Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Awe/Vacantfield/End - Moerae (2015)

After decades of split recording exposures, I'd be lying if I said that the medium hadn't grown a little stagnant for me, largely because the lion's share of these things simply possess no semblance of studio consistency or creative coherence. In so many cases, it's just product pushing with buddies or complete strangers, in a limited format. But of course, when even a fraction of the imagination is applied to this process, you can come up with gold, with two or more artists functioning on the same page, producing a recording that has an intrinsic value beyond just a flag-waving collaboration for some label, scene, genre. As for the three Greek acts responsible for the Moerae LP, they have gone well beyond such a 'fraction', and put together something visionary and thematic which is far more than the mere sum of its parts...

Three tunes, each over 16 minutes in length, and each devoted to one of the Three Fates of Greek mythology (or moirai, or Moerae). You could say that it was in the blood, because what the bands have produced is not just some simple gimmicky idea which falters in its execution, but a lethal dose of progressive gonzo annihilation which takes great liberties from the standard black metal troops to incorporate anything from thrash riffing to pure ambiance (especially in "Atropos") to just about anything they fucking want to include. You're still getting plenty of air-time for the more technical black metal attack, which is the primary impetus of several of the bands, but the fact is they have not padded out such swollen tracks with loads of redundant nonsense. Each "Clotho", "Lachesis" and "Atropos" serve as smorgasbords of the unexpected, without devolving into sheer, matchless chaos. Production is competent all around, and while the mixes of the three tracks do vary incrementally, the common length of the playgrounds they inhabit and stylistic variation are so consistent that it does feel like the bands were at least communicating telepathically throughout the process.

I've reviewed all of the full-length records by End to date, but "Atropos" is by far the most interesting thing they've ever created and I do hope it marks a glimpse into what they might create in the future. Vacantfield has a notably more progressive/thrash component to its composition, but they never fail to entice me with all the jarring effects, decrepit vocals and subtle touches like the keys. As for Awe, well this is a band involving members of at least one other superb Hellas black metal band, which I am not presently at liberty to say, but tonally their contribution "Clotho" is the best at forcing the black metal motif with a lot of dissonance and some really evil breakdown riffs which are among the most fucking tremendous across the entire experience. Instruments on the whole are mixed to an infectious level of clarity which does not entirely eschew the rawness of the parent genre, but allows the listener to more easily ingest the psychotic musical spasms. Not all the riffs are gold, and there are some moments through each of the cuts which end up less engaging than their surroundings, but
all told, it's a really cool recording. Probably the most intriguing split since Dis Pater's Converge, Rivers of Hell from 2013, in which the Australian musician explore a similar mythic concept through three of his own projects. Track this down, whether you're a fan of the more eccentric Greek black metal wizards or just compelling extreme music in general. Fucking great.

Verdict: Win [8.5] (how fool a god can be)


Monday, April 13, 2015

Salvation - Winter Wrath [demo] (2014)

Were I to deify the 'good old boys' of the black metal medium, then Salvation's Winter Wrath demo would likely be the sort of libation paid to them on the various solstices and equinoxes. The DNA of a recording like this is quite plainly linked back to those important,  formative works of a Darkthrone, Hellhammer, Bathory or even a Deathcrush-era Mayhem and there is little of anything across the span of six tracks that proves otherwise. But this Australian one man act pays tribute through more than mere chord choices or 'sounds', but in the very aesthetic choices of its DIY, no-fucks-given mentality which is reflective of about 15 years worth of deep underground demos and records from bands that shun any sense of studio wizardry, refined craftsmanship, or progressive tendencies in an unending quest to capture the primacy of its inspirations like a fly in amber...only Salvation goes so far as to render a lot of its savage spiritual precursors 'polished' by comparison to the raunch and ruin found on this CD-R.

