30 Jan 2013

Dead Hills - Purgatory / Winds of Time [Demo] (2012, Cloister Recordings)

I think it's safe to say that Australia's export of metal bands isn't very impressive. Other than a few bands like Portal, Psycroptic, The Berzerker, Vomitor, Abyssic Hate, Sadistik Execution, Hobbs' Angel of Death, Mortal Sin and Deströyer 666 I hardly know any Australian bands worth mentioning, and for a country its size it seems odd that the scene is so relatively small globally. As such Dead Hills with all its depressive black metal tendencies and electronic ambient elements was a rare sight for me.
The Purgatory / Winds of Time demo, which is Dead Hills' debut release, immediately struck me as having a brilliant production and sound. Having listened to a lot of bedroom black metal projects I've experienced that most people apparently think that shitty production is mandatory in black metal. Dead Hills, however, presents its material with an astoundingly solid production. It provides the music with a vigorous guitar sound that still leaves room for plenty of organic warmth aswell as audible drums.

The main thing that draws my attention is the fact that Dead Hills have a thing for epicness. There is something soaring and grandios about the sustained intrepidness of the entire demo, but especially on songs like the 15 minutes long Leaves of Ash has Weaver found room for a certain epic sound that is rarely heard otherwise in the black metal scene. The stark contrast between the tortured Varg Vikernes inspired screams and the beautifully organic and naturesque moods created by the creative riffing is also worth mentioning as this is one of the central elements that makes Dead Hills stand out from so many other black metal acts.

In a scene where there are so few internationally known bands, such as the Australian black metal scene, creating an easily recognizable sound and/or style is imperative. As such I'm not saying that Dead Hills are unique or othwerwise really original - The influences from classic 90's black metal such as Darkthrone and especially Burzum is highly prevalent and dominant, but then again Weaver has a certain touch that makes his music relatively easily distinguishable from the bands from which he takes his inspiration. One might say that the interest for the creative impulses of the classic bands have propelled Dead Hills to a more modern sound without being completely removed from the roots that spawned it.

I was told the demo is to be understood as two seperate demos/albums put into one, and the Purgatory / Winds of Time demo does seem excessively long for just one release, even if most depressive and atmospheric black metal bands tend to produce longer releases. But even so the music itself never gets boring or dreary, and I never felt that anything was missplaced or otherwise didn't fit in. I can see how it would be beneficial to split up the release as it would make it easier to focus on a few of the songs. Having to listen to 1 hour and 30 minutes straight of black metal it makes me grateful that the music doesn't such monumentally. 8/10 guitars.

1. Clearing
2. Purging Fog
3. Nocturnal Hatred
4. After
5. Majesty in Mystery
6. Flight Through the Opaque
7. Twilit Trees

1. Wells
2. The Wilt
3. Haze
4. Leaves of Ash
5. Graveyards Over the Sea

DEAD HILLS official Facebook
Cloister Recordings official site

25 Jan 2013

Sanity Obscure - Subterranean Constellation [Full length] (2012, Self-released)

When I read that Sanity Obscure was for fans of such bands as Pestilence, Nocturnus, Coroner, Vektor, Atheist and Death it naturally created very high expectations with me. I consider myself a pretty big fan of especially Nocturnus and Vektor, so if Sanity Obscure are anything like them that's a start at least.

As the album starts out with Dreams - Manifestations I got some almost jazzy vibes from them, and the portrait Sanity Obscure were starting to paint was indeed somewhat akin to those created by Nocturnus in the 80's. Throughout the album there are profound nods to those legends they worship, and from the amount of quite formidable bands the band itself lists as major influences it seems relevant to ask whether or not Sanity Obscure manages to fill their shoes.

From the first few listens I wasn't entirely convinced that Sanity Obscure were "mature" enough to wield the mantel of such revered bands, but tracks like Rise of the Machines forced away my doubt. They almost added up to my expectations, neatly combining elements from many progressive and technical bands from the 80's and early 90's, and their sound and songwriting does bear certain hints of both thrash and death metal. But one of the things that made the album appear like a mishmash og things is the myriad of elements they're commandeering into their sound. I like the fact that there is so much variation, but when Patient Zero goes from Nocturnus-esque chugging riffs to melo-death-ish melodies to chugging powered by blast beats it makes it sound like, to me, that they're not entirely sure what they want to play or like they're taking on too many influences. Regardless of that the Singaporean quintet got away with making some really enjoyable technical death/thrash by reusing the ideas of their idols. I especially enjoy the semi-progressive riffing tendencies, the widely varied vocal performances, the insisting bass and the variation of the drums.

