Thursday, December 8, 2016

Netherbird - The Grander Voyage

By Hera Vidal. Netherbird has been around since 2004, and, after going through a brief break-up period, the band returns with The Grander Voyage, their fourth album. If you are a long-time listener of the band, then you might notice that, on this album, the band has moved into a symphonic approach in regards to black metal, but they have also added touches of atmospheric quality to their music.
By Hera Vidal.

Cover artwork: J. M. W. Turner

Netherbird has been around since 2004, and, after going through a brief break-up period, the band returns with The Grander Voyage, their fourth album. If you are a long-time listener of the band, then you might notice that, on this album, the band has moved into a symphonic approach in regards to black metal, but they have also added touches of atmospheric quality to their music.

So, The Grander Voyage, your fourth full-length album will be released this year in October. Could you explain us the title of this record?

I try to keep both titles and lyrics open for every listener to find their own meaning in. But to me “The Grander Voyage” is about the perspective I have gotten on life as I have become older. I was a very frustrated and sometimes angry person when I was younger, but with time I have come to see things a bit different and I have found more of a calm inside myself. So this album is my way to describe that growth, or evolution. But I think every listener who reads my lyrics can find their own meaning in them and I hope “The Grander Voyage” will mean something else to them.

From Metalfan.

The Grander Voyage begins with “Pale Flames on the Horizon”, which immediately sets the mood for the first half of the album, and it has sounds effects that will show at various points of the album to help accentuate that mood. The song also has a sinister undertone that gets briefly touched upon before leading straight to “Hinterlands”. This song picks up where “Pale Flames” left and it’s heavily melodic—it’s fast, filled with urgency, and on the verge of committing violence. However, before things can escalate, there is a brief atmospheric interlude of acoustic guitar, as if to calm the aggression heard earlier on the song, before going back to that heavy melody that borders on elaborate, symphonic themes. There is a noticeable balancing act between the vocals and the music when it comes to the more emotional aspects of the song: if the more demanding the vocals get, the more intricate the music becomes. This becomes prominent in “Windwards”, where a choral-like backing becomes the centerpiece for the beginning of the song before launching into the same melodic theme that was seen in “Hinterlands”. However, “Windwards” weaves past musical themes with the choral backing, making it sound refreshed. It also begins to mellow towards the end of the song, which shows a shift between the aggression and desperation heard earlier to a sadder, heavier state of being. Whether that leads to a state of reflection or to a state of sadness depends on the latter part of the album.

“Pillars of the Sky” completes the shift into what seems to be a state of reflection by beginning—and staying!—on the acoustic side of things, especially with that guitar playing; it has the main melody, but it’s backed by a guitar tone and vocals that get progressively unsettling. It builds on anticipation and, when the black metal elements drop, it elevates the song to a higher plane of musicianship. It combines distorted black metal harmonies and the main acoustic melody, which begin to slow down before only the acoustic guitar is left, returning to the main melody we heard in the beginning of the song. However, everything once again shifts with “The Silvan Shrine”, where the black metal comes back full force, yet the guitar here seems to be on the groovier side of things. This song focuses more on the musicianship, as the vocals are not a focal point. In fact, they sound like they are fighting for attention, but the guitar and the backing music ultimately wins out. Halfway through the song, the atmosphere of the song completely changes and it sounds so dark—the vocals and the guitar get heavier and harsher, leaving behind the melodic groove. Add the background keyboard and rain, and it sounds extremely sinister. Eventually, the groove sounds return, making the listener realize that the song was much as about catharsis as it was about reflecting on the emotions the music went through. At the end of the album, the listener can hear the sounds of the calming sea, the heavy guitar, and the echoing sounds of the surf as it the voyage comes to an end.

All in all, The Grander Voyage is an album that brings vitality to black metal by not settling on a particular style. While the band definitely had various musical directions and ideas going on at the same time, they definitely were able to tie them at the end, ending the album on a hopeful note. This album contains an excellent blend of symphonic and classic black metal elements that bring atmosphere to the table, while the acoustic tonalities and background noise are a nice touch amidst the chaos. The Grander Voyage is a powerful album, and will definitely leave the listener in a better state than prior to listening to it.

Tagged with 2016, Hera Vidal, melodic black metal, Netherbird, symphonic black metal

Monday, December 5, 2016

Krypts - Remnants of Expansion

By Craig Hayes. It’s been a few years since we’ve heard from Finnish death and doom metal necromancers Krypts. But here they are again, crawling from the black-hearted catacombs with their grimmer-than-grim new album, Remnants of Expansion. I’ve never understood why Krypts' storming debut, 2013's Unending Degradation, isn’t raved about more often.
By Craig Hayes.

Artwork by Timo Ketola

It’s been a few years since we’ve heard from Finnish death and doom metal necromancers Krypts. But here they are again, crawling from the black-hearted catacombs with their grimmer-than-grim new album, Remnants of Expansion. I’ve never understood why Krypts' storming debut, 2013's Unending Degradation, isn’t raved about more often. That album was released by Dark Descent Records, which is a sure sign of commanding metal, and we all know those fiendish Finns are adept at mixing tar-thick doom with crushing death metal. More to the point, Unending Degradation oozed corruption, and like the music of fellow Finnish doom henchmen Hooded Menace, Krypts' songs feature a spine-chilling tempo and tenor that eclipses many of their peers.

