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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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

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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
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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

2 Sep 2013

Gates of Eternal Torment - Imprisoned Beneath the Ice of This Cold Black Void [Demo] (2012, Contaminated Tones Productions)

Little is known about Gates of Eternal Torment. Firthornn, the sole member in the band, hails from New Jersey, USA, and his lyrics seemingly draws inspiration from terminal illness, desperation and suffering. Gates of Eternal Torment released their first demo "Imprisoned Beneath the Ice of This Cold Black Void" in 2012 through US label Contaminated Tones Productions, a label that has a history of releasing black metal demos and EPs of the depressive and atmospheric kind.

Given the label's history one is hardly taken by surprise when the bastard tunes of depressive black metal fade in with "Dungeon of Tortured Souls". It is immediately obvious where Firthornn is coming from musically. It's a musical universe where acts like Burzum and Xasthur are king, and though there are a lot of different influences in the music it is by far the influence of the top dogs of the genre that shine through on "Imprisoned..."
Gates of Eternal Torment makes use of a few layers of instrumentation, usually comprised only of vocals, guitars and drums. By no means unusual, but used effectively with ponderous drumming and fairly long guitar tremolo-laden riffs.

It seems to be a general theme with Gates of Eternal Torment that it really is nothing out of the ordinary. "Imprisoned..." doesn't feel unique enough in a genre where there are so many bands, and the fact that it doesn't sound nearly as bedroomy as many others isn't enough to carry the music on its own. It's a good example of textbook DSBM, but it really is too much like some of the bands that have already been established within the scene. Apart from a few strange samples here and there it might as well have been an early Xasthur demo. The band has a lot of potential, and it's not the songwriting in itself that's lacking, but moreso the lack of cultivation. The band and the demo would benefit a lot from working out all the minor kinks and finding that thing to make it special and stand out. 6/10 guitars.

1. Dungeon of Tortured Souls
2. Imprisoned Beneath the Ice of This Cold Black Void
3. Upon the Rails of Terminal Illness (Part 1)
4. Where I Suffer

Contaminated Tones Productions official site