Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Abyss - The Other Side (1994)

The Abyss was a side project from the three members of Hypocrisy. The Other Side is the first of two Black Metal albums that they released under this name. It is much more melodic than the music found on their second album, Summon the Beast. To put it in perspective, this album was recorded in between The Fourth Dimension and Abducted. Hypocrisy always had some Black Metal qualities (from the Satanic lyrics, in the early days, to the dark melodies) but here we find almost all traces of Death Metal being shed. Through and through, this might be the most solid output from this group of musicians, even if it does bear similarities to Gorgoroth at times.

I first encountered The Abyss around the release of Summon the Beast which, really, was not incredibly impressive to me. It was some time later before I heard The Other Side, thanks to a good friend of mine. This album took some of my favorite elements of Hypocrisy and put them all together, shaving off the excess. Peter Tägtgren is credited with drum, bass and vocal duties. Mikael Hedlund is credited with guitars and Lars Szöke is listed as handling guitars and vocals. Oddly, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of difference between the vocals styles of these three so, if all are actually contributing, it's not easily noticed.

The album begins with "Marutukku". After a brief drum roll, the listener is assaulted with violent blast beats, fast tremolo riffs and raspy vocals. This could almost be seen as a template for Black Metal of this era. The harmonies are cold and dark, just as they should be. After a minute or so, the song slows down and the atmosphere changes. There is some eerie voice in the background, along with brilliant riffs and a very somber feeling. The raging speed returns before the song concludes, much as it began.

"Tjänare af besten" begins with a very mournful melody and some double bass. The pace is somewhat more relaxed than the previous song, even once it speeds up a bit. The musicianship and songwriting could not be better. Everything is very precisely done, with no missed opportunities. A few minutes into the song, there is but a lone, sorrowful melody that stabs into your heart like shards of ice, freezing you from inside.

The next song returns to the blinding speed and fury of the first. "Psycomantum" features more brilliant tremolo riffs and the vocals possess conviction and a deadly wrath. One could complain that these songs are too short, yet the genius is doing just enough so that the listener yearns for more. On this song, one can get a sense for the Hellhammer influence, during certain parts.

To further assure the listener that Hellhammer is an important inspiration, The Abyss covers the song "Massacra". It fits in with the rest of the material, seamlessly. One might even say that the song benefits from the harsher vocals, adding a more sinister feel to the piece. While Mr. Fischer might be a piece of scum, that should not detract from the musical contributions he has made.

"Mörkrets Vandring" begins at full speed, consisting of liquid strumming melodies which intertwine to harmonize in suggestion of spaces beneath its surface, creating an ambience in which the violence of the music is forgotten in the breathtaking motion of its melody. As the song slows down, one can really get a chance to fall deep into the bottomless chasm. The vocals convey torment and suffering, near the point of madness. All else becomes silent, leaving a lone tremolo riff around 3:22, which is pure brilliance.

"Sorgens Dal" continues this dark and melancholy feeling, despite the violent approach. The bleak melodies create an atmosphere of hopelessness and despair. There is a strangely upbeat section that almost seems to offer the promise of salvation. Yet this is but a part of the journey. In no time, you are dragged back down as such feeble hopes are crushed.

The feeling of utter desperation truly sets in as the mournful melody of "Slukad" fades in, accompanied by some brief 'operatic wailing' in the distance. The listener is nearly lulled into a trance, within the first minute or so, until the song speeds up. The sorrowful guitar harmonies are unrelenting, as the tortured vocals accentuate this. At one point, the riffs are reminiscent of Mayhem. This utterly desolate feeling that is created by this song really drains the life from your body.

"Förintelsens tid äro kommen" is a strange outro, featuring backward sounds and strange, hellish effects. Perhaps, this is a representation of what one hears when at the fathomless depths of the abyss.

This album is highly recommended, whether you are a fan of old Hypocrisy, or early 90s Scandinavian Black Metal. Either way, you will not be disappointed.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Immortal - Pure Holocaust (1993)

Pure Holocaust is the second album from Immortal. This was recorded in Grieghallen Studio in 1993, produced by Pytten. Most seem to consider this their best album. Indeed, this was the album that introduced me to the band, all those years ago. I would have to rank this album a close second, coming in behind Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism. That being said, this is a very good album, worthy of much praise.

Many consider this to be a classic album of Norwegian Black Metal, though it must be said that neither Immortal nor those in the Norwegian scene considered this to be Black Metal, despite the musical and aesthetic style. Immortal's themes are based around the nature and the natural environments of their homeland, or rather of the world they invented called Blashyrkh, a world of eternal cold and ice where various "blizzard beasts" lurk. The band does not write about overly done satanic themes. As Abbath pointed out in various interviews, the band members are not Satanists.

