April 29, 2013

Batillus - Concrete Sustain

Written by Justin C.

We've all had the experience: A band you've been following puts out a new album. You get it, press play, and think, "Wait, this isn't the [insert band name here] I remember! Why did they change their [sludge/doom/black/death/etc.]?" I had that experience with the new Batillus album, Conrete Sustain, but I'll tell you why it will all be O.K.

Photo by Carmelo Española.

If the band's last album, Furnace, was a sludgy/doomy affair, then Conrete Sustain shows them giving more space to their industrial influence. The opening track, "Concrete," features a lock-step marching tempo under fuzzed out guitars and bass with singer Fade Kainer barking, "Sustain and dominate!" like a brutal commander. Straightaway, you hear how well suited Kainer's voice is for this style of industrial metal. His voice is focused and raw, and it makes me want to run around my office shrieking orders at my coworkers. More than I usually do, anyway.

To be fair, this change isn't as huge of a shift as I thought on first listen. After all, the second track on Furnace, "Deadweight," churned along like the soundtrack from one of the Terminator movies, with Kainer screaming, "Fall on your knees!" What we get with Conrete Sustain is really an extension of that sound. The songs are spare and tight. There are no walls of sound here--these tracks are pared down to their simplest elements with plenty of space for the individual instruments to breathe.

Photo by Carmelo Española.

And if you're worried that the band has completed abandoned their doomier sound, don't be. The nearly 9-minute-long closer, "Thorns," rumbles along at an appropriately slow pace, with deep, rumbling vocals only punctuated by Kainer's harsher screams. It's a beautiful, melancholy epic with poetic lyrics about releasing pain.

If you're at all put off by the early songs on this album or the "industrial" label, don't be. It may take a while for this record to sink in for fans of the band's earlier work, but it's well worth the time.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

April 27, 2013

St Barthelemy's Temple - The Sheol Unfold

Review by Aaron Sullivan.

Art by Jurictus Neccato

It seems adding elements of Black Metal to your music just makes it better. Like peanut butter to chocolate or adding bacon to, well anything really. France’s St. Barthelemy’s Temple add Black Metal to their DOOM. A growing sub-genre that has it’s share of great bands. With The Sheol Unfold people may be adding their name to that list.

Primitive and raw. These are the first things that come to mind as the music starts. But this is not achieved from a production trick. But rather the overall mood of the music. Guitars have a buzzing grittiness while the bass keeps things low and slow. The drums lumber along with a sludgy feel with only cymbal splashes to add any light to the otherwise dark proceedings. Vocal are blackened screeches. Which is fitting for an album that references Sheol (Jewish hell) and Thaumiel (an evil force in Jewish mysticism). Topics rarely, if ever, used in metal.

With only three song St. Barthelemy’s Temple have laid a foundation that they can build from. Their ability to write Blackened DOOM that is not only dark and heavy but also, dare I say, catchy is something that sets this band apart. The Sheol Unfold proves there is still some uncharted territory out there to harvest.

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April 26, 2013

Dirge - Elysian Magnetic Fields

Dirge's Elysian Magnetic Fields from 2011 is industrial tinged atmospheric sludge metal. Tracks ebb and flow, from ambient noise to huge riffs, that moves the songs forward with an almost unstoppable force. The industrial influence mostly consists of tastefully applied electronics, but also more overtly like the intro to the instrumental "Sandstorm", where the drums plays around an insisting bleep. Later in the song the bleep transforms into into a harsh bubbling noise that add an ominous depth to the post-metallic riffing.

The production is dense and layered, this is an album you can listen to many times, and still hear something new. On the other hand, it is also a very immediate album, many of the melodies are quite enchanting. Take the intense ending to the last song "Apogee". Emotional shouting on top of powerful drumming, it took me a while to notice the weird time signature (I'm not a musician, but it's 13/4 according to a review I read). Dirge must also be given credit for using an accordion to create atmosphere here and there. Again, something that you may not hear on first listen. All in all, Elysian Magnetic Fields is an immensely satisfying album, and comes highly recommended.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

April 23, 2013

Dopethrone - III

Written by Ulla Roschat.

Dopethrone are a three piece Sludge/Doom band hailing from the hot damp swamps of Montréal/Quebec/Canada..., wait... no I confuse that. The swamp is not around them, it’s inside of them. I am sure these three guys have no blood running through their veins, but filthy sticky mud, pumped through their bodies by blues filled hearts. They don’t breathe air, but dark smoke and blow it right into your face.

Photo by François Carl Duguay.

Ever since they released their first album Demonsmoke in 2009 I’m in love with Dopethrone. Their second album Dark Foil (2011) just deepened this love and III (2012) opened the gate to sludge heaven... , no hell, I mean hell of course, since III is pure evil blues/rock driven raw abrasive sludge doom with an occult-ish aggressive mood veiled in sweet smelling smoke so thick you can hardly breathe or see through. III is like all of Dopethrone’s albums a completely D.I.Y. project!!!

The opening track “Hooked” got me hooked indeed immediately by the creepy film sample in the beginning and the first crushing riff. Already the second song “Reverb Deep” grabs at my soul with its dark sinister mood and spellbinding guitar part and I’m lost. “Storm Reefer” and Devil’s Dandruff” are dynamic rides straight into hell and “Cult Leader” is another slow heavy, heavy and heavy blues ridden killer I have no words for. (I have, but I don’t say them.)