Still, I guess there’s something to be said for cult music made by a cult band only ending up the in hands of the most fervent cultists. In any case, Remnants of Expansion is here now, and it wrenches open the gateways to Lovecraftian terror once again. It’s a steep dive into archaic horrors straight away too. Album opener, "Arrow of Entropy", is a supremely dark and atmospheric trudge under endlessly overcast skies. At 11-minutes long, "Arrow of Entropy" is an epic opening gambit as well. But Krypts have no problem filling the track with extremely heavy and hypnotic hooks.

More melodic and monolithic charnel house riffs await on "The Withering Titan". And "Entrailed to the Breaking Wheel" and "Transfixed" are both hulking and bulldozing in equal measure too. If you're a fan of Scandi death metal, then you'll love the mountain of vintage tone, texture, and weight on all the album's tracks. And mixing mortuary leads with mournful refrains keeps the rack and ruin of doom ever-present as well.

There’s an impenetrable density to Remnants of Expansion that's intimidating too. The album’s riffs, courtesy of six-string mage Ville Snicker, and fellow new(ish) guitarist Jukka Aho, are ultra-grim and gargantuan. But those riffs are made all the more wretched and foul as the two guitarists slowly wring every torturous ounce of despair out of them. Vocalist and bassist Antti Kotiranta growls with all the torment and fanatical madness you’d expect from the clergy of the damned. And Otso Ukkonen’s pounding drums provide the all-important doomsday tempo. Add all that up, and there's no question that Remnants of Expansion brings the heavyweight ambience of classic esoteric death metal. But the claustrophobic air of otherworldly forces steadily closing in plays a big role here too.

Obviously, Finland is home to celebrated death and/or doom metal icons like Demigod, Convulse, Thergothon, Reverend Bizarre, and Skepticism. Musically, Krypts are a different breed to those aforementioned bands. But they do bring a similarly solemn sense of gravity. Certainly, Remnants of Expansion is not a shallow or immediate album. And that’s no deficit. There's way too much cookie-cutter death metal out there, and albums like Remnants of Expansion offer a crucial alternative by ensuring that the Devil really is in the details.

Remnants of Expansion is an album to wallow in. Krypts’ slow and steady subterranean dirges divulge more secrets and evoke more menace the deeper you explore them. So get digging into Remnants of Expansion’s earth-quaking murk. Let the corruption take hold. Let the sepulchral insanity reign. Amen.

Tagged with 2016, Craig Hayes, Dark Descent Records, death metal, Krypts

Friday, December 2, 2016

Ash Borer - The Irrepassable Gate

By Justin C. Ash Borer's new full length, The Irrepassable Gate, has been getting a lot of press, so I ended up breaking my rule about reading other reviews before writing my own. I was a bit surprised--there doesn't seem to be a clear agreement among reviewers as to whether this album is a refinement or a broadening of Ash Borer's core sound.
By Justin C.

Artwork by Glyn Smyth of Stag & Serpent.

Ash Borer's new full length, The Irrepassable Gate, has been getting a lot of press, so I ended up breaking my rule about reading other reviews before writing my own. I was a bit surprised--there doesn't seem to be a clear agreement among reviewers as to whether this album is a refinement or a broadening of Ash Borer's core sound. It's almost like a black metal Rorschach test. But that said, everyone seems to agree that it's very good.

From my perspective, The Irrepassable Gate is a refinement. The sound is unmistakably theirs, but to my ears, they've tightened down their template and left some of their experimentation behind, especially when compared to the Bloodlands. The tracks are still long for black metal--with the exception of the two "Lustration" interludes, the shortest song still clocks in at nine and a half minutes--but for the most part the length is a non-issue, as the songs take on an almost hypnotic quality. Ash Borer does a couple of things that make this work: they play fast and slow tempos off of each other, sometimes simultaneously. The opening track starts off at almost a funeral doom pace, but that slow, dirty riff is eventually joined by increasingly frenetic rhythm and tremolo'd guitar underneath, which segues nicely to their other strength: layers upon layers playing off each other, sometimes sliding off of each other and other times propping each other up. These layers collapse back together at around the seven-minute mark, but it's not too long before we're off to the races again. There's a lot of repetition, but there are so many moving parts that you barely notice what's carrying you along.

Ash Borer 2014. Photos by Carmelo Española.

If I had to pick a couple of nits, I'd say that the song length doesn't always work in the band's favor. There's a three-minute-long ambient/noise-type break in the middle of "Lacerated Spirit," and I'm not sure it needs to be there. Tension release is handled very nicely by the shimmering "Lustration I and II" interludes, so I'm not sure any song needs this long of a release valve inside itself. That said, it's still pretty damn exciting when the song kicks back in. I also sometimes found the outro to "Grey Marrow" to be a bit of a drag, making my finger itch to skip ahead. But that's partly tempered by the fact that the next track, "Rotten Firmament," is damn near perfect over its nearly 13-minute length. The riffs are sweeping and majestic, and there's an almost palpable emotional progression through the song, even if you can't always pin simple words down to what the music is making you feel. All is forgiven when a band delivers a track like this.

I'd say that if you found Ash Borer's earlier work a bit too long and ranging a bit too far afield at times, they definitely deserve another listen for this album. I like the approach on this album as well as their earlier work, but this album is a nice demonstration of how a band can progress without re-inventing their musical wheel.

Tagged with 2016, Ash Borer, atmospheric black metal, Carmelo Española, Justin C, Profound Lore Records