Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Doom:VS - Dead Words Speak (2008)

Dead Words Speak is the sophomore album from Sweden's Doom:VS. For those not familiar with this musical entity, it is a solo project from Johan Ericson of Draconian. The music here is a solid and updated version of the type of Death/Doom that was seemingly more common in the early '90s, with bands such as My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost, Anathema and so on. However, despite some similarities to the older bands, Doom:VS is able to stand on its own and is much more than a clone. The second album shows a bit of improvement and still maintains the high quality that one would expect. Released in 2008, this record follows in much the same style as the debut, though with some noticeable alterations.

From the first track, "Half Light", it is apparent that Johan has gotten a little more comfortable doing the clean vocals, as these make more of an appearance on this album as opposed to its predecessor. Normally, this would be a negative thing but he actually does it well and it adds a melancholic feeling to the music. His clean voice sounds quite hopeless and it not all that dissimilar to that of Mourning Beloveth. As for the harsh vocals, they are still deep but manage to convey some sort of feeling as well, rather than being too deep to contribute anything to the depressive vibe. The music is still slow and plodding, sometimes like Funeral Doom, but not without various dynamics. Occasionally, the guitars draw you into the depths, similar to the first Shape of Despair album, a swirling darkness that surrounds you and threatens to drown you in your own misery. From the frequent lead harmonies to the vocals themselves, this is never allowed to become dead and emotionless. One would not exactly call this very alive, as the overwhelming feeling that Doom:VS gives off is one of dying a slow death. The riffs are dark and oppressive, while maintaining your interest in almost a morbid way. Listening to this is almost like self-torture, as it tends to bring certain horrible feelings back toward the surface, or to connect with those that were already there. Yet it is difficult to turn this off once it has begun. The hellish feeling of Dead Words Speak goes beyond the lyrics of alienation, pain and self-loathing. The  music, itself, paints a picture of a world consumed with an inescapable darkness that promises to devour your spirit.

The songwriting is a little darker than on the previous album, with a morose influence from early Katatonia seeming to have more of an effect this time around. Of course, this is heavier and better structured than anything that band ever recorded. The songwriting is very consistent, with a miserable and dreary atmosphere that remains throughout the entire album, draining the very life out of you. From the anguished sound of the title track to the funereal feeling possessed by "The Lachrymal Sleep", the songs seem to flow from one to the next in a most natural manner. It may even be that the feelings of hopelessness and sorrow increase as the album goes on. This is really where this band seems to excel, as a lot of bands within the realm of Doom Metal only go so far as to slow the music down, yet their material does not convey any sort of dark or miserable vibe at all. It is up for debate as to whether or not the primary purpose of the various types of Doom Metal is to be depressive or simply dark in a more general sense. I've always preferred the mournful approach, moreso than those that are heavy and slow with no real feeling at all.

If you are seeking Doom with an entirely gloomy and despondent atmosphere, then Dead Words Speak should suffice. From the melancholic vocals to the dreary and depressive guitar riffs, Doom:VS leads you down a path of sorrow and anguish, culminating in the spilling of blood and the opening of the coffin lid. This may not be the album for you if you are already diseased with severe depression, as the effect may only push you deeper into the hole. There is no hope to be found here. No silver lining and no sunrise in the morning. The dawn will never come. This terrible night shall last until you are cold and dead, in utter solitude.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Abigail - Descending from a Blackend Sky (1993)

Japan is not the first country that comes to mind when most people think of Black Metal. However, it cannot be totally overlooked. While those in the underground may be aware of the mighty Sabbat, attention should also be given to the earliest material from Abigail. Their first E.P. was released in August 1993, right around the time that Sabbat was losing steam.

