Monday, April 30, 2012

Bathory - Destroyer of Worlds (2001)

The story of Bathory is one with many twists and turns. From the early period, inspired by hardcore punk and the likes of Motörhead and Venom, on through the more epic Viking-era and then to the strange midlife crisis that characterized the band's mid-'90s output, Quorthon created a musical legacy like no other. And so, six years after the last Bathory full-length, the band released its tenth L.P. Titled Destroyer of Worlds, this record had a lot to live up to. According to interviews, the original material was a bit progressive and ended up being totally scrapped as, once word that a new Bathory album was spread, Quorthon received a lot of fan mail that indicated that what the fans wanted was a return to earlier styles. As the story goes, the band hastily wrote new songs, based on this feedback, and this is what was released to the world in October 2001. Unfortunately, if this is true, it would mean that the only fans that cared enough to write were those with bad taste, as the end result is completely disappointing.

The record begins on somewhat of a positive note, with three tracks that hearken back to the Nordic style that was featured on classic albums such as Hammerheart and even Blood On Ice. “Lake of Fire”, “Destroyer of Worlds” and “Ode” are mid-paced songs that possess an epic feeling that would surely be pleasing to fans of the band's Viking-era. Everything is there, from the acoustic bits to the choir vocals to the memorable guitar melodies. The first and third songs would not have been out of place on Twilight of the Gods, for example. The title track fits in, somewhat, but is the weak link of these three, being a bit repetitive and less-inspired. “Ode” has the most feeling behind it, with Quorthon's vocals really conveying a sombre mood not heard since “Fade Away”, from his second solo effort. Had Destroyer of Worlds been an E.P. That featured only these songs, then it would have been a much more successful endeavour. However, these tracks are followed up by material that is not worthy of the Bathory name.

It is difficult to comprehend the mentality behind the rest of the songs. The music does not encapsulate the band's entire career, as it merely touches upon the Viking sound and then meanders through a miserable hell of garbage that is reminiscent of Octagon. It is a mixture of bad Thrash with a lot of unbearable groove nonsense. There are occasional moments where Quorthon obviously tried tying things together with a choir or acoustic part, here or there, but it does nothing to salvage this filth. The thing that makes this so depressing is that he has always been such a talented musician and songwriter, yet sometimes churns out ridiculous trash for his own amusement, possibly. As a longtime Bathory fan, it is truly disturbing to even attempt to listen to the rest of this and it is strongly recommended that no one does so, unless you wish to punish yourself. The production is rather shoddy, but not so terrible. It is not bad in the same sense as the early albums, where it actually adds some rawness to the atmosphere. It just sounds muffled and flat, throughout the majority of the recording. It tends to hold back the few good songs, just slightly, while making the rest all the more atrocious.

If you consider yourself to be a die-hard Bathory fan, find some way to acquire “Lake of Fire” and “Ode”, and then forget that the rest even exist. You will forever regret it, if you decide to let curiosity get the better of you and try exploring the rest of the album. It is one of the most bloody awful things to happen within the realm of Metal and truly sickens and offends me as a loyal member of the Bathory Hordes. Avoid this like the plague, or like a hooker with oozing sores around her mouth. Destroyer of Worlds is a despicable blemish on Bathory's legacy and may have been the final nail in the coffin, if not for the brilliant Nordland releases. If this represents what the fans wanted, then all those that wrote letters should be tracked down and massacred.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Abruptum - Evil (1991)

The music of Abruptum is something that can be difficult to describe. Released in November 1991, the Evil E.P. possesses more elements of actual Metal, compared to the later works issued under this name. However, it would be equally appropriate to label this as some sort of ambient effort, long before the likes of Burzum or Beherit wandered into such territory. Whatever tag one may attach to this, the title of the album remains just as accurate.

What one can expect with Evil is a horrific descent into the darkest shadows, where no light survives. The absolutely hellish sounds have very little structure, which better enables listeners to get lost in thought. In a sense, the lack of arrangement serves to carry you off into the deepest nightmare imaginable, and you only realize it once it is already too late. Demonic voices call to you, from all sides, summoning you forth. The guitar riffs are very slow and doom-like, with a murky tone that adds to the atmosphere of torment. Keyboards come and go, sounding like something from an old Italian horror film. Everything about this is incredibly unsettling, if experienced in the right way. Much like the music, the vocals have absolutely no recognizable pattern; rather, the voices are simply one more element that adds to the overall effect. The two tracks, here, only amount to about ten minutes and yet that is all the time necessary for one to suffer an eternity of torture.

