25 Dec 2013

2013, Part III: Top 10 - Non-metal

For the past couple of years I've done top 10's as well as some other stuff in one long post. This form just isn't very easy on the eyes, so this year I've decided to split the end-year post into 5 parts, which are as follows:

Part I: Stuff I Missed in 2012
Part II: Disappointments of 2013
Part III: Top 10 - Non-metal
Part IV: Top 10 - Metal
Part V: Honorable Mentions & Runner-Ups

Part III: Top 10 - Non-metal:
Metal is where my allegiance lies, but picking 10 of the best non-metal albums in 2013 was tougher than I thought it'd be. Working retail in a store that sells music means I get to listen to a lot of different kinds of music during the year, meaning that I often discover albums I wouldn't otherwise have listened to. Some of the albums on this list are testament to just that, though many of them I have discovered by pure coincidence.

10: Slasher Dave - Spookhouse
With an arsenal of synthesizers and sequencers Slasher Dave of Acid Witch fame releases his first album of late 70's and 80's horror flick worship. His eerie sound is obviously highly influenced by John Carpenter and Fabio Frizzi, and is sure to fill the needs of any horror enthusiast with its subtle nods to Goblin and Halloween-infused synth "soundtrack". The album more or less came out of nowhere and surprises with immersive sounds, overwhelming production and spooky as well as epic compositions in authentic 80's style.

9: Spids Nøgenhat - Kommer Med Fred
The Danish psychonauts in Spids Nøgenhat are back with their first album since the release of the debut "En Mærkelig Kop Te" from 2001, 12 years ago. The members of the band are known for their involvement in other Danish psychedelic rock groups, most notable of which is Baby Woodrose. Kommer Med Fred is characterized by the band's transcendence from raw, fuzzed-out, piercing psychedelic rock into a sound more akin to that of the more melodic, psychedelic folk rock groups of the 70's like Grateful Dead and The Incredible String Band, while still maintaining the dopey, tripping trademark style. As a whole Kommer Med Fred is more easy-going and easily accessible than the preceeding album, and Spids Nøgenhat's return to the scene is marked by some of the most memorable folk rock songs in recent times and will for years to come, I think, be considered a modern retro classic.

8: Wardruna - Runaljod: Yggdrasil
Just when you thought Wardruna had ceased to exist they drop the bomb and release the second part of the Runaljod trilogy: Yggdrasil. 4 years has passed since the release of Gap Var Ginnunga, and on Yggdrasil the group - consisting of prominent Norwegian musicians, most well-known of which is arguably Gaahl of Gorgoroth fame - further delves into the interpretation of the Elder Futhark runes, continuing their epic journey through traditional, ritualistic Nordic folk music. Like Gap Var Ginnunga, Yggdrasil offers immersion, depth and songwriting at a level seldom heard in the world of non-electronic ambient music.

7: Lazerhawk - Skull and Shark
Taking a break from the usual 80's inspired outrun-electro of the first two albums, Lazerhawk's soundtrack for Dave Rapoza's upcoming neo-noir, maggot-ridden sci-fi horror comic "Skull and Shark" provides horrifyingly eerie electronic goodness. The music of Lazerhawk's latest opus is best described as panicking gothic tunes over gut-wrenching electro beats, and every track is at the same time distinctive as well as a continuation of the previous one. Skull and Shark has it all, from eerie atmospheric tracks like Chaos, to punchy electro-synth monsters as King of the Streets more like earlier works by Lazerhawk, and either way I imagine this album being the standard to which similar albums will be held in the future.

6: Jex Thoth - Blood Moon Rise
When I heard the Jex Thoth debut I was sold immediately. But coming out in a time where female-fronted occult doom-laden 70's hard rock groups were popping up all over the place meant that bands like Coven, Jess and the Ancient Ones, Sabbath Assembly, Blood Ceremony, Jex Thoth and The Devil's Blood all kinda blended together. Nevertheless I found Jex Thoth to be one of the better groups; A notion that has since been made concrete by the release of Blood Moon Rise in 2013. Moving quite suddenly from standardized, fuzzy riff-driven 70's hard rock to a style that relies more on thoughtful and deliberate psychedelic elements. Blood Moon Rise has a slower pace than previous material where every strike of the drum and every strum of the strings feels considerate. The good ol' Jex Thoth vibe has been retro-modernized to sound a bit more akin to stuff like Pink Floyd's trippier songwriting with a dose of acid fuzz in there, and Blood Moon Rise in all its spiritual glory is their most psychedelic and most original piece yet.

5: Riitaoja - Manterelle
Insane amounts of incredible music coming out of Finland seems to be on a rise this year. On this list alone you will find 3 Finnish releases, all of which are placed fairly high. Riitaoja's Manterelle opened up a world I didn't think existed. A world of hypnotic, meditative folk-inspired music. Manterelle explores a sombre universe of little rhythmic quality, that instead relies on pulsating bass-lines, various folky instruments like mandolin and banjo, and weird, crisp guitar melodies that gives it a trippy, relaxed feeling reminiscent of a more tenebrous and slowed down take on traditional folk and country, sometimes with a jazzy feel to it, which makes it a captivating listening experience.

4: Spock's Beard - Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep
Spock's Beard is a household name to all fans of progressive rock with their extensive discography stretching back to the mid 90's. They have previously been lauded for the sheer amount of variety and the epicness of their songwriting, and true to their reputation they return to that form with their newest album, Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep. The album delivers refreshingly varied bass-lines at the forefront with the guitars providing the details, while the vocals in conjunction with the proggy keyboards provide a melodic backdrop with amazing depth. Whoever engineered this record deserves a beer, because this is some of the most incredible sound works I have ever come across. Every element of Spock's Beard's melodic and powerful soundscape speaks of great musicianship, and especially so because the production lets every instrument come forth without anything else having to take a step back. The 9 minute epic "A Treasure Abandoned" is among my favourite tracks of 2013, and together with albums like Rush's "Clockwork Angels" and Symphony X's "Iconoclast" they form a strong front of modern progressive rock/metal.

3: Beastmilk - Climax
Thought post-punk was over? Think again. Beastmilk from Finland had previously released a few EPs, but with the release of Climax through Svart Records they took the scene by storm. Climax is just what it promises to be: One long climactic experience of gothic, punked-up rock music with a sound that is remarkably non-British and unmistakably BEASTMILK. International vocalist Kvohst, who has previously been part of Code, Hexvessel and other projects, does an amazing job at the haunted 80's vocals that permeate the Finnish band's music, and the melodic choruses are indeed one of the strongest points of Beastmilk, while the shoegazey guitars, booming bass and powerful drums form the easy-to-recognize and highly atmospheric soundscape. Only very few bands manage to capture the sound of post-punk in the same manner as Beastmilk. I am now under their control!

2: Clutch - Earth Rocker
Clutch has been around since the early 90's, moving from a hardcore-influenced style and to the more stoned out heavy rock style of Earth Rocker. With the simple songwriting of the latest album and Neil Fallon's powerful gruff, powerful vocals Earth Rocker may not be the most original album this year, but it is among the most enjoyable. The Clutch-recipe feels derived from stoner rock groups with a more noticable lean on hard rock tendencies and less trippy elements, though "Gone Cold" reminds me of the psychedelic "Planet Caravan" by Black Sabbath. In a way Earth Rocker is the climax of several influential groups and waves with Clutch giving it their own spin, often going from straight up hard rocking balls-to-the-wall music on one song and slowing things down to a grinding halt on the next track.

