Friday, September 30, 2011

Mütiilation - Sorrow Galaxies (2007)

Released in September 2007 by End All Life, Sorrow Galaxies is the fifth and final full-length album from Mütiilation. This record maintains the sense of gloom that has characterized most of Meyhna'ch's work, yet it represents a departure from the band's established sound, in some ways. It improves upon some of the flaws of the previous few albums and comes off as Mütiilation's most ambitious effort in quite some time. Since the band was laid to rest over two years later, it is not exactly clear as to whether or not this was planned to be the final chapter, but it is somehow fitting, nonetheless.

The first thing that listeners might notice is the presence of a real drummer, which makes all the difference in the world. The music takes on a more natural, organic feeling, and this also allows the riffs to break free of the rigid patterns that have restricted their movement for the last several albums, possibly having something to do with the more epic and expansive sound of Sorrow Galaxies. It is a shame that it took so long to take care of this issue, but one can at least appreciate that the problem was finally rectified. The result is an album that stands a far better chance of being taken seriously, possessing a more genuine feel.

Oddly, the cover art seems to have more in common with the preceding records, which included strange electronic effects that gave a rather spacey quality to the music, at times. Thankfully, this horrid experimentation is at a minimum here, and is almost completely non-existent. While there are some samples used, it never gets to the point where it compromises the atmosphere of the music and is done in a less-invasive manner. One gets the impression that Meyhna'ch had a checklist of mistakes that he was attempting to avoid repeating.

Another improvement is the guitar tone and the fact that the guitars are, once again, more prominent in the mix. The riffs are more powerful and manage to better convey the intended feeling, with the mournful and icy riffs washing over you and immersing you in total darkness. One of the main complaints regarding Rattenkönig was that the guitars were too low and ineffective, leaving the vocals as the main driving force of the songs.

Speaking of the vocals, the previous album displayed a little more variation and hearkened back to some of the techniques utilized in years past, but here Meyhna'ch sounds a bit more monotone. Not only is his performance kind of flat, but his voice sounds deeper than usual, as well. This is a stark contrast to the wretched screams of Remains of a Ruined, Dead, Cursed Soul. The sound is much more lifeless and devoid of emotion, as if he has shed all but the tiniest remnants of his humanity. In a sense, it suits the music, which is also colder and less overtly melancholic, while still being dismal.

Musically, Sorrow Galaxies is far less one-dimensional than might have been expected. Largely due to the improvements that have been made, the music is able to breathe and to more freely explore the shadows of misery and hatred. The tempos are much more varied, with slower doom-inspired sections being worked into the morbid tapestry of suffering that is on display, here. Songs like "Cosmic Seeds of Anger & Dementia" pick up from where the final song of the previous album left off, utilizing the sombre thrash riffs that Mütiilation has long been known for and blending them with mournful tremolo melodies and the more bleak and funereal riffs that crawl along at the pace of death. The faster riffs strike as being reminiscent of the band's past works, such as Vampires of Black Imperial Blood, maintaining a sense of continuity. This is also true of the tremolo melodies featured in "The Coffin of Lost Innocence", which evoke sorrow and despondency. "Cesium Syndrome 86" may sound the closest to the older material, which is refreshing in a way since the previous record offered very few ideas that possessed any connection to the band's past, other than the overall mood in general. It is also the most straightforward track on the album, though not one-dimensional by any means. The final track, "Acceptance of My Decay", seems to tie everything together, employing riffs that sort of correspond to ideas expressed earlier in the album, while elaborating on the themes of hopelessness and torment that permeate much of the material.

Sorrow Galaxies is, undoubtedly, the strongest Mütiilation album in many years, with each song coming across as strong and purposeful and all working together toward a common goal. The musical ideas that are expressed uphold sense of coherence that was not always present on the last few records. The songs are more epic and the arrangements are carefully thought-out, with each piece realizing its full potential. This release comes recommended and should satisfy any fan that has been disappointed with various aspects of Mütiilation's recent output. With this album, Meyhna'ch made his final statement and put an end to a musical entity that had existed for nearly two decades and faded back into obscurity.

"Hope is dead... healing will never come"

Mütiilation - Rattenkönig (2005)

Released in January 2005 on Ordealis, Rattenkönig is the fourth full-length album from Mütiilation, arriving about a decade after the band's debut record. Limited to 2000 copies, this album maintains the dark and mournful style of Black Metal that Meyhna'ch had become known for, despite the number of changes since the early years. Though it possesses several of the same flaws that plagued the previous record, it comes off as a sufficiently solid and consistent effort, overall.

It was during a particularly bleak period of my existence that I first gave this album a real chance, along with Majestas Leprosus, and this was the one that appealed to me the most at the time. While it does not compare to the older material, it still seemed like an improvement over an album like Black Millenium. There is no real epic sense of going on a journey through Hell or anything of that nature. Instead, the entirety of this record is like the death throes of a being that is simply wallowing at the depths of suffering, with no sense of hope. Meyhna'ch does well the create an utterly miserable record that feeds the negativity and anguish of the listener and even encourages the spilling of blood in the nocturnal hours.

The production is very similar to the previous record, in that it sounds quite lifeless and sterile, due to the horrible production and the drum programming. The guitars sound a little lower in the mix, which is definitely a bad thing. The guitar riffs are always supposed to be the primary focus and, in a situation like this, should not be de-emphasized. There is no rawness to the sound, at all, though it is not polished by any means. The drums are just as terrible as on the last album, and the poor choices in mixing result in this aspect being even more noticeable, at times. Meyhna'ch also continues using the electronic effects and some samples, possibly as a feeble attempt to add an eerie feeling to the music. It sounds more out of place than anything, and detracts from the general atmosphere.

While not quite as good as Majestas Leprosus, the songwriting succeeds in coming off as more cohesive than that of Black Millenium. The album flows better, sounding as if more thought went into the arrangement of each track. Rather than containing a few good songs and then a handful of throw-away tracks, Rattenkönig is more consistent than its predecessor. That being said, songs like "That Night When I Died" and "The Bitter Taste of Emotional Void" are certainly the most dismal and memorable of the whole album. Nonetheless, even these highlights display a level of potential that goes unrealized, as the production renders the guitars much less effective than they should be and allows the vocals to force the material along more than any other single element. The vocal performance does offer more variety and shows more effort than the last couple of albums, but it is a shame that the guitar melodies are relegated to backing noise, due to the horrid mix.

Rattenkönig is a solid album, though it represents even more of a disconnect with the old days. Whereas the last record still contained a few ideas that hearkened back to the band's classic period, Mütiilation had certainly evolved into something else by this point. This is not a release for someone just getting into the band, nor is it an album that is likely to appeal to anyone seeking a sound similar to the demos or other early releases. Nonetheless, it offers the same type of melancholic Black Metal that Meyhna'ch spent so many years cultivating and is worth a listen if you are able to get past the atrocious production.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mütiilation - Majestas Leprosus (2003)

For a long time, I saw the release of Remains of a Ruined, Dead, Cursed Soul as the end of the true Mütiilation. The records that Meyhna'ch made after his return from obscurity were something different and unworthy of consideration. I maintained this approach for several years, before finally deciding to give these solo albums another chance. As life had gotten unbelievably worse than it already was, I found myself open to exploring the demented works of his later albums. By judging them for what they are, rather than comparing them to the band's early era, I was able to appreciate them more. This was especially true for the March 2003 release of Majestas Leprosus which very well may be the best L.P. to emerge from this period of Mütiilation's existence.

The only real complaints here would have to be that the sound is rather sterile, due to the drum programming and the digital recording. It seems like the guitars were recorded directly onto a pc, really lacking any sort of rawness. Analog equipment and a real drummer (even a somewhat clumsy and half-competent one) would really have benefited this album greatly. However, Meyna'ch was probably just working with whatever he had available and felt compelled to create music, even if not via the most preferable means. If one can get past the cleaner, more mechanical sound, there is still a good deal of worthwhile material on Majestus Leprosus.

As for the songwriting, itself, Majestas Leprosus is filled with good riffs that hearken back to the band's glory years. The epic tremolo riffs of "Tormenting My Nights" and "Bitterness Bloodred" would have fit into the dark atmosphere of Vampires of Black Imperial Blood, without question. Despite the horrid production, it is clear that even the vocal patterns are more thought-out and Meyhna'ch's voice is utilized as yet another instrument. Once the listener is able to get used to the inferior production and focus on the guitar melodies, then it is possible to appreciate the sense of despair and hopelessness that bleeds forth. "Beyond the Decay" offers a few sorrowful melodies that also serve as a soundtrack to self-mutilation. "The Ugliness Inside" hearkens back to the demo period, though the wretched production does not allow it to realize its potential. Several of the guitar melodies on this record are quite epic, in a sense. For whatever Majestus Leprosus may be lacking, as a result of the recording conditions, the songwriting makes up for it. The final track, "If Those Walls Could Speak", is very memorable and does a decent enough job of maintaining the sickened, suicidal atmosphere. The gloomy tremolo melodies are quite haunting, while the vocals are dripping with a morbid feeling.

