Sunday, October 30, 2011

Warloghe - Unlighted (1997)

Warloghe is a lesser-known Finnish Black Metal band, existing since 1995. Their first E.P., Unlighted, was released in 1997 on Demonion Productions. Listening to this, one almost gets the sense that this band is like a distant relative of the French Black Legions, as they create the same type of atmosphere.

The first song is "Waaslandia", which displays some influence from Vlad Tepes, from the opening moments. The main riff is mid-paced, interspersed with tremolo melodies. After a couple of minutes, things speed up to where one would expect and the sound is slightly reminiscent of Black Funeral's second album, Empire of Blood. This is especially true of the vocals. The playing is a little sloppy, at times, but not to the extent that it distracts from what is going on. The music does well to create imagery of ruined castles, desolate forests and vampiric evil reaching from beyond the grave.

"Foretold Vast Sorceries Unfold" gets off to a shaky start, as the drumming is a little awkward and the song appears to be moving at an inconsistent speed. Once the pace picks up, things smooth out. Though this recording possesses a very raw and underproduced sound, it never breaks down into pure noise. It is very easy to follow the melodies and to hear what is going on. During this song, the vocals hearken back to the early Mütiilation demos, to a degree. There is a sense of desperation in Glaurung's voice that aids the gloomy atmosphere of the song.

Quite short and not terribly original, Unlighted is still worth tracking down for fans of the aforementioned French Black Metal bands. Warloghe really sounds nothing like most of their Finnish peers, though many of them came later anyway. This is far more in line with the LLN bands and even stuff like Moonblood rather than looking to Norway for inspiration.

Abyssic Hate - Eternal Damnation (1998)

Following a series of demos, Abyssic Hate released the Eternal Damnation E.P. in 1998, through Darker Than Black. Consisting of only four original songs, this recording is not all that original or captivating, but it is fairly decent Black Metal in the vein of early Darkthrone, particularly Transilvanian Hunger.

After a completely useless intro, "Knight of the Living Dead" rips forth with cold and mournful tremolo melodies that are actually quite memorable, even haunting at times. The drumming sounds like it is probably programmed, which would make sense since this is a one-man project. Either way, it is not bad and does a decent job of keeping time and little else. The riffs flow well, from one to the next, and the progression is logical as each one builds on its predecessor. The vocals sound similar to Varg's approach on Filosofem, though more distant and a bit weaker. This is one of the main flaws of the recording, as the vocals do not do enough to add to the overall atmosphere of the songs. By the middle of the track, the pace slows down and more epic melodies unfold, creating depth and demonstrating that, while the playing may be very influenced by Darkthrone, the actual songwriting is much less minimalist.

"Human Despair" follows the same formula, more or less. This is pure worship of the early 90s Norwegian Black Metal scene, and there is absolutely no denying it. That said, at least Abyssic Hate does an adequate job of it, unlike so many others. As with the previous track, the guitar riffs flow naturally, though some of the riffs are less than impressive. The mid-paced part is less useful and the riffs become boring. The lyrics are a joke, as well, sounding about as emo and pathetic as possible, even making references that almost seem to show some sort of acceptance of Judeo-Christian mythology. Hopefully, this was merely for poetic effect.

This is contradicted on the following track, "Attack!", which at least makes use of some common Black Metal themes of violence and anti-Christian sentiment. Musically, it is superior to the last song, just for the fact that it is more straightforward and keeps the blasting pace, without the ridiculous double-bass parts. It features some memorable tremolo melodies and is one of the better songs on here.

"The Blood War" maintains the same style, though it has become repetitive and boring at this stage. The problem with this sort of approach is that the band must have very interesting riffs, or else it falls flat after a while. It features a slower part that does not do much to add to the song, and the whole endeavour sounds as if it has been heard before.

The final song is an Absurd cover, "Victory is Ours". There is little to say about this, as it does not fit in too well with the rest of the material, but at least it has a slightly different feel to it. It is very short and neither adds to nor detracts from the overall quality of the release.

Eternal Damnation is a decent E.P. but not essential in the slightest bit. These songs were later released on a compilation album titled A Decade of Hate, so they should be rather easy to find. While this comes off as a little generic and uneventful, "Knight of the Living Dead" and "Attack!" are worth hearing and are probably the best songs Abyssic Hate has ever recorded. That said, they are far too derivative and bear little original thought; therefore, one cannot be surprised that this band has not recorded a single note in over a decade.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Moonblood - s/t (1994)

Rising from the ashes of Demoniac, Occulta Mors and Gamaalzagoth began an extremely productive collaboration under the name of Moonblood, releasing their self-titled debut demo in August 1994. This tape contains an hour of music, and shows a band with unlimited potential. In most cases, bands end up recording albums far too soon, not spending enough time in the demo phase where they would be able to master their craft; however, Moonblood is a band that definitely should have been afforded the opportunity to record their music in a proper studio and to release their work in the form of actual albums, instead of poorly-produced cassettes. These two certainly had a very good idea of what they wanted to achieve and were quite successful in doing so. Moonblood was the only the beginning...

Following a sombre intro, "Hope" soon erupts into a maelstrom of raging flames. That is the feeling conveyed by the hellish guitar melodies, aided by the necro production. This was, obviously, not what they intended and yet it works so well. The main riffs carry a dismal tone, and are some of the most simplistic of the band's existence. It seems more like a jam session, since the drumming is so difficult to hear, and even the vocals are buried under a few feet of dirt.

"In the Forest of Red Water" continues the gloomy feeling, with a slow build. This is the lengthiest song on here, and actually does well to evoke some sort of epic feeling. Already, the Viking-era Bathory influence can be felt; an inspiration that would remain throughout the band's career, and come to full fruition in its successor band, Nachtfalke. After a few minutes, the pace picks up and races forth at a blinding speed. There is a sense of sorrow that can be felt, mourning the loss of something significant. As the track experiences its final death throes, one gets the image of a valiant warrior being stricken down on the battlefield, one shot after another failing to break his will, until his body finally succumbs and he falls to the ground and fades from this world in a pool of his own blood.

The next song, "Graves From the Stone Under Cemeterymoon", slowly emerges from the darkness, like a sorrowful death march. The riffs bear an epic quality, before giving way to a lone tremolo riff that is soon joined by blasting drums and demonic vocals. As the song progresses, some of the fast tremolo melodies hearken back to the introductory riffs, and maintain a similar feeling. Things can get a bit blurry, if you are not paying attention, due to the poor sound quality. The track ends with everything slowing down to a crawl, finally letting out one last tortuous wail.

"Moonblood" is somewhat more upbeat, for the first half of the song. By the middle, it goes into a slower section that echoes Chopin's funeral march and thus creating a gloomy atmosphere of lifelessness and despair. The subsequent riffs contradict this aura, displaying the indomitable spirit of a true warrior, defying even death itself.

This is followed by "In A Bloody Night of Fullmoon", which is far more primitive than the version on Blut und Krieg, which actually works well. There is a nice effect from the method by which the melody is played, and this is more haunting than the synth that carries this melody in the later version. There are places where the song does not sound as connected, but that is to be expected at this stage. For the most part, it sounds very similar to the L.P. version. though it does not flow as well. Either way, it is interesting to hear.

"Eternal Satanic Winter" features another brilliant mixture of grim Second Wave Black Metal sounds mixed in with Viking-era Bathory influences. The result is epic and yet raw as hell, at the same time. The transition from the mid-paced battle riffs to the tremolo melody is very well done. A chaotic guitar solo is also thrown in, for good measure. The faster riffs are among the most memorable on the demo, making it seem strange that this song did not appear on either of the band's full-length efforts. The rough production kills some of the effect, later on, but one can easily feel the potential that this track had.

The guitar tone on "Songs of Fullmoon" sounds a little sharper, at times. Overall, this track is another good mixture of Viking Metal and raw Black Metal in the northern style. The transitions are seamless, rather than being awkward like many other bands would do at this point in their career. Listening to this, one cannot help but think about the sheer number of quality Moonblood tracks that were never revisited. It is a shame, as the band could easily come together to re-record old material and never have to write anything new.

"Sign of Evil" is a fairly straightforward song, mostly sticking to the formula Darkthrone utilized on Transilvanian Hunger, though with brief interruptions. The riffs are not as thought-out as on the previous tracks, though the pitiful production could be concealing their true quality.

