Monday, June 17, 2019
At any rate, this is still a fine record, from the outside in. Luciana Nedelea's gorgeous black & white artwork might be the most aesthetically pleasing of their covers, although I had no problem with its predecessors. The production of Monvmentvm is probably their most level and balanced, and while that might leech away some of its dynamic punch, it creates their most mournful atmosphere yet, accompanied with some very sombering guitar lines, and probably the largest number of woeful clean vocals they used yet, which are somehow even more effective in how they don't stand out terribly much from the instruments. The acoustic guitars continue to glimmer sadly, whether they are used directly in a longer metal tune or in the instrumentals, of which there are three. There were also some well integrated acoustic pianos at the finale of the album, its 10-minute title track. The guitars have been slightly more prominent on past albums, to be sure, but you can still here them quite well roiling against the drum patterns with their huge, glorious, if somewhat predictable melodic passages, and there are occasionally breaks where they get to breathe by themselves and its rather euphoric.
This is probably the Dauþuz album where no individual component stands out far beyond any other, but it's also strangely the most laid back, 'epic' experience if you're simply seeking an escape from your daily grind and wish to journey back to the grinds of craftsmen and laborers centuries past in a black metal transfiguration. You'll still have some of the suicidal howling to create tension and no insignificant sum of horror, but you can also pop this on your headphones and doze off (in a good way). Another notch in a belt of well-cut gemstones, but one does hope a little that the Germans' inevitable follow-up offers a slightly more expansive or ambitious piece of jewelry to complement what they've already adorned themselves with. I'd place it roughly between the first two albums in quality, and once more recommend it to fans of Medieval or atmospheric black metal with the adage that it's still quite firmly rooted to the genre's conventions and offers more of a thematic departure than a musical one.
Verdict: Win [8/10]
Friday, June 14, 2019
Certain of the tracks here, like "Unwerk - Des Zwerges Fluch I" and the 10-minute opening surge of "Steinhammer" are among my favorites in their whole catalog. The screams and growls have become even more crazy and intense, and the use of cleaner, chanted vocals has become more confident, they usually just follow a melodic guitar line with them but it really helps drive home the subterranean aesthetics they aim for, without all the claustrophobic, smothering stereotypes you'd find in cavern-core death metal. Some will probably find this approach a little cheesier, but I couldn't give much of a fuck since this is the sort of band where the mood itself is central to my appreciation and Dauþuz hasn't faltered from creating such an atmosphere, almost entirely through the riffing and keeping. The material here on the EP probably has the most even distribution of flooding faster rhythms and then the more gradual, melancholic bits where they make good use of harmonies. The acoustic parts are just as impressive as ever, gloomy and Medieval fireside vignettes that doesn't outstay their welcome, and are often paired up with some snarls or screams or samplings of the tools of the trade central to the theme.
Lyrically, this one stretches a little bit more into folklore territory on some tunes, which I think is welcome. In fact, while I love the historical mining theme, I wouldn't be put off if the Germans decided to do some fully fantastical concept albums in the future. An album about Moria? Sure, or pretty much any dwarven lore from any setting. They still don't incorporate dungeon synth elements, a request I had from back on my critique of their first album, but I think by now I've fully forgotten about that, because they've just become so solid at their sound, and it's not like I can't get that stuff from a thousand other places. Again, highly recommended from me, I think Die Grubenmähre is the best starting point to explore their sound, but this EP is entirely complementary to that.
Verdict: Win [8.25/10]
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
First off, the vocals are far more intense, aiming for that more suicidal, screaming tone that you find in a lot of suicidal or Burzum-like black metal, sometimes to ghastly, delirious heights, but playing them off against the rasp of the debut, and some deeper groans and growls. This permeates the music with a more panicked appeal, as does the harsher flood of rhythm guitars. They still ingrain their chord selections with a lot of melody, but Die Grubenmähre at its heaviest does feel more brutal and unforgiving than the album before it. The mid-paced rhythms remind one of Blood Fire Death a lot, with different vocals, but just as much pomp and glory. Tempo and mood changes here often feel more abrupt than before, but also much more effective, such as when they'll let a single tremolo picked guitar start off into the distance and then trample it with the ferocious howling, blasting and some chant-like vocals which hover on the edge of perception. Some of the percussion here on the low end really thunders along, almost as if representing the thudding of the mining tools down in the depths of whatever doomed excavation the Germans are on about.