For one to be introduced to this now, two decades after its initial release, may be less impressive than in 1991. However, this was certainly the most evil and hellish thing to emerge from Sweden during this time period and should be heard for historical value, if nothing else. Still, it is quite likely that, if you listen to this in total darkness and solitude, you will feel the overwhelming horror that was intended. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Carpathian Forest - Morbid Fascination of Death (2001)

Morbid Fascination of Death is the third full-length album from Carpathian Forest, released on Avantgarde Music in 2001. This is the last record to feature both Nattefrost and Nordavind, as the latter would depart the band after this. Their final effort together sees their creation coming full circle, as this album seems to be the most natural successor to their 1995 mini-album, Through Chasm, Caves and Titan Woods. The music is much more straightforward, with only minimal experimentation. Sadly, even after removing most of the worst elements, the end result is still below-average and unimpressive.

The album begins with “Fever, Flame and Hell”, which is an odd intro track that features cheesy, horror-inspired synth. It really does not fit in very well, taking away from the overall impact of the rest of the material and getting things off to a bad start. This is the sort of thing that one would expect from Rob Zombie, not a Norwegian Black Metal band.

The first real song is “Doomed to Walk the Earth as Slaves of the Living Dead”. The title may be ridiculously long, but this is one of the most memorable tunes ever recorded by Carpathian Forest. It does a good job of setting the tone for the rest of the record, while also making up for the nonsense that preceded it. The old school Celtic Frost-meets-Mayhem vibe is still present, as is the less serious vibe that characterizes a lot of this band's output.

With only a brief rest in-between, the title track bursts forth in a furious manner. This song is a lot faster and more intense than the last one. There is not a lot of variation on display, but that is probably a good thing as it offers less opportunities for the band to play around and ruin a good thing. “Morbid Fascination of Death” gets right to the point, bludgeons all in sight and then vanishes as quickly as it appeared.

“Through Self-Mutilation” features more technical bits, with the riffs and drumming becoming a little overactive, at times. The band seems to be channeling later Immortal, during those brief moments at the beginning and end; however, the rest is more simplistic. This would be a rather average song, but the strange vocal effects, near the end, make it unbearable.

This is followed by “Knokkelmann”, which gets things back on track with a decent slab of old school Black Metal. Again, the primary influences seem to be Celtic Frost and Mayhem, which is not a bad thing. There is a thrashy part that could have been toned down, just due to how awkwardly it fits in, as well as unnecessary synth that does nothing to benefit the track. If Carpathian Forest had focused on the more primitive and nasty riffs, they might have accomplished much more.

“Warlord of Misanthropy” is filler, more or less, and is very much out of place on this album. Most of the riffs would have been better suited for a modern Death Metal album, and it all comes off as very disorganized. Even the slower riffs are fairly worthless and do little to create any sort of feeling, whatsoever.

The next song is a very good example of how inconsistent and lost Nattefrost and Nordavind often were. “A World of Bones” starts out with a more Rock-based rhythm, early on, yet changes its identity a couple times. The middle section sees the pace slow down, as the band attempts something more atmosphere, only to abandon what little momentum they build up in order to throw in more random ideas to close the song out.

Following this abomination is one of the best songs on this album, “Carpathian Forest”. Unfortunately, it is merely a re-recording of a song that previously appeared on their debut E.P. This version is pretty faithful to the original, except that it is slightly less enjoyable due to the very minor differences in tempo and so on. Nattefrost's vocals are weaker and less sinister, as well. There was no reason to record this song again, other than to try resurrection the brief period when Carpathian Forest had a little bit of potential.

“Cold Comfort” is more of an experimental track, which would possess sort of a sombre vibe (with a melody reminiscent of the main theme from the 1980 horror film, 'Maniac'), but the atmosphere is ruined by what sounds like a saxophone. Whoever came up with this idea should be blinded with a railroad spike, as it kills what little chance this had of being decent, while also introducing yet another foreign element into the sub-genre.

“Speechless” is a similar track that utilizes only minimal guitars and synth, with whispered vocals, sounding more like an outro than anything else. At least, in this case, the approach is pretty consistent and there are no more ridiculous appearances by instruments that have no business being used by a Black Metal band. 

Ending the album is a cover of an old Mayhem song, “Ghoul”. They pull it off rather well, maintaining the filthy, old school attitude of the original, just with better sound quality. In terms of songwriting and performance, this has to be the very best track on this record. The sad thing about that is the fact that another band wrote the song. Furthermore, the execution is not that great, just better than on the rest of the songs. It says a lot about your band when the songs you cover destroy your original material.