This is essentially a rehearsal-level demo recording comprised of six tracks, half of which are intros and interludes and the other full-on bursts of full-on spite which shift between melodic/melancholic chord patterns ("Winter Wrath" itself) redolent of the Scandinavian second wave, and a nastier set of  Hellhammer/Bathory barrages ("Strife") which date back to an even more primordial origin in the 80s. The music is unfailingly simple and merciless, and that's rather the point. Stylistic parameters here are indeed pretty narrow, but that's not to say that Noctarth, the sole musician responsible lacks the wherewithal to incorporate a little variation, to make the song structures more entertaining than they might otherwise prove if he beat on the instruments for redundant 7-9 minute epics. On some fundamental level, while we've heard these chord progressions many times in the past, and the rasped nihilism of the vocals is nothing new, and the style lacks any semblance of nuance, there's still a soft spot there for the lightless, raw fury these recordings espouse, and Winter Wrath, for any of its faults, does function solely on that level. It looks like it sounds, there are no gimmicks and its author, who is not visiting his first rodeo here, has absolutely no delusion about what it represents.

That said, there are a few components to this which felt a little lacking. For one, of the three shorter instrumental pieces on the demo, I felt like only the first was a proper set-up and companion to the majority of the music. The doomed, drifting harmonies of "Forgotten Fields" and wall of saddened feedback and noises which make up the "Outro" are not unpleasant listens, but I didn't feel like they really contributed to the feel of the CD-R overall. The other issue here is the drumming, which is as raucous and cluttered as you'd expect on a lot of these styles of tapes and demos. There were points where I felt like the timing was a little messy, but really it's just that disparate production of the snares, crashing cymbals and bass drums during the more intense batteries which gave me the impression I was rolling down a rocky hill while trapped in a crate. Fortunately the beats don't really drown out the simple, clobbering bombast of the riffs or vocals, but they were certainly distractions on a few of the tunes when I had the volume cranked. Last, while I have no aversion to really basic riffs like the black-punk used to fuel the namesake "Salvation" track, these were just a little too mundane to really carry that track.

But bear in mind: this is a very limited release, not intended for mass consumption or to be writ large across the black metal universe, and while I can fault it for its ground-level approach to songwriting and production, what it doesn't lack is sincerity. It's not as solitude-stricken or atmospheric as some of its once-prolific Australian kin like Striborg or Drowning in the Light. But no concessions are made, no filtering of purpose; this is the product of the dingy, murky basement from which it was spawned, and for a lot of embedded underworld souls, that is really quite enough. Winter Wrath is not going to win Noctarth a medal, and it's preemptively drowned out by so very many of its peers, but there's something satisfying to me that no matter how far the genre's elder statesmen have evolved their musical goals, there are guys out there putting together stuff like this.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Devathorn - Vritra (2015)

It has long been the case that the Greek black metal scene seems to be divided into two disparate camps: those that were always and continuing to bring something new to the table, and those that are more content to fashion their compositional style after the more prevalent, popular European black metal scenes in countries like Norway, Sweden and Finland. Devathorn proved torchbearers for that latter camp on their 2007 debut Diadema, and with Vritra the pendulum does not seem to have swung far in the other direction, though I would say with certainty I had a better time listening to this than I did its predecessor. In an age when veterans like Zemial and Varathron are producing some of their very best material, and more unique bands like Hail Spirit Noir, Thy Darkened Shade and Katavasia are making the rounds with albums that resonate long past the initial spins, Vritra is not one likely to stick out, but at the very least it conjures up a more tangible sense of evil and purpose than the debut.

Their aim is to more or less blend together an elixir of their Northern forebears from both the crispy, blackened thrash and pure second wave black metal cauldrons, so it's no surprise here that when hearing this, one would reflect upon anything from Bathory and Marduk to Darkthrone, Mayhem, and Gorgoroth; loads of blasting endowed with minor, dissonant chords or glints of malignant, atmospheric higher pitched guitars that provide the nightscape. This is a band which hearkens back to that guitar-driven almost exclusively, without embedding synthesizers into the metal compositions directly. There are ambient, ritualistic ports of the album which are largely instrumental sections, and also some acoustics in the intro to "Cathedral of Set" which help set up its Egyptian thematics, or the close of "Verba Inermis", but by and large these guys go with a sinister, distorted saturation delivered through a solid array of chord patterns and tempo shifts which offer me just enough variation that I perk up and pay attention...individual note processions might be fairly traditional, but how they pack each of the tunes together is where it gets a little less easy to predict, and the ambient pieces seem to be strategically set in the proper places to give the listener a little space to breathe in his/her cave.

