Monday, September 30, 2013

Maniac Butcher - Barbarians (1995)

Maniac Butcher is a somewhat obscure band from the Czech Republic. Their earliest demos consisted of fairly average Death Metal, having nothing to do with bands like Master's Hammer or Root. Eventually, it appears that they became inspired by the Norwegian Black Metal scene and changed their style. Their 1995 debut album, Barbarians, is a solid offering of uncompromising Black Metal and, despite the utterly ridiculous cover, it is well worth listening to.

Musically, one can hear a lot of Mayhem and Darkthrone influence in the riffs. Much of the material is based on the stripped down style of the early '90s, with fast and cold tremolo riffs over fast drums. The percussion is a little too active, far from the minimalism of Fenriz, though the playing is very tight and accurate. Still, this changes the feeling a little bit and is often one of the issues when a band has shifted to Black Metal from Death Metal. Though many of the songs are fast and intense, Maniac Butcher has no problem to slow things down on occasion and including kind of doom-oriented riffs that seem to hearken back to their demo days. There are some moments where they seem to channel Celtic Frost and even Master's Hammer, and prove to be quite skilled when it comes to including rather memorable solos. In fact, there are a couple used even during faster parts. Here and there, one is even reminded of early Emperor, minus the irritating keyboards. Instead, these guys relied on traditional instruments and strong songwriting in order to create the hellish and black atmosphere found on this album. The vocals are completely inhuman, sounding much more like a rabid animal. This helps to bring a sense of urgency to the music, especially with the frenetic drumming and fast-picked riffs. There is an epic quality to some of the melodies and you really get the feeling that nothing here is done just for the hell of it. Every idea has some meaning and manages to create a dark or menacing vibe. Some of the most memorable riffs are on "Druhé Stvoření", which are somewhat similar to Darkthrone's "Quintessence" (released that same year), though executed differently and including a rather haunting solo. In fact, this may be one of the best songs on here, showcasing the various elements of the band's sound.

The production is fairly decent. This obviously does not have a plastic, modern sound. Still, the drums are a little too clear and some parts are mixed a bit higher than they should be. It is not a severe problem, but it does take away from the riffs, slightly. As for the guitars, the tone is raw and cold and pretty standard for the time period. It could have benefited from being a little more harsh, but there is nothing really wrong with it as it is. The vocals are easily heard and don't seem to have much effects, such as reverb. The sound is very dry and strained.

Barbarians is a very solid album of Czech Black Metal. More than just another band that were quick to embrace and replicate the northern style, Maniac Butcher proves very capable of creating a strong, dark atmosphere. The only real complaint is that the album is so short, lasting just half an hour. Such would be tedious if the band was only churning out tenth-rate music, but this is too good to end so soon. If you haven't heard this band, it is recommended that you seek this out.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Forest - Обрекая Надежду На Вечность (1998)

The third full-length album from Forest, Обрекая Надежду На Вечность, was released in 1998. This record contains nearly an hour of cold and dismal Russian Black Metal, with a very minimalist style that owes a lot to the northern sound of the early '90s.It is preceded and followed by very strong albums that may overshadow it, to some extent, yet it should not be ignored for it is also a very worthy recording.

There is a very raw quality to this music. Something immensely genuine and poignant. The style itself has been done by many bands, some with more success than others. However, Forest is one of the few that really gets it and understands the true essence of Black Metal. One is reminded of Filosofem, from Burzum, during the somewhat lengthy intro track that features various tremolo melodies bereft of drums or vocals. The desolate feeling is carried on throughout the songs that follow. The percussion rumbles along at a fast pace, while the cold riffs and hate-filled vocals create an atmosphere of gloom and misanthropy. This is best captured by some of the screams in "Горю...". It is easy to perceive the sense of isolation, physically and spiritually, with the modern world and what is often mistaken for life. Even the lyrics convey this sentiment of being at odds with the world, connecting more with the purity and lifelessness of the winter and death, itself. The vocals are very harsh and contrast the beauty of the guitar melodies, repetitive and trance-inducing as they are. The pace remains the same, throughout the album, yet the various melodies are distinct and memorable. It definitely owes a lot to Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger and, though not quite as dark, seems very much like what Fenriz and Nocturno Culto would have come up with if they'd continued with that style. The last two tracks are completely different, however, being more atmospheric in nature. After an instrumental that is not too far removed from what was heard on the second Branikald album, there is a lengthier piece that is composed of many dissonant chords and clean chanting in the background. In its own way, this also hearkens back to Filosofem.

The production is very good, especially compared to the Branikald releases from 1998. The sound is raw and under-produced, with a thin and sharp guitar tone. Yet, in a way, it still comes across as a little more forceful and clear than the aforementioned recordings. The vocals are mixed perfectly, never getting out of control and overpowering the rest. Similarly, the drums are balanced and certainly loud enough to keep a good pace, but are rather dull and not so clear or loud as to distract from the guitars.

Обрекая Надежду На Вечность has to be one of the most solid Black Metal albums to emerge that whole year. At a time when bands like Darkthrone and Gorgoroth were in hibernation or long past their prime, and the likes of Dark Funeral, Emperor and Marduk were receiving so much attention for records that were lame and unworthy, Forest was keeping the true flame of Black Metal burning throughout the dark times of the late '90s. This is very much recommended.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Branikald - Жизнеотрицанью жизневероломство (1998)

Жизнеотрицанью жизневероломство was released in 1998, the same year as Хмель Мизантропии. The sound is much the same, and anyone familiar with Branikald's albums up to this point would not be surprised. This L.P. features the same stripped-down, raw Black Metal that could be heard on its predecessors. While not as good as a release such as Kveldulv, or as inspired as the Forest albums that were being recorded around the same time, it is not bad.

