Friday, April 18, 2014

Hail of Bullets - III: The Rommel Chronicles (2013)

I've been comfortable for years claiming that Hail of Bullets provides my favorite Asphyx material, because it so ramps up the tension and potential of that seminal death metal entity while also offering the same enormous clusterfuck production which the members' primary act also has capitalized on with their recent releases. That said, this Dutch act plays with such a simplistic, strength-minded sensibility that there is constantly the threat of them burning themselves out, writing a set of riffs too complacent or plain in structure that they can fail to achieve, and I do think to an extent this has happened with the third full-length III: The Rommel Chronicles, only not so much that I didn't still pump the fuck out of this thing on a number of occasions.

No, riff for riff, this is not the equal of either of its predecessors, nor does it start off particularly promising with "Swoop of the Falcon", but there is enough meat on its bones that retro death metal pundits the world over should find some common ground being tread. Van Drunen's vocals have lost nothing with age, but I would not say that his performance here is among his more memorable...that award still belongs to his old Pestilence material, on which he pretty much created every pattern he'd later re-arrange. I am surprised that his voice has held up this long, he's got such a bloodiness in there which seems like it would have cracked a million times over in 30 years, yet the ugliness persists, the desperation and hostility which is almost like Lemmy Kilminster gargling gunpowder while chomping on an unlit cigar...always about to explode! Rhythm guitars maintain that corpulent fleshiness of the other albums, only a few tunes like "To the Last Breath of Man and Beast" contained groove riffs so unfuckably exhausted that part of The Rommel Chronicles feels more like an obligation than an advancement further along enemy lines...

Many of those grooves unfortunately also remind me of stuff you'd hear on an average Six Feet Under disc, not that it's such a bad thing with Van Drunen taking the helm in place of Barnes, but stuff like "DAK" could have used an added sheen of atmosphere or complexity to help raise the roof. Like a lot of acts these years, Hail of Bullets seem to be increasingly relying on the momentum of their production values alone to mask rehashed ideas, and if that's going to be the case they might have just ended with the excellent sophomore album. On the other hand, lyrically I found this fascinating, since Rommel is one of my favorite historical military figures and perhaps the most competent of the Axis strategists, and when listened to in one lump sum in my car, the disc fucking crushed me on a number of occasions that I still consider it a solid success, even though it really lacks the surprise value of the others, and the riffs are a few tiers lesser in quality. It'd be nice now for the Dutchmen to take leave for awhile, come up with some new ideas and perhaps even attempt to dial up the complexity of what they write rather than just do the same shit time in and time out, which is also symptomatic of Asphyx. Just because you can write the same, progressively redundant riffs and stay 'loyal' to a sound does not mean that you should pursue the course indefinitely...Rommel is strong, but like the figure himself, not invincible.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (on to the next duel)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Infernal Curse - The End Upon Us EP (2014)

As the pestilent pulpit of old school death metal continues to preach into the ears of more parishioners, the sounds continue to grow uglier and more unrefined, as is evidenced by the latest EP of the Argentinian graveyard union known as Infernal Curse. Similar to several bands from their neighboring Chile, you're being presented here with an alternative accumulation of late 80s/early 90s death metal tropes which have been twisted into something mildly unique due to what might or might not be a more exotic interpretation of the seminal works of acts like Autopsy, Rottrevore, Necrovore and Incantation, though this is restricted more to production choices than musical technique.

The End Upon Us is a great looking EP, with cover artwork that does well to visually ascribe to its musical aesthetics, which are unapologetic in their primacy. Stripped down. Base. Smeared in offal and viscera. Like the unearthing of some dirt tomb where plagued paupers were recently buried alive. You can never quite shake the stench of this from your ears after listening, with voluptuous and bruising bass lines and soiled, smearing chords and tremolo guitars which don't evoke a lot of variation or melody throughout their evocation. The drums seem peppier and able to offer a contrast to the dinginess of the strings, with enough reverb on the fills to lend some atmosphere to the muddy script. Chord progressions are exceedingly primitive and unfortunately don't arrive at any creative ideas; I'm getting to the point where I'm well beyond loving this stuff just because of its purism alone, and when they concede into even more simplistic doom death grooves, it feels agonizingly retread and dull.

