Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Shining - Livets Ändhållplats (2001)

There has been an element of sorrow and gloom within Black Metal, almost since the very beginning. Songs such as Venom's "Buried Alive, Hellhammer's "Triumph of Death" and Bathory's "Call from the Grave" all possessed a sombre atmosphere, to one extent or another. This was expanded upon, in the early 1990s, as various bands incorporated an increasing number of mournful melodies into their overall sound, including Burzum, Darkthrone, Strid, Dissection and so on. From tortured screams to miserable guitar riffs, this sort of negative and depressive vibe certainly has a place in Black Metal, but only as one part of the greater whole. In time, bands came along that sought to focus on this one aspect and no other. Thus was born the Depressive Suicidal Black Metal movement.

The question is then, at what point does this music cease to be Black Metal? It all depends on the manner by which the bands go about creating such a bleak and dismal atmosphere. However, with Shining, it is clear that this does not belong to the same sub-genre as the likes of Mayhem, Gorgoroth or the aforementioned groups. There is a line between making music that carries a feeling of despair, versus just outright emo nonsense. When your band is making songs with titles like "Att Med Kniv Göra Sig Illa" (meaning, "To Hurt Oneself With A Knife"), that line has been crossed. While many can relate to the horrible feelings that this sort of music may conjure up, there is nothing evil about self-mutilation. Even when Dead, himself, did so during Mayhem gigs, it had nothing to do with evoking a dark or evil aura and that was by no means the central part of the performance. Nonetheless, it was but one part of the greater whole. Shining seems to have latched on to such imagery and, maybe thinking it to be more significant than it was, built their identity around such things. Even the cover of Shining's 2001 release, Livets Ändhållplats, is a simple image of a bloody forearm. While some people are legitimately troubled and do such a thing, albums like this one have inspired countless brainless sheep to slice themselves to pieces and try to show it off, thinking it will make them cool or more Black Metal than the next person, when it has nothing to do with it at all.

This band is a good example of what one can accomplish with the right hype and image. The brainchild of Niklas Kvarforth is rather popular within certain parts of the Black Metal underground, despite not having so much to do with it. While the band's debut album, Within Deep Dark Chambers, contained all of the generic prerequisites of the sub-genre, the follow-up is something a bit different. Though the 2001 album, Livets Ändhållplats, bears the image and some of the trappings of Black Metal, it would better be described as Dark Metal, in the vein of early Bethlehem, though not nearly as effective.

Musically, it is evident that Shining was influenced by some of the Second Wave bands, most notably Strid and Burzum, but their strongest inspiration is Bethlehem. Kvarforth's vocal approach seems to follow that of Andreas Classen, who handled those duties on Within Deep Dark Chambers (as well as Bethlehem's debut album). Sometimes, he attempts tormented shrieks reminiscent of Landfermann's work on Dictius Te Necare, but not as extreme. The guitar tone is distant and fuzzy, but non-threatening. There is a decent amount of clean guitar that is utilized, from time to time. The main riffs sort of drone on, while tremolo melodies come and go. Every song is mid-paced and crawls along lifeless and bereft of any trace of aggression or energy. The bass lines are much more audible than on most Metal releases, and this instrument appears to have a more prominent role on Livets Ändhållplats. Despite all of these elements, the end product is not particularly dark or depressing. One can see how it might come off as such to someone that is inexperienced or just does not know better, but a seasoned listener can see right through this. The effort is there, but the songwriting skill is lacking. Kvarforth should have spent less time trying to scream like his idols and more time composing sorrowful melodies that actually possess some sort of feeling, rather than the boring and average material that Shining's sophomore L.P. consists of.

The songwriting for this album is deceptively simplistic. While possessing some more extreme aesthetics and musical elements, at its core this is very easily digestible music for a mass audience. This, in itself, goes against what Black Metal had become by this point. There are still the harsh and tormented vocals and moody tremolo melodies, here and there; however, the main rhythms are rather Rock-oriented and take more influence from the likes of The Cure or mid-period Katatonia than from Darkthrone or Mayhem. Listening to "Ännu Ett Steg Närmare Total Utfrysning", one is first drawn to the throbbing bass lines and the very boring drumwork, as well as the soft keyboards in the background. While this may seem shocking to those uninitiated into Black Metal, anyone with even a rudimentary experience will be able to sense how soft and tame this is. That said, the atmosphere is dark at times and it will certainly drag one's mood down if already somewhat melancholy. However, the successor to the likes of Strid this is not. One might even suggest that, substituting the harsh vocals for some melodic female singing, and this would not even be considered remotely Black Metal.

The production is pretty clear, more than not, especially when compared to the band's so-called peers in the underground. The main guitars are distorted but not so much as to really create a raw feeling. The bass and drums come through, very well, almost too much. That is, if they were not so key to the overall compositions. The acoustic bits are loud and kind of high in the mix, never getting lost or forgotten. The vocals are painfully clear, when perhaps they would benefit from a slight bit more obscurity. The whole album would sound a little better if the sound was dirtier and more pure, but then again the songwriting does not really warrant such an approach.

Black Metal fans should avoid this, as it only shares certain technical aspects of that sub-genre, without actually belonging to it. However, even for a Dark Metal record, this is painfully average and ineffective. Livets Ändhållplats is unable to create even a fraction of the disturbing atmosphere that was present on classic Bethlehem albums, such as Dark Metal and Dictius Te Necare. With such limited musical abilities, it is no wonder that Kvarforth turned to other methods of whoring for attention, so people would notice him and his mundane band. This is safe and kid-friendly stuff for beginners or girls that are sad because their favourite brand of eyeliner was discontinued. There is no true darkness here.

Graveland - Carpathian Wolves (1994)

Carpathian Wolves is the first full-length album from Graveland, though The Celtic Winter contains just about as much actual music and possesses a higher sound quality. Released in December 1994, this record seems to represent a step backward and bears a number of weaknesses.

Musically, this effort leaves a lot to be desired. The riffs are, often, ineffective and forgettable. The drumming is very sloppy and continues to include very non-Metal patterns that kill the atmosphere, at times. The vocals are decent, neither exceptionally good nor bad. There is an over-reliance on synth to carry the atmosphere of the album and that is one of the worst elements of Carpathian Wolves. Some of the passages are interesting and add to the horror vibe that is often present, but then the band gets carried away and fails to stop while they are ahead. The intro and outro are too long, as well. There are a number of good guitar melodies on this album, but they suffer from poor execution and the overall rotten production. That is the most frustrating thing about this release; every song bears some positive qualities and one can see a decent amount of potential, but the sloppy drumming and bad sound just prevent this from being what it could have been. Despite all of this, the morose open-arpeggio chords of "Witches Holocaust" and the cold tremolo melodies of "Unpunished Herd" manage to stand a little bit above the rest.

This entire endeavour was neutered, right from the start, due to the horrid production. The guitars are incredibly weak and pushed to the background, which serves as a death sentence. If it is not bad enough that the synth overpowers everything else, even the drumming is much higher in the mix than the guitars. This should never have been released, in this form. The guitars are always supposed to be the focal point. Had the mix been corrected, Carpathian Wolves would have been a much better album. Even the boring and uninspiring riffs could be overlooked, as there really is enough good material to make this a worthy effort.

Graveland's debut L.P. is rather disappointing, but not without any positive qualities. This was but the misstep down a path that would take the band very far from the promise that they displayed on The Celtic Winter. For less picky listeners, Carpathian Wolves is still worth checking out, but be warned that it is inferior to its predecessor in all ways.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Horna - Pimeyden Henku (2007)

Pimeyden Henku was released in September 2007, on Debemur Morti Productions. This E.P. was the first Horna release since Sotahuuto, which was a tribute to Bathory. Therefore, this was more of a follow-up to 2006's Ääniä Yössä. As one might expect, this effort features four songs of very raw and aggressive Black Metal, sounding much rougher than any of their full-length albums.

The first song, "Nostalgiaa", rises from the darkness and rips you face right off with a vicious thrash riff, before a razor-sharp tremolo melody saws you in half. For a raw and primitive tune, this is rather dynamic. There is a mid-paced riff, albeit brief, that bridges the tremolo riff and the initial thrash theme. Things slow down, by the middle, and a chaotic atmosphere is created. The song seems to slowly wind down, before the first riff returns to take another chunk out of you.