The production is one of the weak points of the album. It is not so terrible, really, but has the feeling that it is missing something. The guitar tone is not sharp enough. This was an issue on Хмель Мизантропии, as well. Again, this recording has the feeling of being a tenth-generation dub, with a cloudiness that somewhat neuters the songs. This only really affects the instruments, though, as the vocals are still rather prominent in the mix. This has been the case with several of Branikald's albums, as it appears that Kaldrad did not fully appreciate the more subtle approach as found on Рдяндалир, for example. For some reason, this album also has a couple tracks that sound like they were recorded during a different session, with completely different production. The vocals are much more harsh and the guitar tone is more harsh. If not for the loud drums, this would be much more ideal than the sound of the rest of the album.

The songwriting is solid. Of course, if you are even remotely familiar with Branikald's music, then you will know to expect a very minimalist approach. The songs are composed of cold, sombre tremolo melodies that flow over monotonous drumming, while Kaldrad's hateful vocals spew forth in the forefront. The songs are very much in the style of old Darkthrone, though lengthier and more hypnotic, possessing a quality somewhat reminiscent to the faster melodies found on older Burzum albums.  Despite averaging around nine or ten minutes long, these songs never get boring. There are not a lot of dynamics to speak of, outside of rare moments where things die down and dismal guitar chords ring out into the darkness, such as the ending to "Духа Уста Опаляя". As with the last couple releases, the vocals have somewhat too much reverb, not nearly as suitable as the style utilized on the earlier albums, or on the Forest material. The riffs work well to create a dismal feeling, with several introspective melodies that rise up, from time to time. Some passages go on slightly longer than necessary, before getting on to the next interesting idea. "Страстью Cтремимым" stands out, being mid-paced and possessing an entirely different production than the preceding tracks. The vibe is much more harsh and miserable.

Жизнеотрицанью жизневероломство is another solid dose of raw and minimalist Black Metal that is recommended for anyone into the early material from Darkthrone and Burzum. Branikald is one of the few bands to really do justice to this style, keeping to the traditions while adding something as well. Though the vocals are a little irritating, the music is worth giving the time to get used to this peculiarity.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Forest - Песнью В Жатве Горя (1999)

Released in 1999, Песнью В Жатве Горя is considered to be the last true Forest album. This picks up from where its predecessor left off, delivering more raw and minimalist Black Metal with somewhat of an ambient feel. Born during a time when the more popular bands in this field were those that embraced the foul and disgusting modern techniques, this is an album that remained true to the northern style that had developed some years earlier. This is pure and genuine Black Metal, bereft of any occult posturing or outside influences.

The music contained on this album is truly cold and grim, in ways that most bands simply fail to even comprehend. One need not spend years studying scripture and working as much Judeo-Christian mythology into the lyrics as possible to capture the true essence of Black Metal. No outlandish interviews proclaiming this band to be the only ones to really understand the music or any sort of other preposterous antics. The songwriting captures the desolation and solitude of the human spirit as it writhes in the captivity of this modern world, separated from anything that was once pure and meaningful. Even from the intro alone, which is seven minutes of cold guitar melodies, one can sense this. As the first proper song gets underway, there is an added feeling of melancholy conveyed by the brilliant tremolo riffs. Such simple arrangements, yet the feeling is powerful and moving. Drums rush forth at a steady pace, just to keep time and never really drawing much attention. The sombre and frigid guitars flow from one idea to the next, seamlessly. Unlike their first release, this is somewhat one-dimensional in that all of the songs consist of fast tremolo riffs, without any sort of experimentation. Yet, despite the similarity between all of the tracks, each one possesses its own feel. Aside from the style, some of the melodies of "Жаром Вен" will remind one of early Darkthrone, though somewhat gloomier. There is an epic quality to this material, something few others really accomplished with this sound. This is quite clear on "Лей, Кровавая Пенa", which is sorrowful and hateful at the same time, with a main theme that will seep into your mind and drown it in darkness. The music has a hypnotic effect, putting you in a state of consciousness that is more conducive to deep thought. 

The production is just what one would want from this kind of music. The guitar is raw and cold, enabling the riffs to have the desired effect. They are clear enough for one to really become immersed in the melodies, though still fuzzy and harsh. The drums know their place, neither buried nor at the forefront, audible enough to keep the pace and add a bit of urgency to the sound, but never being overbearing in the slightest. The vocals are distant and less forceful. This is how Black Metal should sound. There is somewhat of a necro quality to this, though it is never such that one cannot follow what is going on. Though raw and under-produced, there is still a certain level of clarity.

Песнью В Жатве Горя is a recommended piece of Russian Black Metal that should appeal to purists of the early-'90s sound. But moreso than just keeping the tradition alive, Forest took that approach and made something that possesses its own feeling. In the years before bands like Horna really found their footing, or the likes of Clandestine Blaze or Sargeist came along to keep the pure Black Metal feeling alive, bands such as Forest and Branikald were doing their part to prevent the fires from burning out.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Paradise Lost - Draconian Times (1995)

With their fifth full-length, Paradise Lost managed to find success in failure. Released in June 1995, Draconian Times continued the unfortunate progression of a band that had started out with such promise. This record was the point where the band really settled into their cleaner style, rather than sounding as awkward as they did on Icon. Yet this came at a price, for the music became even more watered-down to a point.