The final song is "Demoniacs", starting out with ominous riffs that help to create a dark and evil feeling. While interspersed with some cold tremolo melodies, the doom riffs dominate this track and give rise to imagery of barbarian hordes crushing the weak and trampling their skulls into the dirt, terrorizing and destroying all in their path.

"In the Forest" is a keyboard outro, probably inspired by Burzum, though not quite to the same level. Still, it is a nice touch and adds a little more character to the demo.

Moonblood is an excellent beginning for a band that would go on to be considered the true elite of German Black Metal. None of their peers ever came close to what they achieved. As for this demo tape, the only thing holding it back is the horrible production. Some necro recordings are enjoyable, but this is actually so bad that it makes it difficult to hear what is going on and causes some of the songs to have a weaker effect than they would have, otherwise. Despite this, once you can train your ears to really focus on what is going on, there is a lot to appreciate. This comes highly recommended and should be a rewarding experience for those willing to give the time and effort to truly immerse themselves in it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Kvist - For Kunsten Maa Vi Evig Vike (1996)

Released in January 1996, For Kunsten Maa Vi Evig Vike is the sole full-length album from the Norwegian Black Metal band Kvist. This is a fairly typical record, for the time period, though that is not to say that it is without its share of memorable moments. It never reaches the same heights as bands like Burzum or Darkthrone, but resides more comfortably alongside groups like Emperor and Satyricon. Though the music does not rely on it heavily, the synth has a strong presence on this album and this can be tiresome at times.

The production of this record does not play to its strengths enough, as the guitar melodies are often buried in the mix and not as dominant as they should be. Oftentimes, the drumming becomes distracting, especially the unnecessary double-bass. Similarly, the keyboard passages are too loud and this has a detrimental effect on the overall product. The vocals are right about where they should be, neither too high nor too low. Though the guitars are not high enough, it is not to the extent where they are rendered useless, so the sound of the album is still enjoyable, just not what it could have been.

The music is not very distinctive. It never strays too far from what most other second and third-tier Norwegian bands were doing, at the time. Some parts are reminiscent of Gorgoroth while others call to mind Satyricon. The vocals do not do much to lessen this impression, as Tomas's voice is not too dissimilar from Satyr's, particularly on Nemesis Divina. The synth is overbearing, at times, but the guitar melodies are actually strong enough to carry the material on their own. There is a lot of variation regarding the tempo and structure. This is not one-dimensional, in any way. There are no songs that just maintain a steady pace all the way through. Each one has several twists and turns, which actually works against the band, on occasion. Of course, the album is constructed on a foundation of tremolo riffs, some more memorable than others. The highlight of For Kunsten Maa Vi Evig Vike is the final track, "Vettenetter", a song that possesses several interesting guitar melodies that haunt your mind long after the record ends. As well, the synth is kept to a minimum, which allows the band to show what they are capable of, with only the traditional instruments.

This album is certainly worth checking out, despite its flaws. It is unfortunate that Kvist did not stick around long enough to record a follow-up to this, as they may have been able to work on their shortcomings and realize the potential that is shown here. Either that or they may have simply turned into yet another pathetic symphonic Black Metal band with ultra-slick production and modern songwriting. There is no way to tell, but it may be that the band is better off having disappeared into the foggy night.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dødheimsgard - Kronet Til Konge (1995)

Dødheimsgard was yet another Norwegian Black Metal band to emerge in the mid-90s. They did not exist long before recording their first album, bypassing the demo phase and going straight to making a full-length. At this point, about all it took was for a band to hail from Norway and a record deal was almost guaranteed. In this case, the band had an even better shot since the bassist was none other than Fenriz, of Darkthrone. Released in January 1995, on Malicious Records, Kronet Til Konge provided yet another dose of Norwegian Black Metal, though the end result has often been rather overrated.

The album begins with a pointless intro, before "Å Slakte Gud" bursts forth from the speakers. All of the traditional elements are present, from the opening moments. The pace is quite intense, carried forward by blast beats and tremolo riffs. The drumming displays some variation, though not much. It would seem that Vicotnik was influenced by Fenriz a bit. Speaking of the latter, his bass lines are quite audible on this album and add a sense of gloom. Aldrahn's vocals are a little disappointing, as he sounds like he is simply shouting at times, with little harshness to his voice. The riffs are not terribly interesting, though there is a nice cold melody near the middle. Overall, this song is probably a couple minutes too long and would have been better off ending a little earlier. Still, it is not a bad track to start out with.

"En Krig å Seire" features a mid-paced riff and a sombre bass line, before picking up the pace. This song was my introduction to the band, hearing it on a college radio show many years ago, and was the impetus for my subsequent search. The pace alternates back and forth, with some adequate guitar riffs that come off as somewhat average, with a bit of Darkthrone influence. Again, this may be one of the problems with the album; due to Fenriz's involvement, there are inevitable comparisons to his primary band and Dødheimsgard simply does not match up well.

The next song is "Jesu Blod", which possesses a memorable tremolo riff near the beginning. The riffs that follow are not of the same high quality, but not bad either. Later on in the song, that first guitar melody re-emerges before leading to a slower section. It is very clear that this part of the track was of particular interest to the members of Watain, as one can hear its influence on albums such as Casus Luciferi.

"Midnattsskogens Sorte Kjerne" is where the album starts show real weakness It begins and ends with a clean guitar and spoken word part, which sounds far too neat for an album like this. For the most part, the album features a production job that maintains the underground Black Metal sound, somewhat raw but not poor by any means. The intro and outro do not fit in with the bulk of the song, which boasts several decent riffs, though they are not showcased as prominently as they should have been. In addition, the vocals become grating by this point.

"Kuldeblest Over Evig Isøde" is one of the best tracks on here, yet simplistic as well. The song is built around three riffs, with the first one being a fast tremolo-picked riff that does not reappear until the end of the song. The next riff is utilized to build a bit of tension, also allowing for some variation in the drumming, and then the middle section is a bit slower and gives off a lifeless feeling. The arrangement is not complicated at all and the only real complaint here is regarding the vocals.

The title track shows the band experimenting with the drumming, which ruins the song. The majority of the song sounds like Darkthrone-worship anyway, so not much is lost by simply moving on to the next one .

"Mournful, Yet and Forever" starts with another clean guitar passage that sounds completely out of place. This track sees the band attempting to expand their sound a bit and to utilize different rhythms and tempos, resulting in a mess. There are definitely some decent riffs to be found, but the drumming ruins it. These melodies called for a straightforward, minimalist approach and Vicotnik failed.

This is followed by "Når Vi Har Dolket Guds Hjerte", which is a rather solid track. It is average, but at least the band does not attempt to extend beyond their boundaries. The overall effect is kind of dull and one cannot help but think that a different vocalist would have been able to do wonders for this.

By the time "Starcave, Depths and Chained" arrives, listeners may be growing tired of the uninspired songwriting on display. Aside from Aldrahn's horrendous voice, the main problem is that the riffs are running together and none of them really stand out. It is less a matter of the material being bad and more that it just is not very good.

The final song here is "When Heavens End", which is another boring song that seems mediocre and does nothing to create any real atmosphere. It is just sort of there, which is the same thing that plagues much of this album.

Kronet Til Konge is a record that needed more work before being released. The songs are not terrible, but they are not great, either. The riffs show a lot of potential, and Fenriz does his best to add some depth to the music with his bass work. However, this material is lacking something in arrangement and execution. Perhaps, replacing Aldrahn with a better vocalist would have helped, but the album still would not have been anything more than average, without more time and effort put into it. Do not expect too much from this album.

Malignant Eternal - Tårnet (1995)

By 1995, there were a ton of Norwegian bands releasing albums of sub-par material and getting a bit of attention just for the mere fact that they hailed from the same country as the likes of Mayhem, Darkthrone and Burzum. Some of these later bands managed to attain some sense of longevity, whether deserved or not, while others passed into oblivion or altered their sound in time. Malignant Eternal was one of the countless bands that played a rather generic form of Norwegian Black Metal, with heavy reliance on the keyboards, and accomplishing very little in the long run. Their first full-length album, Tårnet, was released in February 1995 and failed to make much of an impression.

Musically, this is not a horrible effort. There are some decent riffs, here and there. Unfortunately, the synth is the dominant sound on this record and the guitars seem to serve as a backdrop to the keyboards, rather than the other way around. The riffs sound reminiscent of other more notable bands, such as Emperor and Gorgoroth, with the vocalist even sounding rather similar to Hat. The faster sections seem to be a little too fast, in that the blast beats kind of detract from any sense of atmosphere, since the guitar melodies are unable to fully expand. Most of the riffs are generic or derivative of their peers anyway, but would still be enjoyable in the absence of the overpowering synth. Most of the material on here is rather forgettable.