A shame, because I'd be much more compelled if they used this same, impenetrable production and then wrote some resonant licks or leads into it which could cultivate the feel of alien, obscure death metal so missing from many of its nostalgia-addicted champions. Infernal Curse has been at this awhile, but apart from the fact they promulgate an even more deformed visage to the music than some of their better known peers, there's just not a lot here that I felt myself wanting to return to. Again, The End Upon Us has that initial, visual stimulation where the artwork and musical goals seem aligned, but then there is no surprise awaiting you behind each leaning structure, each withered limb, each whorl of blackened miasma sucking on the soul stuff of the intended victims. Even the Hadez cover doesn't sound much different apart from the possible chord placement, and while I've heard much worse, the EP ultimately dissolves amidst the blurred, swelled ranks of its fellow retrogressors.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Grief of Emerald - It All Turns to Ashes (2012)

Keeping a review to a concise length is no mean feat when the cover artwork speaks to just about everything you need to know about the musical content. Fire and blasphemy, hatred of the holy, Grief of Emerald seem about as sincere and serious about its sacrilege here as anywhere else in their career. The Swedes' sophomore, and fifth album overall, through Dutch Non Serviam records, It All Turns to Ashes is quite likely their most professional and musically evocative offering, but 20+ years into a band's existence I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a little more distinction and personality, which is sacrificed here in what could be best described as an attempt to compile all their tricks and techniques over the prior four albums into something simply 'better'.

In all fairness, it really is. Namely, the production has hit another plateau, with the crisp and forceful tremolo picked guitars hitting their stride in most of the band's most involved and ear-sticking melodies to date, while the synthesizers embedded into the atmosphere are mixed with more of an airy grace, using a lot of similar pad/organ sounds as on the earlier material, but seemingly more nocturnal and scintillating. Grief's flaw was never the band's actual musicianship, and they further exemplify their grasp of technique with a firm balance of faster paced, blistering note progressions that erupt into convulsive, percussive palm muted patterns and leads imbued with an exotic Eastern mystique. It All Turns to Ashes might not be stuffed to the fiery gills with solo work, but I like how these guitars are slathered and squealing over the meatier rhythms with a more defiant rock & roll attitude, and yet never steer the listener's attention away from the feisty, brutal momentum of pieces like the mighty "Warstorms" or the title track itself, amongst a suitably varied lineup.

Of course, when you break down the riffs further, the patterns seem like a standard admixture of the lines populating the busier tunes of Cradle of Filth, Marduk, Lord Belial or Dark Funeral around the dawn of the millennium, played firmly and with precision but never truly imaginative or compelling to develop an identity. This dearth of nuance extends to Johnny Letho's vocal rasp, which is likewise pretty commonplace among the Swedish legions, and lacking the more sinister decree of black metal frontmen who leave you with an unmistakable impression that they've been damned below the surface world. In fact, It All Turns to Ashes is really all surface stuff; speed and flash and little depth of malevolence. Just because consecrated ground is set ablaze here, doesn't mean I think these guys have much of a concern for the subject matter beyond the fact that it fits their musical objectives. This is without question their most accomplished effort, likely to sate those who retain an investment in fast, clean, proficient Scandinavian black metal, and the one to check out before any others if you're new to them, but that doesn't preclude the interested party from checking out of their catalog once these particular altars are cinders and the priest have been run off.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Grief of Emerald - The Devils Deep (2011)

My heart was hardly broken when Grief of Emerald took a seven year dirt nap, but nor was I really surprised when they returned a half decade later to produce a demo recording that was essentially 50% of their forthcoming fourth opus The Devils Deep. It's a little disappointing that all this time was put to poor use, since the material here is vaguely distinguishable from even their 1998 debut Nightspawn, and yet I think the subtle advancements in production techniques paired up with their already sharpened musical ability to produce what was possibly their most 'accomplished' record to its day, or at least the best looking, since it has the first cover art I actually thought was pretty cool.

The Swedes always suffered from the fact that, despite their general level of competence and proficiency, they were essentially a retread of many other bands who released music like this when it was freshly infernal and resonant, albums that still spin in the regular rotations of a million extreme metal fans to this day. So if The Devils Deep would have already seemed generic by late 90s standards, what does that make it by the Anno 2011? Clearly there has been no popular retrogression back towards this style. A few other Swedish bands like Watain had championed the more Dissection/Dark Funeral-esque style to some degree of notoriety (more through their inconsistent and confrontational personalities than some of their music), but the genre as a whole had moved on to other territories...depressive black metal, 'blackgaze', or folksy, veiled Nationalism. A disc sounding like The Devils Deep was never in high demand, and yet, there are certain nuances to the material here which allow it to surpass all the older albums through Listenable.

