Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Darvulia- L'alliance des venins

Written by Steven Leslie

Artwork by Tara C.

Anyone even remotely familiar with black metal will know that France has a long and storied history of producing some of the genre’s finest and most revered acts. From the lower than lo fi approach of Les Légions Noires to orthodox and boundary pushing bands like Deathspell Omega and Blut aus Nord. Darvulia continues of the tradition of brilliant black metal flowing out France’s wonderfully diverse scene. The band, that released their first demo in 2000, draws their name from a Hungarian witch named Anna Darvulia, famous for being one of the servants of the notorious Countess Elizabeth Báthory. That should give you a good idea of where the band draws its lyrical and thematic inspiration. While all the lyrics are in French, there is an occult and sinister atmosphere permeating all of their works that should be easily discernable even to those who don't speak the language.

L'alliance des venins is the band’s second full length, released in 2005, a mere three years after their brilliant debut long player L'ombre malicieuse. Storming right out of the gates with a blistering assault of all the usual traits associated with the second wave of black metal made famous by their northern counterparts. While the first few minutes packed with blast beats, tremolo picked riffs, demonic atmosphere and harsh screams may lead many to believe this is standard second wave worship, do yourself a favor and continue to listen. About three minutes into the open track the band throws in a dissonant and sinister riff that wouldn’t be out of place on a DSBM album. This dynamic shift is done so naturally that you can’t help but marvel at the songwriting acumen of this French horde.

These sonic shifts from all out second wave onslaughts to more dissonant and atmospheric sections are where the band really shines. As soon as you think you know where a song is going, they throw you a curveball. Every track on this album is a master class in how to take people’s expectation and destroy them in the span of a few seconds. This variety and incorporation of different strains of black metal means the album never gets stale no matter how many times you listen to it.

Darvulia aren’t afraid to experiment with more rock-based rhythms and riffs either, while always managing to maintain the arcane and sinister atmosphere black metal requires. The aforementioned atmospheric and DSBM elements the band utilizes continue to rear their ugly heads throughout the album. Never quite as mind warping as listening to a Blut aus Nord or Deathspell Omega composition, but still pulled off with stunning style and grace. The bands’ playing throughout is stellar. From the throat scorching, vitriolic screams of R. to the magnificent drumming display put on by Akhron, it’s a masterful example of black metal done right. Anyone with even has the slightest interest in French black metal would do well to check out this slab of black metal magic.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Proselyte - Our Vessel's in Need

Written by Justin C.

I bought The Proselyte's 2011 album, Sunshine, shortly after it came out, and it's never left the music collection on any of my iDevices. Given the amounts of music I churn through--and Apple's stubborn refusal to provide me with a 1-terabyte iPhone--that's no easy feat. Now, after what seems like far too long, The Proselyte are back with a new EP, Our Vessel's in Need. They play a brand of stonery/sludgey metal that will appeal to fans of bands like Sandrider and Torche. The Proselyte skew a bit darker than those two bands, but even so, they're an excellent example of how a band can be heavy and substantial but still fun.

Photo © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

Vocals range from soulful cleans and harmonies up to a throat-shredding snarl, and the cool part is that they hit all the points in between. You can hear the snarl being ramped up in the opener, "End's Regions." There are great vocal harmonies throughout, like the soft-heavy moment in the middle of "Existential Risk." The guitar, bass, and drums are putting out some of the most thundering and aggressive sounds on the EP, but then you suddenly hear Ask and you shall receive... being crooned. It's reminiscent of one of my favorite tracks on Sunshine, "Slaw." It's another stomping tune that stops midway and breaks into a chorus of, While you wait, here's the sunshine! I'm always a sucker for a well done light-heavy contrast. On paper, a quick change between filthy sludge and a downright cheery singalong shouldn't work, but it does for The Proselyte. It's also a great reminder that although a catharsis might leave you with bloodied knuckles, crumpled in the corner, it could also make you want to drive really fast on a sunny day, grinning ear to ear and howling along with some bitchin' tunes. tunes.

Photo © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

EP closer "A Stubborn Hem" is a bit of a departure from the other songs. The running time pushes into the six-minute territory, in contrast to the mostly three- to four-minute tracks that precede it, and the band slows down to a doomy, sinister crawl. It's a great showcase for the rhythm section--any time you get audible AND interesting bass lines from a metal band, a demon gets its wings--and there are some fantastic, Alice in Chains-type vocal harmonies creeping throughout. It's also a great example of a band stretching out their style template without sounding like a completely different band. It's a haunting ending to the EP, and hopefully a tantalizing preview of more to come.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Pallbearer - Foundations of Burden

Written by Calen Henry.

Artwork by Sean Williams

Foundations of Burden, Pallbearer’s sophomore album is the perfect follow up to Sorrow and Extinction. In contrast to some other opinions, though, I don’t think it’s a better record. Instead, it’s the perfect follow up because it’s a fantastic record, that shows the band’s growth, but complements the first record, rather than superseding it.

Pallbearer play a very traditional style of doom, but their strong sense of structure and melody is what really sucked me into their music. That’s gotten even better on their second record. The layered guitars are even more intricate, but not self indulgently so, and Brett Campbell’s vocals are stronger and more up front.

Billy Anderson’s production has subtly changed the band’s recorded sound making a different feeling record than before. Sorrow and Extinction sounds very vintage-heavy, almost like it could be a record from the ‘70s. In contrast, Foundations of Burden’s mix sounds thoroughly modern and HUGE.

Pallbearer 2012. Photos © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

The opening tracks of both albums (“Worlds Apart” for Foundations of Burden, and “Foreigner” for Sorrow and Extinction) act as microcosms of this difference. “Foreigner” starts with a lengthy acoustic intro, before dropping the DOOM with a wonderful vintage sound leaving lots of space in the music. The airy vintage sound continues through the album and is the perfect fit for the composition and arrangements.

“Worlds Apart”, on the other hand, gets right into riffs, with thick layered guitars and vocals and a huge sound, more in keeping with modern North American doom bands. The whole album is much more full and almost lush, with the exception of the keyboard interlude “Ashes”. The fuller sound complements the intricacies and scope of the new songs.

So, while I love Foundations of Burden, I especially love that it made me re-appreciate Sorrow and Extinction, rather than replacing it in my music library. Time will tell if one album will become more classic than the other, but for now they are both totally essential.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]