Friday, September 30, 2011

Azarath - Blasphemers' Maledictions (2011)

Try and envision a world in which Deicide wrote much better music than they normally do, and incorporated Polish strength blasting and a bit more flashy, thrashing aggression in addition to splitting the layered vocals down to just growls and snarls (and usually not at the same time). This is a world Azarath not only have envisioned, but have manifest into reality for 13 years and five full-lengths, the latest of which is Blasphemers' Maledictions, a brutal execution of dead center production values and rampant, neck snapping anger which leaves but the chalk outlines of corpses in its wake. This would be enough as is, for most folks, and yet they've also seen fit to pen riffs that are actually worth a damn.

Azarath are essentially something akin to a burst of machine gun fire given flesh and sentience and then reared on classics like Legion, Altars of Madness, Covenant and The IVth Crusade, and they enforce such an unholy union with the tireless exertion of well oiled clockwork. They don't write 'interesting' metal, but what they do write is sheer, muscular punishment which gets by on its physical prowess alone. There are intricate compositional choices running through tracks like "Crushing Hammer of the Antichrist" or "Behold the Satan's Sword", but these tend to manifest in steady streams of rapid fire mutes that cascade off in rhythmic accordance to the insane blast work of mainstay Inferno, or against the cyclic melodies that the guitars cast into the necrotic atmosphere for an added layer of depth. In fact, all of the musicians are insane, with the possible exception of the bass, which is present, but often drowned by the frenetic beats and riffs.

Even the lead shredding is mature, methodic and melodic, never wasted on needless squandering of resources, but fitting fully into each precise, hammering edifice like...again...clockwork. But wait, there is more! Blasphemers' Maledictions, as forceful as it stands, also offers a fair share of variation, like the creepy and wide open intro to "Under the Will of the Lord" or the even more hyper-spastic velocity of "Holy Possession". The only real negatives might be that the album can become exhausting in short order...even just THINKING about how much energy is asserted; or the fact that, while percussive and efficient enough for the music, I do often wish that there was more atmosphere to the vocals. Sometimes they'll lay on a growl with some reverb, but I just want this to happen more...the majority of Necrosodom's barking seems all too typical for most death or black metal acts with higher budgets.

Those quips aside, though, Azarath's newest is a block busting spectacle of which proves once again where the world's masters of extremity belong, and fans of other blackened death acts from Poland (Behemoth, Hate, etc) might wish to make this a mandatory purchase.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Autothrall's Top Greek Black Albums

Autothrall's Top 30 Greek Black Metal Albums (Ever)

01. Necromantia - Scarlet Evil Witching Black (1995)
02. Hail Spirit Noir - Oi Magoi (2014)
03. Rotting Christ - Triarchy of the Lost Lovers (1996)
04. Thy Darkened Shade - Liber Lvcifer I:  Khem Sedjet (2014)
05. Spectral Lore - Sentinel (2012)
06. Rotting Christ - Thy Mighty Contract (1993)
07. Necromantia/Varathron - Black Arts Lead to Everlasting Sins (1992/4)
08. Rotting Christ - A Dead Poem (1997)
09. Spectral Lore - III (2014)
10. Necromantia - Crossing the Fiery Path (1993)
11. Zemial - Nykta (2013)
12. Varathron - Untrodden Corridors of Hades (2014)
13. Rotting Christ - Sleep of the Angels (1999)
14. Thou Art Lord - The Regal Pulse of Lucifer (2013)
15. Wolfnacht - Zeit der Cherusker (2008)
16. Deviser - Transmission to Chaos (1998)
17. Rotting Christ - Genesis (2002)
18. Nightfall - Athenian Echoes (1995)
19. Macabre Omen - The Ancient Returns (2005)
20. Varathron - His Majesty at the Swamp (1993)
21. Rotting Christ - Khronos (2000)
22. Zofos - Lore Unfolds (2007)
23. Acherontas - Amenti (2013)
24. Varathron - Stygian Forces of Scorn (2009)
25. Rotting Christ - AEALO (2010)
26. Aenaon - Extance (2014)
27. Slaughtered Priest - World Wide War (2009)
28. Zemial - In Monumentum (2006)
29. Order of the Ebon Hand - IX: The Devil (2005)
30. Rotting Christ - Theogonia (2007)

Deviser - Seasons of Darkness (2011)

It's great to have a band like Deviser getting back into the game after nearly a decade of absence. After all, these guys were once one of the more promising of the second tier Greek acts, at least for their first two full-lengths Unspeakable Cults and Transmission to Chaos. That said, this is not a group that has ever necessarily clung to one particular sound, instead balancing elements of black, death, thrash and Gothic metal into something striving towards unique, but not always the most fulfilling. Running Sore, their 3rd album had been a letdown, but if you thought the band might one day return with all guns firing, well that's not exactly what has happened here. In fact, the Deviser logo these days, which still seems pretty black metal, is honestly misleading.

Seasons of Darkness is by far the cleanest produced of their body of work, which makes sense with the level of technology available today, but it's much more of a straight Gothic metal effort with hints of electronic and doom than any of their previous full-lengths. You can definitely hear a bit of the lighter side of Rotting Christ and Septic Flesh in this record, perhaps a bit of late 90s Moonspell, but the band also spice it up with a lot of flowing, proggy synthesizers and a constant sense of variation. Something like "The Cell" will open with a driving wall of melodic rhythm ala Katatonia, and then utter forth the Gothic whispers and keys into an almost poppy, Billy Idol-like tune, and then the next track "Dreaming Madness" will tease us with some modern thrash rhythms before doing the same. Don't get me wrong, this is a well written record, with each song delivering its wrath and payload with clarity, but it's without question their safest and most accessible effort to date.

Favorite moments here probably included the airy, fulfilling choirs and leads of the doomy piece "The Eight Veils", or neurotic, Gothic prog metal of "Talking Pictures", but it's fairly consistent throughout the 43 or so minutes. In truth, there is nothing here on Seasons of Darkness that wasn't already hinted at with one of the prior efforts like Running Sore, they've just decided to hear to lay low on much of the aggression of their formative years, so aside from a few heavy riffs or black rasps one should expect nothing more than a modernist, very Euro Gothic metal record with all of the flourishes of high end digital production and synthesized atmosphere. When it doesn't work (i.e. the "MMXII" intro) it comes off a bit cheesy, but where it does it's competent enough that fans of the deep vocals and melodic orchestration might get into it. I just don't hear enough of the 'catchy' in here that I'd usually expect from such a piece.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Nergal - ΣΑΕΤΑΝ ΕΞΙ - ΕΞΙ - ΕΞΙ (2011)

Like Deviser, Nergal are another band of Hellenic old timers back in the scene after some time off. However, in this case, there wasn't quite as long a wait. They released an astoundingly average sophomore, Absinthos, in 2006, and also took part on a split with an even more underground act (Lykaionas) a few years after that. Well, ΣΑΕΤΑΝ ΕΞΙ - ΕΞΙ - ΕΞΙ (I'm not worldly enough to have the faintest fuckin' idea) is at least a return to the straight black metal aesthetics of its predecessor, with a lot of banal blasting rhythms and consistent but uninspired sounding sneers. It sounds like a mix of the more accelerated Rotting Christ material and the Norwegian bands like Emperor and (early) Dimmu Borgir, and it's got some depth and versatility to it which stave it off from the threshold of ennui.