The sound is tighter and sharper than any since arguably their debut, with a lot of those razor-snake riffs and melodies compounded into punishing fruition with another tireless battery of blasted and slower contrasts. I felt like the lead-work in particular here was the best they'd yet recorded, parting a veil to reveal another level of malignancy in composition, and the decision to toss on a few soaring, cleaner vocals is also managed rather well. The level of structural variation here also reached a new peak, though there was still a tendency to lapse into derivative and predictable riffs during blasted sequences which almost make everything else more compelling by association. However, there are at least a dozen sweet riffs in among the lattice of the forgotten, whereas the keyboards have more compunction and resilience. When Grief of Emerald fire on all cylinders here, they can at least stay in the race with much of their competition, and though three of the seven tunes are mere re-recordings from the first two albums, these versions are very much superior. Not a good album itself, perhaps, but The Devils Deep is adequately seasoned enough to taunt that the Swedes were capable of writing one.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10] (there the blood of the ancient boils)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Grief of Emerald - Christian Termination (2002)

Problems persisted with Grief of Emerald's ability to stand out among a very crowded crowd, but one has to give them a little credit for at least settling down on a few things here, not the least of which are the choice of logo (and a decent one) and more vicious production values of their third and final record in the Listenable deal: Christian Termination. I grant you, the label might have been glad to wash their hands of such a decidedly average black metal execution for the time, but the Swedes did end on their highest note yet and if nothing else, I cannot challenge the level of aggression and persistence here, or the fact that they so boldly wore their sacrilege on their sleeves in a ploy that might have worked to attract more brutal/occult death metal fans into their fold.

The death metal component here is of course understated; you could classify a few of the slower chugging riffs in that category, but this is still keyboard-induced orchestration with a lot of predictable Scandinavian black metal riff progressions which veer between mid-paced simplicity and sinuous, serpentine melodies which sadly are just never that great. I actually dug the ruddy sewage of that rhythm guitar tone, it stands out far more than on the prior albums and made the vocals by comparison seem a lot more grisly and fucked up. Drums were still a power storm of blasts and double-bass, void of subtlety or dynamic range outside of the tempo alone, but they definitely bludgeon away like a lot of the faster Floridian evil death metal via Deicide or Diabolic. If Christian Termination has one notable aesthetic departure from its predecessors, I would label that the more chaotic like "The Almighty is Rising" feel like they take more random turns in pacing, and while this is occasionally obnoxious, it does at least reveal a mild sense of misdirection. Grief of Emerald were trying to break out of their box here, just not really succeeding so well...

The cover art was still insidiously lame, with some strange orgy of giant snakes and skull-faced nuns, but you could at least laugh at this one where the others were just too awkward to stare at for more than a second. It's all dowsed in fire and evil with crucifixes and stained-glassed windows for background, and that sort of showiness permeates the music itself, and the constant nagging organ tones being run off in the background but heavily crushed by the volume of the riffing force and vocals. Once in a while they'll fire off an exotic level of escapism like that melodic intro to "Those Who Bear the Mark" which hinges on some actual quality music, but for the most part Christian Termination tends to thrive off its cliched blasphemies and genre alone. That said, of the band's first phase (prior to the ensuing hiatus), this is hands down the strongest of the three full-lengths and might possess some limited appeal to fans who number mid-list Swedish black metal albums amidst their collections of Deicide, Krisiun and Vital Remains.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10] (your easiest prey)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Grief of Emerald - Malformed Seed (2000)

While the second attempt at creating a Grief of Emerald logo using some arbitrary low-level font failed miserably, and the cover artwork to their sophomore is more laughable than demonic as intended, I do think Malformed Seed takes a single stride forward in terms of effectiveness. The Swedes seemed to have better settled into the symphonic black metal histrionics here with a little more compulsion than merely to blast away as derivatively as possible and ride in the wake of far better bands who released prominent recordings 5-6 years earlier. I'm not implying a broad stylistic gulf between this and its predecessor Nightspawn, but a few times on this album I felt like I almost heard a genuinely decent riff churned out amidst so many vapid impostors.

