30 Nov 2014

Plaguewielder - Plaguewielder [EP] (2013, Self-released)

Luxembourg is not known for its wealth of metal bands. As a matter of fact, Metal Archives states that the small European country has had as little as 76 metal bands, under half of which are currently active. I don't remember ever having heard of a metal band from Luxembourg, and yet here we are, talking about Plaguewielder, a band formed by Discordant System members Maxime Weber and Nicholas O'Connell.

Crushing guitars and a varied take on drumming, plus a sharp and heavy production are mainstays with the sound of doom aswel as with Plaguewielder. Their take on the genre through their debut self-released EP of the same name casts light on how to alleviate the insufficiencies of many other upcoming bands within the genre. Keyboards, organs and choirs aren't at all new to the genre, but Plaguewielder's keyboardist utilizes his instrument to its fullest when adding atmosphere to the tracks. Lurking in the background with the synths are the painfully whispered screams that are the vocals, while drums and guitars take the helm. A classic approach, some may argue. Some do it better than others. Mostly I'd say Plaguewielder barely resembles any metal band. Their music swirls around post rock elements, and the most metal song on the EP is arguably The Funeral March.

There are many great doom bands out their that master the art of atmosphere, and Plaguewielder's music is indeed just that - Atmospheric. Their music features some interesting use of eerie synth, but with long stretches of tedious melodies and meandering riffs their music often borders on becoming generally uninteresting in nature. The flow found in the songwriting on Plaguewielder's debut isn't always up to par, and as such the EP feels very ambivalent. On the opening track, Drowning, one minute we're listening to a crushing tune that fades into a passage of thinly veiled synths, and the next thing you know a bland guitar chimes in with a whiney melody. Where exactly are they going with this? I get song progression is key, especially in songs of extreme length like with Plaguewielder's take on atmospheric funeralesque doom metal, but the whole latter half of Drowned is barely even rock music as much as it is just a 6-minute wank fest of arpeggiated "solo" pieces set to a seemingly unrelated drum track with a few screamed vocals joining the keyboards in the background once in a while.

Luckily the remaining two tracks are of superior quality. Though very different from each other, they present the band from its best sides. Casket of Dying Flesh shows their capacity for drive, passion and zest with its use of pumping 70's organ-keyboards and catchy melody. The Funeral March is a testament to the great old ones of the genre, a true set-piece of doom, and portrays savage intensity, eerie piano passages and maddening screams.

Plaguewielder's debut album/EP/whatever is a lengthy one. At times it serves best merely as background music, but once in a while they take a step forward and force their way into your consciousness. But these moments are a bit too far between. Realistically this is what will separate the bands of tomorrow. But the band from Luxembourg has definite potential hidden away within their music. More force, less tip-toeing around. 6/10 guitars.

1. Drowned
2. Casket of Dying Flesh
3. The Funeral March

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10 Nov 2014

Black Rock - Black Rock [Demo] (2013, Self-released)

Something is stirring in Finland, disturbing the peace. Apart from the vast horde of great black metal bands, in the later years Finland has been home to several thrashing, rocking speed metal groups such as Speedtrap and the almighty Ranger. Another band, which at the time of writing remains on the demo stage with just one small release, joining them is Black Rock from Hyvinkää.

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say they're pretty fond of Hellhammer and crust punk. Black Rock's simplistic blackened speed metal riffs coupled with a raw, shouting-styled vocal brings to mind other similar bands, and the bridge parts in The Forbidden Portal and Into the Dungeon even bears strong resemblance to newer Darkthrone material, albeit in a very crude way. One could easily imagine Nocturno Culto or Tom Warrior groaning these occult lyrics to the sounds of Black Rock's prominent guitar and drums.

The band itself is a duo consisting of Vehmaa behind the drumkit and Willberg shredding the guitars and screaming the vocals. On the demo they were joined for a brief period by Kuusisto on bass. People familiar with Hellhammer's history will know that this almost sounds like the early incarnations of that classic band. Black Rock's music is obviously more punk-inspired than that of the other bands mentioned, and where the real resemblance comes in is in the structures of the songs.

To be honest, the brute directness of the music takes some getting used to. Darkthrone have great production and Hellhammer were just incredibly brutal for their time. Seen in the light (or darkness) of metal today Black Rock positions themselves dangerously close to sounding dated and sloppy. One must not forget that the reason late 80's production sounds so gritty was the absence of the possibility to sound any better. Nowadays everybody and their grandma can conjure up something that sounds pretty good soundwise. The gritty production in this case is a matter of reverence for the bands of yore.

Taking in Black Rock and fully appreciate their beastly compositions took quite a few listens. If the demo EP hadn't been so short, I doubt I would've given it the benefit of the doubt and listened to it as much as I ended up doing. It falls just short of fourteen minutes with four tracks, and that results in a much more easily digestible piece of metal. Don't expect too much in regards to advanced songwriting or anything, and just sit back with a beer or six and enjoy the oddly beseeching choruses, bridges and elementary riffs. 7/10 guitars.

Final sidenote: The cover isn't necro enough.

1. Black Rock
2. The Forbidden Portal
3. The Phantom Sailor
4. Into the Dungeon

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27 Oct 2014

Frozen Realm - Frozen Realm [EP] (2013, Self-released)

Once the acoustic guitar intro to Frozen Realm's debut EP of the same name breaks into an orgy of flashy guitar melodies, there can be no doubt as to the nature of the Swedish band. Balls deep in the long-standing tradition of the Gothenburg sound, Frozen Realm break into full-fledged melodic death metal complete with everything the definition entails.

In that regard, the Swedish band's EP is a textbook example of the modern take on melodic death metal. And by that I mean that it has very little in common with actual death metal, save perhaps the growled vocals. The pompous drumming greatly accentuates the rest of the musical body, which consists of about fifty-fifty amounts of ill-composed melodies and mindless chugs.

The main problem with most melo-death bands is the lack of hooks. When you add substantial amounts of melody to your music it subtracts greatly from the heaviness and brutality, so you'd better make damn sure your melodies are catchy as fuck. As a result, the tracks on the Frozen Realm EP don't stand out from each other - There are plenty of melodies, though none of them are particularly catchy. The hookless compositions bring to mind a watered down In Flames, a less edge-seeking Dark Tranquility, or a less epic Wintersun.

What really sets bands such as Frozen Realm apart from the heroes they worship is their lack of flair for the flow and focus of the songwriting in itself. Where In Flames perfected the straight-to-the-point approach with groovy riffs satiated with the adding of melodies on top, Frozen Realm fool around with melodies at the helm, only relinquishing it's weak grip to allow equally uninspired chugs to take over. 4/10 guitars.

1. Iceshaper
2. Thirst
3. The Pawn
4. Abandoned by the Sun

Should you want to listen for yourself, you can do so by following the link below

25 Sep 2014

Uncoffined - Ritual Death and Funeral Rites [Full length] (2013, Memento Mori)

The mix of doom metal and death metal has arguably been around in some form since some time in the 80's and has since been perfected by notable and influential bands like Asphyx and Autopsy. The Finnish scene especially is known for it's gloomy ways in death metal, and much in the same way we find the British band Uncoffined, who've subscribed to the old ways of down-doomed metal of death.