"At night I can hear the chanting of the dead… 
Here is no peace…"

Majestas Leprosus is filled with murky, lugubrious riffs, accompanied by extremely hateful and deathlike vocals, combining to create the most memorable material of Mütiilation's later period. Though the means of recording are unfortunate, there is still a genuine feeling of darkness that is conveyed by these songs and the sincerity of the compositions is something that makes this record my favourite of Meyhna'ch's solo work. If you are able to look beyond its flaws and immerse yourself in the atmosphere of melancholy that it gives rise to, Majestas Leprosus is very much worth checking out.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mütiilation / Deathspell Omega split (2002)

Deathspell Omega did well to latch on to other well-known Black Metal bands and to use them in order to help make a name for themselves, early on in their career. This was especially the case with the releases that they did with Moonblood and Mütiilation. The Mütiilation / Deathspell Omega 10" E.P. was released on End All Life and limited to 400 copies. While one band was among the most notable in the history of the French scene, the other would eventually eclipse them and go on to attain a higher level of popularity than most would have guessed, at the time. This release is a good example of why, as Mütiilation was simply coasting by on name-value and had little to prove, while Shaxul, Hasjarl and Khaos had to put forth much more effort to prove themselves worthy of such an association.

The Mütiilation track, "Beyond the Decay of Time and Flies", shows a band that is a pale shadow of what it once was. Meyhna'ch was working solo, by this point, and the results were a far cry from the brilliant material that was found on the early demos and full-length. While the overall style is similar, there is a very annoying quality to the production and songwriting. There is some unnecessary effect being used on the vocals, and the drum programming could not sound more fake and mechanical. The riffs are not even that good, but would have been quite a bit better if the other elements had been able to make up for the lack of creativity. All complaints aside, the song is able to stir up feelings of misery and darkness, once the listener is able to forget the details and be immersed in the music. Still, this is only a fraction of what it could have been and does not do well to represent the real Mütiilation.

The first of the two DsO contributions is "Insanity Supreme", which easily destroys the previous song. The open-arpeggio riffs that introduce the track soon give way to an intense tremolo melody that hearkens back to early Darkthrone. The sense of unease that exists within much of this band's material is present and this is aided greatly by the maniacal vocal performance. The two riff styles alternate throughout the rest of the song, creating a dismal atmosphere and doing well to show up their 'mentors'.

"For Fire and Void Become One" is more of a throw-away track, compared to the other one. The first half of the song is fast-paced but lacks the sense of cohesion that was displayed earlier. A morbid feeling is developed around the middle, as the tempo slows and the guitars work to create a dark and eerie vibe. After a while, the other riffs return and the song reaches a rather predictable conclusion. It is not bad, but it is not very impressive.

While the Mütiilation song sounds too simplistic and modern at the same time, Deathspell Omega manages to sound more organic and raw, though they were also using a drum program at the time (as far as I can recall). Their material sounds much more confident and together, as well, with "Insanity Supreme" really stealing the show here. This is not an essential release, in any way, but worth checking out for the one DsO song, at least.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Moonblood / Deathspell Omega - Sob A Lua Do Bode / Demoniac Vengeance (2001)

Despite the fact that the band had officially been laid to rest following the release of Taste Our German Steel, there was still an abundance of unreleased material that had been recorded for a handful of ill-fated projects. As a result, Moonblood continued to make posthumous appearances. The songs featured on the End All Life / Sombre Records Sob A Lua Do Bode / Demoniac Vengeance split L.P., with Deathspell Omega, were originally recorded in November 1997 and ended up sitting on the shelf for quite a few years before being released. Limited to only 350 copies, this is rare but worth seeking out for the Moonblood material, alone. As for Deathspell Omega, the songs are a little underwhelming and unable to meet the expectations that many may have, going in.

Moonblood starts the L.P. out (and rightfully so) with "Forgotten Spells in the Forests Nocturnal". From the opening moments, the atmosphere is dark, grim and unexpectedly epic. The main riff is a tremolo-picked melody that falls very much in line with the material that was used for the Katharsis split (being recorded during the same session) as well as their second full-length. It has been said many times that this style is very reminiscent of Darkthrone, yet the band manages to inject enough of their own creativity that it may betray their influences but never sounds like a carbon-copy. The melodies are very memorable, while maintaining a cold and sombre feeling. Nearly everything here is done to perfection, showing a very clear understanding of this style of music. The only complaint would have to be the acoustic section at the end, which does not blend in well with the rest of the instruments.

"A Silent Dream of Impurity" begins with a sorrowful intro section that includes a clean guitar as well as an overall epic vibe. Soon, this transitions to a faster tempo of raw and frigid Black Metal. The riffs flow from one to the next, very smoothly, like a sharpened blade slicing through pale virgin flesh. These melodies do well to carry the listener to another world, leaving behind the mundane existence that curses many in this wretched age. The vocals are filled with hate as the guitars penetrate the fuzz and static of the grim production job.

The next song has a slightly different tone, at first, until the second guitar comes in and adds a layer of bitter cold frost. "Bells of Apocalypse" features some of the most sorrowful riffs, yet the general atmosphere is not as depressive as one might expect, based on the utter contempt and venom being spewed from Gaamalzagoth. Much like the raw sound of the music, the vocals carry a very primitive, harsh feeling as well. There are brief sections with some sort of sound effects added in, including bells and some hellish chanting. This helps add a layer of darkness to the proceedings, though the main riffs were doing a good job already. Late in the song, additional riffs are introduced and they carve through you with no remorse, joined by maniacal howls.

Sob A Lua Do Bode ends with "I Hail the Night", which picks up from where the previous song leaves off. Again, the fast-paced drumming and tremolo riffs are accompanied by the malevolent, raving vocals to create a dark and epic masterpiece of a song. The pace shifts a little, near the middle, but this brief nod to the past soon gives way to blood-curdling guitar riffs that drive you deeper into the foggy night. The atmosphere of this track truly justifies its placement, as it does give a sense of finality and works well to end Moonblood's contributions to this split L.P.

"And my ways goes through the forest of lost souls
Through the forest of nocturnal hate
And I lost my soul in these diabolical areas
And the path is darkened by a shade"

Demoniac Vengeance starts out with "Follow the Dark Path", and while the production is similar to the Moonblood material, it still sounds kind of weak by comparison. The same can be said of the songwriting, as Deathspell Omega was not capable of holding their own with the legends of German Black Metal. That said, this song is not bad and features some good riffs in the old Darkthrone style, as well. Their approach is a little more derivative, but still possessing a feel that is identified with Deathspell Omega. It sounds as if they were still using a drum machine at the time, though this may not be the case. At any rate, it comes off as a little less natural than some of their other releases from this time period. Shaxul's vocals do not seem quite as intense as usual, either. The riffs do well to overcome any of the potential shortcomings, giving a disturbing and morbid feeling, especially during the slower part that arrives in the middle of the song. One thing that the two bands on this L.P. do share is the ability to create an epic vibe while working with a relatively minimalist type of music.

"Morbid Rituals" bears similarities to some of the songs that would appear on Inquisitors of Satan, though some of the cold tremolo riffs are more sorrowful and epic, in a way. Halfway through, the pace transitions to something more chilling and macabre, making use of open-arpeggio riffs and a slower tempo that allows the atmosphere to become even darker. Fog rises from the damp earth, illuminated by the moonlight, as nocturnal spirits guide you through the darkened graveland and into the forest that lays beyond.

This split L.P. comes to an end with "Yells from the Abyss", though it does not make the same impression as the previous tracks. Some parts sound similar to "From Unknown Lands of Desolation", and it is likely that they were merely recycled and re-worked. As with the other songs, the pace slows down after a few minutes and allows an evil feeling to creep over you. It is a familiar formula, so there is no shame in this, despite the predictability. The thrashier riffs, later in the song, seem out of place and do little to add to the overall composition. In this way, the band fails to go out on a high note and, instead, ends with a whimper.

The Moonblood material is much more essential, just for the fact that it is some of the best stuff that the band ever recorded, while Deathspell Omega's contributions were not as earth-shattering. Two of their three songs were fairly good, but pale in comparison to the mighty Moonblood. This is a case where the two bands featured on a split were a little too far apart, in terms of quality; therefore, the lesser of the two comes off looking worse than they should, perhaps. In the end, it is a solid release and well worth the time to track down.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Moonblood - Taste Our German Steel (2000)

Moonblood's sophomore effort, Taste Our German Steel, picks up from where Blut und Krieg left off and even succeeds in creating a darker and more haunting atmosphere. Released through End All Life, in 2000, this L.P. was limited to 100 hand-numbered copies. Unfortunately, the band's second full-length album also proved to be their last. Gaamalzagoth and Occulta Mors laid the band to rest, shortly thereafter, and thus robbed the Black Metal world of any future brilliance.

