Sunday, March 20, 2011

Clandestine Blaze - Falling Monuments (2010)

Falling Monuments is the first full-length album to be released from Finland's Clandestine Blaze in quite some time. Arriving at the end of December 2010, from Northern Heritage Records, four long years had passed since the last album, Church of Atrocity. It seemed that the band was put to rest with that record, since Mikko was busy with Deathspell Omega. In a sense, it was almost as if this had become a forgotten side-project that he no longer had time for. Even the last album was rather lackluster, compared to those that had preceded it. Clandestine Blaze was never really known for being terribly original; more than anything, the band served to keep alive the basic sound and spirit of the Second Wave of Black Metal, with a little something else added in. However, a clear progression could be seen over the course of the first few albums. 2004's Deliverers of Faith marked the high point of Mikko's creativity, something that was lacking on Church of Atrocity. Following that release, Clandestine Blaze seemed to fade into nothingness, destined to remain a footnote as the solo project of the DsO vocalist, and nothing more.

After four years of silence and making pretentious music that no longer had anything to do with Black Metal, the old spirit began to stir and Mikko felt the need to return to his roots. Much like with the last album, Falling Monuments had very little promotion and I only learned of the release by chance. Due to the feeling of being somewhat let down by Church of Atrocity, I was somewhat hesitant to give this a listen, despite the lengthy amount of time since the band's last output. Upon first listen, the album is not particularly impressive and does not do much to correct the mistakes from the last outing. Nonetheless, it is another decent slab of northern Black Metal that is sure to satiate those needing more of this type of music.

"Unfolding Madness" begins with an intro that is reminiscent of the one used for the Satanic Warmaster / Clandestine Blaze split. Noises that almost remind one of something from the Hellraiser films are joined by distant and tormented screams. Suddenly, the music comes in and begins pounding your skull. Fast tremolo riffs and blasting drums signal the return of one of Finland's least known Black Metal bands. The production is a bit strange, being kind of hard on the ears at first. This keeps in line with the last few albums, since he chose unorthodox sounds for each one, for one reason or another. The drums are a little too loud in the mix, though this might please those who always complain about how low the percussion is in minimalist Black Metal. After a couple minutes, the pace slows a bit, before a more miserable and torturous melody dominates the sound and is joined by howls of despair. The final moments of the song are the most memorable and it is at this point that your ears begins getting used to the odd mixing.

The next song is "Possession of Nordic Blood", which is more mid-paced and features some ominous riffs. The sound is very primitive, yet still has the trademark Clandestine Blaze melodies and is slightly disturbing, yet not as dark as it could be. Typically, Mikko includes one or two mid-paced tracks that rip off Celtic Frost riffs, and end up being boring as hell. Thankfully, this one is still dynamic enough to avoid falling into such traps.

"Call of the Warrior" begins with some simplistic and rather boring riffs, before speeding up and becoming a little more interesting. The riffs are difficult to hear, but some sort of horn accompanies the proceedings and gives more character and helps add a feeling of dread to the song. It could be something else entirely, but that is what is sounds like. There are some decent riffs, but the production hinders any possibility of fully appreciating them. In that sense, it's almost like some of the old Moonblood rehearsal tapes; there would be brilliant melodies that were impossible to really soak in, due to the poor sound. Necro production is one thing, but one should always ensure that the guitars are clear enough for the full effect to be felt. In this case, it's walking a fine line.

This is followed by "Melancholy of the Falling Monuments", which is a slower-paced song that really drains the life out of you. From the first moments, this manages to stand out from the rest of the songs as one of the true highlights of the record. Mikko's vocals hearken back to the early days of the Second Wave, reminiscent of Nocturno Culto, in a way. The riffs are sorrowful and one can feel the hopelessness and the urge to turn away from the dying world, to simply crawl into an open grave and forget all that has been lost. There is no longer any will to fight and reclaim what once was; rather, it is easier to sacrifice all hopes and dreams and to just put the blade to your flesh and begin carving until the snow is stained with your blood. The song is very minimalist, yet subtle additions come near the end to ensure that the somber atmosphere crushes your spirit.

"Bloodsoil" picks up the pace, after a brief intro. The cold tremolo riffs don't sound terribly original, and you almost get the sense that you've heard these same melodies from this band before, but it is all well done, nevertheless. Again, the drumming is a little too high in the mix, but the guitars are able to cut through. This track is very reminiscent of old Burzum, especially as the pace slows down and a tortured scream leads into a section where nothing is left but a lone guitar. Nothing is wrong with this, especially since Varg is no longer interested in keeping his old sound alive.

The next song is "Horizon of Ego Annihilation", another mid-paced song that features good use of tremolo riffs to accentuate the power chords. The vocals are placed well, suiting the dreary aura quite well. As the riffs change, one gets the sense that something horrible will soon happen, and that the worst is yet to come. The song is very short, clocking in at just under three minutes, but its simple melodies are effective.

"Endurance of Supremacist Ritual" starts out with slow doom riffs, before the drumming kicks in and an eerily familiar guitar melody rises from the darkness. It should be easily recognizable to any fan of Norwegian Black Metal, as it was ripped straight from "Where Cold Winds Blow", from Darkthrone's A Blaze in the Northern Sky. Odd that Mikko took four years in between Clandestine Blaze releases, yet was unable to write a full album of original material. The song is not bad, but I preferred it the first time I heard it... on the Darkthrone record.

Finally, the album ends with "Discordant Howls of Tormented". This is another mid-paced track, featuring some rather miserable sounds, though not as dark as anything found on Deliverers of Faith. After a couple minutes, the song speeds up with blasting drums and fast tremolo-picked guitar riffs, soon joined by the haunting sounds of a funeral organ. This small addition manages to do a lot for the atmosphere of the song, which is somewhat strange to think of since Clandestine Blaze always managed to do so well with so little, in the past. The song fails to deliver the type of soul-crushing despondency that is alluded to in the opening moments, due to odd structuring and ideas that are never fully built upon. While possessing some of the best riffs of the album, the song clearly struggles at some points.

Much like Sargeist, Clandestine Blaze was dormant for several years. However, unlike his Finnish peers, Mikko was unable to return to form in a way that makes the listener feel that the lengthy wait was worthwhile. Falling Monuments has its moments, but one gets the sense that the brilliance that was touched upon with Deliverers of Faith will never again be matched, as many of the ideas that made that album what it was were stripped away and used for Deathspell Omega instead, leaving Clandestine Blaze with only the more primitive and less-inspiring material. The new album is solid enough and is by no means bad, but one would expect a bit more from a band that has been silent for four years.