Monday, April 28, 2014

Ravenclaw - Winternacht (1996)

Ravenclaw was a side project from Gaamalzagoth, of Moonblood. Whereas he only did vocals in his primary band, here he handled everything himself. The band's second demo, titled Winternacht, was released in March 1996, around the same time as Blut & Krieg. The end result, however, is not as positive as one might have hoped for.

This is straightforward, raw Black Metal. Of this, there is no doubt. The musicianship is roughly the same as that of Occulta Mors in Moonblood, yet the songwriting is nowhere near as brilliant. While being solid, the riffs here are good on their own but average by comparison. Each song sticks to the same formula, more or less, being pure Bathory and Darkthrone worship with fast tremolo riffs and primitive drums. As for the latter, Gaamalzagoth utilized a drum machine and it sounds terrible. It really takes away from any feeling that the music could have had, especially with the particularly raw recording of the guitars. They just do not fit together well.

The sound is not really up to the same quality as one would expect from a proper demo of this period, though more along the lines of the Moonblood rehearsals. The quality is good enough for the guitar melodies to be heard, as well as the hate-filled vocals, but something about the guitars sound rather distant. This may also have something to do with the drum programming throwing the sound off.

Winternacht is not a terrible demo. It is certainly worth checking out for fans of Moonblood. However, with that said, do not expect the same songwriting genius. Gaamalzagoth is competent, but he is no Occulta Mors when it comes to composing music, it seems. For what it is, Ravenclaw is pretty decent and would have sounded quite good with real drums. Give it a listen, but keep your expectations low.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Moonblood - Fullmoon Witchery (1996)

As part of the monumental From Hell boxed set, released in November 2013, there is included a 7" E.P. that was originally recorded in 1996. Though only containing two tracks, Fullmoon Witchery is one of Moonblood's best efforts and is absolutely essential for fans of the band and of Black Metal, in general. The reasons for never properly releasing this at the time seem rather mysterious, as this is yet another recording that displays the genius that this band possessed and would have easily stood out among the majority of the albums that were released back then.

The music conveys an atmosphere that is cold and sombre. The fast-picked tremolo melodies are very memorable and possess a melancholic quality without being overtly depressive in the sense that is commonly associated with some bands, these days. The title track features some additional melodies that really add to the epic feeling of the song. As with many of their other works, it is as if this music transports your mind back in time. There is a gloominess that exists to mourn the world that was lost, long before this wrong and empty existence came into being. As for "Under the Abyssic Black Wings of the 3rd Angel", there is a bit of a Viking-era Bathory influence in the acoustic intro and the mid-paced riffs that serve to further take you on a journey to another time and place. Regardless of which style that Occulta Mors utilized, he was always able to create an epic atmosphere, which was accentuated by the evil and hellish voice of Gaamalzagoth. At times, the second song seems to foreshadow what would come with Nachtfalke. Some of the playing is a bit rough, but the vibe is always genuine and pure, which is worth more than a million "perfectly executed" albums with the sickening modern production and no feeling, whatsoever.

Regarding the production, this ranks alongside Sob a lua do bode and Of Lunar Passion and Sombre Blood as having the best sound of any recording throughout the band's career. Unlike the many demos and rehearsals, where one would have to train the ear and put forth effort to make out what was going on, at times, the guitars come through very well, here. The brilliant melodies created by Occulta Mors are able to be more fully appreciated on Fullmoon Witchery. The guitar tone is cold and, though not razor-sharp, still rather thin and trebly which suits the music perfectly. The blood-chilling screams and hateful-filled vocals are mixed at a perfect level to be heard and yet to not overpower the rest. The same can be said of the drumming, which is clear enough but not overbearing.

Fullmoon Witchery clocks in at only ten minutes in length and consists of but two songs, yet this recording is far more essential and important than 90% of the Black Metal releases that have come since its creation in 1996. These tracks have been floating around on bootlegs for some time, but if you haven't already acquired them in some manner then make haste in doing so now. This is highly recommended and is a good example of Black Metal done right... something that is often lost on people, in this disgusting modern age.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Havohej - Dethrone the Son of God (1993)

Havohej is an American Black / Death Metal band formed by Paul Ledney, basically picking up from where Profanatica left off. Upon first discovering them, I was a bit turned off. Satanic and anti-Christian themes are fine in opposing the Great Lie, but some bands seem to go a little too far. Their lyrics show almost too much knowledge of this fictional nonsense. As well, in this case, the band name was just very unimpressive as was the fact that the band hailed from the states. Thankfully, I ended up giving them a chance and discovering just what an evil record Dethrone the Son of God is.