To answer the question I posed in the second paragraph, Sanity Obscure doesn't quite amount to the greatness of the bands listed. Obviously it's tough to surpass such bands, and the reason for this is that those bands are unique. To be truly unique Sanity Obscure would have to combine and distill all the revolutionizing elements of Atheist, Nocturnus and Death into something amazing, but they never really succeed in detaching themselves from the incongruent mass of technical bands out there, and ultimately they amount to little more than a fairly skilled but very enjoyable tribute band. 6/10 guitars. 7/10 guitars.

1. Dreams - Manifestations
2. Rise of the Machines
3. Incarceration Divine
4. Synergistic Permutations
5. Patient Zero
6. Doublethink
7. Hyperboreas
8. Afflicted Mind

SANITY OBSCURE official facebook

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20 Jan 2013

Hammerspace - The Kings of Mediocrity [EP] & Volume 1: Reset, Repair, Restore [Full length] (2012, Torn Flesh Records)

Taking the 80's route to heavy metal is an approach many bands choose. The 80's saw heavy metal become a rather popular genre, and in that particular decade the genre underwent incredible amounts of change and innovation - Mimicking the sound and atmosphere of that decade has more or less become the new black, whether it involves organic production, a particular way of writing songs or using other contemporary elements in the music.

Hammerspace is a virtual band, meaning (as far as I know) that the sole member, Timothy Branch, has invented a sort of "fictional" band, kind of like Brendon Small's Dethklok. The band focuses on certain RPG/adventure elements, meaning that the lyrics often involve gaming, roleplaying games, adventure and the likes. This review was originally supposed to be about their first EP, "The Kings of Mediocrity", but in the light of the more recent release, the full length album "Volume 1: Reset, Repair, Restore" released by Torn Flesh Records, I decided to instead review both releases and hold them up against each other.

I found The Kings of Mediocrity to be pretty much what the name implied - A fairly mediocre journey through heavy metal scapes of varying quality and characteristic. Most of the EP was, to me at least, entirely unexciting and uneventful, with only a few moments to catch the eye. The intro for this review may seem entirely pointless, but the reason I brought up the 80's is because of the opening track, Pull the Trigger, which seems to be trying to portray the soundtracks often heard in the darker science fiction movies of the time. The problem with the opening track is the same that goes for the entire EP: It's so overdone and saturated with the concept that it becomes more of a parody rather than a homage.
Songs like The Rat with its whispered vocals and Into the Future with the harpsichordesque intro melody to me sounds like the band (or Branch, if you will) is trying too hard to fit a concept that it sort of becomes shackles chaining the band to a creed of nerdiness, which to some may be funny or interesting, but to me just seems a bit try-hard-ish.

The entire thing is a composit of thrashy nineties-like heavy metal riffs with a thing for groove, but ultimately the EP lacks edge and intricateness. The last track, Game Over, is by a long shot the best piece on the album. It is both groovier, heavier and more original than the rest, and all these things in unison make for a much more effective track than all the other tracks on The Kings of Mediocrity.

My problem with a band such as Hammerspace is that, like I mentioned earlier, the gimmicks have just completely taken over and makes it hard for me to take it seriously as a musical endeavour. Really, Hammerspace has more clichés and gimmicks than all of Batman's adversaries put together. Gimmicks don't have to be bad. Take a band like Gama Bomb: Their lyrics and concept is about video games, comics and movies too, but not to a degree where it inhibits their writing abilities.

I was hoping the full length would change my mind. When I heard Prologue, the first track, I had my doubts. It sounded like a less memorable theme song from Runescape. Considering the fact that the album is released only a short time after the EP I'm not too sure what I was expecting, but Volume 1 features the exact same weak vocals, start-stop riffs, boring melodies and cheesy songwriting as its predecessor did.

More often than not repeated listening will make something stick to your halfway melted brain, but even after having listened to Volume 1 a number of times I couldn't remember anything, maybe except for the weird last half of Dagger and Cross. When I got to this part I had to pause it for a moment. Trying to bring in a bit of a folky feeling are we? It was one of the only times I felt that Hammerspace were really trying to experiment, and it obviously had some sort of effect on me. The heavy groove riffs that make up the majority of the album (and the EP for that matter) are probably best left as background music for browser games or Babo Violent, but even so the trollish humptidumpty stuff in Dagger and Cross are a bit too weird for my tastes.

