Friday, March 21, 2014

Grotesque - The Black Gate is Closed

Released in early 1989, The Black Gate is Closed is the second demo from one of the earliest Black/Death Metal bands from Sweden, Grotesque. One might not recognize this as the same entity that spawned Incantation or the more widely available In the Embrace of Evil. However, it actually sounds like the logical predecessor to the Gardens of Grief E.P. from At the Gates.

The production is completely different from the band's better-known material. Unlike their later recordings, which possessed a razor-sharp guitar tone and more treble overall, the sound here is dominated by bass. The guitars sound rather blunt and everything comes together to create a dull wall of sound.

Though two of these tracks appear on later recordings, they are hardly recognizable. "Blood Runs from the Altar", in particular, seems to have changed quite a bit from the version on this tape. The riffs are played in more of a traditional Death Metal way, as opposed to later on. As well, the vocals are much deeper and somewhat reminiscent of the Black/Death Metal bands from Brazil, such as Vulcano. The drumming is more militaristic and rigid, unlike the style utilized on Incantation. The blast beats are very stiff and give the songs kind of an oppressive feeling.

The Black Gate is Closed was quite a bit ahead of what the other bands in the Swedish underground were up to, at the time. It sounds more evil than Bathory's Blood Fire Death, released the previous year, and is almost more intense than anything Nihilist was up to at the time. The sound may be a little shocking to those only familiar with Incantation, but it is still a solid piece of Death/Black Metal.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Blackmoon - Beyond the Nothingness (1994)

Many within the underground scene recognize the musical brilliance of David Parland, also known as Blackmoon. It was his songwriting and creativity that spawned bands such as Necrophobic and Dark Funeral; both entities that would not even exist today if not for the notoriety gained during their formative years, when David was responsible for the bulk of the compositions. He would go on to be involved in other projects, such as War and Infernal, yet one remained in the shadows for many years.

Way back in 1994, around the time of the first Dark Funeral E.P. and Necrophobic's Bloodfreezing demo, David's creative energies resulted in the birth of an even darker project, known simply as Blackmoon. Only two songs were completed and the material was hidden away, only available to a select few until being put online in 2009. Not long after, a split release was planned, eventually coming to fruition in early 2013 as Beyond the Nothingness. As the second half features songs from my own band, Nocturnal Abyss, I am unable to comment on them aside from saying that both tracks are the same versions that appear on From the Depths of Mörkvod, released not long after.

The two Blackmoon songs possess a more dark and sombre feeling than that of David's other bands. Within a few moments, one can easily distinguish the cold and nocturnal style that was prominent in his work with Necrophobic and Dark Funeral. With the subtle keyboards and mid-paced tempos, one is almost reminded of Burzum. Without a doubt, there is a Bathory influence that is heard here, hearkening back to "Enter the Eternal Fire" and "A Fine Day to Die". Though the tracks are only four and five minutes long, there is an epic quality to both, especially "Across the Black Mountains". The open arpeggio riffs add a sense of despair and misery. The drumming is consistent and lively, suiting the songs well, without taking away from the dreary atmosphere created by the guitar melodies. The vocals are powerful and yet somewhat distant. There is a certain conviction that many often lack, and it is a shame that he did not perform vocals more frequently. Unlike the deeper sound utilized on the Von cover from The Secrets of the Black Arts, his voice is raspier on these songs. Some of the screams are enough to freeze the blood in your veins. Production-wise, this is not too far off from Marduk's Opus Nocturne or the debut from Dark Funeral, with a very similar mix and guitar tone. It is not particularly rough and lacks a sharp edge, yet such things would not have benefited the compositions.

Unlike so many false bands that exist, especially with those so-called depressive bands that overflow into the scene these days, Blackmoon is marked by a genuine and true feeling that can be clearly perceived. Beyond the Nothingness shows the more dreary and morose side of David Parland's musical genius. For anyone that is a fan of his work, this is absolutely essential. The dark and mournful nature of these songs are very much in tune with what his life was like for so many years, and it may be that he missed his calling by not pursuing this project more vigorously in later years, as to express the utter pitch-black darkness that was consuming him might have been cathartic. Blackmoon was picked back up, near the end, but was still considered less important than Infernal. As a result, these tracks offer only a glimpse of what could have been, yet remain significant in their own right. After some delays, these songs were finally available on this split album, though coming some days after David's passing. In the end, the Blackmoon material served as a tribute and epitaph for a great musician and a good man that shall not be forgotten.