I feel like when the band starts blasting, I develop a headache. It's not that the drumming isn't constant and consistent, and the tremolo picking not pulled off in accordance, but it's a good example of how the brick rhythms of black metal fundamentals need a little seasoning to really capture the imagination. A lot of these sequences, in "Ταγμα της Αβυσσου", "Συκαιωνας - Αρατος" or the bridge of "Χαιρε Χαος", just don't seem to cut it. Thus, whenever the band shifts into other territory, the album almost gives a false sense that it's becoming more interesting. They do breakdowns, they do slower, atmospheric pieces with a real sense of localized ethnic notation to them ("Figura Baffometi" for one, which seems pretty Rotting Christ), and they even experiment as with the ambient finale "600-60-6", but the variation itself never manifests in anything really memorable here.

What's worse, a few of the songs are just too long for their own good. Several clock in at 7 minutes, which is not all that extensive for this genre, and yet they don't really support their weight with quality riffing and ear catching transitions. The major culprit, though is "Α - Ω", over 14 minutes of slower paced, atmospheric black metal with glaring rasps and lots of really dull and vapid melodies. Seriously, if you're writing a 14 minute song without even one instance of climax or a ripping transition, then what's the use? Nergal tries to vary itself up here, and that's not a negative. There is a hint of both mystery and eloquence, and I also admire their sticking to Greek themes, language and symbolism, but I'm afraid this was easily my least favorite of their works, and I'll be sticking with The Wizard of Nerath if I ever need a fix.

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]

Aenaon - Cendres et Sang (2011)

Cendres et Sang is an album that baits you with its initial esoteric nature and then peters out into something all too bland and typical of its genre. The "Kafkaeque" is this great, jazzy horn intro morphing straight into the added acoustics, rumbling bass and percussion of the ensuing "Suncord", but then suddenly the band becomes a mix of melodic black and death metal with some clean and rasped vocals but really not all that much by way of the hinted experimentation. They do specialize in a pretty wide array of dynamics when choosing their tempos, but the overbearing drawl of the vocalist and the chunky thrashing discord beneath several of the compositions left me with the impression of a sort of melodic black/metalcore band...

...and then, just like that, a jazzy jamming calm arrives at the bridge to this song, and erupts into the best part of the track, a wall of chords with a more despotic, cutting vocal passage which combine for some desperately needed grandeur. It's about here that I got the impression that Aenaon's full-length debut was going to be a frustrating one, a landscape of peaks and valleys. And it turns out this is the case. Cendres et Sang is all over the place, often progressive and pedantic, and often ceding into uninteresting metallic rhythms that betray all of its potential. "Psychonautic Odyssey", for example, is a mix of potent punchy thrash and nice leads, but I really didn't care for the vocals. "Grand Narcotic Harvest" and "Once Finite" are robust, double bass driven mid-paced melodic black metal pieces with a few, brighter moments of deviation, and this aesthetic continues deeper on into the track list with "Necroscope", "Kraanerg", etc.

Don't mistake that I somehow hated this, because what Aenaon are doing does maintain some of the intrigue that you'd expect from a progressive black metal act. "Black Nerve" has some cool, bristling spikes of melody and acoustic calms amongst its bloated, 8+ minute bulk. "In Heaven" transforms from tranquil piano to a blaze of black aggression. But then I go and listen back to the intro to the whole album, and I wonder just how amazing it might have been for such a jazzy thread to persist throughout. It really doesn't, and Cendres et Sang feels like an experiment that was afraid of becoming too experimental, a net cast wide at the start of the fishing trip and then quickly retracted for fear of drawing in sharks. Clearly it's in this band's blood to try something wacky, so I say: go and do it. Don't hold back. Because for its straighter melodic black metal element, this album is really not so special.

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]

Zemial - Dusk EP (2011)

I know by now not to expect anything on any subsequent Zemial record to closely reflect that of its predecessor, and while the new Dusk EP maintains the core black/thrash principles of their 2009 short player I Am the Dark, it's far better managed, with more complex guitar lines and a reminder of some of that epic architecture that the band manifest for their 2006 full-length In Monumentum. The pair of tracks present here span all over the metal spectrum, but they do it quite well, and I'd be lying to deny that this is perhaps the best one two punch in their entire catalog...

There is just so much happening here. "In the Arms of Hades" begins with a thrust of wonderful, well constructed black/speed/thrash with impressive, barking vocals that possess just the perfect amount of reverb. You'll hear Bathory, Sodom, Venom, and even Tom G Warrior in there among others, but after only a minute Archon begins to implement these graceful, grazing melodies that seem torn from a scene of the ancient world. Briefly past that, it goes into this epic, heavy metal march sequence, slowly layers in clanking percussion, and then returns to a twist of melodic thrash before petering out into wispy melodies. My only regret is really that it doesn't bring back that voracious opening sequence in any meaningful fashion. But the other track, "Cries Behind the Golden Walls", compensates with more of the band's tiny, epic melodies flowing over a glorious mesh of Manilla Road and Bathory...

It's enough that by the time the 14 minutes were up, I was certainly craving for more. Each tune is captivating and versatile, and yet another solid nick in the belt for one of the more enduring Hellenic outfits. I'll tell you this: if Vorskaath could get his ass in gear and produce a full-length like this in the coming years, it will have a broad appeal, between both the old school epic heavy metal crowd and those who fancy some creativity in their black or thrash metal. Not a lot of bands are touting a hybrid like this, and it's very effective, even if the tone of the melodic guitar does feel a bit wimpy.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (bite hard thy fare and surrender)

Sad - ...And His Minions Shall Eternally Reign EP (2011)

Sometimes the notes configure themselves into penetrating patterns of poignancy, and sometimes they do not. This is both the malady and the cure to Sad's seemingly average string of releases. Where full-lengths like Abandoned and Forgotten and Enlightened by Darkness have not entirely delivered the goods, this brief 11 minute EP, with a mere two tracks, delivers them wholesale. The vocals, the drums and guitar tone are all pretty much the same as on the 2009 full-length, and the style is a dead ringer, but a muse of dire melody has been captured and for the most part, this is strong material.

Of the two songs, it's the opening to "Dichotomy" which immediately captured my attentions, a teeming, uplifting melody that plays out wonderfully against the simpler, steady rhythm guitar as it accelerates into a bristling, majestic blast sequence. "Shallow Grave" has a similar style and pace, but after a few minutes pass, I felt that the riffing became somewhat more level and predictable, though Nadir's wretched snarling helps break up any potential for monotony. I very much enjoy the thick floe of guitars, it's somewhat redolent of the more recent Arckanum records (but not exactly), and a good way to dominate this melancholic but forceful niche of the genre.

Anyway, I'd square these tracks off just about nearly anything from the past two albums and they'd come out ahead, even if they don't reach the bar set by their sophomore A Curse in Disguise (which I'd maintain is their best work). Nothing has really changed, the band are quite settled into their sound and don't seem likely to evolve or devolve anytime soon, so if you've heard anything out of their back catalog, you know exactly what to expect: only marginally more titillating.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Acherontas - Hermeticism EP (2011)

Coming of their strongest effort to date, Theosis, Acherontas continue to define and expand themselves through this brief EP Hermeticism, involving two tracks and 10 minutes of new material which for the most part continues the legacy of that full-length. One will notice that there is less of an intricate melodic palette here, the Greeks tend towards a simpler but more atmospheric construction, and yet the effect is much the same, carrying the listener into both an under- and overworld of occult expressions and ideas, with both abruptness and subtlety behind every shift in tempo.

'Side Draconian' involves the title track, a ringing balance of thick chords and discordant, sparse melodies that slowly gathers force as the deep narration and rasps begin to unfurl over a thin but impeccable lead. This then evolves into a beat, and inevitably to the warlike thunder of double bass beneath an awning of tremolo and echoing vocals. There are blasts later in the song, but it also measures itself off with more double bass segments to which dissonant, drafty guitars are applied. "Meum Nomen Deus", which is on 'Side Sorcery' has a similar balance of blasting surges, eerie guitars, tons of sweltering atmosphere and depth, and if I had to make one complaint about the EP it would just be that the songs feel too much the same in terms of overall development...