1: Death Hawks - Death Hawks
So here it is, non-metal album of the year 2013. I've given this some thought, which seems only appropriate because the album itself seems so thoughtful. The Finnish band Death Hawks released their debut full length, Death & Decay, in 2012. This album was a tribute to the classic acid-driven rock music of the 60's and 70's, paying homage to Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd and especially The Doors through their brand of retro psych-influenced rock music with a plethora of Finnish country-folk elements, which by now seems like the go-to thing to do for Finnish indie bands. Ultimately that album, while well-written and interesting, didn't hold up terribly well simply because it sounded a bit too ordinary, like something any other band could've done if not for the Finnish sound that made it stand out. This year Death Hawks maket their return with their sophomore album, the self-titled Death Hawks. The album is only 35 minutes in length, but these are among the best 35 minutes you could ever spend listening to a record. The Finnish band have progressed into minimalist territory, exploring a world of hypnotizing and meditative psychedelic folk tunes. They utilize a number of traditional instruments, but the tribal rhythm section - which only seldomly consists of actual drumming - and the mostly acoustic guitar work is what forms the main components of the album. The fact that only a few songs feature vocals enhances the trippy, cosmic feeling like flying through the universe or star gazing and brings to mind the most psychedelic periods of Pink Floyd and The Doors. Death Hawks is a unique experience of phenomenal songwriting and a display of flow and consistency unrivaled in todays scene.

What are your non-metal favourites of 2013? Leave a comment below!

16 Dec 2013

2013, Part II: Disappointments of 2013

For the past couple of years I've done top 10's as well as some other stuff in one long post. This form just isn't very easy on the eyes, so this year I've decided to split the end-year post into 5 parts, which are as follows:

Part I: Stuff I Missed in 2012
Part II: Disappointments of 2013
Part III: Top 10 - Non-metal
Part IV: Top 10 - Metal
Part V: Honorable Mentions & Runner-Ups

Part II: Disappointments of 2013
Though I'd say 2013 has some of the best new metal releases in recent years it doesn't come without its share of disappointments. These are almost exclusively delivered by bands you already know and love, but fail to keep things interesting with their newest efforts and don't come in any particular order.

Megadeth - Super Collider
I'm not sure this really qualifies as a disappointment. I enjoyed Endgame a lot, but found TH1RT3EN to be almost completely worthless apart from mildly enjoying Sudden Death and Public Enemy No. 1. With Super Collider I wasn't expecting much, and true to the tradition of modern Megadeth, the album has a few enjoyable tracks but is mostly dominated by a slew of unnecessary tracks. Come to think of it, if you took the okay tracks of Super Collider and TH1RT3EN you'd have an EP of pretty cool modern thrash/heavy songs. Some tracks on Super Collider features way too much of Mustaine and Co. circle-jerking around americana and blues, which might now have been so bad if it had been better incorporated in something super dirty and old school, but instead it was paired with boring songwriting and squeeky clean production.There's absolutely nothing of the old punch-in-the-dick Megadeth songwriting left, and Super Collider packs very little punch.

The Devil's Blood - III: Tabula Rasa, or Death and the Seven Pillars
Tabula Rasa is the sad promise of what could have been if the band hadn't broken up. From what I gather this last album is made of unfinished demo recordings, and that's exactly what it sounds like. A work in progress, an unfinished product. The album is as colorless as the cover art. The programmed drums are painfully undynamic, even by demo standards. Tabula Rasa starts out with the 22 minute long "I Was Promised a Hunt". The track features some okay ideas that I could see forming the base for a good track, but it comes off as a complete mess of unrelated parts sown together like a crude musical mockery of Frankenstein's monster. I was surprised to find that they had taken a more progressive approach to writing their brand of psychedelic doom-laden hard rock with even lengthier tracks than usual and songs that drunkenly dash through several climaxes and still waters, but the style just doesn't seem to fit the band and their music. Instead of an hour long mess I would've rather had a an album half the length, but more polished. I know that this given the circumstances of the band's demise was not possible, but then I would rather have remembered them as the band that did the masterful "Thousandfold Epicentre".

Joel Grind - The Yellowgoat Sessions
Joel Grind has many projects, most notable of which is Toxic Holocaust. He's also known for other projects like Tiger Junkies and War Ripper, and if there's anything that this latest self-titled project shows, it is that he doesn't do variation. I've enjoyed many of his releases from various bands and projects in the past, but they've all felt incredibly similar. War Ripper has that crusty feel that Toxic Holocaust never quite did, Tiger Junkies is way more punk/crossover oriented, and his latest eponymous project is more inclined towards Bathory-esque black/speed metal worship. The Yellowgoat Sessions has the same crispy sound and raw vocals as the other projects, and with it comes 25 minutes of the same D-beat repeated over and over again. It has some enjoyable rock n roll-infused guitar riffs, but those drums are already annoying beyond belief before the first track is done.

Peste Noire - Peste Noire
Some might argue that the weird frenchness of Peste Noire is what the band is all about, and on their newest opus it certainly makes them stand out. The Peste Noire album sounds exactly like what you would expect a black metal album riddled with French clichés played by a crazed Frenchman drunk on red wine would sound like. There's little to no rhyme or reason to Peste Noire, and somehow Famine found a place for accordion solos and French monologues. The riffs aren't as catchy as they've been on previous albums by the band, and it's hard to get into the rhythm and flow of the album. New drummer Ardraos does a great job keeping things simple and actually bringing some sense into the world of Peste Noire, and the purest black metal passages are awesome as always, but the weirdness of Peste Noire has become too dominant and makes the album tough to appreciate.

Satyricon - Satyricon
I remember Satyr saying at a show once that many bands write a self-titled song that really epitomizes their sound, and that Sign of the Trident was theirs, despite it not being entitled "Satyricon". If the new album is supposed to encompas the sound and feel of Satyricon, count me out. Some of my acquaintances have said to me "But Jakooob, Phoenix isn't that bad", but it is. Really, it is. The only track even remotely acceptable off the new album is Nekrohaven, and that track is still garbage. The Age of Nero and Now, Diabolical weren't exactly masterpieces either, and they were pretty far removed from the black metal roots of the band, but at least they were memorable and catchy as hell. Satyricon, on the other hand, is too long, boring, unvaried and uninspired.

Witch Cross - Axe to Grind
Considering all the commotion the re-release of their '84 album Fit for Fight caused, there is little cause for alarm with their newest album, Axe to Grind. It features everything a heavy metal album needs to be good, but not in sufficient quantities. It's a bit too clean around the edges, and while you can hear that the people behind the band are experienced musicians the album still feels pretty uninspired and lacks any zest. Witch Cross are safely fiddling around in pretty low tempoes with a slew of 80's metal clichés like the somewhat enjoyable brotherhood-of-metal track Metal Nation and the forgettable Demon in the Mirror, and the main problem lies exactly with this: They do the classic 80's heavy metal schtick with no effort whatsoever, making it a run-of-the-mill product of unmemorable riffs and playing it safe.