"Embraced by Lycanthropy's Spell" begins at full speed, with a dark and sombre tremolo riff that is accompanied by minimalist drumming that does nothing more than keep the pace. The vocals are grim and evil, suiting the music perfectly. Right away, it is clear that the production is even more harsh and under-produced than on the band's first record, giving it the feeling that it belonged to some previous era. The riffs possess an epic quality about them, which is something Moondblood was known for. This material shows more influence from early Darkthrone and less of the Bathory-esque tendencies that would sometimes appear. The repetition creates a droning aura that lures the listener into a trance-like state.

The next track is "Sarg und Tod, Part II", which utilizes a similar riffing style but offers a different feel based on the half-paced drumming pattern. This soon shifts to the same blasting approach as before, but the brief difference adds something. Around the middle, the band incorporates a clean guitar melody that blends in with the rest of the instruments, fairly nicely.

"Then Came the Silence" begins with a lone tremolo melody that carries a mournful vibe. This is soon joined by the rest of the instruments, and the atmosphere created is dark and hopeless. The song follows the same general pattern as the previous tracks, and the overall impression is that the album is much more cohesive than the last one, partially due to the lack of variation. The raw production suits the compositions very well, though a little more clarity would have benefited the brilliant melodies. Again, this song conveys an epic feeling and the riffs are very memorable, despite the rough sound.

This is followed by "Apocalyptic Vision", which starts out with an interesting intro that hearkens back to the 80s, in a way. Soon enough, however, the bands dives into a full-on Second Wave Black Metal sound, in the vein of Transilvanian Hunger. While working within the confines of a style that some would consider to be quite limiting, Moonblood demonstrates their high level of skill when it comes to writing haunting guitar melodies. As far as the drumming being simplistic, it goes to show that the band truly understands the type of music that they are playing, especially the fact that the guitar riffs should always be the main focus, with the percussion only functioning to keep time. This is the longest track on the album, lasting a little over nine minutes, and it maintains a dreary atmosphere throughout. It ends with a short acoustic piece that plays the same melody, almost as a nod to Bathory.

"The Angels Lament" bursts forth from the gates of Hell, possessing a sense of tension and trepidation that gives an unsettling feeling. This song must have been a favourite for the songwriters behind the early Deathspell Omega material, as they mimicked this type of approach quite a bit. The aura is like that of a nightmare from which you are unable to escape.

The final song is "A Walk in the Woods", utilizing the same style as the other songs, though again creating a different feeling. This is almost more epic than dark, though still retaining some sort of murky atmosphere. As the song progresses, the frozen melodies are slowly embedded in your brain. The final moments introduce a more introspective riff that begins to brings you down into the morbid gloom, before fading into nothingness.

Taste Our German Steel builds upon the strengths of Blut und Krieg and eliminates the weaknesses, resulting in an album that is slightly less ambitious but much more cohesive. This is raw, minimalist and hateful Black Metal with a somewhat sombre tone, following in the footsteps of Transilvanian Hunger, to an extent. However, while working within the same style, the band still manages to sound unique and to retain their own identity. While the production is harsher than the first album, it still enables the listener to soak in the great guitar melodies and to suffocate in the atmosphere of darkness that is given birth. If you have not heard this already, seek it out by any means necessary.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bethlehem - Dictius Te Necare (1996)

Dictius Te Necare is the second full-length album from Bethlehem, and represents somewhat of a departure from the sound that they established on 1994's Dark Metal. The title is Latin and translates to "You must kill yourself". Inside the booklet, one can see the dedication to all suicide victims. Released in Aprl 1996, through Red Stream, this record introduces a new member of the band and a different approach to creating the same type of atmosphere as before. Replacing Andreas Classen as vocalist is a character by the name of Landfermann, whose style is quite different and much more extreme than what most were doing around that time. This is most notable because it is the vocal performance, more than anything else, that has managed to polarize the opinions of listeners for the past decade and a half.

"Schatten aus der Alexander Welt" was the first song that I heard from this album, and it begins things with a high level of intensity. From the opening moments, the terrifying shrieks of Landfermann grab your attention and one only notices the musical differences after taking time to digest this shocking change. For those familiar with Varg's vocals on the early Burzum albums, this is still a little much to take in, as it is far more over-the-top. There is some variety in the vocal delivery, but the insane screaming and demented howling dominate the sound. Musically, this track sounds more like Black Metal than Doom, sort of like Dark Metal in reverse. The fast drumming and tremolo riffs, along with the tortured wailing gives one the impression that this is a different band, altogether. There are brief sections that are very calm, utilizing clean guitar to create a dismal feeling, but these serve only to bridge different parts of the song, really. Near the middle, there is a riff that sounds as if it was inspired by Hellhammer / Celtic Frost, so there is even more of an argument for the Black Metal material that is present on this record.

The next song is "Die Anarchische Befreiung Der Augenzeugenreligion", which starts out with a much slower pace while retaining the tormented screams and the overall depressive feeling. With that said, this does not come close to the darkness found on the previous L.P. There is a decent amount of variety in the riffs and tempos, but they do not work together to create a cohesive feeling. Instead, it seems very inconsistent and each riff has a purpose all its own, having little or nothing to do with the track as a whole. The song is not bad, but it does not accomplish enough to justify the fact that it stretches beyond nine minutes in length.

"Aphel - Die Schwarze Schlange" is one of the highlights of the album. It begins with a tremolo riff that instills a sense of tension and dread in the listener, with distant howls that soon come to the forefront with a venomous fury. This tempo does not last long before a thrashier riff comes along and alters the vibe for a few moments. As this schizophrenic piece continues, a calm section with only clean guitar and the ravings of a total maniac soon explode into a Black Metal-inspired frenzy. This carries on, with the pace changing quite often, until the latter half of the song. Things get very quiet and subdued, with a clean melody that comes to you like a cloaked figure offering a fresh blade. The almost muffled vocals urge you to take the knife and to caress your flesh with the cold steel. And then, it happens... all conscious thought fades as you are overwhelmed by the utter misery of the riff that follows. With ease, the blade slides into your skin and the blood comes gushing out. The wound is deep, and the tormented howls and anguished cries echo those that reside within your feeble spirit, as your body collapses to the ground in a crimson pool.

The pace picks up a bit with "Verheißung - Du Krone Des Todeskultes", which is absolutely necessary to ensure the listener is alive long enough to hear the entire album. There is some odd effect on the vocals, and the riffs are not as overtly bleak, but it improves as it goes along. The main feeling is negative and somewhat sombre, but not to an agonizing extent.

"Verschleierte Irreligiosität" is a re-recorded version of "Veiled Irreligion", from Dark Metal. As with the rest of the album, the lyrics are in German this time, which actually adds something to the atmosphere. There are some changes in the arrangement, helping to accentuate the style of this album, but in the end the original possessed a much darker and more depressing atmosphere.

The next song is "Tagebuch Einer Totgeburt", which is one of the other highlights of this record. From the acoustic intro to the mournful guitar riffs and woeful cries, this is utter misery and hopelessness captured on tape. Whereas many of the songs feature sections that do not mix well with the rest, everything here comes together to build a sense of despair and sorrow. Rather than being filled with the urge to end your own existence, this inspires more of a feeling of laying in the floor, lifeless, waiting for death to come to you instead.

"Dorn Meiner Allmacht" brings the album to its conclusion, utilizing much less despondent riffs and going for a heavier doom approach, in a way. It is the second-longest track on here, and is somewhat disappointing. While it works well as a Doom Metal song, it does not convey any powerful feeling, so it comes across as a bit of a letdown.

Dictius Te Necare is a good album and contains some of the best songs of Bethlehem's career. As opposed to the last album, where there was a mixture of Black, Death and Doom Metal, this is mostly a combination of Black and Doom. However, when all is said and done, it lacks the oppressive atmosphere of pitch-black darkness that characterized Dark Metal. It is almost as if they counted on the vocal performance to take care of that moreso than the music, itself, and did not put the same effort into all of the songs. At any rate, this is a solid album and well worth picking up, though it could have been even more essential had it possessed a similar vibe to the previous record.

Burzum - Et Hvitt Lys Over Skogen (1993)

Count Grishnackh was a busy man, in the early 90s. In a very short span of time, he recorded the material for all of the classic Burzum albums, yet never allowing the level of quality to drop as a result. It had nothing to do with trying to generate a lot of revenue or to impress anyone; he was simply that creative and passionate about what he was doing. As a result of holding himself to a high standard, some material ended up taking a little more time than others to finally appear on a proper album, while others never made the cut. Such is the case with Et Hvitt Lys Over Skogen.