The songwriting is really troubling for those that appreciated the earlier works of Paradise Lost. There are a few traces of doom left, but it has mostly been replaced by goth rock that has a distinctively pop-oriented feeling during much of its forty-eight minute running time. With that said, the compositions are actually more solid than on the previous record, so it would seem that they really found their comfort zone with this (or that coming up with pop music was just easier for them). Many of the riffs are very predictable and cheesy in a way. Everything seems designed to be catchy, as is usually the case with bands trying to appeal to a wider audience. The percussion plays a strong role in making the music sound more light and weak, somehow. It is way too upbeat and kills several sombre melodies, such as on "Shades of God". The vocals are even softer and more melodic, for the most part, though it suits the music and it sounds like Holmes finally learned how to sing. The similarities to James Hetfield are still there, particularly when he tries to sound more forceful. Sorry to say since this is even less metallic at times, but Paradise Lost manages to create a more consistently gloomy atmosphere on this record, as opposed to the last one. Songs like "Enchantment", "Forever Failure" "Hands of Reason" and "Jaded" are among the more tolerable ones on here, for whatever it is worth.

The production is more powerful than on Icon, with a sharper sound and increased clarity in just about every possible way. In other words, this couldn't sound more plastic and modern if it tried. Their budget must have increased a lot in those two years, because this is almost bordering on Black Album levels. Whatever authentic feeling this could have possessed was completely lost due to this overdone production. However, it really is appropriate as the whole album really sounds like it was designed more as a commercial product than as an artistic statement or an attempt to really create a dark atmosphere.

Draconian Times is where all the pieces fell into place for Paradise Lost. Unfortunately, it meant that they finally found a way to mix modern Metallica with The Sisters of Mercy and to sound as plastic as possible. Many even consider this to be the band's last good album for a decade or so, though even they were never very consistent after their debut. They only eventually found a sense of consistency in their own mediocrity. While it is much heavier than what was to come, it is still a complete disgrace for a band that was responsible for the brilliant Lost Paradise. As for this cleaner style of theirs, they have actually done this a lot better on the more recent albums, so those are more worth your time if you are into this.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Opeth - Orchid (1995)

Released in the spring of 1995, appropriately enough, the flowery noise known as Orchid marked the beginning of one of the most putrid careers in all of "extreme Metal". Opeth was a band that was labeled Swedish Death Metal, yet also associated with Black Metal on various compilations. There is no explanation why, as this could not be further removed from the latter if they tried. As for Death Metal, that is a misleading tag as well. It takes more than harsh vocals for this to share the same classification as such albums as Left Hand Path, Dark Recollections, Into the Grave, Like an Ever Flowing Stream or even The Red in the Sky Is Ours.

I was first introduced to this band due to the vocalist's work with Katatonia, on Brave Murder Day. For one reason or another, whether someone lied to me or I just made an idiotic assumption, I sought out Opeth's first album with the expectations that it would be similar to that album, or even Dance of December Souls. Bloody hell, was I wrong. Orchid was not only a disappointment, but proved to be little more than a poorly written collection of... fragmented ideas. It would be wrong to call these songs, really.

As musicians, these guys are quite proficient, technically speaking. They are more than capable of handling their instruments. Unfortunately, the fail miserably at actually writing songs. Of the seven tracks here, four of them extend beyond ten minutes, and one is just under. There is nothing necessarily wrong with long compositions, assuming that they are well-written and serve a purpose. These tracks are the definition of meandering and pointless. Once in a while, a decent riff will sneak in, but it is soon forgotten. A good example of this is about halfway through the first track, but even this semi-doom moment is spoiled by the overactive drumming.  This is often called a mixture of prog rock and Death Metal. I know absolutely nothing about the former, but I certainly know enough about the latter to realize that these should be mixed. Death Metal is about creating a certain atmosphere. There is nothing dark about this music, whatsoever. It is light and weak and flowery and soft, not even in a sombre and depressing way. At least the old Katatonia and My Dying Bride material had feeling. Even Edge of Sanity pulled this type of stuff off better, complete with clean vocals, on The Spectral Sorrows. This is just empty and limp. Even the gimmicky acoustic bits come off as contrived and fail to add anything to the atmosphere, dead as it is. Everything is so random and useless, and the band would only get worse with this as time went on.

The production is too clean for its own good. It doesn't matter too much, since the music is trash and nothing could have saved it from the boring and uninspired songwriting. Still, the plastic production would have killed it, even if there had been something worthwhile here. The drums are too prominent in the mix and the guitars sound very tame and non-threatening.

Orchid is a pretentious loud of goat feces and not worth the time it would take to strip the plastic wrap from the CD case. Even those into so-called melodic Death Metal should steer clear of this. Opeth is a classic case of a band that is all style and no substance. It's heavier and darker than the last couple of offerings from Watain, but that's not saying much. Somewhere within this hour-plus of nonsense, there is a slightly below-average four-minute song, but it's not worth digging through the waste to find. Avoid this.

Veles - Night on the Bare Mountain (1995)

The first full-length album from Veles, Night on the Bare Mountain, is a bit of a disappointment. Released in July 1995, this record fails to really live up to the promise shown on the band's previous work, coming across as more tame and bland than most would have expected. It possesses several flaws, and even the performance itself is kind of restrained and boring.

To begin with, this record suffers from very poor production. This is not bad in the sense of being lo-fi and raw, it's just kind of clumsy-sounding. The guitars possess no edge, whatsoever. This, alone, renders the recording flat and non-threatening. The different guitar tracks are quite uneven, as well. The vocals are a bit high in the mix, especially considering how weak the rest is. The clean guitar passages are done well enough, not sounding awkward or out of place, as is sometimes the case.

One need look no further than the re-recorded version of "Majesty of War" to realize that this band lost its edge. Not only is the sound softer than on The Triumph of Pagan Beliefs, but the execution is less-inspired and has no feeling behind it. Such is the case with much of the rest of this material. The songwriting is pretty generic, sounding like a mixture of mediocre ideas taken from various better-known bands. "My Bloodthirst (The Horrorstorm)" has its moments, but any potential that this may have had was ruined by the lousy production, which completely neuters the whole album. In some cases, one guitar track is so far in the background that the melodies are unable to really have any effect. If you listen close, it becomes apparent that these cold tremolo riffs would actually add a bit to the atmosphere. Instead, we get rather pointless synth that fails to do what traditional instruments should have been able to accomplish. Even the vocalist is sub-par, sounding as if his voice is going to give out at any second.