Spanish label Memento Mori heeded their growling calls and released their debut album "Ritual Death and Funeral Rites" in the autumn of 2013. Treated to a few classic quotes from the British school of horror flicks, we're sent on a journey through heavily distorted and down-tuned guitar melodies and roaring, cavernous vocals. The whole thing is set at a murderously slow pace, showing no signs of ever halting its forward momentum.

The churning chugs mixed in with a few darkly melancholic melodies are adequately accentuated by a powerful bass. One can only guess whether the immensely simple yet compelling songwriting is the result of one man's effort or the orchestrated endeavor of the entire band, but the musicianship in itself speaks of a band seasoned in the arts of metal. Indeed, all the members of the heavy quartet have play in several bands of varying nature - Something that is highly evident on Ritual Death and Funeral Rites.

Were I to compare the accomplisment of Uncoffined to a more established act, it would be Finland's shooting stars Hooded Menace. However, this is also where the British band's shortcomings are revealed. Hooded Menace are a result of the international death/doom scene booming in these last few years, probably reaching its all time high in popularity. And by that standard, Uncoffined have joined the movement in the eleventh hour, almost completely missing the boat. Were it not for the great craftsmanship with which their material is presented, they would by now already feel very dated, like a band seeking to cash in on a trend.

What Ritual Death and Funeral Rites really lacks are more tempo changes. The distorted convulsions of guitar are of the essence in this manner, but without even slower or some faster passages to emphasize their meaning and effect it's hard to fully appreciate the crushing broadsides of sluggish overdrive and fuzz in the long run, which in this case of just above forty minutes of murky horror-worship. 7/10 guitars.

1. Twisted Shape of Creeping Terror
2. Night of the Witch Childe
3. Ritual Death and Funeral Rites
4. Blasphemous Execration of Holy Ground
5. The Devil and the Old Cursed Tree
6. Frustrations

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15 Sep 2014

Forsaken Legion - Seeds of Black Dawn [Demo] (2012, Self-released)

Once Switzerland was a place where legends formed, with Hellhammer - and subsequently Celtic Frost and Triptykon - being the reigning kings of metal there. Recently the country of Switzerland has begun stirring anew with the miasmic sounds of Bölzer resounding through proverbial catacombs. But enough talk of Switzerland's exports of metal - Everybody knows, or at the very least should know of, bands like Samael and Coroner. Let us instead deal with the Swiss underground, Forsaken Legion in particular.

Forsaken Legion formed in 2012 and released their first album in december that same year. Though their sites and profiles are tagged as black metal, there's a bit more to it than that. Tracks like Crow has a definite thrashy edge, while something like Human Decay - like you may have guessed - has a strong death metal influence. These variations lend great strength to the music found on Seeds of Black Dawn. Forsaken Legion refuse to conform to the standard practices of the genre, and while they may not be wholeheartedly legend-material their debut album makes promises of great things yet to come.

There's no use shoehorning the quintet into genre conventions. It's not that there is anything new and exciting about the way they mix extreme metal genres, but they are entirely their own, doing exactly what they please. The songs are built on a strong foundation of blackened metal, empowered by thrashing riffs, blast beats and death-like growls, a few creeping melodies lurking in the background.

While the drums are executed at profound speeds and with a fair bit of force, they could be utilized better to underline the powerful rhythm section. The title track stands out as the best use of tempo changes and the "classic" black metal sound, bringing to mind bands like Dark Funeral and Marduk. All in all, though, without a more tight rhythm section and more attention to flow of songwriting, Seeds of Black Dawn falls through as a modern classic. It should be enjoyable to most fans of blasting black metal mixed up with a bit of the ol' death n' thrash combo, but apart from a few well-made compositions the album holds little merrit as anything but background noise. 6/10 guitars.

1. Human Decay
2. Mountain's Massacre
3. Seeds of Black Dawn
4. Crow
5. Deserve to Die
6. Azathoth
7. Ambassador of Chaos

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3 Sep 2014

Asilo - Comunión [Full length] (2014, Self-released)

Turmoil breeds frustration and anger, which in turn breeds outlets for that frustration. South America has had a rich history dating back to the early 80s of metal bands expressing their anger through their music and lyrics, and like those legendary and trendsetting bands from the days of yore, the four-man group Asilo from Argentina presents a lyrical universe revolving around themes such as politics and the suffering it can bring, set to a soundtrack of furious and often dangerously calm mix of doom-laden drones drenched in grimey sludge.

Pure aggression is one of the mainstays of Asilo's music, of that there can be no doubt. In a hardcoresque style, lead singer Manuel Platino practically screams his lungs out to the sounds of harshly distorted bass and thunderous percussion. Comunión's structure as an album is also one of the strengths that underline the band's style. The way it fluctuates between insane cacophonies and inky pools of fragile pianos - or even saxophone at one point - is what makes listening to Comunión as an album interesting.

However, aggression necessitates some kind of structure and form. Were it not for the disciplined interludes of classical piano set regularly throughout the album to provide some sort of contrast, Comunión would appear to be a harsh collection of discord. There are a multitude of examples of bands that do this unhinged, rambling musical lunacy all too well, but Asilo lack the intensity and groove that those bands utilize.

The vocals, though wholy authentic and honest, come off as a bit too immusical to me. In grindcore, the gratingly raw vocals are an essential part of the whole expression, complete with that intense wall of distortion. But in Asilo, the vocals take up a lot of space in the mix, and needlessly so. Coupled with that is a lifeless overall sound which so lacks that concentrated emission of sound. This isn't the first time I've had the (dis)pleasure of listening to guitarless music, using instead a fairly driven bass. But to be succesful in that endeavour, you better make damn sure the bass has drive and punch enough to take the guitar's place.

The main highpoint of Comunión was, to me, Miedo y Curiosidad from the latter part of the album. This track feels somewhat out of place, although not entirely. It features the same harshness as the rest of the album, but is graciously garnished with the haunting sounds of a well-played saxophone, adding a thick atmosphere of eerieness that the rest of the album sorely needs. Elaborating on what I mentioned earlier, Asilo's first actual album since their spawning in 2010 is an honest affair where they stay true to their own values - Something that many bands could learn a thing or two from. But that particular style does nothing to me, other than fill me with a wish of listening to something else. The saxophone melodies in Miedo y Curiosidad committed that last shred of reason to the insanity that made it a more easily digestible portion, but the rest of the album remains a bothersome clutter of confusion. 4/10 guitars.