In the end, this is another disappointing release from a band that should have done so much better. The music is based in '80s Black Metal, mixed with Rock influences as well, but the songwriting is just so half-hearted. Only a few of the songs are worth listening to, more than once. For a band with such a good background and worthy inspirations, Carpathian Forest just never managed to live up to its potential. This is even worse when considering that Nattefrost is one of the most recognizable vocalists from the Norwegian scene, especially when he put forth his best effort. Morbid Fascination of Death is just another reason to hate this band, not for being terrible, but for not being anywhere near as good as they should have been.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Seviss - ...Et Pleure Le Bâtard (1996)

Seviss was yet another short-lived alter-ego of the French Black Metal band Vlad Tepes. For this project, Vorlok was responsible for the guitars and vocals, while Wlad handled the drumming duties. The band's only release was the August 1996 demo, ...Et Pleure le Bâtard. Right around the same time that so many other bands were straying from their roots and turning their backs on true Black Metal, these two were upholding the primitive and hideous traditions with their various projects.

The atmosphere of this release is quite different than what Vlad Tepes was doing. The music is more chaotic, in a sense, and seems to possess more of an old school vibe. Rather than the type of epic melodies that helped to characterize their primary band, Seviss takes a more primitive approach that allows the listener to get carried back into the dark past, revisiting the same demonic forces that were present on Bathory's The Return.... The songwriting consists of a lot more Black / Thrash, though with a handful of tremolo riffs thrown in. Vorlok's vocals give the feeling that he is being tormented in the bowels of Hell. This is a bit different from Quorthon's style, which made him sound more like the torturer than the victim. Though the musical style and production might give one reason to expect poor musicianship, the truth is that Wlad and Vorlok are very capable and their skill enables each track to come to life, fully. The songs are similar to one another, yet there is enough variety for them to stand out from one another, whether due to a nicely timed thrash break or a slower and moodier section. One gets the sense that a lot of time went into the arrangement of each song, resulting in the high quality material found on ...Et Pleure le Bâtard. The overall vibe of the release is aggressive and filthy, but there are brief moments that touch upon the underlying darkness that never quite rears its evil head, until the infernal descent of the final song. Seviss makes sure that things never devolve to the point where it becomes mindless fun, and do well to maintain the spirit of old school Black Metal. They show a great understanding of what they are doing, something that was lost on later generations.   

The production is decent for an LLN demo, though horrible by any other standard. There is an overwhelming sense of chaos, regarding the songwriting and the sound quality, and this only helps add to the hellish feeling that is created by this demo. The guitar and vocals are the most dominant elements, though the bass can be heard every now and then. The drumming is kept at a healthy level, loud enough to be noticed but not too much.

If you have never heard of Seviss, it is highly recommended that you seek this out, immediately. This possesses everything that one could possibly want from this style of music, more or less. It takes many basic elements from old Bathory, without sounding like an exact copy (such as the Incarnator demo), and mixes them with aspects of Vlad Tepes to create something dark and hellish. This should appeal, equally, to fans of the LLN and of the First Wave of Black Metal.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Celestia - A Cave Full of Bats (1999)

Celestia was born from the would-be ashes of Seyiren, in 1995. The band's creator, Noktu, chose to split up the latter in favour of the former, yet one of the other members decided to carry it on for a few extra years. In the meantime, Celestia released several demos of varying quality. The style was something more convoluted that what most of the other French bands had done, prior to this. However, by 1999, Noktu has managed to put together the band's first proper release, through Drakkar Productions, entitled A Cave Full of Bats. Ignoring the fact that the cover image looks like it was stolen from the Bela Lugosi film, 'The Devil Bat', depicting a single giant bat in a laboratory (rather than an entire cave full of them), this E.P. is fairly decent. Celestia takes three songs from one of their demos and reworks them in a way that more fully capitalizes on the melancholic atmosphere of the compositions.

The first song is “A Dying Out Ecstasy”, which starts with a sombre bass line and sparse drums, before the first main riff emerges. The first thing one may notice is that the sound is a lot clearer than on the demo version, and the same applies to the other re-recorded songs. The listener is able to better appreciate each individual element on display here, particularly the bass, which adds another layer of gloom to the overall sound. The mournful guitar riffs are memorable and would not have been out of place on an old LLN release, though with more primitive execution. Noktu's vocals are also in line with the band's predecessors, possessing a lot of the same character. Though hateful and raspy, his voice does not capture the raw misery that is heard on the Mortifera debut. This track is rather repetitive, but does not wear out its welcome, in any way.