At any rate, if this is any indicator of where the new album Vamachara (also through Agonia) is going to move the Greeks, then we should be in for another experience that at least rivals the strong Theosis, even if these particular songs don't exactly surpass that. Hermeticism is a more potent sound, with less of the dueling tremolo streams that comprised its predecessor, but the atmosphere of the drumming presents a rock solid basin for the chords to simmer and the evil melodies to slice.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Aasgard - Nekriki Mistagogia EP (2011)

When Aasgard's latest effort opened with an ambient piece set to a sample from Zach Snyder's 300 film, I admit to being surprised, but thankfully the Greeks jerked me straight back out of this reception and into the primal, tumultuous decay of their black metal material. Still, there is something subdued about Nekriki Mistogogia, as they seem to have cut down on the blatant belligerence and gone for an aesthetic of raw, distant glory. The guitars here are more tightly composed than those of Ravens Hymns Foreshadows the End. the year prior, the vocals more level and the drumming fairly concrete, but the patterns of notation seem more wrought of sadness than spite, at least on about half the tracks.

"Call to War" is the aforementioned intro, and then the band rips into "The Beginning of the Fall" which is grimy but steady black metal propulsion with its roots in the same well as their previous material, only with a more clapping, ringing undercurrent of percussion. "The Search for a Glorious Death" is perhaps the most melodic of the metal tracks, with a lot of thundering double bass and longing, wall of sound chords drifting against the backdrop. The title track is where it becomes more ponderous and solemn, though the style is not a deviation from the previous cuts, and "The Day Who the Gods Will Marching Again to Earth" is mostly more of the same, though there's still that air of determination and seriousness that one didn't really get from the last album, and a good, booming bridge march riff. Closing the release is "Nekropobi", a clean but blaring guitar piece with ambient samples of crows, rain, storm, and so forth.

Some of the small handful of fans familiar with the band might be taken aback by this more focused, less vicious material, but it's still quite heavy in the end, and it's not as if they have jumped ship for high quality production. Nekriki Mistagogia simply seems more aired out and thoughtful than the violent misanthropy of its predecessor, and that's not a bad thing unless you were expecting more of the Greeks' Beherit, Archgoat and VON-styled filth. Anyway, the same criticism applies to this material as their prior output: I just don't find the guitars that bewitching, and everything feels samey to a large population of other underground acts playing in that primitive, necrotic and 'grim' fashion. I don't mind the oft jumbled tones or the clamor of the drums crashing beneath the gnarled vocals, but there's little notation that stands out. Okay if you want a thundering, black metal backdrop, but not exceptional by any means.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Nargothrond - Doctrine of Lies (2010)

If the multi-instrumentalist Ungod could be paid by the hour for his contributions to black metal, then I imagine he would be quite well off. Nargothrond is another of his myriad, wicked vehicles, and the Doctrine of Lies is his second full-length effort with this project, following a well-meaning but mediocre debut in 2007's Following the Frostpaths of the Hyperborean Landscapes. As usual, the album features his steady, streaming chords and solid compositional ability, with an eerie if standard rasping performance from his compatriot Grimnacht. The material leans towards the threshold of velocity, with a clear but raw production that seeks to emulate the seething emotions of sacrilege that the band wishes to expose here.

If anything is dragging this down, it's simply that there is not a whole lot of variety in what Nargothrond are creating. It's pure Scandinavian black metal with elements of Darkthrone, Burzum, Mayhem and so forth and the Greeks seem content to just stick with the formula. I admire the vicious streak these guys are on here, but only a few of the songs muster a riff that retains itself to memory for even the shortest of spells. "Doctrine of Lies", "Pentapolis" and "Elisha" all blew past me without any recollection, while a few of the other tracks managed to create something more impressively vile, like the twisting and unexpected contours the notes take throughout the opening sequence of "Yahweh", or the gliding melodic textures of the final track "Jesus of Navi". There are ideas here to make a handful of the songs catchy, but they just don't splay themselves out enough through the whole of the compositions.

Like Ungod's other bands Sad and Kvele, there aren't a lot of tunes here. But at least the six provided total up to about 36 minutes. Of that batch, only 2-3 have enough worth to visit back upon them, and the rest just sort of fade into the oblivion of a billion similar pieces. Freaks for Transilvanian Hunger, Prophecies of Pagan Fire, Nattens Madrigal or Opus Nocturne might find the compositions to their liking, with a slightly more even balance to the instruments, but a nicely fuzzy and fibrous tone on the guitar. Unfortunately, they've somehow managed to make this record even less interesting than the debut, and while it functions for a quick fix of the familiar, it's largely indistinct.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Acherontas - Theosis (2010)

In about 13 years of recording and releasing music, I'd have to say that Theosis is the finest hour of the Greek conjurer Acherontass, surpassing not only the Acherontas debut Tat Tvam Asi (Universal Omniscience) in quality, but everything else. Better than the side projects Acrimonious or Nihasa. Certainly better than the band's prior incarnation, Stutthof. At the same time, it's also not exactly a deviation from the formulas he was creating on many of those releases, it just handles everything that much better, from the blazing tangle of melodies to the exotic, occult atmosphere being wrought from the lyrics, orchestral segues, and the practiced implementation of variation between tracks to that this doesn't come off as another ribald blast-fest to nowhere.

Yes, Theosis still draws its influence from the same sources of Emperor, Marduk, Mayhem, and other infamous North machines, but it treats the niche with an elegance that the members' former recordings only attempted. From the raging, layered depths of "Pestilence of Mortality" with its subtle, plunking bass lines, to the measured, nightmarish slog of "The Winged Skull Rising" which manages 9 minutes of content without the listener getting bored. Acherontas has at last achieved their capability as a veteran of the field. Each track, even those that are not entirely catchy, shows clear intricacy in its craftsmanship and composition, and they've very carefully broken up the momentum of the metal pieces with lush, scintillating ambient pieces like "Dream of Adam Kadmon", one of the most absorbing pieces here. Another winner is "Finis Coronat", with its glorious bouts of speed, escalating orchestral backdrop. Or "Apethantos": when it hits that groaning, clean vocal alongside its dissonant guitars after the 2:00 minute mark, you know that greatness if very near.

This is also not some overproduced mass, but a pretty thinly sliced selection of ingredients which work wonders in tandem. The drumming is dead accurate whether the band is blasting or reducing itself to an atmospheric crawl, and there are so many melodies present that the album becomes a matrix of near-complexity. The bass is not exactly blaring, but nor does it follow along with the guitars so closely that it loses its identity. The lyrics are largely self-centered examinations of both the spiritual interior and the cosmos at large, but they also take a few meters to trample the follow of modern, organized religion ("Pestilence of Mortality"). Maybe Theosis is not the most memorable of Hellenic efforts I've explored through my research, but it's a quality culmination of a career that promises even better in the future.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (the mutated gene of the coming race)

Medieval Demon - Necrotic Rituals from the Unholy Past (2010)

You might recall a little known gem from the formative years of Greek black metal called Demonolatria, a slab of cheesy but endearing, symphonic evil perfect for flitting about your personal, haunted castle and strapping victims to torture racks. Or you might actually be sane person, and not give a fuck. Well, 15 years after that unsung record, Medieval Demon and friends have seen fit to gather up a bunch of rare or unreleased material and release it upon the same public that ignored them in the first place. Don't ask me why they bothered, but if I can say something in their defense, this is a shit ton of material here, about 76 minutes of blathering obscurity, much of which has a more vicious appeal than their debut.