Another album where the low end seems more of a subtext than an important plot point, and it does cause the album to lack a little in dimension. The vocals are wild though, from the expected rasps to arcane gang shouts, wavering mid-range wails, Nocturno Culto-like growls and other weirdness to showcase that Devathorn are at least interested in imbuing a little bit of personality into the performance than bog standard black metal bands will. On some level the guitar patterns can get a little technical, almost to a spastic level like Thy Darkened Shade, but the production and atmosphere are far more lo-fi and raw. The drums did not sound great, too tinny and crashy and not enough low-end power to feel them pounding in my ribcage, and the recording in its entirety feels really dry, where I think a little more voluminous depth and shadow would have transformed the same set of songs into something more memorable. Overall, though, I thought it captured the essence of the old Scandinavian underground quite faithfully, it's not likely to become a classic for this or any other era, but it was a more venomous, sulfuric, commanding experience than the first disc, and the lyrics were a fine precursor to some human sacrifice.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Legion of Doom - The Tyrant with the Seven Heads EP (2015)

Had you asked me 15 or more years ago, I might have told you that Greece's Legion of Doom was a competent proponent of traditional European black metal that, while secondary to their more sonically unique, better known countrymen, were capable of holding their own. Sadly, while the ensuing decade produced one album of worth (The Horned Made Flesh in 2008), it was simply not a benchmark of evolution within the band's sound or songwriting to the degree that it would make many waves in a scene whose flagships had already set sail or were still in the process of treading sea. Their surrounded efforts, including 2012's The Summoning of Shadows were perhaps the most mundane in their substantial 25 year history, but the Legion presses on with a new, limited run 7" featuring two tracks.

Though they've undergone more savage transitions in the past, The Tyrant with the Seven Heads is a fairly seasoned array of melodic black metal, with heavy emphasis placed on the melancholic majesty of its tremolo picked guitar lines and the ungodly rasp of bassist/vocalist Daimon. Rhythmically the focus is on blast beat patterns interspersed with fills, pretty standard sounding fare that many would find indistinguishable from countless other bands throughout the 90s and beyond. That's not to say they execute this style poorly, because the instrumental mix here is quite nice, the guitars are very often level and harmonized and they thankfully don't rely on endless repetition of the same riffs, but at the same time there are very few guitar progressions throughout the choices here that will resonate for long since they are primarily just alterations upon others the veteran black metal listener has heard hundreds if not thousands of times before. Bass lines are buried between the rhythm guitars though it wasn't a loss I really felt much listening through.

While they do at least one breakdown of note in the B-side title cut, and a few guitar-only passages, there is just so little of note when it comes to variations in tempo or ideas, so the two tunes really feel like one-trick ponies and that's only going to appeal to a portion of the genre's loyalists who fell in love with that style through albums like De Mysteriis dom Sathanas or Transilvanian Hunger and found themselves unable to disengage in any further exploration. This is by no means a categorically  bad recording, and in fact I'd say the songs are the equal or better of most on their last full-length, but it doesn't hold out much hope that these long time under-groundskeepers will knock a record out of the park any time soon. Sure, there is an argument to be made for the fact that they stick to their guns, but the attention span of much of the black metal audience has become bulletproof in the ensuing decades, pursuing either grisly, archaic retro sounds, total headcleaning blasting blitzkriegs, or nuanced folk, prog, speed and heavy metal influences. Legion of Doom will forever have my respect, but without better and/or more interesting songs, that won't translate into a share of my ever- diminished listening time. This EP is a serviceable intro to their style, but interested parties would be better off tracking down For Those of the Blood or The Horned Made Flesh.

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Tome of the Unreplenished - Innerstanding (2015)

I, Voidhanger Records was already home to at least three ambient or partially ambient black metal hybrids I enjoy (Midnight Odyssey, Mare Cognitum and Spectral Lore), and now it appears I've got another to add to that list, even though there might be a little more overlap here than with others that have inhabited this niche in the past. Tome of the Unreplenished, certainly a name that pops out at you if you've grown jaded with the redundant band monikers, is the work of a solitary Cypriot known as Hermes. But unlike the Greek deity of the same name, Innerstanding is in no particular rush to make its point...there are faster, blasted moments, to be sure, but the music here is fairly immersive across all tempos; an engrossing downpour of synth and chord-driven escapism over mechanized drum rhythms.

