Saturday, January 30, 2010

Desultory - Visions (1991)

Desultory was a Swedish Death Metal band that formed in 1989, based in Södertälje. The overall style is somewhat a mix of fast and violent riffs and more epic doom riffs, sounding much like a combination of old Amorphis and Dismember. In 1991, they released their second demo, Visions, recorded in Studio Sunlight, handled by Tomas Skogsberg. This should be a strong clue, regarding what to expect.

The first song is "Forever Gone" and, as the title might imply, the sound is quite epic and mournful. The opening riffs are very similar to what one might find on The Karelian Isthmus, It's mid-paced and sorrowful, with a good guitar sound. It's not the typical Sunlight buzzsaw sound, as there is a little more bass present and the style of riffing does not really lend itself to that particular sound. The vocals are rather high-pitched, compared to many other Death Metal bands of this era. After a minute or so, the song speeds up and there is some nice solo work to be found here.

"Darkness approaches, death calls I hear"

"Depression" starts out with a good fast-paced Death Metal riff, and slightly more forceful vocals. This is the longest song on here, though it doesn't do much to really stand out, in the early moments. It's fairly standard, but still enjoyable. Things slow down, near the middle, and the atmosphere becomes quite a bit darker, with a sombre lead solo accentuating this and adding some epic feeling as well. As the song closes out, the speed picks up as does the intensity.

"Now life seems to cease
Nothing will be the same again"

The final song is "Visions", and it begins with a monster of a riff that imbues the listener with a sense of dread. Following this, we have fairly standard Swedish Death Metal, with a somewhat epic feeling to some of the riffs. The solos are well done and they certainly help bring life to the song. There are moments where you suspect things will be rather average; however, it's at these moments where they unleash some new riff or solo to prevent you from drifting.

All in all, Visions isn't a bad demo. It shows a lot of promise, but it's nothing absolutely essential. This is, mainly, for fanatics of the early 90s Swedish/Finnish Death Metal sound.

Swordmaster - Wraths of Time (1995)

Swordmaster may be best known for featuring the younger brother of Jon Nödtveidt, Emil (Night). Formed in mid-1993, this band was soon signed to Full Moon Productions. After stabilizing the line-up, they began work on their debut release. The Wraths of Time E.P. was recorded in Studio Fredman, in early 1995 and released some months later. Thankfully, the sound is not similar to many of the useless albums that were created there.

"Wraths of Time" begins at full speed, and the first thing that is noticed is the, relatively, strange guitar tone. It definitely has a Black Metal sound, but it is not as clear as what one might expect. Within a few moments, your ear gets used to it and the tremolo melodies seep into your brain, alternating with some rather epic thrash riffs. In all honesty, the comparison is one I wished to avoid, but these riffs sound as if they'd fit well on Storm of the Light's Bane. The vocals possess the standard raspy sound, though some brief bits of deeper vocals come along near the middle. There are some nice, cold melodies here. Nothing extraordinary, but solid and memorable.

The next song is "Upon Blood and Ashes", which starts with a slower pace and a sorrowful lead solo. It gets moving with a bit of a melancholic thrash riff, before transitioning to faster drums and tremolo riffing. The production favours the guitars over the rest, which is a good thing. The drums keep a steady pace, without dominating the sound. More frozen melodies sweep through, near the middle of the song, leaving a good impression.

"Conspiracy - Preview" is a brief song that starts with a keyboard intro and some indecipherable vocals, before the guitar fades in and plays a mournful riff. This fades into a more intense section that sounds a lot like a sped-up version of "Do or Die", by Testament. It's not bad, but it doesn't really fit in with the rest. It doesn't last long, and the song then fades to nothingness. I'm not sure what it was a preview of, since this song didn't appear on any later release that I know of.

The final track is merely some useless gargling and really adds nothing to the E.P. at all.

In the end, there are two decent songs and a couple throw-away tracks. It's definitely worth checking out, but for less than 15 minutes of music, I wouldn't recommend spending too much for it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cardinal Sin - Spiteful Intents (1996)

Cardinal Sin was formed by John Zwetsloot, in 1994, after leaving Dissection. He was joined by Magnus "Devo" Andersson and Joakim Göthberg, previously of Marduk. By 1996, they recorded the Spiteful Intents E.P. To date, this is their one and only release. The style is not far removed from the early material from Dissection, possessing a similar style of composition and arrangement. This is best described as melodic Black Metal, but with some Death Metal influences.