There is a slightly deeper end to this, with perhaps a lot more double-bass groove patterns infested with the incendiary tremolo picked guitars and basic chord configurations that defined the debut. The synths seem to swell with a more voluptuous malevolence, all strings and fell angel choirs splayed out in rather common and predictable patterns that lend a fuller body to the thinner sound of the guitars. There are also a number of more chug-like bottom end riff patterns which fall somewhere between Samael's "Jupiterian Vibe" and any random sequence off Dimmu Borgir's Enthrone Darkness Triumphant or Spiritual Black Dimensions, performed with a warlike, steady bombast that gives the impression of a couple of gargoyle armies launching themselves to war in a massive subterranean cavern, its vaulted walls alight with the radiance of magma. Of course, whichever of these forces the ugly 'cover model' belongs to, I hope would be the loser, so that its ugly countenance can be smashed to pebbles...but I digress. Occasionally these lower, loping grooves take on a more death meta vibe circa Morbid Angel's Blessed Are the Sick or Domination, albeit with less interesting notation.

While atmosphere was not exactly vacant from Nightspawn, Malformed Seed ramps it all up with that stronger contrast of bass-like tones and cavernous faux-organs. The vocals retain a stock rasp which presents them as indistinguishable from a hundred other bands in the medium, never arranged into anything that remotely resembles a fascinating threat, and in fact they often feel quite independent from the music, due most likely to the production. That aforementioned focus on the double-bass beatdowns also leaves me with the mild impression that the Swedes were going for a more mosh-friendly sound here, still accountable to all the Norsecore hordes, but aimed more centrally at an audience that at was the time more concerned with chug-laden melodic death metal and whatever was on Nuclear Blast that week. The result is at best like Samael's Passage without the soul and songwriting, and at worst just another of those countless late second wave duds that populated the later 90s to bursting. 14 years later, this retains a small modicum of cheesy entertainment, but it's absolutely faceless when paired up against any record that meant a damn.

Verdict: Indifference [5.25/10] (even you carry the thorn)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Grief of Emerald - Nightspawn (1998)

Grief of Emerald is a Scandinavian black metal band lost among so many other Scandinavian black metal bands almost as soon as they left the starting gate...and for good reason. Take a look at this album, and then, say, take a look at Darkthrone's A Blaze in the Northern Sky, which remains so stark and effective, or Emperor's In the Nightside Eclipse; evocative and threatening. Not that I like slagging a record for packaging decisions alone, but even if this were some work of musical brilliance, which it really isn't, the lame digital cover art and choice of non-logo give it absolutely no sense of identity beyond a million modern groove metal or melodic death albums of its day, much less vaulting into the black metal elite. I had no idea when I first acquired this what the hell it was, only that being released through Listenable it was going to be some combination of death and black metal. The band name was bizarre, I'll grant you, but that's unfortunately their most memorable aspect, at least when it comes to the 1998 debut Nightspawn.

Once we arrive at the actual musical content, we're greeted by a competently performed 43 minute burst of precision black metal which falls completely short of distinguishing itself from the Emperors, Dissections, Limbonic Arts, Dimmu Borgirs or other 'symphonic' black metal bands of its day which use keyboards to create a vaster cosmic/nocturnal impression and some tension with the razor-honed guitars. Don't get me wrong, these Swedes can play the shit out of their respective instruments. Riffs are somewhat dazzling and complex and flying all over the atmosphere, while the blasted drums are tireless and responsible for much of the belligerent ballast. Just about everything on this stage is set for a tremendous career of potential, but where Grief of Emerald could not compete with their myriad peers was in summoning up some semblance of personality or uniqueness. Every riff choice, every rasped vocal battery, every keyboard pad is more or less a composite lifted from a few dozen albums that had already hit market, and while they did well enough to try and straddle between the atmosphere of old Covenant and the sheer intensity of countrymen Naglfar, and really this feels like a group of session musicians from other acts just got together to impersonate them after being handed walking papers...

To be fair: it's far from terrible as a debut, and I've got rather a soft spot for this old 'night-sky', haunted castle sort of recording which carries off my imagination to old Dungeons & Dragons adventures or pagan alternate universes where demons reign over corpse-painted barbarians. But even then, there are just too few riffs which stand out, and considering how many they throw your way over the course of the nine tunes, I would have expected a few left hooks that justified the remainder. Instead, it's just a seamless showcase of banal tremolo picked chords or single note streams, occasionally dispersed with slower, dissonant shining chords that are no different than many of their peers. Lyrics are quite similar to other Swedish bands like Dark Funeral, Lord Belial or Marduk, that is to say decent if not outstanding. The vocals are nasty and impassioned enough that he doesn't seem to be fronting, but the album very badly wants to come across as evil or menacing and instead it seems like filling out a black metal connect-the-dots book hosted by some ghoulish mascot throwing you the horns. Almost like a proto-Dethklok without the failed humor, everything about Nightspawn screams 'me too guys, surely you have enough space in your hearts for another Norsecore band! We're totally legit!