"Avain Tuhossani" is more of a mid-paced track, being far more relaxed than the previous song. It gets better as it goes along, as a mournful melody is introduced. Sadly, it is all too brief. The strange production sort of limits its impact, as well. All in all, not a bad song, but not one of the band's better ones, either.

The next song is a mixed bag. "Kirotun Käden Kosketus" starts out with a rather generic riff, which is soon followed by a brilliant tremolo melody. Unfortunately, the first one is the more dominant of the two. Things slow down, near the middle, and the sound of Corvus's throat tearing and ripping apart is very clear, which suits the excessively raw production of this E.P. This track shows a bit of potential, but more focus needed to be placed on the good riff, while the other one could have been scrapped altogether.

"Verisellä Ovella" starts out with a very dreary riff, reminiscent of early Mütiilation. This feeling is carried on by the following riff, though a more decidedly Finnish-sounding melody takes over by the middle. After a fast-paced part, the music kind of falls apart and the gloomy atmosphere reasserts itself for the last minute or so.

Neither bad nor terribly necessary, Pimeyden Henku offers up a decent slab of raw Black Metal that possesses a few shining moments, along with some rather dull ones. Chances are, the material that was presented here could have been worked on a little more and been all the more effective in a more developed form. Either way, most Horna fans will probably like this.

Mgła - Further Down the Nest (2007)

Released in June 2007, Further Down the Nest is the third E.P. from the Polish band Mgła. This 7' was limited to 700 copies and picks up where the band left off with their previous release, Mdłości. The style is very similar and one has to wonder why they were so impatient and continued to release an E.P. each time they wrote a couple songs, rather than holding off for a full-length.

The first song features the kind of freezing cold guitar melodies that would appeal to any fan of early-'90s Scandinavian Black Metal. The riffs possess an epic quality and the overall approach is obsessed by a morbid intensity that is missing with many bands. The production is underground but fairly clear, allowing everything to be heard well enough. The drums might be a little high in the mix, but nothing too bad. The songwriting is rather primitive, though the excessive percussion and frequent tempo shifts keeps it from becoming too minimalist. The song never expands, too much, on the main themes. It remains content to return to the same cold riff, without building to something larger. This is pretty straightforward and achieves what it sets out to do.

The second song is more relaxed, beginning with simple chords and mid-paced drumming. It is a little boring, until a gloomy tremolo riff appears, after a couple minutes. Still, the style is different from the first track, and not in a good way. There is something kind of pop-oriented about the rhythm, and the guitar melody is totally wasted. Even when the pace picks up, it never really unfolds as one would expect. The track kind of meanders its way to a lackluster conclusion, completely undoing the progress set forth by the first track.

Further Down the Nest fails to build on the momentum of the previous E.P. and displays a severe lack of consistency in Mgła's songwriting. This is similar to the band's first release, Presence, which only had one good song. It would seem that things are hit and miss with this band, so it is probably better to just seek out the good tracks and to spend your money on bands with a better idea of what it is that they wish to accomplish.

Mayhem - Ordo Ad Chao (2007)

Mayhem is one of the most respected and criticized bands in all of Black Metal. No one can deny the band's influence in the birth of the Second Wave, and the Norwegian scene in particular. Yet, ever since the classic De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, the band has strayed ever farther from their path. Each time around, fans were hopeful for a return to form, yet Mayhem offered experimental sounds, instead. It was almost as if they were intentionally turning their back on the style that made them so legendary to begin with. Either that, or they simply tried to push the envelope and just failed miserably. Though Maniac was ousted and Attila returned to the fold, there was no way for Blasphemer to ever fill the shoes of Euronymous and he had proven that time and again. And so expectations were quite low in April 2007, as the band released their fourth full-length album, Ordo Ad Chao.

It begins with "A Wise Birthgiver", which gets off to a slow start. The feeling is consumed with dread and impending doom. As Attila's voice rises from the murky depths, an aura of darkness envelopes you. This intro sets the tone, perfectly, and gives hope for what is to come.

"Wall of Water" maintains the dark and gloomy feeling, and one can sense that something really has changed with the songwriting. This is much more straightforward and true to the essence of Black Metal. As things speed up, it becomes evident that the production is rather muddy and the riffs are restrained, somehow. The percussion is a bit easier to hear, but the guitar riffs seem to be in the background. However, the vocals are high enough in the mix to be heard and that is one of the most positive things about the entire album. Attila sounds possessed and gives one of his best performances, ever. As for the music, it never sticks with one tempo for too long. Rather than focusing on certain riffs, the attention is centered on maintaining a pitch-black atmosphere.

The hellish feeling continues on with "Great Work of Ages", which features a lot of faster riffs, mixed in with slow sections that are accentuated by Attila's eerie whispers. Hellhammer's drumming is a little chaotic, but works well for the material. The riffs are all over the place, at times, with no clear structure to the song. In many ways, this is what Black Metal should strive to be; to break free from the formulaic approach and to be more concerned with creating a dark and evil atmosphere.

"Deconsecrate" starts out with otherworldly screams and one has to question how this could come from a human. The answer, of course, is that Attila is hardly human. He utilizes a mix of clean and harsh vocals, creating a sinister effect. Again, the music seems to move from one idea to the next, rarely returning to a previous theme, merely taking the listener on a darkened journey through Hell. For some, this may be too much to take in, but it is all about atmosphere. That cannot be said enough.

The following song is the longest one on here, clocking in at almost ten minutes. "Illuminate Eliminate" is like some hideous beast that crawls out from the abyss to seek out human victims. It bears a feeling of dread, and the vocals add a sense of malevolence to the proceedings. The tension grows as this track slowly builds. A gloomy tremolo riff slithers among the doomed remnants of life now extinguished, as the pace soon picks up. The warmer guitar tone really works for this material as, though many would have preferred a colder sound, this helps imbue the listener with a feeling of experiencing pure Hell. The final minutes of the song sees the introduction of a mournful melody that signifies the beginning of the final descent.

"Psychic Horns" starts out with another mid-paced riff and the sorrowful sound in Attila's voice has now been replaced by pure evil. Like a spirit now fully possessed, he conveys the feeling that there is no turning back. Musically, things are more chaotic and intense, which is good to wake the listener from the trance of the previous song.

"Key to the Storms" is a shorter track that features a lot of busy drum-work, though the pace is not all that fast. In the background, one can hear faint echoes of a cold riff that hearkens back to the band's previous era. Late in the song, one gets the sense that Attila has finally lost his mind, as his ravings go beyond the farthest limits of sanity. Such is the price one must pay to enter the depths of Hell and to approach the throne of the Dark One.

The final song, "Anti", completes the journey into the mouth of the abyss, beyond the illusions of good or evil and toward the great nothingness that awaits us all. The images of Hell were but manifestations of an insane mind, at war with itself to come to grips with the ultimate truth: it is all a big nothing. As the chaotic pounding of drums joins the frenetic riffing, it becomes clear that emptiness shall consume us all. Attila's vocals personify the sound of the abyss swallowing itself, leaving nothing but a cold void.

Ordo Ad Chao is a record that should surprise many. Of course, this is not a triumphant return to the glory of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. However, what it is, is the band's first relevant release since then. The music, itself, is secondary to the hideously dark atmosphere that oppresses you and the brilliant vocal performance by Attila. For those who had written this band off, long ago, this one is worth checking out.

Sodom - The Final Sign of Evil (2007)

In 1984, Sodom was set to record their first full-length album. Unfortunately, as the story goes, their label could not afford to pay for the necessary studio time and only a handful of songs ended up being recorded. Those tracks were released as the legendary In the Sign of Evil E.P. In the years that followed, the band moved away from its Black Metal origins and developed into one of the elite among the Teutonic Thrash bands. With the passage of over two decades, however, Tom Angelripper saw the need to revisit the band's dark past. For whatever reason, the leftover material was never recorded for any of the band's subsequent albums. In time, the original line-up entered the studio and brought to life those forgotten songs, as well as new versions of the ones from the E.P. In September 2007, The Final Sign of Evil was released, thus Sodom was finally able to share the morbid vision that possessed them so many years earlier.