As "Unsilent Storms in the North Abyss" begins, you may first notice the change in sound. Everything is colder and the guitars are a bit sharper. Regarding the production, the band seems to follow Burzum, once again. The sound on Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism can be compared to that of Burzum and Det Som Engang Var; however, here, the sound more closely resembles that of Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. The vocals also changed, becoming more trollish and grim. It was at this time that Abbath established his trademark style. With the loss of Armagedda, Abbath also took over drumming duties on this album, and the difference is hard to miss. Here is found far more double bass and just a totally chaotic way of drumming. The riffs played by Demonaz seem to have less in common with Bathory, as on the previous album, and far more influence from Mayhem.

"A Sign For the Norse Hordes to Ride" erupts with the fury of a merciless blizzard. The tremolo harmonies are chilling to the bone; the kind that could freeze you in the middle of summer. This may be the one improvement in sound, from the last album. There is no protection from the bitter cold melodies on this album.

The next song is "The Sun No Longer Rises". What a pleasant thought; no more light or life, just the freezing darkness. This was the first Immortal song that I ever heard, thus being responsible for getting me into this great band. It begins with a furious speed, but becomes more mid-paced as it goes along. Giving the riffs some room to breathe aids in creating a colder and darker atmosphere.

"Frozen By Icewinds" has much the same pace as the previous song, yet the barrage of drums makes it seem faster than it is. At this point, you feel very tired as you wander it endless forest and frostbitten plains, seeking a place to lay down and close your eyes one final time, seeking suicide by freezing. The lead solo at the end is utterly chilling.

Bizarre riffs begin "Storming Through Red Clouds and Holocaustwinds". The pace is absolutely relentless and harsh. There are some odd time changes in this one. Abbath shows some minor variation with the vocals on this one, but not much. This is a song of battle and total destruction of one's enemies.

"Eternal Years on the Path to the Cemetery Gates" continues the onslaught, starting with fast, punishing riffs and drumming, but alternating with more mid-paced parts. There are certain riffs and drum sections where the sound is more reminiscent of the first album.

"As the Eternity Opens" is, possibly, the best song on the album. This is a more mid-paced affair, containing many freezing melodies and an almost mournful atmosphere. This really shares similarities with Burzum. The guitars are bleak and icy while the bass has a somber feeling. The lyrics are dark and perfectly suited for this. The speed picks up, later in the song, but only briefly. Much like the songs on Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism, this possesses a very grim and epic atmosphere.

"The light will was never here"

From the distance, one hears "Pure Holocaust" slowly fading in to annihilate the forces of light and warmth. After a raging and furious assault the song sets into a calmer pace, as the banners of winter are unfurled. Vast glaciers slowly march south, clad in mail of ice and armed with spears of frost and lashes of freezing hail, devouring all life. Listening to the bitter cold riffs, your skin turns blue. The holocaust has claimed yet another victim.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Satyricon - Dark Medieval Times (1993)

Satyricon started as a Death Metal band. Neither Satyr nor Frost are original members of the band, as they more or less inherited it and opted for the Norwegian Black Metal sound, as many bands did around this time. The lyrics are dark, but not actually Satanic. Satyr once claimed that their style was 'Medieval Metal', for whatever that is worth. Satyricon is one of the last bands to emerge from the Norwegian scene, around this time, and it is clear that, despite creating decent music, they were simple followers of those that came before them. This is more of an instance of people being in the right place at the right time (as can be seen by the fact that they got bored with this style within a couple years and moved on to something else).

Dark Medieval Times was recorded in the Ancient Spectre Ruins, in the late summer months of 1993, and is the first album to be released on Moonfog Productions. The lineup consists only of Satyr (on vocals, guitars and keyboards) and Frost (on drums). The cover artwork, by Jannicke Wiese-Hansen, is very pleasing to the eye and well-suited to the music, while also being similar to that found on the early Burzum albums (of course, with the same artist).

"Walk the Path of Sorrow" opens the album with strange keyboard effects, imbuing the listener with the sense of an upcoming battle. This really does well to create a medieval atmosphere and, despite the obvious influences shown by this band, they did take an original approach to it as well. Once the music really begins, the first thing that comes to mind is Burzum. One must wonder how far the Ancient Spectre Ruins are from Grieghallen, as this doesn't sound far removed. Even the unrestrained vocal approach seems similar to what Varg has done. There is a lot of acoustic guitar use, giving kind of a mystical feeling to the song. There are several tempo changes, as this doesn't remain the same for very long at all. About mid-way through, the song speeds up, with blasting drums and tremolo riffs, though the riffs aren't actually anything special. The atmosphere is being created by the keyboards, more than anything, which takes away from the music. That is, probably, my greatest problem with this band; if you strip away the keyboards, you are left with mediocre riffs far too often. The melodies are actually pretty good and could, easily, have been played on the guitar instead of relying on the synth. But none of this is meant to say that this isn't a good song.