In reality, there is a reason why albums like this were overlooked for so long and mostly enjoy the attention of people that like to boast of all the obscure bands that they know or simply because some listeners have a fetish for anything Norwegian, regardless of quality. This possesses a decent production, not polished but nowhere near the necro garage sound of some bands. If not for the keyboards, it would sound somewhat grim since the guitars have a cold sound and the vocals are certainly tormented and hellish. The mix is weak, even without the unnecessary elements, as the guitars seem a little low compared to the drums and vocals.

Tårnet is not worth tracking down, unless you like generic Black Metal that is drowning in over-dramatic synth. This is more for the type of person that likes to get their hands on anything Norwegian, from this era. Avoid this and listen to Pentagram instead.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ragnarok - Nattferd (1995)

Nattferd is the first full-length album from Ragnarok. This band was part of the wave of bands that came along following the explosion of the Norwegian Black Metal scene. As was the case with many of the other bands that emerged in 1994 and after, Ragnarok displays a lack of direction and one gets the sense that they were quite unclear on what their intentions were. Released in May 1995, on Head Not Found, Nattferd is a confusing and inconsistent affair, but not without its more notable moments.

The songwriting is rather generic, for the most part. The band utilizes a lot of ugly riffs that would have served well had they opted for a darker and more primitive approach. However, it would seem that they spread themselves a bit thin, attempting to incorporate more epic arrangements as well. Several of the songs are utterly ruined by awkward keyboard usage, making one wonder what the hell these guys were trying to do. The synth is not dark or evil at all and actually works to the detriment of the riffs. Under close scutiny, it becomes clear that the only track that survives the horrible arrangement and ridiculous synth is "Et Vinterland I Nord", which is a decent song that has more of an epic Viking Metal feeling, rather than a dark Black Metal vibe.

The production suits the material, though that is not saying much. The guitars are have sort of a raw edge, but the riffs do not really justify this type of sound. It is sort of similar to Satyricon's debut album, Dark Medieval Times. The main difference would be that the guitar sound somewhat thicker, but not by much. Drumming is a little higher than it should be, but not so much as to distract from the rest. The vocals are at the right level, and have a decent sound though not very distinctive. Everything about this screams generic and these guys were likely just big fans of the earlier Norwegian bands and had no actual vision of their own. The result was just tossing a lot of disparate elements together and creating a mess.

Nattferd may appeal to those that do not mind ridiculous synth that undermines the integrity of the guitar riffs. Though, in this case, the riffs are sub-par in the first place. There is only one passable song on here, so for that it is worth picking up if found in a discount bin. If you are the type to drool over anything from Norway, it would be wise to understand that a lot of people jumped on the Black Metal bandwagon in the mid-90s and very few of them even tried to reach the same level of quality of those that came before them. You are better off passing this up in favour of something else.

Judas Iscariot - Distant in Solitary Night (1998)

The fourth full-length album from Judas Iscariot, Distant in Solitary Night, is considered by many to be the pinnacle of the band's career. In actuality, that distinction probably belongs to this record's predecessor, Of Great Eternity. That one was the first to finally focus on Black Metal, rather than allowing a decent handful of Death Metal riffs to infiltrate the work. While not all that great, it was also much more consistent than the albums before and after it. The playing was a bit more competent as well. This makes sense, as Distant in Solitary Night was originally recorded in 1996 and intended to be the band's third album. Since Judas Iscariot had already released two albums that year, Moribund Records delayed the release of this one until June 1998. As such, the playing is a little sloppier and the songwriting is rather poor. It just goes to show that, when it comes to something that pathetic as the bulk of American Black Metal, it does not take much to impress people.

The album begins with "The Wind Stands Silent", sticking with Akhenaten's traditional approach of clumsily ripping off Transilvanian Hunger. One would think that after spending several years attempting to imitate this sound that he would have gotten better at it. Sadly, this is not the case. This song consists of mediocre tremolo-picked riffs, inadequate drumming that does not do well to maintain a steady pace and vocals that seem somewhat disconnected from the music. This track does not accomplish anything, for the most part. It is flat and uninspiring.

"Where the Winter Beats Incessant" displays a horrible drum beat that sounds about as non-Metal as it gets. Otherwise, this is yet another failed experiment to capture an atmosphere similar to the old Burzum albums, utilizing some of the same types of riffs. However, the dominant guitar melodies are completely different and have very little to do with anything regarding Black Metal. The transitions between the different riffs are horrible or simply non-existent, as Akhenaten stumbles from one idea to the next, with no real sense of direction. This is one of the worst songs that this guy has ever recorded.

The next song returns to an earlier mistake of falling back on Death Metal riffs. "The Black Clouds Roll Under the Parapet of the Sky" is a clear indication that Akhenaten had no ability to discern between Black and Death Metal. This is a fast-paced track, for the most part, until the latter half. The song concludes following a handful of generic riffs that go nowhere.

"The Clear Moon, and the Glory of the Darkness" comes off as a really terrible effort to create a song like Burzum's "Naar Himmelen Klarner", from Det Som Engang Var. It is an instrumental that features boring guitar melodies, accompanied by synth, that serves no real purpose and fails to evoke any real feeling. The best that it can manage is to make listeners go listen to old Burzum, in order to see how it is supposed to be done. The drums are totally absent from this track, thankfully, but Akhenaten is unable to keep his mouth shut for the entire thing, overcome by the urge to cry near the end. Perhaps, he was weeping because the utter uselessness of his life was becoming apparent.

This is followed by a short track, "To the Black Tower of Victory", which speeds things back up and returns to the standard Judas Iscariot formula for bad Darkthrone imitations. The riffs sound as if they have been heard before, and probably done far better the first time around. This really lacks any character of its own.

"In the Bliss of the Eternal Valleys of Hate" is a weird song that employs a bit of old school drumming, though Akhenaten is so inept that he can hardly pull it off. It is unfortunate that he could not see that his low level of musicianship was even worse than his pathetic songwriting abilities. The song speeds up, later on, though it lacks any sense of intensity since the drumming is inconsistent and the guitar playing is sloppy as well. This really is a mess and it would be quite sad if anyone ever heard this and thought it was representative of Black Metal.

The final song is "Portions of Eternity Too Great for the Eye of Man". What a pretentious title. Even worse, this is not even a real song. It is twelve minutes of filler, just to pad the total running time of the album. It is an outro that just keeps going and going, with random noises and some guy speaking nonsense.

Distant in Solitary Night is trash. There was no need to release this as a full album, other than to try to cash in on the band's minimal popularity among those in the underground with bad taste. "The Winds Stand Silent" was already released on the Arise, My Lord E.P. in 1996. As painfully generic as that song is, the rest of the material here ranks even lower and there is no justifiable reason to pollute record stores with filth such as this. Avoid at all costs.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Horna - Musta Kaipuu (2009)

Released in July 2009, Musta Kaipuu is Horna's eighth full-length album, though not officially recognized as such. The material presented here was recorded during the epic Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne sessions, back in 2004. For whatever reason, these songs were not chosen for that album and were left on the shelf. A few years later, Shatraug was looking to clear out a lot of unused songs, which resulted in a double L.P. in 2008 and then this collection of tracks being released the following year.

"Piina" is first up, and features several memorable riffs. It is mostly mid-paced and the guitar melodies work well to create a sombre atmosphere. The sound is identical to that of Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne, with an emphasis on the raw guitar tone and the extremely hoarse vocals of Corvus. While being fairly solid, this was not the best song to use to open up the album, as it seems more suited for the middle of the record.

The aura darkens from the initial moments of "Haudanvarjo", which is a longer track that features more variation in the tempo. It alternates between slower ad faster sections, not impressing too much, but remaining decent enough. There is a great tremolo riff near the middle that is very memorable, which returns near the end. Overall, it is clear why this song was left off the 2005 release.

"Aldebaranin Susi" is a bit more upbeat, with a somewhat more energetic pace for the first couple of minutes. Following this, the atmosphere becomes increasingly morose as things slow down and the vocals convey a tormented feeling. This one is a bit shorter, only around five minutes, and could have benefited from a little more development. It is a good song, more enjoyable than the previous two, but it had the potential to be even better.