"Spiteful Intent" begins with an acoustic piece that also features some clean spoken word part in the background. The atmosphere is very calm and serene, suddenly building to an explosive release. The cold tremolo melodies and blasting drums are accompanied by very raspy vocals. The atmosphere is not as Black as on The Somberlain, for example, but it never strays into Lunar Strain territory either. There is some use of overdubbed vocals, with the higher-pitched style joined by a deeper growl. This effect is ephemeral, thankfully. There's some interested solo work, as well, showing Zwetsloot's classical background.

The next song is "Probe With A Quest", and it begins with a brief open-arpeggio riff that creates a dismal feeling, before transitioning to a more epic riff, that builds a majestic and sorrowful aura. The main riff could have, easily, fit a Dissection album, though the drumming isn't nearly as tight as that of Ole Öhman. By the middle of the song, things slow down and the feeling is more sombre. The mournful melodies sweep over you like frozen winds, before shifting back to the main mid-paced thrash riff. The final moments have a rather epic vibe going on.

"The Cardinal Sin" follows this, breaking the serene feeling with thrashier riffs and faster drumming. There is a heightened sense of urgency, though I wouldn't exactly say this is terribly intense. It's more straight-forward than the previous songs, and shorter as a result. There are some decent riffs here, but it makes one wonder how this material would have sounded in Zwetsloot's prior band, as it seems to be lacking something. It's not bad, by any means, but it doesn't feel complete in some way.

The E.P. ends with the brief classical guitar piece, "Language of Sorrow". As the title would suggest, the feeling is somewhat introspective and bleak. It's much in the same vein as "Crimson Towers", from The Somberlain, and serves as a fitting way to end this release.

All in all, there's nothing terribly groundbreaking or essential here. While it's solid material and is of particular interest of those who wish to follow what John Zwetsloot did after leaving Dissection, it simply cannot compare with that godly band (then again, few things can). It's worth picking up, if you get the chance.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Vinterland - Welcome My Last Chapter (1996)

This album is a bit of a mystery. This is the one and only full-length album from Sweden's Vinterland. Prior to this, they'd only released a couple of demos. Upon releasing this album, they seem to have vanished. Such an occurrence, in itself, is not all that strange. However, when coupled with the fact that the material is of such high quality, it becomes difficult to understand how and why Vinterland became such an obscure band. Even more mysterious is that they seem to have been one of the few Black Metal bands to avoid getting raped by the typical Unisound/Hellspawn production demons, namely Dan Swanö. Not only does Vinterland share a similar sound to the mighty Dissection, in that they play cold and melodic Black Metal, but they also survived Swanö's unreliable skills as a producer, during the winter of 1995. Released in the autumn of 1996, on No Fashion, Welcome My Last Chapter offers one final mystery in that (as the story goes) the original title of the album was meant to be Wings of Sorrow. This makes sense, as it is also the title of the epic song that closes the record. For whatever reason, the other text was present on the cover and they changed this to the official title.

I first discovered this band during the freezing winter months and was, immediately, drawn to it. I had been seeking something else in the vein of early Dissection as well as Sacramentum's Far Away From the Sun and Sorhin's I Det Glimrande Mörkrets Djup. This was soon recommended to me and I made haste in acquiring it. It was exactly what I was looking for, and more. It's amazing that it took so many years after its release for me to discover this gem.

"Our Dawn of Glory" begins with a clean/acoustic passage that creates a calm feeling, which is abruptly ended by the furious and razor sharp attack of the bitter cold guitar riffs and the unearthly screams. Everything is very clear and powerful, much like the sound on Storm of the Light's Bane, though the overall atmosphere is more somber, especially as it concerns the vocals. The opening moments are as intense as they are memorable. The drums simply beat the life right out of you and the frozen tremolo riffs carry your spirit far beyond on the cold winds of nothingness. The pace is very dynamic, with many twists and turns, and even some tasteful keyboard usage, handled by Dan Swanö. This song is defined as much by the blindingly fast and powerful parts as it is by the slower, more melancholy melodies. It's this structural contrast that lends so much to the epic nature of the song, and the entire record. The track then ends with a similar clean section to that which began things. This is definitely the way to begin an album.