1. Geografías
2. Pichiciega Fe
3. (epidemia mundial del desencanto)
4. La Paciencia del Cuchillo
5. Arquitectura del Silencio
6. (anti voz)
7. Dinámica del Cambio
8. Mideo y Curiosidad
9. (no a la vida)
10. La Ultima Voluntad

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29 Aug 2014

0 The Experiment - Simplifying A Demon [Full length] (2013, Self-released)

Whenever I see a band or project labeled as drone my warning bells start ringing. Much too often drone has been used as a cloak for lazy songwriting, blaspheming against great acts like Boris or Sunn O))).
Supposedly the idea behind 0 The Experient is seeing how far you can take music with just a bass. Apparently the answer to that conundrum is "not very far", because most of what Simplifying a Demon presents is a mimic of what you might as well do with a guitar in much the same manner. Disguised in a veil of treble distortion, sometimes accompanied by pseudo-jazzy bass fiddling, the bulk of the work presented might as well have been a regular bedroom black metal band. Add to that the weak nature of the vocals, and you've got yourself a long, boring album.

0 The Experiment affiliates itself with tags such as drone, black metal, minimalistic and experimental. Indeed, there are tracks that are veritable feasts of reverb and distortion delivered in an appropriate wall-of-noise manner. And black metal too has an obvious presence among the seven tracks the project's first album. It's all presented in a very minimalistic and simple manner. What I don't see is the experimental part - Experimental for the practitioner perhaps. But there's hardly anything progressive, avant-garde or otherwise experimental in nature about a guy rubbing out some mostly mediocre basslines to unengaging lyrics and unending wads of boring drone. Simplifying a Demon is really basic stuff, and "The Experiment" simply lacks the ritualistic ambience that makes black metal and drone great, without adding anything else to take its place.

Looks like the ol' warning bells were right. But then, in the midst of all this mediocrity comes the two last tracks, Demon and Ritual to Nothingness. The latter portrays a great entrancing feel of cosmic psychedelia while still maintaining an odious core of something a bit more sinister hidden away among the meldoes, while the former feels like a downright study in the bass' capabilities as a more analog counterpart to the synthesizer, bringing to mind some of Burzum's finer works in black metal and ambience in spirit. I don't particularly care for the lifeless black metal aspect of Demon, but there is still a bounty of quality to be found therein. And while the two works show great promise and showcase the diversity of the bass as a versatile instrument, the same cannot be said for the rest of the album. It baffles me that the rest of the album is such a mess of coma-inducing boredom.

Those two tracks that I have praised seem like they should be the main core of 0. With or without the help of computerized effects, the modern electric bass can provide astounding amounts of diversity... Something that is for the most part poorly expressed on Simplifying a Demon. 4/10 guitars.

1. Prophet In Blood
2. Black Elf
3. D.I.E. (Death Is Eclectic)
4. I, The River
5. Waiting for Something to Die to Eat
6. Demon
7. Ritual to Nothingness

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24 Aug 2014

Deathlord - Maximum Perversion [Demo] (2013, Self-released)

When you get down to business and back to basics with death metal what you're left with is indisputable. Stomache churning vocals, gut wrenching instrumentals, loathsome melodies and ass kicking drums. It's been like that since day one. There's absolutely nothing abstruse or profoundly intelligent about it, and neither does there need to be. That is indeed the modus operandi of the Dutch band of death metal motherfuckers Deathlord. Even the name in itself seems to be giving the middle finger to overly thought out, image-based hipster metal.

The warm gusts of burly attacks can seem downright primitive, so much so that tracks like the immense opener "War" and "Into the Depths" have incredible impact just from the sheer brutal rhythm that underlines the entire demo. The vocals are nothing if not honest - It's basically just a guy screaming his guts out, spewing all kinds of filth about death, gore and even more obscure subjects. Lastly of course, the demo is garnished with a cover of Nunslaughter's "Burning Away". At this point it seems almost obvious, like we'd all seen it coming miles away. And that's what Maximum Perversion is all about; Deathlord pervert the very notion that you have to be smart about your music and not just play what sounds fucking awesome. Combine Morbid Angel's ominous melodies and Asphyx's sturdy rhythms, add dual vocals, and there you have it. The bastard child is Deathlord.

The unceremonious arrangements found on Maximum Perversion viciously deals with any pretention. Herein lies both the strength and the weakness of Deathlord. For were it not for their twist with two very different vocal styles spewed forth by the lead singer and the bassist - who both remain unnamed - their style in itself would be rather anonymous. The rough screams put forth as vocals serve as a great identifier for the band, but is as Maximum Perversion is presented one of the only elements that set Deathlord apart from similar bands - Their churning rhythms and steady war-machine beats aren't quite enough. The guitar work is quite astounding on tracks like "Cursed to Live", and I only wish that this element would be used to greater effect on the release as a whole.

In the end Deathlord's mix of short and longer songs mix things up at regular intervals, always ready to assault with something new. Be it slow-burning, steady grinders, gloomy doom-laden bursts or explosions of violent death, Maximum Persersion has anything a good death metal album needs. 7/10 guitars.

1. War
2. Maximum Perversion
3. Altars in Flames
4. Lord of Death
5. Into the Depths
6. Cursed to Live
7. Kill is the Command
8. Burning Away (Nunslaughter Cover)

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18 Aug 2014

Licrest - Misery [Full length] (2014, Music for the Dead)

I've had my hands on a good portion of Armon Nicholson's material. For those not initiated in his cult and dogma, Nicholson is an American musician with quite an astounding body of work. In the last few years he's recorded and released six albums, seven EPs and an assortment of other releases under various monickers, exploring virtually every sub-genre in extreme metal, all without any significant lapse in quality. The guitar-wielding metalhead's trademark is immensely powerful compositions and top notch production, usually set to a crisp guitar groan.

Misery is the second album Nicholson has released under the name Licrest. While the first album, Devoid of Meaning from 2013, was pretty straight forward in its execution, the second album is less so, though still keeping close to the almost symbolic and iconic branches of immaculate doom that permeated the debut. Misery is a slow burner, never hurrying anywhere lest you miss the churning rhythms found within. The album in itself is constructed in just the same manner as the songs, with a few intermissions giving room and air around the lengthier main tracks, and it serves as a way of building tension for those songs.

I've found that most bands playing a mix of death and doom metal fall within one of two categories: One is laden with rot, relying heavily on death metal and Autopsy-inspired riffs set at the churning pace of doom metal. The other is the kind where almost gothic melodies and finer tunes play the leading role, with the doom parts resounding more heavily. Armon Nicholson's Licrest project falls outside this sentiment, and belongs to that minuscule quantile that is different from the rest of the bunch. It neatly balances the uncompromising nature of death metal with the sombre essence of doom metal, pertaining to the ominousity of both genres in equal amounts.

On Misery, Nicholson firmly establishes his rightful place among the big shots as an accomplished songwriter with flair for multiple genres. Other than the fact that the lyrics can sometimes come off as a bit whiny, there's really not much to complain about. And this is what makes a great album. 8/10 guitars.

1. Into the Abyss
2. Regret
3. Forever Lost
4. Like a Flood of Anger
5. A Starless Sky
6. I Want to Watch You Die
7. Misery
8. Make Up
9. Fading Away Into Nothing
10. The Heart of Winter
11. Exhale

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8 Aug 2014

Critical Insanity - Through the Infinite Darkness [Demo] (2013, Self-released)

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. In thrash we've got our fair share of Big 4 imitators, obviously with varying degrees of success and skill. But there's little imitation to be found with Critical Insanity, a band of youngsters who've been roaming the streets of Poland since 2012. Instead they've crafted their own unique sound, a feat many spend years trying to accomplish.