The arrangement of the songs is quite strange, as they did not bother to start with the strongest material. Instead, the tracks seem to display a higher level of quality the deeper you get. "Unohdetut Kasvot, Unohdettu Ääni" is an example of this, showing a lot more thought in songwriting and arrangement. It is somewhat melodic, compared to the more primitive songs on here, but still very grim and melancholic. The tempo is dynamic, but the atmosphere remains consistent. The guitar melodies conjure up a sense of loss and regret, with subtle hints of a more optimistic aura; much like one that mourns the passing of something meaningful, briefly remembering pleasant things before the realization hits that it is forever gone. There is no turning back.

"Vuohenlahko" is a rather primitive and straightforward track, though still bearing a dark and sorrowful quality. It is one of the shorter songs on here and the mournful tremolo riff that appears in the latter half could have been expanded upon. Instead of a supporting role, it should have been featured more prominently as it is the strongest and most effective riff of the whole song.

Another shorter track follows this. "Oi Kallis Kotimaa" begins with a woeful guitar riff and it looks to be one of the more memorable ones of the album, initially. The clean guitar adds to the miserable atmosphere as well, but the vocal approach ruins it. This sounds like something that one would expect from Isengard or some other Viking Metal project. It certainly does not suit this song, or Horna at all. Even if I was in the mood for that type of music, this would not be my cup of tea. This song should have been scrapped.

"Pohjanportti" is another mid-paced song that seems kind of bland, until the middle. At that point, the pace gets even slower and some open chords are utilized to give the track a more dismal feeling. Unfortunately, this part is too brief and only appears again at the very end. Once again, this is a song that is decent but completely pales in comparison to the material on Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne.

The next song is "Sieluhaaska", which comes off as another average track that is pretty good but not great. Though the sound is raw and unpolished, one can hear what sounds like an almost folk-like melody with a more up-tempo feeling.

"Marraskuussa" is the highlight of the album, starting out with a haunting tremolo riff and soon transitioning to one that is even more miserable and desolate. Waves of misery and pain wash over you, dragging you to the abysmal depths and drowning you in utter grief and despair. You get the sense of no longer being able to breathe, as the mournful guitar riffs carve your flesh and the blood escapes your veins. The tortured vocals and the slower sections serve to create a morbid feeling, while you struggle to resist the horrible realization that it is all over. The hell that you are experiencing is eternal. Whatever good times you once enjoyed are forever gone and shall rapidly fade from your memory like a dream. In time, you will begin to question whether or not they ever existed, as the idea of anything pleasant will seem like some sort of product of your imagination. As the song draws to a conclusion, the woeful guitar melody confirms that nothing awaits you but suffering, and nothing else has ever existed.

The final track on here is "Menneiden Kaiku", which continues the gloomy journey into the depths of agony. You feel as if you are being pulled down or simply too weak to move. Your will is broken by this point and your spirit is weary. It is only a matter of time now. The grave is calling for you and nothing that you do will avoid this fate. Your feeble body shall fail you, and this world of misery will loosen its grip as you pass on to the realm of eternal pain and everlasting torment.

Musta Kaipuu is an interesting collection of songs. It possesses the consistency of a normal full-length album, as the material was written and recorded at the same time. On its own, it would be a decent record and only has one bad track. However, when compared to Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne, it becomes quite evident that only "Marraskuussa" is on the same level and is worth the price of the CD, alone. That being said, Musta Kaipuu works well as a companion to the aforementioned album and is certainly a safe buy for any Horna fan.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sargeist - Crimson Wine (2011)

Crimson Wine / As the Blood Flows On... is a split E.P. that features Sargeist and a worthless band by the name of Drowning the Light. For one reason or another, Shatraug and his cohorts do not seem to mind associating themselves with low-level bands that are not worth the time or attention. This split continues the tradition of partnering with useless scum, though I suppose it does well to make their own material look that much better by comparison. This 7" was released through Moribund Records, in February 2011, and limited to 500 copies.

Written and recorded in July 2007, "Crimson Wine" sat on the shelf for quite some time. The production is pretty rough, being much less clear than the full-length albums. Oddly, Sargeist has a habit of contributing songs various split albums that sound as if they were not mastered at all. This is much more raw and necro than the songs on Satanic Black Devotion or Disciple of the Heinous Path, which is saying something. The vocals are buried in the mix, compared to those albums, but not to the extent where Torog's voice cannot be heard at all. The drumming is clear enough, though it tends to blend into the background during the faster sections. Of course, the guitar is the dominant element here, yet even this is more distorted than usual. The song is mid-paced and possesses a morbid feeling, thanks in part to the open chords that are utilized, on and off, throughout the song. There is a decent amount of variation in tempo, keeping the track from stagnating. The few different riffs here all work well together in creating a sombre atmosphere, which is typical for this band.

As with some of the other split releases, Crimson Wine is not exactly representative of Sargeist's sound and is not recommended as a starting point for anyone that is new to the band. It is not even essential for longtime fans, as it is fairly average for a Sargeist song. Still, it is solid and certainly not a throw-away track. Pick it up if you get the chance, but do not go to great lengths to track it down.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sargeist - Dead Ravens Memory (2006)

Eight months after the release of their sophomore effort, Disciple of the Heinous Path, Sargeist broke their silence with a split album with Bahimiron. This review will focus solely on the Sargeist material, as the other band is of no consequence. Recorded at the Boneyard during the previous spring, "Dead Ravens Memory" was finally released by Obscure Abhorrence Productions, in May 2006.

This song is very much in the same vein as the material from the last full-length, and would have fit in with those songs, nicely. It maintains a fast pace throughout, though it does feature some variation in tempo. Torog's tormented voice compliments the mournful and haunting guitar riffs that bleed forth from Shatraug. Horns does a good job keeping the pace, without detracting from the rest. The production is similar to Disciple of the Heinous Path, though it retains an added sense of rawness that, likely, comes from not being properly mastered. Though this track is six minutes long, it simply is not enough to satiate the hunger of the band's loyal following. Even worse, it would be the last that anyone heard of Sargeist for two and a half years.

This is essential for any Sargeist fan, as "Dead Ravens Memory" is on par with most of the material that had been released, up to this point. Why the band bothers to do split albums with unworthy partners is beyond me. That said, ignore the other song and seek this out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Horna - Sanojesi Äärelle (2008)

Released through Debemur Morti Produductions in September 2008, Sanojesi Äärelle witnessed Horna returning to their normal style, after the previous year's Bathory tribute had some listeners wondering if the band had made a permanent shift in their sound. Their seventh full-length album is quite an ambitious effort, containing nearly an hour and a half of music. One reason for the sheer length of this record was for Shatraug to clear up a lot of the material that had been written and waiting. This album is also notable for the fact that it features a full line-up, rather than the main core of Shatraug and Corvus, with whatever session musicians they could find.

The first disc is more straightforward, as "Muinaisten Alttarilta" displays. It bursts forth with hellish fury and a morbid feeling that permeates the melodies. The opening tremolo riffs carve through you, making way for the pestilence that soon spreads, courtesy of the slower riffs and the demented vocals spewing from Corvus. Aside from the two main themes, there is another mid-paced riff that has a more upbeat, almost folk-like, vibe and works well to contrast the darker atmosphere conveyed by the rest.

"Verilehto" features riffs that are a bit more primitive, though with added darkness thanks to the presence of open chords that come at the end of each repetition. These are used throughout the song with increasing frequency as it progresses, helping to create a sombre tone that imbues the listener with a sense of unease.

The next song hearkens back to the band's earlier years, in a way. "Mustan Kirkkauden Sarastus" is fast-paced and features a good deal of tremolo riffs, mixed in with mid-paced sections that are not the most memorable. This is a solid track, but not one of the highlights.

"Katseet" possesses a more melancholic vibe, from the opening moments, as a mid-paced riff creeps from an old grave, bringing the stench of death and rot. The songwriting is rather simplistic and minimalist, while maintaining a decent amount of variation and song progression. The slower riffs are contrasted by fast tremolo-picked melodies that offers a Finnish take on a style made famous in Norway, nearly two decades earlier. Horna has done well at incorporating these elements into their music and creating their own identity, which is quite a feat considering the sheer number of bands out there. This song has kind of an epic feeling, thanks to the additional riffs that appear, later on.

"Askeesi" starts with another fast tremolo riff, though the pace slows down and the overall feeling becomes increasingly dark and morbid. While the slower sections seem to be where the band is most comfortable, Shatraug displays a lot of talent for writing the faster riffs. The raw sound of the recording is emphasized by the guitar tone and the overly strained vocal style that Corvus employs. If he had the ability to control his voice and to only scream with such intensity when the song called for it, he would better serve the band.