Descending from a Blackend Sky offers a nice little dose of filthy Black Metal. Out of the five tracks, only three are proper songs, with a couple keyboard pieces thrown in for the hell of it. The influences from the likes of Bathory, Celtic Frost and Mayhem can be heard in this maelstrom of chaos, with some similarities also drawn from early Beherit. The vocals are extremely raspy and give the impression of a totally shredded throat. It is done in the old school way, sounding like a more insane Quorthon. Still, despite the Satanic frenzy on display here, there is still a sense of melody. "The Lord of Satan" and "Count Barbatos" features some decent tremolo riffs, while "Mephistopheles" is a slower song that is built around more mid-paced riffs, giving it more of an old school feeling.

The production is good enough for the instruments to be heard, but has a raw feeling to it that suits the music very well. It sounds like something that was recorded in the '80s, to be honest. The guitars have a rough edge to them, and there is just the right amount of crackling and hissing in the background. The levels all check out pretty well, with proper focus on the guitars and vocals, with the drumming loud enough to be heard but not overdone.

For such a short release, Abigail manages to do a good job of getting across their primitive and hideous vision of Black Metal, which falls right in line with many of the other bands that were resurrecting this style of music around the same time. Descending from a Blackend Sky really does not offer anything all that original, as the band hardly adds much of their own character to the proceedings. Nevertheless, this E.P. is well worth listening to if you are into raw, ugly Black Metal.

Doom:VS - Aeternum Vale (2006)

Doom:VS is a side project of Draconian's Johan Ericson. While that band possesses far too many gothic elements for me to tolerate, his solo work is very solid Doom/Death with obvious influences from the older works of Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Katatonia, but with a definite character of its own. This band was recommended to me by a friend, some years ago, but I took quite a while to get around to really listening to it, assuming most modern things to not be worth the time to listen to. That may be the case with Black, Death and Thrash, but it would seem that the various forms of Doom Metal are still growing stronger. Once I really gave this some attention, it did not leave my ears for many months and is still something that I find myself returning to when in certain moods.

Aeternum Vale, latin for 'Farewell Forever', was released in July 2006. From the initial moments of "The Light That Would Fade", one can tell that this is far darker and more serious than anything released by Draconian. The guitars are crushingly heavy, possessing somewhat of an oppressive feeling, which matches the overall atmosphere of misery and hopelessness. Unlike a lot of Funeral Doom bands, things never get too slow to where it feels as if nothing is happening. Obviously, the entire album is a rather slow-paced affair, yet there is enough diversity in the songwriting that each song really stands out on its own and you never find yourself getting bored. The guitar melodies are well thought-out and perfectly convey a feeling of utter despair. Johan utilizes harsh vocals for the most part, in a deep style but not to the point where it no longer has any meaning. Some vocalists employ such a guttural approach that it renders the vocals completely ineffective, but that is not the case here. There are bits of clean vocals, occasionally, but mostly in a backing capacity. The drumming is used sparingly enough, never going overboard and distracting from the riffs. Everything really comes together to serve the singular purpose of opening the gates to the darkness of hell that lingers within us all. As the album progresses, you can feel yourself being dragged deeper into the abyss.

"Everything dies within"

The lyrics, themselves, do not merely tell the tale of one man's sorrow. One really gets the sense that the message is that this empty world holds nothing but grief and misfortune for all of us. Still, despite the fact that we are all here in this miserable wasteland of nothingness, we must carry our own load and thus we suffer together and in solitude at the same time. This is emphasized by the woeful lead in "The Faded Earth", which almost digs into your chest and carves away at the hole where your heart once resided. These days, it seems as if a lot of bands have forgotten the usefulness of guitar solos and the fact that they can really add a lot of depth to what is going on, when used correctly. Perhaps, there is still some rejection of the typical, obligatory guitar solo that one would often hear in the '80s and even into the '90s, but many musicians do themselves and their music a disservice to neglect this. There is very minimal use of keyboards, as well as some spoken word parts, but these things are done tastefully. Occasionally, there are sections that use clean guitars, also. These quiet parts are not terribly common, but used enough to add yet another dynamic to the album. To further this, there is also some limited use of tremolo melodies to accentuate the typical Doom riffing.

