Sunday, May 26, 2013

Moonblood - Rehearsal 12 (1998)

Taking form from the dark nothingness, in March 1998, Rehearsal 12 is the final such tape from Germany's Moonblood. After only four years, the band seemed to be winding down. Certainly, the creativity would not remain at the same level as before, with less and less output as time went on. For their final rehearsal recording, Gaamalzagoth and Occulta Mors delivered an hour and a half of quality music that is certainly worth the time of any Black Metal fan.

The sound quality is surprisingly good, compared to some of the other recordings. It could be that my copy of this is simply better than what I have of the others, but there is no way to really know. The sound is very raw and underground, of course, but there is a certain clarity that was often missing from some of the previous rehearsals. The vocals are not disproportionately high in the mix and the guitars are easily discerned from the rest. The riffs come across well and there are no moments where one is struggling to follow along, as would happen before. The drumming sounds a little odd, almost like a drum machine. Still, it is not enough to really affect the atmosphere.

Musically, the songs remain true to the style that Moonblood is best known for. There is no senseless experimentation or wandering beyond the established boundaries of their usual approach. The songwriting is still rather dynamic, something this band rarely got enough credit for. A track like "Endless Chaos" displays a skillful mixture of the faster tremolo melodies that dominate much of the band's output with memorable mid-paced riffs that are never dull. Songs like "Domain of Hell" and "A Walk in the Woods" are a little more straightforward, characterized by sombre and somehow epic guitar riffs that permeate the darkest depths of your mind. The latter is the only track on here to make it onto the band's second full-length, Taste Our German Steel. In this case, it was a very good selection. One must also keep in mind that this was written and recorded during a time when many bands of this style had gone soft or experimental, and those that would pick up the torch were not fully prepared to do so yet, in most cases. Moonblood was absolutely keeping the black flame burning and, for the hundredth time, these guys should have recorded a half a dozen full-length albums, at least. There are traces of an old school '80s approach, here and there, blended into the band's typical dark and eerie riffs. This is evident when listening to "The Quest After the Doctrines of Might & Wisdom" and "Into Frozen Forests". The former is a rather lengthy song, yet possesses a minimalist feel as it consists of relatively few riffs and maintains the same pace throughout. It could probably have been a few minutes shorter, but the extra length is no real detriment. There are songs that last even longer, such as "These Graves and Wooden Coffins are My Realm". The same can be said of this one, more or less, as there is no real necessity in going well over eleven minutes. The song is good, and there is no problem with any part of it, but it could have had the same impact at half the length. Another long one is "In the Moors", though it stands out for a different reason. It may seem like a typical Moonblood song upon first listen, but the actual harmonies are somewhat strange and uncommon for them. The feeling created is still cold and dreadful, so it certainly accomplishes something. Still, one would almost expect to find these riffs on an LLN recording, instead. Another song that feels a little out of place is"When the Moonlight Takes the Sky". The riffs are not quite dark enough, despite seeming the other songs, on the surface. The length does not help matters, as this is another that is stretched beyond what it should have been. The last two tracks, "Troglodytin" and "As a Soul in the Blazing Banner of Darkness", make up for any strangeness and end the tape on a better note.

Rehearsal 12 is fairly solid, with more quality Black Metal from the elite of the German scene. Some of the songs are longer than they need to be and there are some odd riffs, but there is nothing on this recording that one would consider to be bad. With that said, the Witchfinder General cover is completely out of place and does not belong on here. However, since this is not an actual album, things of this nature really should not count against them, too much. Even though several of the songs needed to be worked on a little, there are still enough good ideas on this tape to prove that Moonblood was capable of much more than 99% of their so-called peers, during 1998. This is certainly worth hearing for any fan of the band and of raw Black Metal in general.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Moonblood - Rehearsal 8: Conquering the Ravenland (1996)

It was in the spring months of 1996 when Moonblood set to work on one of their absolute best recordings. Rehearsal 8 - Conquering the Ravenland is a rather difficult demo to obtain, given the inherent rarity of the band's recordings. Even downloading is a difficult endeavour, as most copies that one runs across are simply songs from Rehearsal 7 with altered titles. Apparently, a lot of people don't take the time to truly listen to these brilliant works, as the Moonblood name is somewhat of a status symbol for some that wish to infiltrate the Black Metal cult, rather than a band that they truly appreciate. This is their loss, as Gaamalzagoth and Occulta Mors were utterly connected with the darkness that gave rise to this music in the first place, something which is quite evident on Conquering the Ravenland.

