Metal Music Reviews from Vehemency

FORTERESSE Crépuscule d'Octobre

Album · 2011 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.66 | 4 ratings
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Although I can't say I'm fully acquainted with the band's back catalogue yet due to the painful fact that time is limited and there is always so much other stuff to explore in the realms of underground black metal, I do consider Forteresse as one of the most intriguing black metal groups hailing from Canada. Pagan Hellfire might be my favourite churner of the uncompromising Canadian black arts, but Forteresse is perhaps a serious contender for that title as their sound has interestingly ranged from a harsher approach (Métal Noir Québécois) to an entirely atmospheric affair on last year's Par Hauts Bois et Vastes Plaines which was like an utter ambient record, only played with black metal instrumentation.

So into which category should their newest offering, Crépuscule d'Octobre, be pigeonholed? Admittedly, I've only heard bits and pieces of their pre-Par Hauts material, but I'd still definitely say that this upcoming effort is a tad more traditional black metal compared to the minimalist last year's album. Don't get me wrong, Forteresse still revels in a lush atmosphere of echoing, vast sounds, and a song like ”Mon Esprit Rôde Toujours” could almost fit into Par Hauts' soundscape, but the truth is that overall the album incorporates a lot more blast beats and general aggressiveness in relation to its predecessor. And though the sound is hence slightly different, I still find my mind wandering into barren landscapes, forgetting my surroundings and just sinking into the sound, just like with Par Hauts. Mission accomplished, Forteresse's atmosphere here is top notch.

I'm not sure exactly how much longevity these reverby, simple tremolo picked lead melodies have in the long run, but at least at the moment I'm greatly satisfied. Beneath the overbearing, high-end guitar notes is a steady rhythm guitar line that backs up the main melodies, and the album wouldn't be the same without it even if it's so quiet compared to any other instrument. Drums have a very natural sound to them, effeciently creating a natural feeling, especially the breathing snare drums. The vocals are your general black metal rasps which fit in like a glove, and I have nothing to complain about – not about the vocals, not about the whole album, really. Crépuscule d'Octobre might not be mindblowing but still a really successful journey in authentic black metal that should appeal to other fanatics of rather simple yet atmospheric black metal as well. Plus, just take a look at the front cover! It's brilliant, going hand in hand with the previous album's natural theme.

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THRALL Vermin to the Earth

Album · 2011 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 2 ratings
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Tasmanian black metal rings immediately a certain bell, that bell being nobody else than the infamous Striborg, but that part of the world seems to offer something else as well, and of that Thrall takes care of on their second full-length titled Vermin to the Earth, a seven track feast on evil intentions. The deal is pretty simple: Thrall fluctuates between rocking black metal - where power chords meet the drums that partially almost groove - and a bit more modern, dissonant black metal.

The further one explores the sinister tunnels of Vermin to the Earth, the more it becomes evident that the main focus is on the latter: meaning a lot of menacing discord manifested through mid-tempo plucking. The strings ring with ultimate darkness while the drums steadily blast a tad quieter. The vocalist is a poison spewing snake with his high-end rasps that convince. All seems good from the very first seconds into the eponymous first track and its impressive rhythmic pattern. Speaking of which, the band rules when it comes to overall musicianship. Individual songs don't really raise their heads and the band would probably need somewhat more surprising compositions to impress (as this style of black metal is so damn quotidian at the moment), but Vermin to the Earth is, nonetheless, an enjoyable experience that just happens to lack proper standout moments. ”Plague of Man” tends to be my favourite of the bunch with its foreboding, apocalyptic and desperate tremolo leads, but other than that I can't name proper highlights. The production deserves a mention: it is not lo-fi yet not crystal clear. It's just about enough dirty and fits the songs very well.

All in all, I find Vermin to the Earth a good package that is just in a need of more unique elements to make a truly great impression. Fans of underground black metal in general can't go hundred percent wrong with the newest Thrall, but how much the album actually grabs the listener, making him/her want to listen to it again and again? I can't imagine very many but, then again, I could be terribly wrong. In the abundance of all promo material that just keeps coming in daily, it is not easy to differentiate from the mass, so from this perspective my opinion might be biased.

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DROWNING THE LIGHT Oceans of Eternity

Album · 2011 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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It is easy to notice how much Drowning the Light has developed throughout the last few years. Lately I've been listening to their (or back then, his) 2007 albums, those scruffy sounds and cheap drum machines of e.g. A World Long Dead and To the End of Time, and when compared to such late efforts as their brand new Ocean of Eternity, the difference in quality is tangible. While the embryonic material has its own charm, the 2011 version of the band is heaps better when it comes to the compositions.

The sound is, however, still really lo-fi, the guitars and steady blast beats like a distant waterfall, so Drowning the Light hasn't really done any compromises; in fact, the production is more lo-fi than on An Alignment of Dead Stars. Oceans of Eternity continues in the vein of the latest full-lengths, this particular style in which they embarked on on The Blood of the Ancients two years back: largely melancholic and epic, at times almost melodramatic, underground black metal that momentarily gets into harsher, menacing sections. On this newest effort, things start familiarly with ”As the Shadows at Dusk Reach Our Enemies Throat” and its tremolo laden epic guitars as well as choral synths. The following title-track includes the first properly aggressive riffs but only for a while, and then ”The Cataclysmic Cycle of Renewal” and ”Oppression & Tyranny” get the mood back to the melodic, familiar soundscape. The latter is a particularly depressive and rather slow-paced piece.

Just when things could easily turn into dullness due to the repetitive nature of the songs, ”The Key Still Not Found” brings something new to the table. It is comparably a more haunting piece, and especially so when the ending part kicks in with its Atra and Ill Omen esque graveyard atmospheres: rotting, ghastly black metal! This highlight of the album does not lose at all to ”The Lunatic Tide” that also incorporates a tad deviant riffing from the usual Drowning the Light scheme. ”Drifting Away in a Sea of Sorrow (Part II)”, a peaceful interlude pays homage to its first part from An Alignment of Dead Stars and serves as a welcome breathing moment until the last black metal pieces of the album, ”The Poison Kiss” and ”The Runes Are Thrown & the Bones Are Spread (A Hymn to the Apocalypse)” start, these two ending the album in similar compositional style as the journey began: climatic choral synths atop the ringing, beautiful melodies and Azgorh's trademark rasps.

In all aspects, Oceans of Eternity is your very traditional Drowning the Light album, but heck, I can not deny the power of these riffs this time. There's been plenty of fillers on previous efforts, but this album seems like a really concise whole of thoughtfully chosen material. I find the album to be quite a perfect example of well-done underground black metal, a fist to those faces who claim that black metal requires something essentially new and refreshing to be good.

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PROFANATICA Disgusting Blasphemies Against God

Album · 2010 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Although Profanatica has a long history dating back to the very early 90s, the band’s second full-length Disgusting Blasphemies Against God is my introduction to the their music, and a very sweet one it is. The deal here is rather simple: morbid, rotten death / black metal that mocks every possible aspect of Christianity.

Covered in a layer of cavernous bass guitar - which works as the driving force of the record in all its overpowering - the compositions on Disgusting Blasphemies Against God differ little from each other. At times the tempo might be a tad slower and doomier while at times it’s sheer blast beat crushing all the way through, and a song like ”Covered in Black Shit” incorporates some doom bell samples; similar little special features can be spotted from many corners of the album, but they are nothing major. The low-end frequency atmosphere that dominates on the record is probably the best feature of the album whereas the songs themselves might lack all originality. When this muddy menace is combined to the harsh, deathly screams, the result is pretty damn working.

In the end, it’s up to the listener if he’s up for a feast on primitive and uncompromising blasphemy and whether the mere overall sound and atmosphere is enough for enjoyment. I personally really like the filthiness here, and such dominance of crumbling bass guitar isn’t something you hear on many records. Disgusting Blasphemies Against God might not lure for repeated listens on a regular basis, but every now and then this morbidity does invite. I might not have dwelled in a plethora of depictions and details here as I review this title but I think that everything necessary has been said, and everyone knows by now whether these 'disgusting blasphemies against god’ will appeal to him.

INQUISITION Into the Infernal Regions of the Ancient Cult

Album · 1998 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.02 | 3 ratings
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The more time passes by, the more I realize how many bands I have somehow managed to totally miss, bands that have been even essential and foundative in black metal. Inquisition could be mentioned as one of the most important black metal groups from the Americas, so being a newbie to their 1998 major debut Into the Infernal Regions of the Ancient Cult until some days ago was admittedly shameful.

Now that I’ve discovered this gem of nineties’ USBM, I am not only happy because I finally know what’s all the fuzz about, but because the actual material here is brilliant. Inquisition seems to have their own thing going on right on their first full-length, which basically means crushing, almost death metalish riffing that meets hazy, dream-like, atmospheric, melancholic chord pluckings. So while the first part of some certain riff kicks ass with pure power, the latter part of that riff suddenly turns into wistful, tear-evoking mysteriousness. These riffs are often repeated a lot and often even without vocals, an evident example being the 9-minute ”Summoned by Ancient Wizards Under a Black Moon” that has a long instrumental section towards its end.

This massive 66-minute whole is based on this definite element in the guitar department, though there are some interesting deviations from the paradigm, like the folkish, lively tunes that appear a couple of times on ”The Initiation”. For one straight listen, Into the Infernal Regions of the Ancient Cult might be too much to handle, resulting in boredom due to the quite unchanging nature of the compositions, but when savored in a little smaller portions, the music’s ingenuity starts to shine and I can not name one weak track of any of the ten.

By now I’ve already gotten to the fourth paragraph and there’s still been no mention of the vocals that have been the dividing point between the band’s lovers and haters, and ultimately the most distinctive feature of Inquisition. While some find Dagon’s vocal delivery just laughable, I think the almost robotic, frog-like faint snarling works well in these magical pieces of black metal that predominantly concentrate more on atmosphere than the attitude of who’s the heaviest and sickest sounding throat killer of all.

The production deserves a mention too as, in fact, it’s another big plus in the album’s book. It’s warm and detailed yet has just enough sharpness for the power chord riffage and enough smoothness for the melancholic pluckings. Also, drums are recorded with more than just one microphone so that they have a nice amount of detail present, and no complaints either for the bass guitar that together with drums form the well working rhythmic basis of Into the Infernal Regions of the Ancient Cult.

It might be that at the moment I’m just in a mood of utter Inquisition hype and by next week the album doesn’t sound that special anymore, but right now I’m willing to go as far as handing almost a full score to the record. I’m always hesitant to give this high points for a newly found album, but what the heck, Into the Infernal Regions of the Ancient Cult seems like an endurable album that I’ll be listening to in years to come. The right amount of originality in this sort of underground black metal and the terrific atmosphere makes this piece one of my favourites of late.

FALLS OF RAUROS The Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood

Album · 2011 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 10 ratings
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The Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood belongs to the many albums of contemporary black metal on which nature and atmosphere are in the main focus, and where influences are gathered from a wider spectrum that just the usual Burzums, meaning that one may find big doses of experimental song progressions and professional musicianship instead of purely primitive hammering into a scruffy four-track. Black/folk metal names like Shroud of Despondency, Wolves in the Throne Room, Agalloch, Fen, Wodensthrone, October Falls and Alcest are easy to drop in regard to Falls of Rauros’ third full-length that is very similar in spirit and overall aesthetics.