Think I'm wrong? Tell me why in the comments below. Also, tell me which albums disappointed you the most in 2013!

8 Dec 2013

2013, Part I: Stuff I Missed in 2012

For the past couple of years I've done top 10's as well as some other stuff in one long post. This form just isn't very easy on the eyes, so this year I've decided to split the end-year post into 5 parts, which are as follows:

Part I: Stuff I Missed in 2012
Part II: Disappointments of 2013
Part III: Top 10 - Non-metal
Part IV: Top 10 - Metal
Part V: Honorable Mentions & Runner-Ups

Part I: Stuff I Missed in 2012
I have found that some of the best albums are also some of the less known. As such years sometimes go by before I notice them, and indeed some of my current musical obsessions are top 10-worthy albums that I missed last year.

Conan - Monnos
A few years ago I had seen the cover of Conan's third release, "Horseback Battle Hammer". It had me somewhat enthralled, but I couldn't for the life of me remember what the band was called. When I found Monnos I immediately began binge-listening the British band's entire discography which counts a few esoteric EP's and a few other releases as well. I was astounded at the mammoth sound of Conan, everything from their far away haunting vocals to the droning guitar and bass and to the dragging drums. The intensity and heaviness of their debut album seemed like the perfect culmination of the first few releases in the way that it neatly sums up the crushing and captivating atmosphere that Conan had previously brought forth. Count me as severely stoked for their forthcoming album "Blood Eagle", set to be released in 2014.

Dawnbringer - Into the Lair of the Sun God
Most people would classify Dawnbringer as a somewhat unusual band, I think. Their brand of heavy metal often relies on themed albums and a weird affiliation for blackened riffs in a dry style. Into the Lair of the Sun God, the follow-up album to their acclaimed 4th album "Nucleus", features 9 tracks with Chris Black's signature bleak vocals, insanely catchy riffs and some weird organ work that brings to mind that of Deep Purple's Jon Lord, which is especially evident on the track "VI". 2 years, which is the time between Nucleus and Into the Lair of the Sun God, is the shortest time they've ever taken to write an album, but it certainly doesn't show. Their 5th album may well be their best yet, and it shows enormous potential to be one of those albums you keep coming back to.

Dodecahedron - Dodecahedron
Progressiveness and technicality often comes at the cost of listenability. Many artist and songwriters become so obsessed with their music being "weird" or "unusual" that it becomes out of place or otherwise unnecessary. With Dodecahedron this was at first the feeling I got, but after letting the album sit for a while and letting it fall into place I found that there was more to it than that. Every strike of the drum, every shred on the guitar, every faint howl seems thought through and deliberate. Though there are no songs that stand well on their own, the self-titled debut album from the band previously known as Order of the Source Below is a phenomenal listening experience when taken in as a whole.

Rattenfänger - Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum
When your band features the members from Drudkh, Blood of Kingu and Hate Forest you have quite a reputation to live up to. Contrary to the preceding bands, Rattenfänger is a death metal band with crushing doom influences. Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum is the band's only offering thus far but shows insane songwriting skills complete with cavernous growled vocals, an archaic beastly sound and some of the most varied drumming I've heard on a death/doom album for a long time. This album is an absolute must have and is criminally overlooked.

Witchcraft - Legend
Most of those who delve into the realms of doom metal and psychedelic rock will at some point have heard one of Witchcraft's previous albums. Though Legend is a lot less doomy and a lot less psychedelic there's still room for plenty of enjoyment as they've found themselves a niche in the worship of 70's hard rock. Legend is a testament to great riffage and could well be considered a modern classic.

Think I missed other albums too? Comment here on the blog to let me know!

2 Dec 2013

Avulse - We Are All Code [Full length] (2012, Broken Limb Recordings)

Patrick Hasson from Maine, USA, has numerous releases and various projects under his belt, including the atmospheric black metal experience Auspicium and the funeral death/doom getup Black Chalice, both of which I have previously reviewed. Having now listened to the next in line of Hasson's projects, Avulse - which is supposed to be crusty black metal with a firm punk vibe, I can now say that Hasson (or "Diseased" as he calls himself in Avulse) has a somewhat recognizable sound and style born from, as he states, copious substance abuse and simple songwriting with a gritty guitar sound. Hasson's style is so profound that all his projects seem like small variable aspects of the same thing.

Hasson himself describes Avulse as "a drunk asshole with a guitar jerking off to Von", which seems like a proper summary of the music found on We Are All Code, the third full length album from the band. The self-proclaimed punk vibe could well be attributed to the, for the most part, short song length, gritty production and shoddy playing. In all honesty the album sounds exactly like what you would think it sounds like from the description. Half-assed "riffs" on top of the distant clicks of what I assume is the drum track with whispered, raspy vocals in the background. There is little form, rhyme or reason to be found with the band, and the album consists of 12 tracks of unnoteworthy, quantity-over-quality tracks of punked up black metal with no hooks.

The lengthiest songs (and I use this term loosely) are by far the most well-written. The album's title track isn't half bad, and the second track, Flames of Liberty, is a tiny bit above the rest in terms of quality. From experience I know that the man behind the band can in fact write some pretty good songs, and the title track in particular attest to that. Hasson is a somewhat accomplished songwriter, but only in the songs where he has actually put in a little effort does this show. The rest, I'm afraid, is a slobby mess. As such the title track and the two cover tracks are also the only ones that show any semblance to actual musical structure.

Alcoholic or not, We Are All Code seems like a waste of effort. The Auspicium and Black Chalice releases I've heard speak of more coherent songwriting skills, and as such Avulse may just be a way to vent frustration whilst in a drunken stupor, but most of the tracks on this third album would probably be better off not being released. It boggles my mind that there are at least 2 other albums, a split, two EP's and a demo more of this stuff out there, because if this album is at all representative of the overall quality of the songwriting in this one-man band, it's not worth checking out. 3/10 guitars.

1. I Drink, Therefore I Am
2. Flames of Liberty
3. Youth is Wasted on the Stupid
4. False Flag
5. Now or Then
6. Phagocytosis
7. Veteran's Day
8. 100 MpH
9. Black Denim
10. No Friend of Mine (Slapshot cover)
11. Hope (Descendants cover)
12. We Are All Code

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25 Nov 2013

Stone Magnum - From Time... To Eternity [Full length] (2013, R.I.P. Records)

The state of Indiana has a reputation of being mostly devoid of any metal in regards to large touring circuits, and in terms of internationally known metal acts the state doesn't fare much better. I had previously heard of Stone Magnum from Michigan City last year when they released their first album more or less out of nowhere. Only one and a half year later they've released their sophomore album effort, From Time... To Eternity.

Though I never got around to listening to the band's eponymous debut, upon listening to the follow up I find it safe to say that Stone Magnum bring to the table doom metal of the highest calibre. It stands as a solid display of musical craftsmanship with heavy, melodic guitar riffs with a thick backdrop of thrumming bass lines creating a bridge between the gruff but epic vocals and the deliberate pace of the drums. The riff-smiths of Stone Magnum have done a great job creating amazing doom-hooks for just about every track on the album - a feat that is only further emphasized by the uncommon delivery of the vocals.

