Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Labyrinth - Return to Heaven Denied Pt. II - A Midnight Autumn's Dream (2010)

From about 1995 when they released their original Piece of Time EP through 2001's Sons of Thunder, Labyrinth were an Italian band on a mission, writing some pretty good power/progressive material for their first three full-lengths. After that, they seemed to fall off course with the s/t, Freeman and 6 Days to Nowhere. None of these were necessarily bad, mind you, but the band's decision to explore beyond the more straightforward sound they had used to break out of the underground would not necessarily reward them. Apparently this was the idea going into Return to Heaven Denied Pt. II, because it's a sequel to the original 1998 album, which in my opinion remains their strongest overall work.

The band still has much of the original lineup from that album, including Rob Tyrant, Olaf Thorsen, and the two Andreas, but the drummer is new, Alessandro Bissa, a natural choice coming in to replace Mat from Vision Divine and other Italian acts with a similar sound to Labyrinth. The cover art is similar to the original album, as well as the production and overall feel of the writing. Unfortunately, one of the flaws with the original was that the deeper you moved into the record, the less interesting the tracks would become. The musicianship and performances were not to blame, only a lack of truly memorable material. I feel like, in this way, Part II is a repeat, and since the material is just not as good in the first place, we're left without another album in which the attention span can quickly grow tired and lost. Perhaps the band's moniker is only too fitting...

The opening track "The Shooting Star" borrows the beautiful melodic lead-in from "Moonlight", the opener of the original album, and places it against a slightly different context. I was very happy that Labyrinth acknowledged this, since it's one of their best songs, but it also builds up a rather large expectation which "The Shooting Star" cannot pass. Still, the band's fluid rhythms and instrumental dominance is once again revealed, and there are a few exciting licks. They follow this one with "A Chance", which is a quite well paced melodic speed metal track with small flourishes of synthesized atmosphere, with a dreamlike segue of clean guitars and moodier vocals that mirrors the good old Dream Theater style. "Like Shadows in the Dark" makes a heavy use of piano along with its mid paced, steady escalation, with some chugging rhythms that adorn the leads.

The rest of the album continues along this very same course, all extremely loyal to the original 1998 album, with a mix of faster, energetic pieces like "Princess of the Night" and "To Where We Belong", and then the inevitable power ballad title track. Each song has notable melodic characteristics and a mix of tempos, with plenty of ground in which Andreas de Paoli can wander. Tyrant has a generally good performance on the record, though there are a few points in which he shifts to a more girlish pitch that sounds a little too over the top. The major issue is that the album really doesn't ever go for the throat. The songs are all tidy and perky enough to gain your attentions, but most of the actual riffs themselves, both guitar and synthesizer, seem familiar and safe. The leads are crafty throughout, but I can't help but feel they are more about the 'exercise' of inclusion than emotional outbursts.

If Labyrinth just wanted to re-establish themselves to the standards they set in their career through the mid to late 90s, then Return to Heaven Denied Pt. II does exactly that. The original was my favorite album, and I still listen to a song like "Moonlight" today, a welcome addition to any prog/power mix I'd pass along to a friend. Unfortunately, there are no songs quite at that level on this recording. As consistent as the band is, nothing really leaps off the sonic screen here to engage you beyond just a pleasant, inoffensive album of its nature. I was very excited that the band were coming out with this, but I don't feel it's all that much better than the last few efforts. I guess I'll just have to wait for the inevitable Sons of Thunder Pt. II...

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Evemaster - III (2010)

Evemaster have always stuck out a little for pursuing a more melodic direction than many of their Finnish black metal peers, and in fact you could possibly lump them in more with that scene's explosive melodic death scene alongside a band like Insomnium or Noumena, more so than the orthodox black metal artists. Strangely enough, their level of accessibility has not brought them a large amount of success, despite decent offerings like the re-recording of their debut MMIV Lacrimae Mundi back in 2005. The remaining band members have been busy with other projects through the years (Tomi is a member of the more popular band Battlelore), and thus the evasive success and schedule demand that time would be taken before a new Evemaster full-length.

Sometimes a hiatus pays off, and III is proof positive, because it's quite entertaining and I'd even say a few of the tunes are memorable. The band is down to just two core members here, vocalist Jarno Taskula and Tomi Mykkänen, who performs instruments and added vocals, but they've added a host of guests in the studio. The mix is loud and clear, with the right amount of punch and depth to the rhythm guitars to offset the constant streams of melody the band is plucking out of the atmosphere. The rasping vocals are extremely consistent, and allow the band to retain some of the vicious appeal of their parent genre, though the music is quite far displaced from the black metal medium. The grooves never feel cheap, and if the album really suffers from any single point, it might be that the songs always start out very strong through the verse rhythms, and then offer little in the means of a surprise around any corner, which the best melodic death/black metal efforts thrive upon.

There are certain exceptions, though. After the strong but level "Enter" exhausts an emotional melodic force upon the listener, "New Age Dawns" arrives with its choppy rock rhythm and glinting melodies, before breaking down into a nice, resonant melody with Dan Swanö guest vocals. No wonder it feels that you've been catapulted into a Nightingale song for a moment! "Humanimals" is a pretty steady, weighted song with flowing bass lines, spikes of organ and some excellent, soaring black snarls that add a stunning power. "Losing Ground" is mellow but catchy, a progressive metal undercurrent moving through its heart, and "The Sweet Poison" builds to an appropriate climax. If you're seeking some harder tracks, complete with atmosphere and killer licks, "Harvester of Souls" and "Fevered Dreams" should truly appeal.

This is quite likely the best Evemaster have yet had to offer us. The songs are mature and catchy, so that right there will probably have a number of jaded metal fans immediately writing off the band, but if you enjoy the accessible sounds of Insomnium, Noumena, Rapture, or even mid period Katatonia you may find a lot to enjoy in III. The lyrics are pretty political compared to many of the band's more introspective peers, and though they're nothing special, it's at least different. III is not original to a fault, and it's not exactly blazing with compositional depth, but as something you can enjoy and revisit, it excels.

Verdict: Win [8/10]
(breakdown was near but we held back)

Interment - Into the Crypts of Blasphemy (2010)

Interment is another Swedish revival act following the classic Swedish death metal sounds of Entombed, Dismember, Grotesque, and others, but the catch here is that the band actually existed during the crux of it all, forming in 1988 and producing a number of demos in the 90s before the inevitable breakup. The band resurfaced on a 2007 split with NJ old school act Funebrarum and then a compilation of the original demos earlier this year. When I tell you that 3/4ths of the current lineup are from Centinex and Demonical, with alumni from Uncanny and Dellamorte, it becomes all the more reason to get excited.