Mind you being unique isn't inherently a good thing. Describing Critical Insanity's music on Through the Infinite Darkness, the band's first release, seems simple at first; Gunning all engines, it's full speed ahead through the wastelands, crashing through ruins guns blazing to the sound of tightly knit, no nonsense guitars and drums beating like a diesel engine revving up. At a glance most will write it off as standard thrash metal.

If we peel off the outer layers of Critical Insanity's album length debut demo their inner workings are laid bare. The vocals are oddly creeping, like a stalker lurking outside your window, noisily masturbating as you're trying to fall asleep. This pseudo-melodic half-crooning somehow fits the slower paced songs like Goblet of Gore, but at other times seems like a fish out of water when paired with the high speeds that the band otherwise present in their assortment of compositions. And the compositions in themselves are immaculately cunning.

It is demo material at best, and requires a lot of work. The bass fulfills its thankless role in the most captivating of ways, providing volley after volley of the thrilling rumbles that metal builds upon. The riffing is brutal and fast - All the fundamental building blocks of thrash are present. However the more brain-tingling aspects gleam in their absence. There are a few tracks which adequately fill the void of boredom created by the majority of the demo, but only just so. With nine tracks coming to a total of about 35 minutes, the FUCK YEAH moments are too few and far apart. I suppose it could be excused with the fact that Through the Infinite Darkness is, after only, just a demo, but it's a dog-eat-dog world with thousands of bands more or less competing against each other, and in that regard Critical Insanity still needs an edge to be able to compete. 6/10 guitars.

1. Hopeless
2. Slavedriver
3. Harbringer of Calamity
4. Haunting the Idolators
5. Through the Infinite Darkness
6. Goblet of Gore
7. Aboriginal War
8. Proselytism Real
9. Critical Insanity

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21 Jul 2014

Malichor - The Serum [Single] (2014, Self-released)

Ah yes, here we are again. We find ourselves once more in the company of Malichor from Australia, brandishing the proud tradition of blackened thrash metal. Malichor's previous releases have left me expecting nothing but the best in ruthless metal riffing and music from lovecraftian hell. With equal measures Re-Animator and From Beyond we're being spoiled with a take on lovecraftian tales that don't involve the standard Cthulhu/Nyarlathotep schtick.

Side West kicks things off with what is arguably the bands fastest piece yet, their violent tunes rip-and-tearing their way into existence with savage ferocity. Great tempo is achieved through impeccable tremolos and brutish blast beats, a time-tested recipe perfected and distilled into a fine spirit of Malichor. Side Tillinghast dogmatically preach that humans are such easy prey, and promptly makes a reality of their threats to prey upon you. The release is a single, of that there can be little doubt, and it effectively eliminates any meandering and thoughtful lingering that might have found its way into their earlier songs, not once leering its ugly head for fear of being swiftly decapitated in true Re-Animator style.

Some aspects of songwriting come at the cost of other prime elements. On The Serum, the riffs seem to have taken somewhat of a step down from the high quality of the previous material, and in general most of the songwriting has taken a back seat in pursuit of faster speeds. The Australian band's modus operandi has always been a simple one, mixing almost elementary riffs and straight-forward drumming with absolutely exquisitely intense compositions. That method has only been made more apparent when Malichor took the step forward into faster tempos, but a rather uninteresting sound that lacks force results in only a vague interest in getting to know the material. The two tracks presented on side West and side Tillinghast are thoroughly deserving of almost the same praise Malichor's previous material has had, but at first it warrants nothing but a cursory glance. 7/10 guitars.

1. The Serum
2. Easy Prey

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11 Jul 2014

Menschheitsdämmerung - Cleaver of Skies and Tenets [EP] (2013, No Sleep Till Megiddo Records)

I lament the direction many black metal groups have taken. In an attempt to achieve atmosphere in the name of depression and deep dark forests, many have taken to ridiculous amounts of distortion in what seems almost a deliberate attempt to obscure their own inability to write compelling material. Burzum's Filosofem had crystal clear production with every instrument standing out, the compositions easily holding their own regardless of sound. Xasthur's Telepathic with the Deceased may well be the album that for many people has incited this infatuation with thick shrouds of noise and an abundance of effects on vocals as well as strings, but even this modern classic has obvious hooks and captivating songwriting.

But thankfully, a band like Menschheitsdämmerung comes along, showing us that not all one-man black metal project are bedroom DSBM wannabes. The style is so far removed from this whole ordeal, focusing largely on huge, swarming riffs in a thrilling environment of envigorating compositions, tempo changes aplenty and variation coming out the ass. Cleaver of Skies and Tenets offers us long-stretched black metal opuses in the spirit of Carpathian Forest, Immortal and other northern acts, revelling in the same groupings of blast beats overtaken by commitment and vigor. It's a veritable surfeit of great, genre-loyal tracks, gripping you right by the balls, pulling you in with sheer force rather than enticing you with long streaks of ambience and atmosphere.

Cleaver of Skies and Tenets is a half an hour of black metal, distributed equally into five tracks. Those thiry minutes are well spent, as there's almost never a dull moment in the company of Frederik, Menschheitsdämmerung's sole member. It has more or less become an artform of knowing when to stop. Slayer should've quit years ago, and the same goes for countless other bands. This release stops just short of becoming an uninspired, watered down shadow of its glorious self. There are times when the progressions come off as predictable and re-used, and the vocals could be clearer in the mix as they mostly remain far in the background to the point where they at times seem almost pointless, contrasting so vividly against the effortless riffing produced on the guitar. Do not cheat yourself out of listening to this. This is black metal with finesse and brutality in equal measures. 8/10 guitars.

1. The Pick
2. The Hunt
3. The Catch
4. The Kill
5. The Feed

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3 Jul 2014

Armagedon - Thanatology [Full length] (2013, Mystic Production)

Go digging around in Poland's heavy metal history and you'll come up with quite a few gems. Only a few Polish metal bands exist in the mind of the general populace, some of the more prominent ones being Behemoth, Vader, Dead Infection, Graveland and Kat, only a few of which have their roots in the 80's. Then there's Armagedon from Kwidzyn, Poland. Their carreer originally stretched from 1987 to 1994 where they released a few demos and the album "Invisible Circle". In 2006 the original members, the Maryniewski brothers, again picked up the mantle of Armagedon, going on to release the moderately appreciated "Death Then Nothing" album in 2009 and finally "Thanatology" in 2013.

Aside from an introductory section of the opening track, Helix, which sounds like something lifted from a Paul W.S. Anderson film, the new incarnation of the band offers brutally chiseled death metal, carved from the same material that gave us Vader, Sphere, Embrional, Empatic and Hate. The album reflects a certain respect for where death metal has come from, but also a desire to show where death metal should go. Through a presentation of highly kinetic songwriting and commendably immersive production the various fluctuations between grave melodies and simpler, more primal elements the Thanatology album achieves the fine balance between various subgenres to make the release an everflowing stream of interesting and modern angles on a genre that has already been thoroughly mapped and explored.