That said, one can spot the post-rock qualities right in the beginning of the album as ”Earth’s Old Timid Grave” kicks in with richly detailed acoustic guitars, developing heavier with the inclusion of reverberating, Red Sparowes esque electric guitars. ”Banished” and ”Awaiting the Fire of Flood That Awakes It” are responsible for the most of the album’s metal, running for almost 25 minutes together, providing relatively ’complex’ and versatile compositions yet never forgetting the importance of emotion and natural flow. On the latter of the two, I can’t help but to compare its lead melody pattern to Disillusion’s Back to Times of Splendor. ”Nonesuch River Chant” is a brief acoustic interlude after which ”Silence” begins, the last metal piece of the album, and it’s as well done as the previous ones. Fittingly, ”The Cormorants Shiver on Their Rocks” concludes the album in grandiose melodies that comprise e.g. pianos and chanting male vocals in the background.

Undoubtedly, The Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood wasn’t an easy record to concieve as it sounds so very well done in all aspects, including the natural yet rich production. The riffs are all full of emotion, not to forget the convincingly delivered screams. The record’s only proper fault resides in its unsurprising style that ultimately brings nothing new to the table. Everything is epic as hell and so be it, it works after all, but I’m left with a feeling of wanting to hear something more daring and original from an album that ends up being very close to its influences. If you haven’t got enough of albums in this vein, please do check out The Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood because it is indeed very well done. Those who are already replete with their The Malediction Fields and Diadem of 12 Stars might not spot anything outstandingly refreshing here.

IPERYT No State Of Grace

Album · 2011 · Black Metal
Cover art 1.00 | 1 rating
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Industrial black metal can be done magnificently, just think of some The Axis of Perdition and Blut Aus Nord releases, but most often it seems to fall into ultimate mediocrity. Iperyt’s second full-length No State of Grace is an inconveniently clear case of the latter category, presenting eleven tracks of ultra fast and rather bland industrial black / death metal.

The main glitch here is how the band tries to be extreme and shocking. This comes evident already via reading the songtitles like ”Scars Are Sexy” and, delving into the music, the aspect of pretentiousness comes apparent in e.g. the exaggerated drum machine speeds. Combine the 3000 bpm audio software beats to slower and remote riffs and ”let’s fuck the life from behind” (straight quote) lyrics, and I’m quite embarassed overall.

I hate to go all the way ranting an album like this, but the truth is that there’s little content on No State of Grace that would deserve the attention of even industrial metal fans. The first track, self-titled one, culminates to some nice, almost epic melodies, but that’s pretty much all I can get out of No State of Grace. Unless the bands starts to focus more on the actual content instead of the mere extreme and ’oh so violent’ attitude it has, I hold no further interest in the band. Technically, there’s no limitations for potential as the band does keep the songs together well enough, but there’s just got to be something more than that’s just trying to horrify the listener - and then even fail at it!

VERGE Sex & Violence

Album · 2011 · Depressive Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Throughout recent years, Verge has remained as one of my favourite bands, starting with Hatemagic from 2008 and continuing with the 2010 split with Blood Red Fog, Because It’s Wrong. The band’s ability to be so authentically ominous, sick and still beautiful at the same time is mesmerizing, not to forget at all the occult wisdom shining in the lyrical department. Needless to say, expectations for Sex & Violence have been enormous, but luckily I am not disappointed even if I’d be wary to call this better than the album from a couple of years back.

After initial listen, a clear change can be spotted. While Hatemagic had adventurous and wild compositions like ”Assimilation” where different riffs were fired constantly, Sex & Violence is stagnant compared to that - and this is not in a bad way. This album is torturous, repetitive, trance-inducing, atmospheric, and the first track ”Chains” is already to show that: a brooding riff is being repeated as the basis of the song while Wrong spews the lyrics. The song’s power is in the culminating guitar solos that the song is full of in the end, a real beauty of a song. ”Death’s Coitus” goes into utterly maniacal vocal performances but the oppressive repetition is there too, only to continue on the more saddened ”On the Verge”. The centerpiece ”Pride & Vanity”, clocking at almost thirteen minutes, is the epitome of this aura of emptiness, of lost hope.

If the lyrics are left without a read, the listener will probably miss all the point of Sex & Violence’s deliberate oppression: the album reeks of desperation on the occult path to higher knowledge and godhood. On ”Chains”, the protagonist faces the principle of Satan, ’a fiery serpent’, ’a sphinx’, the one behind the tribulations of man. The sphinx asks which path the protagonist will choose in life, and as he says ’I choose both and neither’, the sphinx returns to the ’womb underneath’, and the cycle of samsara continues. ”Death’s Coitus”, then, is a truly impressive rant on human lusts (’I am a god chained to a sewer / my whole being seduces me so can I cut it off’).

”On the Verge” is at the desperation at its fullest, the protagonists mentioning that he knows too much of life to ignore the responsibilities of every man, but he might no longer be able to do what is required from him. This culminates in the last paragraph in which he proclaims that even if he won't fall and instead rises to higher levels of existence, someone else will fall anyway, and the whole world falls with him. The Sex & Violence track trilogy of ”Lust”, ”Hate” and ”Pride” goes into the album’s main subject most profoundly, already apparent in the very first paragraph of ”Lust”: ’The pressure to elevate is now so intense that it often destroys what was meant to be lifted’. One certain paragraph on ”Hate” condenses the album’s theme quite perfectly: ’Why must the highest force bleed out of the lowest channel? My love for the immortal results in sex & violence’. In other words, no matter how he tries to elevate to true gnosis, it always results to acts of a bestial man, without hope of getting away from it: ’Whatever I do now, it seems impossible to escape from this machinery’.

The trilogy analyzed above, however, does not musically stand as high as the songs before it do. All the way through the first five tracks, including the wholly instrumental synth-piece ”Persistence in Failure”, Sex & Violence is one hell of an experience, but ”Lust”, ”Hate”, and ”Pride” don’t quite go as far at musical pleasure. They are fine tracks for sure, but the most I’m astonished that why is there a distortion effect on Wrong’s vocals? He’s most certainly one of the best black metal vocalists out there with its inhuman screams and pitches, so this cheap option does confuse me. This trilogy is the only reason why I am reluctant to go for a higher rating. And do not get me wrong, the music on these three tracks is indeed good, but in relation to the almost mindblowing tracks before them, they tend to pale in comparison. All in all, Sex & Violence is a successful continuation that will most likely keep growing in time, spin after spin. For now, four stars can be given without hesitation - that already says something about how good material we’re dealing with here.

GRAVEHILL When All Roads Lead To Hell

Album · 2011 · Death Metal
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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Gravehill is another contender of uncompromising death / thrash / black metal, now releasing their second full-length When All Roads Lead to Hell via Dark Descent Records. No bullshit, this is a soundtrack to all that is solely evil - in good and in bad.

Indeed, the Satanic rampage seems incessant here. At first I’m not harassed by it at all, quite the opposite actually as the first four or five proper songs after the intro kick some serious ass, most notably the highlight ”Extinction” that has the album’s probably only proper lead melodies, a nice ominous sounding addition into the thrashing hell. Vibes of e.g. early Bathory and Venom records run through the album’s veins, and the way Gravehill fuses the three genres (or, in fact, how they play like in those times when the distinction between the three wasn’t yet so clear) is admirable. But after the title track ends, there’s clear stagnation, and there’s only the bookend ”Consvmed by Rats” and its brooding acoustic guitars that make amends.

One feature of When All Roads Lead to Hell is particularly behind the album’s lackluster songs, and it’s the production. While it sounds authentically old school, it’s also quite feeble: drums not having enough power amongst the guitars that also sound somewhat watered down. Overall tightness is lacking here, and a crispier sound could have made the album shine a lot brighter.

When All Roads Lead to Hell will appeal to many fans of the genres’ old school traditions, and in fact it has already garnered positive media attention quite successfully. I might not agree with all the positive comments, because all in all there’s a shitload of other similar albums released on an almost daily basis and this one doesn’t happen to belong to the very best of them. Among the masses of this kind of albums, there’s a lot to choose from and When All Roads Lead to Hell might not be my pick. If only the production was fixed and there were more prominent material on the latter half of the record, then we could consider it again.

SACRILEGIOUS IMPALEMENT II - Exalted Spectres

Album · 2011 · Black Metal
Cover art 2.62 | 2 ratings
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Many of my Finn acquaintances tend to hype Sacrilegious Impalement a lot, much thanks to the band’s major debut Cultus Nex released a couple of years ago. But I was never truly impressed as the evident Watain worship, combined to a soulless Necromorbus studio sound, lacked all necessary power and feeling of danger. Now the band is back with II - Exalted Spectres for which I had higher hopes, but I’m getting similar vibes as I got with Cultus Nex. There’s the discordance, the evil and profoundly Satanic atmosphere, and at times the faster bursts of enraged violence, but when it is all executed so carefully in a professional production, where does reside all sense of truthful hazard and unpredictability?

Don’t get me totally wrong: at what the band does on Exalted Spectres, it does it with skill. Not every band out there is capable of creating something as massive as this album, and not everyone can pull out vocals like Hellwind Inferion in his possessed, mid-range screams, most perfectly delivered on ”Aletheia” which is sung in native tongue, making it sound more authentic and emotional than e.g. the common ’six six six’ proclamations in English. The twirling tremolo melodies are a pleasure to hear as well but unfortunately they provide nothing out of the ordinary and, honestly speaking, almost none of the melodies on Exalted Spectres could be said to be really memorable afterwards. It’s all enjoyable during the course of listening, yet not sticking to head afterwards, no matter how many spins I give the album.

The mediocrity is probably at its worst on a track like ”Omnipotens Aeterne” which almost practically repeats the previous songs, but there are also highlights worth mentioning: ”Woods in a Solitary Soul” is one personal favourite of mine, almost three of its five minutes being distortionless, lurking menace with guitars and whispered vocals. Then there’s ”Grand Funeral Convoy” which is a very fitting bookend song, ending the album with the record’s best song progressions, culminating into some sweet lead melody. But what comes to the more common pieces of Watain esque black metal, à la ”Blessed to Resist” or ”Wolves of the Black Moon”, I can’t say they really move me in a direction or another.

If you were one of those who found Cultus Nex good, then there’s of course no need to hesitate at all at checking out Exalted Spextres. I am willing to bet that those will love this one as well, as even I am able to hear that at least they haven’t gotten worse at all. Exalted Spectres is an album I can always listen to and enjoy it to a certain extent, but does it comprise heart-wrenching, goosebumps inducing material? No, none that I am aware of so far, though I’ve tried. Decent black metal combining the aggression of more traditional bands with the ominous atmosphere of more modern bands. That is what I hear Exalted Spectres to be to the bone.

MORTUALIA Mortualia

Album · 2007 · Depressive Black Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 3 ratings
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Albeit mostly known for his main projects Horna and Sargeist, Shatraug has a ton of various side projects. Of all those, Mortualia is the one focusing on desolate atmosphere, torturing repetition, dragging tempo, the vision of a hopeless future: in other words, depressive black metal. The self-titled debut was originally released back in 2007 but it is now getting a re-release treatment by Moribund Cult, though I am basing my review on the original Northern Sky Productions version of which I’ve possessed a copy for a couple of years already.