It also becomes very predictable as to what this album should sound like. It sounds like Nihilist, Dismember, Carnage and Left Hand Path, with the familiar, thick guitar tone, d-beat rhythms mixed with old school fast breaks, and vocals that sound like an angrier L-G Petrov in his youth. Thankfully, the album is largely newer material, and not just another endless rehash of the demo material, with the exception of "Where Death Will Increase" from the band's first 1991 demo under this name (they were formerly Beyond). The dark atmosphere to this album churns the grave dirt from which the dead rise when called, and I'd compare it to another recent offering, Rotten Death by Tormented, a band featuring ex-members of Edge of Sanity and others.

For what it's worth, Into the Crypts of Blasphemy does rock pretty hard, so if you sport a major hard on for its spiritual influence Left Hand Path, I see no reason you couldn't dive right into the grim sepulchers and mobile animated frames that haunt this band's lyrical universe. "Dreaming in Dead" and "Sacrificial Torment" are both excellent tracks that took me right back to around 1990, with powerful momentum and grooving rhythms that can satiate both the restless dead and the mosh pit of the living. "Night of the Undead", "The Pestilence", and "Morbid Death" are also fit for the charnel house, a dense velocity powering each swing of the butcher's knife as he hacks and maims tall corpses for short coffins.

Interment is derivative, but at the same they've got a bigger claim to this old sound than the usual upstart, as they were actually there in the middle of it all. Do you mind more of the same? If this is not a problem for you, and you treasure the Swedish roots and a decent songwriting effort, then there's no real reason for you to skip out on this album, because it hits the right notes at the right time and benefits from a morbid, crushing mix that will satisfy you. But if you seek innovation and a push of the envelope, you're probably roaming through the wrong cemetery.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Thornium - Fides Luciferius (2010)

Thornium is a Swedish band which released a record, Dominions of the Eclipse, back in 1995, then took a 12 year hiatus. They returned for Mushroom Clouds and Dusk last year, and have already doubled the productivity of their 90s stint by following that average effort up with this new album Fides Luciferius. This is about as honest and straightforward as modern black metal can get. It's got a major sense for clarity in its production values. You can hear all the guitars and drums very well, and though the bass is not a major component of their sound, it hovers in the perception enough that the record gains a nice low end to it. Stylistically they don't break far out of the mold of your Dark Funeral, Marduk, Dissection, 1349 or Emperor, though Thornium does not have as aggressive or caustic a sound as several I just listed.

The rise and fall of Fides Luciferius is simply that it's a very predictable piece of black metal with nothing surprising that ranges beyond the expected. The cover image is ghastly, but uses the same angelic blasphemy and grainy texture we've seen on so many others. The tracks deal in perverse, occult explorations which are bread and butter for the genre, though titles like "Virgin Destroyer Redeemer" or "Mother of Abominations" still track across the void to my attention span despite the factor of familiarity. The riffs and writing are always solid, with nothing to really complain about, and no real boredom to ever mar the near hour's length of the album.

However, let's take for example the song "Son of the Dragon" here, which mixes up a little in its tempo beyond the straight blasterfests like "Archetype of Death" or "I Am Perfection". This begins with some acoustic tracks shining across a very simple chord pattern, a slow march that eventually moves ahead with a Bathory pace, and then the blasting begins. Not once in this entire song are you treated with anything out of the ordinary. The rhythm guitar patterns feel like they were written in all of 30 seconds, and though the vocals rasp with efficiency, and there are a few small breakdowns to make sure your attention doesn't disappear within the blasted core, you feel no natural compulsion to revisit it. A few of the mid-paced tracks feel almost refreshing by comparison, such as "The Void of Choronzon" or closer "I Am a God", but even these seem to channel a status quo rather than challenge it.

If it's purity Thornium were seeking, then one might argue that they've established a strain of sorts here. But considering their love for explorations of the occult, the ego and the alien, I feel that a more horrific, unexpected use of composition or filthy cosmic ritual would benefit them greatly. These guys can play like devils. Hands and feet grew sore in the making of this album. But glance beyond the freakish, leering cover image and you don't encounter the menace of devils, the twisted and evil riffing that can unnerve the listener and make he/she lose her lunch in despair, like the best bands in the genre. Merely a void where so much talent lies unexplored beyond the sheer professionalism the band puts into their sound. There's nothing truly offensive about this record, and perhaps that is where its necessities lie.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Galneryus - Resurrection (2010)

It hasn't taken an enormous amount of time for Galneryus to rise to the top of the Japanese power/classical metal scene, as they've been highly productive and consistent in less than a decade of existence. Yes, by 2010 this band already has 6 full-length albums, a number of singles and EPs, and even some compilations of material, but they've yet to truly knock me out with any of their work. This latest effort, Resurrection falls to the same sort of margin level of entertainment. Galneryus are an entertaining group with all the explosive talent that any in this genre can muster. They can all perform their instruments very well, in particular guitarist Syu who has worked in Animetal and others. The guy is a pure neo-classical speed metal shredder ala Yngwie Malmsteen, and he shows it here, with his numerous solos counting among the album's finer moments.

You've also got a great keyboard player here, Yuhki of Ark Storm and other bands, who can also shred, but rarely goes beyond the call of duty, content with doing his actual job and providing a great backdrop for the rest of the band. Masatoshi Ono's vocals are the expected sort of choppy syllabic emotional outburst in higher range that you can expect from a lot of Japan's power or traditional metal acts (via Loudness, Anthem etc), and the rhythm section of bassist Taka and Junichi Sato's drumming brings this all together with a raging power similar to another band he's performed with, the consistent if often underwhelming Concerto Moon.

So with all this skill and architecture in place, where does Resurrection go wrong? It doesn't, ever go wrong, it simply lacks the added level of power and grace that results in a memorable collection of songs. From a technical or production standpoint, Galneryus can trade blows with almost any other act in the genre, internationally. It's just not all that captivating. Tracks like "Carry On" thrill with their vibrant, anthem riffing, licks of shred and predictable but polished vocal performance, with a nice breakdown that provides the scintillating atmosphere ripe and ready for shredding, tight drumming and a pretty swell of synthesizer packed in. There are a lot more of these: "Save You", "Fall in the Dark", and "Still Loving You" all mix their instruments and velocity well, and I love picking out all the little nuance in the guitar and keyboard interchange, in particular Yuhki uses a pretty broad range of sounds tastefully. The band can also manage a dynamic instrumental like "Emotions" quite well, from the organ tones a la At Vance to the fluid shredding that spins between mystery and enlightenment.

No real bones to pick here. Resurrection is surely one of the most well rounded and coherent of Galneryus' records to date, and in almost all aspects it's a very good outing that would very much appeal to fans of prog/power metal acts, whether they be the similar Concerto Moon or a range of European bands. Galneryus, in fact, keeps a lot busier in the compositions than their peers, and I doubt you'll grow tired or bored in listening through this. It's very accomplished and good, it just lacks that elusive something extra which would push it over the barrier of: Wow, that just happened. These guys can play!