The first thing that one notices is the incredible production. This possesses the same ugly and raw sound that was present on their debut E.P. For decades, bands have tried attaining an older sound and the best they could manage was to use poor equipment or to simply do everything in their power to make their releases sound as if they were recorded in a garage. With The Final Sign of Evil, Sodom reaches back into the past but manages to get an old school sound and still retain some level of quality. This really seems like it could have been vomited forth back in 1984, and that is one of the most positive things that can be said of this album.

Regarding the music, it is purely old school Black Metal, hearkening back to the glory days of the First Wave. One thing that really helps is that the members of Sodom really tried to keep things authentic; i.e. instead of giving these old songs a modern spin, they remained true to the spirit of the old days. Angelripper's vocals are more demonic and raw than in many years. Witchhunter's lack of drumming for about fifteen years also helped him sound as unpolished and primitive as the material called for. The same can be said for the length of time since Grave Violator had picked up a guitar. One really has to commend Tom for looking to his old bandmates for this project, which just goes to show how serious he was about presenting the old material as it should have been.

The unreleased songs seem to pale in comparison to the classics that we have all known for so many years. Some of that may be nostalgia, while part of it may be that they chose the very best songs to record, upon finding out that they would not be able to make a full-length album back in '84. While my personal preferences lean toward the original recordings, there really is nothing negative that can be said of the re-recorded versions. The are possessed by the same evil spirit as the originals and uphold the same sort of savage and primitive feeling. The previously unheard tracks hold their own well enough, but they certainly would not have been able to carry their weight without the classics there with them. The one standout, among the 'new' tracks is "Hatred of the Gods", which would have fit in well on In the Sign of Evil, or even Persecution Mania, for that matter. It is interesting to note that most of the songs chosen for the original E.P. were the faster ones (with the exception of "Sepulchral Voice"), while the majority of the leftover songs were more mid-paced. It says something for the identity that the band wanted to project, seeing which ones they kept and which ones were shelved.

The Final Sign of Evil is a great album and highly recommended to fans of the band's early work. With so many groups going back and re-recording old songs in order to give them an updated feel and make them more modern, it is amazing to see one of the forefathers of Black Metal embracing their roots and remaining true to the underground spirit that spawned them in the first place. The only bad thing about this is that they did not stick with their old sound for the next album.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tormentor - The Seventh Day of Doom (1987)

For those that have heard Tormentor's much-praised release Anno Domini, you have not really gotten a full impression of what this band was about until you have experienced The Seventh Day of Doom. If you ever wondered where those hints of old school Metal came from, then look no further than the band's first demo, released in 1987. Some of the same songs are even present, though in a much lengthier and less-structured form.

The music on this album is absolutely brilliant. Rather than being just pure Black Metal, this shows an incredible amount of traditional Metal and NWOBHM influence in the riffs and rhythms. Being a demo, there are no time constraints to worry with, thus enabling the songs to evolve and unfold at a natural pace. It almost feels like a jam session, at times, with the extended periods of music that lacks any sort of vocals. Once Attila's voice is finally heard, the listener will probably either love it or hate it. That can be said of his other performances, but especially here. He sounds less evil and more like a harmless troll, on this recording. Obviously, his style was still in its formative stages, but the seeds were being planted. Really, the vocals take a back seat to the awesome musicianship and songwriting that is on display, here. There are tons of old school riffs and great lead guitar solos that hearken back to Venom, Mercyful Fate and Show No Mercy-era Slayer, among others. While it is very interesting to hear earlier versions of classic Tormentor songs, the more obscure tracks are even more fascinating. "Branded By Satan", in particular, stands out as a high-quality song that is dripping with darkness and an epic sense that was so rare for this type of music, at that time.

Naturally, the production leaves a lot to be desired. For a demo from 1987, this does not sound as bad as one might expect. The guitars are a little muddy, but the fuzzy tone is still discernible. The bass is higher in the mix than what most Black Metal bands would allow, which is actually interesting. There is a negligible amount of hissing present, but it actually adds character to the demo. The vocals are easily heard, and the guitar solos manage to cut through the foggy sound, well enough. Everything can be followed, quite easily, and the truth of the matter is that this possesses a better sound quality than some of the full-length studio albums that emerged in the early-to-mid '90s.

Listening to The Seventh Day of Doom, one has to wonder how utterly epic Anno Domini would have been, had it retained the approach found here. There is a strong argument for both sides, maintaining the epic arrangements or stripping it down and going for a more intense approach. Either way, this recording demonstrates a level of skill that many bands at the time simply did not possess. If you have not heard this classic Tormentor release, then seek it out or suck on the nearest shotgun.

Belketre - Twilight of the Black Holocaust (1994)

Twilight of the Black Holocaust is the second demo release from Belketre. Along with the likes of Mütiilation, Vlad Tepes and Torgeist, this band was a member of the French Black Legions. Released in 1994, this demo adheres to the sound that most people identify with the LLN. The production is atrocious and there is a strong feeling of hatred that comes across. This material is not on the same level as what would appear on the March to the Black Holocaust split, with Vlad Tepes, but it is somewhat decent.

The music is not very well developed. The first song, "The Dark Promise", does not even sound like Black Metal until late in the song. The drum rhythm is very pop-oriented and really kills the feeling. The vocal patters follow suit and just really demonstrate how clueless this band was, at the time. "Despair" is a brief instrumental with a mournful vibe, but this is but a fragment of an actual song. "Hate" is even worse, as it is nothing more than a minute of random screaming, unworthy of even being given a title. The only good song on here is the title track, which is very primitive and simplistic but manages to convey a melancholic and hateful feeling. Belketre would have been better off just releasing this as a single.

The production is as awful as one would expect, sounding as if it was recorded on a four-track that was placed about three rooms over from the band. The guitars are very thin and fuzzy, while the drums sound only slightly better than those on the early Mütiilation demos. The vocals seem to have a little too much reverb, at times, but that probably goes along with the very raw and under-produced approach.

This is not a spectacular release, but it is worth checking out for "Twilight of the Black Holocaust", at least. Though there is nothing wrong with "Despair", a much better version is available on the split album, rendering this one kind of useless. This is mostly recommended to those who are already familiar with the Black Legions, as this would not be a good starting place, otherwise.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Behexen - By the Blessing of Satan (2004)

Behexen is not the most prolific band in the Finnish Black Metal scene. Having been in existence since 1996, they have only released three full-length albums, along with two demos and two split releases. By the Blessing of Satan, their sophomore effort, was released by Woodcut Records in March 2004, four long years after their debut record. Though Horns and Hoath Torog were also working on Sargeist during this period, there was still plenty of time to write music for Behexen. One would imagine that, with such an opportunity, they would have gone over each song until they were all perfect, but this was not the case.

The first thing that most people notice, upon listening to this, is that the production is horrible. Everything is too loud, and the overall effect is too abrasive. The bass and drums are both too high in the mix, which is especially evident during the double bass parts. It does not sound as if any single element has enough room to breathe; in a sense, it has all been compressed into a small space. At times, it is difficult to focus on the guitar melodies, of which there are many impressive ones that get buried beneath everything else, such as the latter half of "Fist of the Satanist". The layer of fuzz that was present on Rituale Satanum is still there, but also unable to have the same effect due to the wretched mix. The guitar riffs would, likely, have a cold feeling if not for the way everything comes together, which ends up creating more of a hellish feel. Many will ignore the album, right off the bat, based on the overwhelming noise level; however, it is really worthwhile to tolerate and adapt to the harsh sound in order to appreciate the music, as there is something going on beneath all of the chaos.

As for the songwriting, itself, one can tell that Behexen mixed several different influences and the result is not always positive. In particular, songs like the title track and "Celebration of Christ's Fall" bear several elements that simply do not belong. At times, they sound reminiscent of Dark Funeral, with the horrible deep vocals overdubbed, boring riffs and overactive blast beats. Thankfully, the really bad tracks are in the minority. The rest of the material demonstrates a mild level of influence from the likes of Bathory and Darkthrone, with the old school style of riffing. There are also traces of Burzum, heard in the use of the open-arpeggio riffs. The strongest inspiration seems to come from Mayhem, as evidenced by the cold and nocturnal tremolo melodies that are present in most of the songs. For the most part, the arrangements allow for a decent amount of variation, mixing mid-paced and fast sections and doing well to create a morbid atmosphere, at times. By the Blessing of Satan possesses many good riffs, but there are also a number of mediocre ones that should never have made it to the final stage. One surprising thing that the band did was to include an eerie lead guitar solo on "Black Metal Baptism", which displays just how powerful solos can be when used properly. It is a shame that most Black Metal bands choose to ignore this element.