The next song is "Dark Medieval Times", maintaining the ethereal atmosphere from the previous song. This is an epic composition, possessing a dark and eerie atmosphere. The guitars are cold and harsh. The vocals, while sounding very inspired by Varg, have a lot of feeling and suit the music just fine. There are silent sections, with only acoustic guitars, whispered vocals and the sound of freezing winds blowing. This is followed by very intense drumming and frenzied guitar riffs that actually just serve as an interlude before the acoustic guitar returns, now accompanied by a flute. What comes after is another riff that sounds like it belongs on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss.

"Skyggedans" is fairly mid-paced. Satyr's vocals sound closer to those of Nocturno Culto, on this song, while some of the riffs are not so different from In the Nightside Eclipse, but the use of acoustic guitars and the medieval atmosphere is purely Satyricon. The song never speeds up beyond a simple gallop, and the keyboard use is pretty minimal. Again, some of these riffs really do sound very similar to Burzum.

"Min Hyllest Til Vinterland" opens with the sound of wind and acoustic guitars, making for a very calm and almost serene feeling. One might even be reminded of certain passages from Viking-era Bathory. The song gives the feeling of riding through the dark woods, late at night, during the winter.

The calm feeling established on the previous track continues during the opening moments of "Into the Mighty Forest", yet this song does erupt with freezing cold fury, utilizing fast tremolo strumming and blast beats. Satyricon never keeps the same pace for too long, as this slows down and becomes more mid-paced. Satyr's throat sounds shredded, which goes well with the dark atmosphere created on this song. The only complaint would be the use of keyboards. On this particular song, they seem to realize that keyboards are meant to accentuate the atmosphere, not to be the sole source of it. However, one could argue that this really didn't need anything extra, as it is one of the best composed songs on the whole album.

"The Dark Castle in the Deep Forest" begins with another tortured scream. The vocals seem to be kind of low on this song, with a doomy synth line overpowering most of the instruments, in the early moments. There is a break, leaving only the eerie synth, before the guitars return. The winter landscape is in the embrace of morbid shadows. The atmosphere becomes more sinister as the song progresses. Even in the faster riffs, the medieval melodies are present, rather than just being found in the acoustic sections. One can feel the desolation of this ruined castle, far beyond all human realms, in the deepest forest. Over the course of the song, you are dragged from the murky forest and taken deeper into the castle, finally chained and tortured in the dungeon below.

The album ends with "Taakeslottet". This song begins with a desperate scream, tremolo riffs and double bass, yet quickly slows down to an atmospheric crawl. The vocals are whispered, at first, adding to the haunting feeling.

The criticism aimed at this album is not meant to imply that it is bad, by any means. It is simply my opinion that it could have been even better, at certain points, especially regarding the keyboard use. What Satyricon has done here is something original, within the framework laid down by their primary inspirations. Whereas with the earlier Norwegian bands you hear their 80s influences, this sounds very much inspired by those bands of the early 90s Black Metal scene in Norway; the prime example being Burzum, though there are small traces of Darkthrone, Mayhem and even Emperor to be found here. This is not to say that Dark Medieval Times is completely derivative of these bands; Satyr and Frost have taken this and added their own unique vision to it to establish a sound all their own. Satyricon was only ever a second-tier band, at best, and has since dropped into creative obscurity. Nonetheless, their debut L.P. remains a worthwhile listen.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Enslaved - Frost (1994)

What is Black Metal? In the early to mid 80s, this question would elicit such responses as Venom, Slayer, Mercyful Fate, Bathory, Sodom, Hellhammer, et cetera. While having some obvious similarities, each of these bands had a distinct style of their own. The one common thread that ran through the works of all of these bands (at least, in the early days) was the dark and Satanic content of the lyrics. That is what defined Black Metal, in those earliest times. The common fallacy is that Black Metal was spawned in Norway, in the early 90s. If it doesn't have this sound, then it's not Black Metal. By the same token, if it does have this sound, then it belongs to this style of music. This means that all a band needs to fit in this category are tremolo riffs, blast beats and screeching vocals, regardless of lyrical content. Wrong. Enslaved may be from Norway. They may utilize the same musical techniques used by Norwegian Black Metal bands, but Enslaved is Viking Metal. You won't find one reference to Satan on this entire album. Here, the lyrics deal with Norse/Germanic mythology.

Frost is the second L.P. from Enslaved, recorded in the summer of 1994, in Grieghallen, and produced by Pytten (as so many classic Norwegian albums were). The songs are more straightforward (and thus, somewhat, shorter) than on Vikingligr Veldi. The intro, "Frost", has a mystical feeling to it and goes well with the imagery that is found on the album cover.