Stone Magnum is most definitely a product of several decades of doom metal evolution. Sticking to the roots, the band's style is best described as a mix of all the great old ones within the genre, mixing together elements from both the American, British and Scandinavian scene, and it's nice to hear a modern doom metal band that isn't a complete Black Sabbath ripoff. The vocals themselves sound like Tom G. Warrior punching Messiah Marcolin in the face, and every riff - not just the main riffs, mind you!! - are well thought-out audile delicacies. I've been listening to From Time... To Eternity since it came out in June, often finding myself returning to their epic melodies for another dose of doom, and I can safely say that the album holds up in the long run. A problem that many newer bands within the genre face is a lack of variation, often mucking about with their noses in the same riff for minutes on end. From Time... To Eternity is almost 50 minutes of doom metal which may seem like a lot, but there is incredible amounts of variation in structure, temperament and speed while holding an iron grip on their gloomy atmosphere.

It seems futile to go into details with every great aspect of the album because the good far outnumber the bad. The fuzzy, warm feeling of the production suits the style of Stone Magnum magnificently, but some of the riffs and the drums in particular could stand to gain a little punch to really accentuate the power and dynamics of Stone Magnum's formidable songwriting. Together with Devil's follow up album to the modern classic Time to Repent, "Gather the Sinners", these make up the back bone of the best doom metal albums of 2013. Stone Magnum stands as a monument to the fact that good new music doesn't have to come from a bunch of adolescents. Doom metal in particular just sounds better coming from seasoned old dudes. 9/10 guitars.

1. From Time... To Eternity
2. Lonely God
3. In Tongues They Whisper
4. The Gallows of Ohrdruf
5. By An Omen I Went
6. Uncontained
7. In the Garden of Beasts

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Visit their official website
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19 Nov 2013

Mind Affliction - Pathetic Humanity [Full length] (2013, Metal Scrap Records)

Poland is the home of several well-known, and even more less known, metal acts, and if there's anything I've learned from previous reviews it is that new bands from Poland show a remarkably high level of musicianship and production values. Mind Affliction hail from Cracow, one of Poland's oldest cities, and originally emerged in 2009, before releasing their first demo "Mental Disorder" in 2011. In early 2013 they released their first album "Pathetic Humanity" through Metal Scrap Records, with the tracks Mental and Vishe returning in some form from the demo.

It seems like there are enough blackened death metal bands from Poland to form up a full fledged wave, a New Wave of Polish Black Death Metal if you will, or at the very least this is a strong tendency among the good people of Poland. Like many of the bands I have previously had the pleasure of reviewing, including Sphere, Ragehammer, Embrional and Stillborn, Mind Affliction delivers about 40 minutes of death metal behind a thick veil of black metal, neatly intertwining the two genres. With a few ups and downs in terms of tempo, it's still safe to say that what makes up the majority of the music on Pathetic Humanity is deathly guitar riffs with dual vocals on top of a layer high speed drumming with little to no bullshit going on.

It's a time tested recipe, but it leaves little room for surprise, and on more than one occation we find the band delving into the same riff for prolonged periods of time, which really breaks up the otherwise good flow of the album. Especially in Mental and Human Centipede, two of the earliest tracks on the debut, do they drag out the progress of the songs with one simple riff. All of the tracks apart from the intro are in excess of 5 minutes in length, so it's not even like they need to drag things out to this point.

Pathetic Humanity has a nice, thick production with drum sound that packs a LOT of punch, but for the riffs to truly come to their right they could benefit from a more crispy production. There's lots of brutality in the simplicity of riffs, and everything works well as a whole, even if the end result isn't one that is particularly memorable. The Polish band shows a flair for variety with tracks like the groovy and melodic piece Druga Strona Umyslu and the sinister track Vishe II, which still leaves room for fresh melodies. But in the end it's the fact that there are barely any hooks or anything to distinguish Pathetic Humanity by that steers it towards a 6/10 rating.

1. Intro
2. Human Centipede
3. Mental
4. Vishe I
5. Druga Strona Umyslu
6. Vishe II
7. Lithium

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10 Nov 2013

The Infernal Sea - The Crypt Sessions [EP] (2013, Self-released)

Some may argue that black metal has never had much of a hold in the UK, apart from a few well-known black metal influenced bands like Cradle of Filth, Bal-Sagoth and Anaal Nathrakh. In recent years though, a large number of worthwhile acts within the genre have emerged from the British scene, a few of which I have previously reviewed. Bands like Winterfylleth, Wodensthrone and Fen have garnered many a positive review, and the tendency in the scene leans heavily on the atmospheric and pagan kind.

Though The Infernal Sea belong to this new wave of british black metal their style is far removed from the folky, celtic or pagan tendencies and atmospheric moods of their brethren, relying more heavily on a crusty, chaotic and gritty mode of musical expression. Their second release, "The Crypt Sessions" EP from 2013, takes - like their music - a rather unorthodox approach to the structure of a release, with every actual track being preceeded by a sort of introduction track. The way British quartet breaks with the norms of how to build up an EP makes it a more interesting listening experience, being thoroughly underlined by the pulsating abrasive nature of their riffs and the hoarse screams of the lead singer.

The crustier elements brings to mind some recent efforts by Darkthrone - barring The Underground Resistance - but it is far from the same prevailing quality as it was with those Darkthrone albums. On The Crypt Sessions it's a much more subtle influence, accentuating the indigenous coarse aspects of black metal.

There is something cathartic about the psychosis-like rambling structures of the blasting, chaotic parts of The Infernal Sea's music. At times they can go from completely unhinged anarchic torrents to pieces of a more composed disposition. These variations serves as means to release the tensiouns created by the British group, and mostly it works. But at times these shifts in temperament can be a bit flow-breaking and anti beneficial to the wholesomeness of the release, and I feel that it is only in Skinwalker that these changes work ideally.

The Crypt Sessions seems at the same time both highly experimental and like a tribute to the traditions of the genre. It is this ambiguosity that, along with the unusual flow, makes it tempting to start it all over when the EP is done playing. 7/10 guitars.

1. Stumpp
2. Skinwalker
3. The Scourging
4. The Circle Closes
5. Desolation
6. Into the Unknown

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3 Nov 2013

Distress of Ruin - Predators Among Us [EP] (2013, Self-released)

From Joensuu, Finland, comes Distress of Ruin - A bastard child of melodic death metal origin, fused together with copious amounts of metalcore tendencies. Five man strong the Finnish band makes use of a classic lineup of two guitars, a lead vocalist and backing vocals provided by guitarist Simo, and a strong rhythm section courtesy of drummer and bassist Sami and Riku.

Distress of Ruin's first published EP "Predators Among Us" features 6 tracks of varying disposition, but the gist of their music, should you choose to lump it all together, is a mix of Scandinavian melodic death metal evident in the overly melodic guitar tunes with the added thrashy elements over a groovy rhythm section borrowed from the metalcore scene. The EP has a very distinct melancholic temperament, which is highly evident right from the start with the despondent intro "The Ocean of Perdition". We quickly change pace to a lurching groove with They Play Dead. Or rather, we don't, because the entire EP only rarely ventures beyond the mid-tempo grooves put down by the drums and the deliberate guitar.

