Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Crimson Moon - To Embrace the Vampyric Blood (1996)

For those that are unfamiliar with this musical entity, Crimson Moon was an American Black Metal band that formed in 1994, thus putting them slightly ahead of most in the US that only picked up on the trend some years later. While the band claims to still exist, the two primary members split a few years back, each maintaining their rights to the name, yet neither making any effort to release new material. What we have here is two musicians that recorded a handful of things in the mid-'90s and then disappeared for a decade, only to return with some rehearsal tracks and and E.P. For a 'band' that claims such longevity, this is not very impressive.

In fact, as it stands, this is a band that has never even offered up a single proper full-length album. This is according to their own words. In the case of the 1996 record, To Embrace the Vampyric Blood, this was originally meant to be their third demo. However, Abyss Records liked the recording enough to release it on CD as a full album. Still, regardless of what decisions were made after the fact, Vampir Scorpios and Nocturnal Overlord went into this recording session with no higher aspirations than they had for their previous demos. So it is with this in mind that one must accept the limitations of this L.P.

Musically, Crimson Moon sounds quite a bit as one would expect, given the location and time period. For some reason, when Norwegian Black Metal began hitting these damned shores, Americans were more likely to pick up on Emperor than Darkthrone, for the most part. As such, there is a strong keyboard presence on this album, though probably darker than the sort of synth used by Ihsahn. It almost has a bit of a '60s/'70s horror vibe, to an extent, especially during the intro. There is a definite occult atmosphere to this, dark and gloomy in a similar manner to what Black Funeral was releasing at the time. The vocals are extremely grim and actually do well to add to the dismal feeling. Scorpios does not have a very distinctive voice, but it suits the music very well. Also, there are times when whispers and clean spoken passages are used, though buried enough as to not really stand out. While the band has mentioned the likes of Mayhem, Darkthrone and Immortal as influences, what is heard here sounds more akin to the output from Emperor and Graveland. Much like the latter, the riffs on To Embrace the Vampyric Blood are not very strong or memorable and frequently serve as a background for the rest, as the keyboards and vocals take the lead. If one listens close, it becomes clear that not all of the riffs are even pure Black Metal, which is to be expected from an American band. With Death Metal so ingrained in their pitiful souls, it was a common issue that those in the US were unable to fully cleanse these tendencies from their systems. As the band only consisted of two members, they had to resort to using a drum machine. This is too high in the mix and distracts from the rest of the music, at times, giving it a less serious feeling. The programming is not particularly skilled, either, with some flaws present as well as boring patterns. That is often the problem with bands that use fake drums; they lack the knowledge and understanding that a real drummer would have, regarding what style and approach would be best for the compositions. If one can get past this, there is some decent material here. At certain points, the riffs begin to rise from the fog and to build a bit of an epic feeling, reminiscent of Ancient Wisdom's first L.P. The fact that this is an American band means that it is held to a different standard. While it is passable as a product of the New World, it would be considered complete and utter garbage if the band was of European origin.

The production is really weak and is one of the most detrimental factors of this album. The guitars take a back seat to absolutely everything else. The keyboards, vocals and even the drum machine overpower the guitar riffs, at all times. This is one of the most severe flaws of this recording and something that many bands were doing, unfortunately. In this period, the true Black Metal mentality was being lost. While creating a dark atmosphere is one of the most important things in Black Metal, it is imperative that one does so primarily with the guitars. All other elements are meant only to accentuate the riffs, as far as I am concerned. The only reason this gets somewhat of a pass is that this was intended only as a demo, initially, so it is not as if these guys went into the recording with the mentality of making a proper album. The lousy, non-modern, sound is likely one of the only things that saves this, somewhat.

To Embrace the Vampyric Blood is an album with many flaws, that much is impossible to ignore. With the over-abundance of keyboards and the terrible drum machine, it is difficult to listen to. One song even features a brief passage of a female voice speaking some sort of nonsense. Despite all of this, these guys did manage to create a fairly grim and occult/horror atmosphere and it has its moments. Fans of other early American Black Metal projects, such as Black Funeral and Judas Iscariot, may want to give this a listen. Also, if you are neck-deep into the occult and love any mentions of Tiamat and Chaos, this is for you. Truth be told, this is incredibly amateurish and should probably be avoided. Crimson Moon should have put more effort into focusing on the creation of meaningful guitar riffs, and less time playing with their new Casio. Recordings like this are a good reminder of why one would be best advised to stick to European Black Metal and to forget that it was ever adopted by those from the wrong side of the Atlantic. Too few have ever managed to get it right.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Darkthrone - Goatlord (1996)

