Thursday, January 16, 2014

Maniac Butcher - Krvestřeb (1997)

Krvestřeb is the third full-length from Maniac Butcher, released in 1997. This album continues from where the last one leaves off, more or less. However, there are a few elements that work against it. While the basic style is unchanged, it is lacking consistency and is rather mediocre compared to their previous albums.

The production is slightly cleaner than on Lučan-Antikrist. The hollowness from Barbarians is back, but the overall sound is just a bit too clear. The bass, which is rather pointless on this album, sticks out at times. The drumming is too high in the mix and only puts more emphasis on the fact that the drums feature more fills and so on than are needed. For some reason, the guitar doesn't feel as though it is the complete center of attention and is bereft of the coldness that was present just a year earlier.

Further lowering this album's potential is the overlong keyboard intro. These guys avoid using such things during the actual songs, yet made the poor choice to waste the first few minutes of the record with synth nonsense. The alien elements persist, with the clean guitar intro to "Píseň Černých Vran", which doesn't really fit into the rest and is even more awkward with the vocal performance that accompanies it. Maniac Butcher was never purely one-dimensional, but this album shows even more variation than before, with the slower riffs on the first song and the weaker mid-tempo sections during the second track, "Oči Oběti". Its faster moments are among the more enjoyable on the release, but the momentum is repeatedly interrupted. All in all, the songwriting is rather standard for this band, with a decent amount of faster riffs that carry things forward. It still lacks in intensity, somehow, perhaps due to the cleaner sound and the mid-paced interludes (such as in "Smrt Nepravým"). Even the guitar melodies, themselves, lack the conviction and darkness that existed on their earlier albums. The title track is a good example of this.

All in all, Krvestřeb isn't a bad album. It's just not a good one, either. Maniac Butcher was capable of more than this, as evidenced by the albums that came before. In general, this is a band that doesn't get enough recognition for their work, but this is probably the last record that I would advise anyone to get, especially if they are new to the band.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Branikald - Хладавзор (1999)

Branikald is one of those bands that remained quite reliable for a long time. Despite some inconsistency in the quality, now and then, one really knew what to expect when confronted with another release. Released in April 1999, through Stellar Winter Records, Хладавзор is the seventh offering from this Russian Black Metal project.

Kaldrad certainly made some odd choices, at times, and the beginning to this album is no exception. The first song, "На Волнах Вдохновенья", is an instrumental that lasts for over fourteen minutes. Starting with a track like this is not such a problem, but the length is not justified by the songwriting. There is very little progression and it just meanders along with no purpose. Something like this might have worked as an ambient outro, but should not have been placed in front of everything else. Actually, this record features three instrumentals and three more conventional Black Metal songs. "...Где Ночи Край" also runs a bit long, clocking in at over nine minutes and consisting of the same plodding structure as the opener.

Of the actual Black Metal tracks, they are precisely what one would want and expect from Branikald. "Струн Натянутых Вдохновенья Сталь" picks up from where the previous album left off, being comprised of cold tremolo melodies and monotonous drumming, both in the vein of Fenriz's work on Transilvanian Hunger. The riffs are very repetitious and the songwriting is quite minimalist. The trance-like approach enables each subtle alteration to make a disproportionately large impact. The closing minutes are more draining, as the drums and vocals disappear, somewhat reminiscent of early works from Burzum. The vocals still retain the somewhat throatier sound that emerged in recent albums, with a more human quality. "Дикий Родич Парусов" offers no surprises, following a similar formula and maintaining a cold and dismal atmosphere through the sometimes distant guitar melodies. Though the influence of the aforementioned Darkthrone album is very strong, Branikald still fails to create any real darkness with this music. While cold and bleak, and despite utilizing a very similar approach, the melodies themselves just are not dark or menacing in any way.

The production is about the same as on most of the releases that preceded this. The guitar tone is cold and has a similar sort of distortion as on several of the early Norwegian releases. The focus is on the guitars, with the drumming in a completely supportive role in the background. The vocals are a bit high in the mix, but not in a problematic manner. There are a few rough spots, here or there, as if the master tape was a little worn out; nevertheless, the sound is exactly what the music needed and any mistake only adds to the overall feel.

All in all, Хладавзор is another decent album from Branikald and is certainly worth listening to. It is kind of predictable and lacks strong and memorable riffs, such as those from Varg Fjerne a Tornet or Winterkald, it still delivers more cold and minimalist Black Metal at a time when most bands had strayed very far from what this music was supposed to be.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Ildjarn - Norse (1993)

Ildjarn is a name that has come up a lot, whenever talking with someone that is deeply fond of the Norwegian bands from the '90s. For one reason or another, this project never really appealed to me. Every now and then, someone would let me hear a song, and I was never impressed. When I first picked up the debut full-length, just looking at the sheer number of tracks and the brevity of many left me with the feeling that most were likely incomplete or poorly written. One friend, in particular, kept pushing for me to give the band another chance, providing me with the Norse E.P. a couple years back.