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

Disiplin - Hostis Humani Generis (2010)

Experimentation is hardly off the radar when we're discussing Norse black metal artists. Why, just take a glimpse through the career of an Ulver, Solefald or Helheim and you'll find all manner of transitions to and from bizarre, often unexplored territory. As my last exposure to the explosive black metal band Disiplin was 2005's Anti-Life, I was not at all expecting that within 5 years, the band would make a shift into industrial metal territory, but here it has transpired, with the noisy and underhanded Hostis Humani Generis. This is one noisy record, and to some it might seem slightly off putting, but I'd urge you to adjust your headsets and listen far more closely, because this is actually quite a nice mix of crashing industrial waste, somber melodic overtones and post-everything.

At its best, Hostis Humani Generis provides the listener with a landscape of hostility that slowly unveils an inner, almost mystic beauty. This aesthetic is present for much of the album, but I found it most riveting through the early pieces like "ArioSophic Initiation" or "MithrAion". The band is pretty good at coming up with some jarring, central melody as found in "The World Trembles" which seems at odds with the crushing atmosphere of the machine drumming and suppressed vocal horror, yet rhythmically flush and fulfilling. Then, there are points at which the band delves into further into their industrial territory, such as the brilliant "Revolt Against the Modern Man" which exudes a rusted reality and nihilistic void over a grooving bass.

Other tracks still seem to grasp more of a black metal aesthetic, only fragmented into constituent elements and then splattered across the drum programming and warped into an alien byproduct. These include "Knives and Thoughts" or the hostile "Vilje av Jern". But really, despite the fact that they're all dowsed in the same caustic resonance of post-human discord, no two are exactly the same. "Weltenfeind" is this epic of calm, clean guitars ringing out hauntingly against the scream of samples and feedback while a slow beat pumps like an assembly line. "Stare Into the Eyes of Vengeance" is calming, with strings plucked against a mechanical dark ambiance with a disturbing rotor effect. "Kulturkampf" is stressful, death barks across a big industrial beat while rambling strings draw tight the psyche.

By default, Hostis Humani Generis is far more interesting than anything Disiplin have released before, but I fear that the average black metal fan will likely decry its differences more than revel in its intimate tortures, as he is won to do. Personally, I found the album enormously compelling, but the sounds are in fact quite harsh and it will require numerous spins of the listener to really delve in deeply enough. At 75 minutes, a work such as this might suffer to some sort of excess, but I really feel the Norwegians offer enough differential with each unnerving trip that it can clutch tightly to your heart like a surgical, mechanical arm. This is like Red Harvest on a massive acid binge. I truly hope this risk will pay off for the band.

Verdict: Win [8.75/10]

Deteriorot - The Faithless (2010)

Deteriorot have always been a rather slow moving act through their 20 years of existence, but since this has always culminated in work of true quality, who the hell can complain? It's been a long nine years since the debut In Ancient Beliefs, and since this time their devout old school addiction to decrepit 90s death metal has actually become a minor rage across the world, with a number of younger bands sprouting out of the gravedirt to tango with the sounds of Autopsy, early Death, Obituary, and Incantation, but this former New Jersey band, now active out of North Carolina were well above the curve, as their 2001 'debut' was already promoting this foul platform of butchery. Beyond that, it's important to situate that the band is not just another 'revival' act, as they were in the thick of all the blood and guts so many years back, releasing demos through the critical decade of the genre.

Deteriorot also manage to maintain a distinct difference from many of the other bands currently coddling this niche like fresh afterbirth, due to their propensity for slower, crawling material as the central focus, only moving at a higher rate when distracted, and Paul Zavaleta's large vocal presence. His growling is so massive as to almost escape the mix of the instruments altogether, existing on a separate plane of the dead that somehow runs parallel with the grisly concourse beneath. Rob Solberg's bass tone is massive, and the guitars of Zavaleta and Steve Horvath are like a pure mix of Obituary and Incantation circa the early 90s, walls of necrotic force that crush with an almost doom-like impunity and simplicity. The drumming is quite organic, Davila creating an almost tribal testament to barbarity.

The riffs here are all quite simple, and very unlikely to please a listener that has boarded this sepulchral train for anything else than an annihilation of his or her hope and dreams. Tracks like "Into the Abyss of Sorrow" and "Phantoms Cry" segue from enormously awesome, if familiar death metal strains of crushing Bolt Thrower-like rhythms to sparse, cryptic doom metal, like climbing to the summit of a mountain of bones. Others, like "Beyond the Emptiness" are even more weighted and subtle, if you consider the act of slowly having your skull caved in by forces beyond your control, like gravity or temporal reality, subtle. But perhaps by favorite track on the album is "The Faithless" itself, with killer, dark melodies woven through its bludgeoning bottom end. There's also a thrifty update to the band's classic "In Ancient Beliefs" and a cover of Sodom's "Outbreak of Evil" to help round out the newer originals, and both deliver.

The Faithless is a gruesome, effective record, even if its charms have been experienced by this time through a number of other acts. Decisively archaic and menacing, it brings all the best to the table of its influences and teaches a few of the lagging younger acts what 'heavy' means, without ever taking on any hint of technicality or modern wanking. It's quite comparable to the band Funebrarum, though perhaps not quite so bleak, and worth tracking down whether you're into the original, raw artists that first delivered these sounds or the wave of recent acolytes that have decided to spit in the eye of progression. Let's hope it won't take another nine years for the third album!

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Monday, June 28, 2010

LIK - Lekamen Illusionen Kallet (2007)

The third and final album of Sweden's LIK (excluding the possibility that Graav will record more now that he has revisited the project) is used as an attempt to tie off the ends of the previous two works, and though a defective version with an improper track list and lackluster production was released previously via Agonia, this new Frostscald release contains the material as intended. According to the bio, this record was thrown together rather quickly, in an inspired burst of creativity on the part of its maker, and that may explain its very short length.

Lekamen Illusionet Kallet
, the spelled out namesake of the band's acronym, is only about 24 minutes long, with 4 tracks, but I was quite pleased to find a greater semblance to the debut Må Ljuset Aldrig Nå Oss Mer than the acceptable but underwhelming sophomore Besvärtade Strofer, despite the interesting lyrical concept of the latter. I find the tones here almost perfectly satiated, with an honest crispness like the debut, but serving to fix some of the shortcomings. The drums remain louder here like the second album, though still indicative of the simplistic rock influence of similar acts like a Joyless or Forgotten Woods, but the bass is also thankfully running right up the middle as intended.

"I Tidens Ände Är Det Tron Som Består" is incredibly sincere and organic sounding, as it trudges through some varied discordant rock riffing that really picks up steam in the bridge, as a spike of melody glints across its dreary surface. The entire, lilted atmosphere of this track puts you right back in the mood of the debut, and then the "Röd Puls" revisits the dark and primitive Gothic/surf pulse of "Hate to Be Human", with faint guitars repeated over steady, subtle bass and all manner of rising and falling whispers and moaning. "Vredens Trolldom" is somewhat of the album's crushing piece, with caustic, creepy guitars over another gently pumping bass line, and another serving of Graav's ranting tongue. The sheer mystique of the metal riff that comes into play before 3:00 with the deep horn in the backdrop is quite a touch, and "Visioner Om En Ödslig Framtid", the closer is this morbid instrumental piece which with glinting, knife-edge guitars that would fit perfectly in a silent black/white horror film, or perhaps some grim, hopeless Western of antiquity.

