desperation in this voice has to be one of the single most appealing qualities of the band. Another standard Chris Barnes imitator would have ruined this, certainly. The song ends with a violent, mid-paced riff that comes to an abrupt stop.

The next song is "Voivod" which is, of course, a cover song from the band of the same name. It maintains the intensity and feeling of the original, while also fitting in very well with the other songs on here.

"Planet Graveyard" is one of the longer songs on here, nearing the five minute mark. It starts out slower that the previous tracks, having a slightly dark and morose feeling. After about a minute, the speed picks up. As with the rest of the material, there is nothing static about this. The song is very dynamic, consisting of different tempos and enough riffs to keep your mind involved in what's going on. The latter section of the song sounds like something that could have been recorded nearly a decade prior to this. It's this old school feeling that I most appreciate with this band. This song ends with some hellish feedback that leads into the next track.

The final song on this E.P. is also the climax of the recording. "Nuclear Exorcist" erupts with a violent flurry of blistering riffs and intense drumming, before traveling into some dark valley as the feeling of the song becomes almost melancholic. The clean guitar melody is accentuated with a soulful lead solo in the distance, as King Fowley speaks of doom and desolation. The screams on this song are, by far, the best. This really embodies the essence of what Death Metal should be about; it is packed with feeling, as opposed to becoming so empty and generic. Too many bands had gone that route, by 1993. In Deceased, we see the old school spirit still present. As the song progresses, the slower riffs possess the bodies of the dead as they burst through their coffins and crawl up through the moist soil, grinning as they emerge from their graves, prepared to annihilate the world of the living. As the song fades out, one does not get the feeling of an ending; rather, it seems as if it has only just begun...