August 17, 2017

Rebirth of Nefast - Tabernaculum

By Bryan Camphire. Rebirth of Nefast is a one man black metal project from Iceland by way of Ireland. The band's debut long player, Tabernaculum, is thoroughly honed and expertly crafted. This should perhaps comes as no surprise
By Bryan Camphire.


Rebirth of Nefast is a one man black metal project from Iceland by way of Ireland. The band's debut long player, Tabernaculum, is thoroughly honed and expertly crafted. This should perhaps comes as no surprise considering that Rebirth of Nefast is the brain-child of the recording engineer who runs Studio Emissary in Reykjavik, Stephen Lockhart, who is responsible for the recordings of several seminal albums of the burgeoning black metal scene there. On Tabernaculum, Lockhart's perfectionism is on full display, pulling out all the stops throughout the entirety of this sinister release.

A strong sense of aesthetics pervades the record. It's clear that the production of these songs is every bit as premeditated as the songwriting. However, make no mistake, the fact that the album is highly polished never detracts from Tabernaculum's prevailing sense of menace. In an interview from 2015, Lockhart states,

...there is a small contingent within the Black metal scene who consider everything that does not sound like it was recorded in 1993 with 4-track recorder illegitimate. For me, where this argument falls completely short, is the idea of relying on poor production to provide atmosphere. If Black metal does not sound ‘dark’ or ‘evil’ when you can hear everything that is going on, then there is something seriously wrong with it.


To that point, Tabernaculum is certainly a work that takes full advantage of sophisticated studio techniques to set in place its thick aura of darkness and dread. The result is an album of modern black metal that sounds evil as mortal sin.

Each track is a world of detail, where even the faintest sounds in the background play a significant role in the overarching feeling of gloom. Barely audible keyboard patches cling to guitar tones like cobwebs on so many flying buttresses inside this haunted cathedral of music. Exactly how many guitar tracks are at play at any given moment on the record is deliberately obscured. The songs unfold like tapestries interwoven with magic and mystery.

The six tracks on Tabernaculum each hover around ten minutes in length. Every tune showcases dynamics. All cuts have both fast and slow sections. Many include quieter parts which make the heavier sections all the more striking. The vocals range from hoarse groans to hushed breathy murmurings. All this is cooked up in a black cauldron teeming with a piquant intoxicating fog. A malevolent and majestic offering, Tabernaculum sits on an infernal altar poised to quicken the circulation of your five litres of blood.

Tagged with 2017, black metal, Bryan Camphire, Oration, Rebirth of Nefast

August 15, 2017

Amorphis - Tales from the Thousand Lakes

By Nate Garrett. On their second full-length album Tales from the Thousand Lakes, Finnish band Amorphis crafted an ambitious concept album based on Kalevala, the national epic of their home country. Twenty-three years after its release, it remains a staple of forward-thinking death metal.
By Nate Garrett.

Cover art by Sjlvain Bellemare.

On their second full-length album Tales from the Thousand Lakes, Finnish band Amorphis crafted an ambitious concept album based on Kalevala, the national epic of their home country. Twenty-three years after its release, it remains a staple of forward-thinking death metal.

Opening track "Thousand Lakes" is an instrumental written and performed by then-newest member of the band, keyboardist Kasper Mårtenson. Tales From The Thousand Lakes’ cover painting is a transportive piece of art that evokes a frigid, haunting atmosphere, and this piano-driven intro is the sonic realization of that vibe. Furthermore, the epic poem on which the album is based begins with a creation myth, and when a chorus of bells enters to signal the end of the introduction and beginning of the album itself, it indeed feels as though this is the genesis of something awe-inspiring.