Mortualia doesn’t fall to the most common problems of depressive black metal. Whereas many contenders turn out to sound just pitiful in their angst, this album does not dwell in self-pity at all. This is cold, distant, murky, and with a great dose malicious melodies and riffs withouht any clichéd over-melodic tunes. The first monster, ”The Blue Silence” clocking at seventeen minutes, is probably the most melancholic piece of the bunch, followed by another similar track ”In Bleak Loneliness”, after which ”Cold and Grey” kicks in with murky menace: gone are the wistful sounds of the first tracks. The minimal ”Devoid of Warmth” is a strong addition to the whole, but pales in comparison to the last piece, ”Forgotten Soul”, of which beginning riff is so damn dramatic that it truly chills.

To elaborate the album’s sound further, you can probably already guess that Mortualia isn’t professionally producted, and that is only good. Both drums and guitars are quite remote sounding but without any unnecessary amounts of reverb. Shatraug’s vocals are very, very high-pitched and semi-clean wailings which might turn off some and, to be honest, I wasn’t very keen on them at first, but they’ve grown on me over the years. I still prefer his sound on the next full-length Blood of the Hermit on which he gets raspier, though.

If you’re looking for a proper and authentic piece of depressive black metal, I would recommend Mortualia. Perhaps it is not a cornerstone album of the subgenre, but a worthy addition to anyone’s collection who claims to be a fan of the style, as the ringing coldness and joy-killing desolation is surely to make an impact. In case the vocals are too much to bear, then look into Blood of the Hermit, and even that glitch has been then fixed.

OPRICH Север Вольный

Album · 2010 · Folk Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Exclusive folk metal has never really been my thing, it has always required at least a vague flavour of black metal to trigger my interest to any extent but, admittedly, there are some Eastern European acts that know how to do it right. Oprich’s North the Boundless is close to that, in that it combines aggressiveness with catchy compositions, not to forget the melancholic parts that I always tend to love the most on folk metal albums.

When I say catchy, do not expect any too simple pop song progressions here. What I mean is that on North the Boundless the sharp electric guitar sound brings the best out off the vivid guitar lines common in folk metal. In addition to the guitars, various traditional instruments are prominently incorporated into the music, often delivering the lead melodies. The drum sound is quite bright as well, and in fact the whole album is a rather polished affair that might not be for those who require some filthiness from their metal. The most I’m impressed of the masculine vocal output, both clean and growled, which is almost a necessity on an authentic folk metal piece.

For musical comparisons, Temnozor is easy to mention here, and as a fan of that band, one can guess that I indeed enjoy North the Boundless. It might not contain as epic songs as the aforementioned band inclines to feature on every album, but Oprich is probably deliberately focusing on the upbeat metal tracks, and the melancholic elements are only an occasional spice in the mix. As for individual tracks, I see no reason to mention any specific highlights as the quality remains intact throughout without any clearly weaker tracks.

North the Boundless isn’t the first nor last folk metal offering in this certain Eastern European fashion, and at what it does, it does it well. I would most likely choose a Temnozor album over this one any day, but North the Boundless is nonetheless a worthy investment for those fond of how folk metal is usually handled over at Russia and its neighbour countries. A three star rating is fully deserved in this case.

FIDEI DEFENSOR Cognoscenti

Album · 2011 · Depressive Black Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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After the unsuccessful campaign initiated by the label Supernal Music that was originally going to release the album (with the little ’if’ that the album would have to sell out the whole run of 250 copies in preorders), Darker Than Black Records has taken care of Fidei Defensor’s debut album’s release since the preorder project failed and Supernal Music backed out.

My first thoughts after reading about the album was that it would be a feast on raw, uncompromising black metal occultism, but that is quite far from the truth; despite the overall harshness revolving around the album, Cognoscenti is more prominently beautiful, giving much emphasis to melancholic melody. Considering the first track ”Nvlli Expvgnabilis Hosti” and the beginning of the next one ”Veritas, Satana”, the album sounds like a delicate post-rock affair with all those reverby, fragile guitar pickings. It is not until the first five minutes or so are over when the distortion and metal kicks in, guitars fluctuating between wistful and ominous riffs and melodies, vocals having perhaps an unnecessary amount of effected distortion on them, and drums being programmed, though they sound decent enough.

From there on, throughout the next three last tracks, Cognoscenti continues balancing between quieter moments (”Pallida Mors” even having a nice piano outro) and mid-tempo black metal sections. I don’t think the compositions stand out with absolute uniqueness, but the band does seem to know what they’re doing at creating a strong whole of black metal that nicely varies between calmful and fierce parts. The running time isn’t prolonged either, clocking at 32 minutes, which is another thing for the album’s good. Cognoscenti might not be the most impressive black metal release of the year, but delivers its music convincingly enough to deserve an occasional spin from me.

MASTIPHAL Parvzya

Album · 2011 · Black Metal
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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Considering how modern black/death metal fusion Mastiphal plays on their second full-length Parvzya, it comes as a surprise that the band embarked on its journey back in 1991 already (though under a different name), releasing the debut album 1995 and hence belonging to the first Polish black metal groups. I am not familiar with that record, but at least on Parvzya there’s a slight lack of originality, the album being quite a basic slew of tracks which fluctuate between modern Watain esque discordance and more old school and death metal influenced heaviness.

While Parvzya evokes an aura of convincing darkness, not every second is pure splendor. The songs are executed smoothly with either rapid speeds or with good grooves, not to forget those epic solos, but only rarely do the songs rise to truly memorable riffing. ”May He Rot in Hell” and ”Under the Sign of the Morning Star” could be noteworthy mentions here, being some of the album’s highlights, but around the middle of the album, Parvzya starts to repeat its common blasting a tad too much.

As a usual complainer of polished productions, I could mention the drum sound that would have worked better with a filthier sound instead of this professional and sterile precision they call a standard for drums on extreme metal albums nowadays. Perhaps I’m supposed to just get used to this Necromorbus studio sound that dominates on every other new release I hear today, ha. Luckily the other instrumentation works nicely (guitars varying from downtuned murkiness to the more common black metal tremolo menace), as does Flauros’ evil spewing.

In the end, what’s left of Parvzya is a few captivating tracks and an overall good atmosphere. Tight playing and clear sound, these both maybe to an excessive level. There’s no way of calling Parvzya a true masterpiece but the whole has its moments of brilliance, hence rating the album in the scale of one to five is a tough decision, but I’m settling to a moderate score. If modern and extreme is your thing in particular, you may add a half star or even more, because Parvzya clearly isn’t the worst effort in this style.

MIASMAL Miasmal

Album · 2011 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Everytime I come across another new band playing old school Swedish death metal, I think that okay, this time I won’t score it that high, now it’s time to bash a vapid clone. But after giving Miasmal’s eponymoys debut a few spins, there’s no way I could rate it poorly, even if it isn’t among my favourites when it comes to the 2000s revival of the Swedish phenomenom.

This is mostly due to the production that lacks the asphyxiating, morbid and death reeking atmosphere of, say, the recent Interment debut. The sound is quite huge but also muffled and warm, which is something I wouldn’t prefer to hear on an album of this kind. But what comes to the compositional work here, Miasmal rocks: not with originality (huh!) but with kick ass riffs that are churned with good taste throughout the 38-minute whole that says nothing on the first go, but after a few listens starts to grab better. ”Equinox 432” is probably my favourite of the slew, attacking with great riffage that culminates into a semi-melodic peak towards the end. ”Mists” is another piece worth mentioning here as it briefly introduces some haunting acoustic guitars into the mix.

In addition to the eight track album, there are six tracks more from the band’s back-catalogue on the CD version. I prefer the less careful sound production on these demo and EP songs, though the actual songs aren’t as grabbing as the Miasmal full-length pieces. But, all in all, an old school death metal fan won’t lose anything if he/she invests into Miasmal that not only offers a full-length of good stuff, but also a shitload of solid extra material. As with all the other albums in this field, it’s hard to be create a true masterpiece, but Miasmal surely does its job admirably, nonetheless.

RUINS Chambers of Perversion

EP · 2010 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 2 ratings
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My previous encounter with this one-man black/thrash metal outfit was the seven inch split with Front Beast, but admittedly I do not remember much of Ruins’ side because I’ve listened to that piece of wax merely because of the other band. I might have to go back and give some exposure to the other half of the vinyl as well, considering how damn crushing the band sounds on Chambers of Perversion, an EP released last year on vinyl and later this year on CD via Negative Existence.

These nineteen minutes and seven relatively short tracks are pure vitriol. For the most part, tempo is kept at high levels, drums battering the usual thrash metal beats and guitar firing their power chord menace, not unlike an early Sodom record. The vocal output is propably the most distinct feature of Ruins: you could think of the high pitch of Werwolf (Satanic Warmaster) and Azgorh (Drowning the Light) and you are close to this maniac’s spewing that fits into the filthy, raw soundscape like a fist in the face. As implied, the riffs are simple but effective, and after the first few reckless pieces, there’s ”War in Heaven Part 4 (Megalomania)” which slows the pace a little and provides some very epic yet old school guitarwork. After that, the rapid hell is loose again, and continues until the very end.

There’s no way of recommending this to anyone else than those who still love to dwell in the very old school black / thrash metal traditions, where a proper studio production was more of a curse word. The compositional work here does not compromise, but it doesn’t even try as Ruins knows that good metal doesn’t always require anything truly innovative. Hellscourge’s recent debut Hell’s Wrath Battalion comes to my mind when listening to Chambers of Perversion, but I think that this EP surpasses that one, though both are good and, in fact, best records in this field I’ve heard this year.

SUBLIRITUM A Touch of Death

Album · 2011 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Keep of Kalessin might not be the thing in the underground right now, considering their appearance in the Eurovision Song Contest a year back, this event triggering a flood of youngsters hailing the band’s name, but the truth is that the group has their own epic and extreme thing going on, and I personally consider ”Armada” a quite damn nice album. Subliritum’s recent release A Touch of Death brings me back to that certain record because we’re dealing with very, very similar music here. No surprise there, as Keep of Kalessin’s singer Thebon is handling guest vocals vocals every now and then, not to forget the session drums battered by no-one else than Vyl from the aforementioned group as well.

The comparison above basically means that A Touch of Death is melodic, semi-technical, partially epic, fast and well-produced black metal. Old Man’s Child is another fitting name to drop here, as is Arcturus’ Sideshow Symphonies due to some occasional clean vocals that are pretty much identical to ICS Vortex’s output.

The fact that I am able to compare A Touch of Death to so many bands tells already that there’s not much room for uniqueness, and no matter how crushing some heavy sections and how sweet some melodic passages here are, there’s always a layer of safeness and predictability over the music. This is of course just a matter of taste, and the reader might be aware of my inclination towards raw and not-that-careful black metal, so in my books the tameness is a minus. In its own category, meaning modern melodic black metal, I see no reason why this wouldn’t appeal to the style’s fans, as A Touch of Death is evidently a thoughtfully crafted work, and I haven’t come across a better album in its field in some time.

As said, A Touch of Death has its specific fanbase that will most likely revere the album’s blasting rapidity and lush guitar solos. Those merely into uglier and filthier old school metal should logically stay away. I guess I’m somewhere in the middlegrounds as I’m able to spot the group’s talent but in the same time the compositions don’t really move me. Bring something more daring to the game and yours truly is much more impressed already.