What we all know as the Goatlord album is basically a rehearsal tape of the material planned for Darkthrone's second full-length. Recorded in 1991, this followed the path started with Soulside Journey, and one can only speculate how the finished product would have sounded. Obviously, it would have featured a more professional production and would lack the raw feeling that this has. However, this never happened. After the release of Soulside Journey, and as they were working on these songs, three of the four members of Darkthrone seemed to be truly inspired by the old Black Metal albums of Bathory and Hellhammer, among others. They had also developed some sort of friendship with the guys in Mayhem, most notably, Euronymous. As it turned out, they decided that the Goatlord material did not represent their true musical passions and it was scrapped. Instead, they regressed to the primitive sound of old school Black Metal and the underground was soon shocked with the arrival of A Blaze in the Northen Sky.

In the meantime, the Goatlord rehearsal sat on the shelf, collecting dust. Fast forward to 1994, during a time when Fenriz was extremely prolific, participating in several projects and working on his own quite a bit. With frequent access to Necrohell studio, he decided to take this aborted album and to add vocals to it. Even still, it remained unheard for quite some time, finally seeing the light of day in late 1996 when it was released on Moonfog records. Popular opinion seems to be that this was some sort of cash grab for Darkthrone or Satyr, yet this view is completely ridiculous. If Darkthrone had ever been a band that existed in order to make money, they would not have abandoned Death Metal during a time when it was popular and trendy. They certainly would not have embraced the lo-fi necro sounds of '80s Black Metal at a point in time when no one really cared for or understood this. As well, once this did catch on, they would have taken all of the countless offers to play live and to be paid accordingly. Simply put, there was something about this music that appealed to Nocturno Culto and Fenriz, imbuing them with the feeling that it was deserving of an official release for those that would appreciate it. It was likely that they knew it would meet with some criticism, especially when one considers that, in 1996, Darkthrone still possessed quite a bit of mystique and had just released several of the best Black Metal albums to ever be recorded. It was a brazen move, to go back and embrace their past, after spending some years distancing themselves from it.

Regarding the actual songwriting, this is really all over the place. At times, it seems rather complex and difficult to follow, as there are hardly any recognizable structures. Rhythms change often and suddenly, sometimes giving the songs a rather random and improvised feeling, even though the band was rehearsing all the time back then. There is of course an overly technical Death Metal vibe, with Fenriz going against what the music called for and playing with a rather hyperactive style that was not always necessary. It is a good thing that he went on to learn what so many other drummers fail to, that showing off does nothing for the overall product and is often detrimental to the music. Nevertheless, what one finds with Goatlord is that Darkthrone has always been a band that puts the guitar riff first and foremost, and this album is dripping with an utter dark feeling that is conveyed by the brilliant riffs. It is too bad that the songwriting suffers from poor organization. In some cases, there is too much going on within the tracks; so many great riffs pass through, briefly, when whole songs could have been built around some of them. There are a number of melodies that would not have been out of place on an old '80s Black/Death release, mixed in with other riffs that are totally possessed with a feeling of total doom. One can clearly hear influences from the likes of Autopsy and of course Celtic Frost, as usual. Also present, as on Soulside Journey, are the trademark tremolo melodies that Darkthrone would become famous for, during their classic years. Though the songs are mostly mid-paced and shift gears frequently, there are occasional fast riffs with blast beats. However, these are forgettable when compared to the really slow riffs, which are much more memorable. The band could have, easily, moved on to make a form of Black/Doom, had they wanted to. The only complaint is that the slower sections would have benefited from less over-the-top drum work. Regardless, there is no denying the absolutely gloomy feeling of this material. There are points here where you can really hear the beginning of the transition from Soulside Journey to A Blaze in the Northern Sky. Still, they had not yet gone into the realm of cold and grim atmospheres, despite the incomprehenibly eerie feeling that this possesses.