Verdict: Indifference [5/10] (kindred cadaver dine)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Dornenreich - Freiheit (2014)

Dornenreich has always struck me as an act which puts such a tremendous amount of effort into its songwriting that I feel a few pangs of guilt that they've never left more of an impression with me. Despite immersing myself into a number of their past works, including 2011's Flammentriebe (one of their best), I simply don't find much of an allure to reach back once the initial listening period has passed. That said, I do not in general maintain an obsessive desire for such polished, folksy pastures upon which these Austrians graze. My preference was always for the dingier, more obscure sojourns of a Falkenbach or the Middle Earth majesties of the legendary Summoning, both of whom fill a comparable niche, while sounding very little like this band. At the end of the day, though, there is a massive audience for what Dornenreich commit to their albums, and Freiheit should continue to make new fans out of listeners within and without the folk metal genre, a nearly perfect 'period piece' band whose adherence to glinting traditional instrumentation should make the the toast of many faires and the emerging cultural awareness of younger European generations who were seemingly lost for decades.

This is more of a folk album than a metal album, to be sure, but not the sort of navel-gazing predictable stuff you'll find at a local coffeehouse open mic. They keep their writing engaging, narrative, weaving varied emotions through the rugged/smooth paradigm shifts of vocalist Eviga (Jochen Stock), who often seems just as much on the attack as he would during a more metallic shift in the band. Speaking of which, those only start to erupt around the mid point of the album's eight tracks, and usually just involve heavy chords to back up the violins and acoustic guitars, but Freiheit is so confident and invested in this neofolk side that you can honestly listen through without any expectations of metal content and not feel as if you're missing out. Bass lines are timid, drums as crystal and impacting as the more eloquent strings, and the production of this just sounds absolutely incredible at almost any volume. So accessible and involved are these guys that you have to wonder why they aren't booked for every Medieval/folk festival on the Eurasian continent, because they surpass most strictly folk/classical string-based ensembles I've experienced on record. But on the other hand, there is enough here for a rock fan to enjoy, what with the uptempo maneuvers and dreamy, ebullient melodies woven over the rambling rustic structures.

The only points at which the disc veers away from the accessible are the more tortured, gut-fed black metal vocals which arrive in a cut like "Das Licht vertraut der Nacht", which might turn off a few old timers but really just contribute to Eviga's overall charisma through these tales. Lighter than air, but eternally tormented, it clearly reminds you of Dornenreich's more aggressive roots without selling short the atmosphere and mainstream viability cultivated elsewhere through the instrumentation. The Austrian German lyrics might throw up a language barrier for those beyond the band's borders, but I think ultimately that anyone seeking out such a folksy purity on a recording wouldn't find this much of a hindrance. Their practice of packaging the music with a very common naturalistic image continues here, and yet strangely doesn't grow old since it jives with the authenticity and tradition implicit in the musical aims. I do feel that I got more out of the last album Flammentriebe than I did here, but this is certainly another of those records which has me pining for a past on the European mainland that I am far too removed to have ever experienced. With the appropriate lager and company, this is a pretty substantial trip into time, as Dornenreich persist in their evolution from some folk metal guys into a cultural artifact.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lantlôs - Melting Sun (2014)

Although I had become decreasingly fond of Lantlôs over the course of Herbst's first three albums, Melting Sun is one of those records that offers me affirmation as to why I often stick with bands when I think they might have something hidden in there which has yet to surface. Granted, the last one I experienced (Agape) was more or less a creative coma of dull ideas. This project was by and large surfing on the trending wave of shoegaze oriented black metal expatriates, with nothing more to show for it than meeting the laws of supply & demand, to the point that Neige of the tragically overrated Alcest himself was involved, but it seems that after nearly a decade of gestation, Lantlôs has at long last settled into a comfort zone and begun to produce some quality assurance.