Following this is "I'm An Other In the Night", which starts out with a mournful guitar melody and truly sorrowful vocals. The speed slowly builds up, until it erupts in a fury of hatred and misanthropy, fueled by the tremolo picking and blasting drums. There's some variation in the drumming that adds well to the overall dynamic and keeps things interesting. The vocals have an icy feeling to them, as they're not entirely clear. The bleak feeling becomes even more harsh, later in the song, as things slow down a bit. In this sense, the harshness is not defined by speed but by the feeling conveyed. As the acoustic guitar, briefly, joins the rest, there's some added sense of hopelessness. As the track progresses, the intensity builds and builds, until the pace suddenly slows down again, and the effect is similar to that of slicing open your flesh and the relief that you feel as you see the blood wash over your flesh and drip down onto the snow-covered ground.

"So Far Beyond... (The Great Vastforest)" continues from where the previous song left off, featuring a variety of nocturnal sounds, such as that of wolves howling at the full moon, accompanied by a somber piano piece. This creates a very calm and introspective atmosphere, though one that calls to mind unpleasant thoughts and desires of an ultimate ending to this feeble existence.

The instrumental interlude fades into "A Castle So Crystal Clear", which unleashes a dark and mournful feeling that is not too far removed from old Katatonia. The song is rather slow-paced, as the percussion dictates, despite the tremolo picking. This changes, after a couple minutes, and things pick up a little bit. There are some interesting down-picked parts that work well to add a new dimension to the sound, while the drumming keeps a blistering pace beneath.

"As I Behold the Dying Sun" starts with the sounds of falling rain, distant whispers and clean guitars all coming together to create a dark and sorrowful feeling. As the rest of the instruments come in, the tremolo riffs blend with the doomier parts to keep things interesting and dynamic. Again, the early moments possess a similar vibe to that of old Katatonia, before going back to the melodic and cold Black Metal sound that dominates most of the album.

The next song is "Vinterskogen", beginning with a slow and melancholy vibe. The cold and mournful melodies are accompanied by tortured screams and some eerie spoken word passage that adds to the mysterious feeling. The atmosphere is accentuated by simple utilization of the keyboards and acoustic guitar. The feeling is very calm, yet depressive and hopeless. The lead guitar melody, near the end, adds to the overall aura.

"Still the Night Is Awake" bursts forth with frostbitten tremolo riffs and more otherworldly screams. This one is fairly fast-paced, keeping the frozen intensity and the epic structure, despite the relatively short length. Later in the song, things slow down and the atmosphere becomes more majestic as the blizzard engulfs your spirit and carries you toward oblivion.

This is followed by "A Winter Breeze", which has a strange opening riff. It's not as cold as the majority of the album, though the bleak and hopeless feeling is more present than ever. The typical frozen riffs do weave throughout the song, as well as slower open-arpeggio riffs that add to the desolate feeling. The middle section of the song is reminiscent of early Burzum in structure and vibe. This one works as a good lead-in to the final track.

The album concludes with "Wings of Sorrow", which features slow and mournful riffs, a spoken word passage that is accompanied by tormented screams in the background and some acoustic bits as well. This is the longest song on the album, clocking in at just under nine minutes. It takes its time to build up, creating an atmosphere of cold nocturnal sorrow.

"Come, come please and grab my hands
And may the frozen winds caress my empty soul..."

Something about this part reminds me of the first Ophthalamia album, A Journey In Darkness. The vocals are even more unrestrained than on the previous songs, giving this one added passion and intensity of a different kind. The guitar melodies are memorable in a very haunting sense, sure to flow through your veins like ice water. The songwriting is absolutely brilliant and makes one wonder how and why this band faded into obscurity after this release, especially considering how many inferior bands were left standing. By the end of the song, the guitars and drums fade out as a somber piano outro ends this epic song.

"Let the wings of grief carry me to the kingdom far beyond all light"

This is an amazing album that should be sought after by anyone with a preference for cold and somber Black Metal, in the vein of Dissection, Burzum, Sacramentum, etc. My only disappointment comes from the fact that Vinterland only made one full-length and that it took me so long to get my hands on it. Buy this and let it carry you on frozen winds...