Released in 1993, this album seems to show a bit of influence from the Scandinavian Black Metal scene. This is particularly evident with the production, which is quite a but thinner and more raw than on the Profanatica releases. Speaking of which, one would not be wrong to consider this the true first full-length from that band, seeing as how it is a direct continuation of the work begun on Putrescence of... and Weeping in Heaven. Not only are several Profanatica songs re-recorded here, but the overall style of the music is precisely the same.

On Dethrone the Son of God, there seems to be an added emphasis on the fast tempos, though the album is not without the gloomy mid-paced sections as well. "Once Removed Savior" is a prime example of the latter, which is about as morose of a track as Paul Ledney ever created. His raspy vocals and evil lyrics really help the sinister atmosphere and set this apart from the other bands in the American underground at the time. Musically, much of this could be taken as Death Metal, with the vocals and overall vibe being the main thing to distinguish it from the likes of Incantation. One of the only complaints about this album, though, is its extreme brevity. So many of the songs struggle to even get past the one or two-minute mark. The songwriting is strong enough, just not as fully developed as it could have been. A song like "The King of the Jews", for example, is barely over a minute and a half and the main guitar melody is very good, just rather incomplete. The same can be said of "Behold the Prince of Peace", though at least it possesses vocals.

Dethrone the Son of God is a solid, if incomplete, album of Black / Death Metal. It's too bad that this release by Havohej was the final legacy of Profanatica for quite some time, and that Ledney didn't manage to continue being as prolific as he once once, immediately following this release. his projects definitely had a lot of potential, and the recordings that do exist are certainly worth hearing, but it seemed as if he could have done so much more. If you haven't yet listened to this, ignore the stupid band name and give it a chance.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Incantation - Onward to Golgotha (1992)

Already by 1992, Death Metal was undergoing quite a transformation. Atmosphere was being replaced by technicality, in some cases. Many were trying to outdo one another, in some idiotic contest to see who could make the most brutal and pointless music. A lot of bands were changing in the name of "maturity", moving on to make simplified nonsense or just tackling subject matter that had nothing to do with what this music was supposed to be about. Thankfully, in May, Incantation's first full-length record was released. Onward to Golgotha is a massive beast of evil Death Metal, taking the concepts of the previous releases and really solidifying the band's sound. As a bonus, the band avoids the common themes of horror and gore, instead conveying a strong anti-Christian sentiment.

Incantation is certainly one band that understands that atmosphere comes before all else and this is quite evident on their debut album. Everything has a purpose, as nothing is played just for the sake of showing off. The fast tremolo riffs build the intensity and sense of urgency, while the various slower passages add an aura of darkness and utter doom. Each track displays some amount of variation in tempo and manages to maintain its own identity, yet the changes are done with purpose and not just to disorient the listener and never seem to become formulaic. Songs like "Golgotha" and "Devoured Death" truly batter your senses, while the likes of "Blasphemous Cremation" and "Christening the Afterbirth" drag you to the murky depths with doom passages that really add to the darkened feel of the album. There are times when the drumming is too fluid and adds a sense of groove, when perhaps the music would have sounded more intense with the primitive type of drumming featured in Profanatica. The one change that would have benefited this album the most would have been if Paul Ledney had not left the band. His much raspier vocal approach would have made this much more sinister and memorable, as the super-low vocals sort of blend in with the music and do very little for me, personally.

The production is a bit more polished than necessary, but not to an irritating level by any means. However, the compositions would have really come across better with a more raw sound that placed more emphasis on the guitars. Unfortunately, around this time, Death Metal was changing and everything was going lower; i.e. lower-pitched vocals, lower tuning on the guitars, the prominence of the bass and drums in the mix. These things work against the sort of vibe that Death Metal is supposed to have. That said, Incantation still managed to create something very worthwhile, here.

Onward to Golgotha is a definite classic of Death Metal. It is unfortunate that Incantation suffered so many problems with lineup difficulties and with their label, as this material is far stronger than most of the other albums from this era that regularly receive so much more praise. For example, and album like Tomb of the Mutilated is widely known and has had tons of praise heaped upon it for two decades, yet it has been my experience that Incantation is not as highly regarded as Cannibal Corpse, despite being a better band. Nevertheless, this album is highly recommended to any fan of the old school Death Metal sound, back when it was supposed to create a feeling of dread, darkness, death and evil, rather than being a wanking contest between attention whores with no clue what this music was meant to be. Seek this out if you do not already own it.