VAMPILLIA Rule The World / Deathtiny Land

Album · 2011 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.62 | 4 ratings
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Often when bands deliberately try to be avant-garde, weird, posing in oh so crazy masks in promo pictures, I have zero interest to look into the band. This was also the case with Vampillia’s recent EP, Rule the World / Deathtiny Land, but fortunately I eventually checked it out in spite of all reservations, because it turned out to be quite a beautiful journey through various (and mixed) emotions.

Most importantly, it’s the orchestral parts of the EP that truly stand out, being really intricate and well executed pieces. An easy example could be the classical ”One Day I Thought the World...” and ”Made My Mind to Dominate...” followed by the climatic post-rock ”Day of Departure...” that also incorporates the first signs of metal. But the metal is always in minor role, the soundscape being dominated by orchestral string instruments, clean female singing and some male grunting. The songs are really brief, some lasting mere fifteen seconds, ”Switch and Bomb / Melody Tinborn” running for only four seconds. This all reminds me of Diabolical Masquerade’s Death’s Design combined with Fantômas. Then there’s the rhythmic ”A Deceptive Attack...” that jams like a track from Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s some solo album.

A lot of ideas have been packed into this short 25-minute whole, making Rule the World / Deathtiny Land seem first really incoherent, passing from an ear to another, hence multiple listens are required for proper comprehension. The EP might not be entirely mindblowing but definitely a worthwile effort crafted with care and vision, also the rather low fidelity sound fits the flowing atmosphere of the record: the last thing this would need is a mood-killing sterile production. No explanations needed, this will most likely appeal to fans of a heavy avant-garde touch in their metal.

SATAN'S HOST By the Hands of the Devil

Album · 2011 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.89 | 6 ratings
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Having gone through various phases during its lengthy career, from the classic heavy metal of late 80s to the blackened death metal of late 2000s, Satan’s Host is now back with the original singer from Metal from Hell era, namely Harry Conkling. The result on By the Hands of the Devil is something like a mix of the two previous approaches, combining the darkness and Satanism of black metal and heaviness of death metal with Conkling’s clean heavy/power metal vocals.

And quite an interesting and successful combo it is. There are few bands who truly interest me in the field of power metal singing, but when it’s mixed with the utterly dark instrumentation and atmosphere, it all works. The eponymoys ”By the Hands of the Devil” makes sure of this already with its adventurous song progressions and epic chorus. Other noteworthy mentions of the album’s first half are ”Demontia” and the interlude-of-sorts ”Bleeding Hearts of the Damned”, the latter being a hypnotic, ritualistic and beautiful wandering amidst clean guitars and tom drums. I’m not able to spot as good tracks on the second half, but The Beatles cover ”Norwegian Wood” is a little surprise there, being an upbeat and folkish piece with church burning lyrics. I drank of the blood, Dark Lord Satan...

With a modern and in-your-face clean production, and an overdose of rather clinical and unnecessarily precise blast beats, By the Hands of the Devil might not have the charm of the scruffy Metal from Hell that I personally really like, but this album is clearly a well-thought whole that maybe runs for a little too long, but comprises some quite damn good compositions nonetheless. This could turn into a vital record for some of those who merely enjoy the most extreme of metals and despise classic high-pitched clean singing, because his/her opinion might just change after hearing By the Hands of the Devil. The album has been in relatively frequent rotation and will continue to do so - a sign of a good record.

HYPERBOREAN The Spirit Of Warfare

Album · 2011 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.54 | 3 ratings
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As a heavy consumer of hissing, dusty black metal tape demos, polished and melodic black metal has never triggered any proper interest in me. But if the former was always done as successfully as on Hyperborean’s The Spirit of Warfare, my general opinion would most likely change.

The most important thing is that Hyperborean doesn’t even try to sound really evil and morbid, hence the clear sound fits the soundscape which is laden with lead melodies à la Horn, though it could be better to mention some death metal bands at this point, since The Spirit of Warfare, with its myriad of melodies, could be seen better as a death- than black metal album, also due to its adventurous song progressions that are quite far from cold and monotonous black metal. However, one can still notice a clear Dissection influence running through the album’s veins.

At its best, The Spirit of Warfare is on ”Weapon Mankind” where a solid piano melody and emotional tremelo guitars work together beautifully, and another highlight is the ten-minute centerpiece ”The Last Stand of Leonidas and the Battle of Thermopylaye” that focuses more on creating atmosphere - with the help of subtle synths - rather than tight guitarwork. What comes to the album’s negative sides, there’s the production that, even if I can accept the overall clear sound, could sound more full, as right now there’s a slight lack of bass guitar and the drums are somewhat plastic.

It’s not that The Spirit of Warfare changes my life nor my general impression of melodic black metal, but it’s the kind of album that I really enjoy listening to every now and then, thus deserving a favorable rating. I could see The Spirit of Warfare as an ideal album for someone not really into black metal, as his first steps towards an explorable genre. And, logically, those merely into the filthiest of sounds better avoid this one.

FORGOTTEN TOMB Under Saturn Retrograde

Album · 2011 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 3.07 | 2 ratings
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I’d consider myself as one of the many who enjoyed Forgotten Tomb’s first albums - Songs to Leave and Springtime Depression in particular - to a great extent, those albums being some of the cornerstone albums of the suicidal black/doom metal phenomenom, but since 2007’s Negative Megalomania and its upbeat rock elements, the downfall began. On their newest offering Under Saturn Retrograde, the band continues on this renewed path, meaning rather accessible compositions in a clear production with almost zero signs of the mournful melodies of the first albums. However, I wouldn’t go as far as calling this effort a total failure, because it’s very audible that Under Saturn Retrograde is a thoughtfully crafted album.

To depict the band’s current sound, one could think of modern Katatonia’s (The Great Cold Distance, Night Is the New Day) pulsating metal / rock rhythms and bright sound, combined with Shining’s lunacy. This all is most evidently witnessed on the first track "Reject Existence" and the two other rather chorus-based followers, "Shutter" and "Downlift", after which a surprisingly decent The Stooges cover "I Wanna Be Your Dog" appears. Next up is the goth-full "Joyless" that, albeit having some pretty nice and delicate melodies in the end, is a slight moodkiller with its HIM and Sentenced influences, especially in the clear vocal department. "Under Saturn Retrograde Part I" is the fastest and most black metal song on the album, followed by the opposite "Part II" which relents a little with acoustic guitars and sweet bass guitar lines. "You Can’t Kill Who’s Already Dead" runs a little too long for its 9-minute length, but "Spectres Over Venice" is there to compensate, being the album’s highlight with its great ending chord progressions.

It must be stated again that Forgotten Tomb is no longer the same band it was during early 2000s; Under Saturn Retrograde is a rather sophisticated dark metal / rock album from which a devoted DSBM lover won’t find much to enjoy. But in regard to what the band plays nowadays, they do it with success. It might not be what I’d personally listen to on a daily basis, but will certainly, and generally speaking, trigger the interest of a slightly younger and mainstream audience who are not interested in lo-fi suicidal black metal bands.

MOONLIGHT Rex Diabolos

Album · 2010 · Black Metal
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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It is not only the northern soil of Scandinavia that thrives on ice cold black metal, this has been proved by a plethora of recent groups hailing from southern abodes of America, such as Patria from Brazil. Moonlight is another addition to the list of blizzarding black metal acts from an unusual location, this time from Mexico, offering a full hour of piercing and evil black metal, handled by mere one man.

Rex Diabolos is, indeed, long. And especially too long for its uncompromising style that shows no signs of innovation, following the footsteps of Dark Funeral and Marduk quite closely. But now putting aside the usual nagging about unoriginality for a moment, Ishtar does deliver the shivering tremolo riffs with authenticity, the only complaint being the occasional shredding guitar solos that definitely don’t fit to the album’s overall atmosphere. The solo on the last song ”Sacrilegus Oratio (Part 2)” is, however, pretty damn epic, showing a surprising amount of technical ability that you wouldn’t have guessed beforehand from the otherwise simple black metal. Drums are, unfortunately, programmed but it doesn’t ruin the atmosphere as they’re mixed enough low, giving the riffs their deserved main role.

While the foundation of the traditional black metal is evidently fine here, Rex Diabolos clearly lacks proper highlights. The album does flow nicely, but the compositions do little to affect a listener who’s gone through a million similar albums in the past. Hence it becomes hard to recommend Rex Diabolos to any specific listener base, as newbies to black metal would better look into the innovators from early 90s, and experienced listeners won’t find much, if anything, to rejoice from the album. I’m tempted to go for a two star rating, but perhaps a half star more is vaguely deserved due to the record’s overall playability and non-harassing nature.

ARVET Aijna

Album · 2011 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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It’s been four years since Arvet put out its first tape demo Elävän Kuoleman Aamuna, followed by the EP Ihmiskärsimys a year later, both releases prominently dwelling in melancholy, not unlike a plethora of other Finnish black metal acts of late times that lean toward depressive black metal without the pitifulness usually attached to the sub-genre. These bands, instead, shine with occult ideologies and on Aijna, Arvet’s first full-length, the band moves further away from evident depression, introducing a lot of dissonant melody and overall filthiness to the music. The result is something utterly possessed, yet still so beautiful.

Looking at Aijna’s roster, a grand change is visible: Noxifer is no longer the only one responsible for the instruments, as he’s joined by a full line-up of members with strong Saturnian Mist relations. A four headed assembly doesn’t, however, result in precise and professional playing, not at all; Arvet sounds filthier than ever, not only because the instruments are executed with intuitive touch (instead of sitting in the studio recording the fifteenth take of each song), but also production-wise the band still feasts on dusty, low-fidelity soundscapes.

Musically, Aijna took me by surprise right in the beginning when ”Kuoleman Äiti” crawls maliciously with seemingly almost indecipherable dissonance, until a Si Monumentum esque lead melody escorts the track with distant, haunting screams somewhere in the background. Soon after the ’proper’ black metal hits, all the fury reminding me of Verge’s Hatemagic to a great extent - not only this song, but the whole album in general. A clearer example could be ”Rukous Mestarillisen Ajatuksen Oivaltamiseksi” that fluctuates between rapid blasts and slower beats, and closer to the end the melodies rise to heart-rending beauty. In fact, this pattern seems to apply to many of the songs: starting with more rapidity, the tracks progress into quite epic melodies in the end. During first listens, these compositions say little, but after a month of regular listening, I realize they’re all done pretty damn well, including the long outro of ”Liekehtivä Dharana” in which a simple, ritualistic discordance is being repeated for multiple minutes.

If the music alone feels hard to digest, the lyrics are even a level higher. While I was pretty much able to decipher the themes of e.g. mortification on Ihmiskärsimys, Aijna goes wider and deeper into occult subjects in a way that only an advanced explorer of esoteric beliefs can comprehend. The lyrics are spewed out with true feeling by both Zetekh and Noxifer, and the actual content is an important, if not even mandatory, part of Aijna. Personally there’s a lot of unlocked doors in the maze of Aijna for me, and it’ll still take quite a long while to work out everything. But as the thing with comprehensive albums always goes, it isn't required to understand everything and that is what brings a nice charm to a record.