Lekamen Illusionen Kallet is rather brief, and for that reason some might consider it more of an EP than a true full-length effort, but at least it doesn't squander its length on anything less than titillating. The writing is very comparable to the work the debut, and more of an extension on that with higher production values, which cycle it more closely towards the second album, so it functions as a fitting bookend to the Graav's original concepts. This is only going to entertain a select audience, like anything else the man has released, but it's a fairly fresh twist on a genre in dire need of evolution, even if the humble tones of LIK might seem more like a regression to a path black metal might once have strode upon, but didn't.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

LIK - Besvärtade Strofer (2005)

The second of Graav's solo efforts under the acronym of LIK, Besvärtade Strofer is a more polished and richly produced effort than the debut Må Ljuset Aldrig Nå Oss Mer, losing a little of that album's rustic charms to populate a more depressing, consistent field of moody rhythms and eerie but majestic vocals. At the surface level, though, there are some clear constants that have carried over from the first album. The spooky and fairly sparse synthesizers are mixed a little more loudly here, as are the very simple rock drum beats. A lot of the record seems to dwell between outbreaks of slowly charging metal riffs, but they're still conjoined to several of the album's more memorable moments.

The album runs in a few minutes longer than its predecessor, with one less track, and there are a few pieces here that would test my patience slightly like "Varulvsvals" and "Syner", which feel as if a little fat could have been trimmed from them. The other, lengthy piece "Viterskog" is haunting enough in its alternation between morose, occult doom with bleak vocals and the segment of flanged, clean guitars under which whispered, spoken narrative is spent, that one can very easily get lost within its turmoil and suffering. The metallic musings at the heart of "Syner" are reasonably cast, but not as interesting as the drudging ichor of Gothic horror that surrounds them. Ironically, the surge within "Varulvsvals" is the most exciting moment of the song, which seems a little too much of a drawl for its own good elsewhere.

"Prolog" is a thrifty intro piece, and I really enjoyed the depth of the clean guitar tone and its contrast with the whispered vocals and sprightly use of little organ sounds to create a pandemic of schizoid terror. "Åkallelse" opens with some more of the band's twanging, Western/folk hybrid pendulum before transforming to a driving Gothic rock force with some of Graav's more inspiring vocals on the entire album. The one other track is "Begravd (Epilog)", which is once again a guitar instrumental finale, like the first album had, though Graav has a few spoken lines after the 2:00 mark. This time, however, the guitars are cleaner and a little more adventurous as far as the patterns being repeated, and they really wrest a distance and emotional longing out of the listener.

It might not make much sense, but I feel the more refined and less 'hick' approach to Besvärtade Strofer lacks some of the charm of the original. Surely, many would argue that the tones of both drum and guitar here make it far more appreciable, and it doesn't lack for the debut's down trodden miasma of emotions, but I occasionally felt more bored with this incarnation of LIK. For what it's worth, though, the man can still weave some pretty desolate ideas into a tapestry of resilient and blissful torment, and those seeking out moody gray or deep blue architecture the likes of many minimal folk/black metal bands, or Graav's similar band Lönndom, might deem it worth the time and travail.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

LIK - Må Ljuset Aldrig Nå Oss Mer (2003)

LIK is a curious side project of Graav, who might be better identified with the Swedish cult black metal act Armagedda. The project's name is an acronym for Lekamen Illusionen Kallet, and through three albums Graav has plotted the course that would run parallel to and inevitably culminate in a similar project, Lönndom, with an oft overlapping sound but a greater emphasis on the folk aspects that are found scattered among the LIK records in small doses. This year, a resurgence of interest in the project has manifested in a release of all three LIK albums through Frostscald Records, with comely if minimal new packaging, and ultimately, a decision from Graav to resurrect the project and have it remain concurrent with his other bands. These are the definitive versions, approved in full by the musician himself, and Må Ljuset Aldrig Nå Oss Mer is the debut from 2003.

It's immediate from the first track "Pest Och Pina" here that Graav's aim was to infuse black metal with stripped, rock tones and soaring, gloomy folk vocals that stood apart from much of the 'depressive' minimalist or ambient extremes of the black metal genre. Yet, throughout much of Må Ljuset Aldrig Nå Oss Mer, the music could indeed be considered bleak and basic black metal. The primary differences come in the vocals and the use of the very humble drumming. The drums on this record pop like a garage band from the 60s, and while they might seriously turn away the fan of your typical blasting extremity, I think they really help to set this work apart. I also like the mix of more brazen chords with very cheaply patterned streams of flowing, eerie melodic notes and the occasional entrance of a haunting synthesizer. The vocals visit a number of territories, from mute whispers to traditional black rasps to the aforementioned clean, full-bodied vocals that seem to settle in the region of Gothic rock.

A number of the songs on the album play it rather close to the belt, such as "Guds Förlorade Skapelser" and "Nannlos", which do not often diverge from the simplistic black metal pulsing at the center of Graav's chest. It's perhaps a delicious contrast to mix them in, but they do not bring a lot to the table like the remainder of Må Ljuset Aldrig Nå Oss Mer, which is, to say the least, enticing. "Daupa Sinn" is a rustic mix of evil folk black metal and sonic rock, with the clean and favored vocals. "Hate to be Human", the one song on the album with full English lyrics, is a mystifying piece of brooding dark Gothic/surf-like rock which uses only faintly distorted guitars, horrifying anti-human whispered vocals and jarring background organs. It alternates between two patterns of note picking, and the drums surge beautifully beneath. Frankly, this is the most intriguing track of the LIK debut, and I wish there had been a little more like it.

"Evig Natt" is slightly similar as far as the intro's picking and sparse whispered torment, but it then morphs into a glorious explosion of melody and deep folk vocals in the native Swedish. The final track "Bortom Allt Liv" opens with a lengthy, distorted guitar droning off in muted hues of sorrow, later joined by a second for a full-bodied flush feeling. Several tracks on the album seem to lack bass, or rather the bass is turned quite low in the mix as to be nigh audible. This would seem to be purposely to leech the warmth out of their effects upon the listener, but I'm not sure it assists in the overall tone. Thankfully, it's more prevalent in some of the tunes like "Nannlos".

