Monday, July 29, 2013

Clandestine Blaze - Harmony of Struggle (2013)

Clandestine Blaze is a rather obscure band from Finland. It seems that the last several albums are released almost in secret, as news spreads so slowly and not much is mentioned about them. Even on Mikko's own Northern Heritage website, the mention of his latest release is usually buried in with everything else, with no special attention given to it. So it is no surprise that, despite the album being released in May 2013, I am just now learning of the existence of Harmony of Struggle. Thankfully, fans of Clandestine Blaze were not subjected to another four-year waiting period, as before. Especially since the last two albums, Church of Atrocity and Falling Monuments, were mediocre when compared to the Mikko's earlier works. As such, expectations for this record were rather low. This was a good thing, as it led to somewhat of a pleasant surprise to find that this collection of songs seems a bit more inspired and coherent than the last couple of releases. 

Past albums from Clandestine Blaze have been characterized by somewhat odd production jobs, yet Harmony of Struggle sounds much less awkward and possesses a better sound than its immediate predecessor, in particular. Whereas the last record was distorted in the wrong ways, enough to negatively affect the overall atmosphere, this effort is instantly more pleasing to the ears. The guitar tone is powerful and raw, with no excess irregularities in the sound. At times, it hearkens back to Night of the Unholy Flames and Fist of the Northern Destroyer, especially during the faster parts. The drums are at just the right level, rather than pounding on top of everything. The percussion is more blunt, rather than possessing the hollow and distracting sound that was present on some previous albums. The vocals sound nearly identical to most of the band's previous works. Mikko's voice has always been deeper than most standard Black Metal vocals, and buried just enough to allow the guitar melodies to be the primary focus but still high enough to be easily discernible. 

Musically, this is definitely the strongest work to be released under the Clandestine Blaze name in nearly a decade. The songwriting is much more cohesive and the addition of eerie keyboards, from time to time, really accentuates the riffs and the overall feel of the tracks in a positive way. While Fallen Monuments was a step up from Church of Atrocity, in some aspects, the poor production was really detrimental and the whole thing was rather forgettable. However, Harmony of Struggle is makes much more of an impact from the very first moments of "Memento Mori". This morbid intro sets the tone for what is to come, somewhat reminiscent of Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice from Deathspell Omega. This leads into the intense "White Corpse", which is a fast-paced track that belongs among the better Darkthrone-inspired pieces that Clandestine Blaze has produced. Mikko always excelled when he went for the more straightforward songs that featured tremolo riffs over fast and primitive drumming. "Messiah for the Dying World" and "Wings of the Archangel" also follow this pattern, though the former also includes a more Celtic Frost-derived mid-section and a slower ending. While certainly influenced by the sort of riffs present on Under A Funeral Moon and Transilvanian Hunger, he has always managed to add his own unique take that made his band stand out among the legions of clones. Slower songs, such as "Myth Turned Alive" and "Autumn of Blood and Steel" possess more power and add a bit more of a morbid feeling to things, with the latter being book-ended by two more instrumentals. While the influence of Fenriz and Nocturno Culto can still be heard, the Burzum influence that once made up a fairly strong part of the Clandestine Blaze sound has gradually faded.

Harmony of Struggle features some memorable songwriting and is quite a solid album. With that said, it still lacks the severely eerie and darkened feel of Deliverers of Faith. It would appear that, in retrospect, that record was an anomaly within the discography of Clandestine Blaze, as Mikko has never before or since produced something with such a nightmarish feeling. Perhaps, it is unfair to compare all subsequent works to that one. So, to ignoring that, it would be safe to say that this new record is the best thing he has done in the past ten years or so. It may be lacking something, similar to recent efforts from Horna and Sargeist, but this is a worthy listen and should please fans of Clandestine Blaze or Finnish Black Metal, in general.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Shining - III: Angst - Självdestruktivitetens Emissarie (2002)

Shining is an incredibly overrated band from Sweden, often labeled as Black Metal or even DSBM. By October 2002, with the release of III: Angst - Självdestruktivitetens Emissarie, Kvarforth's vehicle of attention whoring had already strayed quite far from its more underground roots. What one hears with this album is an over-produced, empty and meaningless collection of noises that serve no purpose and are a complete waste of the listener's time.

As if the production of Livets ändhållplats was not already too clear for this type of music, the third Shining record possesses an even cleaner sound that removes what little darkness might have remained with a murkier approach. The bass lines, in particular, are higher in the mix than necessary, and the same can be said for the drums. The vocals are actually buried, somewhat, with the guitars sort of blending into the middle of the rest. Though, with the overall weakness of the songwriting, this is not a real problem as there is nothing lost. No amount of distortion or rawness could have possibly saved this record from its fate.