The highlight of the album is "Oblivion Upon Us", starting with a sombre piano bit and then erupting into an abysmal dirge of utter melancholy. It features some quieter parts that have clean spoken vocals, adding to the dismal atmosphere. The faint hints of keyboard use really demonstrates that less is more. There is somewhat of a nightmarish feeling to this song, at times, then bleeding into sections that are more sorrowful and epic. This very memorable and somewhat melodic piece of music captures the feeling of misery and despair that awaits us all, those who continue to live in this empty and soulless world. Life is a big nothing. Any attempt to create meaning will only end in wasted effort and broken hopes.

"I see no end to all this pain... the world is dead through my eyes"

For the most part, Aeternum Vale is structured well. The song placement works and the tracks themselves are all at just the right length in the sense that they have time to take you on a journey into misery, yet they aren't too long to the extent where you disconnect from what is going on and become bored. "The Crawling Insects" may be the one exception, in that it seems a little weaker than the rest. The only song that goes past the ten-minute mark is "Aeternus". This is a good thing, compared to bands that offer up half a dozen songs that range from ten to twenty minutes. The running time of this album is just under fifty minutes, which is a solid dose of Doom without becoming tedious to listen to. The overall sound is really good, as well. Of course, Death/Doom is not supposed to sound all that raw or necro (with some exceptions), so the standards of production are completely different from the likes of Black Metal. Everything here is rather clear and this works well with the mournful guitar riffs, giving them the full ability to draw you in and crush your spirit. For fans of the older works of Paradise Lost or My Dying Bride, this is highly recommended and does well to build on that style.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Funeral Mist - Salvation (2003)

From the very beginning, Black Metal was drenched in Satanic imagery and lyrics. In the early days of Venom, Mercyful Fate and Bathory, demonic cover art and lyrical themes of joining forces with the dark lord were enough to brand a band as evil and more extreme than the rest. A decade later, many were resurrecting the old style but also wanting to put their own stamp on it. Not only did the newer bands take things to a new musical extreme, but they also needed to seem more serious about their Satanic ideology as well. Lyrically, things took on a somewhat more sincere tone and most of the musicians put forth a rather grim personality when being interviewed. Rather than using pyro for their live shows, bands like Mayhem used rotten pig heads as Dead cut himself on stage. Things had gotten much more serious than in the '80s. In the case of some in the Norwegian scene, this led to crimes such as murder and arson. One would think that this was about as far as it could all be taken. However, naturally, the next generation of bands had the same desire to be taken even more seriously and to distance themselves from those that preceded them. Yet this took a rather strange form.

This marked the birth of so-called 'Orthodox' Black Metal. Self-mutilation and the use of rotting animal parts had already been done, so this would no longer add all that much to the aura of a band. These latecomers knew that they had to do something else to set them apart, otherwise they may be seen as less serious than the likes of Mayhem or Burzum, not being dedicated enough to kill or to set fire to a church. Instead, they spent all of their free time studying the bible and other Judeo-Christian texts. That does not sound particularly evil, but it seems to be exactly what has happened. Most of these modern lyricists appear to hold degrees in theology, as they write about Christianity in such a detailed manner as to give off the impression that they are experts on the subject. This was quite a departure from writing about demons raping priests or being possessed by Satan. The lyrics of bands like Funeral Mist, Deathspell Omega and Katharsis read more like twisted bible verses, often written in the same style and using similar language. A lot of people find this rather off-putting, as it really makes the bands seem a little too devoted to the pursuit of knowledge regarding Judeo-Christian mythology. Younger fans seem to think that this makes a band more evil, to write these corrupted or twisted lyrics in a biblical style with such an emphasis on detail. For more old school listeners, it comes off as a silly gimmick in most cases.