The overall sound is rather good, compared to some of their other recordings from 1996. The guitars are the dominant aspect and possess a certain level of power during the slower parts while the faster riffs maintain clarity and are rarely trampled underneath the bass and drums. The treble is not at a painful level, either, though the vocals are definitely high in the mix and kind of piercing at times, not so much in style but in the way that they were recorded. Unlike some of the earlier tapes, the songs here are easily followed and understood, allowing for the genius on display to be recognized. This enables the music to come through much better and to make more of an impact, as the listener is not forced to spend as much time filtering out unnecessary noise in order to focus on the actual riffs.

The material on Conquering the Ravenland is some of the strongest of any of the rehearsal tapes. Those familiar with the split with Deathspell Omega and Dusk Woerot will recognize a few of the songs, which are nearly as effective here as on the later versions. Unlike some tracks that were re-recorded, these sound fairly identical and possess the same kind of grim and hateful atmosphere. The mournful and eerie melodies that Moonblood is known for can be found all over this demo, with the title track and "Claws of the Fog" being good examples. This brilliant songwriting really grips you and pulls you back in time, to an age long forgotten. It is not even a matter of the lo-fi production; i.e. it is a feeling created by the very nature of the compositions. There is a feeling of melancholy for what the world has become and a longing for ancient times that have passed out of human memory but linger within the hearts of some. The cold and barbaric vibe embodied by much of the music is not just one of primitive violence, but rather a simpler and more pure way. The maniacal vocals and unearthly riffs do well to connect the listener with true darkness, in a way that other bands claim to but could never hope to actually achieve. This is the pure essence of Black Metal. There is no posturing or false elements introduced. There is only a genuine spirit that proves that the members of Moonblood definitely understood what they were doing, rather than being like the legions of followers that can only imitate. Sure, one can hear influences from Bathory and Darkthrone, even a cover song by the former (that is not 100% essential for the integrity of the rehearsal), but this band was always capable of creating something unique and special, something that has not been duplicated and cannot be compared directly to any other band. When one hears a Moonblood song, it is absolutely clear and there is no mistaking them for anyone else. This is a sharp contrast to the countless generic bands that exist today.

The songwriting is really dynamic, for the most part. Some of the tracks feature mid-paced sections, as well as occasional use of clean guitars and some old school Black Metal riffs thrown in. However, this tape is defined by the great number of fast-picked tremolo melodies that possess a cold and woeful feeling. I've always maintained that the faster songs/parts were Moonblood's best, and there is a lot of evidence to back this up, here. "A Forgotten Vision of War" is just the type of straightforward, fast-paced song that is being referenced. From the cold riffs to the tormented and hate-filled vocals, this embodies the best aspects of the Second Wave Black Metal sound while still being easily identifiable as a Moonblood song. The first half is not too far from something that would fit on Transilvanian Hunger, yet the latter part clearly displays the style Occulta Mors had cultivated for the previous couple years. The only weak song on here is "Show Me Your Wrath", a rather boring and out of place attempt to mimic Celtic Frost. Nine times out of ten, bands end up wasting precious tape or disc space when they imitate this band, as few have ever been able to do so in an interesting manner. Nevertheless, this is quickly overlooked as the final tracks exhibit even more brilliance and dark atmosphere. "First Snow - First Blood" employs a mixture of acoustic guitar with ice-cold riffs that chill your skin, creating kind of an epic feeling. As for "Bells of Apocalypse" and "I Hail the Night", these are two of the best songs that Moonblood ever recorded and these versions deserve nearly as much praise as the ones recorded in the following year. The sombre guitar melodies are uttelry haunting and remain embedded in your subconscious, never to leave. These miserable sounds will linger in your mind until your dying day. There is also a sense of urgency in these last songs, as you can feel that you are nearing the end and soon to leave this rotten world. A feeling of dread comes over you as the fear races through your brain, but it is soon replaced by the relaxing knowledge that the torturous journey through this hellish realm is soon at an end.

Conquering the Ravenland is the strongest material that Moonblood unleashed during the year 1996, even eclipsing most of the songs found on their debut L.P. If they had split up and vanished immediately after releasing this rehearsal tape, their legacy as one of the most important and genuine Black Metal bands to ever exist would have still remained to this day, and beyond. Moreso than nearly any of the other rehearsals, this tape is definitely essential to all fans of this band and for those into music of a raw and yet sincere nature. It is a crime that these guys did not enter a proper studio and record this (minus a couple filler tracks) as a proper full-length, as this destroys nearly anything else that was released during that year. Rare as it may be, seek this out however you must.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Moonblood - Rehearsal 9: Unpure Desires of Diabolical Lust (1996)

As the season of dying crept over the land and all fell within the grip of bitter cold winds, in the autumn months of 1996, Moonblood gathered in the nocturnal hours to record once again. Rehearsal 9 - Unpure Desires of Diabolical Lust emerged in December and was the final release of any kind for this year. Clocking in at an hour and a half, this massive collection of songs is padded only with one unnecessary cover tune. Otherwise, it is filled with many of the trademark sounds that Gaamalzagoth and Occulta Mors had become known for.