Disclaimer: this is so barely metal that I'd sooner just categorize it with the post, indie and space rock waves of the mid 90s, the black-tinted riffing progressions now a thing of the past, though you might pick out a few tremolo picked guitars or drudging chords which can frankly belong to a number of rock genres. But that's quite alright, because like its title hints, it provides this fulfilling, warm cycle of emotions which brings to mind Chicago abandon-rock darlings Hum from when they had a few singles 15-ish years ago, or perhaps more recognizably a few drop of Smashing Pumpkins' massive alterna-rock bleeding through. Solar flare drifts of brighter guitars careen across the vacuum of weighted chords, thick and juicy bass-lines pumping fresh blood through the glacial rhythmic veins which supply Melting Sun's circulation. Most of these tunes require a little patience for the payoff. Not to the point that they're truly time-consuming, and Herbst reins in the experience at around 40 minutes, but he takes his time in delivering the most heightened and passionate passages above the sailing, soothing strains of ambiance, progg-ish low-end lumps of bass and dreary yet uplifting vocals.

His voice is not exactly memorable, per se, but I think it fits the spaciousness of the music through some of the sustained passages; also helps 'ground' the songwriting aspirations with an everyman quality that sounds like any of your random middle aged neighbors going out to pick up the morning paper and then stopping to ponder a cloud, rainbow or some other unspeakable phenomena of the natural world. Gentler, ambient clean guitar passages and swelling backdrops ("Golden Mind" being a prime example) help round out some of the harder hitting, bulky guitar progressions, and Melting Sun never abandons its central ebb and flow of calm and crushing contrasts, star-tides radiated through the cosmos and soaked into the skins of the living. I would not deem this a massive stylistic departure from any of the previous records I've heard, but it seems handling all the instruments/vocals himself has resulted in more consistent, catchy fare that borders on poignancy, and while it's nothing intensely intellectual or amazing, I enjoyed listening to it...and coming from an individual who though the prior works were middling at best, I hope that means something.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Howls of Ebb Interview

Interview with zEleFthAnD by Autothrall.

When launching this site six years ago, my original intention was not only to write up critiques on a comprehensive body of metal works, but also to converse with the creators behind some of the most compelling and inspirational of recordings I've encountered through my listening. Well, as the months (and years) rolled on, I really failed to launch on this aspect, finding it difficult to dig up the investment I had in the 90s when writing for a print zine. That all changes this Spring, as I embark on a monthly quest to pick the brains of some of the more fascinating authors of agony in the underground! Who better to start this with than the esoteric consciousness behind the Howls of Ebb, whose debut album through I, Voidhanger records has spent several nights with me on the very precipice of sanity...I was honored to speak with songwriter, vocalist and guitarist  Z.L.H..

Auto: The question a lot of people probably want me to ask: what's behind the name Howls of Ebb? Definitely sticks out...

Z.L.H.: I had the name prior to writing any content. It came to me quite easily because I already had an idea of the sound and approach in mind. I suppose ‘Howls of Ebb’ could be construed as an (almost) irreconcilable duality of those that are in denial, fearful and/or mournful of humanity's inevitable demise (or decline), and those that embraces it with vigor and might. As the creator, I like to weave through both simultaneously, as a voyeuristic watcher, static, benign, only observing. It’s all very real and directly ties into the concepts and lyrical themes of the music.

Though this is the first album for this particular project, you've actually been at this for quite a long time. Could you tell us a little about your earlier band Nepenthe from the 90s? What was it like performing black/death metal in Kansas City so early on, or was there a relatively populated scene? Why'd you call it quits back then? Is its newer incarnation Ligeia a direct continuation?

Yes, Nepenthe started in 1992-93. At that time (and I imagine till today) there was no scene in Kansas City. It was just Order From Chaos and a few other folks. We all hung out together, and would occasionally play live for friends and OFC. Nepenthe technically played one live audience show, which was recorded and released as a cassette called ‘Live at Howards’.

In ’95, I changed the band name to Ligeia. The two primary reasons for the change were that the sound and style changed considerably, and band members trickled down to just myself, and Chris Overton, which made it more a project than a band. After the 1996 Ligeia release, In Death Overshadow Thee demo, I became pretty bored with metal in general. The second generation BM bands like Emperor, Mayhem, Burzum, Blasphemy, Impaled Nazarene, Samael, Beherit, etc…quickly were being duplicated (and still are now!) In addition to the stale nature of DM, it just all became hugely repetitive and predictable. The inspiration to create music quickly waned and I just moved onto other things that I enjoyed. My desire to write music picked up again around 2006.