Recorded and released in 1993, this would seem to be a rather safe listen. Few in the Norwegian scene had begun to stray too far from what Black Metal was supposed to be about, at this point. This seemed like a good place to try to begin with Ildjarn. So, knowing little more than that the main guy played in Thou Shalt Suffer with Ihsahn and Samoth, and that he was really bad at coming up with song titles, I gave this one last shot.

The music isn't so terrible. From the opening moments of "Mørklagt Sti", one can hear the typical sort of Black Metal sound that one would expect from a Norwegian band around this time, sharing surface similarities with Darkthrone and Burzum. The songwriting is rather primitive, with only the most basic variation. After the first song, you have pretty much heard what this recording has to offer. The other tracks do not offer much else. The riffs are rather boring and absent of any sort of dark feeling. In fact, there is no atmosphere present at all. This just comes off as pointless noise. The poor drum programming does not help this, either. Even the vocals are rather lifeless, sounding incredibly generic and not possessing an ounce of feeling.  

The sound is pretty bad, though not in a good way. An example of a poor production job that works well for the atmosphere of the music would be Remains of a Ruined, Dead, Cursed Soul by Mütiilation or Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger. This just sounds off, somehow. The guitars seem overpowered by the bass, lacking a sharp and cold feeling. The sound is more like an old Punk Rock demo than Black Metal. The Misfits sounded more menacing than this, over a decade earlier.

After failing to earn my interest, time and again, Norse represents my last attempt to give Ildjarn a chance. It has all of the elements that one would expect, yet it delivers nothing but boredom. Despite hailing from Norway and being released in 1993, this does not deserve to in any way be associated with recordings like Under A Funeral Moon, Det Som Engang Var or even A Sorcery Written in Blood. Avoid this.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Maniac Butcher - Lučan-Antikrist (1996)

Released in 1996, Lučan-Antikrist is the second full-length album from the Czech Black Metal band Maniac Butcher. Anyone familiar with these guys should know what to expect, as there are never any surprises from them. However, if you are new to Maniac Butcher and ran screaming (or laughing) when you saw the cover art, one can only insist that you do not judge this by the horrible aesthetics. While they have been responsible for some of the most ridiculous album covers in Black Metal history, they know how to deliver when it gets down to the music, which is the most important thing.

Regarding the songwriting, this continues on from where Barbarians left off. It is not the most original work in existence, nor does it have to be. What one can expect to hear on this record is solid mid-90s Black Metal with a lot of influence from the north, especially with the dominance of cold tremolo riffs. The guitar melodies of "Zrada" are ice-cold and enough to freeze you even on a warm day. Most of the songs are rather fast-paced, particularly the guitars. The drumming is a bit too varied for my taste, with a frequent double-bass that sometimes drives the songs forward, rather than primitive blasting. As well, there seem to be less of the solo work that was present on Barbarians, removing one of the more positive elements of their sound. The vocals are very strained and most of the lines drag out across the riffs, quite a bit. His voice has a lot of desperation to it, at times, and the fact that the lyrics are in Czech adds a different dimension to the music. Not nearly as known as they should be, Maniac Butcher was one of the bands that did a good job in keeping a more pure style of Black Metal alive during a time when so many bands were experimenting and turning against what this music was supposed to be. The riffs are as intense as the vocals, something that is often missed by some bands. They go for the basic style without putting forth any intensity. "Lučané" is a good example of this, and even includes an eerie solo bit. The cold and gloomy atmosphere that is present, such as during the slower parts of "Poslední Bitva", is a direct contrast to the hordes of idiots that were abusing synth to a criminal degree, or those that were mixing in other forms of music that had no place being associated with this.

The production is fairly strong and not as hollow as on the previous effort. Compared to some albums of the time period, it might be considered somewhat clean, in a sense. This is definitely more comparable to Marduk's Those of the Unlight, as opposed to an album like Under A Funeral Moon. The guitars possess a cold sound that suits the music well. The drums are a weak point, with sometimes-clicky double-bass that is more distracting that anything. Otherwise, the mix is pretty good and the focus remains on the melodies and the vocals, more or less.

Lučan-Antikrist is a really solid record and is recommended for anyone into mid-90s Black Metal. There are a couple of weak spots, but nothing bad. It does somewhat work against the album that the hidden bonus track (a cover of the Master's Hammer song "Jáma Pekel") outshines some of the original material. Overall, this is very much worth listening to. If you have never heard Maniac Butcher, this is as good of a place to start as any.