There is something evasively fresh and unique about Graav's approach to this material which makes it a recommended listen to any fan of the abandoned, depressive, often dry and exposed side of raw black or black/folk metal. It is somewhat shy of a perfect excursion, due to the often restrained journey back into the all too familiar tones of repetitive, subtler black metal, but the mix of these with the rustic rock elements and the tinny drumming is surely a reason to pay a visit to its foreboding climate.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10] (I don't belong here and I never will)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sorgeldom - Inner Receivings (2010)

I first encountered this promising Swedish band on their debut last year, Innerlig Förmörkelse, which consisted of generally lengthy compositions around the 8-11 minute range with alternating scenes of acoustic bliss and raging, melodic black metal drawn up in a not quite polished, but not so raw it hurts fashion. While I enjoyed that album, it didn't really exist outside of a large number of similar acts that use the same shifting between folk values and native aggression, and ultimately would not stand out so far in the memory. This is only a natural progression, though, seeing that Sorgeldom was originally but an acoustic project of one sole member, Jodöden (who today performs both the bass and guitars).

The band have made a number of alterations for the follow-up, Inner Receivings, that slightly shift their formula, without abandoning their more forceful black metal core. For one, they've shed some of the rustic roots of their sound to incorporate a sheen of post-black, or shoegaze elements which often occupy a portion or entirety of the track. They also dabble in some shorter material this time out, though four of the compositions exceed 8 minutes. I found the drummer slightly more intense on this record, and the black metal rhythms far more level, though the feel of unnecessary repetition does again diminish some of the effectiveness, especially in the stretched out fare like "I Kloaken Lättar Vi Ankar" 0r the title track. The central, rasped vocals feel a little monotonous after a time, though they do fit the majority of the album's aesthetic. The band also experiment with some cleans here, though, and feature a guest in AE of Whirling.

I really enjoyed how the album opened, with a meandering mystique of jarring, glinting streams that collided in a means reminiscent of Ved Buens Ende or The Archaic Course via Borknagar, and this immediately brought about high expectations, which more or less persisted through the hour of the total experience. The longer, black metal pieces such as "I Kloaken Lättar Vi Ankar" do not rage on forever, breaking to explore segues of quiet post-rock atmosphere. In the case of "I Väntan På Telefonsamtalet", the majority of the track is not black metal at all, but a longing and desperate instrumental melodic surge of chords that both trouble and delight the ear, until the closing segment where the vocals arrive and catapult us directly into those influences I listed above. There is a cover of shoegaze band Slowdive's "Summer Day" here which is quite affectionate, and combined with the post-acoustic points of "Drömmarnas Galax" or the watery ambiance of the outro "Dyk", one can't help but feeling that this band's real strength lies beyond the metal region.

However, the juxtaposition of its extremes ensures that Inner Receivings will not dull the listener if he's in the proper state of mind to experience it, and the album ends up more intriguing than it's worthy predecessor, with more lasting vibrations emitted through its shimmering departures from the norm. Granted, the black metal gone shoegaze metamorphosis is nothing extremely original, with a wealth of European and American bands visiting the option, but Sorgeldom are fairly strong when they commit to it. Sorgeldom's sophomore is easy to foist upon listeners of Apati, Ved Buens Ende, Alcest, ColdWorld, and other acts that have helped carve out and explore this domain, but be warned that there's still a twisted black serpent sliding about the forests and fields where their imagination blossoms.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

Bak de Syv Fjell - From Haavardstun EP (1997)

In addition to their selection of up and coming artists like Svart, Frostscald Records and their affiliates also specialize in the re-issue of select, forgotten obscurities that demand to be given a new life. In the case of Bak de Syv Fjell at least, this 2009 re-release is a tremendous opportunity to get one's hands on a gem that was available only in a 7" format when it was originally pressed. The band's name translates to 'Behind the Seven Mountains', and they perform a pretty fresh (for its day) take on glorious folk black metal which is highly likely to remind one of the earlier work of Ulver (Bergtatt or Kveldssanger) and perhaps Sweden's Vintersorg on his better solo efforts (Till Fjälls and Ödemarkens Son). The band was a two piece, with a singer/guitarist named Haavard and the better known drummer Einar Selvik, who has played in Gorgoroth and Sahg but currently works with Jotunspor and Wardruna.

This EP has been issued at its original length, with just the two tracks, minimal packaging and no bonus material (not that there'd be anything but rehearsals to draw upon), and it runs for a little over 8 minutes. Its brevity might be a turn-off for some, but the music is really quite good. "From Haavardstun" itself is a soaring, melodic piece with a fuzzy guitar tone and the conjuring of both clean, male vocals and female accompaniment that work well in conjunction. There are two guitars, one used solely to carry the rhythm and the other adding a more emotional spike to the mid-paced procession. There will often be some lower, spoken words, but these are sparse. The other track "De siste tankar" begins with some rousing, folksy clean guitars before it picks up into another glorious surge, the band switching verses between the femmish vocal and then the male cleans. This is perhaps the stronger of the two tunes, and I can certainly hear its appeal to fans of all manner of current folk/Viking material, from Borknagar to the sillier side of things like Thyrfing.

Einar is probably busy with a hundred things, but there is some possibility that this act Bak de Syv Fjell will be returning with new material at some point in the future, and it's possible that the reaction to this re-issue might play into the chance of that happening. I don't have many complaints with the music itself, though not all of the female style vocals are that enticing nor thrilling. Placed in a more modern context, with new recordings of a similar nature, this band could potentially gain the respect that has long eluded them. The From Haavardstun EP is very brief, and not worth paying more than a few dollars for, but it's a positive window into the prior decade when material like this was not as commonplace as the clouds, and the rather innocent perspective it takes is refreshing.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (intriguing...)

Parkway Drive - Deep Blue (2010)

Remember Deep Blue Sea, that movie with all the sharks and the secret government facility and whatnot? Yeah, the one where shark brains cure all of mankind's problems, so we give them gigantic megasharkbrains so they can form their own shark government and live peacefully among the humans in exchange for a few all-healing megasharkbrains to keep us alive forever. It went pretty well until the megasharkjerks decided to systematically eliminate any black men they caught giving a Braveheart speech, forcing Skynet to send a robot shark back in time to try and sabotage their society from within. Roboshark was able to keep the megasharkassholes from overthrowing humanity, but Samuel IGotBitInFuckingHalf Jackson still didn't make it. Unfortunate, but then, is society really any worse off without someone who thinks it's a good idea to give a five minute monologue in front of a pit of angry ultrasharks?

Parkway Drive's newest album is kind of like that, only without any of the sharks or black people or anything else interesting. In their place is a bunch of boring mid-paced metalcore. Nothing stands out as being particularly terrible; every member is more than competent with their respective instrument, lead angry shouting man is adequate (if somewhat monotonous), and there's quite a few interesting ideas floating around. The problem is how damn pointless it all is. The entire album is an excuse for aforementioned angryman Winston McCall to yell some angsty Facebook status updates over top of yet another worthless breakdown.

It's frustrating, really, because the guitarists throw some genuinely great riffs and leads around, but they're never allowed to head towards a worthwhile climax. Triumphant leads show up out of the blue and flail about like a wounded seal for awhile before being sucked down into the abyss of breakdowns that haunts every single song. Just like the uberdicksharks from the movie, it's like the breakdowns are hiding around the corner at all times, waiting for someone to start a speech so they can Kanye West the fuck out of them.