Night on the Bare Mountain is fairly average, even by 1995 standards, and it lacks the intensity of its predecessor. Production-wise, it suffers the same fate as Graveland's Thousand Swords, sounding very dull and weak. Perhaps, better songwriting would have been able to overcome this setback, but such is not the case with the debut L.P. from Veles. This is not a terrible album, but it could have been much better. It's worth checking out, maybe, but don't expect anything along the lines of The Celtic Winter.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Forest - Заревом Над Прахом (1997)

Recorded and released in 1997, Заревом Над Прахом is the sophomore effort from Forest. This offering shows a great deal of improvement over the debut, both in songwriting and execution, and shares many similarities with the Branikald material of the same period. It would seem as if Kaldrad had a much stronger influence over the direction of Forest, this time around.

Musically, this seems more consistent than Forest. The songwriting is more solid and the riffs are more interesting and memorable. Songs like "Звоном Молотов Зови" are characterized by freezing cold tremolo riffs that possess somewhat of a sombre feeling, aided by what sounds like a subtle clean choir in the background. More likely it is some kind of keyboard effect. Either way, it is used sparingly and helps accentuate the atmosphere. Stylistically, and just like Branikald, the music bears similarities to Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger. Tremolo melodies flow overtop a rumbling of distant drums, with hateful vocals rising from the depths. With that said, the vibe is rather different. While this shares the same cold minimalism, it lacks the truly evil feeling of that record. It certainly makes up for it with an atmosphere all its own, that of freezing winds blowing through the desolate forest; the trees bare and bereft of life and the nights growing ever longer. There is a hatred for everything human, and this material does well to remove you from the world of modern filth. The first two tracks are more strightforward and hateful, while the second half of the album features songs that are longer and more atmospheric. All signs of structure seem to disappear, reminiscent of "Decrepitude I" from Burzum's Filosofem. "Лютой Стуже" consists of only guitars for the first eight minutes, before drums and vocals join. Even then, the song remains mid-paced and quite unlike the preceding tracks. There is almost a folkish/medieval vibe, as the song continues, but still retaining the harsh vocals. The final couple minutes include a faster section with mournful tremolo riffs, adding even more of an epic feeling. The last track is more of an extended outro, featuring clean guitars and semi-rough singing. It is pretty repetitive, but not bad at all.

Somehow, the production is even worse than on the previous release. Not that it is more raw and necro, but it just sounds as if it was recorded onto a warped tape, similar to the second Branikald album. The volume goes up and down, which becomes annoying, very quickly. The basic mix is decent enough, with the drums adequately buried in comparison to the guitars, which have a colder tone than on the last recording. The vocals are somewhat distant, as well, which really helps the murky atmosphere of the music.

Заревом Над Прахом is vastly superior to Forest in every possible way, with the slight exception of the production. However, even this is something that the listener can get used to, after a few minutes. The songwriting is much stronger and there is a sense of cohesion, rather than random mixing of different influences that was found on the debut. This is highly recommended raw and atmospheric Black Metal from Russia, and should appeal to fans of Darkthrone, Burzum and Branikald, especially.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Forest - s/t (1996)

Forest was another Blazebirth Hall band, similar to and yet quite different from Branikald. In fact, Kaldrad was one of the members of this project. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise to hear the sort of raw Black Metal found on Forest's self-titled debut, released in 1996. However, despite sharing some of the same characteristics and inspiration as Branikald, this is not exactly what one would expect.

From the opening moments of "Тенью Над Землёй", one might think that Forest is not all that different from Branikald. It surely takes a liberal amount of influence from the work of early Darkthrone, in particular the style utilized on Transilvanian Hunger. Four of the five songs present here include their fare share of tremolo riffs and fast, but not really intense, drumming. However, the atmosphere created by the guitar melodies is quite different. It is somewhat more sorrowful, though not to any extreme. When compared to the other project of Kaldrad, it is safe to say that Forest is more dynamic, featuring a bit more variation in tempos. Most surprisingly has to be the slower sections, accompanied by clean vocals, that are really reminiscent of the Isengard releases. The clean singing is not very good, and it raises its ugly head more times than one might appreciate, throughout the recording. Also, the guitar playing is a little sloppy, most noticeably during the slower parts. The songwriting is rather poor, with some songs dragging on and seeming even longer than they really are. That is never a good sign. "Enburnst the Christian" is decent, including some mid-paced parts that sound a bit like early Graveland, especially due to the odd percussion. It is the only song to really make use of the type of cold melodies that Branikald was known for. The twenty-minute outro is... laughable, at best. It is twenty minutes of clean guitars and someone crooning, comically, in the distance.

For the most part, the production is well-suited to this kind of music. The sound is very lo-fi, but not unlistenable. The guitars possess a raw edge to them, which is exactly what the material needed. The vocals are mixed in such a way as to be audible but not terribly clear, so they still have an obscure feel. For anyone that has heard the Branikald releases from the same time period, the sound is very similar. In fact, this might be a slight bit better, lacking some of the inconsistencies that plagued those early albums. If only the songwriting and execution was up to par.

Forest is not really an essential recording, even for fans of this band. The first song is the best one, with the rest containing some passable ideas but being spoiled by incomplete songwriting or just poorly thought-out concepts. In the end, there's one or two solid tracks and the rest is either boring or utterly horrible. This is not recommended, unless you can just record or download a couple songs and steer clear of the rest. And, by all means, do not spend any insane amount of money tracking down an original. It is not worth it. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Branikald - Хмель Мизантропии (1998)

Хмель Мизантропии was released in 1998, through Stellar Winter Records and available only on cassette. In the years since then, it has been reissued on tape and CD, making it a little more possible to come by. Despite the oddly colourful cover art, the music maintains the same style, though fails to live up to what came before. 

