Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Enslaved - Yggdrasill (1992)

For anyone that ever wondered how a band like Enslaved managed to have their first album released by Deathlike Silence Productions, the label of Mayhem founder Euronymous, you attention should be directed to the darker and grim-sounding Yggdrasill. Recorded in June 1992 and released a short time later, this was the band's second demo and the first to really showcase any Black Metal influences. As with several others from the Norwegian scene, these guys began their musical career playing Death Metal, under the name Phobia. The Nema demo still possessed a good amount of this sound, despite the more blackened vocals. With Yggdrasill, there are hints of their Death Metal past, but the prime inspiration seems to have come from that which their Norwegian peers were up to.

For this demo, Enslaved really sped things up, for the most part. Trym's percussion forces things along at a fast and consistent pace, though sometimes he seems to get ahead of himself and comes close to being lost in all the chaos. The overall sound is dominated by the razor sharp tremolo melodies that are unleashed by Grutle and Ivar. At this point, it would appear that the band were big fans of Mayhem and Burzum, as the work of Euronymous and Varg is easy to hear in many of the guitar riffs. They definitely had their own emerging style, as can be heard on tracks like “Allfaðr Oðinn”, but it was still in its formative stages at this point. While there are many great riffs to be found on this demo, some are obscured by the overuse of synth. There are times when it works, here and there, but there are times when its use becomes excessive over the course of the demo. Unfortunately, the band would carry this flaw with them for the recording of their debut full-length. The same can be said of the extended length of songs that could have ended a bit earlier.

The production is perfect, more or less. It is very raw, which gives the guitars a really nasty sound. Likewise for the absolutely hellish tone that Grutle's vocals possess, at times. His voice is a bit high in the mix, but it works well within the context of the music. The 'triumphant battle synth' could have been lowered a bit, however. It would be far less distracting. The drums are rather far off in the distance, which is probably for the best as the drumming is not the most consistent aspect of this demo, anyway. Not that percussion ever needs to be on equal footing with the guitars, in the first place.

What one can expect from Yggdrasill is a much more raw and primitive sound than Enslaved has come to be known for. It is a shame that they did not continue on in this direction. Then again, the rawness is likely more a result of lack of means to do better, at the time, as their material was a little more ambitious than the likes of Darkthrone or Immortal, almost from the very beginning. If you have not yet heard this, you should do so. Pick up the split album with Satyricon which features all of these tracks, plus one extra.  

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Absu - The Sun of Tiphareth (1995)

Absu seems to be a band that you either get or you don't. There is enough to appreciate to lure in a lot of people, but yet just as much to repulse them as well. With their second full-length album, The Sun of Tiphareth, the band moves farther away from their Death Metal roots and adopts more of a Scandinavian Black Metal sound. Released in March 1995, on Osmose Productions, it would appear that they were a little late to the party. However, as far as American Black Metal bands go, they were among the first.

The very first song, “Apzu”, does well to illustrate all that is right and all that is wrong with this album, right off the bat. This lengthy track goes past the eleven-minute mark and features a lot of variation. The fast drumming and cold tremolo melodies are done very well, though there is an odd mixture of '80s riffs as well. The transitions are not exactly seamless, but not bad. Where things really become annoying are the horrible attempts at recreating King Diamond's classic vocal style. Even worse, Absu had the nerve to utilize horrible passages of what sound like female vocals. These instances completely kill the momentum that the song had previously built up and do not fit in at all. There are moments where things seem to take on an epic feeling, but the song never realizes its full potential.

“Feis Mor Tir Na N'og (Across the North Sea to Visnech)” is next. It begins a bit slower than the previous song, but speeds up over time. The vocal approach is done right, with a torn-throat sound that suits the music. Unfortunately, the song suffers from the same inconsistent songwriting that plagued the first track. It could have done without the keyboards, also, as they really do not fit with the more old school parts. The faster sections are where this truly shines, with memorable tremolo riffs passing through all-too-briefly.

This is followed by “Cyntefyn's Fountain”, which is shorter and a bit more to the point. One major complaint is that the drums are far too overactive, with too many random fills taking the attention away from the guitar riffs. That has always been an issue with Absu, and is no different here. It is also worth noting that the production makes this even worse, by burying the guitars a bit and pushing the percussion too high in the mix. This song features a half-decent riff that is reminiscent of old Bathory but, ultimately, goes nowhere.

“A Quest into the 77th Novel” continues the trend of too many pointless riff changes, abandoning ideas that were doing well before having their legs cut out from under them. Thankfully, a few tremolo riffs manage to cut through the muddy sound and rise above the ever-dominant drumming, but these ideas are rarely expanded upon. More acoustic parts and female vocals kill the song's momentum and add another layer of cheesiness to this already failing record.

“Our Lust for Lunar Plains (Nox Luna Inlustris)” is a pointless instrumental. It seems someone just got a new Casio for Christmas and could not be persuaded to leave it at home, though it adds absolutely nothing to the album, especially as a lone track. More pseudo-goth nonsense to kill time.

This is followed by “The Coming of War”, which is a cover of a Morbid Scream tune. I am not too familiar with the original, but I have to wonder if it utilized the same horrid effects as this rendering. After a doomy intro, the song picks up speed and features a better mix than the majority of the rest of the album. The vocals sound far more evil and the song possesses a darker atmosphere than the original ones on this L.P.

Finally, the title track arrives to save the listeners from such mediocrity. This is the true highlight of the album, featuring the most coherent songwriting and some of the best riffs. It progresses from sort of an old school gallop to something much faster and more vicious. Distant tremolo melodies add a sense of depth, as the music straddles the line between '80s and '90s. The drums are still too loud, during certain sections, but it fails to ruin the song as in some other cases. The clean vocal sections with the brief drum solos could have been done without, and the song could have been a little shorter; however, this is still the best song on the album.

The Sun of Tiphareth is a record filled with countless flaws and it is a wonder that this band possesses the reputation that it does, as each album seems to be a mixture of good and horrible ideas. As for this one, they would have done well to leave out all of the cheesy goth parts and to focus on finding a better balance between their '80s roots and their Scandinavian aspirations. This is only recommended for those with a lot of patience.