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.