Musically, this effort follows the same style as before, though the songwriting does not seem as strong. All of the elements are there; the sound is dominated by tremolo melodies, though the feeling is just not as cold and desolate as before. It is almost as if the vocals are more the focus than the actual riffs, with even more reverb than before. The guitars and drums feel as if they are just acting as a backdrop for the hateful voice of Kaldrad. The songs are even shorter, with each one averaging roughly five minutes. That is not to say that there is still no room for development, but things feel more lifeless and without reason. "Лезвием Прямого Взгляда" has its moments, where subtle melodies rise through the fog to add some depth to the music, but the atmosphere is definitely missing something. The production also manages to sabotage things. "Кровью Охоты Дикой" features some more interesting riffs, reminiscent of Moonblood at times, but the guitars are lower in the mix on this one and the melodies struggle to be heard as the vocals just crush them into oblivion. "Ветрам Воронокрылым" is the longest track on here and, coincidentally, shows the most promise. The sound holds it back, but it still succeeds in creating a dark and sombre vibe. The main guitar melody is very dreary, while additional riffs of a colder nature work their way in. "...Твой Неприкаянный Голос..." follows along with this, and would have been a much better song to start the album off, though the poor mix drags it down. Branikald definitely sounded better when the vocals were obscure and distant, rather than drowning everything else out.

Branikald was often unique in utilizing a mixture of Russian and Norwegian lyrics and song titles. On Хмель Мизантропии, Kaldrad decided to also make use of German, which adds a somewhat more hateful feeling to the overall atmosphere. Perhaps this sort of harshness was also part of the reason for using Norwegian, earlier on. At any rate, it is a little strange to hear this coming from a Russian band. It has long been confusing as to why so many Slavic bands would have a fondness for the culture of the Third Reich, considering that their country was devastated by German forces and would likely not be looked upon too kindly if the war had the opposite result.

As for the production, there are some definite inconsistencies. At its best, this album suffers from a weak guitar tone that fails to create the same kind of frigid feeling as before. During the verses, one has a difficult time even following the melodies, at times. The title track is unlistenable, as the vocals are so high in the mix that they completely overpower the rest. To focus in on the riffs, one must turn the volume so high that the vocals end up causing pain. The final song also employs a different production from the rest of the album and sounds like utter trash.

Хмель Мизантропии could have been a decent record, but it has too many things working against it. While "Ветрам Воронокрылым" hearkens back to the past glories of Branikald, the rest of the songs fail to live up to the same standard. Two of the songs are complete throwaways, and one is an instrumental. Kaldrad was capable of much more than this, as he showed on the previous releases. In fact, that may be the most detrimental thing about this offering: he had already done so much better in the preceding years, something like this was just unacceptable.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Branikald - Winterkald (1997)

The fourth full-length album from Branikald, Winterkald, was released in 1997. Originally titled Av VinterKald, this L.P. was recorded the previous year, meaning that all of the first four efforts were created in a very short span of time. The music on here follows the same path as its immediate predecessor, Kveldulv, offering up six tracks of cold and minimalist Black Metal. On average, the songs are a little shorter, but there are more of them this time.

Musically, Winterkald does not stray from the style of the previous record. Still, Kaldrad is able to make something meaningful within this simple framework. The melodies seem rather basic at first, but there are subtle nuances that really add a lot of depth and character to the songs. As with the last release, the songs follow the familiar pattern of consisting of fast-picked tremolo riffs with drums that pound away in the distance, hardly perceptible, as the guitars lull you into a trance. The feeling is austere and cold, much as the title would suggest. The vocals are raw and hateful, often rather sparse, allowing the music to really paint a grim and desolate picture in the mind of the listener. In the case of "Сжигая за собой мосты", one is almost reminded of Moonblood, with some of the haunting melodies that flow in and out. There is a sense of urgency to some of them, accentuated by the heightened tension in the vocal delivery. Even within this minimalist style, the atmosphere is very dynamic and poignant. This is not really depressive, yet there are certain melodies that are incredibly sorrowful in the way that they reach right into you and tear at your heart. The more you listen to this, the more you feel carried away from this disgusting world and into some vast, endless forest covered with layers of snow and ice. The sounds here take you far beyond the mortal realm, into a desolate place bereft of the curse of humanity.

The production is rather similar to Kveldulv, being very raw and primitive. The guitars have a very cold feeling and dominate the sound. The drums sort of just pulse in the background, keeping time but not doing much to stand out, just loud enough to be heard but nothing more. The vocals seem to have a little more reverb than before, but not a lot, which helps with the obscure and hellish effect. All in all, the sound is perfect for this type of music.

Winterkald is a very enjoyable album for anyone into the same sort of minimalist Black Metal that was spawned by Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger. The atmosphere is sombre and frigid and the songwriting is very strong, with each composition flowing into the next in a natural way. Everything here fits together and there are no inconsistencies, for once. This is highly recommended for fans of real Black Metal, not the commercial garbage that has usurped that label these days.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Branikald - Kveldulv (1996)

Released in the grim October of 1996, Kveldulv is the third full-length album from the Russian Black Metal band Branikald. In the months since the last album, Kaldrad was left alone and thus handled all the instruments on this recording. This is an improvement over the last album, though still maintaining a similar atmosphere. This is cold and hateful Black Metal, done well.