The next song is “A Silent Night in a Silent Castle”, which picks up the pace a bit and really demonstrates what the Black Legions might have sounded like with better production and more competent drummers. That said, the drumming is distracting, at times, doing a little more than is necessary. Still, the melancholic guitar melodies convey a sense of despair and sorrow, joined by the twisted misery of Noktu's voice. If only the percussion was a little lower in the mix, so as to place more emphasis on the guitars, the impact would be even stronger. By the middle of the song, things slow down for a bit, introducing a melody that sounds reminiscent of something from Katatonia's Brave Murder Day, though utilized differently. The effect is quite disturbing, imbuing the listener with an oppressive sense of anguish that seems as though it will persist, endlessly.

“The Forest Was A Neverending Place” picks up from where the previous song left off, moving forward at top speed, carried by dismal guitar riffs and Noktu's miserable voice. One has to wonder why he did not handle the vocal duties for Gestapo 666, being that his capabilities surpass those of the vocalists he has employed. This straightforward track is one of the best, and shortest, on this release. Despite its length, it makes just as much of an impression as the rest, if not moreso.

The final song is “Prisoner of a Morbid Cradle”, which is the longest track on A Cave Full of Bats, clocking in at over seven minutes. The atmosphere remains the same as before, though the melodic tendencies are even more on display. The keyboards make this one a bit less grim than the rest, as well as the arrangement of the guitar riffs and the overall vibe. This is not horrible, but it is kind of disappointing, when compared to the earlier tracks. After a brief quiet section in the middle, there is another memorable riff that is introduced, though it is drowned out by synth, as it progresses.

A Cave Full of Bats is a decent release and probably one of the few from Celestia that should be bothered with. While it does well to carry on some elements of the French Black Metal spirit, it fails to realize its potential and shows a handful of limitations, such as the reliance on synth and overuse of drumming, at various points. Despite this, the material is strong enough to warrant a positive recommendation.

Sterbend - Dwelling Lifeless (2006)

Sterbend was a German band that featured members of Nyktalgia, held in somewhat high regard in certain circles. They only recorded on full-length album, 2006's Dwelling Lifeless, which was released on No Colours Records. This L.P. was quite popular among the teenage crowd, especially those that liked to slash their bodies up and post the photos online to impress their friends. How something so completely below-average and pathetic ever managed to impress anyone is beyond me, as there is nothing about this album that is even remotely adequate.

The band's music has been labeled as 'depressive Black Metal', yet this is very misleading. On the contrary, I cannot stop myself from laughing each time that I have heard it. There is nothing dark or mournful about this, whatsoever. The saddest thing about this is that they got away with, blatantly, ripping off Burzum riffs and claiming them as their own. “Depressing Paths through Fullmoon Forests”, for example, makes poor use of guitar melodies that were originally found on “Det Son En Gang Var”, from Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. Sterbend was, supposedly, formed in 2000 and yet somehow took six years to record their debut album. This seems very pitiful, considering the fact that the songwriting is totally unoriginal. It is obvious that melancholic Black Metal is best left to the French, as they manage to do it properly, in many cases. This horrible record is an insult to all those through whose veins course German blood. The wretched material is not even the worst aspect of the album. The vocals are so cringe-worthy that one almost feels embarrassed for the poor loser. So many people have attempted to imitate the vocal style utilized by Varg Vikernes on the early Burzum albums, and yet none have failed in such a horrific manner. There is nothing tortured or anguished about Typhon's voice; instead, he sounds like a little girl that has been sent to bed without dessert. I am not sure what he thought he was doing, but he utterly failed at creating any sense of despair with his feminine shrieks. In the case of Varg, or Landfermann of Bethlehem, one can really feel the terrible grief and misery in their voices. Typhon was unable to emulate this, at all, so he just employed a weak, high-pitched squeal. The only depressing thing about this is that so many people accepted this and even praised it.

As for the production, it is rather standard for an underground release, though still much more polished than the sort of albums that it is trying to rip off. The vocals are too loud, though more due to the atrocious style than anything else. The guitar tone has no feeling to it, almost coming off more like a Death Metal album in that regard. There is nothing cold or desolate, here. The drumming is too high and clear, the same sort of rotten mistake made my poser bands like Nargaroth. It possesses all of the characteristics of an album that is trying to be more underground than it really is and failing in the process.