The compositions are very bland and pointless. Whereas the previous efforts showed a significant influence from early Bethlehem and even some Burzum, Angst - Självdestruktivitetens Emissarie has more of a depressive rock feel that is taking over. The main problem with that description is that there is really nothing depressive about this, other than the severe lack of effort put forth into the writing and recording of this horrid album. Everything from the empty and useless guitar riffs to the overactive percussion just reeks of a band that had nothing to offer and no real point for bothering to waste anyone's time listening to this worthless trash. One is likely to get a headache even trying to comprehend what these guys thought they were attempting to do by even entering a studio when they clearly had not bothered to compose any real songs. The guitar melodies do not flow well and really go nowhere, limping from one ill-conceived idea to the next. There are still some nods to the Black Metal scene that spawned this wretched project, such as the tremolo riffs and fast drums that can be heard on the title track, yet the riffs possess no feeling and none of this accomplishes anything, whatsoever. Even the addition of acoustic bits and silent passages fails to create any sort of atmosphere. In the end, it just shows a very confused group of musicians with no idea what they were doing. The most interesting song, "Submit to Self-Destruction", still manages to fall short of anything from the previous two albums and is actually a re-recorded song from an old E.P.

Angst - Självdestruktivitetens Emissarie is a worthless album that should be avoided, at all costs. Even if you are a fan of the early work of Shining, this really is not worth bothering with. This is such a step down from its predecessors that it makes them seem like brilliant classics, by comparison. It is a shame that Kvarforth didn't kill himself before recording this foul collection of under-developed ideas and passing it off as music. If you see copies of this anywhere, be sure to burn them all, rather than just throwing them in the garbage. The true "angst" of this record is from realizing that the cartoon character known as Kvarforth actually achieved fame based on such talentless releases as this.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Abyssic Hate - Cleansing of an Ancient Race (1994)

Abyssic Hate had quite the following in the Black Metal underground, some years back. Unfortunately, each promise of a new album has been broken over the course of the past twelve years or so. Surely, this may have something to do with why one hears this band's name less and less, compared to just five or six years back. Shane Rout's musical contributions began nearly twenty years ago and, though his work was hardly that unique, he did well for himself with the few releases that were spawned from those early years. The first Abyssic Hate demo, Cleansing of an Ancient Race, established a sound that was based on the Norwegian style of Black Metal. Of course, in 1994, this was hardly an isolated thing. Countless bands were ripping off the likes of Darkthrone and Burzum, and Abyssic Hate was no different.

Featuring six proper songs, this demo lasts just under half an hour. Most of the songs consist of tremolo melodies and fast drumming, fitting well alongside albums such as Under A Funeral Moon and Transilvanian Hunger. The fuzzy guitar sound really hearkens back to the former, in a way. However, Abyssic Hate was not simply paying homage to the early recordings of Nocturno Culto, Fenriz and Zephyrous (can't forget him). There are hints of Burzum to be found, here and there. Obviously, as this was recorded prior to the release of Filosofem, that influence is not present and all-consuming as it would be on Suicidal Emotions. Still, some of the riffs are reminiscent of early Burzum. The same can be said for the drumming, with some primitive use of double bass underneath the mournful and repetitious melodies. The tempo is not the same throughout, as there are plenty of mid-paced and slower parts to be heard. Naturally, if you just pop the CD in and skip from one to the next, only previewing the first few seconds, you will get an entirely different impression, as all of the songs begin at a higher speed before shifting in one way or another. The atmosphere given off by this recording is sombre and well-suited for nocturnal blood rituals, particularly those created by the morose closer, "Bloodletting".

For a demo, the sound is pretty good. This is much more clear than the earliest recordings from Gorgoroth, Enslaved or even Varg's demos. The guitars are distorted but yet the production is clear enough for the riffs to be recognized and followed. There is no need for the type of effort that one might have to put into an old Moonblood tape, for example. The drumming is loud enough to be heard, though still fairly buried in the mix. Though it is probably a drum machine, the sound is not so inauthentic as to really distract from the music. As for the vocals, they are similar to those of Nocturno Culto's on Under A Funeral Moon or Quorthon's on Under the Sign of the Black Mark. In fact, on "Damned for Eternity", one can even hear somewhat of an old Bathory influence, though it is more likely that this is because the Darkthrone albums that he worshiped possessed this, rather than any real connection with the originator of the sound.

In the end, Cleansing of an Ancient Race is a solid effort. With one or two more songs, as well as a proper release, this could have easily been a full-length album. Though the obvious Darkthrone-worship is the primary inspiration for this demo, it is done well and Abyssic Hate may have been the only band in Australia that was following the northern Black Metal sound as opposed to the others that seemed to look more toward the likes of Beherit or Blasphemy. This is probably hard to find in its original form; however, it has been released as part of the A Decade of Hate compilation.