The overall sound is highly polished and as such doesn't leave much to the imagination, which is not entirely surprising in this type of music. What I mean by this is that every aspect of Distress of Ruin is just sort of... Out there. The production is entirely immaculate, and this means that you most likely won't be making new discoveries while listening to Predators Among Us. It is something that sort of numbs down the listening experience, and it doesn't invite further delving into the details of the band's music.

Predators Among Us makes good use of the dual guitars provided by Harri and Simo, and the band as a whole work well as an ensemble - albeit in a very clinically over-polished way. But what Predators Among Us is missing is for Distress of Ruin to move beyond their gray comfort zone once in a while. The way the EP is written and put together makes it seem like the same clichés over and over again. There are a few welcomed changes of scenery with the backbreaking breakdown in Deadly Nightshade, or the thrashy attitude of the closing track Harbinger of Ravage, but it is not enough to create a sufficiently varied experience. Bystander Effect has a spark of this with its faster parts which then give way to the EP's heaviest and slowest part, but it feels as though Distress of Ruin were so uncomfortable with these alternate paces that they change it back to their ordinary mood too quickly.

Distress of Ruin's first EP is a grower. At first it seems way too melodic, and the clean vocals that are continuously used in the choruses get old really quick. It might be Stockholm Syndrome, but somehow you learn to mildly appreciate the easy-to-follow structures put forth by the Finnish band. You come to expect nothing surprising from the band, and this is exactly what they deliver. But then again this isn't enough for you to put away your In Flames and Whitechapel CDs in order to listen to Distress of Ruin instead. 6/10 guitars.

1. The Ocean of Perdition
2. They Play Dead
3. Deadly Nightshade
4. Bystander Effect
5. Terminal Alteration
6. Harbinger of Ravage

Check out Distress of Ruin at Bandcamp and Facebook
Also be sure to check out Distress of Ruin's official website for a free download of their EP

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28 Oct 2013

Forestfather - Hereafter [Full length] (2013, Contaminated Tones Productions)

Forestfather is a band of Chilean origin. An earlier incarnation of the band, Eternal Winter, was created in 1998 by Kveldulf Bjalfason, and the debut album as Forestfather "Hereafter" has been underway ever since, being finished upon the completion of the lineup in 2012 with the addition of Jared Moran on drums and Michael Rumple doing the vocals. Many may already be acquainted with Moran's drumming as he has performed and recorded with numerous bands before. Likewise some may previously have familiarized themselves with the vocals of Rumple through his own atmospheric black metal project, Desiderium, which I have also previously had the pleasure of reviewing.

Musically the debut album from Forestfather derives heavily from many established bands of the folky atmospheric black metal scene, while also borrowing a few elements from post-rock. The guitars consists mostly of melodic leads, often in a somewhat arpeggiated form, over a over layer of a more heavy and simplistic natur. Mentioning bands like Alcest, Woods of Ypres, Skagos or Agalloch seems almost redundant at this point, and unfortunately so does the music of Forestfather at times.

One of the most prominent differences between Forestfather and other bands in the scene is their frequent use of clean vocals. As much space as they take up in the sound image of Forestfather, it is also the one element that is the hardest to get accustomed to, and at the time of writing it is still the thing I feel most ambivalent about with Hereafter. The parts with Rumple's archtypal throaty, raw vocals are the parts I like the most, but these parts are at the same time also the most standardized, textbook portions. The clean vocals are what makes Forestfather stand out from the crowd, but I can't quite wrap my head around if that is in a good or bad way. It stands as a gleaming example that you shouldn't necessarily do something just because it's different as it won't always come out right. There are times on Hereafter where the clean vocals serve as a breath of fresh air in the stale atmosphere of a tried-through genre.

There's nothing to hold against the recording itself. The production is gritty and cold and feels sufficiently organic for the music to positively benefit from it. The drums could advantage from a little more humane and natural processing, but as they are now they stand as a strong rhythmic foundation to the music. The music rests in itself as a well-composed but highly derivative piece, and I mentioned that the clean vocals breathe a little life into the well done but to some extent contrived mixture, but this only takes the album so far. Forestfather does what it does adequately, but never surmounts to take the next step into becoming an amazing band. The band is definitely on to what their own style will sound like, but Hereafter hasn't convinced me that they've quite found it yet. 6/10 guitars.

1. Inner Ascension Those Years Passed
2. The Emerald Key
3. Ethereal
4. All Tears to Come
5. The Days Ever Done

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Visit Contaminated Tones Productions

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22 Oct 2013

Amnion / Balmog - Grim Repulse of the Southern Lodge [Split] (2013, Filthy Cave Records)

Spain isn't exactly the first country that comes to mind when thinking of black metal. Nevertheless, Spain is the country that both Amnion and Balmog hail from, and on the "Grim Repulse of the Southern Lodge" 7" split from 2013 they showcase the best of what Spain has to offer in terms of black metal. Both bands have over 10 years of experience in the genre, and both bands have as such released a slew of miscellaneous demos, splits and EPs.

With Amnion there are no obvious influences - Their style bears a resemblance to so great an amount of bands that singling out specific elements or influences would be to do them injustice, and it is exactly this that also makes "Semper Mors Erit Dux Tuus", Amnion's side of the split, stand out. You can talk for hours on end about "this little riff", "that small portion", "those blastbeats" and "that bassline", but in actuality the Spanish trio's music is best if taken for what it is: A mishmash of black metal sounds centered around a morbid cacophony made of guitars and a cavernous atmosphere. Though a great portion of the track is of a blastbeat-driven disposition, Amnion still have a nice way with rhythm that is seldomly seen in black metal of this sort. It's not a predominant component in the band's music, but does give it a nice touch and much needed variety.

I'm not going to say that Balmog is the polar opposite or the exact same as Amnion. Though there are similarities given that they both fall under the same categorization, there are at least as many differences. Balmog's songwriting centers more around riffing - which some may argue is a more traditional approach - but also has a more modern sound. The way they arpeggiate through their malicious chords and scales are reminiscent of a few contemporary groups, but Balmog's main strength lies with their ear for melody and the way these a put together over a strong, ponderous rhythm-section. They only occassionally lurch into life with faster tremolo-pieces only to soon fall back into the realms of arpeggiated riffs.

The efforts of both Spanish bands speaks of great musical integrity and a creativity that many current groups and bands lack. There's not much new under the sun about neither Amnion nor Balmog, but their songwriting styles both contrasts and complements each other with their vast differences and many likenesses. If you're expecting the next big thing in progressive, experimental black metal, you need to keep looking. But if you're into varying degrees of traditional black metal with several twists and turns, look no further. 7/10 guitars.

1. Amnion - Semper Mors Erit Dux Tuus
2. Balmog - Putrid Emanations from the Tomb

BALMOG official FaceBook
Filthy Cave Records official site

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15 Oct 2013

Ragehammer - War Hawks [Demo] (2012, Mythrone Promotion)

Poland's Ragehammer don't waste time, having existed only for a short period of time before unleashing their beastly debut demo "War Hawks". If anything is black/thrash it's Ragehammer, and their lyrics deal with somewhat standard metal subjects like hate, war and religious hipocrisy. However they aren't as such the usual kind of black/thrash Bathory/Venom/Deströyer 666/Desaster clone stuff as they've left room for some pseudo-hardcore based riffs and grindy d-beats which definitely underlines the entire sound of Ragehammer.

