Saturday, April 27, 2013

Moonblood - Rehearsal 5: Under the Cold Fullmoon (1995)

Recorded in the murky depths of Saxony, Rehearsal 5 - Under the Cold Fullmoon was released in August 1995. As with most of Moonblood's rehearsal tapes, the majority of these songs do not exist anywhere else, meaning that this material exists only in this rare and harsh-sounding form. This is not one of the more impressive offerings from this band, as the songwriting is not consistent and includes ideas that would have been better unrecorded. Nevertheless, this demo contains some really good material, too, and is worth listening to.

There is no way to really know if it is a limitation of the source recording or if the sound quality seems low because of my copy possibly being a thirteenth generation dub. However, with no reference point to prove otherwise, it would seem that the sound is worse than the previous tapes. The volume drops, from time to time, and there are also times when one channel or the other disappears for a few seconds. Otherwise, one can still find the same raw and primitive soundscape that Moonblood is known for. The percussion is audible and just loud enough to contribute without interfering with the more important elements. Gaamalzagoth's vocals are rather high, as usual, spewing venom and hissing blasphemies. The guitars have a cold, yet distant, sound. One can almost get a sense of the melodies being emitted from a dark and unknown forest, obscured by fog and ancient trees.

As for the music, the material is not quite as strong as some of the other rehearsals. The title track is somewhat similar to the version that appears on Blut & Krieg, yet the atmosphere is different enough that this is certainly worth hearing. It feels a little less structured and more spontaneous, as if it was still a work in progress at the time. Some of the other songs feature more simplistic rhythms, being somewhat rock-based. These moments are contrasted with the full-on necro assault of blasting drums, fast-picked tremolo melodies and hateful vocals that make your skin crawl. "A Hiker in the Darkness" is a good example of a song that could have been stripped of the mid-paced parts in order to create something more intense and meaningful. It is not bad, but it comes off as rather disjointed, with the eerie and cold tremolo riffs having little or nothing in common with the rest. "Blood on the Moon" is similar, beginning with quite pedestrian ideas before transitioning to faster, hypnotic melodies. Unfortunately, the boring part returns and kills the enjoyment of this. This continues on throughout the recording. Good, solid riffs are paired with uninspired ideas, resulting in songs that fail to be completely enjoyable. When the listener is skipping ahead to get back to the good riff, the musician has failed as a songwriter. "A Good Day to Die" manages to avoid the problems that plague some of the other tracks, though it is not at the same level as some of their previous efforts. Nonetheless, by comparison, it sounds pretty good. "On Cold Wings" is one of the better songs on here, carried forward by frigid and woeful guitar melodies that possess a very sombre feeling. In some ways, the riffs sound like bitter cold winds, wailing through the limbs of bare trees in the middle of a dark winter night. The cover of Bathory's "Raise the Dead" is fairly true to the original, though still sounds a bit odd. This would be the first of many Quorthon compositions that Occulta Mors would record, over the years. "Night" wouldn't be so bad, if not for the oddly Middle Eastern-sounding intro/outro. That is terribly off-putting and hardly fits. "Sin is Here" salvages things, mixing slow doom riffs with the typical tremolo melodies and creating something really mournful and foreboding. This is the sort of epic brilliance that Moonblood is known for, something that was severely lacking with most of the material on this tape. With the closing song, the listener is drawn into pitch-black darkness of a world lost and forgotten, slowly eaten alive by the misery and pain of existing in this present age where all is wrong and contaminated. These riffs seep into your subconscious and take root, sure to remain for months or even years after the initial listen.

Under the Cold Fullmoon is somewhat of a disappointing collection of songs. One can find a couple good songs and some decent riffs all throughout, but the low points really drag the whole thing down. There is a feeling of experimentation present here, as Occulta Mors seemed to be trying out some different ideas within the established framework of Moonblood's sound. In this case, it did not succeed. If not for "On Cold Wings" and "Sin is Here", this rehearsal might have been doomed to remain in obscurity. However, at least for these two songs, it is still relevant and essential to seek out.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Moonblood - Rehearsal 4 (1995)

In August 1995, Moonblood unleashed yet another collection of grim and archaic Black Metal songs. Rehearsal 4 holds the distinction of being one of the more difficult recordings to come across, at least in its entirely. It is also somewhat unique in that at least a few of these tracks ended up being recorded in the studio for various official releases, rather than all of them being forgotten.