Volume 1 also sees the resurgence of the track "Into the Future" from the Kings of Mediocrity EP. It was one of the stronger (though I use the term loosely) tracks on the EP, but Volume 1 is long enough in itself that it doesn't really need to reuse old tracks to achieve a decent length.
Summing up Volume 1: Reset, Repair, Restore is simple, mostly because the album itself is simple. Uninteresting synths, groovy but repetitive riffs, uninspired vocals and songwriting of repetitious behaviour is really what's going on, and while a few songs on the album, namely Presage and Signal Strength, did manage to provide me some minor enjoyment, but the formula quickly grows stale. The entire formula lacks depth, and while listening my mind quickly wanders to other subjects, like how interesting the wallpaper is. At least it's Branch's playing is pretty tight, and the production isn't that bad. 4/10 guitars.

Tracklist (The Kings of Mediocrity):
1. Pull the Trigger
2. The Kings of Mediocrity
3. Into the Future
4. The Rat
5. To the Fallen
6. Game Over

Tracklist (Volume 1: Reset, Repair, Restore):
1. Prologue
2. Reset, Repair, Restore
3. Dreamland
4. Dagger and Cross
5. Timeline
6. Outcast
7. Into the Future
8. Signal Strength
9. Warpath
10. Presage

HAMMERSPACE official facebook

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15 Jan 2013

Nordland - Nordland [Full length] (2012, Glorious North Productions)

Black metal is one of the metal genres that has most run-of-the-mill bands in my opinion. Ever since Darkthrone and other similar bands basically wrote the 101 guide to simple black metal in the 90's thousands of people have tried their hand at creating music with minimal effort, and this has led to a plethora of incomplex, boring black metal bands, a lot of which are one-man projects. While Nordland is also a one-man effort, his straightforward style is more or less the exact opposite of run of the mill.

The eponymous first release of Nordland takes me back to when I first started listening to black metal. Those years ago it was albums such as Satyricon's Nemesis Divina and Dark Medieval Times, Marduk's Panzer Division Marduk and Nightwing and Gorgoroth's Destroyer that shaped my musical tastes, and Nordland - though the name brings Bathory's viking metal albums of the same name to mind - reminds me a lot of those bands in the way that it's simply plain black metal with no bullshit.

The production is sufficiently clean to allow for smaller details to come forth and provide the necessary variation so the music doesn't become tedious to listen to, much in the same way that the abovementioned albums do, and it makes the album sound immensely professional and immersive, which is rather astounding for a debut effort. The same discrete variations are what makes up the cold atmosphere that fills Nordland's debut and allow the tracks to be of such impressive length. Black metal traditionally consists largely of songs longer than 3 minutes, but Nordland's shortest track is about 5 minutes and 20 seconds, and the 7 tracks on the album makes it an hour long opus of classic semi-modern black metal.

Only rarely have I heard debut albums, especially within this genre, that sound so professional, and seldom have I listened to straight up black metal that features riffs as memorable as Nordland's. Like Vorh, the band's sole member, raspingly sings on Messenger of the Vortex Winds, "This is my land and I live here alone", Vorh has made black metal his domain and is one of the few newer one-man black metal bands worth listening to. 8/10 guitars.

1. Vorscara
2. Thule
3. Morth
4. Messenger of the Vortex Winds
5. Lords of the Great Dwelling
6. Nordland
7. Nord Uliima

NORDLAND official website
NORDLAND official facebook
Glorious North Productions official website

9 Jan 2013

Eudaimonia - Hymn to a Dying World [Full length] (2012, Self-released)

The Danish one-man effort "Eudaimonia", while not entirely beyond categorization, is a project of highly diverse compositions. Once you think you get to know the band and the ambience-focused atmospheric pseudo-black metal sound he'll throw some flutes into the mix, forcing you to re-evaluate your opinion and thoughts of Eudaimonia. It is as such a band that is hard to pinpoint, and I have arrived at the conclusion that I have no idea what exactly it is Eudaimonia is trying to do. Through the predominantly cold and somewhat "natural" atmosphere shines something that I can't quite put my finger on. It is the level of experimentation that gets to me - Eudaimonia has 3 previous releases, none of which I have heard, so I really have no idea whether or not experimentation is the main deal of the band.

I found Hymn to the Dying World to be an album hard to get into and hard to listen to all in one sitting. Maybe I just don't "get" the music, but I do appreciate some of the tracks, namely Crepuscular Rays and As the World Dresses in Shades of Autumn which are actually some of the least metal tracks on the album. The esoteric disposition of the album is both it's main selling point and it's main weakness: I could imagine it would turn off a lot of people from listening to it more than once, but at the same time intriguing certain people to listen to it again and again.