Simply put, Dwelling Lifeless is a piece of trash. Even if you consider yourself to be a fan of depressive Black Metal, avoid this. It is about as uninspired as a Xasthur album, and is little more than a sloppily cobbled-together record that is comprised of stolen riffs and mediocre ideas. The vocals, alone, would be reason enough to line the band members up and shoot them dead. Sterbend is a joke and is not even worth hearing for the comedic effect. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mortifera - Vastiia Tenebrd Mortifera (2004)

Mortifera began as a concept within the mind of Noktu, which was only realized once Celestia was (temporarily) put on ice. Rising from the same scene that had long before produced such bands as Mütiilation and Vlad Tepes, Mortifera does well to carry on the same tradition of bleak, melancholic Black Metal. This is despite the fact that its creator goes against the earliest tenets of the sub-genre, going for a more personal approach that focuses more on negativity rather than Satanism or even the slightest hints of anti-Christian sentiment. However one chooses to look at the beliefs and concepts behind the band, at least they did not fall into the same trap as Deathspell Omega, being consumed by Judeo-Christian mythology on their 2004 effort Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice. Released in October of that same year, Mortifera's debut album, Vastiia Tenebrd Mortifera, creates a miserable atmosphere that one can hardly bear.

The album begins with “Fvrahgments”, an instrumental track that starts with clean guitars that convey the a sombre feeling. As the distorted guitars slowly fade in, one gets experiences a sensation not unlike being dragged into a horrible nightmare. The riffs are primitive and hearken back to the days of the LLN, though not quite sounding like a carbon-copy. The woeful bass lines are clearly audible, adding another dimension to the music. As the song progresses, the atmosphere darkens even more, setting the tone for the rest of the album.

The first proper track is “La Revenant”, opening with fast tremolo melodies and blasting drums. This takes the listener on a bridge back to the early-to-mid '90s, with the raw guitar sound doing well to give the material the edge that it needs to really have the most effect. Beyond the depressing riffs, the main thing that one might notice would be Noktu's vocals. His anguished screams seem to be the product of intense sorrow and being force-fed shards of broken glass. Though the riffing style never changes, throughout the song, the drumming gets more relaxed, at certain points. This helps place more emphasis on the gloomy vibe being established by the melodies. There is a clean section, near the middle, though this should not be a turn-off of any kind, as it suits the overall composition.

“A Last Breath Before Extinction” possesses a slightly more ominous tone, with slower drumming underneath the fast-picked guitar melodies. The structure of the song is somewhat reminiscent of Strid, as well as the sort of miserably negative feelings that it conveys. The vocals are not as over-the-top, but still on the more grim side of things. It is obvious that this is an extension of what the French Black Legions began, a decade earlier. The song crawls at a morbid pace, extinguishing all signs of life and hope, leaving nothing but despair in its wake. It is fairly repetitive, but this only serves better to enhance the aura. Ending with a clean guitar section, the song fades into nothingness as you realize just how alone you are in this world.

The next song, “Epilogue D'une Existence de Cryssthal”, is an instrumental interlude that features only an acoustic guitar. It repeats the same few chords, more or less, for three minutes. As a stand-alone track, it is not very strong, but works well within the context of the album. It kind of builds on the desolate feeling that was present at the conclusion of the previous tune.

“Ciel Brouillé” is a mid-paced track that takes its lyrics from Baudelaire's 'Les fleurs du mal'. Noktu's vocals take on a more tortured sound, as heard on the first song. Something about this music manages to reach in and connect with the most horrible thing that we each harbour within ourselves, bringing it all to the surface and amplifying it tenfold. The material seems to be somewhat more melodic, coming off as less raw at times. The vocals really make this, though. That is not to discount the actual guitar melodies, but only to give credit to the great job that was done. So many times, vocalist try to imitate what Varg Vikernes did on the old Burzum albums, only to fail. Noktu's approach is something different, almost bearing similarities to the early work of Tomas Lindberg, mixing it with his own hideous voice. Regardless of influences, it meshes well with the songwriting and production to create something truly miserable.

This song is followed by “Abstrbve Negabvtiyon Rebssurectyion”, which almost sounds upbeat by comparison. The tempo is a little more lively and varied. The atmosphere is rather calming, as opposed to the oppressive aura of the previous tracks. The latter half is a bit more bleak, but still nothing like what came before. Not even the sombre whispers could add enough gloom to combat the black hole of negativity that encompassed the first half of the L.P. That said, this is still a memorable track and features some decent riffs. In some ways, it is a good thing to have at least one song that offers a little bit of a break. The minimal contrast actually helps demonstrate just how mournful the earlier pieces were.

“Aux Confins Des Tenebrss” is an outro of sorts, closing out the original material. It is reminiscent of early Katatonia, with the clean guitar, weeping bass and the downtempo drumming. It is an instrumental, more or less, though some shrieks of torment are included for good measure.