Ragehammer immediately assail the ears of the hapless victims listening to War Hawks for the first time. Not knowing what to expect, Ragehammer Rising pounds your eardrums with totally unhinged, maniacal vocals, and the demo is mixed loud as fuck, so you don't even have to turn up your stereo to get fucked. Talk about convenience. There is constantly stuff going on in multiple layers. It's a demanding yet rewarding listening experience in the sense that the band's music is mostly high speed high intensity stuff. Ragehammer have a way of piecing together a song to have a high amount of momentum and energy, never leaving a dull moment even when they slow things down. An example of this is when the second song tunes in. Prophet of Genocide is a song that contrasts strongly to the fast-paced brutality of the first track, Ragehammer Rising, by having a much slower pace and a heavier gait. This track in particular slows things down to a more deliberate heavy-black kind of deal more akin to modern Darkthrone, barring Underground Resistance.

There seems to be a pattern on the War Hawks demo. It seems there's more or less a fast song for every slow song, and that these alternate. It's a surprisingly good way of keeping things interesting, and while the menacing sounds of The Wolfpack as such isn't exactly crawling in tempo it still has a higher capacity for calculated evil rather than the "usual" chaotic approach that Ragehammer takes.

This completely unrelenting, fast as fuck style of black/thrash works well for getting you worked up and ready to go, and it can generally be said for War Hawks that whatever Ragehammer are doing, they're doing it well.Feeling like relaxing with some rockin' tunes where you can sing along to the chorus? Get the fuck outta here, Ragehammer is NOT for you. 8/10 guitars.

1. Ragehammer Rising
2. Prophet of Genocide
3. Hate Command
4. The Wolfpack
5. Gospel of the Scum

Mythrone Promotion official site

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7 Oct 2013

Tod Huetet Uebel - Morte e Caos [EP] (2013, Self-released)

Tod Huetet Uebel. An unusual name for an unusual band. Portuguese musician Daniel C. created the band alone in 2012, quickly producing and releasing the 3-track EP "Morte e Caos", Death and Chaos, in March 2013.

There is something sinister and oddly ancient about the sounds of Tod Huetet Uebel. The Portuguese project emanates a substantial know-how of black metal history and as such bears a resemblance to some well-known and highly influential acts from the genre while also taking in abundant influences from more modern acts where the tremolo riffs, treble sound, abysmal drumming and foggy raw vocals are just a byproduct of an experimental blackened death metal recipe. Naysayers will say that Morte e Caos is merely a product of circumstance, following in the wake of the success of bands like Teitanblood, Antediluvian or Mitochondrion. True, Tod Huetet Uebel may well be inspired by these acts, but the project features considerably less elements of decay and cessation, relying more on the misanthropic and emotionally depressing moods of black metal rather than the primal brutality of death metal.

The fact that the Portuguese band is a solo-project doesn't shine through. Daniel C. brandishes an impressive talent for production and songwriting. The force with which the riffs are delivered makes Morte e Caos a passionate attempt at an old genre in a modern way while definitely still paying homage to some of the originators of the second wave of black metal. But the supposed downfall of Tod Huetet Uebel is a lack of variation and taste. The drums seem to mostly be blast beats thrown in for good meassure, but in the long run this is something that becomes rather tiresome to listen to. It's a minor thing, really, and it does accentuate the weirdly melodic solo in the middle of the first track, Caos. It suggests that there's an idea behind every action and composition on the EP, and it really does exude an aura of violent and malevolent purpose.

Morte e Caos is an intense soundscape of, dare I say, lovecraftian disposition. Tod Huetet Uebel succeeds in portraying cyclopean arrangements in a classic yet contemporary way, and in this way takes a well known modus operandi and gives it new form. Contemporaneousness is a keyword in the discussion of Tod Huete Uebel. To put it simply, it's an extant piece of new music with an old sound. While there are many time-tested aspects of the concoction that is Morte e Caos it is not something that would be seen or heard in, say, the 90's. The band aspires to be something great and achieves some form of that magnitude by the sheer force of this EP. 7/10 guitars.

1. Caos
2. Decaída
3. Odor a Morte

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3 Oct 2013

Nonsun - Sun Blind Me [EP] (2013, Breathe Plastic Records/Drowning)

Slowly, the ponderous, stoned out riff of Rain Have Mercy tunes in, accompanied by the soft yet intense sound of an organ. As the riff gains momentum the drums come in until finally culminating in a full-fledged clamor of heavy, sludgy, droning doom metal at the 4 minute mark. Goatooth's moribund vocals emerges from the shadows, and soon after the track slows down to a slower, jamming tempo until lurching into motion again, exposing the consortium of what could be a trippy organ piece or almost psychedelic guitar solo that has been lurking in the many layers of Nonsun. Alpha's drumming betrays a fascination for post-rock atmospheres that Goatooth's ethereal riffing over the originally heavy main course enhances. This is just one way to describe the alluring musical intimacy that emanates from Nonsun's music on Sun Blind Me.

I like drone. And for you to like Nonsun you have to like drone too, even if this isn't the main piece de resistance of the Ukranian duo's music. This group isn't a drone band in the same sense that Sunn O))) are a drone band. While there are long stretches of unmelodic drones followed by nothing but feedback for minutes on end, the duo presents a style with additional influences from sludge and stoner metal at times, resulting in parts that are essentially like incredibly slow and groaning sludgy doom metal, and this variation results in a less inert and inactive type of drone. Like described above, the entirety of Nonsun's music is not the well-known ambience-influenced droning that many other bands in the scene partake in. Vocals are a seldomly occuring thing on Sun Blind Me,but whenever they're there they are executed in a raw style contrasting nicely with the rest of the music.

Sun Blind Me is the second release from Nonsun, an EP of four tracks like the first one, Good Old Evil. However, the first two tracks have been re-used from the old EP, and as such the only new material on Sun Blind Me are the two parts of the Alphomega track, Sunlit Darkness and Upward Blindness. The interesting thing about the 2013 EP is the way it progresses deeper and deeper into drone territory. From the stoned, half-psychedelic Rain Have Mercy we emerge into a more nightmarish soundscape wtih Frogotten Is What Never Was, a track with funeral tones fit for a crypt or funerary procession. With the first part of Alphomega we descend into yet darker domains, bordering on dark ambient. The second part is the most droney part of the EP, the dark rumbling of a black hole underneath a cavernous guitar being the main foundation for the track before being substituted by a bleak guitar piece which rings out for the duration of the track. Upward Blindness is also the shortest track on the EP being only slighty over 8 minutes in length.

Liking Nonsun and Sun Blind Me took some time. You have to take the time to sit down and listen thoroughly to catch all the details. Sun Blind Me is kind of short for a drone doom release, and I suppose that's why the band classify it as an EP rather than a full length album. I originally felt that continuety was a weak point with Nonsun, but after having listened to the release a few times I came to appreciate the progression that I described earlier. If you're expecting mindnumbing heaviness and cosmic emptiness like in the music of Sunn O))) you will be disappointed, because this is not where Nonsun's strengths lie. The autumnal hymns and tenebrous canticles are a beautiful soundtrack to the fall, and I think fans of Om and Earth should be pleased. 8/10 guitars.