Maybe it's for the best, though. "Home Is For The Heartless" manages to hide in a dark, breakdownless corner for an entire four minutes while also managing to be the most annoying song here. Worthless chugging is replaced with a stream of constant "I really wish we were Paramore" whoaaa-ohhhs and the incredibly obnoxious line "If home is where the heart is, why do I feel so fucking heartless?" On the subject of lyrics, while that's a particularly horrible example, it's still indicative of the rest of the album: it's all just cut-and-paste metalcore angst, with a few more "fuck"s thrown in than usual to show that they're really mad about how miserable life is.

Just like Mr. Jackson from that movie, Deep Blue is kinda cool at times but got eaten by a shark because it's stupid and sharks are dicks. In conclusion, fuck sharks.

Verdict: Fail [3/10] (i mean seriously sharks just go away)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Zyklon - Disintegrate (2006)

Perhaps the upwards velocity of the band had been curbed by the year 2006. With two unrelenting hybrids, generally well received slabs of modernist black/death metal attack beneath their belts, what more could the band really offer us? Would they simply turn back towards their mainstays and forget all about this project, or was there something else in the time streams planned for the Zyklon turns out this was the case, and keeping the same lineup and style intact from the sophomore Aeon, the Norwegian super group would once more emerge from their caverns of creation to try and bludgeon us upside the head once more.

Disintegrate is an anomaly to me, because for all purposes, its contents have been very carefully measured and committed to the studio with a lot of superior elements to the past. These are arguably the band's busiest compositions, and some will say their best recorded (though a case might be made for World ov Worm's less bassy scenario or Aeon's turbulent depths). I can't say I disagree, as this is the brightest, in your face record of Zyklon's career. Yet, for all its strengths, I found Disintegrate to be remarkably.. forgettable in the long run. Almost every song on this album contains 1-2 riffs of value and then a bunch of throwaway matter that feels like a retread of prior songs, which I can definitely live without.

For example, take "Vile Ritual", which has quite a lot of impact and a few excellent rhythms of hyper thrashing/death metal woven throughout, before it lapses into less interesting patterns and ultimately a half-assed thrash breakdown which brings nothing to the table until the solo, which is itself pretty lamentable. "Wrenched" opens with huge, evil old school death rhythm lent atmosphere by Tony's vocals, and proceeds through a decent, thick industrial sheen, but then eventually lags off into some dull chug that seems like a slightly less coherent version of "Core Solution" off the second album. Those are actually two of the better songs...because then you've got fare like "Vulture" or the Gorguts-like mesh of "A Cold Grave" which I wouldn't remember if you shot me with it.

The lyrics here are actually decent, but when you take into consideration all these simplified song titles like "Underdog", "Vulture", and "Skinned and Endangered", this album feels like its often some soulless attempt at creating a more extreme alternative to Fear Factory, with less of the industrial influence. Gone are such inspirational titles as "Hammer Revelation" or "No Name Above the Names", and one soon casts the impression that this album was far harder on the band's limbs than their imaginations. At the same time, it's not really something I would dub 'poorly written', just lacking any durable entertainment value. Surely, the performances are intense, especially in the drumming and shred work, but I can't recall a single moment where real excitement or surprise at some blazing, excellent riff transpired within me.

I think the large share of my disappointment comes with the missed opportunities here. For all intensive purposes, Zyklon could have become this magnificent beast which merged together the black/death metal and industrial-electronic output to something much more important and widely spread throughout the realm, and yet they've gone down the route of a straight death metal act with only a touch of the black remaining, and a few samples to boot. Perhaps this album's title was indicative of the band's own mental state with the project, because after its release the band would indeed fold, first delegated to a prolonged hiatus and more recently with the official notice via Samoth.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]
(my request is inconclusive)

Zyklon - Aeon (2003)

As predicted, Zyklon's debut World ov Worms would create quite a current in the extreme metal fandom of both Europe and the United States. The attention addled fans were suckers for the sort of precision aggression and technicality this band were spitting forth, and the band were able to make some headway live. The next order of business would be to create a worthwhile follow-up, the dreaded sophomore effort, and to fill in their ranks with a permanent solution to the vocals, as well as relieve the other band members of having to play the bass. Keeping the project in the family, and killing two birds with one stone, they enlisted Tony Ingebrigsten, aka 'Sechtdamon', Destructhor's mate from Myrkskog, and also of Odium, to manage the growling AND the four strings.

He does both exceptionally well, and his black/death growls seem a pretty natural fit for this band, perhaps a little bit better than Vidar Jensen's work on the first album, and I like the way he incorporates melody into the gutturals, adding another dimension entirely to the blitz of Bård Eithun's cataclysmic lyrical poetry. I also noticed a larger, welcome boost to the bass on this record which gives it more of a depth than World ov Worms, and this is really the only difference, because this is a similar combination of the death and black metal aesthetics of the debut, with brief infusions of industrial or electronic music to maintain its futurist perspective.

The album starts off like the vortex gracing its cover, with the hurricane force attack of "Psyklon Aeon", part Deicide or Morbid Angel but with some amazing leads woven through out and hints of just enough melody to make this more extreme than some mindless bludgeoning. "Core Solution" is a wise follow-up, as its writhing chugs and bleak backing melody create an immediate foundation for a concert crowd to explode, and coming after the relentless opening track here, its a good change of pace. "Subtle Manipulation" seems to throw away various opportunities, teasing with a few seconds of excellent riffing and then erupting into a pretty stock Norse black metal sequence, but "Two Thousand Years" brings it back with a complex crawl, a brooding and often droning overture of measured thunder which reminds me of the writing for the past two Morbid Angel albums.

Picture only what you're worth, in all your incompleteness
Condemnation could only be revealed through liberation
Apocalyptic as in clear-cut context
No more words needed, final result is man
As he shall ever be; striving, acting and suffering

Unfortunately, the latter half of the album rarely re-invigorates the excitement brought on by the opening moments of the album. We are instead battered with half-realized fare like "No Name Above the Names" with its pretty dull progression that we feel we've already heard. "The Prophetic Method" and "Electric Current" are all too quickly forgotten. Exceptions would be "Specimen Eruption", which at least begins with a pretty interesting, psychotic industrial thrash flow before diverging into the slower mosh segments with endless double bass formations, or the finale "An Eclectic Manner", which is probably the most introspective, morose piece on the entire album, with some pretty amazing moments in the verse and bridge that really delve into the physical and psychological wasteland cycle the band creates through its aesthetic.