The title track explodes from the silence, in a manner similar to some of the other songs on here. It is fairly straightforward and maintains a fast pace, more or less. Of course, it also includes some of Horna's standard mid-paced riffs. By this point, it would be nice to have one track that just keeps up a furious tempo all the way through. Still, that might detract from the morose quality of the music, to some extent.

"Orjaroihu" starts out in a way that, somehow, reminds of the hideous atrocity known as Sudentaival. This song includes a lot of thrashy riffs, mixed in with sorrowful tremolo melodies. This combination is not the best, and the song would have been better with the thrash parts removed. It is natural, with a band working on such a massive album, that some track would not come out as they would have if more time had been allowed for each one.

The next song is "Risti Ja Ruoska", finally breaking from the formula and maintaining a consistent pace, bereft of the slower parts. The riffs are filled with tension and this feeling builds as it goes along, driving you forward to some unknown doom. Other melodies are infused, adding to the epic nature of the song, and dragging it deeper into the dark unknown. From the grating vocals to the harsh guitar riffs, the track appears to build in intensity, before an abrupt ending leaves you, once again, surrounded by nothingness.

"Wikinger" is a cover song, originally by the German band Pest. Oddly enough, Horna picked a song that sounds a lot like their own material. The songwriting is very similar in feeling and style, and even the vocal performance was in the same vein, being more over-the-top and intense. Perhaps, Shatraug thought is sounded enough like his own work and the fact that Saturnus was an original member of Pest was all that was needed to choose this.

This is followed by "Merkuriana", which is the longest track on disc one, clocking in at just over six minutes. Again, tremolo melodies are mixed with mid-paced riffs with some open-arpeggio chords arriving later in the song. This is one of the more memorable songs on the album, and also more miserable. This would have been a good way to end the record, and it seems that was the initial plan.

Disc two begins with "Liekki Ja Voima". One has to wonder whether or not these songs were intended for a separate release, as they are obviously from a different recording session. The production is not the same, and the length and style shifts as well. Perhaps, the second disc was meant for an E.P. or a split release. The first song is eleven minutes long, starting with a mournful tremolo riff that is dripping with utter misery. As this melody flows from the darkness, so to does the blood flow from the wounds that such hopelessness inflicts upon the listener. Somewhat similar to the title track from Äänia Yössä, the riffs are given ample time to draw you into the abyss of suffering and despair, raping your spirit and leaving you vulnerable to the assault to come. The production boasts a rather spectral essence, when compared to the previous songs, and the atmosphere is somewhat distant. Listening to this, one gets a sense of the peace gained by hanging from a noose, lifeless and cold with no remaining connection to the mortal world. The guitar melodies are brilliant and the dismal and nostalgic aura is unforgettable. The only weak point of this would have to be the vocal performance.

"Ruumisalttari" starts out with a riff that is sorrowful and kind of catchy at the same time. There is an introspective and nightmarish quality to this song, which is enshrouded in darkness unheard of on the first disc. While mostly mid-paced, the song includes faster sections that really help to spirit you away to a realm of everlasting shadows and unending pain. Just when it seems that you are nearing the end of your suffering, it becomes clear that you have but reached a deeper level of misery and that the anguish that you have heretofore known was only the beginning.

One of the most haunting and freezing cold riffs of the entire album is featured at the beginning of "Musta Rukous", which is another track that nearly reaches the eleven-minute mark. The faster riffs do well to build a sense of tension, carrying you up into the night sky, while the slower ones represent an unavoidable descent that delivers you to the depths of the shadowed abyss. The mournful riffs and tormented screams work well in conveying a gloomy and lachrymose atmosphere. All that has been lost shall remain so, never to be regained. The end has come, though the process is slow and agonizing, there is no turning back and you can only wait and suffer until the final moments. As the song nears its conclusion, the woeful melody slows down and howls out into the night, summoning the final darkness.

"Baphometin Siunaus" is the final track and a strong way to close out this collection. This one is a bit more catchy than the last one, yet still possesses the same dark essence. It is rather mid-paced, though the middle is considerably slower and delivers the final crushing blows to your spirit. By this point, you have been so utterly annihilated that your arms shall be outstretched, welcoming the end.

Sanojesi Äärelle is a great album, though it may be too much for one to digest in one sitting. It is recommended that the listener take a decent amount of time to really focus on all that is going on here, to fully appreciate it. Shatraug did well to clear up his musical ideas, and though the material here could have resulted in two separate albums, the two-disc concept was not a bad idea. This collection of songs encompasses the band's career and would be a good place for newcomers to start, as well as a worthy addition to the collection of any Black Metal fan.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Horna - Sotahuuto (2007)

Sotahuuto is not an ordinary album. The title is Finnish for "War Cry", and that is fairly appropriate given the nature of this L.P. As the liner notes state, the material was written in the spring of 2004, in tribute of Bathory. This was oddly timed, as Quorthon would pass from this realm a short time later. In general, gimmick albums should be avoided, but it is more acceptable considering Horna's prolific nature.

The quality of the material is decent enough. Of course, there are a good number of stolen Bathory riffs mixed in, as well as others that are greatly inspired by Quorthon's older works. It can get repetitive at times, since some of the ideas sound too similar. Both "Lähtölaukaus" and "Tuhontuoja" start out with riffs that are reminiscent of "Born for Burning", from The Return... Though the album features a lot of old school Black Metal riffs that hearken back to the 80s, Horna's distinctive style still bleeds through and even the melodies that come off as extremely plagiarized are only pieces of a larger framework. "Sodanjano", in particular, actually seems to break away from the tribute altogether, yet still fits in with the rest. Along with the different style of songwriting that dominates Sotahuuto, the length of the individual tracks is much shorter than the last few Horna albums, as a result.

As for the production, this album is even more raw and abrasive than its predecessors. Thankfully, the band recruited a real drummer this time around, so it all sounds much more natural than on Ääniä Yössä. The guitars are very thin and trebly, though are somewhat surpassed in the mix by the vocals. One major complaint with the band is the vocal style that Corvus utilizes, since he almost always sounds strained and as if he is pushing the limits, meaning that there is less variation and less opportunity to accentuate the atmosphere of the music. His voice gives the whole album a feeling of harshness that can be irritating, at times, especially being so prominent in the mix. While this may be what Shatraug had in mind, Horna would probably benefit from getting a new vocalist of for their current one to learn his craft a bit more.

Sotahuuto is a solid album of primitive, raw, ugly Black Metal with a lot of old school feeling. While it is a tribute to Bathory, it does not sound like a total clone of Quorthon's old sound (other than a handful of stolen riffs that are worked in), but definitely in the same vein. There is still enough of Horna's original sound present for this to be easily identified. Not essential, but a good dose of hellish music.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Horna - Ääniä Yössä (2006)

Ääniä Yössä is a concept album, dealing with the Black Death that ravaged Europe in the 14th century. Though it was released in September 2006, work began on this record as far back as 2004. Horna is an extremely productive band, at times, thanks to the overwhelming creativity of Shatraug (who also had time to release a handful of demos, splits and albums with his other band, Sargeist, during the same period). For whatever reason, he is joined only by Corvus on this, the band's fifth full-length. They had been using session drummers, but chose to program the drumming on this one, which hurts the record.

"Raiskattu saastaisessa valossa" begins with the sounds of disease-ridden rats, before picking up from where the most dismal moments of Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne left off. The mid-paced riffs carry a feeling of lifelessness and the extremely raw vocals add to the overall harshness. The drum programming detracts from the atmosphere, a bit, not sounding nearly organic enough. After a couple of minutes, this no longer matters, as there is a section that features only bleak guitar melodies and horrible screams. The open-arpeggio riffs are reminiscent of Burzum, though the sound here is far less clear. The pace picks up a bit, near the middle, but the riff is not exactly complimentary to those that preceded it. These two alternate, a couple times, before the initial theme returns. All in all, not a bad start but the song runs a little long and struggles to maintain a consistent vibe, at certain points.

The next song hearkens back to Horna's early days and seems more in line with a release such as Hiidentorni. Unlike the rest of the tracks on here, "Noutajan kutsu " is rather short and does not attempt to create an epic feeling. A darker riff is introduced, after a minute or so, but it is ephemeral and the pace picks up rather quickly. This song feels kind of average and does not do a whole lot to contribute to the morbid atmosphere than one would assume that the band was going for.