It takes risks more often than not...for example, the closer, "The Precessional March" is a nearly 10 minute, measured instrumental monolith of tremolo picked guitars over an incremental beat and swells of eerie keyboards which fluctuate between nearness and distance. There is no question a track like that is going to feel exceedingly repetitious to some, even though the actual note selection shifts across the surface. There are also pure, scintillating ambient pieces like the intro "Anima Mundi" or the"Planetary Transmission" which feel more innately cosmic in scope. That nearly half of the album is devoted to such departures may feel like the balance is off, but I felt like the mood set by these is at least coherent with the metallic tracks. Vocals here don't have a lot of structure on this record, and it's debatable whether that's a flaw or a 'feature', but they generally just manifest as a series of roaring rasps that hover alongside the guitar lines, or somber spoken words, or through ghostlike, layered choirs that come through in the selection of key tones. And like the vocals, the bass is also not prominent...you'll hear some low end grooving lines in the depths, but the point on albums like this is generally just to flood the listener with the emotion of the guitar melodies with a dense, celestial atmosphere, and Innerstanding is quite loyal to that ideal.

The guitar progressions are not quite so catchy as you'd find on a disc like Firmament, which for me is still a banner-wielder of this style. Despite the implications of the album title, I found this more like a grand Outerstanding. The songs don't convey a high level of sheer isolation and sadness, but instead they've got this unearthly sense of warmth and fulfillment which coincides with a perpetual sense of motion. Astral masses and bodies consistently colliding and revolving and rotating through a great vacuum, with flashes of an interstellar light show where various elements collide. The drums feel really low-key, generally crashing and soulless like ships or satellites taking measurements of the lush audio-visuals of the cosmos they drift through. I might be overselling the spacey quality a little, since other bands (including those I listed above) feel more like I'm exiting the Solar System, but this is certainly a record which is going to appeal to fans of that singular style. I think there could be some improvement with the programming and individual riff strength, but I found myself adrift with the majority of this album's glinting guitar passages and strange electro/ambient distractions.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Antagoniste - The Myth of Mankind (2015)

The sludge genre is not an initial attractor to me personally, not to say there haven't been a few dozen outstanding bands and works that I've relished within this style, but I find a lot of the recordings put aesthetics like guitar tone and repetition above quality riff scripting and thus I rarely come away with any sort of emotional resonance. Reading in advance about Antagoniste, it seemed this would be a little left of center, using a bit of that heavier, simpler chord structure and tone but twisting and glazing it with all manner of progressive departures, blackgaze influence and lots of change ups in tempo and purpose. As it turns out, The Myth of Mankind is a bit of an oddball, not an unusual fit for I, Voidhanger records which has produced a lot of interesting, unique, often enigmatic artists; but I do feel like this debut lacks some amount of the cohesion and control it might take to leave a bigger footprint.

I won't go so far as to claim it's completely 'chaotic' in nature, since there is plenty of structure and logical succession to the riff patterns. In most of the tracks, you've got these fat, drudging chord patterns that are sauteed in ringing, chiming, atonal guitars for atmosphere. Almost like a mesh of Isis and later Ulcerate, only which black metal charges thrown in that are heralded by the snarlier, wilder rasp vocals. It's also not quite as 'dry' in feel as that comparison might seem, since the French project has a lot more happening at any given moment. Tracks like "The Barren Lands" and "The Fall of Man" are at once both shining and claustrophobic, with vocals that follow few rules or boundaries and just roil in their own viscera. Some of the low end rhythm guitars and bass bounce and churn along with an almost mechanical groove metal precision, and the ultimate result is that the album takes on a sort of organic industrial dichotomy where their own leaden, deadened limbs have been used to replace robots on an assembly line, and the unnerving nature of the hissed rasp seems like a few rubber conveyor belts came loose and are bleeding oxygen as they whip about the space. The drums are a little busier than I'd have expected though, and they do slightly alleviate some of the moments here where I kept zoning out.