As for the sound, the darkness of Goatlord is somewhat derived from the fact that it has such an unprofessional sound. The fact that it is a rehearsal recording lends a raw and old school feeling that only adds to the hellish vibe. For a rehearsal, this actually sounds very good. Often, the low-end would dominate everything else, yet the riffs cut through with a sharp clarity that one would not fully expect. Compared to the instrumental version, it seems that a bit of treble has been added here, which was a really good move. The overall impression is still kind of muddy, but the guitars rise from this murkiness and slice right into you, when necessary. The vocals are a little high in the mix, similar to Panzerfaust, but not to the extent that it becomes a problem. Due to the general raw and under-produced sound, Fenriz's harsh and unrestrained vocal performance really seems to fit far more than what Nocturno Culto would likely have done if the album had been recorded as planned, back in 1991. It would be natural to guess that he would have utilized a style similar to that of the debut record, which is hard to even imagine while listening to this.

Speaking of the vocals, regardless of what anyone may think, Fenriz totally makes this album with his vocals. This may be one of the hardest parts of the album to digest. I know that, the first time I heard this, I could hardly understand what the hell I was listening to and thought it was bloody horrible. I refused to bother with this for a couple years, honestly. However, once I decided to give it another chance, the vocals grew on me. Of course, one would never have expected to hear Fenriz doing his best King Diamond impersonation and, upon first listen, I thought they'd brought in some useless whore to sing on the album as so many other bands had done. Yet somehow, when I later returned to Goatlord, it was so clear what he was going for and I was able to appreciate it. He shows quite a bit of range, compared to what one might expect, with some deeper and throatier voices coming and going, though mostly sticking with the sort of hellish and raspy sound as heard on Isengard's Høstmørke. He also makes good use of rather sinister whispering and tortured wails. In truth, this may be the most brilliant vocal work that Fenriz ever did. Overall, his performance is so over-the-top and even theatrical that it really brings the music to life and adds a lot to the atmosphere, in a way that Nocturno Culto probably could not have done, at this point. Without the great effort put into the vocals, this album would have been rather flat and lacked the eerie and nightmarish vibe that it is known for.

The most important thing to do when approaching Goatlord for the first time is to keep an open mind. It is such a unique album, not only within Darkthrone's catalogue, but just in general. I have never encountered anything else remotely like this. It would be easy to say that, if you are a fan of Soulside Journey, then the music presented here will likely appeal to you. Yet it is not so simple, as the vocals really make this a completely different beast. At any rate, it really does work well as the missing link between the debut L.P. and A Blaze in the Northern Sky, while also venturing into territory that few others ever have. This may not be for everyone, not even all Darkthrone fans, yet it is highly recommended for anyone with a true passion for dark and hellish music. Even if you don't get it at first, be patient. It will definitely grow on you.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Forest of Impaled - Mortis Dei (1996)

Hailing from the US, Forest of Impaled was a lesser-known band that started in the early '90s. Though they later went on to play a mixed style of music, they began their career playing pure Black Metal. These guys were part of the wave of bands that came along in the middle of the decade, taking cues from the music that was slowly making its way across the Atlantic. Released in 1996, the Mortis Dei E.P. is probably their most listenable work.

The material is rather average, if one is truthful about it. The thing that makes this most interesting is the fact that the band is American, since that lowers the standards quite a bit. Compared to the likes of Judas Iscariot, this is quite an amazing release. The music is played in the northern style, with strong influences from the Swedish scene. This is most obvious in the somewhat melodic sense of the guitar riffs. However, make no mistake, this is not pretty by any means. Throughout the five tracks presented here, the band does well to create a grim, nocturnal feeling. Many of the melodies are rather unorthodox, with odd timing that is likely to throw you off. This is most evident in "Beckoning Midnight Dreams" and "Mystic Light of the Infernal Horde". Despite varying paces that are found, this mini-album consists almost solely of tremolo melodies. The vocals are fairly typical, with a raw and hateful sound, but nothing that would make the vocalist stand out from his contemporaries. The only real complaint here would be the drumming, as there is often a bit too much going on. It never gets completely out of hand, but the guy could certainly have kept things a little more simple, without affecting the music. There are also a couple points where some very low-key synth appears, just to accentuate the atmosphere, and it is done pretty well.

This E.P. has a really good sound to it, as the production is clear and seems to be about the same quality as many of the full-length albums that were coming out around the same time, back in Europe. One would almost think the music had been recorded in the Old World, as the production is similar to that obtained by the likes of Cardinal Sin, Vinterland and others that were releasing music in 1996. The guitar tone is cold and possesses a sharp edge, really enabling the riffs to have the maximum effect. Unlike most American recordings, the production does not favour the low-end and one does not have to worry about a thick and warm sound, here. The only thing that could stand to be changed might be the percussion, which might have benefited from being a little lower in the mix just to ensure that the drummer's hyperactivity does not distract. The double bass is particularly noticeable, much like on Immortal's Pure Holocaust and Blizzard Beasts.