The compilation includes the band's 1994 demo, Night of the Infernal Lords, which is pretty hissy and primitive by todays standards, yet raging and filthy and sure to please those hunting the early Norwegian and Swedish demo recordings from their favorite heroes. There is also The Blood is the Life, the Only Immortality demo (1995) which consists of two pieces at a whopping 30 minutes. Better produced, with a lot of variation and comparable in style to the actual Demonolatria full-length, but not necessarily engaging or enchanting for the full run. The rest of the tracks seem to be taken from either the full-length itself, or a promo that was released that same year, and these represent the best produced of the bunch. Tracks like "Dark Widow", "Fields of Tears" and "Demonolatria" itself are a good fit for those seeking that mid 90s authenticity, with a lot of reverb on the vocals and solid songwriting.

Note that even the redundant tracks here are not as atmospheric or symphonically imbued as their full length counterparts, and the best place to start experiencing the Greeks would be on Demonolatria itself. To think, this band might have evolved into a contender for better known bands like Ancient, Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir had they just pressed on. They certainly showed the competence and execution, even if they're derivative of those named acts. At any rate, there's not a whole lot of impetus to acquire Necrotic Rituals... unless you're either a friend of the band, a long time, wholly devoted fan who wants to throw these guys money, or just a damned completist. The two long songs are interesting to lose oneself in, but you're better off spending money elsewhere. I guess some of the members are still involved in a shop over in Greece, so who knows if they'll ever stoke those Stoker fires and reunite this lost project.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]

Sad - Abandoned and Forgotten (2010)

I think I can trace the rather lackluster showing of Sad's more recent output to one obvious culprit: burnout. Stylistic excess. When your primary songwriter is involved in half a dozen bands, many with the same general principles and style, something is going to suffer along the way, and the Greek band who released a good sophomore in 2007's A Curse in Disguise seems to have hit a roadblock with their two consecutive efforts. Abandoned and Forgotten is all too likely to be suffer the actions of its namesake, because it's really just more of the same as Enlightened by Darkness; the same material that not only this band has been creating for a few years, but many middle of the pack black metal artists slump about with. There's just no ambition here at all, no pushing of boundaries, no pushing of the self.

That would be fine if the riffs and songs were immaculate and memorable, but this is just not the case here. I'll grant that Abandoned and Forgotten is marginally superior to its predecessor. There's a nice, clean, even tone to the guitars that blends in accordingly with the vocals and drumming. I think this has the most 'airy' aesthetic of any Sad record, and that's not such a bad thing. They aren't excessively repetitive, and exchange dynamics so the listener isn't left in an incessant feedback loop of boredom. You've got the marching, mid gait of "Creatures Untold" or "The Black Parade" contrasting the brighter, melancholic flow of "Solitude" or "Fall from Grace". Nadir does a decent job coming off as a man in pain, and we all know Ungod is tight as fuck from the major amount of experience he's been racking up on numerous releases. Yet, there are just no surprises here, no riffs that come along and clutch the listener's spirit, casting it into the pit of ichor and negativity at the heart of black metal.

I admit, I was not expecting to ever hear a Radiohead cover done in this genre, but Sad have including a snarling rendition of "Street Spirit" (The Bends, 1995) complete with waves of tremolo riffing and bitter snarling that almost outshines the rest of the album in pain. I like that they've made it their own here, which is essentially what you want out of any cross-genre, contrasted cover song, but it's not necessarily interesting enough that I'd go out of my way to hear it. All told, this is a slightly more impressive experience than Enlightened by Darkness, and well beyond where they started with Total Nothingness, but there are no new tales to tell, no tricks and nothing out of the ordinary. I get the impression that Sad could write a half dozen albums a week of this caliber, but that doesn't mean it should happen, especially when you know they could do so much better.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Aasgard - Ravens Hymns Foreshadows the End. (2010)

Aasgard's 2008 EP Nyx was nothing special, but it did offer a filthy and repulsive take on the Norse formula black metal that has inspired countless thousands of acts to take up the corpse paint and go howling through the dark. It's followup, Ravens Hymns Foreshadows the End, might seem an exercise in poor pluralization, but at least it's rugged, raw, and pissed off to the point of hilarity. Continuing their crude approach to production, they've created a clamor of primal black rock riffing to accompany the ridiculous but direct nature of the lyrics. Aasgard fucking hates everything, and this full-length debut, while the antithesis of a musical marvel, at least gets that part right!

I mean, just look at some of these lyrics: 'to rape your fucking god is my desire/fuck your god/Jehovah has my penis in his ass/whores/you are only bastard shit of rats and worms.' The Greeks are not fucking around here, sugarcoating nothing, letting it all 'hang out', all that venom and seething vitriol, and no Christian or Hebrew shall be spared. As cheesy and unrefined as this might seem, it's at least not hiding anything. You know where you stand with Aasgard, even if that means standing at the wrong end of a sword. Musically, however, the album sort of slips into the same banal monotony of so many others. The songs seem to cycle between mid paced dirty rocking fare ("Sodomized the Slave of the God", "Elevation of Satanic Lore") and streaming blasts of chaos ("Rising Swords in Paganland", "Tragos adi eis mnimi necron"). The way I hear this, since I can't really expect much in the way of intricate or memorable riffing, than the grimier the better, and here that is "Goatwar", which provides quite a racket of evil despite it's languid gait.

Let me be clear: Ravens Hymns... will not hold an appeal for anyone seeking the symphonic of the enlightened side of black metal (though the intro and finale involve some dark ambiance). It's as primitive as they come, mirroring bands like Von or Beherit in their formative years more than Emperor or even Burzum. This is spiteful, inept and unforgiving aggression from a pair of dudes who just don't give a shit. If that forms a basis for your listening needs, then by all means, grit your teeth and bear this. Personally, the one thing holding me back from enjoyment was not the threatening lyrics or the raw tone, but the absolute lack of distinctive guitar riffs of any sort. At heart, I'm a metal guy, and with very few exceptions, I need those guitars to do something worth my attention. This is not that sort of metal: it wants to kill you, not impress you. But as fun as that might sound, it doesn't always make the music worthwhile.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10] (flaming under frozen stars)

Lykauges - Swan Song (2010)

Any year your band/project is releasing multiple full-length albums stands a huge chance of one or more suffering from mediocrity, and while Lykauge's Under the Veil of Depression was a solid start in a more depressive, Hellenic aesthetic of the genre, it's near neighbor Swan Song suffers a bit of bloat and repetition and the automatic inconsistency of containing some earlier, demo material. That's not to say there is nothing of worth to be found among this 75 minute monstrosity, because there are at least a few songs here which are admittedly fucking great, but honestly: enough fat could have been trimmed from this record to be melted down into lamp oil and soap for a century of usefulness.

The intro, "Gate for a New Dimension" is primal, tribal and ambient as you hear the whir of night creatures and crashing undercurrent of percussion, but then it immediately screams into a jumbled, dissonant blast metal song which has nothing more to say for itself than layered, tight aggression. "Pointless Optimism" is even more deceptively chaotic, though the irony of the title is not lost on me, and then "Doomsday (Twilight of the Gods)" is, you guessed it, another blaster. All this would be fine if the tremolo riffing was actually memorable, but it's banal at best. Almost to prove this point, the album picks up marginally in quality as soon as he breaks into a more steadied, mid pace track in "Ready to Leave This Place", but even that explodes into worthless blasting at its median. A few songs have promising guitar lines, like the climbing melody of "Rising Through the Fire" or the streaming melancholy of "The Rebirth of Chaos", but the majority, like "12/13/14" are dull as a stump.