The sound quality seems to vary a little, throughout the rehearsal. This may come down to being a matter of style, as certain types of riffs have a better potential for allowing the guitar to be heard in more of a clear manner. The more high-pitched tremolo melodies are the only ones to really rise up from the murkiness of the overall sound. As well, the vocals are very audible. The other elements are not terribly buried, but the sound is still pretty rough and underproduced. Of course, this kind of raw approach suits the music well. Over all, Rehearsal 4 has one of the better sounds of the early tapes and should not be difficult to listen to and to absorb.

Musically, this recording is filled with many great and memorable riffs. There is a decent amount of faster material on here, with many haunting and obscure tremolo melodies that bring on a very cold and dark feeling, as the vocals spew pure hatred and an extremely inhuman sound. Perhaps, Gaamalzagoth was human once, but by this point his humanity has left him long ago. As with much of Moonblood's work, there is a strong connection with death, emphasized by the sombre riffs and even the lyrics of "The Raven", as the final lines implore this symbol of death, "take me with you".  However, it is not eternal rest that is being sought, but the immortality of the world beyond and the final transcendence of this mundane world. The frozen and melancholic melodies of "Hordes of Hate" are even more poignant here than on the later version that appeared on the split with Asakku. The more raw and cold sound allows for this to permeate your soul in a more severe way, carving into the very depths of your essence. Herein lies one of the main differences between the material on this rehearsal and some of the others; there is a shift in the mood and tone as a mournful atmosphere replaces the more eerie and unnerving feeling that was often present before.

As has been said before, one need not ignore this band's demos and rehearsals, assuming that they are merely filled with throwaway songs that deserve no attention. The fact that only a few of these tracks were later recorded in a proper manner should not reflect on the quality of the rest. One might take this to mean that those songs were somehow superior to the rest, but this is not necessarily true. The brilliant riffs found on "The Raven" and "The Eyes of the Forest" is proof that Moonblood's songwriting skills were top notch when preparing this material. It is very regretful that they did not have the desire or opportunity to enter the studio and to record all of these to full-length albums over the years. Regardless, as with all other Moonblood releases, this is essential and should be heard. Instead of spending all of your money on countless CD and vinyl variants of lame Satanic Warmaster albums, invest a little time into listening to true and pure Black Metal.

Torgeist - Devoted to Satan (1994)

Devoted to Satan was released in January 1994 by one of the lesser-known bands of the French Black Legions, Torgeist. Many are only familiar with them through their split album with Vlad Tepes and, though that material is superior to this, their first demo may be worth checking out for those into the LLN.

The production is rough, as one would expect. However, it is not necessarily in a good way. The guitar sound is thin and has a decent amount of fuzz, but it still lacks any real edge. The drumming is pretty bad, possessing a hollow sound that is actually kind of distracting and gives the whole recording a rather childish sound. Instead of sounding raw and necro, this just sounds bad. Thankfully, by the time they recorded Time of Sabbath, they corrected some of these problems.

The songwriting is rather primitive but, again, not really in a positive sense. In this case, the material is simplistic and not terribly engaging. It fails to really create any sort of dark atmosphere, mostly just plodding along and going through the motions, without doing anything worth noting. The harsh vocals are there, as well as the lo-fi production and Satanic lyrics and imagery. And yet... nothing. This is so far below their second demo that it almost seems like a completely different band.

Devoted to Satan is not the best musical tribute ever dedicated to the lord of Hell. In fact, this is so boring and lackluster, one might imagine that Christians were behind this as a means to secretly defile and insult the Black Metal cult. There is absolutely no feeling behind any of the music on this tape. It is very uninspired and hardly worth the time to bother with, unless you are just really curious.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Moonblood - Rehearsal 3: Frozen Tears of a Vampire (1995)

March 1995 saw the recording of yet another Moonblood rehearsal tape. Frozen Tears of a Vampire came right after Nosferatu and The Winter Falls Over the Land. Oddly, the latter had a sound that was rather unique within the band's vast catalogue of recordings, one that was not utilized again. Here, on their third rehearsal demo, the band went back to the thinner and harsher sound that characterized their previous outings.