There are certainly elements here I appreciated more than the debut, but the overall songwriting seems somewhat lessened. The lyrics are passable, but simply not as good as those found on World ov Worms. Love the bass tones of this album, and really enjoy Sechtdamon's performance, but it suffers the same 'half-on, half-off' feel I felt about its predecessor, with a number of inspirational tracks counteracted by 'phoned in' material that feels like a pre-tread battlefield. Fortunately the band were keeping themselves alive through some touring and an increasing spike of popularity, because content-wise, this is not quite greatness at play.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10] (detachment of continuity)

Zyklon - World ov Worms (2001)

Why'd they drop the 'B', and when did Marilyn Manson's destitute cousin begin bathing in maggots, anyway? These were my thoughts after purchasing the debut of Zyklon, one of Norway's first super black metal super groups to truly depart on their own, stirring up a wealth of international buzz. With a core of Samoth (Emperor), Trym (Emperor, Enslaved, Tartaros) and Destructhor (1349, Myrkskog), and Daemon Vidar of Limbonic Art on vocals, it was not difficult to envision the sounds that might erupt from this debut: harsh, fast-paced black metal ala Myrkskog or Emperor with Samoth's sweeping and probably some modern or progressive edge to the writing.

World ov Worms in fact all of these things, and more, as it settles nicely between the genres of extreme, melodic black and death metal, putting a cold, industrial sheen on the proceedings that has little to do with pulsing beats of machinery, but everything to do with the destructive, post-apocalyptic aesthetics captured through the relentless sound. There is no real relation to Samoth's former side project Zyklon-B except in name alone, if anything this is a precision mesh of Morbid Angel and Myrkskog, bringing the bear much of the same, cataclysmic payload as the latter's Deathmachine, with a few segues of spoken, male/female vocals courtesy of Trickster G of Ulver and Persephone.

The opening track, wonderfully titled "Hammer Revelation" serves as a connect-the-dots lesson in everything Zyklon will be using to crush your ears. Blasting, warlike drums courtesy of one of the most machine-like human beings in the extreme metal camp, Morbid Angel style guitars that crash into the eerie minor chord streams typical of Norse black metal, mostly black metal vocals, and some solid sweeping patterns, leads and a little more melody than one might have expected. "Deduced to Overkill" is about half as long, blasting chaos with a better mix of the black and death growls. 'The death ritual begins...' is the sample which anoints the bludgeoning flattery of "Chaos Deathcult", one of the better songs on this album, and by this point you are convinced that, similar to Destructhor's other entity Myrkskog, this is not a band all that interested in giving the listener a chance to breathe.

"Storm Detonation" splatters across the scene with a very mechanical, industrial thrash metal feel to it, and this is yet again another one of the album's finest, with a monolithic architecture created through the rampant melodic evils that stretch between the molten fires of creation. "Zycloned" includes a pure, industrial metal breakdown which took me quite by surprise, in fact I found myself wishing they had included more parts like this on the album overall. But with "Terrordrome", the band is back in the fast lane, thankfully with some superior riffing to several of the other tracks, and this is perhaps one of the band's more iconic career songs. "Worm World" is rather forgettable, apart from the "Chapel of Ghouls"-like breakdown in the bridge with some creepy keyboards, and the closer "Transcendental War: Battle Between Gods" is notable for some strong riffing patterns, and Trickster G joining the band with some soaring, guest cleans.

The mix of the album is pretty much perfect to convey its sinister diaries of Armageddon, though I felt like the bass took a backseat much of the time, which strangely does not affect the balance of aggressive speed and impressive guitar work. The use of samples is tasty, and the band is clever enough to sprinkle the compositions with enough colliding, shifting dynamics that one is held in furor throughout much of the 41 minute length, without the ballistic overkill that a record might suffer if it were simply about speed and execution, with no lyrical bent or ability to consume the listener in a conflagration of inspiration. Half of the tracks are excellent: "Storm Detonation", "Chaos Deathcult", "Terrordrome" and "Transcendental War", and the rest are good enough to fill in the blanks.

I imagine there were individuals who felt this band would leave both Emperor and Myrkskog in the dust, but it's really just a fusion of the infernal energies that drove both acts, and one can surmise that it offered just enough 'out of reach' of the members' main bands that it had to occur to curtail some measure of ambition. Considering the popularity of the more unforgiving, technical ends of death or black metal, especially here in the States, this sort of project was surely in demand, so Samoth and crew were positioned to explode.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
(still no reason to inhale the dirt)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Witchery - Witchkrieg (2010)

Considering the relative dip in quality the Swedish black/thrashers took with their third and fourth records Symphony for the Devil and Don't Fear the Reaper, it was perhaps a very good idea that the band go on a coma, from which possibly never to return. Well, the seasons have shifted and now Witchery has, in fact, begun to fan the flames of their staked exile and deemed the time ripe to once again conjure up some mayhem. In this crusade, they are joined by a new, horned countenance on the microphone, Erik "Legion" Hagstedt, who once worked with Swedish cults Ophthalamia and Marduk. He replaces the recently departed Toxiene, and the difference is like night and day, but not without a bit of intervening afternoon gloom.

I always found Toxiene a little understated in his rasping approach, in particular on the band's earlier albums, but regardless it worked very well within the band's overall milieu. Legion is sort of the opposite, his vocals seem deeper and more full-bodied, roaring over the Jensen riff attack like a fleet of winged monkeys en route to fucking up the lives of a pig-tailed girl and her mixed company. At times, I almost felt the vocals were overbearing and felt like they were in another dimension to the music, but in other places, it really works wonders, creating this vast nightmare feel to what would otherwise be some rather stock thrash/death/black metal.

Sadly, the riffs are where Witchkrieg once again fails to muster up the forceful energy of the past efforts like the miraculous Restless & Dead. They're biting and forward, and comparable to the work of the past two records, which were less than spectacular. It's pretty telling when a slower, groove monolith like "The God Who Fell From Earth" can steal the attention away from the more crazed material like "The Reaver" or "Witchkrieg" itself. I also felt like a few of the tracks veered too boldly into a black/death sound, like "Wearer of Wolf's Skin", which is just not something I really expect or desire from Witchery.

There ARE exception, however, in which the songs summon adequate riffs to turn the head towards its downright, banging position, like "Conqueror's Return", which successfully segues from a ballistic thrashing force to a big groove sequence. "From Dead to Worse" and "Hellhound" were mildly entertaining, though a few of the blockier, bruising cuts in the depths like "Devil Rides Out" and "One Foot in the Grave" were less than compulsory. The vocals on "Witch Hunter" range from annoying to wretchedly atmospheric, but the limited edition bonus track "Hung, Drawn and Quartered" is arguably the best song on the entire album...I wonder why it wasn't included as one of the core tracks. Perhaps it was just recorded too late.

As a little gimmick and a tribute to some of their favorite bands, Witchery have thrown together a roster of guest soloists here including Jim Durkin (Dark Angel), Kerry King, Hank Shermann, Gary Holt & Lee Altus (Exodus), and the almighty Andy LaRocque, and it's pretty interesting to hear how they all apply their distinct styles to the leads, but they don't exactly shine through as more than fluid within the Swedes' imposed frameworks. I'd be lying though if I said i didn't think it was a good idea...