So where are those 'great' tunes I mentioned earlier? Not a part of the core album, but wedged into the end, part of some other session. "Enslave" and "Abysmal Authority" are both dynamic, evil hybrids of the black and death genres with vicious, layered vocals and a cleaner, more focused energy. I can't say they're necessarily the most amazing or original, but they clobber everything that leads up to them. Perhaps this because about 50% of the core album is drawn from prior split recordings, but these two are fucking intense, with hyper blast batteries and an ornate, evil certainty. Ultimately, Under the Veil of Depression is a better, more consistent place to start your Lykauges exposure, but I wouldn't mind hearing a continuation of this brutal intensity hidden in the aft of Swan Song (which I'm assuming is not actually a final album?)

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Kvele - Dawn of the Impaler (2010)

Kvele is yet another project to involve the prolific underground fiend Ungod, who some might recognize from Slaughtered Priest, Sad, Nargothrond and Necrohell among others, and comprises the rhythm section on this 'full-length', Dawn of the Impaler, which actually got a release through a Japanese label (Sabbathid). If you've not heard his bands before, they're typically straight up Scandinavian inspired black metal with a standard but often strong riff set. Some albums are decent, some not so much, and I'm afraid this legacy of averages continues upon this record, which also has Nadir (Sad) on vocals. Hell, since Kvele basically IS Sad; I wonder why they didn't just release this record under that banner, since the styles are quite similar...but there's at least one other guy here.

I described this as a 'full-length' because it's quite short at 24 minutes, with only six tracks. I might not normally care about this brevity if the album were actually entertaining, but instead it's a rather mediocre, rambling sort of black metal which expends most of its best riffs in the very first track ("Slay or Be Slayed)". That's really not saying much, since it's nothing more than an average alternation of black beats and slower, double bass rumbling with notation that will surprise no one. Think Sad, only a little dryer in tone, with guitars that are more 'barbaric' than desperately melodic. Even at the most rocking, though, this is pretty basic composition which didn't feel as if much went into its construction, and the production and velocity don't conceive much of an atmosphere on any of the tracks. "Impaler" itself isn't so shabby, with some varied riffing reminiscent of the last Sad record (Enlightened by Darkness), but if you seek riffs to remember, you've come to the wrong place here...

A pity, because the performances are all around solid. Nadir isn't evoking his best barking rasp on the album, but everything from the drums to the guitars to the syllables falls straight into place, tightly and securely into the not-too-raw cult aesthetic. I only wish that there were more to catch the ear here, perhaps some synthesizers or ambiance or just...something to lighten the load of the samey, familiar guitars. I realize the point behind this is to be as true and cliched as possible, but really, these musicians are capable of a lot more. Hell, throw us a decent melody or two to bite on...or some tangible, menacing dissonance. Kvele plays it too straight, and that will undoubtedly proves its undoing as it disappears into the forgotten annals of the 'also-ran'.

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]

Serpent Noir - Sanguis XI EP (2010)

It's presentation might leave something to be desired, and the actual variety of the material might not always be pristine, but Serpent Noir's Sanguis XI EP presents a rather fascinating approach to the first wave of black metal. Their prime motivator is obviously the Swiss legends Hellhammer (or Celtic Frost), but they dowse the simple, thick and grimy barrage of mid-paced chords with a lot of atmosphere throughout, while keeping the songs tight and short and never really wearing out their welcome. In addition, the vocalist has this dour, gravelly black bark which fits extremely well over the guitar tone, and he becomes quite manic and passionate through the three and a half tracks upon which the brute lyrics are used.

I guess I shouldn't be all that surprised, seeing that the front man here is Kostas of the great Greek death metal band Embrace of Thorns. He holds a similar resonance to that found on those albums, just a little more varied and painful. The other veteran here is Michayah, a drummer that has played in a number of Swedsih bands (Ofermod possibly the most known). They've really set up the recording well, with a freakish, ominous dark ambient intro in which deep synths measure off against other random noises. Then it's straight through a trio of muddy, grooving old school black metal pieces in "Midnight Consciousness", "Sorath Invocation" and "The Disputes", the second of which has a lot more reverb on the vocals for an unnerving effect. You'll hear a couple clean, deeper vox also in "Midnight Consciousness" which also work despite their painful brevity. Later on the EP there is admittedly more variety, with the two part "Rituals Draconis" that opens with chanting, percussion and ambiance and ends with surges of clean guitars; while the finale, "The Eleventh Blood", opens up with a faster paced black metal segment (the worst thing here) and then closes with more brooding ambiance.

Ultimately, there's a lot of balance here, and as far as ritual black metal goes, this is one of the brighter new bands I've heard in the Hellenic scene. We'll have to wait and see what develops next, perhaps a full-length with some more varied grooves than the bulk of this, but I'd say they are off to quite a solid start.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

Necrohell - Where Solitude and Coldness Unite EP (2010)

Necrohell's Where Solitude and Coldness Unite 7" sounds about the same way as it sounds: cold and black as fuck. Coming off their debut Under a Sign of a Pagan Winter, one should not have any expectations other than the typical Norse style black metal drubbing he or she has experienced a thousand times before this. But I must admit, that the title track here (and the one original contribution) is appropriately vicious and feral, and the listener gets the impression he or she is being chased through the winter forest by SOMETHING, whether that be the baying pack of hungry wolves or a killer in a ski mask.

The tones are good and rich, the melodies predictable but potent, and the resonant rasping of Sorg is nothing to scoff at. For a song nearing 7 minutes, it also keeps its pitch and pace varied enough to perk the listener's interest. In fact, this one track is better than anything you'll find on the debut, and it's all owed to the experienced riffing of Ungod, who has been rather prolific through the 21st century Hellenic scene with Sad, Nargothrond and Slaughtered Priest. The other track, "38 Millimeter" is a cover of a Greek punk band called Adiexodo, who were around in the early 80s (I'd never heard them before), and Ungod does well to transform this into his usual streaming, black metal style. The opening notes are a bit repetitive, but you can definitely feel the punk undercurrent and how well it actually fits in this new format, with a rather 'warmer' feeling to the chords than the Necrohell original.

Anyhow, while this might not be the most impressive 7" out there, it shows a clear sign of improvement and possibly better things to come if Ungod can find time away from his numerous other projects. If you enjoyed the debut, then you'll probably love this, despite its obviously derivative style. Fans of Mayhem and Darkthrone will find its aesthetics familiar.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Dodsferd - Another Two of Your Scars and the World is Dead EP (2010)

While its contents are not all that memorable themselves, it's at least a relief that Dodsferd would quickly drop the drawn out and dull aesthetics they created for the 2009 album Suicide and the Rest of Your Kind Will Follows for this new EP. As a band often labeled 'black & roll', I feel that this is actually one of the better examples of them executing such a hybrid. But for the most part, this is straight up black metal with a lot of variation. In fact, each of the songs on Another Two of Your Scars and the World is Dead is in a realm of its own in terms of inherent composition and intent.

"Only Thorns Can Embrace Your Condemned Throne" opens with a feedback and then a thick, distorted bass line which is pretty damn punk. The feedback continues to climb while Wrath barks out the lyrics in a mixture of rasped and guttural clamor, and then the solid, rocking guitars enter the fray. As the track progresses, it cedes into a bit of tinny blasting and then some melodic breakdowns, but in all it's comparable to some of the past records like Cursing Your Will to Live. I do think that the riff after the 3:00 minute mark is quite potent, but overall the song was somewhat of a dud. As for the title track, this is much different, a slow piece with resonant, sparse guitars and march like drumming, above which the vocals howl out with voluminous torment. The guitars eventually pick up in complexity, but the overall effect here is one of a morbid calm.