Musically, this has a bit more in common with Varg Fjerne A Tornet, rather than its immediate predecessor. Three of the four songs return to the minimalist Transilvanian Hunger style, consisting of cold tremolo melodies over fast-paced drums. The guitar riffs are rather bleak and sombre, and could have worked with slower drums just as well. As with early Darkthrone, there is not much variation in the riffs, and the effect is somewhat hypnotizing. Only near the end of the first track, after eight minutes, is there some real change as the drums fade away and the frigid guitars are left alone with the vocals, slowly losing steam and drifting off into the nothingness. The vocals are somewhat distant, yet filled with hate and misery and possessed by the dark. Though rather straightforward, the second song introduces a very haunting guitar melody halfway through that creates a very dreary feeling. It passes and never returns, but it will lurk in your mind during the late hours of the night when you are alone. The atmosphere of cold hatred increases with "Kalde Vinter of Ruin", and proves just how effective this style can be when handled by the right musician. Some of the melodies are fairly epic, almost reminiscent of early Moonblood. As for the last song, this is more of an atmospheric piece, just some clean guitars that go on for quite a while. It sounds very similar to the track that closed out the previous album. At least there are no vocals over it, this time. It could have been a bit shorter, but it isn't bad.

The production is very raw, with the guitars possessing a sharp sound that is cold and menacing. The vocals are buried a little, compared to earlier works, giving a really obscure feeling. The drums just drone away in the background, hardly noticed. The cold and dismal guitar melodies are the main focus. The sound is a little odd, seeming as if the songs were recorded in two different sessions. The third song is even more raw than the first two, though the drums are louder than they should be. The vocals are higher in the mix, too, though this enables them to sound even more hateful than before.

Kveldulv is highly recommended to anyone into cold, hateful and minimalist Black Metal. Naturally, this will be considered by some as a rip-off of Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger. The difference between Branikald and the countless other bands that attempted this style is that Kaldrad actually excelled where so many failed. His sense of songwriting is very solid and he was able to take this sound and make something unique. While it is quite similar, no one would actually confuse this for the work of Fenriz and Nocturno Culto. Rather than just trying to imitate a certain sound, Kalrdad took that framework and made something of his own. This is one of the best Black Metal albums to come from Russia. Seek this out.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Veles - The Triumph of Pagan Beliefs (1994)

Veles was yet another Polish Black Metal band that was affiliated with Rob Darken. Their first demo, The Triumph of Pagan Beliefs, was released in 1994 and is probably the best material that they recorded. This is nothing very original, or even as good as those that they were influenced by, but that is not to say that a demo necessarily has to be unique. This type of music is very much about maintaining the traditions of those that came before, but it is always more meaningful when a band manages to harness that spirit and still manage to have their own identity. 

This is raw Black Metal in the typical mid-90s style. This demo contains five songs, showing rather dynamic songwriting compared to a lot of bands that were making demos around this time. It begins in a fast-paced and intense manner, before slowing down. "Majesty of War" was the first track that I ever heard by this band, and remained in my head despite not encountering this release again for some years. The main riffs are very memorable and the songwriting is quite solid. "Black Flames Spread Warfare" has a somewhat weak middle section, but the faster riffs and acoustic parts keep things interesting. Of course, the band's Polish roots are easily noticeable, with the same type of odd, mid-paced drumbeats that are present on the old Graveland recordings. "Forgotten Time-Honoured Tradition" is completely built around such rhythms. The connection does not end there, as Rob Darken handled the keyboards for this effort. His presence is quite obvious, though the music is not totally drenched in synth. The vocals have a decent amount of reverb, which adds to the hellish effect.

The sound on here is pretty decent. Naturally, the production is raw, which suits the music very well. The keyboards, when present, are loud enough to accentuate the atmosphere but never drown out the rest. The guitars have a thin, sharp sound with a lot of fuzz, in the old Black Metal style. The vocals are fairly balanced, never fading away or rising too high as with some demos from this era.

For those that are interested in Black Metal from this very productive time period, The Triumph of Pagan Beliefs should not disappoint. It is fairly average, compared to everything else that was being released back then, but it holds its own fairly well. Veles should definitely appeal to fans of old Graveland and Infernum, and maybe to those into the LLN bands as well.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Paradise Lost - Icon (1993)

Icon is an album that usually receives a lot of praise. The reason for this is difficult to understand, as it is very disappointing. Released in September 1993, the third full-length from Paradise Lost might as well have come from another band, as it is so far removed from Lost Paradise. In fact, despite the similarities in sound, it even lacks the positive qualities heard on Shades of God. This is incredibly generic, consisting of way too much Heavy Metal and not enough Doom.

Musically, this is a very dull record. It has its moments, but the majority of the songs are boring and not at all what one would expect from this band. "Embers Fire" starts things out decently, but it's all downhill after that. Much of the material is a little too fast to create any feeling of doom, yet still not enough to be considered aggressive. Rather than creating an atmosphere of darkness, there are actually up-tempo melodies all over the album. One of the most offensive tracks, in this regard, is "Remembrance".  It is almost as if the band was not self-aware in the slightest bit, having no idea that they were among those responsible for the birth of Death/Doom, and that people wanted to hear dark and gloomy music from them. This seems designed to be more easily digested, with short and bland compositions that really accomplish nothing and certainly never challenge the listener on any level (other than the challenge of remaining awake). There are some mildly interesting lead passages, but these are not enough to save these simplistic and mundane tracks. Oddly, though it has almost nothing in common with Gothic, Icon still comes across as very cheesy. A lot of this is due to the vocals, being even more clean and sounding similar to James Hetfield. The vocal patterns are just bad, often going for the most obvious and cliche melodies. This is not helped by the fact that the album contains so much filler. Had they dropped a lot of these more lackluster songs and worked to more fully develop those that had promise, such as "Joys of the Emptiness", this album could have been a lot better. As for the production, it is stronger than on Shades of God, though it is a matter of too little, too late. By the time the band managed to get a fuller sound again, the material was so weak that it didn't really deserve it.