Photo by François Carl Duguay.

The influences are obvious... Electric Wizard, Bongzilla, Black Sabbath, Eyehategod, Weedeater... to name just a few. All five songs are so very focused and direct, that their bundled energy hits hard. Thick heavy punishing riffs, tons of distortion numb my mind to ease the way for the demonically (heavenly/hellish) snarling vocals to spit their venom into my heart. Slow contagious grooves dig their way through my flesh and bone and the recurring (but different) audio clips add a creepy horror movie atmosphere.

A perfect satanic alliance that gets you addicted to your own destruction.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

April 21, 2013

Bulletbelt - Down In The Cold Of The Grave

Written by Craig Hayes.

Artwork by Nick Keller

These days, New Zealand metal is being hailed from well outside the country's borders; see accolades for Diocletian, Witchrist, Vassafor, Ulcerate or Beastwars for evidence of that. All that attention is well deserved. The New Zealand metal scene has never been healthier, and amongst its best you'll find vicious Wellington-based horde, Bulletbelt.

At the root of the five-piece band's sound lies black metal in its most ill-tempered form. However, Bulletbelt's fans range from patch-vested traditional metal veterans to old-school kvlt aficionados and skateboard-wielding gutter punks, and the reason for that crossover is simple. Bulletbelt play the kind of metal that adheres to the genre's fundamentals. It's aggressive, impassioned and rebellious, and accordingly the band reeks of integrity.

Formed in 2009 by metal warhorses Ross Mallon (guitar) and Steve Francis (drums), Bulletbelt have released a number of ferociously raw EPs—including 2011's toxic gem, Writhe and Ascend. The band's debut full-length, Down in the Cold of the Grave, has recently been made available on Bandcamp, and while it honors the past with a nucleus of first- and second-wave black metal bitterness, the album also draws in thrash, NWOBHM, traditional metal, and punk. (See the album's blazing cover of "Mistaken Identity" from New Zealand punk legends No Tag.)

Down in the Cold of the Grave mixes Aura Noir's blackened venom with Bathory and early Iron Maiden, but there's nothing unimaginative in Bulletbelt's desire to look over their shoulder for inspiration. By digging into what makes metal so intrinsically visceral to this day, the album’s 29 minutes argue that breakneck, acidic and biting tunes never go out of style. Bulletbelt's enthusiasm for metal's aesthetic strengths is obvious. The clue is right there in their name, of course, and you only need to see bassist Tim Mekalick's neck-cracking whirlwinds, or vocalist Fergus Nelson-Moore's clawed hand raised to the sky, to recognize that the band are here to celebrate metal, not, necessarily, to wallow in darkness.

Tracks such as "Storming the Armoury", "Icarus" and "Into Battle" meld frenzied, frosty riffing with pummeling drums and malicious shrieks and howls. The album's two longest tracks, "Locust" and "Ironclad", make room for more grinding voyaging through bitterly cold and scorching realms—with galloping bass and cyclical, quarrelsome riffs throughout. Bulletbelt sound highly energized in their blitzkrieg delivery, and the album’s production amplifies the belligerence even further. Mixed on vintage gear, the album has plenty of thick muck to wade through, yet icier tremolo tendrils still bleed from the tracks. This gives the album plenty of gut-punch grunt, followed up by a cold-blooded kick to the teeth.

Down in the Cold of the Grave features fittingly menacing cover art from Weta Workshop's award-winning conceptual artist Nick Keller. The album was released on Bulletbelt’s Headless Horseman label (under which the band also have a distro and promotions venture), underlining their DIY ethic.

In all, Down in the Cold of the Grave is first-rate thrashing black metal, and Bulletbelt are a reminder of the deep-rooted joy to be found in forthright and bloodthirsty underground metal that cuts straight to heart.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

April 20, 2013

Sleep - Dopesmoker

Artwork by Arik Roper

Sleep's Dopesmoker from 2003 is available on the newly opened Southern Lord Bandcamp. Many words have been written about the stillbirth and later resurrection of this seminal album, I invite you to read the Wikipedia article if you're interested in the history lesson. What we have here is the Southern Lord reissue from 2012, remastered from the original studio tapes by Brad Boatright, and featuring stunning new artwork by Arik Roper. The massive 63 minutes of the Dopesmoker track itself is cut in three parts like the vinyl release, and the live version of Holy Mountain is also included.

Jonathan Carbon from Chronicles of Chaos discussed just how "perfect" an album Dopesmoker is. He ended up giving it a 10 out of 10 rating, calling it
the pinnacle of stoner doom. For 63 minutes, Sleep pounds away at monolithic riffs which clears the ground for one of the most ridiculous and effective metal fantasy stories of all time
But not before decrying his lack of a rating system that includes 11s, 12s, and 13s; for those albums that just keeps growing over time.

Ultimately Dopesmoker is an album you need to feel for yourself. As Craig Hayes concludes in his well written review for PopMatters:
You could argue that dissecting the song does it no favors at all – it must be felt, intimately and palpably. Certainly, “Dopesmoker” is not for those wanting a quick and easy fix. Its languid, lurching tempo, along with Cisneros’ mantric incantations, may challenge the patience of many listeners. Yet, for all the song’s complexity, Sleep ensures it never becomes impossible to navigate
So click the player below and drop out of life with bong in hand the next 63 minutes.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

April 18, 2013

KEN Mode - Entrench

By Red.