Somehow, I managed to be completely in the dark about the existence of this bootleg, for several years after having collected all of the available Burzum releases. Once I read about it, however, I was obsessed with tracking it down. Not to a psychotic level, since the demo material was less-than-impressive, but with average expectations. Upon hearing it for the first time, I was stunned that this failed to make it onto one of the official albums. I also assumed that it was recorded during the Hvis Lyset Tar Oss session, but most research has placed the recording of the song in the summer of 1992, during the Aske session. At any rate, this discovery was like receiving a gift from the past. At the time, there was still a lot of speculation as to whether or not the criminal Norwegian government would keep Varg imprisoned forever, as well as debate over the chances that he would ever record music again. And even still, it would never sound like the early stuff. So this one final treasure from the past was unearthed and enjoyed ever since.

"Et Hvitt Lys Over Skogen" is a somewhat lengthy song, approaching the ten-minute mark. As expected, everything about this falls in line with the rest of the material from that period. Recorded in Grieghallen, it possesses the same guitar tone that is present on the old albums, though it does not sound as if it has been properly mastered. Despite being a little rough around the edges, this is classic Burzum. The main riffs are all kind of catchy, which was sometimes the case with the Count's songwriting. It is mid-paced and even a little upbeat, in a sense, but the tortured screams are what really make this stand out. The vocals convey a feeling of intense hatred and misery, and the listener can truly feel this as the song plays. When really paying close attention to this, it is not terribly difficult to see why the track was not used; this kind of repetition is not exactly conducive to the same type of atmosphere that is found in the other songs, and the aura is not quite dark enough. Chances are, if not for the fact that it was 'lost' for some years, most may consider it kind of average. Things get more interesting, later in the song, but it takes a little too long in getting there. This definitely could have been worked on a little more and perhaps used for a later record, in a more focused and concise form; nonetheless, this never happened.

Side B contains "Lost Wisdom", but there really is nothing to say about this that has not already been said in the review for Det Som Engang Var, and the truth of the matter is that the title track is the main attraction, here.

Et Hvitt Lys Over Skogen offers a look into the past and allows Burzum fans to get a little more classic material, when most would have assumed that this was impossible. It is not the very best song ever composed by Count Grishnackh, but it rests somewhere in the middle range and is certainly worth hearing if you prefer the earlier approach to songwriting and vocal delivery.

Moonblood - Blut und Krieg (1996)

Originally released in cassette format via Majestic Union, in March 1996, Blut und Krieg is the first full-length album from Moonblood. This German Black Metal band had recorded countless demos and rehearsals during the first couple years of their existence, yet took an astonishing amount of time to release a proper L.P., especially considering how much material they had written. The band displayed just how dedicated they were to the old school mentality by releasing their material on cassette and vinyl, exclusively, and this album was no exception. There is something respectable about that, even if it hindered their ability to reach a broader audience. Just the very fact that they did not care about limiting their fan following told something of the members.

Getting into the band through a handful of demo cassettes that I had received from a friend in Germany, it took a little time before I was able to come by a copy of this album. When I did, it came in the form of a burned CD with a xeroxed insert. Obviously, this was a copy of a bootleg to begin with, which just goes to show how far some people had to go to acquire Moonblood releases. Sometimes, people show great enthusiasm for certain cult bands that are nothing more than products of their own hype, but this band actually deserved the dedicated following that they had amassed and it speaks well of them that listeners would go to such lengths to obtain and spread their music.

The brief intro includes strange sounds accompanied by the toll of a funeral bell. It is not as eerie or morbid as one might expect, but it does create an odd effect. As "In a Bloody Night of Full Moon" begins, one is immediately reminded of Burzum's "Det Som En Gang Var". It is mostly the result of the synth melody, but the music is not far removed from the same type of style as the aforementioned track. It is mid-paced and possesses an epic feeling, which is no surprise considering some of the bands that have influenced these Germans. The sound is very rough and lo-fi, with high treble for the overall mix. It is not so much the guitar tone, but the combination of guitars, synth and vocals (which are a little too loud) that has the potential to cause ear pain if listened to on headphones. The song never manages to break away from the Burzum vibe and establish itself, which is rather strange considering the skill of the musicians involved. Either way, it is not a bad track to open with and sets the tone for what is to come.

"Shadows" is an interesting track, though it does not fully realize its potential. The main theme is an average, mid-paced riff that is not particularly impressive. This song's saving grace is the presence of a brilliant tremolo melody that is interspersed throughout the piece, creating a mournful atmosphere. These riffs cut through you like icy winds, but the arrangement of the song lessens their impact, to an extent. The song would have been better off with this as the primary motif and the other riffs playing a less dominant role.

The next song is "...And Snow Covered Their Lifeless Bodies", which starts with a sombre melody that is accentuated by the subtle use of a clean guitar passage as well. The main riff is sorrowful and imbues the listener with a sense of loss. There are other riffs that hint at some sort of hope, perhaps only as a contrast to the misery that currently lurks within; almost like some fading memory of a distant past. As with the previous song, the atmosphere is no consistent, with the more upbeat melody sort of killing the dark vibe. All the harsh production and necro vocals in the world cannot maintain a pitch-black feeling if the songwriting is so schizophrenic.

"My Evil Soul" is another song from their first rehearsal tape, and it is a little more straightforward. The formula is rather standard, including several elements found in the early Darkthrone material. It is fast-paced, for the most part, but does not inspire much feeling. The riffs are not altogether bad, but it seems that the band really put forth no effort to make their first L.P. something special. There are much better songs, on the various recordings that they had made, that they could have included.

The title track begins in a very similar manner to the previous song, with an introspective and melancholic intro that leads to some mid-paced riffs that sound, in part, inspired by Bathory. The atmosphere is not as dark as one would hope, but still quite solid. Had they opted to not use the synth, the song would be a little better. All in all, it gives off kind of a subdued feeling, as if the band is holding back.

"Kingdom of Forgotten Dreams" features a cold tremolo melody that is more in line with what many would expect. The howling vocals suit the despondent vibe and add to the general impression of misery that the song summons forth. At one point, everything slows down and as the woeful guitars convey a sentiment of mourning. This miserable track is one of the highlights of the album and would have been better suited to be placed earlier.

This is followed by "Under the Cold Fullmoon", a song that combines epic melodies with cold and mournful riffs, creating an atmosphere of darkness that there is no escape from. Everything about this track is exactly as it should be; the fast tremolo riffs that carry a sense of urgency and suffering, working their way into your subconscious like knives made of ice. The drumming blasts right along, buried at an appropriate level in the mix and serving only to keep time, never distracting from the guitars. The vocal performance is dead on, as well, adding to the raw and hateful feeling. This is the true gem of the album, and it showcases the type of songwriting genius that the Moonblood is capable of.

The final proper track is "I Am All", beginning with an epic build and then introducing a really incredible tremolo riff that possesses a feeling of pure evil and instills a sense of horror in the weakened heart of the listener. Again, the hatred and cold bitterness of a misanthropic being comes across and consumes all in its path. The vocals sound particularly enraged, adding to the overall intensity of the song. As it ends, one gets the notion that, rather than this being the full assault, Blut und Krieg is but a harbinger of things to come.

Despite my personal affinity for for this band, it would appear that the album falls short of what it could have been. It features some really good songs, but also some less-than-stellar ones. How "Nightly Mass", "The Winter Falls Over the Land" or "On Cold Wings" did not make the cut is a mystery to me. The album also could have benefited from an altered arrangement, as the strongest material seems to arrive at the end. Blut und Krieg is a solid album, one that includes great songs like "Under the Cold Fullmoon" and "Kingdom of Forgotten Dreams", but I cannot rid myself of the idea that Moonblood could have done even better, with a little more time and effort being put into this.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mütiilation - Black Imperial Blood (Travel) (1994)

Black Imperial Blood (Travel) is the fourth Mütiilation demo, and the final one before their first full-length album. Released in the autumn of 1994, this represented the final stage of development for much of this material. All but two of the songs on this cassette ended up on the L.P. and even those that did not make the cut (for whatever reason) were on later reissues.

The production is very similar to Vampires of Black Imperial Blood, being rather grim and lo-fi. It certainly suits the music, and the low quality does not have an overly negative impact on the ability of the songs to conjure up particular moods. In fact, the under-produced sound compliments the raw and primitive style of music. The vocals are a little high in the mix, a problem that would remain even for the album that followed, but it does not really detract from the atmosphere. As for the guitars and drums, they seem to be just right, so there are no complaints there. The guitars have kind of a thin sound, not exactly in a good way, but it is only a minor issue.