By the Blessing of Satan does not reach the same level as its predecessor, Rituale Satanum, but it certainly has its moments. There are only two songs that are worth skipping past, while tracks like "Under the Eye of Lord" deserve repeated listens. At its best, this record creates a dark and sombre atmosphere that will haunt you for countless nights. Give this a try.

Mgła - Presence (2006)

Released on Northern Heritage Records in January 2006, Presence is the first official release from the Polish Black Metal band Mgła. This 12" E.P. features three songs of fairly standard Black Metal. While there is nothing all that unique about the music, it is executed quite well and upholds the traditions of the Second Wave.

"I" is the longest track on here, clocking in at over eight minutes, and possesses a rather morbid atmosphere. It consists of mid-paced drumming underneath fast-picked tremolo riffs. There is an additional melody that hovers above the rest, like fog over an ancient graveyard, that is somewhat reminiscent of Katharsis. The song is fairly monotonous, with little variation throughout, but does well to maintain the listener's interest. It seems as if it is going to pick up, in the second half, but the drumming does not keep a consistent pace and the haphazard approach kills the potential impact of the guitar riffs.

The next song, simply titled "II", starts out with more cold tremolo riffs but they are neutralized rather early as the drumming drops to half-speed. Perhaps, the band was trying to be less predictable, but they were not able to pull it off. Sometimes, it does not pay to attempt creativity when you are not yet skilled enough to stray beyond familiar territory. This is not a bad song, but there are too many points where the inconsistency of the percussion becomes distracting. As with the rest, the vocals are standard fare, with the vocalist injecting a bit of his natural voice into the sound.

"III" has an incredibly weak beginning and hardly sounds like Black Metal. The over-dubbed vocals are annoying and the pace of the song is nothing that has not been heard a million times, from Bathory to Darkthrone and the thousands of clones that each band has spawned. The riffs seem to owe a bit to early Burzum, but the effect is not nearly as memorable. This song just never gets off the ground and comes off as rather boring and useless.

Mgła did not make the greatest first impression with Presence. Thankfully, I discovered the band near the end of 2006 when a friend sent me the recently-released Mdłości E.P. Otherwise, I doubt they would have ever gotten a second listen. This material is not horrible but it is hardly worth the effort to track down.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Teitanblood / Proclamation split (2005)

Teitanblood and Proclamation are two Spanish bands that were formed not quite a decade ago, for the purpose of creating hideously evil Black / Death Metal in the vein of early Beherit, Blasphemy, Sarcofago and Archgoat. This 7" E.P. from 2005 showcases what both bands were capable of, at the time, and presents an extremely ugly form of music that was again growing in popularity.

Side A features two songs from Proclamation, starting with "Sabbat of Vengeance", which wastes little time in creating an atmosphere of pure, hellish chaos. The vocals are bestial and the music is furiously primitive. The lead solo hearkens back to early Slayer, adding to the evil feeling. The production is very rough, making it difficult to hear all that is going on, though the actual style of playing is partially responsible as well. The drumming is intense and chaotic, while the riffs do not do a whole lot to stand out from the maelstrom of violence. "Golgotha Impalation" is a bit more mid-paced and easier to follow, for the first couple minutes. There are several times when overdubbed vocals are added in to increase the demonic vibe, though it is not really needed.

Side B includes a couple tracks from Teitanblood, and the approach is not all that different. The vocals are a little deeper, yet possessing an eerie whispered quality. It is almost as if the vocalist is gargling broken glass. There is a bit more focus on the guitar riffs, as the drums are far less overactive than on the other band's material. Again, there are lead solos that are reminiscent o an earlier age. The first song, "Necrosemen", is brief and fast-paced while "Black Pasch (Carnivore Eucharist)" is about twice as long and includes slower parts as well. The relative simplicity of this approach allows for a darker atmosphere than on the Proclamation songs, as the music is less overwhelming and thus allows the listener to soak it all in a little better. The doom riffs really add another layer of murkiness to the sound. There is something much more evil and threatening about this.

The Teitanblood material was the first that I heard, shortly after this was released, and that band seemed to have a better grasp of creating a dark and evil atmosphere. Proclamation may not have been going for the same thing, as their approach was more violent and barbaric. In the end, this is a decent slab of underground Black / Death Metal and should appeal to fans of Beherit and Blasphemy, in particular.

Chaos Omen - Let Clarity Succumb (2006)

Chaos Omen is a Black Metal side-project from Necromorbus, a musician that has worked with the likes of Watain, Katharsis, Armagedda, Ofermod, etc. This prolific Swede also owns and operates Necromorbus Studio and runs his own label. Let Clarity Succumb was the second and final release under this moniker, and was released in July 2006 on Nails of Christ.

Musically, Chaos Omen is not too far off from the other bands that Necromorbus has been involved with. This is dark and sombre Black Metal, with an emphasis on the possessed vocals and dreary guitar riffs. The bass provides an added sense of gloom, sometimes expanding its role beyond that of just following the main guitar melodies. As for the guitars, there are subtle touches that help the atmosphere in reaching a deeper level of morbidity, as open chords are utilized at the end of some riffs. The vocals are just as important for this pitch-black vibe, maintaining a sense of corrupted humanity instead of sounding altogether inhuman. The opening moments of "Old Wounds", in particular, includes the tormented screams of one who has not yet been swallowed by the eternal abyss. The music features a variety of tempos and is rather dynamic, compared to many other bands. There are a decent number of fast sections that employ tremolo melodies and fast-paced drums, but this represents only one aspect of the band's character.

The production is underground yet clear. The guitar is a little thicker than what a lot of Black Metal bands prefer to use, and the prominence of the bass adds to the wall of sound feeling. The result is pretty powerful, allowing the songs to make a real impact. The tone is not all that cold; quite the contrary, it almost seems to be possessed by the flames of Hell. This is similar to the sort of recording jobs that Necromorbus has done for Watain and Armagedda, though a little uglier than an album like Sworn to the Dark, for example. The drumming is at an appropriate level, being just high enough in the mix for everything to be heard but never distracting from the dismal riffs.

Let Clarity Succumb shows some real potential and it is a shame that Chaos Omen did not last long enough to record a full-length album. While countless one-dimensional bands pollute the scene with horrible records, a project like this ceased to exist before being able to make its full contribution. For a one-man band, this shows a lot of skill in all areas. From the musicianship, songwriting, vocals and even the recording, there is no sign of weakness to be found. Seek this out, without hesitation.

Ofermod - Mystérion Tés Anomias (1998)

Ofermod's first demo, Mystérion Tés Anomias, was released by Pounding Metal in May 1998. The Black Metal landscape, at the time, was quite different from what it would become later on. The trend of melodic / symphonic bands was in full force, with Gothic themes overflowing. The scene in Sweden was quite pathetic, for the most part. Dissection was on hold, indefinitely. Marduk and Dark Funeral were nothing more than caricatures of what they once were. The lesser-known bands, like Throne of Ahaz and Sorhin were not doing much. Overall, a band like Ofermod was desperately needed.

Mystérion Tés Anomias is dripping with violence and hate, from the intense guitar riffs to the forceful vocal delivery. The razor-sharp guitar melodies slice through you and the drums pound your remains into dust. This frenetic pace is enough to get your adrenalin pumping, just by listening. In some ways, this is like a call to war; to wage eternal battle against those of the light. Late in the title track, a haunting tremolo riff emerges from the chaos and infects your mind, as the throaty and morbid vocals evoke the legions of Hell. The lyrics seem somewhat similar to those of Watain and Katharsis, rather than the more straightforward approach used by the older bands. Nonetheless, the spirit is still the same and a furious hatred for the Judeo-Christian myth is present .

The production is very raw, though quite good for what it is. Everything is clear enough to be heard, yet maintaining an underground feeling. The vocals are a little high in the mix, but it works well for the style. The guitar tone is cold and vicious enough to saw through an entire congregation of brainwashed sheep. The drums are rather buried, but one can hear enough to keep up with where the song is going.