"Loke" begins with a nice build-up, before unleashing a very harsh aural assault. The sound is very abrasive, like sheets of ice splintering and being hurled through the air, tearing flesh and severing limbs. The song structure is a bit more varied than one might expect, as well. The song ends with insanely disturbing laughter.

The next song is "Fenris", which begins with spoken a spoken word section (in Norwegian, of course) before a strange, somewhat folky rhythm begins. This doesn't last long, as the song transitions to a simple acoustic piece, before changing again, to a very catchy thrash riff. This will remain with you, coming to your mind at the strangest times, even when you haven't listened to the album in years. Enslaved truly appears to be one of the last unique bands to emerge from Norway, during this period. You can hear some musical influences from Mayhem, and even small similarities to Immortal, but this really does have a sound of its own. The only thing to complain about would be the bizarre use of keyboards, late in the song.

"Svarte Vidder" begins with some brilliant tremolo riffs and better-utilized keyboards. Grutle Kjellson's vocals are impressively harsh. The drummer, Trym Torson, is also very precise with everything he does. The guitar melodies possess a cold feel, almost cutting through your skin. This is the lengthiest song on the album, yet it contains enough variation that you never really notice. There are brief sections, in the middle and near the end, with some clean voice moaning (or chanting) in the distance.

"Yggdrasil" is a complete change in pace. This has a very folk-ish atmosphere, complete with clean vocals. Eirik "Pytten" Hundvin makes a special appearance, playing the fretless bass. After a couple of minutes, electric guitars emerge from the relative silence, though only adding to the feeling that has been created and not dominating the sound.

The progressive atmosphere seems to fade away as "Jotunblod" rages forth like an unrelenting blizzard. It begins with scathing vocals, fast tremolo riffs and blast beats. There is the slightest use of keyboards, and also typical oldschool drum patterns (not an expert, so it is difficult to describe any other way). The keyboards return, showing some similarities to bands like Emperor and Satyricon.

"Gylfaginning" begins with a very doomy riff that transitions into pure thrash. The drums are somewhat relaxed, while keeping time. In no time, keyboards and clean chanting join the mix. Again, Enslaved have a unique style, and it is very apparent while listening to Frost. This song also features a very nice lead solo, which adds to the cold atmosphere.

"Wotan" is the best song on the album, for those seeking a pure, straight-forward assault. In other words, this is the one with the most Black Metal sound, while (naturally) being as far from that as possible. It is very intense and the cold riffs wrap themselves around you like freezing winds carrying you toward the frigid waters of the North Sea.

"Kjemp med Krigers Gud; WOTAN!"

"Isöders Dronning" is very atmospheric, featuring more keyboard use and some clean vocals and acoustic guitars. In Black Metal, I'd be annoyed with the presence of some of these elements, yet this is Viking Metal, so it must not be held to the same standard. For some reason, much of this song seems reminiscent of Emperor's In the Nightside Eclipse.

This is a very solid album and, along with Hordanes Land and Vikingligr Veldi, the only Enslaved albums that I would recommend. Fans of early 90s Norwegian Black Metal or Viking Metal will, surely, appreciate this.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Isengard - Vinterskugge (1994)

Isengard was a solo project of Fenriz, of Darkthrone. The band's name was inspired by Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. The musical style varies throughout the album, as Vinterskugge is a compilation of three demos, recorded between 1989 and 1993. This project seemed to be a creative outlet for Fenriz, wishing not to be confined to any specific sound.

Chapter One is the 1993 Vandreren demo. The first song, "Vinterskugge", begins with with a powerful build up of vocals and guitar, immediately giving off a very strong folk / Viking Metal feel with a minimalist Black Metal approach to the recording. The lyrics are in Norwegian, and only serves to convey the pride Fenriz himself feels in his heritage. The riffs possess a strong doom element.

"Gjennom Skogen til Blåfjellene" is next, and creates a very mournful atmosphere with a couple simple guitar melodies. It is like walking the frozen forests, far from home, as funeral mist fills your lungs and it becomes difficult to breathe. The sorrowful sounds fade away, yet before relief can come it all fades back in. Cold hands reach for your throat, slowly wrapping around and applying gentle pressure. At first, you don't even bother to resist as it almost seems appealing. As the pressure becomes more intense and you are deprived of air, you realize that it is now too late. All hope washes away, leaving behind only the deepest despair. One almost expects to hear the anguished screams of Varg Vikernes here, as this could easily have been recorded on a Burzum album.

The next song is "Ut i Vannets dyp Hvor Morket Hviler". This song is the connection between Isengard and Darkthrone, as it sounds quite similar to something that would be found on Transilvanian Hunger, though it may be a bit less minimalist (if only by a slim margin), but still very primitive. Fenriz utilizes raspy Black Metal vocals to accompany the fast tremolo riffs and blasting drums. The melodies are haunting and trance-inducing.