Sculpture by Ben Bonner

The word entrench is defined as “to place oneself in a position of strength”. It is an interesting idea when applied to music in this day and age; fans and critics alike expect bands of all stripes to innovate and move forward from release to release. An experienced band will want to cater to their strengths.

How does this apply to KEN Mode’s new full-length? The band (or, more specifically, the Mathewson brothers and their latest bass player) has created a work that exemplifies their positives and seeks to explore new territory, albeit in a tentative fashion.

Photo by Carmelo Española.

Much of Entrench follows the template that KEN Mode has been using for the better part of a decade: hardcore shouts over dissonant ringing chords and unadorned drumming. There’s also the interplay between brothers to consider. I imagine that this provides the “professional” sound of their records. Despite playing a style rooted in hardcore and noise (hence all those ringing dissonant chords), KEN Mode has rarely sounded lo-fi, especially purposefully. But at the same time, they’re not playing something as stringent as tech-death; there is a certain looseness to the proceedings, especially this time around. In fact, what I enjoyed most about Entrench is that nothing seemed to be forced. Indeed, on their last album Venerable I thought there were some songs that were either too long or that focused too much on a certain texture so much that I found it grating. This is a pleasant listen, even though the style of music played is (intentionally) noisy and discordant.

Photo by Carmelo Española.

To me, the obvious highlights are the opener “Counter Culture Complex” and the two tracks that show the most marked departure from not only this album, but the rest of their work, “Romeo Must Know” and “Monomyth”. These latter tracks are quiet and contemplative. “Monomyth” even has a string section written by bassist Andrew LaCour. I classify these songs as a tentative step forward is because they’re not connected to the style that listeners familiar with the band would identify them with.

Entrench is a worthwhile addition to the band’s catalogue; I hope that the switch from Profound Lore to Season of Mist pays dividends as well.

Seven Sisters of Sleep - Opium Morals

Review by Justin C.

Seven Sisters of Sleep's new full-length, Opium Morals, is a crushingly heavy hunk of sludgy hardcore (or hardcore sludge, if you prefer). The vocals are mostly done as hardcore screams, but there are also some wicked death metal gutturals thrown in to great effect--see the album opener "Ghost Plains" for a good example. The guitars are distorted beyond all reason and stay that way, and the rhythm section lays down all the thunder you would expect. The drumming in particular is worth paying attention to. There's plenty of bombast and fury when needed, but what I like about the percussion most is how well tailored it is to the rest of the music.

The longest song on this album clocks in at just over four minutes, so you'd be forgiven for thinking that each song covers more or less one idea and then moves on. You'd be wrong though. These songs are restless in the best way possible. They rarely end up where they started, which gives them a feeling of space and breadth beyond what their running times suggest. Check out the second track, "Moths" (probably my personal favorite). It starts with a ringing, eerie guitar line over a stately drum line, but before long, the guitars and drums start taking turns upping the ante in tempo and intensity before bringing things back to a sludgy crawl to end the song. "Orphans" starts out with a churning mid-tempo guitar riff, but the song breaks into fast, almost thrash section in the middle before slipping into a doom-paced ending with depths-of-hell gutturals, and the track is only two and a half minutes long.

Opium Morals is a great addition to the already impressive A389 Recordings catalog. It's shaping up to be a good year for the label. If you want more proof, check out their Bandcamp sampler here.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

April 17, 2013

Wandersword - Waiting for War

Review by Justin Petrick.

Somewhere in the footnotes of time will be a very special place for Viking metal and I am looking forward to that day as I find this genre of metal to be one of the most enjoyable routes to escapism in heavy metal! I will concede that Viking metal at times can be an acquired taste and if it is not done properly then the end result can be something of an embarrassing mess. There are few bands out there that are really great at combining what is needed in the raw power and glory to make a spectacular Viking themed metal album. The obvious kings of the realm are of course Amon Amarth who has an ability to make a monster of a Viking themed album every time they go into the studio and hopefully will be gracing us with a new album in June of this year. I have listened to a lot of Viking metal, or folk metal if you prefer and there really is a fine line between fun and parody. What Amon Amarth brings to the table is a fun and powerful album that you have to respect not just for its general themes but the musicianship that is attached to what they put on their recordings. Additionally; they have an uncanny ability to use the niche they have created in this genre to create unique subjects that don’t become stale or boring. Not an easy feat I would think. They are not having fun with Thor and Valhalla but taking the story line serious enough to create a story that the listener cannot help but understand and enjoy.

So why in a review of a new Viking metal band am I going on and on about Amon Amarth? Because they are the benchmark for this genre of metal, no matter what you do as a band in this genre you will be compared to these behemoths. No way around it, just the way it is. So where does the new album from the band Wandersword fit into this specialized genre of metal? I would have to say somewhere right in the middle. Right off the top Wandersword’s debut album Waiting for War is a fun ride through Viking lore of the past. The musicianship on this album is un-deniable, these guys can shred! They bring a unique viewpoint to the genre and being from Russia brings a unique sound as well. You can hear the little hints of the influences from the Russian Motherland as well as the expected Viking/folk sounds that one would expect.