With its intriguing song progressions, authentic and raw sound, intricate occult imagery and symbolic lyrics blazing with ardor, I dare to say that Aijna deserves its place among other modern Finnish classics-to-come, or cult legends, such as IC Rex’s Valonkantajan Alkemia even if I’m already quite certain that - all unnecessary elitism aside - only few can see Aijna’s appeal due to its ultimately challenging nature both musically and thematically.

SPEARHEAD Theomachia

Album · 2011 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Furious and militant black / death metal, yeah yeah, all too seen area. Spearhead is one of those rather recent acts that don’t much, or in this case at all, care for sweet and calmful melodic passages; instead, this is pure war. And while the result of an album-lenght of mere savage violence can often end up being a very tiresome listening experience, this band’s third full-length Theomachia hits the right spots and does not sound dull at all.

The key to the album’s success is how damn tightly they execute their instruments in relatively fast speeds, not unlike Impiety. If we want to drop more names, Morbid Angel and Angelcorpse are another names worth mentioning here, as those bands’ fans will most likely enjoy what they hear on Theomachia, an album full of ass kicking and chaotic riffage - with the exceptions of the brief interlude ”Praesagium” and the last track ”Aftermath” with its focus on discordant atmosphere. What comes to the uniqueness of the album’s compositional work, well, there’s not really any of that. But in a case like Theomachia, which deliberately feasts on primitive death / black metal ideas initiated twenty years ago already, it does not matter.

Due to its ultimately unsurprising nature, I can’t say Theomachia is a true masterpiece, but in its category a real treat anyhow. Production-wise, the album sounds sharp and crisp, a necessity for a violent effort like this. There’s no need to go much further into specific details of tracks; all that needs to be said at this point is that this war machine is a recommendable album for the fans of the groups mentioned in the paragraph above. I doubt they’d be disappointed.

INFESTUS Ex | Ist

Album · 2011 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.73 | 3 ratings
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One-man black metal projects rarely showcase as qualified handling of instruments as Infestus does here on his third full-length Ex ‏| Ist, a majestic opus of atmospheric black metal executed in a bright, massive soundscape, thematically revolving around inner turmoil which is successfully put to practice in these long compositions where desperation meets anger. This all forms a very professional sounding and endurable whole though the album does have its flaws as well.‏‏‏

The instrumental ”Akoasma” begins the journey, shifting from double bass frenzies to portentous acoustic guitars and solos, following closely the footsteps of Shining. Next up is ”Down Spiral Personification” which is more evidently black metal but with a good dose of fitting melody therein, making it a highlight of the album. ”Darkness Blazing the Flame of Fire” crawls with moderate speed and murky riffs until it explodes to blast beats and vicious tremolo riffs like the track before it, the same applying to ”Mirror Mind Reality” and basically the rest of the album. That is not to say that the songs repeat themselves, no, every track here incorporates multiple interesting sections within their long playing times, ensuring wholly enjoyable rides through varying tempos and moods.

During the last two pieces, ”Der Blick Hinaus” and ”Descend Direction Void”, a plenty of acoustic sections are added to the middle of the metal, working exceptionally well on the latter, doom-driven song that ends the album with reverb-laden repeated acoustic pattern. Not to be forgotten, either, is the album’s short centerpiece ”Torn Obsever” which is filled with pulsating rhythms and melodies reeking of dissonant evil.

Not all riffs on the long course of Ex | Ist truly stand out with splendor, but when looking at the big picture, there’s no way calling the album a failed attempt at proper black metal darkness. Once again it must be stated that it’s impressive how good sounding whole has mere one man created here - it’s apparent that this album has been a long time in the making. A recommended album if you’re into not-that-traditional black metal and seek for fresher ideas and good productions sound-wise.

THE AXIS OF PERDITION Tenements (Of The Anointed Flesh)

Album · 2011 · Black Metal
Cover art 1.86 | 5 ratings
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Going back to the first half of the 2000s, the abominant The Axis of Perdition was already churning out impressive industrialized black metal horror, not unlike Atrium Carceri’s ambience and Blut Aus Nord’s twisted metal, and I remember enjoying Physical Illucinations in the Sewer of Xuchilbara (The Red God) and Deleted Scenes from the Transition Hospital to a great extent. Keeping this in mind, the group’s newest offering Tenements (of the Anointed Flesh) is unfortunately not quite as captivating release, lacking in some crucial aspects such as truly haunting compositions and a fitting sound.

After the brief introduction, ”Unveiled” kicks in with the programmed drums that, even though appearing on a heavily industrial album, seem somewhat amateurish, the sterile hammering not working for the atmosphere’s good at all. However, the overall atmosphere is fittingly hysterical, a thousand voices echoing all around the soundscape, guitars firing rapid and seemingly incoherent discordance, albeit the chord progressions are almost never remarkable. Vocals are the weakest link of the line-up: while for the most part they are decent raspy screams - though sometimes the forced semi-clean vocals (”Unveiled”, ”The Flesh Spiral”) sound like they’d better belong to an insipid nu-metal group from yesteryears, lacking strength and any seriousness that an album of this kind would need - there’s really nothing mysterious about the vocal output.

The humming ambient interlude ”Dark Red Other” is the first proper breathing moment after an exhausting four-song combo of constant chaos. After that, the same feast on dissonant melodies continue until ”Ordained” begins, a 180 degree turn from the material before it, starting with epic synths and then bursting into impressive melancholic black metal with twirling melodies and only slight elements of the convulsing metal that Tenements otherwise provides. This song is a definite highlight of the album, a heard-rending piece combining despair and sickness, sung in clean vocals, and it makes me wish the 60-minute whole had more of this style.

I hate to say it, but all in all Tenements (of the Anointed Flesh) leaves a slightly negative taste, mostly because the music doesn’t quite deliver the frightening elements of their early material; instead, it all sounds a little common, already heard on various other black metal albums. Having only one truly great song, I must settle to an okay rating. Without that one particular track, take the half star off.

CURSE Void Above, Abyss Below

Album · 2011 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.26 | 3 ratings
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We all can name a million different Darkthrone clone bands in a moment’s time, but how many bands are out there heralding the aforementioned band’s Hate Them and Sardonic Wrath era? I believe we have at least one name now that Curse has come up with Void Above, Abyss Below, an album with the darkness of 90s’ black metal (and vocals so damn close to Nocturno Culto’s) but with the attitude of a demented old school thrash / punk affair.

From that perspective, Curse does very fine throughout the mid-tempo savage and simple power chord riffage, but once again it’s the compositional predictability that rises to be the album’s worst enemy at least on the first half of the record, though points can be given to the fact that the material is partially improvised with an on-the-go mentality. Considering that, the band has done quite a hell of a job with these 36 minutes that form the competetent whole of Void Above, Abyss Below.

To analyze the album’s (moderate) diversity further, there are certain moments - residing mostly in the album’s latter half - that part from the common paradigm, such as ”Infernal Visions” that meets more with the recent rocking Satyricon releases, and then there’s the surprisingly adventurous ”Painting the Devil on the Wall” that is laden with a great deal of lead melody. Not to be forgotten is also the album ender ”Priests of the Underworld” that utilizes choir style singing, synths and overall a tad more malicious atmosphere.

Of all the underground black metal albums of recent times,Void Above, Abyss Below doesn’t exactly rise to the top ranks (I could mention Tsorer’s Return to Sodom that still does things a little better) but the album does deliver its riffs in a very smooth and enjoyable manner that endures repeated listens, hence deserving a favorable score and a chance in the audio players of other lovers of punky old school black metal.

AOSOTH III

Album · 2011 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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All black metal groups out there trying to achieve truly morbid and abyssal sound: take heed of this album. Aosoth’s third full-length, simply titled as III, is probably the sickest sounding album I’ve heard in a long while, hands down. And this comes as no surprise really, knowing the band’s strong line-up relations with another French war machine Antaeus, so to depict III with an example, think of Blood Libels with even deeper and more droning guitar sound.

Compositionally, Aosoth delivers brilliance as well. The utterly profound and massive production works as a fitting base for the six evil pieces of black metal where tempos shift from slow menace to faster chaos. One guitar handles downtuned rhythms while another provides high-pitched discordance similar to Nightbringer, this seems to be the general structure throughout the album. The monstrous growls are handled convincingly as is the precise drumwork, battering the hell out of anything on its way.

Between the metal, brief moments of ambience appear (the beginning of ”III” having even an interesting piano pattern), providing quieter moments that are welcome due to the album’s heavy volume. And the volume is damn heavy indeed, just put a song from III to an audio editor and see how the album is master-wise pure loudness war. This is a little minus as the audio suffers from being forcedly loud, hence clipping a lot, but then again, it also works for the album’s chaotic nature.

I’m not familiar with Aosoth’s back catalogue (shame on me) so I don’t know how this compares to the band’s earlier output, but at least on its own III is one highlight of 2011’s first half, providing unresistable filth to my now-aching ears. Thus said, III is indeed a recommendable album to look into, and one of those reasons of writing reviews: to give publicity to albums that really deserve it.

DEMONICAL Death Infernal

Album · 2011 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Buzzing and sawing guitars, death reeking growls, morbid atmosphere - yep, pure old school Swedish death metal is once again the name of the game, this time on Demonical’s third full-length offering Death Infernal which doesn’t truly surprise with its music, but since when has that been the point? The album simply showcases how brutal, coffin-like death metal is supposed to be spewed and it’s up to the listener if that’s enough for his musical preferences.

Actually I lie a little when I say that there’s no surprises here. For the most part, as tracks on the first half like the savage ”Ravenous” and the mid-tempo ”Return in Flesh” imply, Demonical stays true to its Entombed influences, but as soon as the seventh song ”All Will Perish (The Final Liberation)" begins, one can notice the evident melodic death metal elements of Amon Amarth, and this continues throughout the last tracks ”Slain Warriors” and ”Darkness Awaits”. The two additional bonus songs retain the same melodic inclination, including the Emperor cover ”Night of the Graveless Souls”.

Delving deeper into the compositions, it must be admitted by everyone that Demonical does know how to craft captivating death metal pieces. This becomes clear right on the first track ”The Arrival of Armageddon” that goes up and down the fretboard with ingenious riffs and on ”Black Inferno” where Bloodbath esque malicious melodies appear in front of the distorted low-pitch instrumentation. Some stagnation is to be found from the album as well but nothing totally fatal that would make the listening experience an annoyance in any way.

Despite that the occasional melodic death elements are somewhat refreshing to hear on an album of this sort, I find those tracks to be the album’s weakest links, as Death Infernal seems to be at its best during the most brutal assaults. To conclude my nagging, the production could be a bit filthier as there’s slight sterileness in the sound, so that it’s not quite like the dirty eponymoys Interment album, for instance. In the end, Death Infernal leaves a positive taste, and is definitely recommendable for the lovers of the genre, and I mean those who still can endure the similar ideas initiated in the early 90s already.

HRIZG Anthems to Decrepitude

Album · 2011 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Hrizg’s second full-length Anthems to Decrepitude is a hard bit to swallow for various reasons. This Spanish one-man horde has crafted a challenging, yet ultimately traditional black metal album off simple ideas that seem very uninviting at first, but only slowly starts to show signs of true potential.