After a rather laid back and somewhat less-inspired opening track, "A Soul of Shining Steel" grips the listener with its icy cold claws of death. It is strange, looking back, how the strongest tracks from each demo and rehearsal were left to dwell in obscurity, while lesser songs were later used for the band's proper full-lengths. The aforementioned song features the same kind of eerie and distant guitar melodies that remove you from the present age and take you back in time, to a place more barbaric and cruel, yet more in tune with the way that things should be. These riffs speak in a way that words could never hope to, reconnecting you to what once existed long ago, before the false ones shaped this civilization to suit their corrupt needs. As with most of their releases, the songwriting is dynamic and not at all one dimensional, unlike many other so-called Black Metal bands of the era. While the song structures feature various tempos throughout the cassette, the ethereal tremolo melodies are where Occulta Mors really shines. The mid-paced sections add to the epic feeling, but this is already well established even with the faster riffs. The two are combined within the title track, as the slower riffs are accompanied by a tremolo-picked melody that adds a sombre effect. The vocals, as always, are purely hateful and inhuman. Gaamalzagoth's raspy voice is somewhat grating and certainly lends an increased sense of grimness. The band even pulls off the addition of acoustic passages and memorable solos, somewhat merging different periods of Bathory influences to create something steeped in dark majesty. While the Darkthrone influence cannot be denied, Moonblood possessed a very unique sense of melody that no one else ever came close to. Even during the more minimal parts, where the band takes on a very straightforward and fast-paced approach in the vein of Transilvanian Hunger, their riffs are purely their own and it is nearly impossible to confuse them with another band. The ominous and dreadful feeling conveyed by the guitars in songs like "The Message of Evil" and "Lightnings Over the Burning Church" conjures the sort of darkness that most were unable or unwilling to get near. Most Black Metal bands of today would cower in fear if ever confronted by the shadowy forces that inspired such an abysmal and unsettling song as "The Black Emperor", which may be the highlight of this tape. It is too bad that they were never able to get this kind of tone for any of their splits or full-lengths.

Overall, the sound may be even more lousy than on the previous rehearsal, possessing the same kind of high-pitched noise throughout that plagued my copy of Nosferatu. This is rather irritating, but it can be ignored after a while. However, with this and the loud hissing, as well as the raw and necro recording job, it is certainly accurate to say that this is a very lo-fi affair. The instruments sound quite distant, most of the time. The drumming is kind of difficult to pick up on, at times, though the guitars have more success in cutting through the dismal fog and often lull you into a trancelike state. Despite the limitations in production quality, the material is powerful enough to draw you in and keep your attention.

Frozen Tears of a Vampire is cold and hateful and somewhat mournful as well. The sound is nearly as lo-fi as you can get while still being listenable. With that said, this is definitely an essential release and just one more piece of evidence for why Moonblood deserves more recognition than they have gotten over the years. This is not necessarily the ideal starting point for someone new to the band; the official releases would be better suited for that. However, once you have cut your teeth on those, there is still a wealth of important material to discover from this band. This rehearsal tape is certainly included. Not only was Moonblood the most elite band to ever come from Germany, they were markedly unique within the history of Black Metal as a whole.

Urgehal - Arma Christi (1997)

By 1997, the Norwegian Black Metal scene had developed into something quite far removed from its roots, in many cases. The true Mayhem was dead and gone. The quality of Darkthrone's releases had dropped significantly, and they remained silent for a few years. Gorgoroth began to experiment and to ruin their sound. Emperor had fully embraced the symphonic elements and abandoned the actual Black Metal core that they once possessed. Burzum was reduced to an ambient keyboard project and even Enslaved turned into something weak and unappealing. Countless other bands began to pop up, often ripping off those that came before, with a vast majority of them going the symphonic route. Too few in Norway remembered what Black Metal was supposed to be about. It was into this horrible musical landscape that the first Urgehal full-length, Arma Christi, was released.