There is a certain duality to be found within the music of Armagedon. This schizophrenia comes mainly at the hands of the many different elements brought to use in their tracks. Where songs like Cemeteries focuses on eerie, drawn out aspects, a shorter opus like Self Destruction feels significantly more primitive and primordial in both its composition and its delivery. Slawomir's hollow growls neatly puts the finishing touches on the glorious monument to death metal created by the effective rhythms and gruesome riffs provided by the rest of the band, convincingly showing off the internal dynamics achieved between the band members. But - Because there's always a but - in the long run and the grand scheme of things Thanatology lacks hooks. The album deserves a few listenes from any death metal fanatic, but it never soars above being merely thoroughly enjoyable. The grueling song Altar of Death and Vultures both have the gist of classics in them, but common between all the tracks is that they arbitrarily shift between tremolos, chugs and various melodies set to blastbeats or double-pedal punishment at the drummer's discretion. The inaudibility of the lyrics makes it feel like the lyrical content doesn't matter at all, and when held to the incredibly high standard set by many of their peers, Armagedon just doesn't quite compare. 7/10 guitars.

1. Helix
2. Vultures
3. Cemeteries
4. Self Destruction
5. Altar of Death
6. Black Seed
7. Corridor
8. Tragic Journey

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23 Jun 2014

Lord Impaler - Babylon Whore [EP] (2013, Self-released)

Since 1998 the greek trio known as Lord Impaler have unleashed grueling black metal upon the world, culminating in their 2011 album "Admire the Cosmos Black". Lord Impaler have no permanent drummer, resulting in each release using a different session member filling in roll of drummer; On the Babylon Whore EP from 2013 the title befalls George Trakas, who normally kicks ass in Mass Infection. Lord Impaler's primary body of work consists mainly of demos and generally smaller releases, and indeed the two songs found on the Babylon Whore EP were also released as a split wither Athos, another Greek black metal band.

Babylon Whore and The White Dream of Ziz blast away with immediate and unrelenting explosions of blastbeats and tremolo riffs, which paired with the traditional bleak sound creates an overall pretty standard take on blasting black metal. And in that sense the EP has it all, and little else. Babylon Whore is by all means a tribute to and a study in black metal ruthlessly beating your mind, and it excels in just that.

For the tracks to go on for four and five minutes respectively Lord Impaler end up repeating themselves over and over. The White Dream of Ziz has a slower, quieter part about halfway through, providing a glimps into more thoughtful songwriting territory, but when it almost immediately culminates in a return to the main riff the atmosphere almost built seems entirely unnecessary. This is the sad story of how most of the EP goes. The riffs are monstrously enjoyable, but when repeated ad nauseam it gets too much - There are simply too few riffs, resulting in many repeat offenses. As such the Babylon Whore EP, one of the Greek band's newest offerings, is fit only for sparse enjoyment. The material warrants more focus on variety and feels like it should instead be condensed into shorter tracks where the melodies could moreso come into their own and take the spotlight place they deserve, instead of being condemned to hatred at the hands of repetition for the sake of making the songs longer. 5/10 guitars

1. Babylon Whore
2. The White Dream of Ziz

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13 Jun 2014

Deus Otiosus - Rise [Full length] (2014, Deepsend Records)

Deus Otiosus represent the comet-like carreers of some contemporary death metal acts. Since the release of their first album, Murderer, in 2010 - only 4 years ago - the seasoned Danish group have toured extensively in Denmark and have signed with Deepsend Records. For those unfamiliar with Deus Otiosus their mission statement has always been returning to the roots of thrashy death metal through a more modern sound and production. The members' involvement in various other prolific Danish metal bands has previously meant a generally high quality of songwriting, valuing tormentingly ruthless content.

Long-time fans of the group will be pleased to find that Rise continues in much the same style and quality of the prior albums, Murderer and Godless. Newcomers should likewise easily be able to appreciate the dauntless riffs, the punishment of the drumkit, the powerfully booming bass and the hoarsely growled vocals which all make up the signature sound of Deus Otiosus. And this is exactly what the band is all about; While they are highly derivative of classic death metal their material never quite comes off as a complete rip off. Listening to tracks like Breeding Maggots or Iron Rule feels like greeting an old friend you forgot you had, sounding familiar while still adding various musical chunks giving it that modern aftertaste.

Staying in the spiritual neighbourhood of old school death metal means there's only so much you can do to experiment while still finding yourself within the frame of mind set by those standards. As such the third album sometimes feels unadventurous, often depending on the same elements and build-ups over and over again. That recipe is effective in live settings, providing ridiculous amounts of head-banging circle-pitting material, but when you've got the music all to yourself at home it has a habbit of making the listening experience a bit tedious over time.

Having early on adopted a way of enticing listeners with get-the-job-done lyrics like "Don't fuck with the dead, or the dead will fuck with you" the by now well known Danish band aren't exactly focusing on virtuosity or groundbreaking musicianship, and in that lies the very appeal of Deus Otiosus. They're not trying to be something they're not and they stick to what they know: Effective ass-kicking death metal. 7/10 guitars.

1. Rising War
2. Iron Rule
3. Don't Fuck With the Dead
4. Breeding Maggots
5. Vultures
6. Walk the Shadows
7. Stand Up and Fight
8. Will and Fear
9. Fall of the West

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10 Jun 2014

Bone Fragments - Blood Spatter Bone Scatter [Full length] (2013, Self-released)

Through a carreer spanning eight years Bone Fragments from moonshine country Virginia have produced a demo and three albums of black metal with the theme of... Clowns and carnivals? I could scarcely believe what my eyes beheld in the promo material; A bunch of youngsters in varying degrees of clown-like get up, synth-based metal melodies washing ashore somewhere in the borderland between eerily cheery and creeping melancholy. My immediate thoughts were something along the lines of "you have got to be fucking kidding me".

But no, they are not kidding. While Bone Fragments at first glance keep a healthy ironic distance to their chosen themes, the amount of work put into their third album tells an entirely different story. Disturbing synthesized ragtimes take the helm while start-stop guitar grooves lazily hang back in search of something better to do, only to emerge on pseudo-virtuosic soli every once in while whenever the guitarist feels like it. Once or twice the Virginian band brings to mind the works of Emperor or perhaps Arcturus, but these moments are - regretably, I might add - few and far apart.

The project known af Bone Fragments is essentially a take on black metal that wants so hard to be boundary-pushing, different and modern that instead it comes off as comically bad, which wouldn't be so bad if it didn't seem like there had been so much work put into making it sound good. The production in itself is quite commendable with everything balancing out nicely, but why anyone would waste the sound's potential on music so wholeheartedly awful is beyond me. Their exploration of a silly gimmick does not seem to stem from musical wanderlust, but moreso like a vain attempt at being different in some way that their skills as songwriters does not permit.