The song "Into Hiding" immediately showcases the band’s utilization of emotive single-note melodies. Throughout the album, these leads soar above the chord progressions of the rhythm section and elevate each song to a level of archetypal familiarity. In more recent years, this approach to lead guitar in songwriting has been used to great effect by fellow Finns Hooded Menace (more atonal, less melodic), and contemporary neighbors Kvelertak (more rock n roll, less traditional folk). Another element introduced by this song is the addition of clean singing. The clean vocals are introduced gradually and are an acquired taste, but once the initial shock has subsided they do enhance the album. Two tracks in, the band has already implemented piano, synth, and operatic vocals, things that were either nonexistent or used sparingly on previous releases. It’s already clear that Amorphis are intent on traversing new territory on this record.

Amorphis 2015. Photos by Dvergir

"The Castaway" features more memorable leads, this time being played in unison by guitar and synth. The verse riff is among the catchiest on the album, and the chorus is as majestic and beautiful as the constraints of death metal will allow. On this tune, Amorphis dip their toes into some elements of doom metal, but they don’t fully dive in until the next song, aptly titled "First Doom". This track is among the album’s heaviest, and one of only two songs that features original lyrics (the rest are traditional, taken from the aforementioned Kalevala). Next is "Black Winter Day", which features more prominent synth and operatic singing. The tone of the album has been firmly established at this point, so the return of the keys and clean vocals is welcome and no longer jarring.

The rest of the album continues upon this course. Guitar and synth leads intertwine above powerful, familiar chord progressions. Savage death metal vocals dominate, but occasionally give way to dramatic singing. The entire affair unfolds and echoes with a dark, chilling quality. Amorphis begin to take even more chances toward the last couple of songs. This culminates in a couple of left-field passages in closing track "Magic and Mayhem", that reside somewhere between industrial, techno, and dance music. If I had to pinpoint a weak point in the album, I suppose this would be it. However, as out of place as it may be, I still enjoy it.

Any band that takes chances in order to evolve and remain fresh will inevitably face criticism for it. Metallica were called sellouts as early as the introduction of acoustic guitar on Ride the Lightning. Fortunately, great bands will always take risks. In all likelihood, Amorphis knew they would alienate death metal purists by making an album like Tales from the Thousand Lakes. Fortunately they didn’t let that stop them from recording a thrilling, one-of-a-kind masterpiece that the rest of us can still enjoy over two decades later.


Nate plays in Spirit Adrift and Gatecreeper.
Tagged with 1994, Amorphis, death metal, doom metal, Dvergir, Nate Garrett, progressive metal, Relapse Records

August 13, 2017

Heinali and Matt Finney - How We Lived

By Craig Hayes. My mental health has taken me to some exceptionally dark places over the years. Most notably when taking my own life seemed like the only option I had left. I’ve always been conscious that killing myself would destroy my family
By Craig Hayes.


My mental health has taken me to some exceptionally dark places over the years. Most notably when taking my own life seemed like the only option I had left. I’ve always been conscious that killing myself would destroy my family, and possibly irk the few friends I have left in this world. But there’s a good reason they call it mental illness.

Being mentally unwell often leads me to believe that my absence would hurt less than my continued presence –– for all concerned. But I’m not telling you this because I’m trying to be dramatic or elicit any sympathy. Many of us have moments in our lives where the void beckons, and trying to stitch together a broken mind and disordered life in the midst of emotional chaos is a relevant issue right here.

I was 9 years old when I saw my first psychiatrist: 37 years later I’m still fighting to survive. What I’m looking for most is understanding. What I want is to have my self-loathing exorcised. I know I’m not alone in desiring either of those things. And that’s exactly what Heinali and Matt Finney’s new album, How We Lived, provides.

Matt Finney is a spoken word poet, and the Alabama-based storyteller speaks to the lost, betrayed, and forgotten. Finney articulates things we find hard to admit, let alone share. And, as I’ve said before, Finney is no stranger to demons; he is here, with his battered heart in hand, to underscore that life is a hard-fought battle sometimes.