"The cold winds surround me
Dark gates I shall enter..."

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Carpathian Forest - Bloodlust and Perversion (1992)

Carpathian Forest is an odd band. Their first three releases are their best, which wouldn't be so bad if not for the fact that they are made up of two demos and an E.P. All in all, less than ten real songs make up the band's prime. By the time they managed to record full-length albums, the quality of the songwriting had become very inconsistent and they never were able to put together a single album that could be considered entirely solid.

Their first demo, Bloodlust and Perversion, was released in 1992. Emerging the same year as A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Live in Leipzig, Burzum, Wrath of the Tyrant and Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism, this tape was nothing all that special, or significant, by comparison. Carpathian Forest could have met the same fate as a band like Incarnator, releasing a demo and then fading into obscurity. Yet, somehow, they were able to survive the fallout of 1993-94 and retain their primary influences for a while.

What one can hear on this demo is rather thickly produced Black Metal that owes a great deal to early Celtic Frost. Looking past the intro and outro, this tape only has three real songs, yet they are among the strongest that the band ever put together. The sound is very heavy, with very little treble and a massive wall of sound that makes Morbid Tales sound like a lightweight. The songs are mostly mid-paced, with subtle guitar work that adds a creepy effect, somewhat foreshadowing the following demo. The songwriting is not absolutely consistent, as the title track ends with a strange Death Metal section. Still, it is not totally out of place. When listening to "Return of the Freezing Winds", one cannot help but think of this as the bastard child of "Procreation (of the Wicked)". The riffs are fairly simple and memorable, while creating a feeling of darkness and doom. This is aided by the great vocal performance of Nattefrost. His voice is very raspy and sinister and adds an evil aura to the recording.

Though Bloodlust and Perversion lacks a track like "Carpathian Forest" or "Journey through the Cold Moors of Svarttjern", it still ranks as one of their best recordings and is something that all fans of the band need to hear. Carpathian Forest possessed a lot of potential that went to waste, but their first outing was rather successful and should appeal to those who like the old school Black Metal of the '80s as well as the Second Wave bands.

Unpure - s/t (1995)

Unpure is a Black Metal band from Sweden that is not very well-known, compared to many of their peers. Sometimes, really good bands fall through the cracks while lesser ones get all of the praise. That is not the case, here. I heard a song of theirs, a few years after this was released, and it was probably the best one on the album. Thinking the entire thing was of the same quality, I looked for it, for quite some time. However, once I acquired it, I was hit with disappointment. By 1995, a lot of uninspired bands had come along to clutter up the scene, and Unpure's self-titled debut lumps them in with that group.

The production is awful. The drums are far too high in the mix and much too clear. They are often distracting. The guitar tone is too warm and non-threatening. There is no raw, sharp edge to the guitars. The bass is also too loud. With a more appropriate sound, this might have been salvaged, though the songwriting is also quite poor.

The compositions are very mediocre and boring. The majority of the songs are inconsistent and almost tedious to listen to. This music is almost entirely incapable of creating any sort of atmosphere. The songwriting shifts from Black Metal to Rock, and the presence of harsh vocals does not change that fact. There are brief flashes of something interesting, which likely only seem good by comparison to the wretched ideas that surround them. The thick production and the abundance of chunky riffs makes it seem as if these guys listened more to Pantera than to Bathory or Darkthrone. There is a clear Celtic Frost influence, but these guys do such a poor job that they cannot even match the darkness of Cold Lake. The mid-paced parts almost possess a Doom feeling, from time to time, but mostly fail to give any feeling other than pure boredom.