There are not a whole lot of surprises on this album with maybe the exception of the rough vocals; it is an interesting choice for this genre but not too far away from what bands like Amon Amarth, Talamyus, or Ensiferum do at times in their music. Of course the whole album is sung in Russian so the choice of vocal style may be moot. The album starts off a frenetic pace and stays strong throughout. There comes a point though in this album that it veers into the folk side of this genre a little far for me and has a tendency to just graze the line between serious Viking metal and the parody of itself that I discussed above. One of the easiest examples of this is in the opening title song which is an instrumental intro to the album that is strong on the bagpipes, violins and folk sound. It reminds me of the soundtrack to the movie Braveheart which in and of itself is not a bad thing but the ability to become clichéd is evident. It doesn’t cross the line but it definitely skirts the Turisas territory, and that is not a bad thing all together as they do come back to the power that really good Viking metal is about. However, the album moves right into the destruction of the norm with the second song on the album “The Valiant Viking” which immediately shows off the talent of this band and is a fine example of how well they should be able to fit into this genre of metal. As the album moves on you can feel just how dedicated this band is to the music and musicianship that is on display on this album. I think that is the most important take away from this offering, which is, these guys are not trying to recreate the genre but to bring the best they possibly can to it and create fun and inviting albums for fans to enjoy. I look forward to seeing what Wandersword will be able to do in the future as I see that it could possibly be bright if they continue with the conviction that shows through on this album. So, the bottom line as with any review is this album worth spending your hard earned money on? Yes! Give this band a try and I am sure you will be happy with what you hear. This album is a solid start for this band and a solid find for Blasphemour Records and well suited addition to their stable of Viking metal bands like Frost Giant.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

April 15, 2013

6 Doom Bands From Ireland

This post is inspired by the Irish Doom Roundup article from Metalireland.com.

Ireland is a country known for many great contributions to music. From the legendary Thin Lizzy to the up and coming Black Metal band Altar of Plagues. Well it appears a new generation of Irish metal heads have set their sights on the genre of DOOM.

First up is Belfast’s Nomadic Rituals and their demo DFWG, which I assume Stands for Don’t Fuck With Giants. It is the title of the first song and an aptly titled song at that. Because the sound of giants walking is what it sounds like. Heavy riffing over mid-paced tempos. The production is raw, adding a sinister element to the demo. Vocals are a mix of banshee wails and throaty grumblings. Like a rawer Conan.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Next comes Abbotoir. One song of pure Funeral Doom. Clocking in at a tad over 18 minutes in length, they are in no hurry. The occasional mid paced double bass drumming breaks up the droning guitars from time to time. The vocals have a great echoing effect on them adding to the overall dark feel of the song. As it says on their bandcamp, Recorded demonstration of sonic malevolence. Agreed.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Tome add a dash of Sludge to their DOOM. Sloppy heavy guitars over plodding drums. Like wading through syrup. Vocals are guttural shouts. With the second track they pick up the pace a bit... but not much. Production is nice on this one. The only down side is there are only two songs. Would love to hear more from these guy. My favorite of the bunch.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Íweriú are up next to really mix things up. They play a brand of DOOM that blends in Industrial, Noise, and Post-Black Metal elements. Each song is over the ten minute mark and each is journey deeper into a very dark place. With all the instruments and layers of samples the songs can feel suffocating and confining. Vocals are distorted screams. Reminds me a bit of Batillus. These guys are really looking to stretch the boundaries of DOOM. Not for the faint of heart.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

On to Weed Priest (can’t have a DOOM scene without at least one band with the word Weed in it). Weed Priest add Stoner to their DOOM. Right out of the gate the first song is low and slow. The production is great on this album. Heavy without being overbearing and mixed just right, so all things are heard clearly. Vocals are gruff throaty shouts. Fans of Electric Wizard style Stoner/DOOM, this is for you.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Last, but certainly not least, is Venus Sleeps. A one man DOOM band. First song starts off like so many in this genre, but then soon changes pace into an almost Gothic Rock feel. No oppressive guitars here. Just solid riffs and huge leads. Vocals are sung and have the feel of the legendary Bobby Liebling. In fact the music itself is a interesting mix of early Pentagram with a subtle gothic feel. The second song though brings the DOOM! Just a great slow and low riff with his Liebling-esque vocals over the top. Paul Chain is another DOOM legend that comes to mind when listening.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Not a stinker in the bunch. Amazing that this many bands can come from virtually the same scene and each have a sound all their own. If these bands are any indication of the future of what Ireland has to offer by way of DOOM. Then the future is bright.

A thanks to the people at MetalIreland.com and writer Andy Cunningham for their in depth story that inspired me to check out these great bands. Read it won’t you. The interviews with each band will give you more insight into what inspires these up and coming bands.

April 14, 2013

Scolex - Torn From Beyond

When David from Undergang writes Insanely sick and melancholic Death Metal depravity. 666% recommended! my interest is automatically piqued. And yeah, Scolex lives up to his words. They play doomy death metal in the vein of many great bands from the 90s. Utilizing a two (three?) vocalist approach, featuring excellent playing, and including a couple of guest solos by Danny Coralles from Autopsy.

But where Scoles really shine is in their songwriting. The songs on Torn From Beyond move from one great riff to another in a completely natural way; they have found that sweet spot between being intricate, melodic, and brutal that I like so much. Another highlight is a great sounding production job, warm and natural, with each instrument easy discernible in the mix.