"Mustan surman rukous" starts with a slower riff that possesses an eerie feeling. The guitar melodies that follow are not as impressive. The song sort of drags, with no real inspiration. There is nothing unpleasant or annoying about the track, just that it seems more suitable as background music rather than something to be focused on. Under close scrutiny, it fails to live up to the listener's expectations.

The fact that this album was recorded in two separate sessions becomes clear with the title track. "Ääniä Yössä" sounds completely different from the rest of the material, possessing a distant quality. The first riff is reminiscent of Darkthrone, and the drumming pattern is much faster to match this. Of course, the production is so weak that the song comes across like something heard in a dream. Some open chords are interspersed with the main tremolo melody, giving it an otherworldly atmosphere. Listening to this, you get the sense of falling into a dream that soon turns into a horrifying nightmare. All around you, visions of torture and suffering, as the dreadful notion creeps into your mind that this shall be your fate as well. Waves of misery and anguish pour over you, as you are soon swept away by a river of sorrow and doom. Those damned waters threaten to swallow you forever, as another melancholic tremolo riff accompanies tormented howls that echo within your being. With each new melody, the darkness becomes ever more impenetrable. A woeful strain rises from the utter blackness, woeful in character, extinguishing whatever hope that remains.Despite the obvious similarities with old Darkthrone riffs, the arrangement is well-done and the repetition is carried out in such a way that the introduction of each new piece means something and helps build to the final climatic melody.

Ääniä Yössä would be a rather disappointing release, if not for the 21-minute long title track. In a sense, this album is like Venom's At War With Satan, in that one lengthy song really dominates the album and serves as the centerpiece. Though it is strange for a full-length to feature such a noticeable difference in production, among the tracks, it actually works in this case. While it is not as solid, all the way through, this album is certainly worth hearing for the final track, alone.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Setherial - Lords of the Nightrealm (1998)

Lords of the Nightrealm is the sophomore effort from Sweden's masters of mimicry, Setherial. While their first record was clearly intended to carry on the style that Emperor utilized on In the Nightside Eclipse, the band set their sights a little closer to home, the second time around. Their new heroes seemed to be Dark Funeral. The abomination that resulted, in early 1998, was a pathetic tenth-rate copy of the material on The Secrets of the Black Arts, so bad that it made Vobiscum Satanas sound like a serious album.

The production is overdone, for a Black Metal release. Everything is clear and well-defined, with every generic riff coming through with remarkable clarity. It definitely sounds more polished than their last offering, though that one hardly boasted an underground production, in the first place. The riffs have absolutely no power and the drumming has an annoying 'clicky' quality. This album is oozing with the filth of modernity, from the horrible sound to the awful material.

Musically, this is terribly uninspiring. The members of Setherial are, obviously, capable musicians. On a practical level, there is no question regarding whether or not they can handle their instruments. The problem is that they are unable to think for themselves; i.e. all of their material is highly derivative of other bands, without a single shred of original thought added into the mix. When they were composing the songs that would become Nord, Emperor was rather popular. Following this, Dark Funeral had become a trendy band within the Black Metal scene, so they did their best to imitate them instead. Even worse, they were unable to do a convincing job. One has to wonder about the possibility of them obtaining an advance copy of Vobiscum Satanas, as this actually sounds more like a copy of that album than of Dark Funeral's debut L.P. This record is filled with double-bass drums that dominate the sound, weak and generic guitar riffs and comical vocals that try so hard to sound evil and diabolical, but come off as cheesy and cartoonish.

Lords of the Nightrealm is an absolute waste of time. Anyone that thinks this is the epitome of Black Metal must have just discovered the sub-genre within the past week or so. There is nothing on here that ranks above mediocre, at best, and the level of plagiarism is painful. Setherial is and always has been a joke. Avoid this at all costs.

Ancient - Svartalvheim (1994)

My first exposure to Ancient was by viewing the video for "Lilith's Embrace", from The Cainian Chronicle, a year or so after it had been released. Naturally, I was absolutely disgusted by the horrible garbage that I saw and heard, and thus Ancient was written off as yet another band of posers, polluting the Black Metal scene with female vocals, keyboards and other horrendous nonsense that was commonplace at the time. Some months later, I was surprised when a friend in Sweden sent me a tape that included "Trumps of an Archangel", from the band's debut album Svartalvheim. This gave me the impression that the band used to be good, though I was again disappointed when I heard the whole thing. Recorded in late 1993 and released in May 1994, this L.P. displays a different approach from their later works and demonstrates a more competent understanding Black Metal, though the result is not all that good.

After an eerie intro, the aforementioned track wastes no time in unleashing an assault of primitive-sounding Black Metal. The production is not as raw as one might expect, with the guitars sounding less sharp and more blunt. The riffs are certainly in the same vein as most of their Norwegian peers, featuring a good number of sombre tremolo melodies mixed in with more old-school influences. The vocals possess a grim feeling that is very common for the time period, and not entirely original.

"Huldradans" utilizes similar straightforward riffs, interspersed with acoustic bits and melodies of a more epic nature that expand the sound of the band and allow for a wider variety in the overall approach. The general vibe of the song is gloomy and the lead solo, near the end, adds a sorrowful quality as well. Ending with another acoustic passage, the song displays a decent understanding of composition and all of the various elements work together, quite well.

The next song is more memorable and is dominated by a mid-paced riff the hearkens back to Bathory's Under the Sign of the Black Mark. "The Call of the Absu Deep" is one of the standout tracks on the album, possessing a mournful vibe that somewhat drains the life out of you. The effect is limited, as the acoustic part interrupts the gloom but still fits into the song in an adequate manner.

"Det Glemte Riket" takes a while to build up, but features an atmosphere that is heavily influenced by old Bathory, much like the previous track. The bass is a little too prominent on this one, but it does not distract too much. The songwriting is a bit too ambitious for the band's abilities, leaving this one sounding like an inconsistent mess.

The gloom returns in the early moments of "Paa Evig Vandring", which is a very lengthy song that clocks in at over nine minutes. The keyboards kill whatever feeling the acoustic guitar is attempting to create, but the main riffs are, again, mid-paced and maintaining the same influences as the last couple songs. Later on, a funeral organ adds a sense of morbidity to the proceedings, but the music does little to build on this. A nice, high-speed riff is teased, but it is ephemeral. By this point, the album is rapidly losing momentum, which comes to a halt with the following track.

"Ved Trolltjern" is another experiment in atmospheric Black Metal, which is more of an interlude. This track is worthless and it is safe to say that the album is dead in the water, at this point.

Finally, it seems that the members of Ancient quit screwing around and get back to business on "Eerily Howling Winds". This gets back to the tremolo melodies, mixed in with some old school riffs, and a faster pace. Unfortunately, it is also joined by some horrible clean vocals that give it some kind of gothic feeling. This song tries to get things going again, but the inclusion of unnecessary elements ruins it.

"Likferd" is a solid track that starts with a brief intro before things pick up. The first couple of riffs are average, but a hypnotic riff emerges after a minute or so that also leads to an increased intensity in the drumming. This seems reminiscent of early Darkthrone, though not as well-executed. More tremolo riffs appear, later on, creating a mildly epic and sombre vibe, and continuing for the remainder of the track, allowing it to end on a high note.

Svartalvheim is a terribly inconsistent record. Ancient is quite competent in writing and playing standard Black Metal in the northern style, but their reach often exceeded their grasp and whatever ambitions that they had to achieve something more led to utter ruin and the failure of the album as a whole. Out of ten tracks, only four are of any worth, and even those are not extraordinary. If you find this in a discount bin (or for free), then it is worth checking out just for a handful of songs, but to invest any real time or energy into seeking this out would only be a waste.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Throne of Ahaz - On Twilight Enthroned (1996)

In the dark autumn of 1996, Throne of Ahaz launched yet another strike upon the mortal realm, bringing a bitter cold fury from the ancient northland and assaulting all in their path. This time, Beretorn and Taurtheim were joined by Vargher, of Ancient Wisdom, in the creation of their sophomore album, On Twilight Enthroned. The music was recorded in September of the previous year, and was written as a collaborative effort that included all of the members. The style found on Nifelheim is still in tact, though with some additional elements. The end result is another slab of Scandinavian Black Metal that, despite its obscurity, is far superior to several of the albums being released by their peers.