On this particular album, Urgehal offered up very solid and consistent Black Metal in the northern style. Unfortunately for them, they never became as well-known as many of their Norwegian peers. A lot of it comes down to timing. Had this record come out in 1992 or 1993, it would have been seen as revolutionary. But that's just the thing; the band was clearly following the lead of those that came before. Of this there is no doubt. Still, they came along too late to even earn a place among the second-tier bands like Gorgoroth and Satyricon. They could have made up for this, to some extent, by upping the ante in a sense and doing something unique and truly memorable within the framework established by the forerunners of this style. However, the material on Arma Christi is a little too safe and predictable. That being said, this is not really a bad thing. There are several good guitar melodies, particularly in "Conjuring the Hordes of Blasphemy", and only one or two boring songs. Most of the album is fast-paced and keeps up the traditions of the Norwegian approach. One can hear a good amount of Darkthrone influence, as well as a bit of Celtic Frost. As I have said with several other albums, I am fairly certain that this element is less derived from Morbid Tales itself and more likely filtered through Darkthrone's interpretation of Tom Warrior's brainchild. That is not to say that this is purely a rip-off band or that the songwriting is bad. This is probably one of the better albums to come from Norway around this time. Still, as solid as it is, one cannot help but feel that it is missing something.

One severe problem is the production. Poor production is rarely an issue with Black Metal, as a raw and lo-fi sound has gone hand in hand with this sub-genre since the very beginning, with varying degrees of grimness. However, Urgehal's debut L.P. sounds shoddy but not in the right way. The mix is flat and kind of lifeless, rather than being raw and possessing a sharp edge. The guitars and dull, the drumming could be slightly lower and the vocals fail to stand out all that well. The occasional tremolo melody cuts through the muddy sound and begins to seep into your mind, such as in "The Night Armageddon Comes", but these moments are too rare throughout the album. All in all, I would still take this kind of production over the lousy sound of Gorgoroth's Destroyer, for example, but this comes off as kind of boring and uneventful in a similar way to Darkthrone's Total Death. Ultimately, the poor sound lessens the impact of this material and does not do the compositions justice.

Nevertheless, everything about this album is rather average and gives you the feeling that you've heard it before, and better. From the flat production to the predictable and often mundane songwriting, there is nothing about this L.P. that really grabs you and demands your attention. It has its moments, definitely, but these just are not as frequent or as strong as they should be. The mid-paced attempts at sounding old school are pretty boring, but the faster songs makes up for it. Urgehal's first effort is only praiseworthy by comparing it to the horrid filth that their peers were releasing at the time, as they were at least sticking true to the style. Arma Christi is solid and even enjoyable at times, but it is your standard, run-of-the-mill Norwegian Black Metal and comes off as a rather generic representation of this scene. It is neither great nor terrible, just kind of there. For those that are looking for a straightforward album in this style, without all of the unnecessary elements that were becoming commonplace around this time, this is certainly worth listening to.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Moonblood - Rehearsal 2: The Evil Rules (1994)

Rehearsal 2 - The Evil Rules is another Moonblood recording from 1994, recorded around the same period as My Evil Soul and Nosferatu. As with most of their rehearsals, this tape contains nearly an hour of material, most of it simply forgotten and unused for later recordings. So, for that reason alone, this is essential for fans of this band, since this music is unavailable in other forms. A couple of the riffs are clearly used later on but, for the most part, these songs are unique to this cassette.

One of the most important things to consider when approaching a Moonblood tape is the overall listenability. This time around, things are even muddier and more difficult to follow than on the preceding rehearsal. In particular, the percussion is too loud and becomes an indecipherable rumbling during the faster parts. The guitars possess a good tone that allows the melodies to sort of cut their way through the thunderous drums and to pierce your spirit deeply. Of course, as always, the grim and raspy vocals stand out from the rest as well. So, while this may require a little more attention than even the last recording, this can still be appreciated by those who will put forth the effort and concentration to do so.