Mortis Dei is a very solid release that features very solid songwriting and tight playing, bereft of the sort of mistakes and inadequacies that one might expect from a US Black Metal record, around this time. It is filled with memorable riffs and each song possesses an identity of its own. As well, the style of music is pure and not corrupted by the usual American tendencies to slip into Death Metal. This material has a very strong Scandinavian influence and could easily be mistaken for a Swedish band. It is not entirely clear whether or not this E.P. is all that essential, as it is sort of average by European standards, yet it is very impressive when put alongside Judas Iscariot or even Absu. Either way, this is definitely worth giving a chance.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Impaled Nazarene - Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz (1992)

Finland is a country that has spawned some rather unique bands, over the years. In the early-to-mid '90s, there was a certain gloom that permeated most of the underground releases from this land. From the chaotic and evil Black Metal of Beherit and Archgoat to the epic and sombre Death Metal of Amorphis and Sentenced, on to the agonizing Funeral Doom of Thergothon and Skepticism, Finland was a breeding ground for dark music of all kinds. The debut record from Impaled Nazarene was no different. Following up on a handful of demos and an E.P. of terribly short length, these Finns came along in November 1992 to unleash something quite hellish and chaotic of their own.

Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz is a rather peculiar album. It features no less than seventeen tracks, giving it a very cluttered feel. Many of the ideas come off as unfinished and scattered, with only six songs of proper length. Several of the shorter tracks could have been incorporated into other songs, or merely left out entirely. Due to the weird composition of the album, this is definitely something that needs to be listened to all the way through to get the best impression. For example, listening to "Goat Perversion" without the following track, "The Forest (The Darkness)" will give a sense of incompleteness. Musically, this is a very intense record. Similarities can be drawn between this and the early works of Blasphemy and Beherit, with somewhat of a Death Metal influence present, at times. Of course, this part of their sound has greatly decreased since the earlier demos. Rather than showing too much influence from their Norwegian counterparts, this Finnish band injects a strong Punk Rock feeling in their songwriting, at times, particularly noticeable with the more upbeat drumming patterns. It is quite obvious that these guys have deep roots in the old school underground scene and this music does well to keep up the dark and brutal spirit of those that came before. Though a lot of people may get kind of lost with the various interludes and intros, as well as the sometimes monotonous song structures, it is clear that the guitar riffs are designed to create a dark and menacing atmosphere and Impaled Nazarene definitely succeeds in this department. While a lot of the guitar melodies may pass by you like a whirlwind, there are plenty of others that stand out and will remain in your head for a long time, luring you back for repeated listens.

For a Black Metal album from 1992, this has rather good sound. In effect, it possesses more of a typical Death Metal production, with thick guitars and powerful drums. The guitar tone is warm rather than cold, but it suits the hellish and claustrophobic vibe of the music. The drumming is at just the right level in the mix to retain its power and to help drive the songs forward with all of the intended aggression, yet not overpowering the rest as is the case with many other records. The vocals are high enough to be heard, despite the rather unclear and raspy style employed. Chances are, as this was fairly early on in the Second Wave movement, the idea of achieving a lo-fi and necro sound was not ingrained in the mind of the various bands yet. What you will hear in this case is a very clear sound, though still maintain a genuine feel and not straying into plastic territory.

Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz is a great album and belongs in the collection of anyone into early '90s Black Metal. This may not quite be on the level of A Blaze in the Northern Sky, but it comes very close and beats the hell out of a large percentage of the albums that were being released at the time. I feel somewhat robbed having been introduced to the band through albums like Suomi Finland Perkele, as the previous material is vastly superior and is actually rather impressive. Impaled Nazarene managed to take some influences and work them into a maniacal sound all their own, creating something blasphemous and dark that still holds up two decades later. This album may be a little difficult to wrap your head around, due to the structure and the inclusion of so many song fragments, but it is well worth the time and effort.