The first time I heard this album was not long after discovering the band, through their debut L.P. Of course, being quite blown away by that record, my only desire was to hear more of the same type of stuff. For whatever reason, On Twilight Enthroned seemed to be a disappointment after the first listen. The album then collected dust for quite some time, before I came to my senses and gave it another chance. Strangely, my later impression was that the record delivered exactly what the first one was missing, in the sense that it features more cold riffs and high-speed drumming than Nifelheim.

"Fenris" bursts forth with a furious wrath, with blistering cold tremolo riffs, intense drumming and hellish vocals all erupting at the same time, nearly overwhelming the listener and wasting no time in displaying a lethal sense of songwriting and musicianship. The initial flurry is followed by a nice old school riff and a drum pattern that compliments it, perfectly. There are slower riffs that add a layer of freezing darkness to the proceedings, gradually speeding up again. The final riff sounds reminiscent of early Emperor, thus maintaining a northern vibe throughout.

The relentless pace is carried on by "The Forlorn", featuring another frigid and mournful tremolo melody, carving through the listener's pathetic soul and opening a gateway for the gloomy open-arpeggio chords that follow. Vargher's style betrays a Burzum influence, which fits nicely with the rest of the material, adding yet another dimension. More primitive riffs join the chaos, similar to what was found on the band's first release, but soon displaced as the barrage of hellish riffs and morbid screams returns to lay waste to all that remains of your feeble being. Demonic thrash riffs are injected, late in the song, reminiscent of the title track from Dissection's second offering. The dynamic arrangement helps to create an epic atmosphere, going even farther than on their last outing.

"With Shadow Wings" starts with a sense of building tension, soon exploding into a maelstrom of pure Scandinavian Black Metal. The production for the album is a little more clear than the last one, not sounding as raw, yet certainly not polished. It actually still possesses a sense of rawness and even an abrasive nature not found on Nifelheim, but it just does not come off as primitive. There is also a bit of a difference in the recording of the vocals, perhaps a little extra reverb. More than anything else, the songwriting itself may be responsible, as the riffs are not as primitive and ugly, though that element is still present at times.

The title track features more dismal tremolo riffs, miserable vocals and slower sections that bleed forth a nocturnal feeling that suits the subject matter of the lyrics. The highlight of the song comes near the end, with a mournful guitar solo that adds even more gloom to the atmosphere, before an epic melody takes over. Worth noting is that while Vargher's contributions sound somewhat similar to his other band, it is still separate enough that the two are clearly unique entities and the material is not interchangeable at all.

"Where Veils of Grief are Dancing Slow" utilizes a bit of keyboards, which is one of the things that caused me to dismiss the album in the first place, but it is actually so subtle and minimal that one might even miss it, if not paying attention. The riffs alternate between the old school 80s riffs and the northern riffs that dominate much of the album. Beretorn and Vargher share vocal duties on this track, though their styles are not terribly different and might also go unnoticed. Some epic melodies emerge from the darkness, late in the song, before the tremolo riffs return to carry the song to its conclusion. The Darkthrone influence is still present, in such melodies, but worked into their own style much better than before.

The next song is "Let Blood Paint the Ground", which begins with a fast-paced riff that is bitter cold and displays an epic sense of misery. This is one of the better melodies on the whole album, sure to haunt your nightmares for some time. More old school rhythms are interspersed, with the main riff rising from the foggy graveyard, soon joined by vocals and percussion. More riffs appear, adding variation yet not interrupting the flow of the song.

The final original song is "Blackthorn Crown", which takes a different approach and seems to have some old Bathory influence. This is Beretorn's sole musical contribution to the record, and it is a good thing that it is placed at the end, since it would certainly have represented a disruption in the overall vibe of the album. While the riff is decent enough, the double bass drums are a bit annoying, though it is not as if they are very high in the mix anyway.

The album ends with a Black Metal version of "Black Sabbath", by the band of the same name. While it is interesting to see someone looking so far back in the past, to one of the earliest songs to possess a dark feeling (and in many respects, the beginning of Metal's darkside), this does not come close to matching the atmosphere of the original. Musically, it just is not as gloomy and foreboding and the vocal style does not compliment the material, in any way. It is not a bad song, but it fails to add anything to the album as a whole, and is actually its weakest point.

On Twilight Enthroned is a very solid album and a worthy follow-up to Nifelheim, maintaining a grim and cold northern sound. For what it lacks in rawness, it makes up for in speed and atmosphere. It is unknown as to why Throne of Ahaz is a band that has languished in obscurity while others of lesser quality went on to enjoy such lengthy careers. While many other Scandinavian Black Metal bands were beginning to experiment or to otherwise abandon their roots, Throne of Ahaz kept the black flame burning and it is a shame that they ceased to exist after this release.

Unanimated - Ancient God of Evil (1995)

Ancient God of Evil is the second full-length album from Sweden's Unanimated. Released in March 1995, on No Fashion Records, this features even more of a Black Metal feeling than what was already present on In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead. Comparisons have been made with Dissection, though the similarities are not as overt as might be implied. The band's sophomore effort does well to pick up from where their debut left off, but displays a solid progression and, in many cases, is much more successful in achieving its goals.

One of the prime differences in songwriting is the presence of so many more cold tremolo riffs that, along with the intense drumming and raspy vocals, are among the main reasons for this being compared to Dissection. Micke Jansson's voice is certainly in the same vein as Jon Nödtveidt's vocal approach, though Unanimated definitely possesses a unique vibe. As for Peter Stjärnvind's performance, his style is much more rooted in old school Death and Thrash, hearkening back to his days in Merciless. Much of the material sounds like a continuation of the style utilized on the first album, even if the overall atmosphere is a little more frozen and bleak. However, the songs that are most likely to be responsible for Ancient God of Evil being considered a Swedish Black Metal album are "Life Demise", "Oceans of Time" and parts of "Die Alone". Even those tracks are more of a hybrid of Black and Death, with the former dominating the sound. Consequently, these are the most memorable songs on here.

The production is very crisp and clear, but not to the extent that it could be considered plastic or fake. Despite the fact that many like to consider this band to be part of the melodic Death Metal movement, it sounds much closer to Storm of the Light's Bane or Opus Nocturne than Lunar Strain, for example. The mix is exactly as it should be, with the guitar melodies fully able to carve through everything else and straight into the listener's mind. The vocals and percussion are at an acceptable level, clear enough to be heard well but not so much as to distract from the frozen riffs.

Ancient God of Evil is a very solid album, though one that could have been better. The aforementioned songs demonstrate that where the album really shines is during the more Black Metal-oriented material, of which there should have been much more. The other songs are decent enough, but fail to make the same impact and the overall quality of the album suffers, as a result. Perhaps, they would have gotten it right if the band had lasted long enough to record a third album, back then. At least they eventually reunited, but a decade and a half was too little, too late.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Gehenna - First Spell (1994)

Gehenna's initial offering, First Spell, was released in 1994 on Head Not Found Records. This Norwegian band labeled their music 'Ghost Metal', rather than Black Metal, and such a term actually fits the music rather accurately, despite how ridiculous it is that bands were constantly adopting such terms, around that time.

"The Shivering Voice of the Ghost" is the best song on here, perhaps, beginning with a funeral organ and setting a morbid tone. The synth really seems to play a significant role on this album, though it is done in such a way that it is not really an annoyance. In reality, it is quite necessary for the atmosphere of the record, which is a fault in the songwriting, but the result is so unique that Gehenna receives a pass, this time around. The music is mid-paced and the riffs and drums play a secondary role, more or less, but everything works together in creating a gloomy and haunting feeling.

The next song, "Unearthly Loose Palace", starts out with a miserable melody that is actually quite depressing. Again, the synth and guitars are about equal, perhaps with the latter one step beneath in terms of importance. This song also utilizes bits of acoustic guitar that help in the development of the sombre and epic tone of the piece. The mournful lead solo, near the middle, perfectly accentuates the slowed pace and is very memorable in its own right. Another tempo change introduces another solo, though this one possesses an spectral quality that is difficult to describe.

"Angelwings and Ravenclaws" is a little faster, and the synth is more annoying, here. At first, it sounds like a phone ringing, and then it transitions to something that bears an oriental vibe. That is the last thing that anyone wants to hear from a Norwegian Black Metal band, and such experimentation has no place in this music.

The morbid gloom returns with "Conquering of Hirsir", though the synth interrupts this and almost attempts to establish a more upbeat feeling, at certain points. It is not a good sign for the band that they are not able to maintain a decent level of consistency for more than two songs. This song demonstrates limited potential, but it is destroyed by poor choices of keyboard melodies.