In the end, Icon is hardly worth bothering with, even for loyal fans of Paradise Lost. The brief moments of doom are surrounded by so much mediocre and pointless riffs and awkward vocals that this is a somewhat painful listen. Even for those seeking something more goth-influenced, there is only really one song of interest. There are a handful of decent ideas that could have been turned into something, had the band slowed down and put forth more effort. The only depressing thing about this release is how utterly bad it is, compared to their previous efforts.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Paradise Lost - Shades of God (1992)

Shades of God is the third L.P. from Paradise Lost. Released in July 1992, through Music For Nations, this is often considered to be a transition record. That may be true, in some regards, but the truth is that none of the band's earliest efforts were really the same. The band's style really was a work in progress, at that point, and each release showed yet another step in their evolution. This time around, the tracks are lengthier, on average. The songwriting is more solid than on Gothic, more fully embracing the Black Sabbath style of Doom. The vocals are not as harsh, either, further lightening the mood, so to speak. However, in the end, the material is more consistent than on the previous full-length.

Even though Shades of God represents yet another step away from the sound of Lost Paradise, it is an improvement over Gothic. While the latter was almost like the band's answer to Into the Pandemonium, being more about stylistic changes and experimentation, their third album possesses more substance. Almost none of the music seems pointless. At times filled with doom and at other times more aggressive, there is more actual feeling with less passive and useless riffs. The cheesy elements from the previous record have been removed, resulting in a more stripped-down and genuine sound. The music may not be perfect, but it is not soiled by an orchestra or annoying female wailing. One can clearly hear influences from Black Sabbath and Celtic Frost. Even some of the lead solos are reminiscent of something from Paranoid or Master of Reality, with somewhat of a bluesy vibe. This further kills any possibility for creating a truly dark atmosphere, but that was already laid to rest the previous year. As well, the vocals are less harsh, though not quite clean, for the most part. It actually suits the material better, except for the times when he tries to sing with this voice. There are brief parts with totally clean vocals, almost sounding like Peter Steele, which work rather well. The lyrics are a little misleading, as they often come across more bleak and depressing than the music itself. The songs are very dynamic, with a mixture of more aggressive sections with slower and more dismal passages and even occasional clean guitars. The most straightforward and catchy song on here is "As I Die", which seems more like an attempt to write a radio single.

The production is better than on the last album. The overall sound is still a little weak, compared to Lost Paradise, but it is more balanced than on Gothic. The vocals are not so high in the mix and the guitars sound a bit more full and are not so neutered as before. The bass is more audible as well, though it mostly serves to take away any rough edge that the music might have otherwise had, giving more of a soft and warm tone. This material really would have benefited from a heavier and thicker sound, similar to the first Candlemass record.

Shades of God is a really solid Doom Metal album. The somewhat rough vocal delivery hardly qualifies this as Death/Doom, and the Sabbath influences are too obvious to ignore. While Paradise Lost got even farther from the brilliance of their debut L.P. with this release, it features more consistent songwriting than on Gothic and actually succeeds in creating a gloomy feeling, at times. It is not without its weak spots, but it is still enjoyable for what it is. Highlights include "Mortals Watch the Day", "Daylight Torn" and "The Word Made Flesh".

Monday, September 2, 2013

Branikald - Рдяндалир (1996)

Рдяндалир is the sophomore effort from Branikald. Released just one month after their first album, in January 1996, it already shows quite a departure from the band's established sound. While it still falls within the same realm, the style is very different. The album can be looked at as two separate halves, one much more successful and enjoyable than the other, perhaps. Overall, Branikald seemed to be going for a more atmospheric approach, this time around.

The first two song, "Микрокосм Духа" and "Дух Смысла", create an atmosphere that is rather introspective and gloomy, though not overly melancholic. It is almost the feeling of a somewhat resigned acceptance of a miserable existence that will never improve. Rather than the cries of the tormented, one can hear the sighs of the oppressed, knowing that all is wrong with the world but never having actually experienced anything better, so there is hardly anything to mourn other than ideas. Musically, one is reminded of Burzum and Strid, at times, though this is even less dynamic than the latter. The obvious Darkthrone-worship has given way to a strong influence from the work of Varg Vikernes. The compositions are lengthy and repetitious, as simple guitar melodies flow over almost nonexistent drums. The vocals are rather sparse, sounding somewhat distant and obscure, with the occasional clean cries thrown in. This is very dreary and minimalist.

The second half of the album is where some may get lost. "Безвременной Тьмой Ночной" is rather odd, as the pace picks up but the main melody is played with a clean guitar, lacking any distortion. This creates a really disjointed effect, as the drums and vocals do not fit at all. It sounds very awkward. Unfortunately, this continues on the final track, which consists only of this clean guitar and desperate clean vocals mixed in with the normal ones. It works a little better than the previous track, just because it lacks drums and thus doesn't sound as out of place.

The production is worse than on the last album. In this case, that is not a good thing. Lo-fi is fine, but this possesses flaws that are rather distracting. It sounds like it was recorded onto a warped cassette, almost. The cymbals are a little annoying and the volume seems to go up and down, for no reason. As well, the vocals are mixed at different levels on the various songs. They are buried a bit on the first track, while coming through pretty clearly on the next.

In the end, Рдяндалир can be seen as somewhat of an experimental release. This time, it seems to have failed. That is not to say that this is a bad album. For the period, it was already very unoriginal, though not nearly as much as it would be considered now. Fans of early Burzum and the LLN bands should definitely give this a listen. If you don't mind something a bit strange and inconsistent, this may be worth your time, though it is a definite step down from Varg Fjerne A Tornet.

Paradise Lost - Gothic (1991)

Released in March 1991, Gothic is the second full-length album from Paradise Lost and is widely considered as their best and most influential work. While the latter may very well be true, unfortunately, the former would only be correct if not for the existence of Lost Paradise, which kills this in every possible way. Gothic is hardly worth listening to and possesses many shortcomings, compared to its predecessor.