Cannibal Corpse - Butchered at Birth (1991)

Cannibal Corpse has always been a rather prolific band, going all the way back to their earliest days. Though nearly every album of theirs has sounded the same for well over a decade, such was not the case in the beginning. Each of their first several records had a rather distinctive sound. Released in 1991, Butchered at Birth came across as a bit darker and more serious, leaving behind the '80s Death / Thrash and campy horror movie lyrics in favour of something more disturbing.

The sophomore effort from Cannibal Corpse is a much heavier record and this is a result not only of the lower tuning for the guitars, but also the thicker production and the bludgeoning riffs. Also, the vocals become less discernible and more of an instrument that pushes the compositions forward, as Chris Barnes uses a deeper and more guttural style than before. This is one of the more negative aspects of the album, as his voice on Eaten Back to Life possessed a deathlike feeling that was lost with the arrival of the infamous "cookie monster" vocals. As for the music, the band discarded more of the trappings of their Thrash Metal roots and embrace a more pure Death Metal style, featuring more droning tremolo riffs and blastbeats. In some ways, Butchered at Birth seems to utilize a more percussive approach. Rather than just keeping a beat, the drums drive the music along just as much as the guitars and vocals. Even during the mid-paced sections, the double-bass never stops rumbling. Some of the riffs start to blend together, and one may have a hard time remembering which one belongs to what song, but then there are tracks like "Vomit the Soul" (featuring guest vocals from Glen Benton of Deicide) and the powerful closer, "Innards Decay", that stick with you long after the album concludes.

Though the production is not as raw and the vocals lack much of the unique character from before, Butchered at Birth is filled with memorable riffs and still stands as a guitar-oriented album. Because of the tuning of the guitars, the lower-pitched vocals and the prominence of the drumming, the sound of this album comes off as rather muddy, in a sense. It is like a wall of sound that repeatedly smashes you in the face, which may have been what the band was going for.

Cannibal Corpse was never the greatest Death Metal band out there, gaining a lot of notoriety from their album covers and promotion and so on, but they were solid in their early years. Butchered at Birth shows a bit of decline in quality from Eaten Back to Life, but it is still a decent Death Metal record with a fair amount of memorable riffs and ideas, if not actually memorable songs. If you are new to the band, or only familiar with their recent output, put that trash away and stick with their first few releases.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mantas - Death By Metal (1984)

1984 was a special time for Metal, in general. Several seminal Thrash bands had not long before released, or were working on, their debut albums. Black Metal was in its infancy with the likes of Venom, Bathory, Sodom and Hellhammer making hellish recordings. Then we have the birth of Death Metal in its proper form, with the Death By Metal demo from Mantas (later known as Death).

To imagine that something this extreme was already being written at a time when Dio and Ozzy were among the standard-bearers for Metal is quite odd, when put into perspective. Bands like WASP and Motley Crue were all over the radio, along with many more even softer acts. Even the Big Four were still relatively unknown at this point. Yet bands existed that were already pushing the envelope even further.

I wish I would have been old enough at the time to have listened to this for the first time with unsuspecting ears. The intense high-speed riffs already blew Metallica's debut out of the water, and Kill 'Em All had only recently outdone Venom's output in terms of speed. The guitar riffs were powerful and dark, such as the intro to "Legion of Doom", and just hellishly evil and violent in the case of "Beyond the Unholy Grave". As if the songwriting was not extreme enough, the vocals were something that were still relatively new. Kam Lee's approach must have been influenced by Cronos, yet here his voice is much more powerful. It is not as demonic or evil as what Quorthon was doing at the time, but it was certainly among the most brutal for the era during which this was recorded. Schuldiner contributes vocals for "Power of Darkness", with some of the most insane screams that he ever let out.

Out of the five songs that are on the official version of this demo, only "Evil Dead" and "Beyond the Unholy Grave" managed to see a proper recording, later on. While it can be somewhat understood that they left behind the Venom-on-speed approach of "Death By Metal", the omission of "Legion of Doom" from Scream Bloody Gore was a questionable decision. Though the production on this demo is fairly decent, the vocals really are buried and the riffs don't have even a fraction of the power that they do on Death's debut full-length. In truth, it would have been nice to hear all of these re-recorded.

This is an essential recording, not just for fans of Death, but of those interested in the beginnings of Death Metal as a sub-genre. The sound is harsh and unprofessional, which is just how this sort of music should be presented. If you are only familiar with the likes of Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy, and disappointed by the weak direction that the band went afterward, this is definitely worth a listen.

Mercyful Fate - Return of the Vampire (1992)

In May 1992, Mercyful Fate fans received a gift from Roadrunner Records in the form of the Return of the Vampire compilation. With nearly a decade since the last release by this legendary band, this must have been a very welcome treat to the ears of those that had been previously unable to get their hands on this material.