Anthems to Decrepitude isn’t overly aggressive nor atmospheric black metal; the music resides somewhere between the two, at times blasting in great speeds not unlike Mayhem but mostly wandering in middlegrounds when it comes to the pace, the somewhat powerless production and minorly melancholic melodies helping in the creation of the interesting atmosphere that might seem dulling at first during the course of the 50-minute whole, but once again it must be said that this album takes its time to open.

In spite of not utilizing a lot of reverb, the album somehow sounds cavernous, as if recorded literally underground in a tomb or something along the lines. The mid-level growls of the vocalist are part of the reason why Anthems to Decrepitude sounds almost like an old school death metal album, but purely production-wise, that is.

It might seem that I’m implying that Anthems to Decrepitude is some kind of a hidden jewel of pure brilliance but that is not true either, as I can most certainly agree with other reviewers in that this 50-minute entity is a little too long and never musically varying enough - except an acoustic interlude like ”Invierno”. But in my humble opinion there are plenty of great ideas here that make the record a noteworthy release, clearly above an avarage old school black metal album for sure.

DEAD NEON Dead Neon

EP · 2010 · Doom Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Now here’s something I don’t come across very often: post-apocalyptic sludgy doom with monumental distortion, packed into a compact whole that runs for less than 30 minutes. The eponymous debut of Dead Neon is a sweet little treat of innovative music that in all its simplicity makes a truly positive impression on yours truly, to the extent that I am actually reviewing a release of this kind - I usually just skip through the sludgy albums because I’m not really acquainted with the style.

Dead Neon sounds huge and rough as if the album was recorded live on one take: the transitions between songs are seamless, the same feedbacks usually connecting the neighbour tracks. After the introduction’s - "Advisory (Go to the Boneyard!)" - speech fades out, the massive guitar walls burst on ”Downwinder” and the mid-tempo rumble begins, drums and bass grooving steadily while Jarrett proclaims his evocative (and definitely worth reading) lyrics in sinister, maniacal voice.

Song-wise, Dead Neon retains the same style throughout: there’s not much difference between many of the tracks, but it doesn’t really matter as the basic principles are of high quality and the overall length isn’t prolonged. From the core, what basically is to be expected is heavy and evil sludge / doom riffage all the way until ”Ride the Light” which ends the story of Dead Neon in clean guitars and singing.

If you’re up for some lyrically adventurous yet musically ultimately repetive and simple sludge or doom, and a really dirty production isn’t a hindrance, Dead Neon is a worthwile record to look into - and it doesn’t necessarily cost even a cent as it’s offered as a free download besides the proper tape version. I’m useless naming any references here but if there’s more this kind of music somewhere, anyone can feel free to guide me.

HÆRESIARCHS OF DIS In Obsceration of the Seven Darks

Album · 2011 · Black Metal
Cover art 2.25 | 2 ratings
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On paper, Hæresiarchs of Dis and his third full-length opus In the Obsecration of the Seven Darks sound pretty enticing: furious, chaotic black metal with occasional tendencies towards haunting ambient soundscapes. The outcome, then, is not exactly that marvellous due to some critical glitches in the musical coherency of this 51-minute beast.

Atmospherically, In the Obsecration of the Seven Darks is rather well done: listening to the album is quite a damn trip through audial insanity where discordant and seemingly constantly changing guitar chords lead the way, backed up by a plethora of fast drum beats and a heavy dose of synths in the background. The only problem sound-wise resides in the drums that are either triggered too heavily or programmed too harassingly (with all the new technology I’m not sure which one it is), resulting in an overpowered snare sound which is a big minus on an album that relies so heavily on overall atmosphere.

...because compositionally, these nine tracks have little to offer, unfortunately. The balance between metal and (chaotic) ambient is pretty much 50-50, but neither of the band’s styles truly capture any fantastic ideas. At times, the melodies and riffs seem like they were improvised on the go, and with not that mind-blowing results. "Ensorcelled by Khaos" - originally an Emperor track - is a surprising choice of cover, but I do see a little resemblance between the bands, especially in Cernunnos’ high-pitched vocals.

In the Obsecration of the Seven Darks is, in the end, an album that does not tire me, but neither does it trigger any proper emotions in me. It’s a shame to give a rather negative rating to an effort that is, for the most part, thoughtfully done and rich in textures, but it isn’t simply enough. With a few main problems fixed, this could turn into a much more enjoyable ride. Perhaps with his next album, then.

MURKRAT Drudging the Mire

Album · 2011 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art 3.52 | 2 ratings
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Females playing metal is nothing new whatsoever, but females playing funeral doom is an entirely different thing - at least to me - so this 2-piece Murkrat and their second full-length Drudging the Mire is no short of an intriguing release, for sure. And the outcome is largely positive even if the 72-minute mammoth has its glitches as well.

Fitting for the style, Drudging the Mire sounds cavernous and utterly dark. Slow drum beats reverberate in the sinister soundfield, synths and pianos having a prominent role along with the simple guitar chords. But the most important feature here is the vocal delivery of Mandy VKS Cattleprod that goes from a clean yet viperish chant-like approach (”Faceless”, the close-to-ambient ”World”) to demented moans and snarls (”I, Rodent”, ”Speak”). Those used to hearing mere deep male growls in funeral doom might have hard time stomaching her style, but I find the output only refreshing.

During the course of the lengthy whole, not all riffs truly stand out with pure brilliance, but for the most part, Drudgin the Mire is surprisingly consistent throughout. The album is probably at its best on the centerpiece ”Electric Womb” where the oppressive, repetitive patterns work like magic - truly haunting and impressive, I must say. The droney bookends - ”Processional: Drudging the Mire” and ”Berceuse - Slow Immersion” - are well done pieces too, beginning and ending the long journey in fitting buzzing and howling sounds.

While still waiting for the eternally delayed Elysian Blaze album, Drudging the Mire is a real treat. Personally I’m not so fond of some of the experimental, faster elements that appear here on a few corners, but overall, Murkrat has created a really nice record, recommendable for fans of the genre who do not avoid uncompromising approaches to vocals.

NEGURĂ BUNGET Poartă de Dincolo

EP · 2011 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.65 | 10 ratings
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The new line-up of Negură Bunget, that last year unleashed the remarkable Vîrstele Pamîntului, didn’t receive as warm welcome as I’d say they deserve. Despite the fact that almost all of the original members are gone, the band sounds as authentically mysterious and convincing as before, and their newest child Poartã de Dincolo, a four track EP that ends their deal with code666, is to prove their skills further.

Nothing has radically changed since their last year’s appearance, but the band does sound more earthy and natural here, perhaps due to the production that isn’t so bright and clear this time. ”Hotar” begins the EP with trademark Bunget mysteriousness, meaning sinister synth mats and clear guitar patterns until it later bursts into distorted menace and, finally, to some truly maniacal blast beat chaos. ”La Marginea Lumi” creeps up slowly with a misty flute melody in leading role, then exploding into various interesting metal sections in the common Negură Bunget tradition.

”Frig in Oase” is wholly an ambient track, and a very welcome one as long as the listener has patience and ear for a long interlude of sorts, but I’m sure all fans of the group know how to appreciate ambience, anyway. Rich synth mats open up the track, later introducing some whispered vocals and a string instrument (guitar?) going ouf of tune - all in all a well done breathing moment until the title track ”Poartă de Dincolo” gets back to the metal. A cleanly sung section is a slight surprise here, but it works wonderfully. Thanks to that, and the ethereal melodies on the latter part of the track, this is another highlight of the EP along with ”Hotar”.

As usual with Negură Bunget’s output, it took a while to get into Poartă de Dincolo but in the end the band didn’t disappoint. There’s true ingenuity lying in these four compositions, only strengthening expectations in regards to their next move from here on. Say what you say, but to me the band is far from dead. Most certainly a worthwhile EP, recommendable not only to the fans of the band but also to those who would like to hear a fair deal of unique Romanian tradition in their black metal.

EVIL WRATH Chaotical Invasion

Album · 2009 · Black Metal
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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Some say that black metal should evolve. Some, like Evil Wrath here, say a big fuck off to that. On their second full-length Chaotical Invasion, this hateful Canadian group offers nothing but true underground black metal in the very vein of Darkthrone’s golden era in the first half of the 90s. No more, no less. In good, and bad.

The paragraph above alone tells pretty much enough, but let’s go into some details, anyhow: Evil Wrath does know how to create cold sounding black metal without unnecessary twists, there’s that certain monotony in these rather long compositions - most evidently manifested on the over eight-minute title track - where a moderately paced blast beat carries the song through various tremolo picked evil riffs, rather high-pitched screams proclaiming death and hatred towards the whole of humanity on top. Bass guitar is quite non-existent but it does make the album’s lo-fi soundscape a tad fuller. And who wants some lively bass solos on an old school black metal album, anyway?

I’ve heard a fair deal of better albums in this field, albums that have summoned coldness and lurking menace much more convincingly, but then again, I’ve also heard many worse endeavours than Chaotical Invasion. This album might offer little to someone who needs basically nothing but Under a Funeral Moon to satisfy his needs for basic, hateful black metal, but for those who still seek out for different faces within a constricted, uncompromising style, Chaotical Invasion might just be his thing.

PESTILENTIAL SHADOWS Depths

Album · 2011 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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Australian black metal underground has been bustling for the past few years, offering a lot of high quality filthiness in the forms of e.g. Atra, Ill Omen, even the infamous Drowning the Light, Forbidden Citadel of Spirits, and... the list could go on. Pestilential Shadows, on the other hand, has somehow evaded my attention until now that their fourth full-length, Depths, is out, absorbing people’s any possible happy thoughts with its utmost melancholy and madness.

As soon as the first tremolo firings of ”Lost Geists of the Sunlight Sphere” come out, the listener is introduced to the vast soundscape where guitars have the primary role, and hell how massive they do sound. The drums, although somewhat (and only slightly) plastic sounding, keep the pace steadily with blast beats, while guitars retain their ominous melodies. Even though there isn’t an excess of reverb, the sound is abyssal, fittingly. Short passages of acoustic guitars and even choirs (e.g. ”Tribulations of Man”) are also added to the mix, ensuring an endurable whole.

Throughout the 55 minutes, the melodies balance between truly touching sadness and savage evilness: ”Putrid Earth” - having also Azgorh from Drowning the Light handling the vocals - is the most heart-wrenching melancholic piece of the bunch, the latter part of the song strongly reminding me of Drudkh’s Forgotten Legend’s remarkable ”False Dawn”. I could listen to ”Putrid Earth’s” ending chord progression for dozens of minutes. Yeah, it’s that mesmerizing. Then there’s the more aggressive side of the band, visible on e.g. ”Architects of the Spear” and ”Poisoner”, that shows the band’s ability to create utterly sinister melodies with success.

There are times when Depths seems to be a little stagnant, but those moments are few and far between, so for the most part Depths is a really enjoyable experience, and takes its place somewhere among my current top 10 of the year. Fans of the Australian scene should be checking out this album by now, as long as the fairly modern production isn’t a hindrance. At least in this case it shouldn’t hinder anyone, because the compositional work here alone is on such high level.