"Dommedagssalme" sees Fenriz return to the clean vocals. This piece has a strong Doom Metal feel which is quite suffocating. Within the first few seconds, there is a distant moaning that sounds as if it is calling from the abyss. The vocals are somewhat similar to those of the band Pentagram. This is a very impressive, and miserable, song. As it slowly fades away, one feels their spirit being dragged down into the darkest depths.

"In the Halls and Chambers of Stardust - The Crystallic Heavens Open" shows a continuation of the dark and somber atmosphere. This synth track is very reminiscent of "Han Som Reiste" from Burzum's Det Som Engang Var album.

The dark clouds seem to dissipate as "Fanden Lokker til Stupet (Nytrad)" begins. The feeling is still somewhat somber, yet almost optimistic of an upcoming battle. This instrumental has a very Medieval / folk vibe.

The final song of the Vandreren demo is "Naglfar". This goes back to the atmosphere of the first song, reminiscent of Viking-era Bathory, musically. The vocals, of course, are much more powerful. This song tells of gathering the hordes of the North to sail through storms to attack Judeo-Christian scum.

Chapter Two is the Spectres Over Gorgoroth demo from 1989. This is more in line with what Darkthrone was doing at the time, so it is a bit odd that Fenriz even needed to make this separately. The vocals alternate between raspier Black Metal sounds and deeper Death Metal grunts. The music owes a lot to bands such as Celtic Frost and Autopsy. "Thy Gruesome Death" is not quite as evil sounding as the second song, "Deathcult". The recording is very primitive and raw, even featuring a brief (and wild) guitar solo. The songs on here are very short, as well. "Rise From Below" is the lengthiest song on here, at just over three minutes. It features several riff and pace changes. "Dark Lord of Gorgoroth" seems to display even some influence from the early Death albums. "Trollwandering" is a very doomy outro, possessing an evil feeling. This is a very interesting and enjoyable demo, though it is quite obvious that the only connection between this demo and Vandreren is the band name Fenriz chose to record under.

Chapter Three is the Horizons demo, from 1991. It opens with the slow and crushingly doom-filled song, "The Fog". It almost reminds one of what Beherit would do, a couple years later, on Drawing Down the Moon. Again, the feeling is utterly dark and you can feel the darkness coursing through your veins, like a poison, weakening you. Your limbs become too heavy to move, and you begin to sink down into the black pit.

"Storm of Evil" is a very strange song, sounding like some 80s Goth rock, such as Sisters of Mercy or something. Fenriz, here, utilizes more clean vocals. The sound is dark, yet upbeat in an odd way. Even more peculiar is that this is the longest song on the entire compilation.

"Bergtrollets Gravferd" is a synth piece, dragging you even deeper into the blackness of the abyss. What you hear is the sound of a solitary funeral, as none shall mourn your passing. At the fathomless depths, you continue to descend, and no one even knows that you are gone. You realize now that you are absolutely nothing. Your existence has been meaningless. Your torment is simply something for others to mock. Your body may enjoy the benefit of being tossed into a cold grave, but your journey through darkness and misery has only just begun.

"Our Lord Will Come" is a Doom Metal epic, very reminiscent of Pentagram, with both vocals and the raw guitar sound. This song could have been recorded in the 70s or early 80s. It has a very oldschool and primitive feeling to it. Now that you have descended into the black abyss, it is time to forget all that you were and to embrace the emptiness of the Hell in which you exist...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bathory - Nordland I (2002)

As one of the founders of Black Metal, Bathory left its black mark on the music world, already, throughout the mid-80s. By 1988, however, Quorthon took his band into a different area, creating what would come to be known as Viking Metal. Blood Fire Death served as a transition from one era to the next, preceding such classics as Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods, the latter being intended to be the final Bathory album.

A few years later, Quorthon returned with a few disappointing albums. Much of the spirit seemed to have been drained from these works. However, in the fall of 2002, Bathory returned to its Viking Metal days with the masterpiece known as Nordland I. The sound is quite majestic, while remaining crushingly heavy and powerful. This is the album that fans of Viking-era Bathory had been waiting for, since 1991.

After a brief intro, the album truly begins with the song "Nordland". Within mere seconds, it is quite obvious that this belongs alongside those albums of the past, far removed from the output during the mid-to-late 90s. Quorthon succeeds in creating an epic atmosphere, as one would expect. This song is mid-paced, with a galloping riff that possesses the distinctive Bathory style. This song has the feeling of a war march, as the Northern hordes gather to cleanse their lands of invading filth. Quorthon's vocals are much like those found on Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods, though a bit less awkward-sounding. His singing voice is very confident and proud. The chorus features a brilliant chanting choir as this piece celebrates the glorious lands of the North.

"Endless forests, lakes of water dark and deep
Misty mountains, where giants sleep"

This may be the most impressive song of Bathory's Viking-era, a distant second to "One Rode to Asa Bay". An incredible way to begin a long-awaited album.