The final offering on this album is a cover of “Fruits of a Tragic End”, originally by Noktu's primary band Celestia. Somewhat odd that it was not included on that band's debut full-length. Either way, it features much of the same, though there is a somewhat more primitive feeling to the songwriting, and one could easily imagine one of the LLN bands recording this, several years earlier.

Vastiia Tenebrd Mortifera does well to combine various melancholic elements to create Black Metal with a particularly desolate and hopeless character. Mortifera builds upon the foundation created by the founding fathers of the Second Wave, as well as those mentally ill members of the French underground of the previous decade), successfully crafting an L.P. that is consumed by raw suffering. It may be slightly more melodic that the output of bands like Black Murder or Mütiilation, but the same dark and gloomy feeling is present at its core. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hypothermia - Suicide Fixation (2004)

It is no secret that I am not terribly fond of most modern music, so there are times when friends or acquaintances must repeatedly push something for me to give it a chance. Such was the case with the Swedish band Hypothermia. After avoiding it for some time, I finally checked out the 2004 demo, Suicide Fixation, which is entirely bland and worthless. 

Hypothermia suffers from the same fallacies that plague most bands in this so-called "Depressive Black Metal" movement. The songwriting is mundane and talentless, droning on with no atmosphere whatsoever, consisting of slow-paced drums and some of the most boring and useless tremolo riffs ever created. While the pacing of earlier bands is copied, the subtle intricacies that actually created some sort of feeling are totally lost on such charlatans.

Even worse than the below-average guitar melodies are the hilarious and laughable vocals, which are far too high in the mix. The vocal performance is easily the worst part of this atrocious demo. Mr. Carlsson must not have yet hit puberty when he recorded this in his bedroom, as the screams are just pathetic and sound like a little girl that has fallen from her bike and scraped her knees. The majority of the time when people attempt to imitate the style of vocals used on the early Burzum albums, they fail horribly and Hypothermia is no exception. 

Hypothermia is yet another in a long line of useless projects that fail to provide anything of merit. There is nothing depressing about Suicide Fixation, other than the fact that some people are clueless enough to think that it is worth listening to while more deserving bands languish in obscurity.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Gestapo 666 - Black Gestapo Metal (2005)

Gestapo 666 got off to a rough start, recording a brief demo and then remaining silent for several years. Noktu was quite busy with Celestia and Mortifera, while Meyhna'ch left the band (though it is likely that he was never a dedicated member to begin with). It took until June 2005 for the band's first full-length, Black Gestapo Metal, to finally see the light of day. What listeners can expect is a continuation of the style that was utilized on the first demo, but with better production. In many ways, this is reminiscent of the first Vermeth record, in that it comes off as a somewhat generic representation of the Black Legions, just with higher sound quality.

The songwriting is not terribly creative, though that is hardly what one would be looking for with this band, anyway. It is accepted that Gestapo 666 is merely keeping the LLN spirit alive, in one form or another, and this is its main charm. On its own, the material that comprises Black Gestapo Metal is not all that impressive. However, to those that remember the dark and grim times that spawned the likes of Black Imperial Blood (Travel), Feasts or March to the Black Holocaust, this L.P. serves as a posthumous tribute to those that went before. Personally, I often wished to hear such recordings with a slightly better sound, just for the fact that so many brilliant riffs were hiding amidst all the chaos. Still, that was also part of the character of those bands and the music that they created. Gestapo 666 removes the hissing, feedback and excessive distortion to give listeners a clearer impression of the French Black Metal sound.

The arrangements vary, from track to track, but the LLN riffing is easily heard. Some songs possess more aggression, though an overwhelming gloom hangs over the majority of the material. This is most evident on the track “Opening the Crypt of Death”, which is one of the highlights of the album. It is certainly in the minority, being one of the only tracks to feature such a slow pace, but the dark atmosphere that it creates is very memorable. This is mainly due to th prominence of the guitar riffs. Black Gestapo Metal is a release that is very much driven by the guitars. Drumming exists only to keep time, really, and even the vocals are buried under layers of damp soil. Of course, therein lies one of the negative aspects of the album. The mighty Meyhna'ch was replaced by Satanic Tyrant Werwolf, of Horna / Satanic Warmaster fame. It is not that he does a bad job so much as he fails to put forth a great deal of effort, throughout the entire recording. He does just enough to get by, without going the extra mile. It is good that he did not employ his usual style, yet he did not do enough to match the maniacal sort of vocals that one would expect from this music and it really holds things back, quite a bit. The album also suffers from the fact that several of the riffs sound like they were recycled from the aforementioned bands. There is a strong lack of originality that plagues this album, resulting in a lack of any unique character.