Mystérion Tés Anomias is a decent release. The only complaint would have to be that it is too short. This was re-released in 2005, with a couple extra tracks, but they were obviously from a different recording session and do not possess the same raw and aggressive sound. Either way, pick this up if you get the chance.

Gorgoroth - Under the Sign of Hell 2011 (2011)

After the release of Quantos Possunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt, it was revealed that Gorgoroth would re-record one of their classic albums with the new line-up. The victim of this treatment was none other than Under the Sign of Hell. While there were things about the overall production of that album that could have stood some alteration, much moreso than Pentagram or Antichrist, it was still a record that possessed its own identity and was a worthy chapter in the band's history. In fact, the final one prior to the last album. Unfortunately, the re-recorded version of this Black Metal classic was spawned in the home studio of Tomas Asklund (the only reason anyone puts up with him) and features his mechanical drumming style. The end product is an album that is far inferior to the original, in every conceivable way, and something that was little more than a waste of time.

The production of this record is bloody awful, and Asklund should be dragged out into the nearest street and shot. Due to his horrible ego, the drumming is far too high in the mix (something that plagued the original), yet it lacks any sense of character and just makes the music sound sterile and void of any sort of feeling. The guitar riffs seem incredibly weak, as well, rendered ineffective and harmless by the modern production. Infernus is a very gifted songwriter, yet one would be hard-pressed to notice, thanks to the miserable sound quality. his brilliant guitar melodies are buried and take on a supporting role, serving as background noise for Asklund's percussion. This is a bloody travesty, as everything is backward and wrong. Riffs that were once powerful and commanding are now impotent and timid. Even Pest's vocals are less impressive, now bereft of the vicious tone of the past. Whereas he once sounded possessed, he now seems to be going through the motions. In fact, that is probably accurate regarding this entire project. One has to wonder why they even bothered to do this if they were not going to give their best effort. If Infernus thinks that this pile of garbage does justice to the original, then the court case must have taken more of a toll on him than previously imagined.

Regarding the music, there is not much to say. Gorgoroth, pretty much, plays everything exactly as it was on the original record, note for note. This is not even a re-interpretation, like Burzum's From the Depths of Darkness; instead, this is nothing more than the band playing through an old album, doing their best to avoid any sort of deviation. Again, there was nothing about the material that warranted this re-recording. Infernus does not appear to have any regrets about the album as it was recorded back in 1997. The only complaint that anyone could have about Under the Sign of Hell would be the abrasive production. Nonetheless, it was a sound that would grow on you over time, unlike this lifeless and boring reproduction. It is good to hear Gorgoroth playing this sort of music again and one would hope that the next album is more in line with the older albums; however, they desperately need to recruit a new drummer and to switch to a different studio before doing so.

Under the Sign of Hell 2011 was a mistake. There is not one single improvement to be found, here. Whatever motivated Infernus to do this shall remain a mystery. Rather than tarnishing their name by offering up such a bland re-recording, the band could have been working on a new record. Sadly, if it shares the same type of production as this, then it may be worthless as well. Infernus needs to wake up and realize that Tomas Asklund is killing his band. It is like Gríma Wormtongue and King Théoden, from The Lord of the Rings. Infernus thinks that Asklund is helping him by playing drums and providing a convenient studio. The truth of the matter is that the miserable Swede is a cancer that needs to be carved out of Gorgoroth. Despite how rotten this release is, at least everyone is free to listen to the original instead. Avoid this.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Beherit - Engram (2009)

Following the release of Drawing Down the Moon, Nuclear Holocausto turned Beherit into a solo ambient project and released two albums that had very little to do with what the band had become known for, other than in spirit. After this, he seemed to fall off of the face of the earth for well over a decade. By late 2008, however, he was rejoined by Sodomatic Slaughter and a couple of fresh members as Beherit entered the studio once again. In April 2009, Spinefarm Records released the product of this unholy session, Engram.

"Axiome Heroine" starts with a mid-paced riff that is accompanied by keyboards. The atmosphere is dark and ritualistic, as the doom-laden riffs roll forward like rusted tanks that have just been reawakened. The first part of the song serves to lull the listener into a trance-like state, receptive to the wickedness soon to follow. Once the main riff emerges from the fog, it is clear that the beast known as Beherit has truly returned. The music possesses more of a pure Black Metal feeling, with the guitar taking on a colder and thinner tone, rather than the deep sound of Drawing Down the Moon. This raw sound is more in line with The Oath of Black Blood, in a sense. The song is rather short, as the fast guitars and blasting drums give way to the same mid-paced riff from the beginning.

The next song is "Destroyer of Thousand Worlds", which is classic Beherit; fast-paced riffs, barbaric drumming and demonic vocal delivery. This is reminiscent of "Dies Irae", by Bathory. This is interesting as it is an influence not so easily heard on the band's previous outings. The band gives off an intensity not heard in many years in this very straightforward track.

"All in Satan" is another high-speed song that passes by all-too-briefly. There is almost no variation, whatsoever, and yet it works so well within the context of the band's style and the overall album. There is a strange keyboard passage that reminds of the Halloween III score, slightly, and adds an eerie feeling to the song. As with the rest of the tracks, the drumming is very crisp and dry, being less prevalent in the mix and allowing the riffs to become the primary focus.

"Pagan Moon" starts with a very brief intro that features a sombre acoustic guitar and the sound of a raging fire. A mid-paced riff soon comes along, driving the song forward at a deliberate pace. The arrangement of the album is quite well thought-out, using this slower track to give a bit of a rest and to allow the dark message to slowly seep into the the now-exhausted mind of the listener. The funeral bells are a nice touch, adding a morbid feeling to the song. This continues as the music fades, along with the return of the flames.

Next up is "Pimeyden Henki", which is even darker than the previous songs. It begins at a slow pace, with woeful clean vocals and more of an emphasis on the sorrowful bass lines. This soon shifts to a faster tempo, as the tremolo riffs carve through the listener's soul and the occult vocal delivery evokes spirits of pure evil. Holocausto's voice is more raspy and this suits the music much better. Later in the song, the pace slows down again and a mournful choir rises from the depths of Hell. Once more, things shift back to the faster riffs which carry the song to its conclusion.

"Suck My Blood" is one of the more direct and unpretentious tracks, going straight for the kill. The fast tremolo riffs are quite memorable and there is a clear structure to the song. The vocals are nightmarishly evil, especially during the calm section in the middle, where all goes silent with the exception of the demonic voices and a subtle bit of synth. The main riff rushes forward, once more, hacking and slicing through all in its path. This is the sort of material that would not have sounded out of place on one of the band's earliest releases.

The closing track clocks in at over fifteen minutes, but seems like more of an extended outro than anything else. "Demon Advance" is much slower than the rest of the songs and utilizes some odd effect on the guitar which gives it an otherworldly feeling. After a while, the guitars fade away and leave only the synth, bass and drums, creating a strange atmosphere. The guitars take several minutes to return, and they never do play a very prominent role. This does not work so well as an individual song, but does better within the context of the album, as a whole.

Engram is surprisingly good and witnesses not only the rebirth of Beherit but also their return to Black Metal. Having become some obscure cult act from the past, influencing many of the more recent bands in the scene, it is only fitting that Nuclear Holocausto and his band mates have re-emerged to add to the coming darkness. This should certainly appeal to fans of The Oath of Black Blood and Drawing Down the Moon.

Thulcandra - Fallen Angel's Domain (2010)

Thulcandra is a relatively new band that plays a style of cold and majestic Black Metal in the Swedish style. Listening to their debut album, Fallen Angel's Domain, one would never guess that they are actually from Germany. This L.P. shows strong influences from Dissection's second full-length album, Storm of the Light's Bane. In fact, it is undeniable that Thulcandra sought to do their very best in replicating that masterpiece so much so that they can be considered a Dissection tribute band. Many of the guitar melodies are simply a take on pre-existing riffs and even the structure of the album is the same, with similar intro and outro tracks. There are some other influences as well, but they are all derived from the same source. Whereas Watain seemed to take on the spirit of Dissection and to try carrying that legacy on, incorporating certain elements within their sound, this band is purely a copy.

"In the Realm of a Thousand Deaths" is a brief intro that owes a lot to "At the Fathomless Depths, consisting of an ominous guitar riff that leads into the first main song.