As a more pessimistic, vocal-driven alternative to an experience like the Blut Aus Nord 777 trilogy, which experimented with a similar droning, ambient/industrial characteristic but didn't get quite so calamitous or sinister, The Myth of Mankind is a functional enough record. The issues for me were that: 1) the riffing here is far from exceptional, bland patterns of chords that never really took any unexpected turns, and were just expressions of volume and fuzzed, gut-ripping tone rather than mesmerizing hooks...perhaps too accurate to their mechanistic disposition, and 2) the vocals really didn't feel adequately painful or tortured, just a mass of arbitrary hisses and snarls that felt more like the mating of wounded animals than any sort of poignant, memorable force within the music. I do appreciated bands stepping outside the circle, but it's not like this sort of hybrid hasn't been attempted before more successfully. If you're into this really dissonant, soundscape sort of album which pretty liberally contrasts its own lights and darks without any restraint, then this might prove an unsettling ride into some crypto-philosophical terror zone, but this really didn't push the right buttons for me, and apart from a few moments (as in "The Black Sun") where that sunshine and hatred fell into a sudden congruity, or the ambient escapism took over completely, it felt a little too forced into asymmetry, a square peg that didn't quite fit into its round hole.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Acid Witch - Midnight Movies EP (2015)

Midnight Movies is an interesting little 'aside' from the Midwest's morbid ganja doomsters Acid Witch, but I'm not quite sure that the 'interesting' is such a positive on this particular release. Not because I don't relish the idea of a death/doom band covering campy 80s horror movie rock tracks, but the way it is manifest here seems a little too much on the 'partying' side of the equation, fucking around where playing it much straighter would have ultimately proven the more humorous route. Hell, I was looking forward to their take on Fastway's "After Midnight", taken from the 1986 Trick or Treat soundtrack, which I happen to really enjoy (the band in general and that song), but rather than transform these tunes into something more fitting for the Acid Witch style, they play them really close to the belt, including the most minimalistic hard rock drum beats possible and guitars that feel too thin and burdened once Shagrat and Slasher Dave start emitting the growled and screamed vocals.

Granted, this is meant to be completely off the wall, and it's even being released on April 1st of all dates, but even then I just can't help thinking this was a missed opportunity to morph such straight shot rockers into some ugly, abusive, cellar shroom doom more like their Stoned album, which I found pretty damn solid. I guess if I was a younger fan and this was the first time I'd ever even heard of these songs and movies, it might feel a lot more clever, but the execution here just seems a little on the lazy side...the beats, the guitar riffs, nothing is conveyed with much more than the power of sheer sarcasm. On the one hand, we now know the band members can hit higher pitches circa a whole lot of cheesy, endearing schlock rock and half the early through mid-80s Metal Blade roster, but once you contrast that with the growling in the bounds of single tunes ("Soldiers of the Night" from Black Roses), it just feels too counterproductive to the cause. That and "After Midnight" are probably the better two songs here, since the others are fairly miserable in translation and weren't all that much fun in the first place...like the gang shouts coming in on "Partytime" over the guttural rasp.

I think the best outcome here is that people will track down the original material and enjoy it, which is more than likely what the members of Acid Witch intended all along; but beyond the fact the 12" has a pretty fun cover and will no doubt become a collector's item, I just can't recommend it. The production is alright, the instruments in the mix seem a little phoned in, and the delivery on some of the harsher vocal lines is pretty 'blah', and that's really one of the only areas in which they've tried to deviate from the originals. I don't mean to be terribly hard on it, since they're more or less just taking the piss, and I certainly share in their inspiration for those wonderful years and all the mystique that used to surround Halloween, metal music, etc when I was a pup in that decade. Hell, if you place nostalgia above all else, perhaps you'll take a lot more away from this than I did, but all it accomplished for me is wanting to hear more of Acid Witch in their native habitat. It's been about 5 years now, so I hope we won't be waiting too much longer for a new full-length of original material.

Verdict: Indifference [5/10]


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Nunslaughter/Acid Witch - Spooky EP (2014)

The Spooky split assembles two of Hells Headbangers more distinct and entertaining acts into a union of what I would have assumed to be a contrast of the slower Acid Witch death/doom camp and the more blitzing death/thrash of Nunslaughter. Yet, to my shock, the choices on this EP really seem to complement one another, with the latter putting on the reins for some of their slower, chunkier, and Acid Witch revving up their engines for the closer on the B-side, which places them on an evil motorcycle pacing with the Catholic Church's favorite band. But beyond that, the material both of the band's is spewing forth here is among the best I've heard from them. Nunslaughter is on a tear, granted, their last record Angelic Dread kicking the cathedral doors down and shredding every habit in sight; but I just wasn't feeling the new Acid Witch EP covers EP much (more on that later), so it was a blast to hear that when it comes to their own material, they've certainly still got it.