1. Rain Have Mercy
2. Forgotten Is What Never Was
3. Alphomega (Part 1: Sunlit Darkness)
4. Alphomega (Part 2: Upward Blindness)

Nonsun on Bandcamp
Nonsun on Facebook
Visit the official site of Drowning and download the EP for free
Breathe Plastic Records official site

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29 Sep 2013

Ranger - Knights of Darkness [EP] (2013, Ektro Records/Full Contact Records)

The artwork says it all: Black background, painted chrome logo, four black figures in front of a nighttime cityscape, and a small sticker with the words "skull splitting metal" around a fanged skull. Knights of Darkness is one of those records you love to bust out and show your friends for a night of binge drinking and shouting to the sound of shredding guitars and high-pitched screams, straight from Finland in a classic 80's speed metal style with no shenanigans. Ranger started out as Turbin and have since released 3 demos until releasing the Knights of Darkness EP through Ektro/Full Contact Records in 2013.

Following in the wake of what some like to call the "new wave of traditional heavy metal" their style is dark and gritty, energetic and fast. The wild feel of Ranger's music brings to mind Speedtrap, another Finnish speed metal band that are perhaps a bit more prominent in the scene. It also speaks of a band that aren't concerned with following a specific trend or norm, as they are much more coarse in their approach to songwriting and recording than many other contemporary speed metal bands. Their songwriting is nowhere near as clean or centered around "epic" sounds as many of the more well-known acts within the scene, instead focusing on a more raw thrash approach instead of one fuelled by heavy metal, sometimes bringing to mind the early output of bands like Slayer, Whiplash, Exciter and Razor. Infused with hellish guitar solos and near-constant d-beats the Finnish band is an entity that does not want to conform or slow down. The coarse vocals of Dimi lean mostly on singers like Cronos and Tom Araya, but with songs like Touch of Death the vocalist shows that he too has the capacity for falsetto-like screams of the highest pitch.

Followers of acts like Enforcer and White Wizzard will likely be dismayed by the crude production on Knights of Darkness, but what it lacks in sound quality Ranger definitely make up for in sheer speed and the caliber of their songwriting. There are times when speed metal becomes boring to listen to because it's always fast all the time with squeaky guitars and falsetto screams, and in some cases it ends up being a mess of riffs too fast for human fingers, resulting in a lot of songs sounding bland. By taking a thrashy approach Ranger have circumvented this issue that plagues many similar bands. This is not about immersion, sophistication or finesse, and it's definitely not some misbegotten notion that metal should be played or written with great refinement or elegance that drives this piece of metal forward. And true to this idea Ranger's Knights of Darkness EP keeps things simple with just over 20 minutes of simply tasteful use of fast down-strokes, d-beats and screams. Get. It. 9/10 guitars.

1. Ranger
2. Touch of Death
3. Steel Dawn
4. Supreme Evil
5. Knights of Darkness

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Visit Ektro Records online

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24 Sep 2013

Vesterian - Anthems for the Coming War Age [Full length] (2013, Glorious North Productions)

Vesterian has existed in some form since 1994 and can soon celebrate their 20th anniversary. Until '96 they were known as Centurion and released two demos under this name. The name change brought 5 more demos until 2013 where the American band released their first album "Anthems for the Coming War Age" through Glorious North Productions. The fact that only demo material has been produced up until now, the name change and the large time gap between some demos speaks of a very turbulent background in the form of a relocation from North Carolina to California and a revolving door lineup.

From the roots of black metal like early Bathory, Venom and Hellhammer there has always been a sort of clumsy approach to music in the pursuit of extremity. But with Vesterian there is a much more modern attitude. There's nothing unsure or half-assed about it, neither the songwriting nor the enactment of the music.

Anthems for the Coming War Age features among other things a drummer that doesn't know how to relax and is probably way too generous with his blastbeats. It's always fast, all the time, even when it feels like a more controlled, deliberate pace would be more fitting. There are countless examples of black metal bands that use blastbeats very prominently in their music, and this is obviously not always a bad thing, but bands like Marduk seem to have it down to an art to use it with a bit more taste and deliberation. When all is said and done it seems like a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but it does mean that at times Vesterian's music will become a bit monotonous and unvaried.
What the American quintet lacks in variation they more than make up for in sheer power though. There is not much to be left wanting in regards to envigoratingly furious guitar riffs, and the groaning Abbath-y vocals often venture beyond the realms of orthodox black metal in pursuit of greater depth and atmosphere.

In the end what it comes down to with Vesterian's debut album is whether or not you can tolerate the lengthier tracks that the band puts forth. With songs like Morax Gates, pt. 2, with its galloping drumwork, multiple layers of somewhat dissonant guitars, epic solo and long vocal-less stretches, it's proven that Vesterian aren't a one trick pony in any sense, and the Ancient Bloodthirst track shows that they have the capacity for more spectacular and grandios songwriting as well, but when almost every track is in excess of 6 minutes in length it seems weird that most songs seem to follow a pretty standard progression pattern. It's not that Anthems for the Coming War Age doesn't live up to its name, and it is a fun listen that I would recommend to all black metal fanatics, but it's been done before to the same standards. Even so, it's a magnificent example of modern black metal with no bullshit symphonic elements or 10-minute ambient intros, interludes and outros. 7/10 guitars.

1. Gathering
2. Under the Red Moon
3. Morax Gates, pt. 2
4. Ancient Bloodthirst
5. Unknown Spells Cast from Nibiru's Watch Tower
6. For Battles to Come
7. Dead Kings of Tyranny
8. Dark Oceans Roar During the Cosmic Upheaval
9. Blasphemous Sorcery of a Witch King

Visit VESTERIAN on Facebook
Visit Glorious North Production's official site

18 Sep 2013

Nordland - The True Cult of the Earth [Full length] (2013, Glorious North Productions)

So, according to a recent post on Facebook Vorh is apparently tired of the constant Bathory-comparison as he claims there is no connection what so ever to the band and the Nordland I and II albums and that his main source of inspiration does not lie with Bathory. Fair enough I guess.

Vorh, the force behind Nordland, started the band in 2011, whereupon he promptly released the highly commendable and self-titled full length debut "Nordland". Vorh hails from the northeastern parts of the United Kingdom, an area that like most other parts of the UK has a damp and rainy climate. Historically the tidal island of Lindisfarne in this area is famous for being raided by vikings in the year 793, ushering in the Viking Age of Northern Europe.

Whether the sort of Bathory-esque viking tendencies on the True Cult of the Earth album is a coincidence is left to pure speculation, but the area's history and the fact that the name Nordland could well be taken from the two Bathory albums certainly suggest there being a correlation.
I lauded the eponymous album Nordland from 2011, giving it an 8/10 rating for its genuinely enjoyable composure and the way it sticks to the roots of black metal without merely copying them. A vast difference between the Nordland and the True Cult of the Earth albums is that while there was hardly any folky viking feelings leftover on the first album, these seem to have found their way unto the lates opus, although in very limited quantities.