Regarding the music, it is not very dissimilar from the versions that appear on the full-length. While the crude Burzum and Darkthrone influences remain, Mütiilation had firmly established their own identity by this point and the songwriting lacked the awkwardness that often plagued things before. The pace is a little slower, in most cases, and the songs are slightly longer as a result. This does not drastically alter the atmosphere, but adds to the dreary nature of the material. In the case of "Under Ardailles Night" and the title track, it is enough to make the songs much more sombre when compared to the later versions. Odd how a subtle touch can affect the music. The guitar melodies are bleak and melancholic and evoke feelings of pure misery and hopelessness. These sounds are capable of inspiring the loss of blood by candlelight or a solitary journey into the depths of the autumn forest, in search of the perfect tree to hang from.

Black Imperial Blood (Travel) seems to be superior to the Vampires of Black Imperial Blood album. While the material is essentially the same, the slower pace enables the tracks to take on an added sense of morbidity and despair, which makes all the difference in the world for the listener's state of mind. For anyone that is a fan of the first Mütiilation album, seek this out and experience these songs in their proper form.

Edit (Jan. 2013): It has come to my attention that my copy of this tape is defective and plays slower than it is supposed to. This is the reason for the more depressive pace and the muddier sound quality noted here. In fact, the recordings on this demo are the very same that were used for the full-length, yet it was my worn-out cassette that deceived me into thinking these were two separate recordings for all of these years. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Katharsis - Kruzifixxion (2003)

Kruzifixxion is the second full-length album from the German Black Metal band Katharsis. Released in November 2003, though Norma Evangelium Diaboli. In the years since their debut L.P., 666, not much changed with this band. The sound is still very much in line with their previous material and even the flaws that existed back then are still present.

It begins with "The Last Wound", which takes a couple minutes to really get going. The intro section is rather boring and useless, but once things get moving the atmosphere takes on a dark and almost melancholic feel. The band follows the same formula as before, keeping within the guidelines set forth by the early Darkthrone material. It consists of fast tremolo-picked guitar melodies and intense drumming that maintains a hectic feeling, for the most part. Unfortunately, the best melody of the whole song comes near the end, which means that there is little time to fully appreciate the misery that it conveys. Drakh's vocals add a sense of desperation to the final moments and the song manages to end strongly. This track could have been a little more concise, but it is decent enough to start things out.

"Painlike Paradise" gets right to the point, though it does not do very well to imbue the listener with any kind of feeling, evil or otherwise. The pace changes a little, but this does not have much of an effect on anything. A really nice tremolo riff emerges in the latter half of the song, bereft of drums or vocals, somewhat salvaging things. It may not even be that spectacular, but it sounds much nicer without the drums stomping all over it. Not a bad song, but it is mostly filler.

This is followed by "The Chosen One", which features a bit of a melancholic feeling. As with the rest of the album, the drums are too high in the mix and take away some of the attention from the sombre guitar riffs. However, it is something that one is able to get used to with time, to an extent. The song is kind of repetitive, but this works within the context of the album and it suits the dreary atmosphere. The vocals take on more of a shrieking sound, as the track moves along, adding to the aura of torment. The tension builds in the later part of the song, but the climax never really comes. It just sort of deflates, without reaching the expected conclusion, with the melodies unable to live up to their potential.

"Blood Staineth the Temple Stones" starts with a horror intro, though the song does little to build upon this. One gets the impression that they attempted to follow through with this, but the riffs are just a little too generic to do much more than fill time. On its own, the song is not bad, but it does not hold up well under close scrutiny. It, more or less, seems like an excuse to throw together a handful of Hellhammer and Darkthrone-inspired riffs, without really doing much with them. The tormented vocals do not really do much for this type of atmosphere, either, coming off as a little overdone for a song like this. Clocking it at over eleven minutes, this one fails to hold the listener's attention and thus does not warrant such a length. The final moments hint at a melody that sounds kind of familiar, but it ends before I can quite put my finger on it. Either way, the last twenty seconds beat out the rest of the song.

The next song is "Luziferion", which is much shorted but no less uninspiring. It is almost reminiscent of "Inn I De Dype Skogers Favn", from Under A Funeral Moon, in the sense that it offers almost no variation and the main riff is completely devoid of any kind of feeling, whatsoever. In other words, this is more filler.

The album reaches its merciful conclusion with "Infernal Solar Vortexx (A Vision in Three Parts)". This is another lengthy track, approaching the ten-minute mark. It is filled with riffs that are highly derivative of other bands, almost to the point of plagiarism. Speaking of which, the mid-paced section is completely lifted from another song, note-for-note, though the source eludes me at the moment. Not only is this piece not interesting enough to justify going for so long, but it consists of stolen ideas as well.

While Kruzifixxion contains nearly 45 minutes of raw Black Metal, it comes off as dull and generic, and making it through the entire album is actually quite tedious. There are only two decent songs on here, and even those are unable to live up to their potential. The rest is simply filler, which is unacceptable. One would think that the band was capable of much more than this. Rather than improving upon the shortcomings of 666, the band opted to play it safe and put forth minimal effort; therefore, I would not recommend anyone to invest much energy in listening to this. Laziness and mediocrity should not be rewarded.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Moonblood / Katharsis split (2001)

In 2001, the mighty German Black Metal band Moonblood was nearing its end. Within a year or two, the band would be no more. Yet at the same time, another band was poised to take their place in the German underground. Though Katharsis has never reached the same level of quality, they have always done their best to keep the black flame burning. As is often the case with split releases, a lesser-know band is aided by one that is more established, enabling them to get their name out there and to reach an audience that may have otherwise neglected to take notice. In this case, it was almost like a passing of the torch, since Moonblood was winding down. The resulting album is not exactly groundbreaking, but does well to offer up a couple tracks of raw Black Metal were like a fist in the face of the multitude of symphonic / experimental bands that were putting out records around that time.

The Moonblood track, "Supreme Black Forces of Steel", sounds quite similar to the material that they contributed to the split album with Deathspell Omega. This is understandable, as all of the songs were recorded during the same session back in November 1997. It is fast-paced and very straightforward, with little variation in tempo. The tremolo melody possesses an epic quality, as is often the case with this band, and the guitar tone manages to cut through the fuzzy and distorted production. The drums are, mostly, buried enough to not detract from the guitars and the vocals are at a perfect level to be heard quite well without being too high in the mix. While the main riff is very memorable, some of the others lack the clarity to really stand out and affect the overall atmosphere. At any rate, this is a solid offering from a legendary band.

Side B of this 7" E.P. features the Katharsis song "Watchtowers of Darkness Part II". After a slow build, reminiscent of early Slayer, the song bursts forth at top speed. To contrast the production of the previous song, here the guitar is buried under the vocals and drums. Odd that the older song would have the better sound quality. In trying to maintain a grim and underground approach to recording, the band actually undermined their own efforts and ensured that the song was unable to have the full effect that it should have had. Near the middle, the pace slows down a bit, being somewhat reminiscent of old Celtic Frost or some other 80's band. Not long after, things speed up again and Katharsis does their best to imitate Darkthrone, though not nearly as impressive. The track grows on you as it goes along, and is not bad at all. Still, one would think that they had stronger material than this. Despite the fact that the E.P. was limited to 666 copies, they should have considered a better song.

This split does not present anything revolutionary from either band, but it is solid and should appeal to fans of either. While it goes without saying that the Moonblood song is the superior of the two, Katharsis makes a decent enough showing to perhaps warrant further investigation into their discography.

Clandestine Blaze - Below the Surface of Cold Earth (2002)

Following the split with Deathspell Omega in 2001, Clandestine Blaze released a series of demos before their next full-length, 2002's Fist of the Northern Destroyer. The first of these demo tapes was Beneath the Surface of Cold Earth, released in a limited number as only 400 were made and distributed, at the time. The material on here is very much in line with the albums that precede and follow it, and there are certainly no surprises to be found. It is a rather unremarkable release, except for the fact that the title track served as my introduction to the band, nearly a decade ago.

"Beneath the Surface of Cold Earth" begins with a mid-paced riff that is very reminiscent of Burzum. The feeling is cold and grim, with a slight hint of melancholy. As the song progresses, the pace picks up and the open-arpeggio chords transition to tremolo-picked melodies that are accompanied by rapid-fire drumming. The faster sections are, as always, in the vein of old Darkthrone. This mixture has been fairly consistent throughout the entire career of Clandestine Blaze. The slower parts possess much more atmosphere than the rest, but as a whole this is a very solid track and certainly of high enough quality that I was motivated to seek out more of the band's material, upon hearing this for the first time.

The next song is one of Mikko's obligatory Hellhammer/Celtic Frost tributes, and it is not very interesting. For whatever reason, the man simply cannot construct a decent song in this style. Whenever he attempts it, the result is always boring and uninspired.