Of the nine tracks on this collection, the most important are undoubtedly the first five, which are from the Burning the Cross demo. Of these, "Curse of the Pharaohs", "A Corpse Without Soul" and "On a Night of Fullmoon" were later recorded for the band's proper releases, the latter being an earlier version of "Desecration of Souls". The songwriting is a little more primitive here, though still enjoyable. Though not as concise, these somewhat longer and less focused versions still possess the same evil atmosphere that Mercyful Fate was known for. However, the real gems of this compilation are the massive epic track "Burning the Cross" and "Return of the Vampire".

The first time that I heard "Burning the Cross", I couldn't believe how incredible the song was; moreso, there was a sense of disbelief at the fact that the band neglected to include this masterpiece on either of their classic albums. Though some of the riffs were later used for other pieces, none compare to the brilliance of this composition. This takes the NWOBHM formula and injects it with an overdose of epic melodies and evil vibes. It is very memorable and just makes no sense that some version of this track was not featured on Melissa or Don't Break the Oath. It is almost a criminal offense. As for "Return of the Vampire", this song was revisited the following year and no real justice was done to this original. The ominous mid-paced riffs and haunting vocals make this one of the most memorable tracks of the band's career, even including the somewhat humourous backing vocals during the chorus. One has to wonder how this would have come across if re-recorded between 1983 and 1984.

As for the other four songs, they are certainly interesting to die-hard fans of Mercyful Fate, but they fail to match the atmosphere of the Burning the Cross demo tracks. It is fascinating to hear the band's development on tape, but this earlier and less evil version is not nearly as appealing as what they would soon after become.

It goes without saying that Return of the Vampire is an essential collection for any fan of Mercyful Fate. For those that are among the few to already possess a copy of Burning the Cross, then you can dismiss this. Otherwise, if you worship albums like Melissa and Don't Break the Oath, yet have not bothered to pick this up yet, do so with haste. This is highly recommended.

Profanatica - Weeping in Heaven (1991)

Released 1991, Weeping in Heaven is the first official release from Profanatica. These guys were ahead of most in the American underground in picking up on the corpse paint, as evidenced by the cover photo. More importantly, though, Profanatica was probably the most evil band in the country at this particular moment in time. This release only includes two tracks, but this material is rather essential for anyone into Black / Death from this time period.

The music is still pretty similar to the old Incantation stuff, being a mixture of hellishly fast parts that featured sinister tremolo melodies and then the mid-paced parts that injected a good dose of doom into things. In 1991, Black Metal was still allowed to sound like this, with the thicker guitars and the slow sections mixed in. The atmosphere is still dark and evil and the demonic vocals really add a lot to this. The first track is a bit plodding, at times, never really getting to the point where it flows too well, until the end. The really primitive drumming may have something to do with that. "Heavenly Father" is more straightforward and fast-paced. there are some tempo changes, but not as much. The production is fairly rough, but clear enough to follow. The sound is not as harsh as The Oath of Black Blood, for example, but it suits the stripped-down approach of the music quite well.

Weeping in Heaven is raw and primitive Black / Death Metal that should please any fan of early Incantation, Beherit, Archgoat and so on. Here, Profanatica managed to do what so few in the states could accomplish in the decades after: actually making evil-sounding music with an atmosphere of darkness. Seek this out.

Incantation - Deliverance of Horrific Prophecies (1991)

Released in 1991, Deliverance of Horrific Prophecies is the second E.P. from Incantation. Right from the start, this comes across as a monstrous recording of primitive and evil Death Metal. It retains all of the elements from Entrantment of Evil, yet somehow the band comes across as more confident and determined.

On this recording, the guitar tone is thicker, the vocals are deeper and the overall sound is heavy as lead. The slow passages are even slower and the drumming hearkens back to the heaviness of the first Candlemass record. There are fast-paced sections with blasting drums and wicked tremolo riffs, but they are in the minority this time around. The doomier parts seem to define the sound, here, especially with the title track. "Profanation" is rather mid-paced as well, though fails to convey the same sense of dread. The vocals suit the music well enough, though a raspier approach (such as that heard on the Profanatica material) would have sounded more appropriate and added to the evil atmosphere.

Though Death Metal is better suited to having a more raw production with sharper guitars and not so much of a bottom-end, in my opinion, it sort of works here since there is such a doom influence and just the overall heaviness of the sound. Incantation was never the greatest Death Metal band to come out of the states, but they certainly were one of the most consistent and one of the few that didn't stray into foreign territory as various new trends came along. Deliverance of Horrific Prophecies is certainly worth listening to.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Profanatica - Putrescence of... (1990)

Profanatica was spawned after Paul Ledney split from Incantation. This American Black / Death Metal band retained a lot of the same spirit, musically, and took things just deeper into the flames of Hell. The band's first demo, Putrescence of... (later known as As Tears of Blood Stain the Altar of Christ), emerged from the fiery abyss in June 1990.