It is odd to think that this release is considered as having high quality production, compared to bands like Black Murder, Torgeist and Vlad Tepes, yet it would still be thought of as rather lo-fi when compared to most contemporary records. Black Gestapo Metal actually rests at a very enviable position, being just clear enough for everything to be heard fairly well and to allow for the music to make the most impact, yet still raw and gritty enough to belong to the underground. As previously mentioned, the guitar is the dominant aspect of this album, and rightfully so. The drums and vocals are buried in the mix, to an extent. In the case of the vocals, it seems to be a little too much, though it may help conceal the mediocre performance.

Gestapo 666 is not an essential band but rather one that is primarily of interest to those into the old French scene. Their first L.P. fails to measure up to most of those old demos and albums, but the spirit is there and it is still a solid dose of Black Metal, if not a bit average. While there are some things that could be improved upon, it is worth hearing. Chances are, though it is not likely to blow you away, it will grow on you with repeated listens. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Vlad Tepes - La Morte Lune (1997)

Vlad Tepes is an odd band in that they did all that they could to ensure that their music only reached the hands of a select few, at least at the time. With the quality of songwriting that Wlad and Vorlok were capable of, it is doubtless that they would have produced countless classic Black Metal albums. For one reason or another, they chose the path of obscurity. Along with extremely limited demo tapes and split releases, Vlad Tepes made their art less accessible by utilizing horrible sound quality that went beyond necro. This added a sense of character to their music, in some sense, yet could also detract from the riffs at times. The band's final offering (of original material) came in the form of La Morte Lune, released in August 1997. This tape represents a bit of a regression, as far as the sound quality goes, opting for an even fuzzier and more oppressive feel than ever before.

When first confronted with the shoddy production and grim approach, some might expect the music to be sub-par and amateurish; however, such an assumption would be quite erroneous. Much like their counterparts in Germany, Moonblood, Vlad Tepes wrought brilliant soundscapes within the realm of lo-fi Black Metal. There is absolutely nothing second-rate about the songwriting or musicianship that is on display, here. One might get the impression that only harsh sounds will vomit forth from the speakers, yet there are many haunting subtleties that create a morbidly disturbing atmosphere. The different songs possess a variety of tempos, from the typical fast-paced tracks that one would expect to those that best resemble a hellish war march, fit for demons and other creatures from the darkened past. The feeling conveyed is pitch-black and sends chills up your spine, especially “Morte Lune”. The vocals are still as unrestrained and feral as ever, hardly following logical patterns. While the voices call from the depths of the underworld, freezing your soul, the guitar melodies swirl around you like blackened flames that distort reality. “L'Envol Du Corbeau”, in particular, transforms your surroundings into something hardly recognizable, where nightmares bleed into your waking thoughts, with the line separating them becoming imperceptible.

As mentioned before, the production is hideous and this only benefits the music by helping to establish an obscure and distant feeling. The mix is bass-heavy, creating a thick wall that hardly allows for any treble to exist. Still, the riffs can be discerned with close attention, while the drumming sort of blends into the noise, at times. Many would say that a clearer sound would have made this music even more enjoyable, but the rotten quality actually helps the macabre atmosphere. This is not a case of poor musicians trying to hide their imperfections by utilizing a necro sound. Anyone familiar with Vlad Tepes knows that they were quite skilled when it came to writing and recording Black Metal. They were far more talented than a good number of bands that were praised for doing little more than adding keyboard nonsense over sterile riffs.

As far as it is known, La Morte Lune is the final recording of original Vlad Tepes material. It is quite possible that the band persisted and simply kept their music to themselves and those close to them. Either way, it was a loss to the LLN and to Black Metal, as a whole, when this band chose to descend back to the infernal depths from which it was spawned. Do not be turned away by the poor sound. This is high-quality material that deserves to be heard.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Gestapo 666 - Gestapo of Satan (2000)

Gestapo 666 is a French Black Metal band that was formed in 2000, by Meyna'ch of Mütiilation and Noktu of Celestia. Their first demo was released that same year, and features three songs. The music is fairly raw and primitive, but somehow fails to really live up to the expectations that one might have, considering the people involved. Still, it is by no means a bad release and is worth listening to, particularly for those that appreciate the old LLN recordings.