Bass does not play a very strong present in terms of sculpting and molding the songs, as it didn't on the first record, but the rest of the atmosphere is solid enough that you'll be following right along with the rest of the instruments and won't care a whole lot. When these guys hit a beautiful riffing passage as they do in "Dem Berg entrissen", it's instantly more memorable than the material off the prior outing, and almost all the non-acoustic songs across the 50 minute span of this disc have at least one such moment which will send thunder and shivers down the listeners' spine. Ultimately the album is better than its forebear in all categories, offering the same style but fleshed out into more dramatic upheavals, nastier vocal passages and songs that resonate well past their playtime. We have the evidence that Dauþuz is not just some one-off, but a promising new voice on the German scene which offers heavy immersion into its specific theme, very much worth experiencing whether or not you lie behind the language barrier as I do (though this is mostly fixed with an online translator).
Verdict: Win [8.25/10]
Monday, June 10, 2019
My German is rather pathetic, and for this reason I wasn't able to translate everything perfectly, but I believe the album title here translates to something like 'In dark (or sullen) depths', and man do the lyrics to the tracks on this debut relay that through descriptions of not only the environment and process that these centuries-old diggers and spelunkers experienced, but also the tragedies which often befell them, a perfect topical choice for black metal which is at once desperate and angry. When Dauþuz is charging ahead with some sorrowful melodic stream of picking over a blast beat, and vocalist Grimwald is spitting out those tortured, sustained rasps, you can easily picture in your mind the desperation of some workers trying to escape a cavern collapse and grasp futilely at the last light they might ever see. On a broader spectrum, this stuff falls right in line with a lot of glorious European black metal through which the listener can fantasize over some grim, idealized landscapes. It's not quite as claustrophobic as its subject might imply, but instead rather spacious and majestic enough that it could find purchase in the audience of Medieval black metal particularly prevalent in France and England.
There are not a lot of tremendously catchy individual riffs, but the overall songwriting patterns here are quite consistent throughout the experience. Guitars are savagely loud but gloomy, while the drums and vocals are mixed just right to accommodate them. Acoustic segues and interludes give you the real feeling of a night at rest after some exhausting dig, by the flickering firelight with a waft of roasted meat to accompany the dirty countenances and strained muscles of the miners. Structurally they don't deviate much from other acts of their style, but they do inject enough of a dynamic balance so as not to come off totally monotonous here. There's little I can promise that you won't have heard before, but this is a really solid debut with good production, and if you've encountered either of the members' other projects like Idhafels, Schattenthron, or Isgalder, or have an interest in Germanic veterans like Falkenbach, Horn and Menhir, then this one is a pretty safe bet to check out.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
Friday, June 7, 2019
Arctic Thunder stumbled for me a bit, not as a 'bad' record, but the first case in recorded memory where I felt some of the catchy nuances were missing, it didn't really string together the sort of personality that their earlier material thrived upon, with a lot of riffs that felt half-formed and just on the edge of catchiness without crossing it. Thankfully Old Star sets them right again, not a record bound for modern classic status, but a thoroughly consistent, enjoyable listen, especially at higher volumes, which sets out on a particular sonic path and then sticks the landing. While a lot of the initial reports and reactions I've read herald this as a 'return to form', meaning the band is back to its 90s black metal roots, I'm going to disagree there. Sure, you could place this back in around 1998 as a natural successor to Total Death and not sense that any major deviation to trajectory, but Old Star is heavily inspired by the classic heavy/doom metal riffing that they played around with on efforts like The Underground Resistance. Perhaps not quite so quirky or melodic, but it's given a more stolid and mighty countenance to create this huge, accessible sound. I'm not implying that you're about to hear Darkthrone cycling every half hour on your local corporate rock radio channel, but this one has a straight to the face, level production that many of its predecessors lack.