Decades ago, as with later on, the Profanatica sound was very much similar to that of Incantation. For anyone familiar with the latter, the main differences would have to be a bit more straightforward songwriting, at times, and of course the higher and raspier vocals. This vocal approach actually suited the music a lot better, and helped to convey a dark and evil feeling. Though this tape only contains two songs, it is certainly memorable and was probably one of the most sinister things to be released in the states that year. The compositions are very primitive and do not, at all, flow in the same way that Incantation's material did around that time. However, the somewhat sloppy playing only served to accentuate the rawness of the overall atmosphere and hearkened back to the First Wave bands. There does exist more variation than one might expect, with "Raping of Angels" featuring various riffs that blend Black, Death and Doom Metal into one rather epic piece of music. The same can be said of "Final Hour of Christ", which sounds like it may have had an influence on bands like Beherit and Archgoat, stylistically. The mixture of fast and chaotic sections with the more mid-paced parts, and even the hellish solo work, really brings those bands to mind.

The production is pretty good, considering that this is a demo from 1990. The sound is very raw and ugly, which suits the material perfectly. There are really no complaints with the mix, though it would not have hurt if the vocals had been a fraction higher. Nonetheless, the sound is good as it stands. The guitars have enough power to really convey the doomy parts well, while still possessing enough of an edge for the fast sections to saw through you.

Putrescence of... is a very powerful demo, albeit much too brief. Sometimes, it is a good thing to leave people wanting more, but there never was a real payoff to this. It took seventeen years before Profanatica would manage to release a full-length album, sadly. Though there were other demos, splits and an E.P. to their credit, this band sat back in the shadows for far too long while inferior acts took it upon themselves to make horrid music to ruin any chance that the states had in creating a respectable reputation in the Black Metal underground. Nevertheless, anyone into primitive Black Metal that actually conveys an evil vibe should seek this out.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Incantation - Entrantment of Evil (1990)

Incantation has long been one of the most solid and consistent bands with all of Death Metal, and their proper beginnings go back to their 1990 E.P. Entrantment of Evil. While being on the second-tier, below the early releases of Death, Autopsy, Morbid Angel, Pestilence, Obituary and so on, John McEntee and his revolving door or band mates remained near the top and ended up succeeding the aforementioned acts and resting upon the dark throne of truly evil Death Metal as most turned to nonsensical wankery.

Most of these songs can be heard on the band's debut full-length, Onward to Golgotha; however, this somewhat more raw approach is certain worth listening to. The songwriting should not come as a surprise to anyone that has been familiar with Incantation. It consists of a good amount of evil tremolo riffs and blasting drums, with doom-ridden passages thrown in for good measure. This is rather primitive and stripped-down, just as good Death Metal should be. The riffs are ugly and possess a dark feeling, and the vocals (while often a bit deeper than I prefer) still add to the hateful atmosphere. Even at this point, there is a healthy variation in the compositions that make them somewhat memorable and easily distinguishable from one another.

The production is fairly decent, though still would be considered more demo-quality than that of a proper recording. Regardless, the raw and dirty sound adds to the overall effect. One of the worst things that ever happened to Death Metal was the over-sterilized production that became the norm a few years after this (as well as pointless songwriting). Here, the shabby sound benefits the compositions, though still being good enough for one to follow the riffs. Everything is mixed pretty well, with the guitars having a rough edge to them while still being heavy and thick. The bass has an ominous tone to it, as well.

If you are seeking solid, old-school Death Metal, Incantation is a very reliable band and Entrantment of Evil is well worth the time to track down. This is dark and doomy Death Metal with a strong anti-Christian feeling. Unlike the hordes of bands that came along later and showed absolutely no understanding of what this music was supposed to be about, Incantation is a band that has alwways had a firm grasp on what they were doing, and did it quite well.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Moonblood - Of Lunar Passion and Sombre Blood (1998)

Of Lunar Passion and Sombre Blood is an L.P. of Moonblood material recorded in August 1998, yet never properly released. That is, until 2013, with the From Hell boxed set from Iron Bonehead Records. Prior to this, some of these tracks were available only on various splits or bootlegs, and not always offered at the optimal quality. Thankfully, over a decade after the dissolution of this once mighty band, these valuable gems have now been unearthed. In a sense, this can be looked at as the third Moonblood album.