BLUT AUS NORD 777 - Sect(s)

Album · 2011 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.98 | 10 ratings
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As a fellow of mine said lately, it’s not every day you come across this popular and hyped bands that keep releasing new material constantly whilst still retaining the quality of the music. The odd path that Blut Aus Nord chose on The Mystical Beast of Rebellion - and since then has evolved it through a plethora of other albums - is still present on their latest offering 777 - Sect(s), meaning that the band sounds still as convulsing and twisted as before.

Those familiar with this French group’s earlier efforts know what to expect, indeed: mechanical, capricious black metal that mostly relies on dissonant chords yet, at times, realizes to feed the listener with a bit of tasteful melody. On 777 - Sect(s), it mostly happens on the rather slow-tempo ”Epitome 02” that gets only more epic towards the end with its lead guitar melodies, and on the closer ”Epitome 06” that belongs to the same category of fully welcome breathing moments amidst all the cacophonic and twisted blasting that the album otherwise brings forth.

And what’s best about the other tracks, they actually are real growers instead of unnecessarily meandering artistic nonsense. It does take a couple of spins, but by now the ingenious riffs are comprehended to the extent that the music sounds almost catchy, and that’s a term you often don’t see connected to the repulsive monster named Blut Aus Nord. The centerpiece ”Epitome 04” is the truest example of a song that first might seem to revolve around not-that-exquisite riffs but after a few listens opens up to goosebumps inducing beauty. Of all the five tracks, ”Epitome 05” is the only one that slightly pales in the shadow of the others but I would still regard it as an important part of the whole.

While What Once Was... Liber I was not so mindblowing experience, I’m admittedly really impressed by 777 - Sect(s) on which almost all the previous glitches of a Blut Aus Nord record have been fixed. Most importantly, the material is consistently on high level without any filler material, and it all lasts for a fitting and endurable 46 minutes. Four stars, if not more, are surely deserved here, and yours truly is now wholeheartedly looking forward to hearing the next two chapters of this well-begun trilogy.

ABACINATE Genesis

Album · 2011 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 2 ratings
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Although I’m not the biggest fan of the musical styles presented on various albums I get to review, I’m still able to spot talent, and that I do find from Abacinate’s second full-length Genesis, a real mixed bag of influences.

For the most part, the album is technical death metal, but every now and then the vocals are pure hardcore / metalcore, and at times the music flirts with more apparent melody. For instance, the two-part ”Laughing in the Dark” goes into rather progressive territories, the first part having a surprisingly calmful and melodic ending, then suddenly bursting into metal on the second part. Personally, I really don’t dig the hardcore vocal output, but it does bring me back to my younger years when Biohazard was one of my favourite bands. The hardcore elements aren’t something I would listen to nowadays, but in the middle of all the solidly executed death metal, it’s bearable.

The production is definitely worth meantioning here: it’s very clear and heavy. And modern. That migh become a problem for someone, because Genesis doesn’t quite have the filthy morbidity of old school death metal when it comes to atmosphere. I prefer the latter but I do admit that the production here is done admirably anyways, fitting to the band’s tight style that only gains from the very sharp sound.

As anyone can derive from the above, Genesis isn’t the sort of death metal I truly enjoy and listen to on a daily basis, but I find the music - much thanks to the ass kicking production - effective to the extent that I’d call the album a successful release. Genesis is a recommendable piece for those who enjoy their brutal and technical death metal with a little bit of -core. Also, remember to give these compositions enough time, they aren’t that digestible after all, but do reward eventually.

BATTLE DAGORATH Ancient Wraith

Album · 2011 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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Coldness, that prevailing theme of a myriad of black metal albums, is also the main component on Battle Dagorath’s second album Ancient Wraith, a freezing 70-minute package of harhs black metal that has its ups and downs.

As soon as the synth-filled introduction ”Spirits of Winter Darkness” is over, the 12-minute ”Empire of Imperial Shadows” attacks with steady tremolo picked guitar lines laden with something mysterious and evil. The vocals I find very reminiscent of Striborg, in that there’s a great deal of distortion and delay used, making it all sound a little unnatural. Speaking of which, the drums are programmed as well, although it’s pretty well hidden in the harsh soundscape of the album. Yet at times the machinery hihat hits can get a little irritating, anyway.

Compositionally, Ancient Wraith is pretty much in balance throughout, never properly amazing me but admittedly there are some quite damn hypnotizing moments, such as on the 14-minute ”Kingdom of Black Abyss” that has a really sweet mid-tempo section towards the end, melancholic, ringing guitar melodies being picked with a fitting synth mat in the background, making a really effective atmosphere. ”Ancient Spectre of Oblivion” will undoubtedly divide opinions, being a 19-minute monster of pure ambient and drone. I find it fitting to the album’s theme though the length becomes its obvious glitch.

By no means is Ancient Wraith a mandatory purchase but it does deliver some authentic sounding black metal coldness, hence deserving a full three star score, also due to some of the majestic highlight moments in a few corners of the album. Perhaps with a little more organic production and more innovative compositions Battle Dagorath could next time conjure up a truly great release.

CALDERA Mithra

Album · 2011 · Doom Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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On their second full-length offering Mithra, French Caldera delivers rather intriguing, repetitive, murky doom metal that meets with the climaxes of post-metal progressions, and all this wholly instrumental. The album consists of two tracks that run for over 15 minutes a piece, creating a fitting total playing time for a style that could easily turn into boredom.

But luckily Mithra is far from anything tiresome, though it does require an acquired taste. If you can’t handle chorus-free music without constant twists, Mithra is a dead end. But for me, a lover of repetition - thanks to many hypnotizing black metal albums - and purely instrumental music - thanks to a bunch of great post-rock albums - this record is a great listen. Starting calmfully with ”Lithogenitvs”, the song soon after builds up to simple yet addictive distorted guitar lines with steady drum beats behind, and after a while I’m surprised the song already fades out. ”Sacrificivm” continues then, with a tad more discordance in the melody department, at times reminding me of the lunacy of Deathspell Omega, yet never being technically challenging or fast at all.

Mithra is, all in all, a mesmerizing album that might not be entirely original, but a very fine album that requires close attention; otherwise it could turn into worthless background noise. The production here is full sounding, all instruments well in the picture. Good running time with adventurous music and no annoying features whatsoever makes an album that doesn’t change my life but what will receive listens from me fairly frequently now. Mithra is a recommended piece for post-metal fans who enjoy slow tempos and doomy sound.

RAVEN WOODS Enfeebling the Throne

Album · 2011 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.23 | 5 ratings
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On their second full-length assault, Ravenwoods unleashes quite a mixed bag of influences from various genres - in good and bad. While the band seems to focus primarily on death metal - be it blackened death metal, technical and brutal death metal or even melodic death metal, yeah, all that is here - the band also incorporates calmful passages of traditional instruments into the mix that makes, all in all, a decent but the same time a tad incorehent 41 minutes.

Primarily, Enfeebling the Throne blasts not unlike Behemoth, including precise and monstrous drumming and very similar growls, and on these tracks I wish the band would have added something more original into the compositions - no matter how crushing these tracks nonetheless are, mostly thanks to the heavy and massive production. Yes, there’s a lot of Nile esque mysterious acoustic moments within songs (”Breathless Solace”, ”Torture Palace” and ”Upheaven-Subterranean” to name a few) but they sound a little apart from the metal, just suddenly appearing out of nowhere. The traditional elements are put to their best use at the outro ”Azab-I Mukaddes” which is entirely in that style, giving that side of the band more time so that it isn’t just a random one-minute interlude between all the chugging riffs and blast beats.

The latter part of the album starts to reveal the melodic death metal which, I surprisingly think, is the most interesting half of the record. The cleanly sung chorus of ”Stay” could appear on an MTV poprock song but I find it done tastefully, and then there’s ”The Fading Trace” that also flirts with that certain Gothenburg sound. All this makes, indeed, a bit random sounding whole of different ideas. With a little more coherency and better mixing of the styles together, Ravenwoods could have produced a fantastic record. What is left now is an album with various good ideas that just don’t all work together so well. Nonetheless, we are not dealing with a lackluster record here, so that those more into death metal than yours truly can appreciate Enfeebling the Throne a lot more.

WITHERING SOUL No Closure

Album · 2011 · Black Metal
Cover art 1.50 | 1 rating
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After reading a plethora of praising review lines and selling points about Withering Soul’s No Closure - their first album in seven years - I’m amazed... because I truly can’t grasp what makes this album that outstanding. What my ears hear is some very basic, modern and fast melodic / symphonic black metal with some death metal chugging therein, and this combo most certainly doesn’t offer anything we haven’t heard before, and what hasn’t already been done better. No matter how many spins I’m trying to give to the album, I simply don’t see the appeal and wonder how much someone has paid for the reviewers... Okay, I’m starting to be over the line here but that’s what comes to my mind in all honesty, anyways.

The band members are most certainly professional here, all instruments are handled with tight precision - to the point that e.g. the triggered and upfront bass drum is mostly just annoying - and there’s always something happening in the soundscape - No Closure is energetic throughout, that’s for sure. The main glitch of the album, however, resides in the compositions that kind of reek of unoriginality and tameness. If I want to listen to metal, I expect to hear something ominous and daring, not a light version with semi-happy melodies and overall unnecessary accessibility. Hence my favourite piece of No Closure is actually the ambient outro ”A Requiem of Sorrow” - utilizing synths, bass guitar and cavernous piano - that is done rather well.

It hurst me a little to rant this heavily over an album whose makers have probably spent a lot of time crafting it, so if we want to take a peek into another positive moment of the album, there’s the gothic influenced ”Unquiet” that incorporates some female vocals on the chorus and it fits well. In fact, this song is of rather high quality on the first half until it later bursts into the metal that kind of struggles with all the joyful and harmless melodies. No Closure might have its fanbase among the youngsters and those who are getting into black metal and/or don’t want to have it too daunting yet. In a nutshell: not a total failure, but crucially lacking to inspire me at all.

ABOMINANT Where Demons Dwell

Album · 2010 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Year after year and an album after another, Abominant has been cranking up new material since mid 90s and never reaching big fame. This is understandable in the context that the band most certainly aren’t innovating anything new, but on the other hand their newest output Where Demons Dwell has remained rather steadily in my player for a long time already, meaning that in spite of all the similarities to other bands, Abominant’s ninth full-length is a great listen.

I’m not an encyclopedia when it comes to death metal - a genre where only a few bands truly interest me - but Where Demons Dwell reminds me of a couple of other American death metal churners, namely Ares Kingdom and Arghoslent in the sense that instead of mere blasting, the band in question knows how to incorporate some melody into the music as well. Don’t get me wrong, Abominant sounds authentically evil and heavy, but melody is carefully used in a few places such as on epic solos and, for instance, on the vaguely melancholic and black metalish (think of Weapon) chord progressions of ”The Wolves of Hate”. Another place where the black metal flirt can be heard is on the discordant, Watain esque guitar picking intro of ”After the Fallout”.

This kind of variation throughout the otherwise old school 40 minutes is what makes Where Demons Dwell rise higher than many other death metal contenders of today in my books. There’s a few weaker tracks in the whole though, the last two in particular, that perhaps repeat the previous ones too much, but there’s absolutely nothing on the album that I wouldn’t enjoy at least to some extent, hence ensuring its place among my currently favourite death metal albums. Production-wise, the record isn’t either dirty nor polished, balancing fittingly somewhere between, and the instrumentation is handled professionally (bonus points for the steady yet monstrous drumming) and the growls - nothing too guttural - are delivered with power. All this makes a recommendable piece of death metal, and it won’t be long until I’ll look into their back catalogue.