As with the last tapes, this material displays a good deal of variation from clean guitars, mid-paced sections and the fast tremolo riffs that many have come to expect. This rehearsal takes a little time to fully get going, as the first songs are more slow and plodding. If not for the vocals, would not be out of place on a Viking-era Bathory album. However, Gaamalzagoth's voice is a hateful and croaking sound that makes Abbath sound like a choir girl. Yet still, he also shows some range and throws in a good amount of tormented screams when called for. The arrangement of the tracks could have been a little better, as putting slower songs together at the beginning of the rehearsal could seem tedious for some. It takes nearly fifteen minutes to get to the first high-speed Black Metal riffs, in "Under the Abyssic Black Wings of the Third Antichrist". Even this is rather dynamic and not as straightforward as one might hope and some parts could have been shaved off to make a shorter and more direct song. The title track fits this description well, being more lean and to the point, a fast-paced song that would have been a better choice to lead off the tape. The  main guitar melodies possess the sombre and ethereal qualities that characterized many of the band's earlier works. This unearthly vibe is continued on "Into a Castle on the Blood-Rocks", though the poor sound makes it difficult to fully recognize, at times. The morose tremolo riffs resemble a ghostly and wailing wind, at times, creating a cold and dark atmosphere.

The feeling becomes even more melancholic, during "The Curse of the Warlord" and "To Kiss the Timeless Eternity", both carried forth by mournful guitar melodies. Again, the lousy quality makes it a bit problematic to fully immerse yourself in this, as things begin to run together and to become a rumbling mess. This almost seems more noticeable throughout the second half of this tape. This is not so much of an issue with "Forgotten Spells in the Forests Nocturnal" and "Supreme Black Forces of Steel", though that may also be a result of possessing such familiarity with the later, and much clearer, recordings of these songs. In truth, these would likely be under-appreciated as well, otherwise. Still, the occasional riff manages to cut through the fog, such as the hypnotic melodies in "Looking in the Eyes Infernal", but only temporarily. This can interfere with the music's ability to transport the listener to another time and place, as previous recordings so often did.

The sound is not very good, and it does require that the volume is turned up a bit to really catch a lot of what is going on. As with the last tape, the treble is fairly high so listening to this can be somewhat painful, but it is not as bad as it could be. During the slower sections, one can clearly make out the riffs and even the clean guitar passages and bass lines. The drumming is at a decent level, while the vocals are kind of high but no moreso than on most of the other recordings. Some of the faster songs would have truly benefited from a better sound, as the low quality makes it hard to appreciate some of the melodies. "Night of the Incubus" is a good example, as it is barely perceptible that there is a really good riff leading the song off, but it is buried in the muddled sound. It is hard to believe that the sound seems to have gotten worse with the later rehearsals, rather than staying the same or improving a little.

Unpure Desires of Diabolical Lust is another solid Moonblood recording. It is not an official release, so the few disappointments regarding structuring and arrangement cannot really be held against it so much. Some of the songs could have been trimmed down, while the emphasis on the mid-paced riffs could have been dialed back a little. As said before, Moonblood's best moments are generally the faster sections which often feature very eerie and haunting tremolo melodies. The less of this that they include, the less impressive the material seems. As for the best songs, it would seem that these guys did a good job in choosing a couple of the better ones to record again, later on, though "Into a Castle on the Blood-Rocks" would have been another worthy choice to make an appearance on a proper release. Either way, this tape is very much worth listening to for any Moonblood fan.

Moonblood - Rehearsal 7 (1996)

In the winter months of 1996, right after the release of their first full-length, Gaamalzagoth and Occulta Mors returned to their grim and morbid rehearsal space to record another collection of songs. After a couple of rather disappointing rehearsal tapes, Rehearsal 7 sees the return of the true Moonblood spirit and is the best one since Rehearsal 4. Even without the addition of the older songs, there is a good deal of new material on offer. 

The production is much better than Rehearsal 6, with the vocals actually being audible and the guitars and bass being fairly easy to detect. The guitar melodies are much more perceptible and easy to follow than on the last tape, certainly. The drums are in the background, where they belong, but definitely able to be heard and not just trailing off as in some of the other recordings. The overall sound is rather harsh and raw, with a lot of treble. In some ways, it can almost be like a torture in that one must turn the volume up to better hear yet this also makes the experience more painful. However, it is not to any extreme degree, so it is quite tolerable.