This is especially evident in the fact that almost every track is incredibly long without needing to be. There are only two reasons for a track to be very long; Either you are experimenting and exploring vast vistas of instrumentation or melody, or you're building atmosphere. The songwriting on Blood Spatter Bone Scatter does neither. Most individual passages of instrumentation go on forever and ever for the sake of meandering through samey synthesizer melodies. I get it. You thought it'd be funny to make a melodic metal album rife with synths over a joking gimmick. You didn't have to make it an hour long.

Where do you go when you have no good ideas? Well, maybe you can come up with a terrible one that is at least original! That seems to be exactly what the ensemble known as Bone Fragments did. Maybe they were too hopped up on moonshine to realize there's a reason no one ever thought it was a good idea to make a clown black metal band. Either way, Blood Spatter Bone Scatter is an underground piece best left unattented. And for the record, no, I don't think I take music too seriously. I just think that gimmicks mostly serve as placeholders for actual talent. 3/10 guitars.

1. Laughing as You Get Sick and Die
2. The Weeds, the Reeds, and the Muck
3. Cryptosporadic
4. Kathleen
5. The Frail and the Demented
6. The Lure
7. Would You Like Some Candy?
8. Aliens and Clowns
9. The Clown with the Bleeding Eyes
10. Euphoric Delirium
11. Even More Deranged
12. Solstice
13. Island of the Dolls
14. The Boneyard

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4 Jun 2014

Cvinger - Monastery of Fallen [EP] (2013, Self-released)

It is not often Slovenia makes itself heard on the international metal scene. Indeed there seems to be barely over a hundred active metal bands today, according to Metal Archives. Among these one hundred bands are Cvinger; A band that remained a trio from its conception in 2012 until 2014, where founding member Lucerus gave up his bass-duties to focus on vocals, the roll of bassist being filled by Skalph.

Traditionally schooled, their reliance upon the by now almost archaic customs of second wave black metal weighs in as the most prominent feature of Cvinger. Monastery of Fallen builds confidently on a foundation of cascading torrents of furious blast beats set to the devout teachings of ruthless tremolo riffs, with Lucerus' vocals chiming in with the raw doctrines of every black metal curse and lyrical subject in the book, including - but not limited to - death, anti-christianity, blasphemy, darkness and misanthropy.

Cvinger's gravitation toward the old news of black metal means there's little enjoyment from originality to be had on Monastery of Fallen. Incessant pyres of hatred and decay aside, the 20-minute EP doesn't so much feel like the satanic apex predator it appears like as it does an aging beast nearing extinction, lazily dangling around at the bottom of the food chain, whilst leisurely grazing at the once-green pastures of tirelessly re-used ideas.

The faintest gusts of originality come at the behest of the rich monk-like chants that intermediate and close the EP. It is an element that comes a bit more unexpected than the rest of the obvious second wave worship presented on the release, and it is a very welcome sight on the sea of generic blast beats and mediocre tremolos that Cvinger have set sail upon. Even so, with all their fervor and all their might, the eight tracks of unholy black metal on Monastery of Fallen have not produced one single noteworthy song. Cvinger relies too heavily on elements that are only great when paired with arduous songwriting, and the roaring riffs found here linger only for seconds in their boring habitat among the deepest notes on the fretboard, never daring to seek the adventures of higher notes or more audacious melodies. 5/10 guitars.

1. Chapter One: Into the Depths of Arcane Sanctuary
2. Blaspherion
3. Among the Crucified
4. Salvation in the Darkest Wrath
5. Chapter Two: Of Ashes and Dust
6. In Thy Kingdom's Shadow
7. Monastery of Fallen
8. Chapter Three: Amen

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28 May 2014

Sporadic Slaughter - Thoughts On Our Significance [EP] (2013, Self-released)

Sporadic Slaughter have been lurking in the British scene around Yorkshire for about ten years now, and in celebration of their ten year anniversary chugging out death metal riffs their name was shortened to just "Sporadic" in 2014. Their latest release, the EP "Thoughts On Our Significance" landed on my desk in the summer of 2013, emanating a sense of cosmic purpose, the cover art suggesting a theme of science fiction and astronomy.

Most bands aim to distinguish themselves from similar groups or from any obvious trends, whether they're following them consciously or not. But in that way it seems almost as though Sporadic Slaughter are doing everything in their power to just shoehorn themselves in a spot right in between most half-technically alligned modernized death metal bands, with especially the closing track Devolution of Consciousness bringing to mind something along the lines of Carnifex or Ingested. But time and time again it has been proven that being different isn't necessarily a sign of quality, or vice versa, and in that regard the British quintet excel in their chug-feting brand of death metal. Their sound is crisp and warm, their grooves appealing and their rhythms tight. As it should be.

During my first listening session I had inadvertently listened to the EP four or five times without even realizing it. The formularic nature of Sporadic Slaughter's songwriting makes it harder to discern the songs from each other, groovy as they may be. The dense production also makes details not stand out as much as what would be preferable, meaning that the chugging grooves and grooving chugs of Thoughts On Our Significance prevail in their domination of the soundscapes presented. This only further cements the notion that Sporadic Slaughter's latest EP is a bit "run of the mill" in regards to songwriting, enthusiastic execution or not.

By the time I had written this review I had listened to the EP in its entirety about nine times, and by now certain features of familiarity become apparent, but still only in the sense that it sounds so bloody similar to so many other groups out there. As mentioned earlier the British band play with adequate enthusiasm and dynamics within the band, as is custom and necessary within the genre, but in the long run it's not quite enough to keep things afloat all by itself. 6/10 guitars.

1. Astral Advancement
2. To Become Stardust
3. Progression Through Regression
4. Devolution of Consciousness

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18 May 2014

Rozamov - Of Gods and Flesh [EP] (2013, Self-released)

In 2011 a gathering of four created Rozamov, and since then two EPs have been released. Since the release of the latest offering, Of Gods and Flesh, the group has been reduced to a trio with guitarist/vocalist Liz Doom no longer being a part of Rozamov.

Atmosphere ranks highly on the list of aspects to the EP. The massive walls of distorted guitars, bass and drumming provide the solid core of the manufacture, formed with mood-setting gusts of ethereal vapors around it. Rozamovs boons of bountiful distortion are like sludgy mires of doom metal infused with the thick musk of stoner metal. The simplicity of the songwriting doesn't reflect a lack of talent or will to play within the band, but is moreso a statement bent on dense heaviness. No, their craftsmanship as musicians more than adequately becomes apparent through the massive appeal of the mastodontic nature of their cro-magnon riffs.

Even so the EP is more or less the very definition of hit-and-miss. Basically what you've got is four tracks, two of which are fantastic doom-laden sludge-mounds, the other two being easily written off as boring fillers. Rozamov convinces even the most elitist sludge freaks with their beseeching hymns of disaster, but take a few unnecessary detours down Tradition Avenue on the way there. They're not reinventing anything, nor are they trying to. In that way their 2013 EP is a well spent 20 minute experience into Sludge Country. 7/10 guitars.

1. Famine
2. Empty Sky
3. Shadow of the Vulture
4. Of Gods and Flesh

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9 May 2014

Karonte - Paraíso Sin Fe [Full length] (2012, Self-released)

Since 1994 Karonte have unleashed a slow but steady stream of death metal upon the Spanish masses from their homebase in Cantabria. Except from one change of drummer back in their demo days, Karonte has had a highly stable lineup.