"Vinterblot" begins with crushing riffs that pound on the skulls of those that would embrace Judeo-Christian values and poison the mighty Northland with such alien propaganda. The guitar riffs carry more of a feeling of doom. The choirs remain, but they seem somewhat darker. Quorthon's vocals have made the same transition; sounding more sinister and strained. This song tells the tale of a winter sacrifice, to summon the return of the life-giving sun.

The next song is "Dragon's Breath", which begins with a thunderous sound and a bleak feeling. The guitar harmonies are very interesting, though the song quickly transforms into something quite different. It seems to have more distortion than the first two and a heavier groove riff, before transitioning to a majestic bridge. This is all too brief, as the song returns to the groove riff which is almost too distorted to even listen to. This song is quite inferior to the two that came before it, though not completely without merit. Quorthon's vocals possess a sense of desperation at certain points and the chorus is very pleasant. Basically, the riffs during the verses just don't seem to fit well into the style of the album.

"Ring of Gold" changes things up, beginning with a soft acoustic passage and accentuated by sound effects such as the sound of a thunderstorm, and loons calling across a deep, cold, foggy Nordic lake. This song has more of a folk atmosphere and is very peaceful and calming. Quorthon's vocals almost remind one of an old minstrel. This was done to perfection.

The next song is "Foreverdark Woods", and this is one of the highlights of the album, right behind the title track. This shows a continuation of the same folk style utilized on the previous song, before progressing into yet another majestic riff. This song was an instant classic, the very day it was recorded. Quorthon's clean vocals are powerful and precise. This mid-paced epic cannot help but to fill those listeners of Northern European blood with a great sense of pride, while inspiring the rest with pure awe. Late in the song, the lead solo flows, seamlessly, into the song in typical Bathory fashion. The lead melody, at the very end, is absolutely incredible.

"Broken Sword" begins with the sounds of waves crashing against the jagged, rocky shore, accompanied by a calm acoustic intro that lulls the listener into a (false) sense of security before the all-out speed attack. This is the fastest and most furious song on this album, maybe seeming out of place to some but making perfect sense in the way it was placed on the album to offset some of the slower songs. The song fades out, just as it faded in, to the sound of the waves and acoustic guitar.

"Great Hall Awaits A Fallen Brother" begins with a very thrashy riff, though not as fast as the previous song. The chorus is a little slower and possesses the same majestic feel (surely, in part, due to the choir) that is found elsewhere on the album. With harsher vocals, this would have easily fit on Blood Fire Death, though Quorthon's vocals are actually perfect for this song, as is. This song really takes one back to times of old, when our people sought glory through battle and achieving great deeds.

"Washed away, your blood, a gentle rain
The blood shed is blood of mine"

"Mother Earth Father Thunder" is the final song of Nordland I. This one begins with the chanting choir, before crushing guitar riffs come in like a massive glacier to slower force its way across the land and destroy all in its path. This song imbues those listeners of Northern European blood with a sense of pride and strength.

"As if written in the snow, the lies, shall melt away
By the wheel of sun to cross the sky this day
Shadows may lay heavy upon the earth
But the truth, cut deep in stone, will last
Till the heavens comes tumbling down upon this world"

To describe this song as incredibly epic, majestic and glorious would sound repetitive, yet even these words don't do justice the atmosphere created by this song, and the album as a whole. The sounds of thunder end the song, as one hears sea gulls and water splashing against the shore in the brief outro, "Heimfard".

Nordland I is a classic album from the band that created this sound, the mighty Bathory. If you are a fan of Viking-era Bathory, this will not disappoint and you are encouraged to seek this out, immediately.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Necrophobic - Bloodhymns (2002)

Bloodhymns is the fourth full-length album from Sweden's Necrophobic. The band began, on The Nocturnal Silence, with a Satanic Death Metal style, displaying Black Metal influences. These influences later dominated the follow-up album, Darkside. With The Third Antichrist, the band continued on this path but the sound was a bit melodic (and less raw). Three years would pass before they released another album.

In early 2002, Bloodhymns was unleashed upon the unsuspecting world. This album continued the evolution of Necrophobic while also regressing. The opening riff of "Taste of Black" sounds like something that could have been recorded by Dismember, in years past. The Sunlight Studio sound is ever-present as the guitars have a little extra edge to them, going back to the rawness of Darkside, more or less. The lyrics are dark and Satanic, as has been customary from this band, and the sound is in line with what one would expect. At only about three and a half minutes long, the opener wastes no time in going straight for the jugular. Tobias Sidegård's vocals have continued to grow more sinister with each passing year.