The EP is only available as individual tracks on their Bandcamp. I have embedded them all in correct order for your listening pleasure.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

April 13, 2013

Infiltrator - Infiltrator EP

Artwork by Brooks Wilson

Infiltrator is crunchy speed/trash riffs, intricate shredding solos, and catchy songs. The original Infiltrator Demo has now gotten a massive upgrade, and has been turned into a fullblown EP. The two songs from the demo, "Hell Ripper" and "Crush the False", has been re-recorded by the new Infiltrator lineup. A new song "Hordes of Hades (Deathbangers)" has been added, plus the ripping cover of Bathory's Sacrifice originally released Feb 17, where Quorthon would have turned 47. The only downgrade is the EP art; there is none, so I'm using the artwork from the Sacrifice release.

Infiltrator as a full band is joy to listen to. Guitars and vocals are still by Steve Jansson off course; and they are still terrific, and appropriately shreddy and raw. The drummer is Grzesiek Czapla, former Infernal Stronghold sticksman, current Woe bassist and second vocalist. The bass is now handled by Chris Grigg of Woe fame, who also has a hand in the very natural sounding production, I mean check out that drum sound. In fact check out the original Demo too, to see how much difference a full lineup and a better production job can do to a couple of good songs.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

April 12, 2013

Austaras - Under the Abysmal Lights

Artwork by Niels Geybels

I got interested in Austaras when I read this this Lurkers Path review. Then I found their Bandcamp, heard Under the Abysmal Lights, and liked it a lot. Black metal mixed with folk, doom and post-metal. And good production, especially in the bass department; the album was mixed and mastered by Herbst from Lantlos.

The vocals may be a little underwhelming, but the instrumental aspects of Under the Abysmal Lights are simply stellar. While each song is tied together by a similar chugging sound, each also brings a different bit of sonic variety to the plate. Like the way Austaras adds a violin into the mix of instruments, the clean vocals on the second track "Wreck of Hope", and the progressive elements of the epic closer "Spirit Farewell".

All in all, an intriguing debut. Currently, Austaras is working on new material, and I look forward to seeing what this band comes up with for their full length.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

April 11, 2013

October Falls - Marras - Sarastus

Guest review by Angry Metal Guy.

So, I have been admittedly slow to get on the Bandcamp wagon. Not for lack of harassment from Max—seriously dude, I get it—but mostly because I get a lot of promo and this means I don't do a lot of exploring. I'm way overloaded with music all the time and it makes it hard to keep up with anything that's not landing in my inbox. That also means I essentially receive free mp3 copies of everything under the sun. Rarely do I get physical copies, and I think that I just sort of missed out on the fact that Bandcamp did lossless files. Upon rediscovering (I think I may have been aware of this at one point), I have been frantically rushing around trying to get lossless files of cool shit I've already downloaded from Bandcamp (including Faustian Echoes from Agalloch, The Womb of Primordial Nature from October Falls [who it will be noted I like very much], and others).

Simultaneously, I wrote to Mikko from OF on Facebook and asked him where I could get a hold of the band's oldest material: the stuff that's like straight up Ulver and Tenhi love. As I'm currently vinyl impaired, I asked him where I could get high quality digital copies of their early material and he responded by creating a Bandcamp after asking about it on his Facebook page. Since I got quick results, I quickly jumped in headfirst with Sarastus (2007) and Marras (2005).

Marras is October Falls' debut record and it's a doozy. The album is pure, gorgeous and simple; consisting entirely of guitar, piano, strings and flute. That the album is influenced by Ulver's brilliant Kveldssanger should surprise no one, but it's more pure than that. While Ulver had grand ambitions of high art but were trapped in the bodies of young boys, October Falls is just riffing on the beautiful simplicity of harmonized guitars and the trickling of streams. It's the side every black metal kid when he isn't cursing God and planning church burnings—the one that looks longingly into streams and wants something simpler. The songs vary in length, but the heart-wrenching track "Marras I" is 6 minutes and 16 seconds, while the rest range between 2 minutes and 5.

Sarastus really is a 20 minute EP from 2007—the year before the mighty The Womb of Primordial Nature came out. Short and sweet, it's more of the same from Marras, but where I stand that ain't a bad thing. It's the simple beauty that keeps me coming back for it, and adding a few more gorgeous melodies and lush guitar harmonies and I have nothing to complain about. Sarastus is a little more bleak, in that it doesn't use as many varied instruments as Marras does; instead focusing mostly on guitars. Still, it's magnificent.

And for very little, one can buy these two records (and for nothing one can stream them) as well as Tuoni (2003), the "Polku" and "Usva" and "Marrasmaa" singles (though the latter comes bundled with Marras). I must say, I'm terribly pleased about all of this. And I think I've just gotten myself pretty addicted to Bandcamp. And everyone knows that there's nothing worse than a fucking convert.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

April 9, 2013

Enthroned - Obsidium

Review by Natalie Zina Walschots. Originally published here by Exclaim.

Prolific Belgian black metal band Enthroned have been active since 1993. Obsidium is their ninth studio album, in addition to EPs and a live CD; it is also their first with Agonia records, after recently parting ways with Regain. The black metal here is as spiky and strident as an ill-tempered demon. The vast majority of the record blazes ahead at an extremely fast pace, only rarely pulling back to a mid-tempo grind to gather momentum and explore some crawling, ominous tones before galloping off again.

Enthroned have developed a good, slightly raw, underground sound, with just enough of a filthy buzz around the edges of the guitar. There were also thought and care placed into Obsidium's production, giving the vocals a great, undead-sounding rattle and the drums an icicle-shaking chill. The record is filled with complex, memorable songs that draw their strength from a very natural flow and narrative progression. Each song is a distinct musical entity, from the swelling conjuration of "Horns Aflame" to the mournful, eerie "Oblivious Shades."