Hymn to a Dying World offers an amount of different moods, such as the opening track "Mountains of the Sky" which is inclined to heavenly grandios themes instead of the desolate focus some of the other songs, A Song for the Sea and Her Sedctive Waves in particular, seem to have. I often find that albums like this work great as a whole, but with Eudaimonia I felt there was such a difference between the songs that I would probably be more inclined to listen to individual tracks depending on my mood rather than listening to the entire album.

It goes without saying that the Danish band surprised me. The cover art led me to believe that it would be straightforward atmospheric black metal, or perhaps something more in the vain of Agalloch. It is nothing so simple, though. While Hymn to a Dying World mostly isn't really my thing, I can definitely hear things of appeal. Especially the more drawn out tracks strike me as the best ones on the release. But ultimately I felt that the many different influences on the 7 songs were too sporadic and unrelated to form something of uniform charm, and it really didn't seem all that inviting to me. 6/10 guitars.

1. Mountains of the Sky - Gaia Part I
2. Algiz Aflame
3. Crepuscular Rays - Gaia Part II
4. In Mist Forgotten
5. A Song for the Sea and Her Seductive Waves - Gaia Part III
6. As the World Dresses in Shades of Autumn
7. Swan Song

Check out the music for yourself and download it for free at Eudaimonia's official bandcamp profile

5 Jan 2013

Dark End - Grand Guignol - Book I [Full length] (2012, Self-released)

It's funny how symphonic black metal isn't played by that many bands, and yet there are several very well known bands to emerge from that scene. I suppose the mix of easily accessible melody mixed with the extremity of black metal makes it a good combo for many people. One might argue that the reason there aren't that many bands in the genre is because of the needed musicianship. To create good symphonic black metal you can't just write up simple melodies in shitty classical VSTs over equally shoddy black metal riffs, you need to actually be able to write captivating and preferably eerie symphonies that also fit together with, again preferably, complex black metal.

A band that perfectly encompasses what I described lastly is Italy's Dark End. Having just toured with large names like Cradle of Filth, God Seed and Rotting Christ, one my say they have their work cut out for them. Can they dethrone bands like Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth or Emperor? In 2012 Dark End released their third album, entitled "Grand Guignol - Book I", and while I haven't heard their previous material I feel safe in saying that they could very well be the next big thing in the genre.

The Italian band aren't doing much out of the ordinary, but by playing a genre that doesn't have a lot of bands there's a certain imbalance in supply and demand. That said, Dark End aren't just resting on their laurels - Grand Guignol: Book I is a phenomenal album. Animæ's characteristic vocals go in perfect unison with Antarktica conveyance of classical symphony, which in turn fit perfectly with the black metal parts vomited forth by Ashes, Nothingness, Specter and Valentz. You can tell that Darkend is a band that wants something with their music. There is absolutely nothing half-assed about Grand Guignol - Book I. It's extremely well-executed and thorough in almost every aspect, and it just seems so... complete. One of the things I like the most about Dark End is their take on the genre: Not as extreme or fearsome as Anorexia Nervosa, not as dark and esoteric as Limbonic Art, but way more catatonically climactic and immersive than Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir.

Whilst writing the review I thought to myself that Dark End would be a great alternative to Dimmu Borgir. Then it occured to me that a band such as Dark End are probably sick and tired of being compared to that band, and while Dark End don't possess the same pop-ish easy listening "qualities" as Dimmu Borgir, their styles are alot alike. Especially in songs like "Spiritism: The Transmigration Passage" and "Dawn: Black Sun Rises" does this become apparent when the parts with clean vocals much like the way Dimmu Borgir utilized those of ICS Vortex come in. But Dark End just make it work so well. So much so that I've been listening to Spiritism almost non stop since I noticed it. That shit is CATCHY!

If you don't like symphonic black metal, I don't think Dark End will be the band to change your mind. They're great, and Grand Guignol - Book I is something truly special, and if you're into that kind of stuff I strongly recommend it, as it is probably the strongest album to emerge from the genre in years. Even if Dark End aren't bringing anything new to the table they still managed to create a masterpiece of symphonic black metal where you can actually still hear the black metal elements, which is more than you can say about Dimmu Borgir's latest albums. 8/10 guitars.

1. Descent/Ascent (II Movement)
2. Æinsoph: Flashforward to Obscurity
3. Doom: And Then Death Scythed
4. Spiritism: The Transmigration Passage
5. Bereavement: A Multitude in Martyrized Flesh
6. Grief: Along our Divine Pathway
7. Bleakness: Of Secrecy, Haste and Shattered Crystals
8. Pest: Fierce Massave Slaying Grandeur
9. Decrepitude: One Last Laugh Beside Your Agonies
10. Dawn: Black Sun Rises

DARKEND official facebook

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