I first encountered Finney via his collaborations with Ukrainian multi-instrumentalist Oleg Shpudeiko –– aka Heinali. Heinali and Finney’s recordings in the early 2010s were defined by dark prose swathed in often lush avant-garde electronics. The duo’s sprawling tracks featured a heavy, cinematic ambience framed by frequently gorgeous atmospherics, and with (highly recommended) releases like Ain’t No Right and Conjoined, Heinali and Finney drew fans from all quarters.

How We Lived is Heinali and Finney’s first collaboration since 2011. But Finney has worked with other artists over the years. His collaborations with prolific dutch musician Maurice de Jong (Gnaw Their Tongues, Seirom etc), under the It Only Gets Worse banner, are also dramatic and soul-stirring. But with due respect to de Jong, Finney’s work with Heinali set a benchmark that has yet to be bettered.

There’s a world-weary tale behind How We Lived’s creation, and it’s a story worth telling, because it shapes and informs the entire album. After Ain’t No Right’s release, Finney’s life began to fall apart, and following family illness, deaths, and a few creative catastrophes, Finney retreated to a backwoods trailer, where he ceased writing, and sought escape in drugs and alcohol.

It was partly the realisation that his work with Heinali had played such a crucial role in his creative life that Finney was able to slowly find his way back –– both artistically and personally. And How We Lived certainly highlights that tension between the drive to create and the desire to utterly destroy oneself.

How We Lived’s four lengthy songs feature some of most emotionally charged and powerfully affecting work that Heinali and Finney have ever produced. “Relationship Goals”, “Wilderness”, “October Light” and “Perfect Blue” deliver stunning (and often harrowing) narratives, which Heinali frames with evocative music. But here’s the difficult part.

At this point, I’d generally begin to unpack an album’s songs. I would slice ’em and dice ’em, and endeavour to describe their ingredients. But I’m not going to do that with How We Lived’s tracks.

That’s not because those songs aren’t worth the effort; as I said, How We Lived is Heinali and Finney’s most meaningful collaboration yet. But I don’t want to reveal the album’s specifics, because I want you to hear those songs free from my (or anyone’s) influence or interpretations.

In other words, How We Lived needs to be experienced, not explained.

I understand that might not be what you’re looking for here. That’s okay –– I’m sure dozens of other reviewers will pick apart How We Lived with due precision. I just think that it’s an intimate album that deserves to experienced as a whole, free from spoilers or prior dissection.

I will say this though: How We Lived is a haunting piece of art that evokes decaying landscapes –– both psychological and geographic. It delivers harsh truths, plumbed from suffering and bitterness, and cognizance arises from moments of anguish.

How We Lived reminds us that when life falls apart our minds and bodies don’t attack on a single front. They gnaw and they claw at us, insidiously. They tear into different anxieties, from entirely different angles. Until slowly, but surely, those emotional ramparts we’ve so carefully constructed begin to crumble.

Potential remedies are available, should you find yourself in that situation, and there are often opportunities to seek help along the way. I’d encourage you to take full advantage of both, if you’re feeling like your walls are collapsing. But How We Lived also exists as a means to shore up your defences.

I’m not so naive to suggest that listening to How We Lived is going save to your life. It’s not a miracle cure. But it’s certainly a crucial restorative. You will find solace in the album because it acknowledges (with brutal honesty) that life fucking hurts.

Sometimes, the shared admission of that fact is all we need to make it through another day. And there’s no question that How We Lived reaches out from the depths of despair to say: “I hear you. I understand”.

In doing so, How We Lived illustrates why listening to dark art created by troubled souls is so important to our own continued existence. The album resonates deeply, providing vital catharsis, and while it’s unquestionably bleak, it’s also beautifully grim.

How We Lived lets us know that we are not alone. It helps strengthen our resolve to fight on –– until we step out of darkness.

Misery has never sounded so uplifting. Or so emboldening.

Tagged with 2017, ambient, Craig Hayes, electronica, Flenser Records, Heinali and Matt Finney