The quartet is most often labeled as melodic death metal, so it may come as a shock when you're met with a fat, simplistic and grooving guitar as opposed to the squeaky clean hyperactive wankery that has been made a custom by especially the Swedish scene. Karonte strive to meet the genre in the old school way, meaning exactly what it is: Death metal with a slightly more melodic tinge. As such they aren't as susceptible to the weaker elements of the genre, namely overly melodious solos and riffs that border on metalcore.

On Paraíso Sin Fe flashy melody comes second to groove-laden passages where guitars, bass and drums go hand in hand. But there are times on their second album where it only seems suitible to go a little more overboard on the whole spectrum. Even when the tide is high their grooves feel a bit too controlled and as such it seems like they're restraining themselves. I get that it's not all about speed and brutality, but Paraíso could stand to benefit from just a tad bit more in that department.

I wouldn't offend Karonte by putting them in a box neatly marked "melodic death metal", because they are much more than that. Tracks like Falaris and Carme show their affinity for the heavier aspects of the genre, while Mercado Infecto's marching pace brings back memories of certain death/doom groups.

Paraíso Sin Fe feels like the product of a band sure of what they wanted to do. It adequately mixes enough different elements to keep things interesting for the almost 40 minutes the album consists of. It seems sincere and doesn't follow modern trends. But even so, with the little variation in tempo evident on Paraíso does as times make it feel like a long journey. With the arguably fastest track starting things off, each songs is more or less a step down, culminating in the bluesy closing track, Gris. I found myself often tempted to take a break from the album because it felt like nothing exciting was going on anyway, and without the promise of a greater track later on the album, there's little reason to listen to the album in one sitting. There seems to be only little thought-process behind the tracklisting, because the flow feels uneven and weird. The title track serves nicely as an album closer as Gris (the actual album closer) is too unlike anything else heard on the album and therefore feels like more of a bonus track or intermission. 6/10 guitars.

1. Carme
2. Mercado Infecto
3. La Piedad De Los Débiles
4. Falaris
5. Repta Humano
6. El Día De Las Alabanzas
7. Paraíso Sin Fe
8. Gris

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30 Apr 2014

Silent Carrion - Suprematism EP I - IUPITER [EP] (2013, Self-released)

Silent Carrion has always been progressive and boundary pushing. It's the bread and butter, the heart and soul of the project. An amalgam of trip hop, electronica, dark ambient, prog and trace amounts of a myriad of other components. Established upon the first release, Ruins, in 2010 in Northern Italy, 2013 welcomed the beginning of an EP-based trilogy starting with IUPITER, the first Suprematism EP.

Right off the bat the Suprematism EP starts off heavier than previous Silent Carrion incarnations. Caustic aggression and hostile chaos ensues through heavily distorted guitars, programmed blast beats and an assortment noisy invocations, a bleak piano sometimes finding its way through the cacophony. There is a rich theme of turmoil and anxiety embedded in this work, a subject that may very well continue on or contrast with the remainder of the trilogy.

But where previous efforts were finely balanced, well-adjusted dark symphonies of careful instrumentation, Suprematism's discord borders on the outright offensive. Noise and industrial can achieve some sort of appeal through atmospheric courses and harsh moodsetters, but in that sense Silent Carrion belittles the very notion that this could be classified as structurally sound. It's entirely possible that their is a point to be made once the EP trilogy is complete, but at the time of writing that point is lost to me.

It is not until the final track (the live recording of "The Ground Seems Hollow" from Andras being considered a bonus track) that we can finally recognize the Italian ordeal. Silent Carrion has come full circle and yet again relies on synth-driven ambience, which again contrasts highly with the first ten minutes of IUPITER. There is little structure to be found, and even so the compositions don't even feel complex as much as merely disorganized anarchy. 3/10 guitars.

1. Suicide
2. I'm Calm Now
3. Malphas
4. Human Maggots Swarming Round Her Bed of Death
5. Suprematism (Mercy)
6. The Ground Seems Hollow (Live)

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25 Apr 2014

Drug Honkey - Ghost in the Fire [Full length] (2012, Transcending Obscurity)

Drug Honkey evolved from the 1997-project "Chronic Illogic" with Paul Gillis and Adam Smith at the helm, handling vocals and drums respectively. The band was designed to merge together several musical currents, most of which would be considered metal. Ever since the first album, the self-titled 2002 release, electronics in the form of excessive sampling and abrassive synths as well as an industrial, sludgy death metal sound have been the heart and soul of Drug Honkey. Through lineup changes and live performances the band from Chicago has endured to see the release of their fourth album in 2012, and have a new EP coming out in 2014.

When it comes to heaviness, bands like Triptykon, Conan, Hooded Menace, Sunn o))) or Coffins often come up as prime examples. But those that have witnessed the gospel of Ghost in the Fire know that Drug Honkey are giving all these acts a serious run for their money. The loathesome American quartet grudgingly strikes up an atmosphere of a psychedelic inclination, carved from a body of fuzz and reverb. More than once the speakers threatened to give in under the stress and booming rumble of the downtuned strings, the paranoia-inducing ambience adding reality-shattering depth to the otherwise lonesome drones of the bass and guitars.

Describing Drug Honkey's sound means reaching deep into a vocabulary that seems almost dried out of adequate adjectives. The cavernesque vocals sound at times like Asphyx's Martin Van Drunen being firmly pressed through a rusty grate. The drums eeriely accompany every track like the ever-present stalker haunting his victim. The album comes to a steadily paced halt on the second-to-last track "Twitcher", which is also where it is at its most far out stage. The stygian darkness of this psychedelic track builds up to the grand finale: Saturate/Annihilate, the culmination of everything shown thus far by Drug Honkey. The contrast between the two is where the mix becomes most volatile and seductively dangerous, being both the highest and lowest point of Ghost in the Fire. Every "song" is in itself a parody of life and a mockery of sentience, yet I couldn't imagine listening to Ghost in the Fire for the sake of a single track. The album works best as a whole, each track providing its own element to the final result. A fine specimen indeed. 8/10 guitars.

1. Order of the Solar Temple
2. Ghost in the Fire
3. Weight of the World
4. This Time I Won't Hesitate
5. In Black Robe
6. Dead Days (Heroin III)
7. Five Years Up
8. Out of My Mind
9. Twitcher
10. Saturate/Annihilate

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22 Apr 2014

Countess - Ancient Lies And Battle Cries [Full length] (2014, Barbarian Wrath]

Ancient Lies And Battle Cries presents a new chapter in the history of Countess, the 2013 EP "Sermons of the Infidel" serving as an adequate bridge between the "old" Countess and this newer incarnation. The Dutch band has for the most part been a one-man effort at the hands and throat of Orlok, with a select few exceptions mainly in the 90's, and last year's EP and the new album marks the time when Countess has once again expanded upon the lineup with the addition of Zagan on guitars. Zagan also played guitars on the 1997 EP "Hell's Rock and Roll". Ancient Lies And Battle Cries is an album that has been underway for many years with several versions being worked and expanded upon since 2004.