"Funeral of Humanity" is the final track, and it returns to the type of style that this one-man band is most successful at. The cold tremolo riffs hearken back to the days of Transilvanian Hunger, though Clandestine Blaze has always been good about making sure that the songs are composed of equal amounts of hero-worship and original ideas. After a few minutes, the atmosphere takes on an added sense of doom, thanks to the inclusion of a slower riff that hovers over the proceedings like a black cloud. As the faster melodies emerge once more, there is an epic quality present that can not be fully explained. The variation in percussion offers a bit of an assist, allowing the riff to breathe a little more. As the track slows down and reaches its conclusion, a rather pointless outro drags on for the final few minutes.

The material on Beneath the Surface of Cold Earth is nothing terribly special, but it is worth a listen if the opportunity arises. However, it is not recommended that one should go to great lengths to obtain this, as the full-lengths are of the same or higher quality.

Shining - Within Deep Dark Chambers (2000)

Within Deep Dark Chambers is the first full-length album from the Swedish band Shining. The main point of interest for a lot of people may be the fact that this record features the former vocalist of Bethlehem, Andreas Classen. Recorded at Abyss Studios and released through Selbstmord Services in 2000, this collection of songs is designed to create an atmosphere of negativity and despair, as the band belongs to the Depressive/Suicidal Black Metal scene. Their popularity has been growing for over a decade, though not entirely for the right reasons.

Few people in the realm of Black Metal are worthy of as much scorn and ridicule as Niklas Kvarforth, the shameless frontman of Shining. This attention-starved junkie has amassed some sort of cult following, which should not be too surprising. The whole emo movement has been going strong for many years, and this clown seems to appeal to that sort of crowd. The band's popularity is largely due to the type of kids that like to cut themselves and post pictures of their handiwork on the internet so complete strangers can see how "tortured" they are. There is a different between being truly miserable and simply mutilating yourself in public for attention. Kvarforth seems to be among the latter, with the moronic suicide stunt really topping it off. For these and several other reasons, I have never supported this cartoonish character in any of his musical endeavours. Still, for the purposes of this review, an attempt will be made to focus primarily on the music itself.

The album begins with "Reflecting in Solitude", with an eerie intro that slowly gives way to music that rises from the murky shadows. Once the song truly begins, a familiar pattern is heard, with fast tremolo riffs and blasting drums that are reminiscent of many of the Norwegian Black Metal releases of the early 90's. Despite being highly derivative of older acts, such as Darkthrone and Burzum, the music serves as a nice backdrop for the anguished vocals of Classen, a seasoned veteran of the underground. The tempos vary, resulting in the song never really becoming too repetitive, despite clocking in at nearly nine minutes. Later in the song, one can hear dual vocal tracks, and I can only assume that the Varg-influenced shrieks represent the contributions of the guitarist. Not a bad opener, though some of the riffs seem kind of pointless and could have been worked on a bit.

"Stonelands" is next, and this begins with mid-paced riffs that create a haunting atmosphere of darkness and sorrow. Classen's vocals hearken back to his work on Dark Metal, though the music is not on the same iconic level. That said, this is one of the better tracks on here and really does well to convey a sense of misery and hopelessness. The faster sections interrupt the continuity and are rather detrimental to the flow of the song. The riffs show some promise, but do not quite live up to their potential. The slow parts are where the track really manages to draw the listener in, though the momentum is killed on more than one occasion. In some cases, variation is good, but not when it is done just for the sake of stretching something out or trying to break up the monotony. At least the damage is minimal, and the slow, mournful riff dominates the latter half of the song.

This is followed by "Vita Detestabilis", which utilizes a faster pace and a riff that sounds quite similar to Darkthrone's "En As I Dype Skogen". After a couple of minutes, the riff changes to something more generic and forgettable. This track fails to create much of an atmosphere until the middle, where the pace slows down and some open-arpeggio notes are utilized, followed by a sombre clean guitar. The stolen Darkthrone riff reappears, and obviously puts the rest of the guitar melodies to shame. Not really a wise move to plagiarize another band, using a riff that is far superior to anything else on the whole album.

"Ren Djävla Ångest" begins with more fast tremolo-picked melodies, though the drumming maintains a slow pace similar to the title track from Hypocrisy's The Final Chapter. Though the music does well to conjure up a sense of misery and sorrow, one has to really avoid reading the lyrics since they kill the effect from sheer childishness. Looking past this, the song is not too bad. There is some idiotic stop-start section that is very much out of place, but it is rather brief. The dismal guitars and tormented howls work together in establishing a bleak aura of sorrow and death-worship.

The next song is "Inisis", which speeds things up a bit while still maintaining the grim and hopeless feeling. There are some moments which may remind one of Strid, though the influence is not as overt as some of the others. The quiet acoustic section actually sounds like something from a Katatonia album, rather than Bethlehem or something of that nature. It is a little too "pretty" to really fit in with the depressing vibes that the song is so desperately trying to give rise to, so it can be seen as yet one more flaw. The track never recovers from this, as the following riffs are too weak and generic to do much, and then the final nail in the coffin comes when the acoustic part returns at the end.

The album ends with "And Only Silence Remains". This track employs some eerie keyboard use, adding a little depth to the sound and actually being used sparingly enough to not detract from the rest of the instruments. The feeling conveyed by this song is less depressive and more ominous, as if the nightmares are tearing through your mind and taking hold in the real world. The tempo changes throughout the piece, though none of this really justifies the length of nearly eleven minutes.

Within Deep Dark Chambers is not a bad album, just kind of average. The band could have done well to work harder on the material and re-write certain riffs in order to maintain the desired atmosphere. The vocal performance of Andreas Classen remains the highlight of the album and, though there are moments where the listener is able to be swept away in the torrent of grief and suffering, a lot of the guitar melodies only hint at potential that is never fully realized. Despite the presence of several stolen or derivative riffs, Shining succeeds in creating a dark and miserable vibe, at times, but the results are far too inconsistent to overlook.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Paragon Belial - Hordes of the Darklands (1996)

Within a few years of the Black Metal explosion in the lands of the north, many others were soon drawn to this black flame and did their best to capture the same feeling. Some were untalented clowns that simply adopted the aesthetics and techniques in order to capitalize on the growing popularity of such bands as Darkthrone, Emperor and Immortal, while others were truly inspired and sought to create something worthy of the ancient darkness that spawned the hideous thing known as Black Metal in the first place.

Taking their name from an old Darkthrone song, Paragon Belial most certainly belonged to the second group, taking a good amount of inspiration from their neighbors to the north, while also aspiring to craft something rather unique. This band came to my attention, by chance, some years ago. I had a pen pal from Berlin that was a longtime contact of some of the members, and recommended that I listen to this. Of course, at the time, there was simply no way to get my hands on an original copy of their 1996 album, Hordes of the Darklands, since Folter Records had only made 1000 of them. So, several weeks later, I received a package from Germany that contained a homemade copy of the album, complete with a xeroxed booklet. Upon listening to this collection of songs, I realized that this was definitely a lost gem of mid-90's Black Metal. Not a classic, by any means, but absolutely worth hearing.

The intro almost sounds like something that one would expect from a My Dying Bride album, a simple clean guitar melody that serves to create a sombre tone. In a sense, it does not really belong there, as the song that follows does not really carry this feeling on. "The Coming of a New Dynasty" does not waste time in speeding up and unleashing the type of tremolo-picked melodies that were standard for the time period. There are some interesting riffs, though the production does not allows allow their full impact to be felt. The sound is somewhat muddy, and there is a hissing that gives the feeling that this album was first recorded onto an old cassette. In some ways, this works to add a level of charm to the proceedings, as many bands were already experimenting with newer production techniques by that time, so this more primitive approach was likely a welcome thing.

"Black Tears of Diabolical Rage" starts out with an ominous intro; another clean guitar melody that sounds like it is emanating from a dark cave, somewhere. While it is not bad, it gives the song a bit of a disjointed feeling since the main riffs possess a completely different vibe. More cold tremolo riffs blow through like raging winds in the midst of a blizzard, interrupted by a brief mid-paced section that adds a little doom to the track. In a sense, Paragon Belial is like the reverse of old Bethlehem; whereas the former utilizes doom riffs on occasion, the latter employed brief Black Metal sections within their doom-oriented material. The song continues to alternate between the faster and slower riffs, with a nice epic melody coming in near the end to allow it to end on a high note.

The next song is "Shadow Grave", which begins with a mournful riff that is again reminiscent of Classen's previous band, Bethlehem. This sorrowful melody digs its cold claws into you chest and prepares you for a miserable journey through the depths of suffering. This song is more mid-paced and additional guitar harmonies weave in and out to add to the bleak soundscape. The riffs seem more introspective and the song, as a whole, appears to be more well thought-out. This is one of the highlights of the album as it displays the band really working well together to create something of their own.