Everything sounds phenomenal, from Fenriz' simple, effective rock and roll beats and fills, through the dominant rhythm guitar tone, to Nocturno Culto's timeless, broad rasps and the lowly hovering bass lines, hardly adventurous but giving the rest of the mix just enough weight. I'd point out "The Hardship of the Scots" as a poster child for the aesthetic blend here, almost entirely a heavy/doom style track which busts back out into the Norwegians' Hellhammer-inspired churning and bending throughout the bridge. Others like "Duke of Gloat" go the opposite route, more or less a pure 90s throwback Darkthrone cut but with that same, formidable production pounding you in the skull. It's also astonishing how the band can still take a set of fairly stock, predictable riff patterns and then somehow refresh them just by putting their own touch, production and vocal style on them, and then whoosh, I don't feel like I've heard them all a hundred times before, even when I have. That's one hell of a skill for a band not renowned for anything bordering on technicality or complexity. It's also one of the reasons they've long been high up on the short list of my favorite bands ever, and if Old Star is any evidence, that status isn't going to change for a very long time.
Lyrically the album continues the pattern of simplistic verses containing clever little subversions, all wrapped up into song titles that you HAVEN'T heard a hundred times before, primarily in English, as usual these days, but with a handful of Norse lines. Granted, a lot of folks will probably never read them, but while they are far from poetic wizards, the grisly-yet-thoughtful layman's appeal to their words is among the best in the entire scene. If Chadwick St. John's cover artwork seems familiar, it's because he uses a similar, gruesome, detailed pencil-like style that you might recall from Grafvitnir's Obeisance to a Witch Moon or Arckanum's ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ. Great to see here and very fitting to the atmosphere of the six songs. Overall, Old Star is a step above Arctic Thunder and The Underground Resistance; the former because it left such a dry taste in my ears, and the latter because its handful of genius tracks are counterbalanced by some of its more muddled ideas. This isn't the first Darkthrone CD I'm going to grab off the rack, but it's very well constructed, gets a little better with each of the initial listens, and if you're down for a mix of, let's say Total Death and Circle the Wagons, then I think you'll be more than satisfied.
Verdict: Win [8.25/10] (while Atlas cringes)
Wednesday, June 5, 2019
Now, while I maintain that it hones in heavily on its faster paced material, I didn't mean to infer that Eschaton lacked dynamic value. In fact there are quite a few spots here where the material will move at a slower or more glorious mid-paced gait (as in "Omega Serpent"), and here the drumming gets more interesting. Guitars throughout are either melodic-tinted, fell majestic chord patterns or some that become faster and more drone-like or insectoid, which is where they actually introduce an alien, mesmeric sort of experience. We're not talking Deathspell Omega levels of dissonant, labyrinthine, fascinating riff structures, but there's plenty going on to keep the imagination engaged without ever sinking to idea-less, vapid repetition. I wouldn't say all the guitars are compelling, and you'll know where a lot of them are going within a few notes, but they keep the notes and patterns flying and occasionally there are a couple that will stick with your brain once the smoke and ash of the whole album experience fade. For me though the favorite parts are when they're streaming some evil chords, the drums are going full frenzy and then they break out one of those groaning vocal lines.