Friday, January 8, 2010

Thou Art Lord - Eosforos (1994)

In 1993, Magus Wampyr Daoloth (George Zaharopoulos) and Necromayhem (Sakis Tholis) came together to create the intense Hellenic Black Metal band, Thou Art Lord. Some might have looked at this as merely a collaboration between the minds behind Necromantia and Rotting Christ, though Magus was actually a member of Rotting Christ at this time, anyway. In reality, he was involved in quite a large number of projects, proving to be a very creative and motivated musician. At any rate, by 1994, they released the debut full-length from Thou Art Lord, titled Eosforos (meaning "Lucifer").

A good friend of mine from northern Greece exposed me to this band, after I'd asked the feeble question of whether or not there were any decent bands in the Hellenic scene, beyond Rotting Christ, Varathron and Necromantia. Well, as I soon found out, the answer was a resounding yes. Upon first listen, Eosforos seemed to have the typical Hellenic sound; in fact, I would have mistaken it for a lost Rotting Christ album, had I not known better. But, after listening a little more closely, I soon realized that there was something darker that permeated this record.

"For the Lust of Lilith" is an intense way to open the album, slowly fading from the nothingness and then completely annihilating all in its path. It begins with furious riffing and pounding drums, before transitioning to a mid-paced section, and then speeding up yet again. Just as they did on Thy Mighty Contract and, to a lesser extent, on Non Serviam, Necromayhem and the Magus trade vocals, alternating between the higher-pitched rasps and deeper vocals. During the faster moments, this song utilizes the staccato riffing that this scene is so well known for, as well as mid-paced riffs that carry the feeling of doom, accentuated by minimal keyboard use that is done very well. This is a great way to begin the album, and really has a way of getting your adrenaline pumping and preparing you for war. If you're not ready to completely explode by the time this song is over, someone may need to check your pulse to verify that you're even still alive.

The next song is "Disciples of Black Sorcery", and it starts with a slower pace. In this case, the drumming dictates the pace more than anything, as the guitars could have fit over fast or slow, either way. The song structure is a little more complicated than the previous track, giving more of an epic feeling and taking you deeper on this hellish journey. Mid-way through, things speed up and a chill comes over you as both voices scream the title of the song, with a great tremolo riff underneath. I would comment on how memorable this one is, but this is something that it shares in common with the rest of the album.

"Eosforos Rex Infernus" continues this feeling, opening with a healthy pace. The production is very similar to that found on Non Serviam, which would make sense as two of the same musicians were involved, not to mention that it was recorded in the same studio and produced by the same guy. The sound is much thicker than what most would expect from a Black Metal album in 1994, but it definitely works and the atmosphere only gets darker as things progress.

On an album full of amazing songs, it is a true compliment to say that the next one manages to stand out, even amongst such greatness. "Towers of the Autumn Moon" begins with an eerie keyboard intro that sounds like something from an old horror movie, helping to build some suspense. As you walk into the shadows, you have no idea what awaits you, until it's too late. The crushing riffs assault you from the darkness, with the brutality of a sledgehammer on an infant's skull. The fast staccato riffing rips and tears through you, rather than making precise cuts. The keyboard part seems awkward at first, until you realize that this is the desired effect; to give some uneasy feeling. Things get much faster for the refrain, exploding with fury, before descending back to the mid-paced section once more. The lead guitar adds a nice touch to the main riff, giving a bit more life to it. Late in the song, things get much slower, creating an aura of doom and dread. The riff is slightly reminiscent of something from Hypocrisy's Osculum Obscenum, as it fades out.

"A Call to Chaos (Kaos - Keravnos - Kybernetos)" starts out with some strange sounds, creating an unsettling feeling, before an intense and fast-paced riff erupts from the confusion, with the higher-pitched vocals screaming over it. There's some almost murderous rage in his voice. This is a good example of what many modern bands miss out on and totally forget: feeling. One way or another, if your music inspires no feeling in the listener and conveys nothing, then you've failed as a musician. Late in the song, there's another memorable section where things slow down and the words kaos keravnos kybernetos are chanted, adding to the evil feeling.

The next song is "Through the Eye of the Heirophant", beginning with an eerie intro. There's definitely some strange eastern vibe here. Once the song gets started, this feeling still doesn't go away. The riffs are simply creepy as hell, with a flute (I think) that soon accompanies the rest. The main riff is dark and haunting, as it permeates your very being and sinks into your subconscious. Assuming that you are in any way receptive to this, it is guaranteed to remain in your brain, lurking through the darkness, for quite some time. There is a seething intensity that is present in these riffs, that is unmatched by most. By the middle, the pace changes a bit and there's a riff that seems pretty similar to something from Non Serviam, though I'm not sure which album was released first. The solo near the end adds to the already memorable and epic atmosphere, as the song then fades out.