First of all, the production is really horrible. The vocals are too high in the mix, by far. The drums are really inconsequential, similar to the previous album in presentation. However, the major problem with the sound is how weak and low the guitars are. They still sound somewhat rough and unpolished; however, they come across as very thin and quiet. The crushing force present on Lost Paradise is completely gone, even during parts that clearly need it. Of course, due to the shift in songwriting, one would expect some kind of changes to accentuate that, but to neuter the music seems like a poor choice.

Musically, Gothic is softer and more melodic than the debut. At times, one can hear traces of goth rock, especially on "Shattered". The Death Metal parts that made up a solid part of the previous album are almost completely absent. The fastest parts on here are more akin to something from an old Black Sabbath record, with bits of Celtic Frost thrown in. There is still some decent doom riffs, but many are spoiled by the weak production or the very irritating and much more prevalent use of female vocals and an orchestra, the title track being a notable example. The addition of these cheesy elements, along with the haphazard compositions, result in a total lack of the dark vibe that was present on Lost Paradise. There really is not much atmosphere to speak of, as most of this comes off as generic and pointless. The one song that best combats this is "Silent", which features some of the best moments of the whole record. This is the only one that sounds like a continuation of the last record, though it is not perfect either. The lead guitar work is more extensive on this album, and adds a lot to the music, but still fails to make up for the mediocre songwriting. The vocals are a little more varied, as Holmes begins to experiment with his clean voice, though he mostly sticks to his monstrous death growl. However, it feels a little out of place being paired up with such timid music.

Paradise Lost were onto something with their debut record. Unfortunately, they threw that away to experiment and ended up creating something much less impressive, even though it seems to have appealed to more people in the long run. The best thing about Gothic may be the albums that were inspired by it, such as Dance of December Souls, from Katatonia. At least they managed to utilize this approach a lot better and to create something gloomy and memorable. Despite the use of harsh vocals, it would not be correct to label this as Death/Doom. It is very soft and weak and includes too many goth rock influences. There is only one decent song on here, which is a travesty considering how good Lost Paradise was. At any rate, anyone familiar with this band knows just how inconsistent their albums were, before they completely sold out, so it should come as no surprise. If you want something dark and/or melancholic, avoid this.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Paradise Lost - Lost Paradise (1990)

Written and recorded at the very end of the 1980s, Lost Paradise was released on Peaceville Records in January 1990. As the debut full-length from Paradise Lost, this L.P. not only put them on the map, it also helped to establish the new sub-genre known as Death/Doom. Though many would argue that the following album is the pinnacle of the band's career, this one is far more powerful and consistent. This record takes the work that began on Black Sabbath to one of its logical conclusions, mixed with the raw feeling of Satanic Rites

The songwriting is very solid, with not a single filler track to be found on here. Unlike many of the band's later efforts, or even those that were influenced by this, there is nothing pretty about Lost Paradise. This is dark, filthy and, at times, barbaric. The latter certainly applies to the vocal performance of Nick Holmes, whose voice is deep and yet somewhat throaty as well. Occasionally, the music is reminiscent of Autopsy, yet the dreadful atmosphere is much darker, accentuated by the hellish lead work. Even from the earliest days, the guitar playing of Gregor Mackintosh was one of the most easily identifiable aspects of the band's music. His contributions at a lot of depth to the songs. There is an intensity here that is unrivaled by anything these guys ever did after this. This is not the sort of Death/Doom that consists of mostly pretty melodies and goth influences, balanced out with harsh vocals. Every bit of this is utterly bleak and deathlike. That is one thing that was soon lost by those that followed; there is plenty of Death Metal here, as well as bits of Thrash. Naturally, the songs are dominated by slow or mid-paced sections, but the faster parts are never too far behind. This isn't the kind of "woe is me" approach that My Dying Bride would go on to make. This is more about the doom and gloom of this hellish existence to which we are all damned to suffer and die without hope. There is also an anti-religious element present in the lyrics.

"Where is your god now as you're dying alone"

This does well to capture the essence of this album. Songs like "Deadly Inner Sense" and "Rotting Misery" truly set the standard for this kind of music, possessed by monstrous riffs that drip with venomous doom and crush your very spirit. The subtle keys add a sense of horror to the music, done in a very tasteful manner. Again, the rough and savage vocals really add to the atmosphere, especially some of the raspier cries. Despite whatever they may say about this material now, there is a very genuine feeling present here. Things do get more gloomy as they progress, with a very desolate feeling prevailing by the time "Breeding Fear" comes along. There is a brief part that includes some female vocals. This, along with the more melancholic feeling of the title track, kind of foreshadows the path that they would follow with the next album.

The production is pretty raw, for what this is. It possesses a very rough sound, compared to a lot of the Death Metal that was released around the same time. The guitar tone is harsh and still very powerful. Thankfully, the lead guitar is not buried in the mix, as happens frequently with more underground releases. The bass is audible and adds to the murky feeling of the album. The drums are lead-heavy and really help to drive things forward. Of course, the vocals come across like some kind of inhuman roaring. Really, this record came out with the exact production job that was needed to best accentuate the material and the atmosphere that they were striving for. Anything overdone would have killed this, dead. By the same token, had everything not sounded so massive and strong, a lot would have been lost.

This is the definitive Paradise Lost album, never to be matched by anything else that they ever did. It is drenched in darkness and gloom, yet still possesses a brutal and aggressive side as well. Everything comes together, brilliantly, and this is the most solid display of songwriting that the band ever offered up. Lost Paradise is the epitome of Death/Doom and the best example of how this style should be played. If you have not picked this up and given it a thorough listen, do so as soon as possible.