As for the music, there are a handful of re-recordings of older songs, here. "Under the Cold Snow", for example, is a bit shorter but somehow more fully developed this time around. The feeling is a little darker than before, though still not as abysmal as some of the other tracks. Perhaps, in reconnecting with these earlier songs, Moonblood managed to once again capture the old feeling that had been slipping with some of the other rehearsal tapes. To anyone new to the band, you will notice that Darkthrone and Bathory are among their main inspirations, and still they manage to create a feeling that is unique and special. There is something about the guitar melodies that seem to hearken back to an earlier age, before the filth of Christianity invaded and polluted Europe and began to destroy its people from within. Gaamalzagoth's vocals are utterly consumed with hatred, as heard best on "The Black War". His voice is very intense and does well to add an aggressive edge to the sometimes sombre and eerie riffs of Occulta Mors. The epic parts are still present, such as with the clean guitars and mid-paced riffs of "In the Forest of a Red Water" and "Glorious Days are not Forgotten". The songwriting of the former is quite dynamic for this massive track, consisting of parts that seem inspired by Viking-era Bathory (and almost more appropriate for Nachtfalke) as well as faster riffs. Throughout the various tempo changes, the atmosphere remains the same and there is a dreary feeling to this. Despite the inhuman screams, pounding drums and fast-picked riffs, it does not seem aggressive but rather hopeless and mournful in a subtle way. The latter contrasts this, being a little more uplifting and medieval in a way. This still fits in, in a strange manner, but not as one might imagine. Black Metal purists may have more appreciation for a straightforward song like "The Immortality of My Dreams and Visions", which is the most minimalist track on here. It possesses a cold and melancholic feeling and sort of fits the Transilvanian Hunger mold in its overall approach. "Fullmoon Witchery" is similar, and is my favourite song on this tape, featuring very memorable and hypnotic tremolo melodies that will definitely have you returning for repeated listens. Simplicity is not always the best way, but more direct songs such as these manage to capture the purest essence of Moonblood, as it has always been these faster riffs where their songwriting talent shines the most and do well to imbue you with morbid feelings. Re-recordings of "The Awakening of the Serpent" and "Damned Christians" also take you deeper into this grim, as the atmosphere darkens and becomes much more dangerous. The only unfortunate thing is that these songs sounded fine the first time around, so there was no great necessity in revisiting them. A song such as "Nosferatu", however, was the victim of an incredibly terrible sound both times and would have really benefited much more. Though that classic may have been lacking, the trademark eerie vibe that Occulta Mors is known for is very much present in the haunting melodies of the final track, "A Fortress of Your Dreams".

Any band that recorded as much and often as Moonblood is likely to miss the mark every now and then, as evidenced by the previous couple of rehearsals. With Rehearsal 7, they proved that they still possessed the same brilliance and inspiration to create raw and dark Black Metal as it should be and to take the listener to a world beyond this pathetic modern age. Even the weakest songs here are better than most of those found on Rehearsal 6. Thankfully, that was just a misstep, rather than the beginning of a true decline. The new songs on here, as well as the re-recordings, are cohesive and maintain the same black feeling throughout the entirety of the tape. All Moonblood fans are encouraged to seek this material out, if you have not done so already.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Urgehal - Massive Terrestrial Strike (1998)

Urgehal's first album was nothing special, though it was solid enough that I ended up giving their second album a chance. This was mostly in assuming that, since they showed a solid foundation in the Norwegian Black Metal style, perhaps their sophomore effort would show more creativity and move away from the generic approach of Arma Christi. Released in 1998, Massive Terrestrial Strike proved to be even more disappointing than its predecessor.

Their debut was plagued by a very flat production that was neither particularly good nor raw enough to really possess a dark and underground feeling. The second time around, the production is even worse and sounds more modern and too clean, at times. The drums, for example, should never be this clear and high in the mix. That is not just a rule for Black Metal, but for any sort of Metal. This is not some street urchin's jungle music and should not place any real emphasis on the percussion in a way that detracts from the guitar melodies. As well, the vocals and bass are too high and sort of disconnected from the rest in a way.

