Saturday, September 26, 2015

Horna - Hengen Tulet (2015)

Two years have passed since the last Horna album, with little activity beyond a couple split releases. So the band's latest full-length, Hengen Tulet, has been much-anticipated. I was quite wary of this record, due to the disturbing pattern of poor choices that have plagued both Horna and Sargeist in the last few years. My initial impression was quite negative, but repeated listens have allowed many of the guitar melodies to seep into my subconscious and to grow on me a bit. Horna has long been one of the few bands managing to keep the black flame burning in the dark times. Still, there are elements of this recording that are off-putting and it struggles to compare to the classic works that preceded it. In some aspects, it displays a marked improvement over some of the shortcomings of the previous offering, but it is not without certain flaws that work to ruin this album. Some may be disappointed, so the best approach would be a cautious one. 

There are two significant things that are severely detrimental to this release: the production and the vocals. After Askel Lähempänä Saatanaa, and then especially following Sargeist's Feeding the Crawling Shadows, I worried that Shatraug would continue down the path of horrible production. Sadly, this concern has turned out to be very much justified. One guess would be that the cleaner and more accessible sound on Sargeist's Let the Devil In triggered a reaction toward future recordings and he has sort of gone overboard in trying to avoid repeating that 'mistake'. As a passionate fan of the old Moonblood demos and rehearsals, an immensely lof-fi and necro sound is actually very appealing to me, so this isn't a matter of the production not being 'good' enough. It sounds like they recorded with modern, digital technology and then tried to 'dirty it up' in the studio, after the fact. The various effects do nothing to help the music and actually make it more difficult to enjoy. One of the most perplexing things has to be the decision to mic the drums so thoroughly and to make them so loud in the mix, burying the haunting riffs underneath a lot of unnecessary clutter. Also, whatever awful effects they used for Spellgoth's substandard vocals did them no favours, as well. His voice really does not fit Horna, anyway, and he is vastly inferior to his predecessors Corvus and Nazgul. For that matter, even Shatraug's vocals would be a vast improvement over this ridiculous, Manson-esque poser. 

Regarding the music itself, much like Askel Lähempänä Saatanaa, Hengen Tulet is rather mediocre when compared to earlier Horna albums. For over a decade, the band was on the right track, probably peaking with Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne. Yet, in recent years, the consistency and reliability of this band has come into question and can no longer be blindly trusted. In the past, the focus was on the dark and mournful guitar melodies as well as the tormented vocals, creating a very obscure and often nightmarish atmosphere. Here, one has to listen several times to get accustomed to the clunky sound created by the loud drums, bass and pointless meandering of the main riffs. Shatraug's trademark songwriting style is still evident, with some decent melodies here and there, but they serve merely to remind one of past glories. This is evident in tracks like "Amadriada" and "Saatanalle". That is not to say that the material is bad, but that it mostly fails to live up to the expectations that some would have based on previous recordings. That said, the compositions are still clearly rooted in the old days of Black Metal, with obvious influences from the '80s and early '90s. The overall vibe is more aggressive than most of what the band has done in several years, with a lot of intense, fast-paced tracks. Most of this would be on-par with an album like Hiidentorni, if only Spellgoth were even half the vocalist that Nazgul was. Unfortunately, his distorted shouting just does not belong. Tracks like "Nekromantia" and "Ikuisuuden kynnyksellä" slow things down enough for the riffs to breathe a bit, but the Manson-wannabe manages to spoil those to a degree as well. The former is a bit strange and sticks out, with some rather bluesy riffs that are slightly reminiscent of old Danzig. As for the latter song, it is definitely the highlight of the album. It is here, finally, where the guitars step out of the shadows and work to create a darker atmosphere and to convey a feeling of mourning and dread. This is immediately negated with the completely out-of-place and upbeat "Sodan roihu", as well as the filler tracks that follow, so one may want to just stop the disc after track 7.

The sad thing is that even Hengen Tulet's best moments pale in comparison to the likes of "Musta Temppeli", "Marraskuussa" or "Baphometin Siunaus". The old school Black Metal feeling is here, it's just buried under a lot of refuse;. i.e. terrible production and totally pathetic vocals. This album would have sounded much better with a different mix, a raw demo-quality sound that focused on the guitars and left the drumming to the background. No amount of effects or studio trickery can replicate genuine rawness and Horna should have known better. While the record isn't a bad one, and is likely leagues ahead of most of the current crop of bands, it fails to live up the the standard set by the rest of the band's discography. Hopefully, they use a different studio next time, as well as dump the urine-soaked frontman and find someone more suitable for one of Finland's most respected Black Metal entities. Worth a listen, but do not expect too much.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Dying Fullmoon - Unter dem Thron der Sterne (1995)

Dying Fullmoon was a German band hailing from Lower Saxony, existing for only brief period in the mid-90s. Of the demos that were released during this time, 1995's Unter dem Thron der Sterne that really stands out as the better of the two. This tape offers the sort of raw Black Metal that would make most modern bands cry themselves to sleep, knowing that they could never hope to match the pure ferocity and darkness found here. Unfortunately, Dying Fullmoon ceased to exist in the winter of 95/96, fading back into the shadows of the Teutoburg Forest.