The Acid Witch tracks are savage, organ-endowed paeans to darkness and damnation with a bit of that ol' tongue-in-cheek nature added in the lyrics and the stoner-Sabbath grooves that occasionally erupt in the rhythm guitars. "Evil" and "Fiends of Old" are mixed a little rough, giving them an airier garage quality, only if that garage was a co-op they were sharing with a serial killer wearing a clown mask and chainsaw in the 70s. The growls and organs in unison sound absolutely fucking amazing, and I hope a lot of this unhinged energy carries through to their next batch of original stuff. On the other hand, Nunslaughter has the tighter, cleaner production punch of the last album, so there is a little bit of disparity, the two bands don't blend so well in the mix alone. It's the style where it works, and "Spooky Tails" is just a slower, doom/thrash bit with a very simple hook and just blood-gorged vocals that reflect a lot of their Teutonic thrash and proto-death metal influences, with maybe even a little bit of a 90s Carcass thing in how the riff grooves. "A Sordid Past" is cast and carved from a similar vein, only with more gusto and triplet chugging.

It's only 12 minutes of music, but it's engaging and fun all the way throughout, nothing wearing its welcome thin and the cover art is just amazing, with that old horror vinyl cover finish and a colorful image that any creepy comic of the 60s or 70s would have been honored to bear. Except lyrics that focus heavily on Midwest death & thrash metal nostalgia, in particular "Fiends of Old" with a few shout outs to other bands. Nunslaughter have a lot of experience on splits, of course, but I believe this is a first for Acid Witch, and they pull out the tops. The songs might not always feature the catchiest riffs in existence, but both of the bands seem on top of their grisly games and constantly remind you what it is about them that you've ever found entertaining. If, in fact, you have. If NOT...well...you are one tough crowd, brothers and sister. Tough crowd.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Harvest Gulgaltha - Necrosophic (2014)

Harvest Gulgaltha's 2012 cassette demo set an ungodly primitive tone for a project that was heavily focused on unearthing the roots of extremity, in particular the death metal genre, and applying them to the modern day with little more than ugly, harrowing conviction. Necrosophic is a compilation of three other, shorter recordings which remains 100% steadfast to that ideal, and if anything ups the riffing ante just slightly enough that it doesn't feel lazy or stubborn to the extent that it won't try out a new riff style here just to convey a marginal sense of variation. Not that it needs so much help there, since it fairly evenly distributes aesthetics across the death, doom and black metal genres, but the way this LP actually comes across is as a unified, consistent experience rather than a collection of disparate recordings, which so many of these sorts of demo collections ultimately fall prey to.

Necrosophic is an opaque wall of heaving, rotted flesh constructed from the most barebones tremolo riffing patterns and slower, sepulchral doom grooves conjoined with a hideous guttural vocal that retains a lot of torture and sustain as it echoes across the crushing primacy of the songwriting. There are occasionally blasting rhythms or dissonant, airier rhythm guitars representative of a slower style of black metal, and taken as a whole it recalls a lot of 80s genre godfathers ranging from Death and Celtic Frost to Cianide or Nihilist/Entombed, but rarely favoring any of those schools above the other, instead presenting itself as this bludgeoning blank slate to which almost any idea might be applied. The cuts never overstay their welcome, even when consisting of a handful of simplistic riffs they rarely transgress a 4-minute boundary, and there's enough compulsion and variety to those tunes that you feel appropriately absorbed; as with "Of Power in Suspension" which opens with ritualistic, softer drums and dark ambient textures for about half its length but then strikes you in the face with a shovel, knocking you into the nearest open grave and then smothering you with those roiling, dirty guitars until you're nothing more than asphyxiated worm-food.