Any true fan of Moonblood should be familiar with all of the songs on this record. However, the way in which it is presented makes much of this material practically new again. While some were previously available with poor sound quality or a different mix, others were only heard before on barely audible rehearsal tapes. Though some of the songs were included on the Fullmoon Witchery bootleg, even those versions sound inferior compared to the ones here. Finally, the absolute brilliance of these tracks has been captured, for the first time. For those that often claimed that Moonblood was overrated or only hyped as a cult band because of the incredibly necro demo tapes and rehearsals (the true battle cry of an idiot that has no business listening to Black Metal to begin with), Of Lunar Passion and Sombre Blood shall silence their hollow criticisms.

The songwriting is pure genius, from the gloomy intro to the epic and mournful tremolo melodies of songs such as "A Soul in the Blazing Banner of Darkness". Gamaalzagoth's hateful vocals come across better than ever, rivaling that of Blut & Krieg. The frigid guitar melodies carve through your flesh and penetrate your very soul. The song structures are very well thought-out, showing that these guys were more than just some of the most grim and evil figures in the underground; they were also skilled musicians that honed their craft with constant rehearsing and recording and writing and knew precisely how to create the sort of atmosphere that they were going for. The riffs are easily identifiable as belonging to Moonblood, despite the Darkthrone influence that exists in the style itself, and are quite memorable. This material is characterized by the kind of eerie melodies that the band utilized from their earliest days, exemplified by the main riff of "The Quest for the Doctrines of Might and Wisdom". For the most part, the songs keep up a fast pace, centering on tremolo riffs and rather primitive and straightforward blasting on the drum kit. As for the latter, enough is done to keep the song moving, but there is no abundance of unnecessary fills or double-bass nonsense. Regarding the riffs, themselves, one need only listen to the cold and haunting melodies found in "Under the Goatmoon", to feel the true essence of Black Metal in its most undiluted form. This may be the best song on here, filled with hideously hateful vocals and grim, sepulchral riffs. There is a dark and evil feeling that is conjured up, something that permeates your mind and overtakes your being. This is the power of true Black Metal, something Moonblood wielded all too briefly, as their career ended prematurely. Somehow, within the confines of traditional songwriting, bereft of outside elements or styles or experimentation, Gaamalzagoth and Occulta Mors were able to create truly epic compositions, as clearly evidenced by "These Graves and Wooden Coffins are My Realm". It is amazing how some bands try to mimic the aesthetic an general style of something, while being completely unable to come anywhere close to creating the same type of masterpieces as those that truly understand what it is supposed to be about. Songs like this are like a journey through the frozen wastelands of desolation and sorrow, before descending into the hopelessness and pitch black suffering of purest hell.

The only track that stands out from the rest, in the sense of not really fitting the theme and style of the others, is "Burning in Hell". However, anyone familiar with the members of Moonblood know that they were massive fans of Quorthon's work, and that the various eras of Bathory had a strong influence on Moonblood (and later Nachtfalke). This is pure '80s-style Black Metal, sounding like something from Bathory's debut L.P. or even Venom's seminal record, Black Metal. In that respect, it is great to see this, just as a nod to the roots of evilness. The thrashy riffs and hellish lead solo, along with the ugly vocals, does well to capture the spirit of the Old Ones.

The production is very clear... for Moonblood. That said, this is nowhere near a modern, clean sound and suits the music very well. It is raw and ugly, yet lacks the tape hissing and feedback and other unpleasant distortions that often hid the band's brilliance on various cassette recordings. The guitar tone is not quite as sharp as on the previous full-lengths, lacking a bit of rawness in favour of the more ghastly sound that was found on some of their offerings. The sound may have benefited from adding treble to the guitars and lowering the drums just a bit, but these are minor complaints that are more a matter of personal preference.

If anyone listens to this and still attempts to deny the utter genius and genuinely special qualities possessed by Moonblood, they should just get as far away from Black Metal as possible, for such scum has absolutely no understanding of this dark cult. This is clearly not for such imbeciles and a release like this comes just in time to, perhaps, remind people what true Black Metal should be and to cleanse the scene of the legions of worthless bands currently littering the scene. For too long have pretenders and usurpers occupied the throne of that which they never really understood nor ever belonged to. Of Lunar Passion and Sombre Blood showcases classic Moonblood at the height of their creativity and is an essential album not just for fans of Gamaalzagoth and Occulta Mors, but for anyone that has even a passing interest in Black Metal. From the material to the presentation, everything here is just right and massive hails go to Iron Bonehead and Moonblood for making this release happen.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fördärv - The Echo of Emptiness (2013)

In this current age, Black Metal often seems to be in a shabby state. Horrible poser bands that have no true connection to that which they mimic are looked at as the modern torchbearers of the scene, while a mass of mediocre acts clog things up even worse. With such conditions, it is nearly impossible to have any hope left for the future of Black Metal. However, there are those times when one runs across a rare band that still upholds the traditions of what this music is supposed to be about. In the case of Fördärv's debut release, The Echo of Emptiness, it appears that some bands still get it and are capable of making high-quality Black Metal, even in this wretched modern era.

