Saturday, September 24, 2011

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.