For those that are not turned away by the raw and primitive sound, there are countless guitar melodies that will utterly haunt you until your final days, encircling you within the purest darkness and cold. Though the medieval intro (no doubt taken from a movie or something) may seem a little out of place, the actual compositions are brilliant. The eerie nature of the guitars is unquestionable and somewhat disturbing. From the otherworldly melodies to the truly black and unsettling tone, these riffs embody the true essence of Black Metal; i.e. something that is dark and somewhat frightening, yet still somehow attractive. This type of music should not be fun or easily accepted and treated as simple entertainment. Moonblood understood this and there is still the primal and dangerous feeling attached to their music that so few managed to maintain. There is an epic nature to the main riffs in songs like "The Evil Rules" as well as "And Then I Died", which is not limited to slower or more mid-paced sections. One need not sacrifice speed in order to create something epic and memorable, so long as the songwriting talent is there. Some of the songs are reminiscent of the likes of Mayhem or Darkthrone, yet with their own identity and feeling. This is how one properly takes inspiration from another; to operate within a similar style and framework, while still doing something rather unique and worthwhile. Just listening to the opening moments of "Infernal Screams in a Dark Night", one is exposed to soul-chilling tremolo riffs and hateful vocals that threaten to pull you into into a world of nightmarish suffering. As you march closer and closer toward the realm of death, a bitter coldness comes over you, yet you are compeled to move forward, drawn on to your own doom. This is the power of the music on The Evil Rules. It is kind of strange that only "Shadows" made it to the first full-length, as it can hardly compare with most of the other songs on here.

While a lot of bands of this time period were merely taking their cues from the Norwegian bands, Moonblood clearly had roots that went much deeper and one can hear the old Bathory influence in many places, as well as bits and pieces of the German band Poison. In the days when some things are placed on a pedestal for the simple fact of being obscure and rare and nothing more, it is easy to forget that some bands of this ilk were actually special, regardless of the high prices that their releases go for these days. For once, there is an actual reason for the respect shown to such musicians. For those younger fans that have not been exposed to the true darkness that is Moonblood, put away your toys; i.e. worthless releases from the likes of Nargaroth, Shining, Satanic Warmaster and other trendy poser bands. This is the genuine article. Push yourself to experience the difference.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Vlad Tepes - Into Frosty Madness (1995)

Released in January 1995, Into Frosty Madness is the fifth proper demo tape from Vlad Tepes. Unfortunately, this is one of the worse-sounding cassettes from this French band, one that does little to dispel the notion that the LLN movement consisted of talentless bands that churned out senseless noise. Of course, this is not remotely true, but the chaotic sound of this recording is of the sort that likely strengthened such negative claims.

Overall, the sound is really cluttered and muddy. Vlad Tepes has somewhat of a reputation for embracing a lo-fi sound, but this is even more primitive and difficult to wrap one's head around than most of their other demos. The drop in quality is even more evident when these songs are compared to the earlier versions that were released on the War Funeral March demo. Whereas the various elements managed to stand out on that tape, here they blend together into a chaotic maelstrom of fury and hatred. Everything is more intense and somewhat barbaric, from the guitars and drums to the vocal approach as well. In some ways, this can be beneficial and will certainly appeal to those that prefer an even more raw sound.

As for the music, itself, the band's talents are somewhat harder to appreciate on this particular release. Anyone unfamiliar with Vlad Tepes would be advised to start elsewhere, as this tape is something that has to be digested for some time. It is not for those that are looking for instant gratification, in any way. However, the type of listener that can really put some time in and focus on the brilliant songwriting and the deceptive sense of melody and structure that exists within this often-frenzied style will eventually come away with a greater sense of respect for the work of Vlad Tepes and an understanding that this is far superior to the hordes of pretenders that flood the Black Metal scene today, making plastic albums that lack any real meaning and only seek to offer up thrice-regurgitated ideas that possess absolutely no substance. Into Frosty Madness offers an even more grim and necro perspective on these songs and is sure to please any fan of this band.