"Horns of Reprisal" starts out much like the previous song. This is one of the few complaints that I have with this album, the fact that several of the tracks begin in a very similar manner, with the clean guitar intros. Not only are none of them worked into the context of the songs very well, but it gives off a repetitive feeling that does not help when one is attempting to get familiar with the album. While much of the album possesses a dark feeling, this track features some rather upbeat melodies that lack the same kind of malevolent atmosphere that pervades most of the material. However, this does not affect the overall aura and is counteracted by a woeful riff that comes later in the song.

To the surprise of no one, "Cradle of Blood" starts out with a soft and depressive clean guitar intro that lasts for about two and a half minutes. Used sparingly, this can be a nice touch. In this case, though, it has been done to death. It is not bad, but this technique begins to wear thin by this point, especially when the song is as raw and hateful as it is. In other words, there is no connection, whatsoever. As for the main part of the song, it features some rather competent playing but there is the sense that it is missing something. Some of the riffs are a little less effective than others, though one can easily detect the high level of energy and passion that each member possesses. The faster riffs are the ones that stand out the best, and with a little more work this could have been quite remarkable.

"Necromancer of the Dark Valley" opens with something that sounds like it belongs in some old horror movie, which is appreciated. Again, the intro is disconnected from the main body of the song, which seems to be a recurring flaw with this band. The song is mostly fast-paced, until the middle where things slow down and a mournful atmosphere begins to unfurl and envelope all in its path. In this case, Paragon Belial may have benefited from expanding this part of the song and tossing some of the more generic riffs.

The album ends with "Verdelet (Master of Zeremonies)", which is a bleak outro that is reminiscent of early Katatonia. Listening to this is like one of those nightmares where you wake up and think it is all over, only to realize that you are still dreaming. It is very haunting and brings things to an eerie conclusion.

Hordes of the Darklands is a decent slab of German Black Metal. It is not on the same level as Moonblood, but more along the lines of what Wolfsmond was doing around that time. Maybe it is simply the fact that Andreas Classen is the vocalist, but Paragon Belial seems to pick up from where the Black Metal side of Bethlehem's Dark Metal left off, in some ways. This L.P. shows a lot of potential and one has to wonder what the band would have been capable of, back then, had they stuck together and continued working on this project. Despite the boring cover art and the handful of flaws, this is well worth checking out.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bethlehem - Dark Metal (1994)

In 1991, four miserable spectres of negativity and despair came together, bonded by a common sense of loss and hopelessness. The dark entity that would spawn from this gathering would come to be known as Bethlehem. For a few years, this German band worked to cultivate their sound, harnessing the blackest feelings that could be called forth and capturing it on tape. In 1994, they created something so bleak and depressing that to listen to it is to tempt fate itself and to descend into the depths of the abyss with no guarantee that you will ever again see the outside world. And even if you do, your vision will be forever altered and coloured by such dismal hues that you will never be the same. Thus is the result of having experienced Dark Metal.

I was first exposed to Bethlehem through a penpal, from Sweden, that sent me several songs on an old battered cassette. At the time, I often journeyed to an old cemetery on or around the night of the full moon, to soak in the atmosphere and get away from the filth of living humans. Occasionally, I would take music with me and on this night, I was armed with my Sony Walkman and a tape that ended up leaving its mark on me, permanently. Listening to depressing music was nothing new; this often occurred when I was already feeling low, and random Doom Metal bands would fill my ears and feed the mood, in a way. However, the feeling that came from the first Bethlehem album was something different. That night, among the graves of those who had already served their time on this earth and passed beyond the gates of the mortal realm, a new kind of darkness opened its gaping jaws before me.

The opening moments of "The Eleventh Commandment" possesses more of a Black Metal feel, though this soon changes. The almost upbeat riff is ensnared by an overwhelming sense of doom and oppression. The pace slows down, considerably, and the vocals take on a deeper tone as well. As the song progresses, a mournful lead slithers through, before giving way to an ominous tremolo riff that is accompanied by mid-paced drumming. In the course of one song, elements of Black, Death and Doom Metal are brought together in a very unique manner, creating something that can only be described by citing the album's title: Dark Metal.

The second track is something altogether different, a beast that exists to torment you in the deepest of nightmares. "Apocalyptic Dance" brings to life such horrors that it almost feels that you are being pulled into a dimension of pure suffering, as the woeful melodies slowly suffocate you. The song moves at a glacial pace, slowly crushing all hope and replacing it with a cold emptiness that transcends words. The song includes some rather subdued moments where there is little else but a few words spoken and brief utilization of a clean guitar. After about four minutes, the song appears to begin in earnest, with yet another Black Metal riff that is joined by Classen's higher pitched vocals as well as subtle keyboard use, giving the sound of a funeral organ. This is followed by a section with just the bass guitar and another keyboard effect that sounds like a cello, adding depth to the already sombre atmosphere. This is contrasted by the transition to a faster pace, moving from the realm of doom back to a blacker area. The blasting drums and raspy vocals soon fade into nothingness, with a truly sorrowful clean guitar melody emerging from the shadows, with a plodding bass line underneath and minimalist drums. From the dark comes a grief-stricken lead solo that infects your heart with a poison that puts you in a hallucinatory state, unable to distinguish nightmare from reality. Visions of loss and trauma fill your mind, as demons from the past reach out for you, draining you of life. The song ends with a piano melody that lures you on, deeper into the darkness.

"Second Coming" is the next song, and this one picks up right where the previous one left off. The slow doom riffs weigh heavily on your soul, crushing your feeble hopes and grinding them into dust. The deeper vocals suit the heavier riffs, and the relatively clean production allows for every note to have the fullest effect in annihilating any lingering remnants of positivity. The guitar harmonies encircle you with gloom and anguish, bringing forth the deepest of pains that exist within the recesses of your mind. The middle of the song introduces an ephemeral tremolo melody, soon leading to another mid-paced riff. As it all ends, a wretched guitar passage leads you back to the impenetrable obscurity where you shall continue to wither and fade.

This is followed by "Vargtimmen", which bears little resemblance to the previous tracks. The main riffs lack the same type of dismal vibes that characterize the rest of the work, despite brief hints of despondency. The song still has more of a down-tempo vibe, but it is not as severe and this serves as a brief respite from the mental and emotional onslaught of the album.

"3rd Nocturnal Prayer" resumes the descent into the blackest regions of misery and torment. It begins with slow doom riffs that truly feel as if they are pulling you down, deeper into an abysmal melancholy from which you know there is no escape. There is almost a sense of beauty in such irrevocable hopelessness and ruin. In a way, this only works to prevent you from even trying to turn back, as you are strangely attracted to the tenebrous landscape before you. Though the things briefly pick up speed, it inevitably returns to the listless pace from bearlier Another organ passage adds a layer of sorrow and soon you see a crypt that is illuminated by funeral torches. A coffin waits for you, wide open and so inviting. Another guitar melody rises from the murkiness to shred your flesh and allow the crimson stream to guide you toward the eternal grave. With the final notes, you finally realize that no one will be there to weep for you. As you pass from one level of hell to another, it becomes clear that you are already forgotten and that you shall perish in utter solitude.

From the very first moments of "Funereal Owlblood", you can feel the life being drained from your body and all energy dissipating in the cold night sky. The depressive guitar riffs are joined by some of the deepest vocals to appear on the entire album. The drums are crushing, yet simple, while the primary focus is exactly where it should be: the hauntingly miserable guitar melodies. During these moments, the listener is imbued with a profound sense of emptiness. By the middle of the song, there is a dynamic shift as the songs takes on a faster pace and the vocals are much thinner than before. Sections like this give the album its Black Metal feel, though it is rather brief. As things slow down once more, untold horrors are visited upon your mind, as you soon dread what is to come.

"Veiled Irreligion" contains more sorrowful melodies that carve right through your chest like a freezing cold blade. The pace is varied, going from lethargic and oppressive to rather upbeat in a strange way. While the slower sections are truly anguished and create a sensation of pressure on your chest, the other parts alleviate this just enough to allow you to pass through, relatively unscathed. However, just as you think you are out, the final austere notes wrap around you and give one final squeeze.

The album ends with "Gepriesen Sei der Untergang", which is even slower and more ominous than some of the previous tracks. The atmosphere is less depressive and more hellish. It is at this point that your own cries die down just enough to hear the demonic laughter emanating from the shadows, as your journey through the realm of eternal flame begins. A few sombre chords from a clean guitar signal the end of the proceedings, as your pathetic soul wanders deeper into endless torment.

As common of a saying as it may be, Dark Metal is not for the faint of heart. If any sense of despair or melancholy resides within you, the bleak melodies and soul-crushingly oppressive riffs will allow it to wholly consume you. While doing so may be dangerous and leave you in a pool of your own blood, this album is best appreciated in the solitude of the nocturnal hours. Whether it owes more to Black or to Doom Metal is inconsequential, as this record should appeal to anyone that wishes to immerse themselves in something truly dark. Take it for what it is and get this immediately.