Musically, Gestapo of Satan sounds like something that came from the French scene of the early-to-mid '90s. From the songwriting to the mediocre level of musicianship that is on display, this is reminiscent of the early Mütiilation demos, to an extent. That said, none of the songs are anywhere near as memorable as tracks like “Under Ardailles Night” or “Suffer the Gestalt”. The first song, especially, is repetitive and boring, at times. Half the song is nothing more than Meyna'ch screaming the title, “Darkness and Satan”, countless times over a pretty boring riff. It is actually a rather disappointing and worthless song and also goes to show that his vocals are far below what they once were. “Gestapo of Satan” is much better, and probably the best track on here, with guitar melodies that actually possess some sort of melancholic feeling. It is rather fast-paced and possesses the same kind of chaotic feeling that was often present on recordings such as Satanist Styrken and Vampires of Black Imperial Blood. “Church Rape Division” maintains the dismal atmosphere, but is not consistent in doing so. Only the first riff carries the same kind of miserable feeling, followed by several disjointed ideas, but returning to end out the demo.

The production is really awful, hearkening back to the heyday of the Black Legions. It is still, easily, listenable, but it is often difficult to hear all that is going on. Sadly, the guitar melodies are very low and do not stand out all that well. The drumming is a bit louder, as if closer to the microphone. The vocals stand out on top of the rest, which is sort of necessary given that Meyna'ch is unable to do what he once could. This demo would have benefited from having the guitar higher in the mix, just to place more focus on the riffs.

In the end, Gestapo 666 is not exactly the most impressive thing that either musician has ever been involved with, though it certainly has its moments. It is clear that Meyna'ch's best days were behind him, at this point, and that he and Noktu did not put a great deal of time into writing and arranging this material. Gestapo of Satan is missing certain fundamental elements that one usually looks for; however it does possess is a level of sincerity that many other releases lack. If you are into the type of raw Black Metal associated with the LLN, give this a chance.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Carpathian Forest - Strange Old Brew (2000)

Strange Old Brew is a rotten album released by a band that was only ever consistent in their own inconsistency. With their sophomore effort, Carpathian Forest chose to explore the more experimental side of things, while also taking a more modern approach to songwriting. The end result is an L.P. that only contains a couple songs worth hearing, and even those are hardly what one would consider to be essential listening.

This record consists, primarily, of disorganized ideas and mediocre execution. The quality of the music represents a severe drop from the band's previous output, especially Through Chasm, Caves and Titan Woods. Half the album is meaningless filler. Out of eleven tracks, four of them easily recognized as garbage, right from the start. The ridiculous intro and outro, along with the two useless instrumentals, do absolutely nothing for the album and only serve to add to the feeling of disarray. Poor compositions like “Mask of the Slave” and “Martyr / Sacrificulum” show just how generic and uninspired Nattefrost and Nordavind were, when writing the material for Strange Old Brew. “Bloodcleansing” and “The Suicide Song” are a step above these, but still rather bland and forgetful. “Return of the Freezing Winds” is at the same level, though the stolen Celtic Frost riffs should count against it. It is pretty sad to think that most of the passable moments of this record have been heard before, countless times. The highlights of the album are “Thanatology” and “Cloak of Midnight”, which are both mid-paced tracks that convey a gloomy and sombre feeling. That said, standing out amongst refuse is hardly an achievement, and neither one comes close to matching the atmosphere of “Journey through the Cold Mists of Svarttjern”. None of the songs on this album give off the feeling that Carpathian Forest were really trying to do anything other than pump out another below-average album, in order to make a few dollars and keep their name out there.

This album was already a few years old, by the time I gave it a listen, and I made the mistake of trying to digest it alongside Black Shining Leather. I failed to really pay attention to the differences between them, and really did not give either a good deal of attention since I was much more impressed by their first E.P. When actually listening closely, Strange Old Brew is not only represents poorer songwriting, but the overall vibe of the record is kind of offensive. Production-wise, this sounds too modern, which seems to work against the very idea of ripping off old school ideas. It is not terribly overdone, but enough so that it affects the feel of the songs. The better tracks on here would have benefited from more of a grim and ugly sound, or perhaps something colder at least. Of course, they had very little connection to the true underground and most of their Norwegian peers had long ago abandoned the old ways.

Strange Old Brew is an album that should be avoided, as it will likely only succeed in lowering your opinion of Carpathian Forest. They were never the greatest Black Metal band around, in the first place, but this record is over 50% trash. The rest is either sub-par or barely average, which is not something that is worth your time, money or attention when considering how many genuinely good bands are waiting to be discovered. Already, at such an early stage in their existence, it seems this band lost what little creativity that they once possessed.