"Dreams Shall Flesh" begins with a melody that seems to crawl into your flesh and twist its way around your spine. This song is much like the previous one, being very fast-paced and straightforward, featuring blackened thrash riffs. Yet this is but the beginning of a very dark theme that moves through this album. It is something that rumbles beneath the surface, not being obvious as one focuses on riffs or lyrics. There are certain brief melodies that embody the essence of pure darkness; of eternal night. You are slowly prepared for what is to come, as the album progresses.

Next is "Act of Rebellion", which continues with the trademark Necrophobic sound as established over the course of the past decade. This begins as another fast-paced song, with brief nocturnal melodies weaving in and out. Things slow down as a haunting lead melody is introduced and this drags you closer to the gates of utter horror. You begin to realize just how alone you really are. You hope for salvation, but it becomes clear that this is not to be.

The true darkness of this unholy creation is finally unleashed on the next song, "Shadowseeds". While your flesh freezes, your blood begins to boil and your veins erupt. Consumed by both fire and ice, your body fails you. The pace has now slowed down as your soul is cast through the gates and you soon learn that what you had considered to be darkness was like a blinding light compared to the utterly black emptiness that engulfs you. The song speeds up as you are hurled through the chaos of the great abyss, reaching for anything to stop your descent... yet there is nothing.

"Mourningsoul" is the pinnacle of darkness for this black masterpiece. Beginning with a somber acoustic intro, hell is unleashed without warning as you face spiritual death. The pace is faster than the previous song, yet the mournful, nocturnal melodies pervade all. In the chaos and confusion created by this, you almost think that it could all be a dream. Maybe it's not real. Maybe there is hope for escape. But the nightmare is now only just unfolding. This is your existence, a nightmare come to life. The song slows down and the melodies become too much to take. This is the first stage of spiritual death. You are surrounded by grim spectres, waiting to drain your very essence.

"...I seek redemption, not for my soul
My salvation is not like yours to behold
The darkest sky bears scars of light
And even death is much too bright

Without a heart one cannot bleed
What is already dead can never leave
The utter cold is what I choose
With a frozen soul and my eyes closed..."

"Helfire" is next, and it continues the raging fury and fast tremolo riffs of earlier songs, while maintaining the haunting effect of the last two. Just when you feel that you can take no more and that you must be at the end of your feeble existence, you are lead through raging black flames, toward an uncertain fate.

Next is "Cult of Blood". This features nightmarish vocals, as heard while submerged in a river of blood. Fast-paced, for the most part, things do slow down as a chilling melody takes center stage. This lead possesses the cold, hopeless, nocturnal quality that is always present on a Necrophobic album. The pace of the song slows down as you descend deeper into the abyss.

"Roots of Heldrasill" is simply dripping with hopelessness. Abandoned, your spirit is shredded and bleeding. Sinister ghouls of this nightmare void attack you from all sides, drawn by the scent of black blood. This is one of the slower songs on the album, though there are faster-paced sections. The vocals sound possessed with evil conviction. As you think the assault might let up, or that you have reached the bottom, you soon begin to descend, yet again, embraced by the freezing depths.

A hauntingly sinister acoustic guitar, very reminiscent of something from Darkside, begins "Blood Anthem". This is an ode to the true darkness of eternal night; the nocturnal abyss of the nameless void. While it begins with a slower pace, the song does speed up and features a lot of thrashy riffs; however, it slows down and the morbid melodies and desperate vocals serve to cast you deeper and deeper into the swirling blackness. You see visions of other beings, and you begin to think that you will at least have the company of other kindred spirits as you float in a living nightmare of nothingness and despair.

The relief of such thoughts is ephemeral, as you soon wake up to see that it was only a dream within a nightmare. The instrumental, "Among the Storms", is filled with mournful and hellish sounds. You question whether or not such hope ever existed, or if it was simply some false product of your imagination, as your mind is twisted by a dark fate. Falling deeper into the abyss, you arrive into your body. This is your true body. Your life was but a dream. The descent that you experienced, the traumatic nightmares, the pain and betrayal... none of it was real. You are in Hell, engaged in an endless struggle; one which cannot be won. You were always in this place. Such is the darkness conveyed by Bloodhymns...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Watain - Rabid Death's Curse (2000)

The cult of Watain was formed in 1998, in the cold and grey land of Sweden. After a handful of demos, and even a live album, they unleashed their first LP in 2000. Rabid Death's Curse shows a band with a lot of chaotic energy. I was somewhat familiar with a few of these songs, before getting the album, but Casus Luciferi is the one that really drew me in, so going back and picking this up left me a little disappointed at first. It did not fully match up to the expectations that I had for it. However, what awaits the listener with this opus is a dark and morbid album that is drenched in a deathlike atmosphere.