From the opening drum roll to the main guitar melodies, themselves, "Night Eternal" does not stray far from the path established by "Night's Blood". The freezing cold tremolo riffs, blasting drums and raspy vocals all combine to create an atmosphere befitting a solitary winter night. This sounds so much like Dissection that Jon Nödtveidt's family should be getting royalties. There is even a similar acoustic part, later in the song. While none of this is original, at all, it is done extremely well. The melodies are haunting and introspective, and the musicianship is excellent.

The title track, starts out with a fast-paced riff that sounds a bit like Unanimated, before transitioning to more Dissection-worship, in the form of icy tremolo melodies and some thrash riffs, as well. This song is a bit peculiar, as the production is still just like that of Storm of the Light's Bane, but the vocals take on a deeper pitch and some generic Death Metal riffs are mixed in with the frigid Black Metal melodies. This does not detract, too much, from the song and is easy enough to ignore.

As expected, the fourth track begins with an acoustic intro in the vein of "Where Dead Angels Lie". "Frozen Kingdom" possesses a sombre atmosphere, moving along at a slower pace than the previous songs. This is actually more reminiscent of Unanimated's latest album, In the Light of Darkness.

"Everlasting Fire" is another track that sounds like a mixture of Dissection and Unanimated, dominated by a dark and frozen atmosphere. The cold tremolo riffs are accompanied by thrashier passages, along with mournful chords that add another layer of gloom to the proceedings.

"Spirit of the Night" is reminiscent of "Thorns of Crimson Death", with the riffs working well to give it a more epic quality. Much like the song that it is emulating, it takes a few moments to build up before moving along at a more relaxed pace. It is at this point that one notices how generic the lyrics are, compared to those penned by Nödtveidt. The influence is certainly there, but the skill is not. The same can be said for the melodies. They are good, but it has all been heard before.

This is followed by "Legions of Darkness", which almost has a similar vibe to early Dark Funeral, showing that Dissection was not the only Swedish band that these Germans grew up idolizing. It is rather strange to hear the other influences, since the production is completely geared toward replicating the sound of Storm of the Light's Bane. Near the end of the song, there is even a clean guitar part that is added on top of the rest, though it sounds really out of place and does not work as well as the band had hoped.

"In Silence We Eternally Sleep" is a piano outro that tries very hard to imitate "No Dreams Breed in Breathless Sleep", though this is aided by a bit of synth and still fails to imbue the listener with the same sort of feeling. At this point, it becomes clear why it is unwise to try to replicate a classic album, whether it is the same band or not, since anything that is too similar will end up falling short since the comparisons would be unavoidable.

Unfortunately, the album does not end there. Thulcandra decided to include a cover of Dissection's "The Somberlain", which is one of the most incredible songs ever written and not even the mighty Watain would be able to truly do this song justice. This track was a mistake, pure and simple. For one, the execution could have been much better. Secondly, this one song features better songwriting than the whole rest of the album, and makes the band's original material seem quite amateurish.

This is, very much, the type of album that most Dissection fans were dying for, when Jon was released from prison. The fact that Reinkaos sounded nothing like this was a major disappointment for many, yet it would have been severely criticized if it had since that would have meant that he was merely repeating old works. What Thulcandra did here was to provide Dissection fans with more material in the vein of Storm of the Light's Bane, with a bit of Unanimated thrown in. That is, really, the only value of this release. They do a fine job of emulating their heroes and it is nice for some of us to hear more music of this sort, but these guys are doing nothing but riding the coattails of a band that was far beyond anything that they will ever be capable of. Fallen Angel's Domain should appeal to fans of the aforementioned bands, as well as Watain, but it is more of an addendum rather than something that can stand on its own.

Burzum - From the Depths of Darkness (2011)

From the Depths of Darkness is not a new full-length Burzum album. It is a compilation of re-recorded tracks from the self-titled L.P. and Det Som Engang Var. These represent Varg's favourite songs from those releases, and this effort is merely a reinterpretation of those early works. Of course, the decision to revisit this material has generated a considerable amount of controversy. Some people have labeled this as a cash-grab, while others are simply angry that the classic songs are going to be tampered with. Naturally, such powerful and influential music is going to elicit strong reactions from fans. In my view, there is nothing wrong with this release, in itself. The problem with re-recordings comes when an artist attempts to use them to replace the original material, thus robbing future generations of the opportunity to experience them as they once were. However, countless bands have gone back and revisited their early days by making updated versions of classic songs. Ultimately, it is the band's right to do whatever they wish, so long as the original music remains available, as well. That way, if people disagree with the latest interpretation, they are free to enjoy the original. In the case of Burzum, it would seem that Varg is a perfectionist and, rather than trying to give the music a modern feel, he just wanted to correct things that he felt to be mistakes and to present his songs as he meant for them to be heard, in the first place.

He has done this before. The Aske E.P. features a re-recording of "A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit", since he thought the version from the debut album did not turn out as it was supposed to. It is quite likely that, had he not lost so much time in prison, Varg may have included more re-recorded songs on his albums, throughout the years. Given that he recorded the early Burzum albums at a young age and with little experience, he may have felt strongly about this material the entire time. It is both a gift and a curse of the perfectionist to find fault with everything that they create, eventually, whether or not they act on those urges. Released in November 2011, From the Depths of Darkness is the product of such impulses.

The material on this compilation remains true to the originals, as much as possible. The faster sections are hardly any different than before, though the slower parts are where one can see the most disparity between old and new. In general, the pace is slowed down even more and the atmosphere takes on an increased sense of dreariness and morbidity. Anything that was remotely catchy or upbeat has been completely neutralized and rendered even more cold and lifeless than before. This really gives the songs a darker vibe and unleashes the untapped potential that some of them had, long ago. While immersing yourself in something so abysmal and unforgiving, those lighter moments almost make it seem a little more safe. This time around, there is no sanctuary from the utter black that is set to consume your very soul. This is most evident on "Spell of Destruction". Predominantly, the playing is a little tighter, which is really neither good nor bad, as the previous approach suited the music just as well as this does. In other words, the somewhat sloppy feeling that was on the first couple of records, at times, worked just fine within the context of the album just as much as the tight sound benefits the newer versions. Everything is really crisp and precise, leaving no room for errors. That said, the music still has a lot of feeling and has not been drained of all emotion. Regarding actual changes, they are so minor and infrequent that it is not much of a concern, except in the case of "My Journey to the Stars". This track is butchered, to an extent, due to a handful of alterations that seem to make no sense. While the overall structure endures, there are enough small differences to kill the spirit of the song. There are times, especially during "Key to the Gate", where you can hear how much the old stuff inspired Varg as he was writing the material for Fallen. Actually, it was during the process of creating that record that he took a break and entered the studio to record these songs. Overall, the music stays true to the spirit of the originals, from the intense opening riffs of "Feeble Screams From Forests Unknown" to the hypnotic and mournful atmosphere that is present as "Snu Mikrokosmos' Tegn" reaches its conclusion.

Contrary to what many would expect, the production is not as plastic and modern as some seem to imagine. Obviously, it possesses a bit of an improved sound, compared to the originals, but it is not overdone in any way. The guitar tone is still frigid and morose, carrying the listener off to another world. In fact, the mix is slightly more appropriate in that the drums are buried a bit more and thus allow the guitars to remain the primary focus. This is how Metal should be, anyway, but especially in this case.

One of the most glaring differences is found in the vocal department. To the grief and despair of many fans of the early Burzum records, Varg's voice is nowhere near what it was back then. Any hopes that he would return to the anguished screams and tormented shrieks of the past were shattered from the very beginning, though this should not have come as a surprise to anyone. Varg's voice is quite similar to what is heard on later albums, such as Belus and Fallen, and it is a shame that he has no fondness for his previous vocal style. It added so much more to the overall atmosphere and was one of the truly unique things about Burzum, in the first place. Perhaps, it also came from him no longer being able to get such a sound to emanate from within and choosing to change instead of offering up some pathetic attempt at recreating that sound. On the old albums, he sounded as if he was dying in agony, whereas his current voice sounds like it has been dead and bereft of life for quite some time.