Behemoth - Sventevith (Storming Near the Baltic) (1995)

Behemoth is a band that has suffered many missteps, throughout the years. Formed in 1991, this Polish musical entity was born out of the desire to join a scene rather than any real sense of creativity. While many of the early Norwegian bands were keeping alive the spirit of the First Wave bands, they also infused their music with something unique and thus added something to Black Metal. Even in the same country, several different bands managed to create similar yet separate identities. In countries like Sweden, Finland and even Greece, the different scenes were able to develop their own sound, despite the noticeable influences from Norway. However, in many other countries, they failed to do anything special. Poland's Black Metal underground yielded nothing so special. Even early Graveland stands more as a tribute to Darken's musical tastes than as anything significant. In the case of Behemoth, there was even less reason for this band's existence. Nergal and his mates just wanted to mimic their favourite bands and to put out music for the sake of it, as opposed to being possessed by the black flame and being utterly compelled to do so.

Sventevith is the first L.P. from Behemoth, released by Pagan Records in April 1995. These guys were not only average imitators, but they were rather late to the party as well. By this point, tons of bands were springing up from all over and doing their best to release their own Norwegian Black Metal albums, regardless of where they were from. While some did better than others, Behemoth's first full-length could not even match up to their own previous releases. One of the main problems is the overall sound. While there is nothing wrong with having shoddy production, this is a bit inconsistent and unbalanced. Much like on And the Forests Dream Eternally, the guitar tone suits the music well and possesses a cold and rough edge to it. The issue is that the guitars seem too low in the mix while everything else is too high. The drumming is too loud, at times, which is a problem that the band never bothered to address. Much worse than this, the synth and acoustic guitars are way too high in the mix, when used. These elements do not add all that much to the atmosphere anyway, but if they were completely necessary they should have been mixed in a more natural way. As it stands, they seem totally out of place and do not blend in with the rest. For the guitars and vocals to take a back seat to everything else is a pretty grievous error and does a lot to give this album a weak feeling.

This is compounded by the fact that the songwriting is so unfocused. Rather than just attempting to go for a straightforward Black Metal approach, Behemoth was already trying to experiment with additional elements and failed at making them in any way relevant to the rest of the composition. From the moment "Chant of the Eastern Lands" bursts forth from the speakers, the cold and grim gitar sound is undermined by the useless inclusion of acoustics and the keyboards that soon join in. Unlike bands such as Immortal or even Satyricon, Behemoth hardly knew what they were doing and utilized these additional bits to the detriment of the album, as a whole. The few instrumental tracks only clutter up the L.P. further. They would have been better off opting for a more simplistic approach. Even without the synth and so on, the songs are rather weak. At times, they meander along with no real direction. The band was at least trying to do something more with themselves, but were quite incapable. It is clear that these guys were still infatuated with the Norwegian sound, particularly that of Emperor. From the guitar riffs to the drumming patterns and even the vocal placement, it is clear that Nergal took a lot of notes when listening to In the Nightside Eclipse. Unfortunately, many of these notes also included the increased use of keyboards, which serve as a crutch much of the time. The problem with this is twofold, as the synth is worthless and the supporting riffs are equally as ineffective. Whereas the material on the previous E.P. showed the beginnings of Behemoth's ability to create a bit of a cold and dark atmosphere, this is almost completely lacking on Sventevith. Other than the occasional decent tremolo melody, the most enjoyable aspect of this record is the vocal work, which is very reminiscent of what Nattefrost did on the Carpathian Forest track "Journey Through the Cold Moors of Svarttjern", released the same year. Nergal uses somewhat of a tortured shriek that really would have benefited from music of a more sombre and epic nature. Instead, his horrible screams are wasted as a result of the boring songwriting. The band struggled so hard to come up with ideas for a full album that, apart from the pointless instrumentals, they also included a song from the E.P. Rather than at least re-recording it, they took the exact same version from the previous release and tacked it onto the end.

In the end, Behemoth's first record is a huge disappointment. That is, it would be if you bothered coming into it with any sort of expectations. This is lower-tier Norse-worship, at best, and poorly executed. This doesn't even match up to lesser Norwegian bands such as Dødheimsgard, to be honest. Sventevith is generic and uneventful, lacking any real point of interest. The only half-decent song on here is "Wolves Guard My Coffin", and this even sounds as something that has been heard a hundred times before and loses steam before it concludes. If you are really curious about this band's Black Metal past, seek out the previous releases as this one will most likely put you to sleep. Avoid this and anything else that Behemoth ever went on to record. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Behemoth - And the Forests Dream Eternally (1994)

Offered up in August 1994, And the Forests Dream Eternally is the first official release from Behemoth. This E.P. shows the band's continued development, as they got deeper into the underground and learned of more bands to mimic. That appears to be the case as, though some minor improvements have been made, this still suffers from a total lack of originality. The material still suffers from a certain level of inconsistency and comes off as being rather generic, but it was a step in the right direction.