DODSFERD Spitting with Hatred the Insignificance of Life

Album · 2011 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.10 | 2 ratings
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After my introduction to Wrath’s music that happened via Nadiwrath’s recent debut Nihilistic Stench, Dodsferd’s sixth full-length Spitting with Hatred the Insignificance of Life took me by surprise. Sure, there’s still something childish in the overall impression that Wrath somehow seems to attach to everything he does (just look at some of the songtitles on previous records) but I can’t escape from the fact that at least this particular album has some very fine riffs on it.

Whereas Nadiwrath seems to be the punky and rocking black metal outfit of Wrath’s, Dodsferd delves - in addition to the overall harshness and rage - in murkiness and melancholy, though the rock attitude is somewhat present here as well, as the drum beats and bass lines in the beginning of ”Your Kingdom Was Built in a Lie” and solos on the title track imply. But for the most part, Spitting with Hatred... is laden with tremolo picked darkness, darkness that at times rises to almost heart-rending levels of beauty, just listen to how those steadily fired riffs burst into touching melancholy on ”The Hate Goes On” and ”Praying in Vain Under the Shrine of Your God”.

Thus said, points have to be given to the guitarwork on the album. While not every riff is of pure splendour, the quality is consistent and in spite of all reservations I have about Wrath’s music, his work here is noteworthy. Some of the tracks could do better with a slightly shorter running time (half of the six pieces pass ten minutes) but I am still not bored at any point. The production is fittingly lo-fi yet tight, and so are fitting the high-pitched screans, plus all instruments are nicely audible in the dusty soundscape. Spitting with Hatred the Insignificance of Life is a worthy even if not entirely oustanding piece of uncompromising black metal that will receive multiple spins from me in the future. Concrete rating is hanging somewhere between three and three and a half stars, if that’s something you look for in reviews.

LIK The Second Wind

Album · 2011 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 2 ratings
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Just when I had said that it’s awesome to hear an Armagedda member still doing black metal in De Arma because Armagedda has been rotting in the grave for a long time, a new LIK album emerges unexpextedly as well. I’m not familiar with this black-metal-meets-filthy-rock band’s whole discography - I remember hearing the 2003 debut Må Ljuset Aldrig Nå Oss Mer a year ago or so - but The Second Wind most certainly rises my interest to look better into the older albums as well, because I do think that The Second Wind is that good.

The album doesn’t try to fish fans with modern gimmicks. That would be a good summary of the whole album. Lo-fi drumlines don’t provide technical fills nor beats but do keep the songs intact with steady 4/4 beats while the rusty guitar sound delivers malicious riffs and melodies, at times rising to almost ethereal levels of beauty (”The Other Realm” and the epic instrumental outro) and at times just rocking the hell out, like in the straightforward ”Death Breeder” and the first half of ”A Filthy Ride”. Vocals range from the folky masculine chants heard in Lönndom, most perfectly executed in the touching chorus of ”Kallad till Bortgång”, to raspier mid-range screams and muttering.

The Second Wind takes its time to open - after all, the grey lo-fi sound isn’t so luring at first - but the melodies here a truly good in the end. LIK fans will as well love these 40 minutes, that’s for sure. Also, anyone who’s up for some great riffing that is both evil and beautiful and who doesn’t require polished productions from his/her music won’t lose anything by checking out The Second Wind, an album that is a very welcome return from a band I thought was dead already.

OLD WAINDS Здесь никогда не сходят снега

Demo · 1997 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 2 ratings
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Vehemency
When speaking of old Russian black metal, Blazebirth Hall is probably the first thing in everyone’s mind. And not until now I’ve gotten to discover Old Wainds and Where the Snows Are Never Gone, an utterly filthy piece of ice cold black metal originally released on tape in 1997 and now seeing the light of the day again, though there has been various re-releases along the years already. And I’m really happy to get to discover this 90s gem finally.

Where the Snows Are Never Gone is a relentless and piercingly cold assault of noisy black metal somewhat similar to Ildjarn, plus there’s also minor hints of melancholy in the mix (”Winter Warriors”) reminiscent of e.g. Baptism, though only rarely. While drums keep blasting steady blast beats along with guitars providing menacing tremolo riffage throughout, the upfront screams are noteworthy as well, going hand in hand with the harsh, evil and cold atmosphere of the demo.

Needless to say, the production here is raw to the extent that the listener base will always remain minimal, but those with a taste for utmost rawness will see the appeal behind the wall of distortion. Indeed, the compositions are of surprisingly high quality: not that these songs would be carefully composed and finely crafted pieces, but the evil riffage here has an intuitive charm that lures for replay. The music sounds alive and ominous.

Where the Snows Are Never Gone is a worthy acquisition is you’re interested in hearing what Russia had to provide in 90s and you have already gone through all the available Blazebirth Hall bands. Recommendable, indeed, for the fans of a great deal of filthiness in their black metal. Enough said, I suppose.

SYN ZE ŞASE TRI Între Două Lumi

Album · 2011 · Symphonic Black Metal
Cover art 3.38 | 4 ratings
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Vehemency
Eastern Europe seems to be the fertile ground of symphonic black metal right now, and although most of the efforts I’ve heard lately are crucially lacking in any good and original ideas, Syn Ze Şase Tri’s debut offering Între Două Lumi is a rather interesting 43 minutes that mix the energetic and grandiose elements of Dimmu Borgir with a minor flavour of Negură Bunget - unsurprisingly, knowing the connections between the latter and Syn Ze Şase Tri.

Între Două Lumi does have same flaws that I can’t help spotting from basically nine out of ten symphonic black metal albums - such as cheesy synth melodies - but the band’s strength here is the incorporation of Negură Bunget esque mysterinousness into the mix: whereas the first proper track ”Ziua din urmă” is still a rather straightforward sympho black metal piece, the third song ”Făuritorul lumii” dares to approach more dangerous waters when it comes to originality. Some of the atonal tremolo picked guitar lines even remind me of Nightbringer’s album from last year which might be an unusual yet somewhat fitting comparison in the context of this particular track.

The quality of the compositions remain pretty much on the same level throughout, the songs never providing anything truly outstanding but on the other hand the little twists and more personal ideas every now and then make sure that Între Două Lumi isn’t a boring album to listen to. The production could do better (or then it’s just my promo version that has quite a watery and weak sound) but it doesn’t hinder me from liking the album, liking the album to the extent that it’s so far the best sympho black metal album from 2011 along with Saille’s recent debut.

HIDDEN Dead Land Energy

Album · 2011 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Vehemency
Hidden’s cover artworks have never really looked like black metal albums, and neither does the band sound like traditional black metal to almost any extent: on their third offering Dead Land Energy, I’m getting minor vibes of Darkthrone, especially when it comes to the vocal output reminiscent of Under a Funeral Moon, but other than that we’re dealing with quite an experimental effort combining a lot of varying influences from different genres.

Production-wise, Dead Land Energy sounds almost sludgy, even if bass guitar isn’t in so prominent role in this rather lo-fi soundscape - but still the atmosphere is murky in a sludgy way. The musical styles keep shifting even within individual songs: from relentless blast beats and malicious tremolo picked sawing to psychedelic and almost happy sounding middle sections with some bird samples in the background and occasional epic guitar solos. There’s also a bunch of doom metal elements, not to forget the synths and some death and thrash metal and...

Yeah, Dead Land Energy is a diverse record - perhaps even a bit too much so that it loses its focus a little and doesn’t always sound so coherent. The songs - all relatively short bursts - do flow from track to another seamlessly but at times the weirdness seems like rather random jamming with not-that-mindblowing melodies. The record does take its time to open, and not until my fifth spin or so I’m truly starting to digest and appreciate this 44-minute whole.

It would be unfair to rate Dead Lang Energy poorly, that’s for sure. If you’re into unusual sounding blends of styles and don’t require polished sound from your music, Hidden’s newest album is definitely worth checking out. Even if not the most interesting effort of this rather high quality beginning of 2011, Dead Land Energy should not be overlooked.

NAZXUL Totem

Album · 1995 · Black Metal
Cover art 2.57 | 2 ratings
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Vehemency
If Iconoclast was epic and vivid, Nazxul’s debut album Totem - dating back to 1995 and now getting a re-release treatment by Eisenwald - is quite the opposite: this stuff is truly dark, swampy and reeking of death. No beautiful riffs here, that’s for sure! Omitting the half an hour outro of the original edition, Totem is done justice by getting it released again because the album is considered a classic by some standards - and I understand that to the extent that this surely was among the first Australian black metal albums, but I wouldn’t go so crazy about the actual musical content.

Nazxul sounds both mysterious - thanks to the vocals that shift between low growls and obscure whispers - and murderous. This is heavy indeed, but it is somewhat hindered by the production where the guitar riffs are somewhere in the background and the rather soulless and plastic sounding drums are on top of everything, kind of ruining the material’s potential. This doesn’t apply to every song though as there seems to be some differences between some songs’ productions.

Tempo is usually kept at high, blast beats battering the hell out of everything and guitars delivering their lines of somewhat incoherent murky riffing (all this occasionally reminding me of certain Ross Bay area war metal groups). Throughout the little over 40 minutes, Totem doesn’t much change, but there are some highlights worth mentioning, such as ”Distance Begins” with its palm-muted death metal riffage and a synth breakdown, and the oddly dissonant and melancholic ”Amidst the Flames” where the album’s synths are put to best use. The latter song is absolutely enchanting, making Totem worth buying almost because of that track alone.

In the end, I’m having mixed feelings about Totem. Whereas occasional moments are really good and not a single moment on the album is disturbing in any annoying way, there’s not much that would lure for multiple replays. Perhaps I was once again affected by the hype surrounding this album and hence I’m leaning towards a mere mediocre rating. Definitely an interesting piece of Australian black metal’s history, but not entirely my cup of tea.

INTERMENT Into the Crypts of Blasphemy

Album · 2010 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Vehemency
Interment existed already during the Swedish death metal boom in the early 90s, but it wasn’t until last year when their first proper full-length Into the Crypts of Blasphemy was released - so in a way, Interment isn’t just another newly found death metal group playing the same riffs that bands like Entombed and Grave played twenty years earlier...

...but that’s exactly what these veterans are still playing on Into the Crypts of Blasphemy: buzzsaw guitar tone and a murderous overall atmosphere that reeks of death. The production is they keyword here, it’s so killing - causing a feeling of choking - that I can’t but respect it. This is the true soundtrack for graveyards and corpses!

Compositionally, Into the Crypts of Blasphemy offers zero innovation but that is compensated by the sheer power of the instruments that are handled with solid and precise execution. What Interment also realizes to do is to keep the total playing time enough short to retain the music’s intensity throughout. Also, the apocalyptic and kind-of-melodic beginning of ”Sacrificial Torment” is a nice feature that soon after returns to the usual savage torture.

As was the case with the recently reviewed Puteraeon debut, there’s no way of recommending Into the Crypts of Blasphemy for those looking for interesting twists and surprising flavors in their death metal; this is pure old school death metal, made by the old schoolers for the old schoolers. The target audience is narrow but surely devoted and will rejoice what Interment presents here.

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