They also know how to dress up a track with melancholic or cryptic guitars that seamlessly erupt into the more aggressive speeds, so there's a lot of musical value to each beast rather than some soul sucking blasted monotony. The bass lines are loud enough to keep the furious drumming and guitar lines grounded, and while some might find the mix of the record calamitous or confusing I think it all worked pretty well in conveying the determined and horrifying mood. There is no warmth and happiness to what is transpiring across the 42 minutes of material, it's an explosion of moldy subterranean spores and viscera that only lets up to attack you with different, more measured angles of obscurity. Worth tracking down if you're fond of the dissonant and unrelenting style used by groups like Antediluvian, Mitochondrion, Dodecahedron, Ulcerate, Auroch, Deathspell or Blut Aus Nord.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
Monday, June 3, 2019
As for the music, it's sort of what you'd expect, but with a few unusual elements that prevent it from feeling all too familiar or predictable. This is, in truth, crushing old school death metal which draws heavily on the Swedish tradition in terms of guitar tone. Rough, raw, flesh-ripping chords bombard the listen in either drudging chord patterns or tremolo-picked accelerations akin to old Entombed. Quite a number of groovier break-downs sure to please pit-hards, but none as catchy as what you'd find on a record like Clandestine. The vocals feel like Consuming Impulse-era Pestilence, early Asphyx Van Drunen-isms or maybe a bit of countrymen Intestine Baalism, only there's a little less of the gruesome pitch-dynamics which made those memorable...Infernal Demolisher definitely goes for the more guttural end and his voice is tucked a bit too neatly beneath the harsher edge of the distortion. Once in awhile a Deicide-like snarl pops in alongside them, but overall they are not too distinct, pretty much standard for the style, a little monotonous but not much of a detriment.
The beats here are a bit too clean and programmed, but mixed just right so that their mechanistic feel never burdens the songs or takes you out of their cavernous, hostile mood. Bass guitars are hovering in there but again, really get lost up against those guitars or even the vocals. The little edge of what makes The Cult of Flesh not a complete photocopy of its influence are some of the weirder, almost happy or silly chord patterns that occasionally invade the riffs or an almost proggy little fill part, or some wailing harmonies embedded into a song like "Summon the God of Plague", so you can't always tell what's about the happen around any given corner of the disc. By and large, though, this is intestine-gouging death metal which heralds the earlier 90s, just not with the most memorable set of riffs or ideas put into its composition. If you're dying for more of that feel you got when you first heard Left Hand Path, Clandestine, Dark Recollections, and Symphony of Sickness, or if you dig similar Japanese acts like Baalism or Deadly Spawn, or Rogga Johansson's groups like Revolting or Paganizer, this album is far from a dud. But it's also not super inspiring or memorable beyond the look of the thing.
Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]
Friday, May 31, 2019
Essentially they're using a lot of cleaner guitars to represent what would normally be their heavier electric riffs, but keeping the vocals just as harsh as ever. It evokes a strange contrast, but one that becomes quite fascinating as you progress through their contributions. It's almost as if they had decided to put out a pure folk/acoustic EP and decided it would be better to include it as part of this split, but I'm not at all let down by the material, as it's super atmospheric and the vocals really drift over the busy clean strings in a menacing, obscure way. A Medieval Peste Noire? If they went in this direction for a longer record I would certainly be on board for checking it out, because all of their other traits are still present and there's enough variation and fertility of ideas due to the acoustic choice while it doesn't actually lack for sounding as majestic as they have when they're more 'plugged in'. On the other hand, Griffon is fully plugged in, and I think there's a contrast between the two bands' productions which might have served the split release better had it been smoothed over a little...
So the first half of this release is much louder, brighter, harsher in nature, with walls of force blasted sequences graced over by Romantic, winding tremolo picked guitars and all manner of voices that range from a nasty black metal rasp to cleaner, more narrative chants that sound quite cool in French. The riffing is quite busy, not always catchy but changing up the moods enough that it feels rich in its textures, and the rhythm section also sounds quite good, with dreamy bass lines and effortless blasts or double-kick breakdowns with a lot of splash to support the well-woven melodies. I do think the lead rasp is a little bit overbearing at times and sounds a smidgeon too nihilistic for the music itself, but overall there's just enough going on that I kept paying attention, and I dug the 'Interlude' which is all orchestra/organ and makes an interesting transition into Darkenhöld's less aggressive but equally elaborate material. Apart from the differences in volume and approach, which don't make for the most flush or consistently appealing split recording, the music here is all quite good. I wouldn't go at this for your first Darkenhöld exposure, any of their first three full-lengths would be the better choice, but they take a risk here which ultimately pays off.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Chronicon Finlandiae, the fourth record from Stormheit, may have a list of shortcomings attributed to it, but I can say that this isn't your average, shallow sort of folk metal effort. No, this is more like what would have happened had later era Bathory emerged from Finland instead of Sweden. This is laid back, airy, spacious mountainside rock which drifts at you with countless, tinny melodic guitar lines and some occasionally surges into a fraction more intensity with the drums picking up into a mid-paced beat. The drums sound as good as they need to, with some fills and grooves to help mediate the languid pacing of most of the tunes, and the bass lines, while nothing special, at least help to plug up some of the gaps left by the lack of a sturdy or voluminous rhythm guitar section in a lot of spots on the album. Acoustic guitars are spaced out across the album to give it more of a rustic charm, and keys are used liberally when further atmospheric escalation is required. Where they do break out some heavier riffs, like the picking progressions in the beginning of "Ukon Malja", they are actually pretty decent sounding, and I wished for a little more than this throughout.