Obsidium is a work of black metal that values good songwriting and strong musical structures, but resists the impulse to add any heavily melodic, symphonic or experimental elements. Instead, Enthroned have chosen to focus on the best that black metal inherently has to offer, with excellent results.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

The Flight of Sleipnir - Saga - 2

Written by Craig Hayes.

There are umpteen thousand metal bands, and the very best tap straight into the marrow of your being. However, what makes one great metal band more interesting than another is not necessarily that connection itself, but the subsequent journey it takes you on. In the case of The Flight of Sleipnir, David Csicsley (drums, vocals and guitars) and Clayton Cushman (guitars, vocals, bass and keyboard) take you on far-ranging expeditions, both emotionally and musically. Over the course of three previous full-lengths, including 2011's much lauded Essence of Nine, The Flight of Sleipnir have toured the landscapes (and literature) of Nordic legends, accompanied by folk, doom, stoner, psych and traditional metal, all wrapped in plenty of black metal rasps.

On the band's latest album—the 12-track, fittingly titled Saga—melodic and smoky doom riffs form the base of many tracks, and, as the title implies, this is their most adventurous album yet. It continues the fundamental musical themes the band have always explored, and in that respect the mist-shrouded fjords it evokes are welcomingly familiar. However, it's not so much the terrain itself but a deeper exploration thereof that sets the new album apart. The Flight of Sleipnir's texturally venturesome suites offer more multilayered fertility, both in narrative and sonic form.

Saga sees, strummed acoustics playing a stronger role in setting the overall bivouac and roaring campfire mood. Rustic atmospherics, and a hauntingly beautiful folk heart, exist on tracks such as "Reverence", "The Mountain" and "Reaffirmation". Their intricate, pared-back instrumentation and melancholic, cleaner vocals make for evocative songs that are intimate and stirring—rich with dreamlike, folkloric mystique. "Heavy Rest the Chains of the Damned" takes that ambience and throws in a weighty dose of 70s acid-fried psych-folk, and throughout the album heavy-rock roils are glimpsed through the towering woodlands. The band's acoustic side conjures majesty and poignancy very well, weaving potency through fragility to keep the kinsfolk enthralled.

For all of Saga's verdant wanderings, there's plenty of up-front gritty metal to be found. "Judgment" throws Eastern scales and slow-ground NWOBHM riffs at undulating doom. "Harrowing Desperation", "Demise Carries With it a Song" and "Hour of Cessation" mix black metal's venom with rousing soloing, folk-flecked lilts, and strident traditional metal passages. The Flight of Sleipnir's blend of metal sub-genres (the stern, aggressive, and reflective) doesn’t seem to favor any one particular style—the hallucinogenic 70s prog-jaunt of "Remission" happily resides alongside the groove-heavy doom-riot of "Beneath Red Skies". That counterpointing of fuzz and ferocity may seem incongruent, but in fact forms part of the overall undulating journey. The band are clearly following their muse, which is apt for a band so steeped in the authenticity of heartfelt songwriting and stalwart craftsmanship.

Of course, everyone has a story to tell, but it takes a great storyteller to sweep you up in the tale. With Saga, Flight of Sleipnir have created a grand sense of the epic. Its mysterious, ethereal, and thunderous passages are captivating and vivid, making it a pathway to other times, other lands and, most importantly of all, other states of mind. The best metal takes you places, and The Flight of Sleipnir gathers you up and utterly soars.

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The Flight of Sleipnir - Saga

Review by Justin C.

The Flight of Sleipnir's fourth album, Saga, is aptly named. Over the course of nearly an hour's worth of music, the songs tell an epic story of a sea voyage, a ship wreck, capture by the enemy, imprisonment, and death. In the hands of lesser bands, this could be just another cookie-cutter mythology album, but The Flight of Sleipnir manages to make this old story sound fresh and new again.

Part of their success is certainly due to the tightness of the songwriting. There are no fillers, no pointless interstitial tracks slotted in between the songs. There are some soundtrack touches--the sound of a campfire here, the creaking of snow beneath someone's feet there--but they never overstay their welcome. They add just a bit of atmosphere without making the listener want to skip past them to get back to the real music.

The band's wide-ranging use of different genres and sounds also helps make this such an engaging listen. There are some black metal shrieks, but there's also plenty of clean singing and pretty harmonies. There is plenty of distorted guitar, but there are also acoustic guitar and clean electric guitar lines weaving in and out of each other. It's not black metal, or folk metal, or blackened folk, or really any other subgenre I could name. It's a blend that's uniquely the band's own, and more amazingly, they manage to use all the disparate elements without sounding like two or three bands sharing a split, which is no mean feat. I liked this so much that I even bought the limited edition CD, which almost put me in trouble with the boss. He threatened to take my company car away, but when I explained that I bought the Bandcamp release to hold me over until the physical product shipped, I was back in his good graces again.

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April 7, 2013

Horse Latitudes - Awakening

Review by Aaron Sullivan.

Who needs guitars? Apparently Finlands Horse Latitudes don’t. With two bass guitars this band unleashes the DOOM. Slow, heavy, ritualistic, emotional DOOM.