As for the material itself, the opening track was enough to make me consider not finishing the album, the first time I listened to it. The intro section and a lot of the vocal choices were very off-putting and became irritating in short order. Songs like "The Saturnine Denomination" show that Urgehal had no intentions of straying from their generic roots and adding any sense of their own identity into the mix. The only deviations from the established norm prove to be so out of place that they ruin what little atmosphere that the band managed to create, which is not much. What one can find here are tenth-rate Darkthrone riffs combined with subpar Celtic Frost imitation. One might at least give them some credit for playing a more straightforward style of Black Metal when many of their peers were experimenting with various alien elements or going toward a purely symphonic route. However, I cannot give this mediocre record a pass just because it isn't as bad as it could have been. The fact is that, if the members of Urgehal had put forth a little more effort, they could have simultaneously upheld the old traditions while also putting forth some ideas to separate themselves from the rest. The only real reason that this stands out from the likes of Darkthrone and Gorgoroth is because it is not nearly as good as even the worst efforts from those bands.

Massive Terrestrial Strike is another useless album from a band that never did anything worth mentioning. It is true, 1998 was a very dismal year for Black Metal and, outside of demos and some mini-albums, is Cerná Krev, from Maniac Butcher, may be one of the only full-lengths worth hearing, along with Horna's Kohti Yhdeksän Nousua. Both are superior to Urgehal's second album in all ways, even better at ripping off Darkthrone riffs while still carving out an identity of their own while doing so. This L.P. simply goes to prove that, for the most part, the dark magic of the past had left Norway by this time. Avoid this.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Moonblood - Rehearsal 6 (1996)

In the bitter cold nights of January 1996, Moonblood entered their most grim and unholy rehearsal place to record another collection of songs, this one simply known as Rehearsal 6. Captured on tape between Siegfried (Die Sage vom Helden) and Blut & Krieg, this demo possesses a surprisingly poor sound and the material is very inconsistent.

The overall quality of the production, for lack of a better word, is rather lousy. This is not only a drop from the last demo, but it makes the previous rehearsal tape, Under the Cold Fullmoon, sound like it was recorded in a decent studio. There is even more hissing and it sounds as if the band was playing in the basement, while the tape recorder was placed on the roof. In particular, "Under the Banner of Hate" and "Nosferatu" are of such terrible quality that they are not even worth listening to. This is a shame, as the latter is one of my favourite songs by this band and it would have been nice to hear something clearer than the original, which was already difficult to make out at times. In fact, this is even worse. Everything just kind of runs together, at times, leaving you to strain your ears to hear anything beneath the rumbling of the drums and the vocals. Occasionally, a guitar melody rises from the darkness, but not for long. To ruin the sound even more, it sounds like the mic cuts out during one of the songs, resulting in the vocals being almost entirely imperceptible.

Regarding the songwriting, it would appear that some of the flaws of Under the Cold Fullmoon were corrected this time around. Still they did retain the tendency to add intro riffs that don't add all that much to the atmosphere of the song, rather than just sticking to a more straightforward approach. It must be said that Gaamalzagoth's vocals are much more tormented on this tape, featuring a lot of horrible shrieks and inhuman screams. However, the muddiness of the recording make it really difficult to fully immerse yourself in this material. Being well acquainted with the brilliant songwriting of Occulta Mors, once can be sure that there are some genius ideas floating around, but it is nearly impossible to appreciate this since the rehearsal is so inaudible. Songs like "Once There Was Darkness" and "Night of Crimson Fire Storms" possess brief moments where the tremolo melodies penetrate the fog and all seems clear for a few moments. Unfortunately, this is ephemeral. The latter seems to feature some very morose riffs that work well to create a very gloomy feeling. Mixed in with the eerie tremolo melodies are riffs that are somewhat reminiscent of the old Mütiilation demos, solidifying this as the best song on here. The cover of Bathory's "Enter the Eternal Fire" isn't bad, and the mid-paced riffs offer a little more clarity in sound, though the overall effect is inferior to the original. That is often a problem when covering songs from a legendary band such as Bathory. As for "Warriors of Metal", this definitely sounds like a cover song as well, but I have no idea who the artist might be, if this is the case. The songwriting is purely in the '80s Metal style and judging by the absolutely atrocious vocals, it would make sense if the original utilized clean vocals. This sounds completely unnatural and bloody awful to be recorded by a band like Moonblood. If it is one of their songs, then they really dropped the ball with this horrendous attempt at making an old school tune. This may be the single worst thing that I have ever heard from this band.

Rehearsal 6 may be the first Moonblood recording that is not really essential in any manner. "Night of Crimson Fire Storms" and "The Hordes from the North Side" are worth hearing, despite the poor sound, but the rest is rather forgettable or too hindered by the terrible quality. This is a rather despicable tape and one that would not be worth sitting through in its entirety, even out of curiosity.