Vorh's Nordland project issues 7 tracks on The True Cult of the Earth clocking in at a little over an hour in playtime. As such it is a pretty lengthy album with no songs under 5 minutes in length, and bravely starting out with the 13 minute monster The Great Hall of the Sky. This track among most of the others seem to favor the pondering tones of slow and well-tempered black metal, and in extention of this the guitarwork and groaning vocals of Vorh are equally ponderous, sometimes bordering on meandering.

It is the same wandering behaviour circling around the viking heritage of Bathory and other similar bands that gives Nordland a kind of hypnotic aspect that is hard to dislike, but it also creates a sense of not really... going anywhere. The True Cult of the Earth has a sound as naturalistic as the previous album but lacks the memorability that graced it. It's a bit unadventurous, but the recipe still works. The lyrics and the way the vocals drift around is still unmistakingly that of Nordland and as such recognizably different from other bands within the genre, and the guitars are faithfully interwoven with the varying drumtracks in the same way.

The True Cult of the Earth displays a traditional form of black metal that at the same time is removed from the almost religiously orthodox tyranny that many bands practice and enforce. It is this tenacity that Nordland primarily benefits from on this album, and it is by these means that the ends are met. 7/10 guitars.

1. The Great Hall of the Sky
2. Dawn Calling of Thunor
3. Elthtelor
4. Heathen Lands
5. I Am the Winds of the Earth
6. A Mound to Lay my Bones Upon
7. Crows

Visit the official site of NORDLAND
Check out NORDLAND on Facebook
Visit the official site of Glorious North Productions

13 Sep 2013

Written in Torment - Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes [Full length] (2013, Glorious North Productions)

One would hardly expect an anti-christian black metal band to emerge from a town as scenic and pittoresque as Harrogate, England. This is nonetheless the place from which Written in Torment hails, and considering it rains more or less half the year in the UK maybe it isn't that far fetched. Mike Hardisty working under the name "Leviathan" taken from the biblical sea creature created Written in Torment in 2003 and has since worked more or less alone on the project. The first demo, Written in Torment, was released in 2006 followed by The Uncreation EP a few months later, which some reviewers and fans hold in high regard. Whilst not going on a hiatus per se it wouldn't be until 2013 before new songs were heard from the one-man project.

Released in the sunny month of May there is a stark constrast right off the bat from the cold black metal style of Leviathan's music on Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes, or "the war of all against all". The name comes from two books by Thomas Hobbes entitled De Cive from 1642 and Leviathan from 1651, Hardisty's stagename perhaps being a reference to the book's title.

The 2013 album - released by Glorious North Productions, a label specializing in black metal - has a strikingly good production. Every aspect of the album seems judiciously well-thought out, and the melodic guitar parts and solos are what stand out the most. These parts have a certain British feeling to them, resembling especially bands like Bal-Sagoth, albeit without the overtly symphonic aspects. A song such as Beast of the Depths, a direct reference to the Leviathan creature, and Grief especially showcase Hardisty's writing abilities, and the album generally seems to betray the traditional black metal practices in favour of elements from thrash, death and other subgenres.

Though the music on Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes primarily features cold black metal with tendencies toward the melodic aspects of bands like Emperor, there is still left room for experimentation, and a transition between chilling black metal tremolos to the glorious warmth of well-accomplished guitar melodies and soli isn't all that rare on the album.

A great deal of the strength of Written in Torment's album lies with the amount of variation on this journey through the history of the suffering of man. Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes features themes of war, biblical travesties and hardships, relating perfectly to the music itself. The debut is ripe with immersive riffing and thoughtful drumming and compositions, and the only real issue is the length of the songs and the album as a result of that. Bellum Omnium... is comprised of 10 songs, all of which are almost 5 minutes or more in length. It's not too big a deal considering the quality of the tracks, and the flow of the album as a whole is impressive, but listening to an album for an hour - variety put aside - can get tedious at times, especially with so much going on as on Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes. You have to concentrate while listening to Written in Torment, because missing any of Leviathan's dazzling compositions would be a sin! 9/10 guitars.

1. Earth Decimated
2. Eternities Suffering Endured
3. Beast of the Depths
4. Descent Into Total Madness
5. O' Fortuna
6. Grief
7. Solitude
8. Behold the Trinity Maimed and Rotten
9. A Pig Hung in Golgotha
10. Necessary Evil

Written in Torment official facebook
Glorious North Productions official site

8 Sep 2013

Master Fury - Circles of Hell [Compilation] (2013, Contaminated Tones Productions)

When you say thrash metal most people think 1980's USA. There are the essential giants like Slayer, Overkill, Testament and Metallica, and the hidden and forgotten gems like Holocross, Heretic and Powerlord. Formed in 1986 they only ever released 2 albums, the rough Hell Party album from 1988 and the barbarous Circles of Hate album from 1989. They went on hold for an unknown number of years and then had a brief reunion in 2010, but it wasn't before 2013 we would see another Master Fury release, the two albums compiled on Circles of Hell by Contaminated Tones Productions.

Master Fury has a very abrasive sound. Their approach to thrash metal is on the chaotic side of things and more focussed on speed and coarseness than anything else, making them probably one of the fastest bands at the time. Through the metallic din of Master Fury's aggressive guitars the amazingly precise riffs shine. Where Hell Party thrives on a coarse, simplistic thrash recipe building up to and colliding in the final mosh-inducing track "Riot" the second half of the compilation, the Circles of Hate album, takes a more technical and commonplace approach to the genre. The early material is distinguished by the near constant speed with which it is furiously provided. On Circles of Hate Master Fury were progressing as songwriters and were more comfortable with slowing down once in a while in order to build up momentum for a particularly epic solo or building atmosphere.

The band seems to have always favoured a trio-lineup consisting of the guitars and vocals of Digg Rouze and various bassists and drummers. As mentioned above Master Fury evolved as a band even if their was only 1 year between the 25-minute Hell Party and the slightly longer Circles of Hate. On tracks like Corporate War and Life's a Bitch they give way for their crossover tendencies fuelled by ferocious d-beats and gang-shouts, a style that wasn't at all present of Hell Party. I could imagine a song like Road Hog off of Hell Party being an early example of the Motörhead/Venom-inspired punky speed metal that has recently made a comeback, and there are more examples of songs that fit the bill as really good metal songs, but with the production being so muddy and deranged it's hard to make out anything other than a few riffs here and there, making the tracks hard to tell apart.

Master Fury already perfectly sum up their material with their name. Furious, fast as fuck thrash. The extremity of the albums put Master Fury somewhere in the grey area between thrash and death metal that had a couple of years prior been completely dominated by bands like Death and Possessed. Master Fury may not be the authors of the most original or memorable kind of thrash metal, but if you feel like getting your skull pounded by uncompromising riffs, powerful drumming and screaming vocals The Circles of Hell compilation is as good a way get your needs fulfilled as any. The combination of the two tracks celebrate an above-average band, though their material never quite achieves true classic or gem status. 7/10 guitars.

1. Hell Party
2. Crash
3. Are All Men Blind
4. Time is Right
5. Semper Furious
6. Flat Against the Wall
7. Road Hog
8. Riot
9. Die In Your Sleep
10. Lies
11. Circus of Hate
12. Son of Man
13. Corporate War
14. The Way
15. Life's a Bitch
16. V.O.H.

Track 1-8: Hell Party
Track 9-16: Circles of Hate

Contaminated Tones Productions official site