The Dutch band has been around since the 90's, and the many albums the band has produced over the years has revealed a decisively traditional heavy metal approach to black metal, a tendency which has only been made more apparent with each new release. This means keyboard synths aplenty, as well as a slower and more melodic pace than most contemporary black metal groups. The songwriting and composition in itself also speaks volumes of Orlok's love for tradition, only seldom expanding into full fledged black metal grandeur. Each track on Ancient Lies And Battle Cries is very lengthy, almost excessively so. Tracks like Battle Sky and By Hammer And Blood go through many changes, both stylistically and in disposition, before their end, meaning that each song can be different to discern in the grander scheme of things because there are relatively few hooks to remember them by. Beneath The Eye Of Wisdom is an exception to this and is arguably the album's strongest track in itself with its hate-fueled heaviness, catchier guitar section and more easily digestible song structure taking it a step further.

The addition of a guitarist has added substantial depth and heaviness to Countess' music, something that I had lamented in my review of their last album "On Wings of Defiance". I'm still not entirely sure why Countess so openly shuns layered guitars. An old school approach to recording an album with each instrument being recorded simultaneously might explain it, but this technique is more or less ancient and it is doubtful more than a handful of jam-based bands use this anymore. The addition of more layers of guitar would drastically change the drearily ongoing nature of Countess music, and while some may consider this to be how the band is supposed to sound, I personally think it would greatly add to the music's enjoyability.

Ancient Lies And Battle Cries, although greatly improving upon the formula used in the writing of On Wings Of Defiance from 2011, ultimately suffers from many of the same problems. Many tracks bar a few good ones merely meander around in an impressive abundance of tedious melodies without ever truly blossoming into the raw epicness they so obviously strive for. Burn The Throne, Cursed Seed Of Aten and Beneath The Eye Of Wisdom are definitely the three best tracks on Countess' newest album, with each of these cuts actively marking the fact that Orlok is a seasoned musician, and that he has it in him to produce some cool songs. But it seems to be too much of a hit-and-miss type of thing. 5/10 guitars.

1. Battle Sky
2. Call of the Ancient Pantheon
3. By Hammer and Blood
4. Vengeance of the Slain
5. Beneath the Eye of Wisdom
6. Confessions of a Polytheist
7. Pray for the Cult
8. Cursed Seed of Aten
9. Burn the Throne
10. The Last Temple

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13 Apr 2014

Ancst - The Humane Condition [EP] (2013, Dark Omen Records)

Ancst are nothing if not productive. In the short time their carreer has spanned hitherto the German duo has produced no less than 7 releases, 5 of which were released in 2013. The prime question that springs to mind is whether or not this productivity comes at the cost of creativity and originality.

Though seeming to take a turn for bleak atmospherics, as is so trendy nowadays, Ancst narrowly avoid the usual clichés of the modern scene. The tempestuous vocals provided by Torsten tend to sound exceedingly hardcoresque in their crude, shouted manner, and at times - even if they're in the back of the mix - they detract attention from the formidable threads of guitar laid down presumably by the second part of the duo, Tom. The EP consists of the songs Ascetic and Entropie, two tracks that at first glance are so immaculate in their execution that they come off as aimless attempts at a modern trend. Only through further delving into their sound do the tracks open up for the immense detail work that lies hidden in the exceptionally well-crafted riffing.

Writing, recording and releasing only a few songs at a time looks to be the way Ancst get around being making a slew of uninteresting, mass-produced tracks. For the most part on The Humane Condition EP, it works. As mentioned the riffs are strong and creative, but this is where the fun ends. The lack of an actual drummer leaves Ancst at a disadvantage with programmed drums that never quite fills the roll appropriately. In much the same manner the vocals feel like a fish out of water. While this type of shouted vocals isn't entirely out of the ordinary in this genre, Torsten's screams never quite penetrate the misty atmosphere the same way the guitars do.

All in all every instrument feels well-balanced within the mix, but this doesn't mean every part that makes up this machine are equal in quality. It's all put together in a way that diverts attention from any shortcomings, and the vocals and drums aren't as such a complete blunder. But they never come through and prove their point. Entropie, the EP's last track, is arguably the best of the two songs due to variation crafted in a sleek and stylish manner and a great use of momentum and sense of pace. The Humane Condition is by no means a terrible EP, and it's entirely worth the roughly 12 minutes it takes. 7/10 guitars.

1. Ascetic
2. Entropie

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31 Mar 2014

AK-11 - Legendary, Demonic & Invincible [Demo] (2011, Self-released)

Self-proclaimed "triumphant black war metal" band AK-11 started out in 2011 with Valak being the only member. Valak had fashioned this demo, "Legendary, Demonic & Invincible", already by November the same year as a tribute to classic black metal acts like Celtic Frost, Burzum, Emperor and others. In 2013 two new members were added to the lineup, but AK-11 has yet to release anything as a trio.

Though black metal is traditionally stripped down to the bare necessities this goes especially for AK-11. On this demo there is not a breath wasted, not an effort spilled on fancy solos, symphonic orchestrations or overly complex compositions. What the sole member, Valak, puts forth on this first demo is convincingly simple black metal tunes condensed to a fine spirit. Though AK-11 hails from Australia, at least half the demo is sung in Russian as a tribute to the famous Avtomat Kalashnikov assault rifle. While this doesn't have any direct influence on the music found on "Legendary..." it accentuates the vodka-fueled slavic sounds that tracks like Shest' Shest' Shest' i Katyusha take on through inventive guitar riffs.

Most of the tracks are almost literally bursting with energy. Tracks like the satanic "Sniper's Glory" and Slava Rossii stand out as tracks of an especially engaging kind with their enticingly traditional riffs and mechanical blast beats, and the "Legendary..." demo is characterized by an unusually high lowest point in terms of songwriting quality. The riffs in particular catch the eye as one of the demo's strongest competences, Valak's raw vocals and his overall ability to write captivating material not falling far behind.

Production is often devalued in black metal, the genre often being seen as inherently lo-fi. This deep-rooted disregard for quality of sound seems to have also been part of the recording process with AK-11. Seeing as Legendary, Demonic & Invincible is a demo this can more or less be excused, and the - what I assume is a - drum machine has the samples fairly balanced with the abrasive sound of the guitar and the grey veil of Valak's vocals. The demo warrants excitement for future releases by AK-11 and is itself well worth a listen. Australian black metal often takes on a strong thrash metal influence as seen with bands like Deströyer 666, Nocturnal Graves, Gospel of the Horns, Atomizer, Malichor, Razor of Occam and so on and so forth. AK-11 sticks out like a sore thumb in this crowd as a band trying out new things, even if these elements aren't necessarily major parts of the band's sound. 7/10 guitars.

1. The Cleansing Stream
2. Vechnyi Ogon'
3. Slava Rossii
4. Legendary, Demonic & Invincible
5. Sniper's Glory (Satan Guides My Aim)
6. Shest' Shest' Shest' i Katyusha

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