Enter the Swedish band Funeral Mist. Their debut album, Salvation, was released in June 2003 and was the first album to come from Norma Evangelium Diaboli label. This is one of the earliest albums that I came across with this newer style and it made a rather lousy impression, immediately. Living in Sweden at the time, I often encountered people that would bring this band up when discussing newer Black Metal, and I eventually gave it a listen. No matter how much praise this record has heaped upon it, I still have a difficult time understanding what the appeal is. It may be that younger people were bored with the classic records and just wanted something new to connect with. As well, it was probably easier to relate to a band like this by spending time immersed in Jewish texts, rather than risking imprisonment and setting fire to churches. Regardless of what listeners found attractive about Salvation, it still possesses a multitude of flaws and shortcomings. It is rather ironic that Arioch went on to become the vocalist for Marduk, as his vocal style on this album showcases some of the same limitations as that of his predecessor, Legion. The vocals do not sound natural in the sense that he obviously overdubbed them to have an almost-continuous stream of lyrics that somewhat distracts from the music. Of course, that would be more of an issue if the music had any real value. In this case, it doesn't.

The songwriting is rather average, at best, and fails to impress in any way. Katharsis, Watain and Deathspell Omega were all making much more memorable music around the same time. Even Armagedda's second album seems more relevant when compared to Salvation. The guitar riffs, played mostly in the tremolo style, do possess somewhat of a dark feeling. Unfortunately, very few of the melodies really stand out or stick with you once the song is over. Many of the ideas are interchangeable and uninspired. There is also a conscious effort to avoid conventional song structures, from time to time, but with no real direction. The drumming does not help things, as Necromorbus is far too overactive. His playing is competent, but he just does more than is required by the riffs. Between Arioch rarely seeming to take a breath between lines and the incessant blasting of Necromorbus, this album becomes overly claustrophobic at various points. Again, it gives the feeling that Funeral Mist was simply trying create a slightly darker and more chaotic version of what Marduk had been doing for some years.

Salvation really comes off as rather gimmicky. Using samples is not particularly evil, though such things may help differentiate the same-sounding songs from one another. The lyrical approach also lacks any real sense of sincerity. One might argue that the lyrics of previous generations are less intelligent or childish by comparison, but I don't buy that showing off more knowledge of the Judeo-Christian nonsense makes a band more serious. The fact that bands like this have spawned an entire generation of fans that have wasted their time and money to better acquaint themselves with the details and mythology of the Great Lie is actually kind of humourous.

Another gimmick that certainly paid off for Arioch would have to be the vocal style. For starters, he utilizes a sound that is unlike most others. Whether or not that is a good thing is up to the individual listener, though I maintain that simply being different should not be the primary reason for unearned praise. Arioch's voice sounds very gargled and kind of sounds as if he is chewing his own face. There are also effects on his voice, at various times. One one hand, it may be refreshing for some people to hear someone doing something outside of the norm, but that does not mean that what he does here is actually good. It is not completely bad, but the amount of praise that this album gets, based on his vocals alone, just seems ridiculous. His approach does not hold a candle to the likes of Quorthon, Dead, Nocturno Culto or Varg Vikernes. Then again, perhaps he preferred to try something new as opposed to sticking within the confines of tradition.

The production is a problem, as it really places more focus on the irritating drumming performance. While the guitars have a bit of cold and raw sound, the drums sound almost over-produced at times and are way too clear and high in the mix. If these guys had spent less time with their noses in the bible, using samples and trying to come up with gimmicks to get noticed, they might have realized that drumming is supposed to be a background element in Black Metal.

Salvation is unworthy of the constant praise that it has received over the years. While it does have its moments, there is nothing here that has not been done better by countless other bands. This is truly the epitome of overrated and shows just how easily some people are impressed by a few tricks. A more 'serious' lyrical approach, some useless samples and a unique vocal performance were all the gimmicks needed to get Funeral Mist noticed and for Arioch to get a more steady gig as the vocalist for Marduk. If these guys had spent more time focusing on the music and condensing things down a bit, there is a chance that this record could have been much better at maybe half the length. This is painfully generic and modern and you would be better off avoiding this.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Troll - Drep De Kristne (1996)

After '93/'94, the Norwegian Black Metal scene became flooded with imitators that had absolutely no understanding of what they were doing. They sought to join in on something that was gaining notoriety and yet had nothing original to add. It was practically impossible, as they had no real background in this music, nor any clue as to the darkness that inspired its very creation in the first place. Bands like Darkthrone and Burzum were not only influenced by the '80s bands, but they reached back and connected with the primeval darkness that had spawned this gloomy music in the first place. Unfortunately, those that followed looked no further than their immediate peers and could only mimic what they heard, lacking any deeper meaning. Such is the case with the band Troll and the debut album, Drep De Kristne, released in February 1996.