I much prefer the latter to the former, even if it still needed something in there to push it past the precipice of memorable. But frankly, I found it more appealing than ANYTHING the band wrote for Suicide... I also really like the two toned cover art a lot, the classical imagery really seems to suit the band's messy logo and dark, nihilistic aesthetic. Another Two... is of course a limited press 7" (through Obscure Abhorrence Productions), so not everyone will be able to get their paws on it, but it's not really essential anyway. The quality here sort of dwells in the middle of their discography, though it's cool that the band seem to continue to broaden their reach, even if not every deviation is a strict success.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Wolfnacht - Aima Kai Timh EP (2010)

Wolfnacht's Aima Kai Timh is probably the most racially charged record of Athalwolf's career, and it's made even more prevalent due to the use of English lyrics, something he has only flirted with in the past but takes center stage upon this brief release. I was concerned at first that he'd be headed straight back into the RAC rock influence that was present on a few of his past works (Night of the Werewolf EP, Töten für W.O.T.A.N.) which I had never really cared for, but this is still straight up atmospheric black metal similar to his then latest and greatest album, Zeit der Cherusker. The one possible concession here is that the vocals he uses are primarily a sort of grimy median between cleans and his usual black rasp, so it feels a little unique (though he's messed with these vocals in the past).

Anyway, this is an artist whose quality has fluctuated between releases, generally hitting his heights when he's writing a more direct brand of black metal (Heidentum) or a more glorious, symphonic variation (Zeit der Cherusker or his Zofos side project). The two tracks here didn't seem to move me in either one direction or the other. There are still a lot of organ and synth lines, and he's improved his drumming here, which feels expressive and constantly shifting to collide with the tremolo picking and orchestration, but very few of the actual melodies present have that same, inspiring quality as the prior full-length. The ringing guitar intro to "The Night Before the N.S. Revolution" seems to imply an eeriness that is not capitalized on with the rest of the track, which is largely mid-paced and forgettable melodic black metal. The other track, "The Dawn of the N.S. Revolution" is more desperate and accelerated, and the vocals are a bit better, the blend of synths and guitars more flush, but ultimately I wasn't so impressed.

As I don't associate with Wolfnacht's ideology, the lyrics don't hold a lot of interest for me, but I can understand how the angry pro-Aryan crowd might appreciate that they're presented brazenly in English, a language that simply more people speak than German. What it really comes down to is the music, and Athalwolf has written better in the past, though it's good to see that he's remaining firmly in the black metal camp here. Aima Kai Timh is an extremely limited recording, with only a few hundred 7" in circulation, but those into his Zeit der Cheruskers or Dawn of Heathens albums might want to get their paws on it if they can find one. As a starting point though, I'd much more recommend one of the two full-lengths I praised in the second paragraph.

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]

Grim Destroyer - Might and Majesty (2009)

About as obscure as these things go, Grim Destroyer is a solo vehicle for the black-hearted Chaosforos, who performs guitars and vocals for fellow Hellenic project Riddle of Meander. The style being played is not a hell of a lot different than their debut album End of All Life and Creation: raw and punishing black metal in the North European tradition of Mayhem, Marduk, Burzum, Darkthrone, Immortal and so forth. I had not heard this record prior to my decision to embark on this Greek black metal study, so by the title and band name alone I was expecting something frankly powerful and hilarious, but that's not exactly the case. Might and Majesty is not the most banal and forgettable album I've heard from its scene, but it suffers a little from the general familiarity of the guitar patterns and lack of transitional variation and menacing undercurrent.

I do find Chaosforos' vocals appropriately hellish, here. There is no question that it feels like a man whose organs are being removed with surgical tools, or a werewolf on the scent of its prey. I also like that he uses a bit of deeper, clean tone (in "Thou Art Hecate", for example) as a counter point to the systematic rasping. I also dig the guitar tone, which is fuzzy and thin in the vein of Ulver's Nattens Madrigal or early Burzum, only not as noisy as the former. The bass is also a delight, tracing along beneath the guitars like a bumblebee following a paper airplane in flight. the drums are standard but effective, alternations of steady mechanical blasting and rolling double bass that queue up to the mid-paced or slower sequences. The real issues is just that, when you hear one Grim Destroyer song, you feel like you've heard them all. There's not a hell of lot of variety in the black riffing, and even where he hurls something out of left field (like the brief acoustics in the title track), it's just not that catchy.

It's sad that the most involving and engrossing piece on the album is the finale, an 8 minute minimalistic ambient track without much variation in itself. There were hints of this in the intro to "Nostalgia for the Dead", the most keyboard heavy black track on the album, but it's over 9 minutes long and quickly runs out of steam. At any rate, Might and Majesty is just not good enough to leave an impact crater in its wake. For those who are seeking out only the familiar and predictable sort of 'true' black metal that venerates their heroes, one can do a lot worse than Grim Destroyer, and it's passable background listening if you seek something effectively newsprint-toned in its aural palette, but not likely to be important in the long run.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]

Slaughtered Priest - World Wide War (2009)

It's amazing the difference a single year can make in plotting the course of a metal band. Just one year prior, Greeks Slaughtered Priest had released a laughable if forgettable effort of blackened punk thrash called Eternal Goat Reign, with much of the trivial and smug perversity such a title would imply. But here we are, standing in the ashes with World Wide War, an effort that totally trumps its predecessor in composition, musical ability and seriousness. Now, I'm not saying they've lost their sense of humor here. Just take a glance at the hideous cover art, for example. But World Wide War is seasoned, voracious black/thrash of the highest order, exercising a sheer obeisance to the power of lightning riffing redolent of influences as wide as Venom, Kreator and Aura Noir.

First, the air raid siren. And then the excitement, as "W.C. (World's Coffin)" erupts into a series of nuclear riffs that leave most of their competition in this field in the fucking dust. Seriously, the guitar tone here is amazing, thin but coiled and potent like a salvo of poisonous serpents. The black rasp of the Ungod has been honed to perfection, with a clear influence from Mille Petrozza or the older Sodom albums, and the backing gang shouts are well timed without inhibiting the lethal momentum. There is not a single guitar riff in this whole song that DOESN'T make me want to kick the shit out of someone, and about the only thing working against it might be the duration (over 7 minutes), which might have been trimmed down about 60 seconds for good measure. Fortunately, they don't stretch their luck with the further tracks, which in general range from around 4-5 minutes, and thoroughly continue the fun, precision riffing. Favorites include the sleazy speed metal of "Lightnings of Vengeance", the repulsive "Rise Against Humanity" and the thundering "Unholy War".

There are, on occasion, songs in which the simpler, punk fueled chords don't really match the more intense lickage surrounding them, namely the band's namesake "Slaughtered Priest", but here the duo attempts to at least compensate with a bit of variation. "Proud to Be a Sinner" is another that I wasn't entirely sold on, with some pretty bland guitar patterns set to a banal blasted sequence. The lyrics are also, in general, pretty pedestrian (not that I expected more). However, I'd say that of the 40 minutes of play length, you're getting a good 28 which will fuel your lust for denim jackets, patches, whiskey, spikes and sluts, and there's no question in my mind that this one of the more positive evolutions I've heard in all Hellenic extremity. Not a perfect album, but a great one. Whether you're into Witchery, Impaled Nazarene, Aura Noir, Bewitched, Audiopain or any sort of hybrid of the two styles, you'll want to experience this loudly, break a few glass bottles and dance mockingly about the radioactive wastes while you wait to be devoured by mutant cockroaches. Fun, fun, and not a bad way to go.