Riffs are not terribly memorable on an individual basis, their efficacy is in just how uncomfortable and churning and bleak of an atmosphere they create, generally the most formidable when they are played at a crawl like in "Zenith of Formless Chaos" or the longest tune "Liberation of Corporeal Flesh". The guitars and vocals create such an ominous low end that the bass really doesn't come through often for me, but we're not talking Craig Pillard/Incantation style on the latter, more of a ruptured stomach lining growl with plenty of scrutable suffering. Drums seem a little lower mixed, but effectively murky, and the louder splashes of the cymbals are paired up perfectly with the more measured, Cyclopean grooves. I don't know that I can judge this material higher or lower than what I experienced on the demo. Necrosophic is slightly more fulfilling due to the number of tracks, but it presents that same level of darkness and density which complements the necromantic, simple image of the human skull on the cover. Filth purists, who fondly recount an era in which these genres were so often interwoven without a second thought will enjoy its honesty, in particular the death/doom crowd.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Moonspell - Extinct (2015)

Portugal's premiere metallic export seems to cycle through as many phases as their name would imply. The emphasis earlier this century was on returning to their harsher hitting, blacker roots, wrought in simpler, crushing riffs and vocals that took the primal essence of their first few albums into the meatpacking facility of contemporary production. Now, it seems as if they've wandered off that track yet again, changing with the tides, and are attempting to fully embrace the swooning Gothic metal that garnered them some international success and touring opportunities via Irreligious, Sin/Pecado and the more subtle, introspective Butterfly Effect. That's not such a bad thing in my eyes, since I enjoyed two of those discs quite a lot, and found Fernando Ribeiro's deep intonations an exotic Euro-alternative to Peter Steele's bass-baritone, far more versed in Anne Rice fiction and goofy vampiric sentimentality than his depressive American counterpart. You might think I mean that as some sort of insult, but I assure you, far from the case, it is one of the endearing qualities about Moonspell that insures I check out just about everything they release, and as with their prior double album Alpha Noir/Omega White, I'm generally not all that disappointed. They haven't been churning out masterworks this past decade, but the records are usually good enough that I'll keep them in rotation for a few months until a heap of better has come along...

So Extinct goes big with its flaring, accessible Gothic anthems that seem as much as ever like iron clad paeans to the sounds of bands like The Mission, Love Like Blood, Fields of the Nephilim and Sisters of Mercy and their ilk, no doubt inspirations upon these guys for many years running. To and extent, this rock fueled, post-Billy Idol momentum is reflective of the scene that exploded out of Finland 10-15 years ago by bands like H.I.M. and Charon, but rather than writing some of the most watered down, corny mascara-man-metal, there has always been a more philosophical bent, a poetic license taking with Moonspell's musings that places them somewhere closer to the source of those 'dark' feelings which made such an impact on the psyche of an entirely subcultural generation back in the 80s and earlier 90s. This isn't your femme fatale garden variety supernatural Romance shit, it's the World of fuckin' Darkness. Vampire the Fucking Masquerade, siphoned off into ballsy if obvious huge chord patterns that the Portuguese thankfully accent with tasteful melodic licks, total 80s Goth synthesizer lines which feel bright as streetlights as you're walking 13 city blocks to the closest trash dive bar that will play you Depeche Mode and David Bowie non-stop to the break of dawn. Not as gloomy, poignant and powerful perhaps as their stylistic neighbors Tiamat have become in their middle age. At least half a dozen times listening through this I caught nostalgia for rummaging through the bins for overpriced Cleopatra Records CDs back in my beloved early 20s.

The songs are not "Ruin & Misery" or "Opium"-level catchy, but they really strive for that on "Funeral Bloom" or "The Last of Us", some of my faves here. It's also not an all-out bust for those who want more metal with their Moonspell, because the title track is loaded with hooky floes of semi-black chords and more clinical, punchy licks alongside some of Fernando's more abusive and frankly hilarious demi-growls. The opener "Breathe (Until We Are No More)" also hits pretty hard, and the absurdly titled "Medusalem" has a little Middle Eastern vibe in the melodies it embeds into the chugging mid-paced leather and nail polish. As simple as a lot of the tracks feel, they're always just a layer or two beyond being dumbed down, and the superb production of the bass lines and drumming lends a credible punch to the gut to even those who find the sissy-isms of this style an alien tongue entirely. A handful of tunes like "The Future is Dark" obfuscate the metal elements completely, but still provide grooving, archaic, synth-syrup hooks that match pretty well with those deep vocals; and the album is backloaded with interesting departures like the mellower "Doomina" or the song in French, "La Baphomette", which at least worth a few genuine chuckles, which I'm sure is working just as intended. Love bites in general, but Moonspell does it on the neck.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]