Musically, one gets the feeling that Behemoth went beyond their Emperor collection when writing these songs. It would seem that they began listening to a bit of Darkthrone and Immortal, by this point, as some hints of those bands and even a filtered Bathory influence is detectable. This is most clearly heard on "Moonspell Rites", a more mid-paced track that features a fairly epic guitar solo. The solos found on this E.P. help add something to the music and reminds that Black Metal could still benefit from the inclusion of such things. "Pure Evil and Hate" shows the band reaching back to the '80s and incorporating more of a Motörhead approach into things, though one must wonder if they were listening to any old bands or simply picked up on the same influences from more contemporary sources. The songwriting is much more interesting but really seems to be all over the place, with a lack of consistency from one track to the next. The band's youth and inexperience is still showing through, at this point. It almost sounds as if each song was written by a separate band. The differences are subtle enough that it is not a major concern, but it is something that many will likely pick up on. However, the overall quality of the riffs is higher than before, with most of these songs actually able to create a cold and dark feeling. Though as Behemoth put forth more effort in writing the music, other things were neglected. For one, Nergal's vocals took a turn for the worse and sound more puked than before. His voice was just fine on ...From the Pagan Vastlands and needed no change. Here, it just comes off as overly strained.

The production shows a bit of improvement, as the guitars finally possess a little bit of a rough edge. One of the key weaknesses of the previous demo was the soft and subdued guitar tone. It is commendable that they were able to recognize this flaw and to avoid repeating the same mistake. Unfortunately, such attention was not given to the remaining elements. The drum sound is awful, with the snare seeming particularly hollow. With this being too loud in the mix, it tends to distract from the guitars, at times. This is more of an issue during the faster parts. Also worthy of complaint is the bass guitar. It is far too noticeable and should have been lower in the mix. It adds this irritating rumble that does absolutely nothing to add to the atmosphere.

And the Forests Dream Eternally is a rather successful E.P. in that it shows Behemoth making some improvements. The end result is still a bit generic and lacks a true sense of cohesiveness, but it has its moments. The band still seems unable to do anything particularly original and to put their own stamp on the music, but that does not mean that it is not enjoyable, at times. Sadly for them, they never truly found their own identity as musicians and continued floating from one style to another, though gaining more notoriety as they later found the right trend to hop on. With this release, one can look back and see what might have been.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Behemoth - ...From the Pagan Vastlands (1994)

Behemoth is a band best known for playing extremely modern Death Metal, complete with slick production and and overall soulless vibe. However, as most should know, they actually began their career as a Black Metal band. These Poles were not the most original songwriters, but neither were 90% of the bands that joined this scene around the same time. My first exposure to this band being their sophomore effort, Grom, I was not impressed in the slightest. However, I later gave them another chance and went back even further. Released in early 1994, ...From the Pagan Vastlands seems to have been around the point where Behemoth peaked.

This demo is, more or less, exactly what one would expect to be recorded by young and impressionable Black Metal musicians around this time. The material is not unique, in the slightest, and clearly betrays Behemoth's influences. Like countless others at the time, this band was taking its cues from the Norwegians. These guys did their best to imitate what they heard and to create a similar feeling with their own music. These guys were obviously big Emperor fans and the songwriting shows this. Many of the riffs and overall song structures sound highly influenced by Wrath of the Tyrant and the Emperor E.P. Similar patterns can be found here, with the material rarely showing any real connection with the old school bands from the '80s. This is an early example of a band having no link to the past, at all, and merely copying their contemporaries. Despite doing a decent job in emulating the Norwegians, ...From the Pagan Vastlands fails to create much of an atmosphere, of any kind. The riffs lack substance, in most cases. The guitar melodies fail to conjure up a feeling of darkness, at any point throughout the recording. While this is a solid representation of Second Wave Black Metal, it comes off as more of a caricature that lacks any sense of sincerity in the songwriting department. One can at least appreciate it in terms of style, but the fact is that it lacks an identity of its own and seems rather insignificant. Not only does it all seem as if it has been heard before, one immediately recognizes that it has been done much better.