At first the two bass thing sounds like a gimmick. But these guys make it work for them. Since speed and solos are not what they are looking to do. The almighty riff is what is important. Which is pulled off greatly with two bass guitars. But they don’t simply play the same thing all the time. There are subtle things that each player does to separate themselves that can be heard. Vocals are like tortured moans of man expressing pain. Now a days this is achieved with guttural or Black Metal style vocals. So the fact they achieve this with a clear, understandable vocals style is different and welcomed. Oh, and the drummer is the singer incase this band wasn’t already shaking things up enough for you. The songs give a feeling of ritualism. Slow and brooding, reminding one of Reverend Bizarre at times. The image of two bass players on either side of a drum kit. As if they are standing guard to the altar of some underground ritual presided over by a dark figure giving out his instructions. Or at least that is what I see when I hear this album.

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Note: You can stream the entire Horse Latitudes discography at their own Bandcamp page, and download much of it for free.

April 5, 2013

Acrimonious - Sunyata

Review by Andy Osborn.

Artwork by Kyle Fite

The geographical shift in the propagation of black metal has changed drastically over the past three decades. And while all genres of music see trends in hot spots all across the world, bm’s movement has been particularly interesting. After its beginnings in England, the Nordic second wave took over and held the title as the blasphemic epicenter of the world for a solid 10+ years. As their southern neighbors caught on and the North Americans caught up, waves of fantastic darkness fanned out across the globe. In recent years there’s been an explosion in the USBM scene, with the French and Germans also steadily outputting hundreds out worthy purveyors. But for my money, Greece is currently spewing forth the most interesting mix of blackened acts.

Little surprise that a country experiencing so much turmoil has been lashing out with pissed-off extreme music; an economy in ruins and a vast mistrust of the government is the perfect breeding ground for such passionate exhortations. What Rotting Christ started more than 20 years ago, a horde of young guns have been carrying forward with a plethora of fantastic releases; Ravencult’s Morbid Blood is one of my favorite thrashened attacks, and last year’s debut from Hail Spirit Noir was a powerfully unique album. Which brings us to the newest release from Acrimononious, a band whose decade of existence has seen releases few and far between.

I almost passed on this album, assuming from the trippy cover art that it was just another drugged-out Electric Wizard clone. But upon learning the group shares members in common with American psychotics Nightbringer it piqued my interest. And what the quintet offers forth is a fascinating foray into thinking-man’s black metal. Falling somewhere between the psychedelic and progressive spectrum of things, these Greeks spew forth lengthy attacks of mind-fuckery with their bipolar verses. Some passages are drawn on for minutes, others stop on a dime and contort themselves into territory as familiar as guitar solos or as confounding as Gregorian-style group chants. Drawing on lyrics from global mythologies, Acrimonious doesn’t deal in your cliché Christ-bashing and seem to have more in common with the philosophy of Nile than that of Watain.

Sunyata is a tough one to digest, the eight tracks take some getting use to as the band’s style is more concerned with creating whole pieces of art rather than a few short interesting hooks or choruses. With a riffing style similar to latter-day Belphegor the album isn’t wholly unfamiliar to those with a taste for extreme metal, but it sits on the palate as quite the oddity for the first few listens. But as you reach the final few songs, Acriomnious’ talent become immediately apparent. “Vitalising the Red-Purple in Asher-Zemurium” is the definite highlight of the album, conjuring up a Marduk-like groove with a vortex of a melody that will get stuck in your cranial box. The sophomore release is a powerful one, with no slump to be found and the sort of attitude that shows creative masterminds at their best. If only a country’s debt could be paid for in high quality black metal, Greece’s debt crises would be solved.

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Spotlight: Metalhit

Digital distributor Metalhit has opened a Bandcamp where there's currently 147 albums available from their catalog, all for the low price of $4.95! In one fell swoop Metalhit have managed to vastly improve your metal life on Bandcamp, and also make it more complicated. Allow me to explain. The good things are obvious: Lots of great albums for a very fair price, most of which haven't been available on Bandcamp before. It's the albums that already are available on Bandcamp that complicates things a little.

Take Sunyata by Greek black metallers Acrimonious. Available on Metalhit for $4.95, and on the Agonia Records Bandcamp for $9.99. Same thing with releases from other labels, you can often find them cheaper on the Metalhit Bandcamp. But also the opposite: The Womb Beyond The World, funeral doom by The Howling Void released by Solitude Productions, and available for $4, and off course for $4.95 from Metalhit. And the excellent black metal demo from Hellige, which Metalhit sells for the usual price, is available as a free download from the Hellige Bandcamp! So if you're interested in the best deal for an album, it sometimes pay to be diligent and search Bandcamp to see what is available.

I'm featuring four albums from the Metalhit catalog. The first two are releases from last year that I have been eagerly awaiting to see released on Bandcamp, the last two examples of the breath of excellent albums Metalhit has made available. Anhedonist - Netherwards combines forlorn majestic doom and grotesque death as Atanamar Sunyata puts it, and he continues:
Reverberant clean guitar lines bleed into rivers of molten magma and then rush into torrents of raging death. The guitars sprawl out across the stereo field, filling a cavernous soundscape with spine-chilling repartee. The drums are as judiciously dynamic as the songs, keeping modest time in moments of mire, stepping on the pedals for acceleration and bringing the animalistic fury when called upon.