By this point, simply hailing from Norway was reason enough for a band to be signed and to have the opportunity to release an album. It is amazing how easy to please people can be, sometimes. Perhaps, the masses have lower expectations, but it is difficult to imagine that anyone could be fooled into thinking that this piece of trash has any musical value, whatsoever. In doing a little research, many appear to have the opinion that this album is good just because it is better than those that follow, or that it is more 'pure' than what Nagash later did in his musical career. The harsh reality is that Troll is a worthless band and was only ever signed to a label due to being Norwegian.

The music on Drep De Kristne is painfully generic, at best. Nagash listened to quite a lot of Emperor, it would seem. The guitar riffs are boring and a dime-a-dozen. That hardly matters since the guitars are overpowered by the wretched synth. Troll really relies on the symphonic element to carry the music, and it shows in the songwriting. The guitar melodies are haphazardly constructed and do not present a single idea that had not already been explored by the likes of Darkthrone, Emperor and Gorgoroth, to name a few. Even worse than the below-average compositions is the fact that there is nothing dark about this. It is inconceivable that a band would proclaim to be part of the Black Metal movement while failing to create a dark or evil atmosphere for even a single moment. This was, obviously, lost on this child as he was only concerned with trying to imitate the general style of his heroes while forgetting that the music should have some sort of substance. Even when you think that Troll may have, accidentally, slipped a decent song onto the album, things abruptly shift as if there was a conscious effort to avoid doing anything worthwhile. For example, "Med Vold Skal Takes Kristenliv" begins with some promise and actually has a little bit of intensity in the opening riff, before halting and turning into another boring throwaway track. Another example of the band's inconsistency is the song "Trollberg", which is totally ridiculous and tries to add some sort of folk feeling. If the weak songwriting had not already proven Nagash incapable of conjuring up an atmosphere of darkness, then this goofy song makes it absolutely clear.

Nothing good can be said of the production of this horrid record. The most dominant aspect of the sound is the synth. This absolutely drowns out everything else, to the point where one may wonder why Troll didn't drop the conventional instruments altogether and make a pure ambient album. It is always amusing to be able to see so well that someone had just gotten their first Casio and could not bring themselves to put it down long enough to focus on making real music. Even when you try hard to focus on what is happening underneath the keyboard nonsense, there is not much to appreciate, here. Nagash does a fairly decent job of imitating Ihsahn of Emperor and Hat of Gorgoroth, for whatever that is worth. The vocals are buried in the mix, far too much, and the drums are higher than they should be when compared to the guitars. The guitar tone does have a decent sound, to tell the truth, but this cannot combat the poor songwriting and shoddy production.

To put it in a few words, this album offers solid musicianship but terrible songwriting. Troll, like so many other bands, only gets a pass from some people for being Norwegian. Had Nagash come from any other country, he wouldn't have even been signed in the first place and, if he managed to make an album anyway, no one would have taken notice or cared in the slightest. Drep De Kristne is a recording that is 95% synth, 5% Metal and 0% Black. Eventually, people will learn that it takes more than harsh vocals and a few tremolo melodies to make something Black Metal. If you are the sort to blindly worship anything Norwegian, then you will probably eat this up. Same goes for listeners that like limp-wristed, non-threatening music that can serve as background noise for trying on mother's make-up. However, for those with even the most rudimentary sense of good taste and the slightest hint of critical thinking, this will prove to be nothing more than the generic pile of garbage that it is. This is not 'Black Metal Art', it's pretentious, sub-par filth that never should have been recorded. Avoid this.