Though eleven tracks comprise this demo, only four or five can be considered proper songs. Over twenty minutes of the material is made up of various instrumentals, as well as a couple classical pieces. Most of the synth pieces fit, adding sort of a gloomy horror feeling, but the same cannot be said of the latter. The main issue with the two parts of the 'symphonie' is the clarity of sound, which is quite a contrast to the rest of the tracks. The sound quality is very lo-fi and is rather similar to that of the old Moonblood reheasals and demos. That said, the actual songwriting is more straight-forward and lacks the epic nature of those tapes. There are a couple sections in "Der Tod Des Zweifelspiegels" that utilize clean guitar and some spoken word bits in the background, creating somewhat of an unsettling feeling. It is done in a way to darken the song, rather than to 'pretty' it up as a lot of bands end up doing. The bulk of the material consists of cold tremolo melodies that hearken back to Under A Funeral Moon and Transilvanian Hunger. The harshness of the riffs is accentuated by the razor-thin guitar tone. Furthermore, they are played in such a frenzied manner that one cannot help but feel the sense of urgency that they convey. This differs strikingly from the flat and lifeless way in which much Black Metal is presented, these days. All of this is accomplished by a mere duo, seemingly, playing through these songs live in their rehearsal space. It may be that while one played the drums, the other contributed guitar and voice. There does not seem to be any bass at all, nor a secondary guitar track. Astaroth's tormented screams are similar to the throat-shredded vocals that Hat performed on Gorgoroth's A Sorcery Written in Blood. This does well to add to the grim and obscure atmosphere, as well as the occasional slower sections that are worked in. 

It is rather difficult, but if pressed to choose a favourite track, it would have to be "Bosheit Inmitten Der Stahlfelsen-Festung". This is the one that caught my attention and turned me onto Dying Fullmoon, and it is dripping with intensity and rawness. Really, this could be said of nearly any proper song on Unter dem Thron der Sterne. If you like stripped-down, primitive Black Metal in the vein of early Darkthrone and Mütiilation, definitely seek this out and give it a listen. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Broken Hope - Loathing (1997)

Broken Hope was a band that seemed to remain in the shadow of others, such as Cannibal Corpse and Immolation, throughout their early career. Their first couple albums, Swamped in Gore and The Bowels of Repugnance, feature some rather decent old school Death Metal. They followed this with the dumbed-down and incredibly boring Repulsive Conception and, apparently, realized that something was wrong with their formula. Released through Metal Blade in January 1997, Loathing was somewhat of a departure from the works that preceded it. 

What we have here is a rather polished product, by comparison to that which came before. Perhaps, in an attempt to escape the immense mediocrity of Repulsive Conception, Broken Hope made some significant changes. Make no mistake, many of the trademark elements of the band's sound are still present, but the overall approach is different. The production is very modern and clean and there is an added sense of melodicism that permeates nearly every track, as well as much more technical musicianship. Alone, these things would not necessarily indicate much of a problem, but several of the melodies come off as pretentious and only serve to lighten the atmosphere. However, the worst offense has to be the extremely catchy choruses that are found in nearly every song. The vocals are still as deep as ever, like echoes of some monstrous voice emanating from a filthy sewer, but the patterns are very predictable and one gets the feeling that they were planned out with clean singing. They follow the melodies very closely and seem quite unlike anything that the band had done before. While several of the songs are easily memorable and less likely to blend together as on their previous outing, it all wears thin pretty quickly. 

Broken Hope were never among the top-tier of Death Metal bands, but their earlier works possessed a darker atmosphere that is severely lacking here. Loathing cannot be called an attempt to "sell-out", by any means, though the more melodic approach and the catchy choruses likely make this the most accessible album from this band. After such a lackluster and tedious third album, Broken Hope probably just decided that some sort of change was needed and, unfortunately, this is what they came up with. There is no feeling present, just the stench of modernity. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Funebre Inferi - Deathcult (1996)

Funebre Inferi hailed from Greece and recorded only one demo. It was in early 1996 that the long-forgotten Deathcult tape was released. There is little information regarding this obscure Black Metal project, which is a shame, as a lot of promise was shown on this all-too-brief demo. 

Consisting of only an intro and two songs, Deathcult features raw and scathing Black Metal that is quite unlike the earlier Hellenic bands. Rather than following in the footsteps of the likes of Rotting Christ, Varathron, Necromantia and so on, Funebre Inferi take more of an influence from the Scandinavian scene. One could even draw comparisons to the various LLN bands, such as Mütiilation and Black Murder. The production possesses a very necro quality, while still being clear enough to make out what is going on. The vocals are tormented howls that retain some animalistic and primal viciousness, really standing out. 

The songwriting is rather well-developed, even throughout the course of the five-minute track "Haunted Scull of the Profanated Grave", more intense and high-tempo tremolo riffs are contrasted with slower parts and even hints of keyboards (not overdone) that all come together to create somewhat of an epic feeling. While the second track, "Lost Sorcerers in the Pyre", features more simplistic riffs and a slower pace, the gloomy feeling remains, largely aided by the throat-tearing vocals. A bit of clean voice comes in, later in the song, in a rather neutral manner. That is to say it neither adds to, nor detracts from, the overall atmosphere. 

Sadly, Funebre Inferi disappeared into the murky realm of Hades sometime back in 1996. While there is nothing extremely groundbreaking here, Deathcult is a very solid demo that will easily appeal to anyone with an appreciation for raw Black Metal in the vein of Mütiilation, Burzum or Moonblood.