Behemoth did show a little potential, here, at any rate. They were clearly capable of handling their instruments. Nergal's vocals fit the music well, sounding somewhat like a mix between Abbath's work on Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism and Grutle's approach on the early Enslaved material. He possesses a raw and hateful sound that could have been developed into something more useful. There is also a bit of synth utilized, which is done in a more tasteful manner than what many were beginning to do around this time. Regarding this, there is a clear Graveland vibe, here and there, that should surprise no one as Rob Darken assisted with this demo. It is a shame that he did not speak up a little more, to help lead these kids to put more effort into what they were doing and to try making this sound dark or evil in some manner.

The production is somewhat good for a demo, though still generally poor. The most offensive problem is that the guitar tone is very soft and non-threatening. There is no edge to it, at all. It sounds very smooth and safe. Black Metal should never sound this way. The vocals are at a good level in the mix, allowing Nergal's voice to be heard well enough without overpowering the rest or causing the music to drop out. As for the drumming, this is far too high in the mix. The drum sound, in general, is terrible and sounds like a drum machine was used. This is detrimental to the overall feel of the demo and should have been concealed in some manner. Either the drumming is fake, or it just sounds that way. Regardless, the same effect is present and it does not help.

All in all, if this is the high point of Behemoth's existence, it is pretty safe to say that this Polish band could have never formed and it would have been no loss, whatsoever. Obviously, ...From the Pagan Vastlands is superior to all of the modern material that the band is best known for, that does not necessarily make it good. It is very average and fails to really deliver in the way that even other worshipers of the northern sound were doing, around the same time. The only real value in this is the simple curiosity of hearing these guys play real Black Metal. Otherwise, it's fairly useless.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Antaeus - Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan (2000)

My first exposure to Antaeus was through a friend that recorded some tracks from the Supremacist Dawn demo for me. Compared to some of the other bands on that tape, these did not stand out very much. It was basic raw and generic Black Metal with much less going for it than their peers in the LLN. Thus, I neglected to follow the band as they went on to release three full-length albums. Eventually, this French band's name kept popping up when talking to others about music and, since they shared very similar taste, it seemed that maybe I should check these guys out again. What a total mistake. Released in July 2000, Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan is an atrocity.

The main thing that doesn't seem to make sense is why so many in the Black Metal scene are so keen on this. The only logical guess is that the aesthetics are appealing in some manner, as well as the album title. However, as far as the actual music goes, this is another lame example of modern 'extreme Metal' in that it does not remain true to one style or another. For as much as they wish to cultivate a following in the Black Metal underground, they managed to forget the important matter of actually playing that style of music. This has more in common with Death Metal in the vein of Krisiun than anything related to the likes of Bathory or Darkthrone.What you will hear on this album is a haphazard collection of meaningless Death Metal riffs, with the occasional Black Metal part added in, along with incredibly overactive and technical drumming that dominates much of the material. There is even frequent use of deeper vocals. This is 'blackened Death Metal', at best, and just because they use shoddy production and a lot of raspy vocals does not make this real Black Metal. Regardless of how one chooses to define this, there is no denying that the songwriting is very poor and shows absolutely no talent, whatsoever. There is not one memorable or meaningful riff to be found on the entire album. In fact, the guitars almost seem like background noise for the drums and vocals, rather than the other way around. If they were going for a Blasphemy-type approach, they really failed.

The main thing that allows this to masquerade under the guise of Black Metal is the lousy production. In essence, what you have here is lo-fi Death Metal, possessing more treble and lacking the low-end of their brethren. Nevertheless, trying to disguise one thing as another, no matter how much you dress it up, still does not make it so. The overall sound is rather abrasive, especially with the percussion being so high in the mix and dominating the music. The guitar tone is rather thin and harsh on the ears, not suiting the type of material that is being played, at all. Despite sounding like hell, it still carries the feeling of being incredibly modern. It definitely sounds like a product of its time. 

It is understandable that newer fans of Black Metal would be fooled by Antaeus. With the general aesthetics of the band, along with the raspy vocals and thin guitar tone and the word 'Satan' in the title, it is easy to see how someone that didn't know any better could mistake this for pure Black Metal. While there are hints of it, here and there, Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan is modern blackened Death and poorly executed at that. No amount of supposed Satanic beliefs will change this fact. If you want real French Black Metal, stick with Mütiilation.