Verdict: Win [8/10]
(fear my bleeding war-hell)

Dodsferd - Suicide and the Rest of Your Kind Will Follow (2009)

Possibly due to his prolific workload through the mid to later 'oughts, Dosferd decided to go with something different for this fifth album, Suicide and the Rest of Your Kind Will Follow. In place of the tear and rush of more aggressive works like Fucking Your Creation or Cursing Your Will to Live, Wrath had written a pair of extensive tracks which totaled about 37 minutes play length. I'm not sure this was the best of ideas, really, because neither has enough actual content to justify the time spent in its embrace, and in the end this is one of the least interesting albums in Wrath's entire discography. That's not to imply that it's mind numbingly terrible, because 'things do actually happen' within these compositions. Let's just say that through Suicide..., I hope he got this out of his system.

For most of the 20+ minute title track, I waited within the vice of ennui in hopes that something of note would actually transpire, but it takes quite a while. There are subtle shifts in the slow, melodic and sullen riffing patterns, and sprinkles of melody throughout the first 17 minutes, but it carries on at the same, dreary slog, like sitting in the bus station waiting for a ride while a steady rain drizzles down on the nearest pedestrians' umbrellas. For closure, the primary distorted riffing drifts out and we get some melodic feedback and cleaner strings, but then, this is in itself not worth the time you spent getting here. "His Veins Colored the Room" opens with a more curious, tortured segment, ringing guitars set against thudding percussion while Wrath waxes tormented throat exercises, and then a better, melodic course than the first track sets in, which is at least catchy for 2-3 minutes before it too grows tired. Strangely, this is the most 'pretty' you'll ever hear Dodsferd throughout its entire lineage, a clear contrast to the more caustic creations of his past (and future).

Though it's probably the intention, I don't think the album ever becomes so dire and emotionally poignant that the listener would want to kill him/herself, but rather just to stand out and press the 'stop' button. Now, make no mistake about it, this is a solidly produced work, not an amateur roll in the hay like the Dodsferd weak debut Desecrating the Spirit of Life. This is crafted to grasp the listener's heartstrings and then pluck them off one by one, but it makes the critical mistake that many such black metal (or doom metal) recordings often do: long, uninteresting compositions do not = emotional desolation. One does not need to stand around staring at his shoes for 20 minutes in order to feel a reaction to loss and solitude. Suicide... feels like nothing more than a waste of time, with only subtle variations involved and none of these bearing any memorable fruit. I understand this was thinking outside of the box for this Hellenic outfit, and trying on a new set of clothes, but as the man proved with Death Set the Beginning of My Journey, he can rock with venomous, nihilistic youth. I really don't want to hear 'retirement home' Wrath, if you know what I mean.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]

Acrimonious - Purulence (2009)

Acrimonious is yet another Greek black metal project to involve members of Stutthof/Acherontas, who seem to have been quite busy in the year 2009 (Acherontass' side project Nihasa, and Stutthoff digging up some old tracks to release as an EP). This is a distinctly more straightforward take on the genre than their mainstay Acherontas, in that there are far less synthesizers and atmospherics involved, but like a lot of the work they've done in the past, there just never seem to be those truly unhallowed riffs or glimpses of genuine malice tearing through the fabric of composition. That's not to say that Purulence is a bad debut, because its production values are solid and there is some variation in the track list, but ultimately it ends up just another, unsung ripple in the broad, Norwegian wake.

Firstly, I'm not sure about the decision to have an 11+ minute track, "Call to Disorder", right up front. The song sounds enormous, with doom-like black riffing and tiny trails of discord through the majority of its playtime, but spurts of accelerated blasting to breach the monotony. Yet the guitars, as rich and up front as they sound, never mold themselves into anything interesting. Thankfully, none of the other tracks feel so bloated. "Dissolving Spirits" and "Angel Withdrawn" are faster, with flights of tremolo picking or rushes of low-end chords that channel the charnel influences of Bathory, Mayhem, Emperor and so forth. Several of the other, slower pieces like "Purulence" and "At the Portals of Daat'" are better at managing their individual atmospheres, the latter involving some of the best, dire melodic breaks on the entire album. "Spirit's Eclipse" is probably the best overall, with the warped guitars in the intro and a subtle, shining escalation to the streaming guitars, but even this is just not exemplary.

The lyrics here were rather interesting, if a bit jumbled. Loads of blasphemous, thoughtful imagery are rushed before the readers' eyes with far more complexity and curiosity than the music really permits, and it's just a shame that such effort wasn't placed in the actual notation. The vocals are flat out dull throughout, a typical grunt and rasp that never achieves any sense of syllabic integrity or menace, an open throat almost phoning in the stirring imagery. Often I was reminded throughout of several of the Swedish 'orthodox' black metal bands like Ondskapt, but mostly just in mood and the obvious attempt here to be simple and eerie. I was taken here by the Greeks' poetic insight and Purulence's tactful production, but the actual musical does not dwell upon the conscious for long, and I must reiterate that Acherontas seems to be the best decision these two have made in their careers; most of these parallel projects don't live up.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10] (where the rays of light do not reach)

End - End III (2009)

Well it turned out that the first End wasn't the end, and that the second end also wasn't the End. Six years beyond that, the End arrives once more in its third manifestation of precocious, storming Hellenic black metal. Immediately, End III trumps its predecessors with vastly superior cover art. No more a gray, empty miasma will adorn the band's face, but a hooded mystery within a gorgeous, rich black and white woodland illustration. Points there for drawing in the listener's eyes, but unfortunately, End III does not musically hold up to its elder chapters. Not because the band have somehow devolved in ability, but because the dark atmosphere and mood characterizing the sophomore is much reduced here, supplanted with some study assembly line blasting that sounds like a hundred other acts in the field.

I'm not saying that the prior album was brilliant in its balance of dark ambient pieces, dour acoustics and more aggressive surges, but there was a particular charm to it that I enjoyed. On the End III, it takes even a few tracks just to encounter something interesting. "Catastrophe" has a half-decent, discordant breakdown in the bridge, but it's largely just a straight burst of blast with angry sounding sheens of higher string axe-work and growling. "Self-Eating Mass" moves straight into another blast-beat, though admittedly it lets up in its bridge for some sparser guitars. After this, the album starts to take on more variation. "Still in Flesh" and "In the Womb of Sick" feature, slower, dissonant guitars, not unlike a Glorior Belli or a simplified Deathspell Omega. In fact, there's a lot of this post-black appeal to the album, as it's also incorporated into "Lavish Gloom" and "Megalomania". To some extent, this is a more modern and experimental effort than the previous Ends, but it's not walking on untrodden ground.

For its production alone, End III is superior to what the band have previous released, as the guitars get a good even tone and the vocals sound more piercing or cavernous as the voices shift between growls and bloodied rasps. It's competent and technically more involved than that 2002-3 period, in particular the tighter drumming and the complexity of the guitars. But in the end, it's not all that harrowing of an experience, and despite End II's crudeness, it was at least appreciably haunting. End now seem to have the skill and penetration needed to rub horns with the faster, furious acts out of Norway, Poland and France, but it's hard to remember much of the 50 minutes of dissonant, devilish dissemination on the recent End of their evolution.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Cry of Silence - Wandering Through Pagan Times (2009)

Walking Through the Eternal Tragedy was a cold sounding debut, but while I could appreciate the actual production and the wrist slitting torment of the vocals adrift over its miasma of frosted riffs, the actual composition of the music felt painstakingly average in scope, a rustic mirror of Burzum's Filosofem. Well, there's not a lot that has changed stylistically about Granath's sophomore Wandering Through Pagans Times, save that it's an even noisier, tortured clamor of strained depression than its predecessor, and to that effect more effective upon the listener's psyche. Oh, and the incorporation of female vocals which occasionally wail off against the razor strewn guitar tone and tinny, steady beats.