A lot of fans will be disappointed in From the Depths of Darkness, since most people despise change and Metal fans are usually even worse about this. Though the changes are minimal, with the exception of the vocals, the truth is that the original spirit of the songs has been honoured and there are even some points where the alterations of timing or pace actually improve upon the old versions. While the majority will still prefer the originals (myself included), this is a fascinating release and offers a unique re-interpretation of these songs that have meant so much to so many for such a long time. For those that disapprove, there is always the option of ignoring the existence of this compilation and continuing to listen to the old records. However, if you have even the slightest bit of an open mind, it is quite likely that you will find something enjoyable about these new versions. Out of all of the musicians that came from the Norwegian Black Metal scene, as much as he would like to distance himself from it, Varg Vikernes has remained true to his roots much more than the rest.

Beherit - Drawing Down the Moon (1993)

Recorded in 1992 and released by Spinefarm Records in November 1993, Drawing Down the Moon is the first true studio album from the Finnish Black Metal band known as Beherit. Nuclear Holocausto's vision was finally realized, as the end result is much more refined than what was heard on The Oath of Black Blood, while still maintaining the evil and occult feeling.

The music is not what one may expect from a Black Metal album that was released in 1993. This sounds quite unique when compared to what was going on in Norway and Sweden. The guitar riffs, often, take on a secondary role and join the percussion and vocals to create a wall of sound. There are moments, such as the middle of "Salomon's Gate", where a mournful melody is utilized to drag the listener toward the infernal gates; however, in general, the guitars are heavier and more violent. The legacy of Sarcofago and Blasphemy remains a strong part of this music, yet Beherit has taken it even further. Nuclear Holocausto has managed to do what those bands could not and that is to still employ such a barbaric approach while also creating a truly dark and evil atmosphere. The fast-paced, chaotic parts are still there, but now accompanied by mid-paced riffs and even slight bits of synth, making the entire experience the equivalent of a Satanic ritual. That is really what this feels like, and the demonic vocals add to that as much as anything else. Holocausto uses different voices, going from the deeper growls to eerie whispers and distorted howls. Songs such as "Sadomatic Rites" and "Black Arts" feature the sort of open chords that Varg Vikernes often exploited for Burzum, though not in the same manner. In many ways, Beherit took what was hinted at with "Witchcraft" and expanded upon that, adding depth to the compositions. They added an element of doom to the already vicious and chaotic music and better enables the darkness to seep into the mind of the listener. Overall, the songs are much more structured and arranged, with each one really possessing its own identity and being easily identifiable from the rest. It sounds as if a lot more thought was put into the songwriting and there was a goal in mind, rather than giving in to spontaneity.

The quality of the sound is pretty clear and far better than the garage atmosphere that is found on The Oath of Black Blood. While the guitars do not stand out very much, it seems that this is exactly how the band wanted it, as it suits the music well. The guitar tone is very thick and kind of muddy. There is nothing icy or cold about this. Rather than slice through your flesh with razor-sharp guitar melodies, the riffs of Drawing Down the Moon bludgeon you into a state of near-unconsciousness. The production and the style of songwriting sounds more similar to Death Metal than to the Black Metal of the period, upon first listen. However, no Death Metal band ever sounded this evil or Satanic. The hellish vocals are at just the right place in the mix, rather than being buried or placed too high. Thankfully, the keyboards are kept at a subtle level, never intruding too much upon the rest.

Drawing Down the Moon is highly recommended for those seeking truly evil Black Metal. This is neither beautiful nor depressive. It is ugly, primitive and consumed with darkness. To get the full effect, one should listen to this with only the light of black candles and a cold breeze coming through the window. Remove all distractions and simply offer yourself to the malevolent spirits that this music conjures up.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Satanic Warmaster - Nachzehrer (2010)

It was a curious path taken by Satanic Warmaster, following Carelian Satanist Madness, to release material only via limited split albums and various EPs. With the band's growing popularity, one would think that these guys would have capitalized on it rather than to exist on the periphery. After five long years, Werwolf finally decided to record another full-length. Released in August 2010, Nachzehrer picks up from where the previous album left off, and shows absolutely no sign of development or improvement. All in all, this is not a very significant collection of songs, even by the band's own standards. Still, it is likely to appeal to the less discerning Black Metal fans of this pathetic era, unaware that most modern releases are pale imitations of what came before.

The first thing that listeners may notice is the extremely lo-fi production, sounding quite a bit like a demo from twenty years earlier. This would not be such a bad thing, except that it is just too thick and muddy, lacking any sort of cold or harsh feeling. The lack of sharpness to the guitar tone adds to the safe and non-threatening sound. This warm vibe works for tracks like "Vampires" and "Bestial Darkness", that include out-of-place Death Metal riffs, but it does not work for the rest of the material. As a result of the thick and percussive sound, many of the better riffs seem somewhat buried and this gives the songs kind of claustrophobic feel. For the most part, the music is rather consistent, albeit amounting mostly to rather generic and more palatable interpretations of real Black Metal, simplified and pre-digested for the masses. That said, there are a handful of decent tremolo melodies, such as those found in "Satan's Werewolf" and "Warmaster Returns". "One Shining Star" isn't too bad, but is very reminiscent of some of the material from Opferblut. It includes some of the better riffs on the album, but one gets the impression of having already heard them.

In the end, there is nothing on this album that has not been heard a dozen times before. Satanic Warmaster often seems to be more about the image and posturing than in achieving a higher level of quality regarding the actual music. Werwolf needs to spend less time playing with his knives and posing in front of cameras and worry more about composing better songs. There are only two or three decent tracks on here, so it would almost be more fitting to stick with the split releases or to just lay this project to rest and rejoin Horna. If you are a fan, then Nachzehrer should not disappoint, so long as you did not raise your expectations since the last record.  

I Shalt Become - In the Falling Snow (1999)

I Shalt Become was an obscure Black Metal band from the United States, having one hard-to-find release floating around the underground and nothing more. In 2006, a deal was made with Moribund Records to re-release the demo on CD. Rumours spread that another full-length would be on the way, though the 2008 release of In the Falling Snow proved these to be wrong. This material was already available as a demo back in 1999, under the name of Birkenau. So, No Colours did the same as Moribund and merely re-released old music under a new moniker.

To put it simply, In the Falling Snow is as much of a carbon-copy of Wanderings as S. Holliman could create, without just re-recording the same songs again. Even the intro is a continuation of the one from the first album. The style is the same, betraying an extreme Burzum influence, particularly the Filosofem album. Most of the songs maintain a slow pace, creeping into your mind and conjuring up a sense of despair. The main difference is that a healthy dose of keyboards have been added, though not really helping the overall effect. These tracks sound nearly identical to the ones on the previous L.P. and maintain the same gloomy and depressive atmosphere. The vocal approach is more conservative, not attempting to go beyond a low growl. Unlike the countless one-man projects that came along to follow in the footsteps of Herr Holliman, I Shalt Become is quite successful at conveying a sense of bleak hopelessness that connects with the darkest feelings that reside within the spirit of the listener and bring them to the surface. Pathetic acts like Xasthur and Leviathan were never able to match the genuine feeling found here and were not even capable of adding any worthwhile elements to the sound. To listen to this album is to welcome the dark forces that watch from the shadows and to allow them to lure you further down the path toward death. A solitary journey through a freezing cold winter forest is what awaits, and it shall end only with the spilling of blood and a forgotten corpse laying in the crimson snow.

The production is grim and sub-par, just like Wanderings. The synth is too high in the mix, whenever it appears, but the fuzzy guitars still dominate the rest of the sound, rushing over you like waves of misery. The drum programming is not terribly noticeable, since it is buried beneath the rest, except the annoying rumbling sound caused by the double bass. There are times when it sounds as if the master tape was warped, as it seems that the music is being 'chewed up'. It all comes together, nicely, to compliment the overwhelmingly dreary atmosphere and probably assists in hiding the album's weaknesses, as well.

In the Falling Snow is nothing new for those familiar with I Shalt Become. It sounds like leftover tracks from Wanderings, though the quality is a little lower. The main reason for that impression may simply be because one gets the sense of hearing this all before, even on the first listen. This is recommended for anyone that was really into the first L.P. but did not get quite enough. Otherwise, there is really very little being offered here.