"Morningstar" begins with the sound of a storm, with grim vocals summoning dark spirits. The atmosphere is more epic than in previous songs, with the vocal patterns following the main melody for the most part. Ominous synth passages enable the song to keep a dark feeling, though it must be said that this should be achieved through the guitar riffs moreso than anything else. The song offers a bit of variation, though cycles through the same ideas and fails to really build in a way that lives up to its potential.

First Spell is the only Gehenna release that is enjoyable in the slightest bit, and only three of the songs are worth listening to. Of those three, none fully realize the level of quality that they may have been capable of, but they are still worth listening to just for something a little different. Far too much emphasis is placed on the synth, limiting the band's ability to break free of these amateurish melodies and to create something truly special. In the end, this release is inconsistent and average at best. Give it a listen, but do not go to much trouble to do so.

Forgotten Woods - As the Wolves Gather (1994)

As the Wolves Gather is the first full-length album from the relatively obscure Norwegian Black Metal act, Forgotten Woods. Released on No Colours Records in 1994, this album is probably not what listeners might expect, at first glance. While emerging during the same year as Transilvanian Hunger, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, In the Nightside Eclipse and Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, this shares very little in common with any of these records, with the exception of Burzum. The material on this album is mostly mid-paced Black Metal with a very sorrowful atmosphere.

The songwriting is very interesting, and the less minimalist approach allows for the songs to breathe more, in a similar style to the early Burzum records. The mournful guitar riffs are sometimes accentuated by acoustic passages and sombre lead solos that add depth to the music. All of the songs are mid-paced and this better enables the band to create the gloomy and depressive feeling that they are going for. The band resists the urge to follow their peers and to utilize the fast tremolo melodies and blast beats. Instead, there are times when the music crawls at an even slower pace, dragging the listener through miserable fields of broken glass and razor wire. This succeeds in conveying a sense of despair and emptiness, through the melancholic and epic melodies and varied arrangements. The guitar riffs do well to build on one another, carrying the song forward and taking the listener on a journey through torment. The percussion compliments the melodies well, only doing enough to get by and never becoming overactive.

The production suits this type of music quite well, as the sound is pretty clear and less claustrophobic than a lot of other Black Metal albums from the time period. It is certainly not overproduced, by any means, still retaining an underground feeling, but the instruments are afforded a level of clarity that is uncharacteristic of similar bands. This also helps the acoustic bits and the lead solos to feel more natural, whenever they appear. The guitars assume the dominant role, though the drums are not buried at all. The vocals are in a style reminiscent of Varg's early work, consisting of a lot of shrieks and anguished screams that are aided by the liberal use of reverb, but not in a way that comes off as forced. Everything comes together in a logical manner and the result is quite memorable.

As the Wolves Gather may not be a well-known record, but it is certainly worth the time to seek out and explore. While it is somewhat simplistic, it never becomes boring or predictable. Even the lengthier tracks manage to include enough elements to keep the listener interested. The style of mournful and epic Black Metal found here should appeal to fans of the first few Burzum records, as well as bands like Strid and even early Katatonia. Forgotten Woods certainly pulled this style off far better than many others that attempted to do so.

Fimbulwinter - Servants of Sorcery (1994)

Fimbulwinter was a lesser-known Norwegian Black Metal band that may be most notable for including Skoll (later of Arcturus) and Shagrath (later of Dimmu Borgir) in the line-up. The band's one and only full-length album, Servants of Sorcery, was released in 1994 but actually consists of material that was recorded during a 1992 rehearsal and previously available on cassette.

As would be expected of a rehearsal tape, the sound quality is very poor. Of course, the necro production suits the primitive style of music that is played here and most of the instruments are clear enough to be comprehended. The vocals suffer more than anything else, though Necronos (very imaginative name) may not have been a very good vocalist anyway. The mix favours the guitars, thankfully, which is as it should be. Luckily, the drums are not overpowering, as is often the case with rehearsals.

Musically, this is everything that one would anticipate from an album that features a guy in corpse paint wearing a Darkthrone t-shirt. This is raw, primitive Black Metal that utilizes a lot of mid-paced riffs that alternate with tremolo melodies, with standard vocals and an overall ugly vibe. The songwriting shows obvious influences from the aforementioned band, as well as Celtic Frost and even a little Bathory. The former's presence is almost felt more in a way that is filtered through Darkthrone's interpretation; i.e. more derivative of their Celtic Frost-styled riffs than the original band, themselves. These type of riffs are present throughout the album, appearing in every song. Of course, their cover version of "Morbid Tales" should be evidence enough of their prime influence, with even the vocal approach being a strong imitation of Tom Warrior, rather than the typical Second Wave vocal style employed on the rest of the album.

Servants of Sorcery is pretty good, for what it is. While this recording could have been better, there are no huge flaws that detract from the record. The fact the songs came from a 1992 rehearsal tape also lower any expectations that one may have when coming in, but the end result is not too far behind Emperor's Wrath of the Tyrant, in terms of sound quality. It is surprising that anyone lame enough to be involved with trash like Dimmu Borgir and Arcturus could have ever played in a band like Fimbulwinter. At any rate, anyone into raw and primitive Black Metal should give this a listen.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dark Funeral - Vobiscum Satanas (1998)

After the recording of their debut album, The Secrets of the Black Arts, Dark Funeral underwent a complete overhaul. First, Themgoroth was replaced by Masse Broberg, now known as Emperor Magus Caligula. Equimanthorn was replaced on drums, by Alzazmon (Tomas Asklund). However, the change that forever crippled the band and left it as merely a shadow of what it once was had to be the departure of Blackmoon. Once his songwriting genius was removed from the equation, the band stagnated and it was very clear who the driving force had been. With a new line-up, Lord Ahriman returned to Abyss Studio in the autumn of 1997 and Vobiscum Satanas was born. It was released by No Fashion in April 1998.

Musically, this is almost a carbon-copy of the band's debut album. Unable to cope with Blackmoon's absence, it seems that Ahriman did his best to mimic the record that made Dark Funeral so popular in the first place, to the best of his abilities. And, truth be told, there are plenty of decent riffs to be found here. The first few songs are somewhat enjoyable, blasting through at an intense pace as cold, nocturnal tremolo riffs weave in and out. "Ravenna Strigoi Mortii" starts things out on a strong note but, by the middle of the album, the repetitive nature of the songwriting begins to wear thin. The material is weaker as well, unable to maintain the momentum built early on.

The production is much clearer than The Secrets of the Black Arts, which is one of the main differences between the two albums. The sense of rawness that existed on the first album is sacrificed for increased clarity, though it does not sound horribly overdone. It suits the music well enough, which utilizes a slightly less violent approach, anyway. The benefit of this is that the guitar riffs are not buried in the mix, as they were on the previous release, allowing the listener to truly hear all that is going on.

The drumming is still a problem, just like on the first album. Tomas Asklund continues what Equimanthorn started, with the overactive percussion that creates too much noise and detracts from the guitar riffs, which should be the primary focus. That said, he has never shown much proficiency for knowing how to best compliment the melodies, so one would be foolish to expect him to possess such wisdom near the beginning of his career.

One of the worst aspects of the album has to be the vocal performance. Masse completely altered his style and sounds nothing like he did on Hypocrisy's first two records, Penetralia and Osculum Obscenum. Of course, it is natural that he would employ a higher-pitched sound since he made the move from Death Metal to Black Metal, but his entire technique is utterly different in every way. His voice is very generic and sounds like most other vocalists of the period, almost like a weak imitation of Ihsahn, from Emperor. He ruins several of the songs by not allowing the music to breathe. Whether it is because he wrote too many lyrics or just the fact that his vocal patterns attempt to fill as much time as possible, his voice hardly seems to go away for even a few moments and it takes away from the guitar melodies.

Vobiscum Satanas is the result of a band that had become a caricature of itself. Had this been Dark Funeral's first album, without the foundation that was laid by the earlier releases, chances are that the band would not have existed long enough to make a second one. This record is a failure, epitomizing the words generic and mediocre, and demonstrates that without Blackmoon's creativity, Dark Funeral was but a pale shadow of what they once were. To hear the true continuation of this band's legacy, pick up Infernal's self-titled debut, featuring Blackmoon and Themgoroth. As for this atrocity, avoid it and steer clear of the albums that follow.