I've encountered a number of your previous releases on badGod music, specifically Trillion Red and King Carnage. Like Howls of Ebb, both were pretty unusual. Did a lot of that unconsciously influence you when conceiving Howls' sound, or was this a decision to completely flip the script on anything else you'd written? Will this be taking full priority or will there be future Trillion Red material?   

I think HoB has enough room within its boundaries to keep my creative juices flowing for a long time, so I suspect it will be my only working project for many years, or until I either I get bored with it or feel I nothing left to contribute. If I were a gambling man, I would say there are probably 2 to 3 more significant releases to come. I certainly do not anticipate any distractions or other projects.

Moving backwards, Trillion Red was an experimental phase of mine when I learned a lot about production, mixing, effects, processors, and recording. Anything I had available to me, I used. It all ended up quite complicated, and without much of a focus. Later, the urge to create something deadly, stank, and bludgeoning spawned King Carnage. That was a one-off I did for fun, but indeed an excellent record! After I got that ‘urge to kill’ out of me via King Carnage, I thought the ideal candidate for a long term serious project would be a combination of Trillion Red and King Carnage, i.e. something complex, elusive, original, deep, dark, but with a sharp cutting pendulum swinging at all times.

How did you meet the other guys in the band, who operate under the handles of Rotten Bliss and Benign Blight? Did they think you were mad when they first heard you jamming some of this material, or did they actually prompt you along this left hand path?

Although I always see my own material as nothing out of the unusual, I do think of it as original. I do hear or read a lot of people saying HoB is “strange”, “weird”, “experimental” or “crazy”, but I think in this particular case, these are typical words to use when hearing something original, but not actually fully realizing it yet.

As for mates in the band, B.B. is a long time friend I have known for over 20 years. We share the same tastes in music and have written together in the past, so there were no surprises. On a side note, he happens to write way more bizarre stuff than I do. R.B. is a freak among the most gentle of trolls. He probably has the most diverse taste and skill set I have come across, and a young lad too! For the most part, I don’t think anything I showed him was a surprise, and that is why I liked him so much. He just takes what I have and runs with it.

A lot of what we create is pretty symbiotic. It all starts with seeds and ideas I pull out of the old pocket, and then we break it down, expand it, and put the proverbial puzzle pieces together as a group.

When did you cross paths with Luciano and I, Voidhanger records? Was it through a shared love of Darkthrone's Plaguewielder, or did you demo the material to a bunch of labels? How about sharing a roster with other killer bands like The Wakedead Gathering, Ysengrin, Spectral Lore and Bloodway, did that tip the scales?

No shared love of Darkthrone here. We actually began talking after I purchased some records from him, as well as traded the King Carnage for albums he released, like the Ysengrin, Ævangelist, Seperent Asecending. I mentioned HoB and showed him a song. He loved it and I also hold his label in very high regards, so it just made sense to work together.

It's probably contrived to describe Howls as a 'deconstruction' of death metal aesthetics, but can you actually explain what inspired your decision to tackle this from such a loose, organic and extraordinary perspective?

The musical objective I had (and still carry forth) when writing Vigils of the 3rd Eye was to have loosely defined limits and boundaries, but strictly stay within them. A lot of that is simply a ‘sense’ that comes from years of playing, a decent ear, and a bit of grey hair wisdom. Secondly, it is to create a very dark, deep and heavy morbidity. There wasn’t any midi or digital music going on in the instrumentation and recordings, just guitars, vocals, drums and bass (and that isn’t because of some sound or production ideology we hold). Within the structures we create, we give everything enough breathing room for ebb and flow and to tell as story. That leaves a degree of room for experimentation, and even some improvisational material as well. I coin the HoB sound/style as ‘Limbonic Hymnals’. And surely, there will be more to come.

Vigils was entirely self-recorded and produced, and then sent off to master. Can you reveal a little about the setup, I'm curious how you arrived at some a natural but uncanny sound?

The recording / rehearsal studio was put together over the last 6 years. A pretty penny went into all of it, but certainly worth it, as we are able to create a decent sound without the limits of time. As for the setup, I’ll skip the gear-head talk and just say it all consists of solid fundamentals: a properly treated recording area, good microphones, a great board, and outboard compressors/processors etc…Beyond that, it is just a matter of getting high quality source recordings so that the mixing process is as simple as can possibly be.   