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Deus Otiosus - Godless is death metal from Denmark, with distinct tunes and a knack for not sounding like all the other death metal bands. The mighty Autothrall explains:
The meaty, clear riffing patterns offer a hybrid of dark West Coast thrash like Slayer or Possessed and steadier death metal grooves from the 90s, threaded with tremolo picked passages that betray a hint of a Swedish black/death metal influence. Often there will be eruptions of more uptempo melodies you might expect of Deceased (as in "Cast from Heaven"), but they can also creep along with a cleaner, less crushing death/doom aesthetic.

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Aosoth - III is an example of French black metal when it is best. Not much more needs to be said really, but That's How Kids Dies waxed poetically about the album:
Simply put, III is a pitch-black womb of distortion, inviting you to crawl deep inside and die. The album seethes and lurches; the maw of the great abyss opens wide, yawning your demise. Its atmosphere recalls Aosoth’s French black metal brethren such as Deathspell Omega, but Aosoth’s approach is less frenzied and angular, more deliberate and methodical. III also defies black metal convention by possessing crushing levels of low end; there is a eerie, droning ambience that pervades the entire album, adding to its mesmerizing qualities and tapping into something deeply primal, the rotten blackness that lies at the core of all human life, the capacity for unspeakable evil.

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Skepticism - Stormcrowfleet from 1995 is considered one of the albums that gave birth to the funeral doom genre. I haven't had time to listen to the entire album yet, but a string of very positive reviews on Metal Archives has piqued my interest. There seems to be an ancient beauty here, one that you can see and hear, but are forbidden to touch. - this sounds like the kind of funeral doom I could easily loose myself in.

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April 3, 2013

Syven - Aikaintaite

Review by Natalie Zina Walschots. Originally published here by Exclaim.

Finnish band Syven are an ambient metal collaboration between Aslak Tolonen (Nest), providing all of the instrumentation, and Andy Koski-Semmens (Ereipia), whose deep, shaman-like baritone makes the entire album play out like a druidic ritual. Aikaintaite is their debut effort, and was composed, recorded and mixed by the artists. The album is being released on the seventh of February to coincide with Finland's Independence Day celebration. Aikaintaite draws heavily upon Finnish mythology and folk music, with Syven's compositions prominently featuring Finnish string instrument the kantele.

The band have blended the sounds of the natural world with acoustic and electric instruments brilliantly. The instruments often take on the voices of animals, as a synth becomes owls hooting or a keyboard trill the ripple of a meltwater stream. The vocals are deep and echoing, and Koski-Semmens shifts between powerful, pulsing chants and soaring invocations. The guitar work is rendered almost sacred, vibrating upwards, each struck note a pagan offering. There is a solemn quality to this album – the sense of great strength carefully curbed and leashed. For those looking for a release that can become a ritual, for music that doubles as a pagan ceremony, Aikaintaite is perfect.

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April 2, 2013

Fondlecorpse - Creaturegore

Artwork by Adam Geyer

Fondlecorpse is the name a mad genius gives a death metal band, and Creaturegore could be one of those cheesy 80's horror movies like Critters, Gremlins, or Creepshow. So off course, the album features obscure samples from gore flicks (and porn) and a classic death metal sound, like so many albums before (and after) it. But Fondlecorpse does this thing really well. The riffs are very memorably - who knew that something called "Nymphomatic Zombie Rapist" could be so goddamn catchy.

In fact all the songs on Creaturegore are well written, doing a good job of mixing aggressive blasting with some melody. The album has a nice organic sounding production that lets the entire band shine, especially the intense vocals by Silvester Koorevaar. The musicianship is tight without being flashy, the guitarists add dynamics with the occasional melodic lead or squealy solo. Fondlecorpse playes death metal that I like, not by trying to be faster and more technical then anyone else, but by writing good songs and performing them convincingly. And by having fun while doing so.

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April 1, 2013

Infera Bruo - Infera Bruo

Review by Red.

Infera Bruo is a black metal band from Massachusetts. I first became of aware them while reading Autothrall’s excellent review of their initial release. At just over 33 minutes, I would be inclined to classify it as a long EP, though it is listed as a full-length on the Metal Archives.

The band inhabits an interesting stylistic middle ground in USBM. All of the hallmarks of are present; there are the rasped vocals (which are quite similar to those of Ihsahn), the tremolo-picked guitar lines, and plenty of blast beats. But then there are sections which exemplify something different. In this way, Infera Bruo reaches beyond their chosen sub-genre much like Autolatry (who are also from New England) and Ludicra.

When I hear the gallop riff that literally comes from nowhere in “A Path Unwritten” or the engaging outros of the two tracks that precede it, I know that something deeper is at work here. Speaking of those outros, “Upon Stone” ends with a fairly straightforward rock section, and “A Code of Will” slows the pace considerably, becoming quite doomy.

The highlights are at the front and back, however. “The Devil’s Eyes” incorporates clean vocals to great effect, expressing varied emotions that are not usually heard or expressed in such a way. Most importantly, there is no trace of oversinging; the expression of emotion doesn’t trump the rest of the elements at play. “A Path Unwritten” starts (and ends) with an epic-sounding riff that is almost pretty (especially when restated in the last seconds of the song on a lone clean guitar) and then breaks out the aforementioned gallop riff while a chaotic solo erupts.

As much as I appreciate this release, I look forward to seeing what this band can do. Infera Bruo seems like a jumping-off point that is indicative of any number of directions the band could explore.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]