Unpure's debut album is very mediocre and inconsistent. It definitely does not belong to Black Metal, being more of a Heavy Metal album with some Black Metal influences. That would be fine, if only the songwriting was not so weak. There is no feeling to this, no purpose. The fast parts feel forced and the slow parts are beyond dull. It is not dark or evil or sombre or aggressive. It's just there. So my advice is to leave it right there, in the ninety-nine cent bin, where it belongs.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Carpathian Forest - Journey Through the Cold Moors of Svarttjern (1993)

Journey Through the Cold Moors of Svarttjern is the second official demo from the now-infamous Norwegian band known as Carpathian Forest. Released in April 1993, this recording is quite different from Bloodlust and Perversion. This is one of the most unique releases in this band's discography, and also one of the best.

Unlike their previou outing, which was dominated by heavy riffs that owed a lot to early Mayhem and Celtic Frost, Journey Through the Cold Moors of Svarttjern is a much more atmospheric effort. Two of the three tracks would end up on Through Chasm, Caves and Titan Woods, without much alteration. The title track is a dreary and woeful tune that includes acoustic guitars and some of the most anguishes shrieks ever captured on tape. Of the three, this is the most complete and meaningful song on here. "The Eclipse / The Raven" is a morose piece that includes a couple verses from the famous poem by Edgar Allan Poe. The obscure vocals are backed up by sparse synth, sound effects, acoustic guitar and simplistic bass lines. Its relative brevity suits it well, as much more would have been excessive and monotonous. "The Last Sigh of Nostalgia" is quite similar in structure, though it clocks in at eight minutes long.

The production is not too bad for a demo. Unlike many others around this time, it is definitely not lacking in bass presence. Rather than being trebly and harsh, there is kind of a warm tone to the guitar. There is a bit of distortion from the drums, but not enough to distract from the rest. The vocals are mixed at an even level that allows for the dark and miserable feeling to be conveyed, without overpowering the music.

Journey Through the Cold Moors of Svarttjern is not an essential release, given that two-thirds of this is present on the band's debut E.P. Nonetheless, if you have the chance to pick this up or acquire the tracks in some manner, do so. This ranks pretty high among the band's output and is one of the more worthy releases under the Carpathian Forest name.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Obtained Enslavement - Centuries of Sorrow (1994)

Released in 1994, Centuries of Sorrow is the debut full-length from Norway's Obtained Enslavement. This band is one of the lesser-known acts from this time period, and for good reason. The best thing about this release is Pest's vocal performance. Thankfully, he moved on to Gorgoroth, where he was able to make better use of his talents. The songwriting, overall, is very inconsistent and mediocre.

Musically, this is a mixed bag. There are a few decent ideas mixed in with a lot that are not-so-good. By this point, many bands were forgetting (or simply never knew) that Black Metal was supposed to be dark. Here, Obtained Enslavement utilizes way too many uplifting melodies that would have been better suited for some old NWOBHM. The mere presence of harsh vocals and tremolo picking does not make something Black Metal, regardless of what anyone thinks. If the riffs are completely bereft of any hint of darkness, then harsh vocals or a certain picking style are not enough to make it something that it isn't. Some songs have very happy-sounding melodies that owe more to Iron Maiden than to Bathory. "Unblessed" and "Centuries of Sorrow" are good examples of this. Ignore the synth in the latter, which is bad enough, and focus on the melodies themselves. Then, songs like "Symbolic" and "Haze of Knowledge" feature Death Metal riffs, sounding like they had been ripped right from a Cannibal Corpse album. 

The production is kind of fuzzy, but not raw in any way. The guitars often have a thick sound to them, particularly emphasized during the Death Metal parts. Attempting to have kind of a rough sound when it doesn't suit the music is a little odd. With the melodic tendencies, Centuries of Sorrow would have benefited from something similar to Sacramentum's Far Away from the Sun, perhaps. The only thing that gives this a remotely Black Metal feel is the vocal work of Pest, which is drowned in reverb and has a very distant and obscure feeling at times.

Obtained Enslavement is not an essential band, the reason why is exemplified by this sloppy and haphazard album. Even the one song that seems to have the most promise, "As I Slowly Fade", goes from being a mid-paced and dreary track to a Death Metal section and then more melodic and uplifting nonsense. If that is your thing, you will enjoy this. Nonetheless, Centuries of Sorrow lacks the sense of darkness or, most importantly, the actual songwriting consistency to be considered Black Metal.