Beherit - The Oath of Black Blood (1991)

The Oath of Black Blood is the debut album from one of the oldest and most revered Finnish Black Metal bands, Beherit. It is widely accepted as being the band's first full-length record, though that is not actually the case. The band pissed away the money given to them for the studio so Turbo Records had no other choice but to release the Demonomancy demo, along with the Dawn of Satan's Millennium 7", as the first Beherit L.P. In some ways, this was a good thing, as these recordings captured the raw essence of what Nuclear Holocausto Vengeance, Sodomatic Slaughter and Demon Fornication were trying to conjure up.

The music has nothing to do with what was going on in Norway or Sweden at the time. This is not directly influenced by Venom, Bathory or Hellhammer. The chaotic sounds on this record were inspired by the likes of Sarcofago, Vulcano and Blasphemy. This is quite evident by the vocals, which are deeper and utilized in the form of primal grunts and random growls. There is almost no sense of melody, whatsoever. This hellish assault is violent and merciless, lacking catchy rhythms or memorable vocal lines. Beherit took a raw and primal approach, much like the South American bands that influenced them the most, often seeming easily confused with early Death Metal, though the purely occult and Satanic atmosphere of Black Metal dominates the sound. In a lot of ways, this can be seen as the European equivalent of Blasphemy, though much more primitive and barbaric. The most structured track on here is "Witchcraft", which starts out with an eerie doom riff and then maintains some sort of recognizable arrangement, once the speed picks up.

As one might expect from a demo and E.P. from 1990, the production is the epitome of grim and necro. This is raw as hell and very lo-fi, to say the least. The vocals are a little high in the mix, though that may actually add to the charm. The sound is rather muddy, at times, with the riffs becoming difficult to distinguish from one another. In a sense, it all just serves to create a wall of hellish noise, blending together like demonic howls and tortured screams among the raging flames of the world below.

Beherit's first album is not for everyone. This works better as a backdrop for Satanic rituals, rather than something to truly immerse yourself into. The Oath of Black Blood is a hideous album that sounds as if it was vomited forth from the very mouth of Hell. If you are seeking beautiful guitar melodies, look somewhere else. Pure evil lurks within, nothing more.

Horna - Herran Edessä (2009)

Herran Edessä - 15 Vuotta is a very interesting E.P. in that it was done to commemorate Horna's 15th anniversary and saw the original line-up reunited to record two new songs. Released in October 2009, and limited to 500 copies, this 7" demonstrates just how much this band meant to those that created it. Though three of the four had moved on to do other things, this was significant enough to bring them back together. It is quite a fascinating concept and one that is not often pulled off with success. The end result is sort of a window back in time, to the band's earliest days.

In keeping with the overall theme, the sound is very much a throwback to those times, being rather muddled and under-produced. The percussion is distorted to the point where it interferes with the guitar riffs, at times. The guitars, themselves, have a fuzzy tone that lacks much power but suits the material just fine. The clarity of such later releases as Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne is absent here. It is not clear whether or not the necro sound was intentional, or if it was due to the band just using someone's home studio to bash out a couple of tunes. Either way, it works within the context of the release.

Musically, it has much more in common with Hiidentorni and Kohti Yhdeksän Nousua as opposed to Horna's later efforts. This is very raw and primitive Black Metal, with nothing added. The ugly riffs, primal drumming and grim vocals combine to take the listener back in time, a bit. It must be said that Nazgul did a much better job here than one might have expected and seems to fit in better than Corvus, as difficult as that is to say. The songs feature a decent amount of variation in tempo, making sure to avoid being one-dimensional. However, the tracks do not break any new ground for the band, which is probably the point.

Recorded especially for a gig that celebrated the band's 15th anniversary, the purpose of Herran Edessä was to pay homage to the band's formative years and to serve as a treat to longtime fans. This is not essential, unless you are a devoted Horna fanatic that must collect everything that they release, but it is definitely worth checking out.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Behexen - Rituale Satanum (2000)

The most unfortunate thing about Behexen's debut album, Rituale Satanum, is that it emerged about seven or eight years too late. Released by Sinister Figure in July 2000, this L.P. has a great deal in common with the early-to-mid '90s output from the Norwegian Black Metal scene. In many ways, Behexen picked up from where Gorgoroth left off, as they traveled down a mediocre path and left their trademark sound behind, this Finnish band carried on the legacy of Pentagram and Antichrist.

The music features a lot of ideas similar to those that were explored on the aforementioned Gorgoroth full-lengths. There is the utilization of a good number of fast tremolo-picked riffs that owe a lot to Darkthrone and Mayhem, while also employing some open chord sections reminiscent of Burzum. In addition, a healthy does of Thrash is injected, here and there, hearkening back to the early songwriting of Infernus, who seems to have influenced Gargantum's guitar-playing. This also includes the tendency to toss in rather epic melodies. If that was not enough, Hoath Torog's vocals are very similar to Hat and Pest, being very high-pitched and nearly indecipherable. There are some instances of deeper vocals being added as well, which is quite unnecessary and taints the songs a bit. Most all of the songs are dominated by a fast tempo, up until "Saatanan Varjon Synkkyydessä", which slows things down a little. Even as the drumming picks up, the riffs are still mid-paced and possess a morbid feeling. Still, the Norwegian feeling is present for the most part. "Baphomet's Call" is where the material takes on more of a Finnish sound, bearing similarities to Horna.

This record has fairly decent production. It suits the style, though there is something disingenuous about it. The guitars are the most prominent element in the mix, which is dead on, but the distortion does not seem right. The fuzziness appears to be coming more from the bass than the guitar, and it is a little too loud. This helps to add to the raw sound, but it gives off more of a feeling that they were trying to get a grim sound with nice equipment, rather than recording in a truly lo-fi manner. The drums are loud enough to do the job, but kept in the middle where they are not able to interfere with the riffs. The vocals are slightly buried, but this probably helps a lot since one cannot really tell what Torog is saying anyway, and it cannot be said enough that the riffs should always be the most important thing in Metal.

Rituale Satanum is a solid record and is a must-have for anyone that was saddened to see Gorgoroth degenerate the way that they did, after their first few records. This has just about everything that one would want in a follow-up to Under the Sign of Hell, just at a slightly lower level of quality. This beats anything that the other Finnish bands, such as Horna and Clandestine Blaze, were up to at this point. This L.P. really does not offer up anything new or original, but for those that are into the Norwegian sound, this should be a great addition to your collection.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sepultura - Arise (1991)

Arise is the fourth full-length album from Sepultura, and continues on in the Death / Thrash style that was utilized on Beneath the Remains. However, marks the point where the band began to experiment with their sound, using odd effects and injecting more groove into their music, as well as allowing some tribal percussion to make its way onto the album. Recorded in Morrisound and released in March 1991, this L.P. is both the end of the band's classic era as well as the beginning of its demise.

Musically, this album possesses a lot of similarities with its predecessor. In some cases, the riffs are less sterile and boring, yet there is an element that ruins much of this record. Rather than blasting ahead at break-neck speed, Sepultura takes every opportunity to slow things down and unleash pathetic groove riffs that kill the atmosphere. Following the rise of so-called 'Groove Metal' and 'nu-Metal', these songs have become even more difficult to listen to as they seem linked to such aural garbage. The fast-paced Death and Thrash riffs are incredible and demonstrate that the band could have done something really impressive, had they not been infected with the groove virus. Such riffs maintain a great level of intensity and display the band's skill as musicians. What the mid-paced parts show is that they were growing lazy and were losing touch with their Metal roots. It is quite unfortunate, as Arise is full of epic guitar harmonies and could have easily gone in another direction.

The production is what one would expect from Scott Burns, with the guitars sounding a little less defined and the bass more prominent than it should be. The sound is much too clean and plastic and is a far cry from such classic as Morbid Visions and Schizophrenia. Apparently, there was too much time to worry with the overall sound, in this case, meaning that they lost so much time playing with all of the new technology that they had never before been able to employ and the end result is over-produced and insincere. This actually suits the shift in the musical direction, which was obviously designed to appeal to a wider audience.

There is really nothing on Arise that was not done better on Beneath the Remains, in most cases. It is not a terrible album but, in light of what became of the band and the style of music that it helped spawn, it is to be looked back on with scorn and derision. This is what happens when you take a handful of apes out of the jungle and allow them to play around with modern equipment. Avoid this album and all the horrendous piles of trash that followed it.