Is there a lot of studio improvisation in there, or are all those subtle, bizarre effects and details plotted in advance?

Actually, there is some improvisation captured in the recording. If it sounds good and wasn’t intended, we will surely use it. That often is the best source material.

I enjoyed reading through the album nearly as much as listening to it. Would you say the lyrics of Vigils of the 3rd Eye are uniformly, thematically linked, or disparate in meaning? I noticed an occult thread throughout, but are there any particular works of fiction or philosophy that influenced you directly or indirectly? Perhaps some horror? 

Many of the lyrics were originally written as short poems over a course of two years. A lot of it was harnessed into lyrical form to fit the structure and cadence of each individual song. There is a loose thread all throughout. No occult content or philosophical derivatives were involved, but perhaps I could say ‘poetic justice’ of a sort.

‘Martian Terrors, Limbonic Steps’ is a first hand account of our coming demise. ‘Of Heel, Cyst and Lung’ is a personal mystic journey in the 4th dimension.  ‘Opulent Ghouls, Blessed be Thy End’ is what happens when an Observer oversteps his bounds and directs death upon undesirables.

Then we have the song ‘Vigils of the 3rd Eye’. This lyric and 'Illucid Illuminati’s' really are the fundamental thread that weaves throughout the entire album. In ‘Vigils’, The Grand Voyeurs are ever-watching and observing the decay of societies, cultures and civilization. Such observations are only seen with a keen and clear eye; e.g. Illusions of pop and underground culture are largely silly inbred and regurgitated ideas that either serves as red herrings in thought and action, or as catalysts to quasi-solutions that only produce more harm.  Humanity lacks the will and path to save itself. Those that try to save it are usually apart of the problem. It is here that we must accept mankind’s inability to see its underline failures and faults, and understand that it will soon come to an end. Only few will embrace it with open arms, and importantly, not to meddle in it, only observe.

Conceptual themes for the 2nd album won’t be dealing with just tangible ends, but deal with more elusive, abstract, and dark ideals and spiritualities I have surmised over the last 25 years. I expect the new batch of material to have a much stronger contextual linearity.

Wiley Trieff's artwork for 'Vigils' is outstanding, some of the best I've seen this year. All the panels burn themselves into your mind and won't seem to leave. Was there are a lot of input from you on the booklet images, or did you just let him run with the lyrics and concepts?

Actually no. These were paintings Luciano had in his back pocket, waiting to use for just the right release. It is indeed one of the best layouts I have ever laid eyes on, as it is a perfect merriment of sound, lyrics, and art. Quite the experience!

San Francisco has had a long, eclectic history across a number of metal sub-genres, like the Bay Area thrash in the 80s or the USBM stuff more recently. Have you ever socialized with others in the scene, or do you actively record any of them?

There are some really great modern bands here in the SF area! It has quite a vibrant and innovative dark artistic scene now. However, I rarely go to see live performances, so it doesn’t lend a lot of opportunities to meet other artists and forge ties. All 3 of us have other significant obligations that keep us at bay! Hah! I can barely sneak in a good midnight sacrifice these days. It’s a damn shame.

Any live shows on the horizon? Are there any particular acts you feel would complement you on tour if given a choice? Or that you'd love to support? I almost find it difficult to imagine you playing alongside more conventional death or black metal acts. 

We have been discussing the idea of playing a few shows, but any kind of tour would be out of the question.  HoB would really require another guitarist to get the full effect live, and of course, time away from work. Its all entirely possible, but we aren’t really being entirely proactive in making such a thing come to fruition.

As for acts to share a stage with, I can certainly think of several: Murmur, Morbus Chron, Sonne Adam, Negative Plane, Sol Negros, or Irkallian Oracle would be great bands to share an evening live.

Awesome record, sir! Thanks so much for bringing out that creativity and leaving such an impression. I realize it's but a couple months old, but when might we expect a sequel?!! 

Thank you! We are currently smack in the middle of writing a 20 minute’ish piece for the second Chapter of I, Voidhangers Yogsothery compilation. That should see the light of day in 2015. Right after that we will begin writing the follow-up album. Assuming our flow continues unabated, I would expect to see a full-length release maybe in late 2015, or early 2016. Tough to say, but I would like to keep up the momentum; however, quality governs!

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