On to the vocals...they are often a clear weakness here, as they possess a lot of those inherent flaws that you might remember Quorthon had, or some of Vintersorg's older solo stuff, only here it's another language and a different pitch. Once you accustom yourself to the more chanted phrasings, or the higher pitched, soaring inflections, or even the crowd shouted parts, they become quite pleasing, but it's when that layer of angst or harsher intonation is applied that they can become a little awkward, especially in the first track. The style should work on this really well, and in places it does, but I feel you have to go ever deeper into the record for them to really hit a confident stride. Almost all of the tracks are also quite substantial, from about 7-11 minutes in length, and while they aren't terribly boring in structure, a total playtime of 77 minute seems overwrought when the spectrum of actual ideas here might span about 50 minutes of worthwhile material. Don't get me wrong, the material doesn't suddenly take a nosedive in quality, it's just that you feel you've gotten it after about half the album and there aren't many surprised waiting deeper on.
I will say that Chronicon is on the verge of being a pretty solid album, turning out a lot better than I suspected after the first track. Tightening the tracks and improving the vocals would have gone a long way towards making a better impression, but if you're a real big pagan for Bathory albums like Twilight of the Gods, Hammerheart, Blood on Ice and the Northland two-parter, and want to hear a slightly different approach to that from across the Tornio River, this might be worth a listen.
Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]
Monday, May 27, 2019
For all intensive purposes, this is a well-produced effort with clear, rocking guitars anchored by the tangible and fat-toned bass lines. The drums sound great, and the vocals are also pretty even in the mix. Winter had a gritty style not unlike Lemmy, but with a little bite and bark of his own that comes off with a bit more of an accent than his influence. Unfortunately it often sounds a bit looser in the verses, almost drunken-natured, and lends a lot to how they have an overall sound like a bar band, which is sort of the point, but not terribly memorable. They do really simplistic verse/choruses with some leads splashed in there and attitude all around, with a bit less of a speed, punk or even thrash metal influence that Motörhead often toyed around with in their 21st century recordings; this leans more on bluesy hard rock side of those efforts, which in my opinion can often turn into insipid songs that are impossible to pick out from too massive a crowd of bottoms-up blues rock.
If there were a little more grit, a little more danger, or vitriol...it would work a little better than it does, but musically Full Moon Dog is a bit generic and doesn't take any risks. I'm not saying that Motörhead broke away from its own formula all that often...there was some variation and evolution, but it was gradual over the decades. But the thing is...it was THEIR formula. I'm all for bands taking on that influence, but I'd like to hear some interesting spins on it, like how Tank veered more into pure heavy metal territory, or how the younger Swedish band Bombus worked it into their own massive sounding style which I really enjoy. This Asomvel disc is just par for the course, and it doesn't do anything particularly well that I'd listen to it over even my least favorite's in Lemmy's backlogs. Werewolves are cool and all, but the leather was a little stretched here, the spikes dulled. I'd much rather recommend checking out their 2013 album Knuckle Duster or their brand new World Shaker, which kick a lot more ass in the same exact niche.
Verdict: Indifference [5/10]