Deathspell Omega - Manifestations 2002 (2008)

Deathspell Omega is a rather odd entity within the realm of Black Metal. This French band, like many others, began their career playing a style of music that owed a great deal to early Darkthrone. Yet, instead of merely copying their idols, they added their own eerie mark. Over the course of a handful of releases, they seemed to be on a fairly predictable course, though this is not to say that the quality was not high enough. However, after a couple years of silence, they shocked many with Si Momumentum Requires, Circumspice. This represented a drastic departure from their previous path, with no warning. Many fans were turned off by the new style, as well as the new vocalist. With each new release, the band got further away from their original sound and alienated a lot of listeners. However, in 2008 those who preferred the earlier period of Deathspell Omega were given a gift.

Shortly after Inquisitors of Satan, the band recorded enough material for a new full-length. The songs were supposedly intended for a couple different split releases, though it would have made more sense to just release it all as the band's third L.P. At any rate, this music was not released and it remained buried for several years. What can be heard here is the next logical step in the band's evolution, and the missing link between their second and third albums. This is also the final material to feature Shaxul, who always suited the band more as a vocalist than Mikko.

The music falls in line with what one would expect, following Inquisitors of Satan. Most of the songs are fast-paced, with a lot of blasting drums and tremolo-picked riffs. This is all straight from the old school Darkthrone playbook, yet the style of melodies is something of their own invention. There is a sombre quality to many of the riffs, as well as a lot of tension and chaos. The vocals add to this sense, sounding very unrestrained. Some riffs hearken back to the First Wave bands, such as Hellhammer, but one has to wonder if this was a direct influence or if it came filtered through Darkthrone. The first several tracks would not have been out of place on the band's earlier albums, though these songs may not have stood out quite as much.

"Monotonous Ecstasy of Death" is where the band displays hints of their new direction. In a way, this picks up where "Decadence" left off, yet it also bears similarities with the record that would follow. This song is more mid-paced and features a somewhat unsettling main riff. While listening to this, it is easy to fall into a sort of trance and to see visions from one's own nightmares tearing through the fabric of reality and manifesting in this dimension. Just as the blood begins to flow, the pace picks up and a sense of urgency comes over you.

The next song, "Forever Cold", maintains the intensity until around the middle, when it slows down and the guitars take on an eerie sound, once more. For the most part, this one sticks to the same formula as on the previous album, despite the brief hints of their future path.

"Procreation Epidemic" features more of the type of chords that are found on Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice, mixed in with more traditional tremolo melodies. The song utilizes some variation in tempo, though it remains fast-paced for the majority of the time. The blending of the two is very well-done and serves to create a hellish feeling; an epic sense of misery combined with a nightmarish desperation to slice open one's veins and to escape the bonds of flesh through an ever flowing stream of blood.

The final two tracks are more standard, with minor hints of the new sound that was creeping in, but nothing terribly interesting or essential. This goes to show that while the band was growing and adding new elements to their sound, around this time, they were still firmly rooted in the early 90's Scandinavian scene, most notably Darkthrone. They did it quite well and it was a shame when things fell apart for this band.

While their current output is utter trash and has nothing to do with Black Metal, these songs hearken back to better days. Manifestations 2002 is a rare look into the past of Deathspell Omega, before they jumped on the Orthodox Black Metal bandwagon and betrayed their original vocalist. For those who consider their later era to be a descent down a foul and unpleasant path, this recording should remind you of what this band was once capable of. If you are a fan of Infernal Battles and Inquisitors of Satan, then this album is a must-have.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mütiilation - Satanist Styrken (1994)

Satanist Styrken is the third Mütiilation demo, released in early 1994. The influence of the Norwegian Black Metal scene had grown so strong that the title of the demo, as well as one of the song titles, is in Norwegian. Strangely, the material is a step below the tracks from Remains of a Ruined, Dead, Cursed Soul, which was supposedly recorded during the previous year. Despite the drop in quality, the sound is closer to that recording than to the demos that preceded it, and the overall atmosphere is much more grim as well.

The first track is "Skoger av onde drom", which begins with a doom-inspired riff that carries a miserable feeling. This is followed by a faster riff that gives off a trance-like feeling, and seems to have some noticeable Darkthrone influence. The sound is muddy and several of the elements end up blending together during the fast-paced sections. The production is not much better than the early demos, but the musicianship certainly shows signs of improvement. The songs flow much more nicely, and there are less abrupt stops. Still, there are parts that seem awkward, though that may just be part of the band's charm. This song later appeared on the Vampires of Black Imperial Blood reissue, and the result is ten times better.

"My Last Night Among Those Times" follows this, and is very reminiscent of the material from their aborted 1993 full-length. The vocals are hellish and tormented, while the muddy riffs clog up the drumming like coagulated blood. Despite the low sound quality, the riffs maintain a dismal feeling and the tortured howls of Meyhna'ch suit the song. One can detect the old school Black Metal influence here, likely from early Bathory or even a bit of Hellhammer. It ends with a sorrowful acoustic section that adds a bit of depth to the track.

The next song is "Eternal Empire of Majesty Death", and is the only one from this demo to make it to the original version of the band's first album. The pace is a bit slower than what was later recorded, and the atmosphere is very lifeless and melancholic. The sounds give rise to many nightmarish visions, plaguing the mind of the listener and giving a strong push toward an untimely demise. The utter darkness that spawns from this song engulfs you in pure hopelessness and sorrow. While it is much clearer on the L.P. version, the dreary vibes are somewhat lost when compared to this one.

The demo wraps up with "Infernal Holocaust in the Mourning Dawn". This one utilizes a faster pace and maintains the raw and primitive feeling. The vocals are even more indecipherable, seeming kind of gargled in a strange way. The mid-paced riffs stand out and help to add a more subtle measure of gloom to the proceedings. Things really seem to fall apart near the end of the song, which represents a descent into the very depths of hell. The final notes are as ominous as a funeral bell, signaling the untold suffering that shall soon befall you.

Satanist Styrken is raw and mournful Black Metal and is a must-have for any Mütiilation fan. This demo captures their sound very well and gives a good representation of the band in their most creative period. Their sound had been well-defined by this point as they had fully established their identity and artistic direction.

Mütiilation - Ceremony of Black Cult (1993)

Ceremony of Black Cult is the second demo from the French Black Metal band Mütiilation. Released in early 1993 (about a year after their first demo, Rites through the Twilight of Hell) this recording shows a decent amount of development and represents one more step toward becoming one of the most revered groups affiliated with the LLN.

Though the intro does not quite have the desired impact, the first song relieves all doubts about whether or not the band had progressed in terms of songwriting and ability. "Desecrate Jesus' Name" features the same type of riffing that Mütiilation utilized so frequently on the first demo, but the playing is far more competent and the riffs manage to flow much better. The transitions are still largely non-existent, but the execution shows vast improvement in such a relatively short amount of time. There is a lot more variation in guitar melodies and percussion, and the vocals are a little more audible as well. Meyhna'ch's morbid wailing was already taking shape by this point, as well as the band's tendency to create a sombre atmosphere.

"As the Night Falls" begins with a mid-paced riff that shows some doom influence, before the pace picks up a slight bit. One can easily notice that the vocal patterns were more thought-out and that the songwriting, in general, was given more attention. Rather than a random collection of riffs, the songs here sound more coherent. Despite this, it is difficult to believe that this same band would record the material for Remains of a Ruined, Dead, Cursed Soul later in the same year, as those compositions sound more developed, though still in the same primitive style.

The next song is "Sorcerer's Land", which starts out with a rather pointless section with only drums and vocals (accompanied by the subtle rumbling of a bass guitar). After this intro, there is an awkward pause and then a new riff simply begins in progress, almost, with the vocals seeming kind of chaotic. A slower doom riff comes along to add some depth to the track, though the band fails to capitalize on this effect. This song would later be merged with the Bathory song "Rite of Darkness", which appeared on the reissue of Vampires of Black Imperial Blood.

The demo concludes with another version of "Under the Fullmoon", which features an altered intro. It sounds pleasant enough, but does not suit the vibe of the song and is actually less effective than the previous acoustic intro. This recording replaces the atmospheric funeral organ with several seconds of feedback and odd vocal effects. Again, another change that actually works against the feeling of the original.

Ceremony of Black Cult is not essential, but is certainly worth a listen for all fans of Mütiilation's early work. Production-wise, it sounds about as rough and ugly as the previous demo, so there are no real surprises. It is a step up in other areas, though the improvements are accompanied by glaring faults. The one thing that could have saved this recording the most would have been a better vocal performance. Had Meyhna'ch been imbued with the dark essence that possessed him during the Remains of a Ruined, Dead, Cursed Soul session, then the entire impression of this demo would have been far different. Nevertheless, it is still superior in many ways to the band's later output, which felt far too manufactured. Regardless of any defects, this recording sounds organic and real. If you like raw and under-produced Black Metal, give it a listen.