"Warhammer" begins with some strange intro that seems suitable for an ancient war. The first riff has a strong Death Metal feeling, especially due to the production, before going into something thrashier and then to a more typical Hellenic sound. Out of everything on the album, this is the one song that I might say would be less necessary than the others, but it soon redeems itself with some great melodies and solos. All in all, it could have used a little tweaking, though it still manages to stand out and retain its own identity, just like every other song here.

The final track is "The Era of Satan Rising". Once again, the band implemented an eerie intro piece, building a sense of tension that has been all-too-present throughout this record. Demonic screams erupt from the calm, joined by a dark and somber tremolo riff and blasting drums that seem intent on caving in your skull. If Thou Art Lord intended to end the album on a memorable and epic note, they definitely succeeded. Things slow down, later in the song, with mid-paced riffs and lead solos that possess a lot of feeling. After lulling the listener into a false sense of security, things speed up once more. Such a journey has a way of weakening your heart and preparing you to be taken into the vast nothingness by the grim spectre of death.

This is an amazing piece of Hellenic Black Metal. While the surface seems to share many similarities with Non Serviam from Rotting Christ, it becomes apparent that the atmosphere of Eosforos is somewhat darker and more mysterious. This is a classic release from this scene, and of the sub-genre as a whole. Seek this out at all costs. The band may have degenerated in subsequent years, but this one shall forever remain a classic.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sacramentum - Finis Malorum (1994)

Finis Malorum is the first proper release from Sweden's Sacramentum. This E.P. was recorded in Dan Swanö's Unisound Studios. It was released by the band in 1994, and later repressed by Adipocere in 1995. I first discovered this band through their debut album, Far Away From the Sun, so I expected a similar sound when I finally ran across this recording. While the feeling is there, it doesn't quite match up.

"Moonfog" slowly fades in, before erupting with a violent fury. The sound is a little thicker and less cold than the following album. A significant part of this may be related to the drums. It would seem that Swanö's questionable production skills came into play once again, resulting in the drums being too loud in the mix. As far as the guitar melodies go, they're not too far removed from the material on the full-length. It's not merely fast-paced all the way through; the sound is very dynamic, with a lot of old school melodies.

The next song is "Travel With the Northern Winds", which begins with a strange riff, before going into something more traditional. It doesn't last long, before a short bass break and a new riff comes in. This song is a bit disjointed, as it just doesn't flow very well. There are some good ideas to be found, but it seems the band can't quite figure out what direction they want to go in. The Black Metal riffs give a dark feeling to the song, which is interrupted by frequent Death Metal riffs (and drumming).

"Devide et Impera" starts with another odd riff. It soon transitions to a more melodic riff, and then to an epic and atmospheric section that begins to send a bit of a chill over you. The lead solo does well to add to this feeling. There are still some Death Metal bits, later in the song, that kind of detract from the feeling, but it's nothing too bad. There's a strong traditional Metal vibe to the solos, which is a plus.

This is followed by "Pagan Fire", which rages forth from the start, and then goes into a Death Metal riff. There's this constant struggle between Black and Death Metal on this release, and it tends to have a detrimental effect on the overall product. Despite the distraction provided by the fact that the drums are too high in the mix, there are some really good melodies here. Where the band seems to shine are when they stick to either Black Metal or even the more old school riffs. The Death Metal aspect should have been dropped already, and it is a good thing that they realized that before recording their first album.

The E.P. concludes with "Finis Malorum", which is a brief outro that consists of a somber guitar melody and a distant spoken-word passage. Soon, some more melodic riffs emerge, accompanied by drums, before fading into the nothingness.

This is not an essential release, unless you are a hardcore fan. The thing that drew me to Sacramentum, in the first place, was the cold Black Metal sound found on Far Away From the Sun, owing some influences to Dissection's Storm of the Light's Bane. Finis Malorum possesses vry few of the qualities that I appreciate, as it regards this band, and a few more that just don't seem to fit. It's not a bad release, by any means, but it struggles to hold up under close scrutiny.