The intro here is quite lush, with rural samples of crackling fire and ravens set to the female vocalist' mourning, Medieval melodies. Certainly this built an enormous expectation, but once the next track arrives, "Nocturnal Silence Creeps", you are immediately returned to the frigid tones of the debut, as longing guitar melodies careen off a subdued substrate of fuzzed chords. Right away, you can tell that this will be the sort of black metal effort in which certain rhythms drone on for just too long, with no internal variation or surprises in store, and yet to Granath's credit, most of the longer pieces (many are 8 or 9 minutes) do contain atmospheric breaks and tempo shifts. Unfortunately, their presence alone doesn't always make the compositions any more cohesive, and the transitions, while not exactly clashing against one another, feel dull and uninspired in songs like "Tears of Mother" or "Forgotten Land", which is the most bloated piece on the disc...

I do like the way the album sounds, as it recalls works like Filosofem or Weakling's Dead as Dreams, in particular how the riffing interacts with Granath's squawking, screaming vocals, but there were only a few points later on in the album ("Last Tears of the Wolf", "Strength Over Weakness") at which I felt the guitars really came together for some truly sad, engrossing melodies that captured and plucked away at the emotional strings. The female vocals are sparse and well implemented through the record, and again, it's not often a band can just sound this miraculously frozen. Wandering Through Pagan Times should have been titled Wandering Through Winter Times, because you truly get the impression that you're on some solitary stride through the landscape of dead trees and ice capped hills, counting the breaths as they void the heat from your body.

It's a bit more varied and colorful than the debut, but in the end I really felt as if it still needed something to force its way deeper into the soul. Effective mood music for the late months of the year (provided you live in a temperate or subarctic area), but little more.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10] (this land is for no one to see)

Sad - Enlightened by Darkness (2009)

After a sharp spike in quality from the debut Total Nothingness to 2007's Curse in Disguise, Sad were en route to becoming on the stronger stock black metal outfits in Greece. This momentum was drawn to a halt with Enlightened by Darkness, the band's third full-length, which seems like a step back from its predecessor, but let me qualify that statement by saying that little has changed in terms of the musical content. Once again, one should not be misled by the band's moniker: this is hardly the 'depressive' sort of material you might be expecting, but instead a driving, melodic beast with fully Scandinavian influences from Burzum, Mayhem and their like, and a strong guitar tone that dominates the recording.

As with the prior albums, these guitars clutch the steering wheel and never let them go. Sad is foremost a band about the riffs, and it feels like the rasped drawl and an admittedly competent drum performance seem to remain in the back seat. For that reason, there's just not a lot of interesting layering within the songs. They depend wholly on how damn catchy the guitars are, and though some thought was placed in the construction of notes, a lot of songs grow tired in short order. Particularly, these are the longer pieces like "Sweet Loss" or "Ignored", which move with a melodic swagger somewhere between Mayhem and Bathory but simply cannot seem to justify 7 and a half or 8 minutes of constancy. The same goes for "Let Snow Cover the Earth", which opens with a fairly dull blast sequence and then spit its one brighter, emotional riff before exhausting all the surprises in store.

Better are the shorter pieces, like "Soul Scars", which opens with another of these thick, streaming elegies and then manages to belt out a cruel rock groove in the bridge redolent of a Hellhammer or Darkthrone. Or "Destroy Them", which is straight cruising mid-paced black metal following a similar, mean sounding course with brief fits of acceleration. It almost seems like the more drifty and dreamy the band grows here, the less potent and memorable they become. It's a shame, really, because these guitars have great production, the drums crash along appropriately and they're clearly solid as cement. Ultimately, Enlightened by Darkness just doesn't leave the same impact on the listener as A Curse in Disguise. Granted, it's still better than the debut, but not by a large margin.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Stutthof - For the Glory of the Knights of the Temple EP (2009)

For the Glory of the Knights of the Temple is a highly limited 7" EP released through Zyklon-B Productions. It does not actually feature any new Stutthof material (since the band was content to move on to their newer project Acherontas), but a pair of tunes that were penned around the time of their sophomore album And Cosmos from Ashes to Dust (2004). I was not quite a huge fan of that period, as I found the band to be a middling Hellenic approximation of their obvious Scandinavian influences like Emperor, but nor was it the most incompetent stuff of its sort. I'm afraid that, had these tracks been released back then, it wouldn't have made much difference, because they're not exemplary, but certainly they are on par with anything from the first two albums.

There are two parts to this "For the Glory of the Knights of the Temple" saga, with the first being "The March" and the latter "The Fall". The former is accurately titled, because it is a straight charge of blasted black with streaming, thick tremolo guitars cast beneath the towering rasp of Acherontass, with a few varied riffs that keep up the momentum and become gradually more intricate neared and after the bridge. The latter is naturally the more atmospheric, since it's a pure keyboard ambient piece, but nice enough for that style. Seeing that the band has lifted soundtrack scores directly onto previous releases, it's hard to be sure that it's original, but despite the choirs and vibrant atmosphere, it seems like something they could easily have composed.

Like most of these rare pressings, there must be under a 1000 of these EPs out there in circulation, thus they were never intended for mass consumption (no Stutthof releases ever were). I can't see myself listening to this again anytime soon, but for what it is, you could ask for worse. The production is just as rounded as anything they released previously, but I'm more a sucker for what they are doing in Acherontas, a far more dynamic and compelling entity.

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]

Varathron/Desolation - Darkness Has Landed EP (2009)

Darkness Has Landed sees a natural team up of the Greek legends Varathron with another long-standing Hellenic band (Desolation) which performs with a brand of death metal not unlike Deicide or Vital Remains, with some thick, thrashing riffage. The cover here looks enticing, a pagan ritual of seduction and sacrifice under the watchful goat and its horns, but the music is unfortunately not that great from either party. No big deal, really, since there were only about 500 of them made and most will just be experiencing the music through the internet.

can certainly survive this, and their piece is the better of the two, a vicious atmospheric black metal track called "To Thou Who Condemn the Light" with full, deathlike vocals and an air of that classic Greek atmosphere from their earlier albums like Walpurgisnacht (or Rotting Christ). Once it surges into the speed metal licks at its core, and the grandiose atmosphere of the final minute, it really starts to shine like their great Stygian Forces of Scorn album (the same year), but it feels a little tilted towards its latter half. As for Desolation, well, this is a band that have existed since about 1991 in various forms, but never really released anything until theri 2006 effort Eternity of Hell. And now they're back on hiatus. They once had members like Sakis Tolis in their ranks, plus a bunch of dudes from other Greek death metal bands. This song is wholly average, and it had already appeared on the album of the same name...

If I can say something good for them, it's that they offer a lot of variation. The acoustic intro transforms into a pummeling blast beat with melodic speed rhythms under ghastly growls, and they go into a few walls of melody near the bridge (one nice dual muted descending pattern at about 3:00 doesn't rescue it). But nothing really stands out here, not the vocals nor the riff selection, and I'm afraid "Eternity In Hell" is not about to win the veterans much in the way of an expanded fan base. But it's not bad, and the production is pretty tight. At any rate, the coupling of these tracks is sort of a given, since they flesh out a similar expanse of atmospheric territory, but the quality of the former and redundancy of the latter don't make for an engrossing experience, and the cover feels superior to the musical content in the end.

Verdict: Fail [4.75/10]