Listening to this, one would be hard-pressed to guess that it was recorded in late 2012. The song structures and overall compositional style hearken back to the early '90s. In particular, the brilliant tremolo melodies sound influenced by the old Norwegian bands, rather than by their fellow Swedish predecessors. The Echo of Emptiness basically contains two somewhat lengthy songs, with an intro, outro and instrumental interlude to frame it all. Everything comes together very well, creating a bleak and cold atmosphere, accentuated nicely by the freezing cold guitar tone that is utilized. It is so refreshing to encounter a band actually able to evoke any sort of feeling at all, as most bands lack this ability. The faster sections sound similar to Darkthrone's classic era, though possibly closer to the sound achieved by bands like Forest and Branikald, centered on mournful tremolo riffs and steady but non-intrusive drumming. The mid-paced parts are reminiscent of Bathory, bringing to mind such tracks as "Enter the Eternal Fire" as well as "To Walk the Infernal Fields" by Darkthrone. As for the vocals, they sound forceful and filled with hatred, rather than just being hollow and generic like so many are. This adds to the overall feeling of the music and it is too bad that more newer bands don't realize the importance of actually having conviction for what you are doing.

The production is on the cleaner side, but not overdone in any way whatsoever. It certainly does not sound like an old demo, but rather more along the lines of a full-length album from twenty years ago. The guitars retain a rough edge and are clear enough for the melodies to be heard, yet still have somewhat of a raw feel. The drumming, thankfully, is high enough in the mix to be heard but not overpowering the music and played in a genuine style that goes against the modern triggered nonsense of today.

The Echo of Emptiness is definitely worth listening to, for anyone into the early '90s Scandinavian Black Metal sound. This material is very strong and maintains a bleak and frigid atmosphere throughout. Though Fördärv is a newer band, I actually find myself looking forward to their debut full-length, which is somewhat of an accomplishment in itself, since most modern bands fail to capture my attention at all. For those involved in the Swedish Black Metal scene, get over losers like Watain and give this a proper listen. This is a good example of what Black Metal should sound like. 

Sargeist - Feeding the Crawling Shadows (2014)

Based purely on arrangement and composition, Let the Devil In may have been Sargeist's best put-together effort. Yet after repeated listens, it became more and more clear that the atmosphere just lacked the darkness and evil feeling of the band's earlier works. In fact, several of the melodies were uncharacteristically upbeat and inappropriate. With this in mind, some were reasonably cautious of the latest Sargeist release, Feeding the Crawling Shadows, offered up in March 2014.

The first thing one is likely to notice when listening to this album is the atrocious production job, which may have been a conscious rejection of the cleaner sound of the previous outing. Somewhat similar to the most recent Horna record, Askel Lähempänä Saatanaa, the sound here is overly harsh and a little difficult to get used to. The thing is, it is not at all necro or raw in a genuine sense; rather, this is the result of recording in a professional studio and then mixing it to try to get a rough sound. Shatraug is known for writing brilliant guitar melodies and they are all a little harder to focus on, by comparison with Satanic Black Devotion or Disciple of the Heinous Path, due to the odd mix. However, after a couple songs, your ears may very well get used to this in some manner.

As for the music itself, it fails to make as much of an immediate impression as the first two records, most likely as a result of the production. The songwriting is fairly consistent, and clearly identifiable as the work of Shatraug. His trademark style is all over this, quite thankfully. He has a decent amount of longevity in the Black Metal scene and is one of the few people that has done well to keep the black flame burning for all of those years. The title track was a poor choice to start things out, however, and might be worth skipping. "In Charnel Dreams" would have been a much more fitting opener, really embodying the Sargeist. The vocals are a bit of a low spot, at times,  with more frequent use of deeper vocals that do not suit the music as well as Torog's typical style. The epic and mournful riffs would benefit more from the higher-pitched and raspier approach. The music features a good amount of fast tremolo riffs, mixed with the mid-paced stuff that any fan of Horna or Sargeist should be more than familiar with. This variation in composition makes the material a bit more memorable than the latest Horna album, which took repeated listens to really soak in. While this improves upon the missteps of the last record, it could have used a few more of the dreary and bleak melodies such as the ones found in "The Shunned Angel", which hearken back to the band's glory days (ironically, the time when few knew about them). Not every riff on here is as dark as it should be, so the stench of Let the Devil In is not completely gone, but those passages seem more rare this time around.