From the beginning of "The Limb Crucifix", one can sense a very raw atmosphere. It is like your skull is split open by an axe, and your brain erupts. This is accentuated by the grim vocals, sounding somewhat gargled. Erik Danielsson does well not to overpower the sound, simply blending in like another instrument. The raging Black / Thrash riffs are followed by some more traditional tremolo riffs that really carry a dark and sinister feeling. The drums are blasting and quite typical for this style. Worth mention is that the bass is audible, and the sound is somewhat reminiscent of old Mayhem.

"Rabid Death's Curse" begins with eerie sounds as a ghostly guitar melody fades in. The song rages forth for a brief time, before slowing down a bit. It is during this section that it truly drips with utter morbidity. The vocals have a very "Dead" quality to them, as one can imagine a rotting corpse rising from a dark and forgotten crypt, half-decayed and thirsting for mortal blood. As with the last song, the bass adds depth to the sound, accentuating the macabre guitar riffs. The band really seems to shine during the mid-paced sections, which allows the atmosphere of gloom and dread really begin to unfold and to consume the listener.

"On Horns Impaled" erupts forth, like a legion of demons bursting through the gates of Hell to unleash strife and torment upon the mortal world. Very fast-paced and straight-forward, this features more possessed vocals and pure chaos. The lyrics, on this album, display a wealth of knowledge, regarding the subject matter, far more evolved than most of their contemporaries. As with other songs on here, there is a noticeable Mayhem influence in some of the guitar melodies, though not as emphatic as on Casus Luciferi.

The next song is "Life Dethroned", which continues with the same furious pace as has already been established on this album. The opening riffs are sort of ominous, adding to the dark feeling of the album, followed by a melody that sounds inspired by some of Dissection's work from The Somberlain. The raw sound of the album kind of downplays this a bit, but the influence is clearly there. About halfway through, the sound changes to an oldschool Hellhammer / Celtic Frost vibe, yet with a cold tremolo melody cutting through it and circling like a vulture over a carcass. This is a good mixture of the northern style of Black Metal and the old school sound of the '80s.

"Walls of Life Ruptured" begins with hellish screams, blasting drums and intense guitar riffs. It is almost reminiscent of something from The Secrets of the Black Arts, from Dark Funeral. There are moments of true brilliance, foreshadowing what would come on the next album, briefly appearing and then vanishing suddenly. Everything about this album seems to be a rejection of the established Black Metal sound of the period in which it was recorded; instead, hearkening back to the '80s and early '90s. As the pace slows down, briefly, the song switches up and the hauntingly wicked tremolo melody is like a fresh razor slicing through pale, white flesh. 

The pace slows down and the macabre atmosphere culminates with "Agony Fires", one of the best and most memorable songs on the entire album. The early moments of this song are rotten with the stench of death and decay. The bleak guitar riffs and the dismal bass lines combine to convey a feeling of doom and hopelessness. Within a minute or so, everything speeds up. The structuring of the song is flawless and the chorus of hellish demons, midway through, is very nicely done. As the opening riff returns, one can feel that the graves are opening and that which has died shall return to end the world of the living.

"Angelrape" opens much as the first song of the album. This album is much less melodic than those that follow it. The twisted sounds serve to possess the listener and hasten the heartbeat, near the point of bursting. This serves to work the listener up into a frenzy, being like the storm before the calm, to reverse an old saying. On its own, it is not necessarily the strongest track on here, but it fits into place very well, within the context of the album as a whole.

"Mortem Sibi Consciscere" is the highlight of the album. This is what it has all been building up to. This is epic in nocturnal glory and utterly morbid and hideous. To listen to this is to voluntarily cast your body into a pit of serpents, reveling in the agony as their fangs pierce your flesh and the venom enters your veins. Beginning with mid-paced riffs that hearken back to the classic era of Mayhem, this track soon picks up speed and drags the listener deeper into the abyss. This does well to mix the gloom and occult feeling of the aforementioned band with the cold and melodic style of early Dissection. 

"For what dwells behind those flames
Is hidden for your eyes
And just one single glance
Would transform your smiles into cries"

There is a grim desperation to the vocals, at certain points, and one gets the feeling that this is no mere song. This is a dark ritual to be experienced. As the song builds to its climax, you can feel the dark spirits of the night embrace you, soon to be taken beyond the darkest shadows and into the grim nothingness. This is what is possible when a band comes along and truly embraces the spirit of the ancient ones, while also cultivating a darkness within themselves and going beyond mere imitation.

Rabid Death's Curse may be a few steps behind Casus Luciferi, but if offers an intensely impassioned performance of raw and morbid Black Metal, filled with haunting melodies and horrific vocal lines that will linger in your subconscious for a long time to come. Watain did a very good job in meshing the various influences that they had into something coherent and memorable, never compromising for even a second. This is the best Black Metal album to come from Sweden in a few years. If you're new to the band, take a break from the latest album and immerse yourself in the grim atmosphere of Rabid Death's Curse.