Feeding the Crawling Shadows seems to be a bit of a retreat from the somewhat accessible sound of Let the Devil In, with the less overtly melodic approach, the more lo-fi production and the lack of so many warm and optimistic riffs. While some may complain, my impression is that this album is a bit more true to the spirit of Sargeist and, while not of the same quality as Satanic Black Devotion or Disciple of the Heinous Path, it is an improvement over the previous recording and a step back in the right direction. This one gets better as it goes along and will impress more with repeated spins. If you were put off by the last release, give this a chance as it may be more of what you were hoping to hear from Sargeist. In particular, "In Charnel Dreams", "The Shunned Angel" and "Inside the Demon's Maze" are worth the time of anyone into Finnish Black Metal. Hopefully, this gets the band back on track and, by the next album, they will have returned to an even darker sound.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Throne of Ahaz - At the Mountains of Northern Storms (1992)

Throne of Ahaz was one of the better Black Metal bands to emerge from Sweden, in the early '90s. For one reason or another, they failed to attain the same level of notoriety of their less deserving peers in the scene. Nonetheless, these guys managed to release two very solid full-lengths and a demo. Released in 1992, their first effort was titled At the Mountains of Northern Storms.

The songwriting here is not what most would expect from a Black Metal recording of this time period. However, it makes perfect sense, as the Norwegian sound was just becoming established and many of their contemporaries had their own thing going, before shifting gears and following the path created by the likes of Darkthrone and Burzum. Of the three proper tracks on this tape, none are the sort of fast-paced, one-dimensional compositions that would soon be spewed forth from every corner of Europe and beyond. Songs such as "The Calling Blaze" showed some influence from early Bathory, while still offering up plenty of Doom riffs that would make Candlemass proud. The band members' background in earlier Death Metal groups is noticeable in the musicianship and even one of the riffs found in the title track. This vibe is present in the final song, "Under a Fullmoon Night", but the raspy vocals and shoddy sound help tie it to the rest of the material.

The production has just enough static, distortion and hissing to add to the old school vibe of the music, while still allowing for everything to come across rather well. The guitars are raw enough, but possess a thick and powerful sound. The guitar tone is not as sharp as on Nifelheim, however. The drumming is in the background, where it belongs, yet loud enough to serve its purpose. The vocals avoid the common demo issue of being either too loud or too quiet, being right at the appropriate level.

At the Mountains of Northern Storms is quite good for a demo. In fact, it beats the hell out of most Black Metal being released these days, especially in Sweden. The songwriting is varied and displays compositional skill that was somewhat rare among their peers at that time. Throne of Ahaz followed up on this with the brilliant Nifelheim record, though delays prevented it from having the impact that it should have had. This short-lived project deserves to be more widely known and any of their material is recommended listening.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Countess - Permafrost (1992)

Often, some of the best Black Metal has been raw, primitive and ugly. What some bands may lack in musicianship, they make up for in atmosphere and a genuine feeling. In the case of the Permafrost demo, released in 1992 by Countess, there is no such saving grace. Much like the majority of the band's output, this is rather terrible and not worth listening to.

The only positive things about this demo would have to be the lo-fi production and the strong reverence for Bathory. Unfortunately, the songwriting is really under-developed and the musicianship is absolutely horrid. The guitar riffs are disjointed and mistimed. The drumming is so inept that it makes the old Mütiilation demos seem overly technical. These guys show a complete lack of coordination with their own instruments and with one another. There exists a certain amount of room for primitive playing within Black Metal, but this is just unskilled playing at its worst. The worst offender is the Bathory cover, where the instruments seem to be playing different songs. This feeling prevails throughout the rest of the material, but it is most clear on this track since the original serves as a point of reference. It's so immensely incompetent that it's embarrassing to listen this. Even the worthless acoustic parts are out of tune and poorly played.

Countess always was a rather worthless band, and Permafrost is a good example of this. Avoid this trash and spend your time and money seeking out and listening to better quality music. Some of the best Black Metal has been created by people that were not technical wizards when it came to musicianship, but some level of competence is expected. To actually record music and to distribute it, prior to even learning how to handle the instruments, is just ridiculous. If this was supposed to be a tribute to Bathory, all they did was disrespect Quorthon's legacy, because this is a joke.