Ultimately, Witchkrieg is a superior effort to the previous, lifeless Don't Fear the Reaper, where Witchery's good intentions to invoke a memorable hybrid of thrash and black metal went to die in a fire. Yet it doesn't even hinge on the success of their first two albums at slutty graveyard thrusting riffs and faux diabolic diatribes, and winds up just a smidgeon shy of 2001's Symphony for the Devil in overall quality. You can have a good time with a number of these tracks, but in the end they all feel rather disposable. The statement made by one of the band member's that this was a better album than anything they'd previously released is quite far from the truth (happens more often than you'd think). As for Legion, he is not necessarily better or worse than his predecessor. It's good to see him in action again, and he's a pretty reliable choice, but might take a little more time to gestate within the band's core sound.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]

Finnr's Cane - Wanderlust (2010)

The black & white photography selected for the booklet of this Canadian trio's debut portrays a certain sense of longing for desolate, natural environments that have only marginally been marred by the presence of Mankind, and when listening through their interesting mesh of black and doom metal with environmental folk and post-rock elements, you can certainly make the connection with what the band are both thinking and feeling as they travail through the album's slow, weighted moments of melancholy and hinted darkness. This is a dreamstate given the flesh of audio, an emptiness given the body of guitars and percussion, synthesizer and the occasional cello.

It is ever the task of a band like Finnr's Cane to draw the listener in through carefully metered cycles of repetition, and at this the band succeeds. "The Healer" inaugurates the procession in tranquil morning mystery, a vibration of awakening conducted through clean guitars, a steady and subtle drum beat, and small spikes of synthesizer. It's not so much an intro as an individual song, though, because it does not necessarily flow well into the second track "Snowfall", which is a desperate, graceful shoegaze metal piece with some vocals that hover at the edge of perdition, as the chords glisten with longing sadness and very little variation is uttered through the pacing.

This is the region in which most of the record thrives, so it's the band's skill at such psychological scarring that will make or break their hypnotic grasp upon the listener. I can say with confidence that the band ultimately please the palette since they differ the momentum just enough with each new track to never quite dull you. "A Winter for Shut-Ins" is enameled in a similar fabric of despair to "Snowfall", but the added pianos create a heightened enigma. "The Lost Traveller" explores an acoustic intro fully before segueing into a slower ramble of epic Northern atmospheres, while the instrumental "Glassice" remains ponderous throughout with its gently ringing, clean guitars and subtle vibrating organ that casts a cerebral shadow.

With "The Hope for Spring", Finnr's Cane transition from their stock, crawling desolation to a surge of driving, traditional black metal. , before spirals of clean folk guitars embrace some of the louder clean vocals on the album. Truth be told, throughout all of Wanderlust, I did feel like the clean vocals could have been a little louder in the mix. I realize their intention was probably to evoke this distant hovering to the listener, but they do occasionally feel mopey. "Eternal" and the closing "House of Memory" both entail a similar path as certain earlier songs on the record, but they're adequately lonesome and harrowing.

I found that I needed a certain frame of reference, a particular state of being to let this album take me to its long abandoned pathways and oceans of regret, but once arrived, I did feel it was successful enough to suck the emotions from me like all the most depressing, ambient metal does. This is not a 'riff' centered band, and I could not point out a single guitar line on the album that serves as anything more than a vehicle for the sum of a track's despair, but really, you don't listen to an act like Finnr's Cane for such metallic virtues. Comparatively, I'd put this in sync with Agalloch's Pale Folklore, although there is less of a black metal current running through its cold waters. If you appreciate anything by that band, though, or the more wistful, sparse, drifting moment's of Opeth's lighter fare, then Finnr's Cane might support you for a spell.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Kailash - Past Changing Fast (2009)

At some point, Kailash must have had some connection to black metal or metal in general, because they're one of the artists that skirt about the edge of the genre without ever truly committing to its more aggressive tendencies. The Italian duo are more likely to appeal to fans of instrumental jam-rock, though there is a reined in consistency to their writing which seems the perfect fit for an indie film score or the corner of a coffee shop, at least until the two move into their more jarring, crashing territory. I had pretty high hopes for this album, if not only for the excellent, memorable packaging but also by the stirring interest they conjure upon first exposure.

Unfortunately there are a few things holding Past Changing Fast from something I'd want to spin on repeatedly, and one of these is obvious very early on. While I'm no apostate towards instrumental bands or solo artists, I often feel that there is a certain minimum of attraction in the composition which deigns it viable to ride bareback from a vocalist. For example, were I to listen to a Joe Satriani album like Surfing With the Alien, there is enough shredding there to provide a voice which one can focus with above the rather simplistic chords in the background. With a Hans Zimmer score like The Dark Knight, the music is rousing enough that the imagination can fill in the blanks, provided there are no chorals already in there. In the case of Kailash, and many other avant-garde sludge or post-metal artists, these riffs are simply not inspirational enough that they can survive long without something else to carry the attention.

Affix this with the bands rather formulaic transitions between fluid, clean guitars that carry a light, progressive jazz influence that tangents on folk rock, and the 'heavy' parts which sound like meandering, high-brow folk metal outtakes from a band like Klabautamann or the proggier sounds of Borknagar or Enslaved, and you've got an album that swiftly descends to forgettable after only a few tracks. Mind you, the duo does not play the same riffs twice, so it's not a mere matter of repetition within the tracks, simply that you feel the formula has played out before long. Tribal hammering along with a not-so-powerful distortion cedes to a flowing, riverside jazz guitar rhythm, and at most you'll get a slightly left of center tempo explosion as in the title track, "Return to the Desert" or "Nested Thoughts".

A vocal presence might have greatly altered my attention to the details of this record, since it would then have enough ingredients to pass from the mundane snack to a gourmet meal, similar to the German act Island (featuring Klabautamann member). As it stands, Past Changing Fast makes for pleasant and harmless background listening that one might not turn towards for any other reason. The cover of Ved Buens Ende's "Remembrance of the Things Past" is an interesting inclusion, and certainly not expected, but it merges into this landscape a little too easily, providing naught but a few of the heavier moments in between the clean segues. These gentlemen can play their instruments, and they've a good eye for aesthetics, but I'd be far more interested to hear what they can offer elsewhere.

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Svart - Förlorad (2010)

It's unusual how often the 'rule of threes' applies in all walks of life, from the popular media of the book or film trilogy, to the obscure, desolate black heart of Swedish musician Draug, who for the 3rd release now in a row, has offered a sequence of three tracks for his project Svart. With Våran Tid är Förbi, there were three tracks of dense melodic longing and suffering, and upon the more recent EP, a Namnlös och bortglömd, three tracks that ranged from a slower, more accessible melancholic black metal to a piano composition. With Svart's latest album, Förlorad, we are treated to a more minimal, experimental approach than his prior works, a gathering of bleak psychedelic ichor that only skirts the suicidal black ministrations of the past.

I've warned the listener of Draug's past recordings that one must often prepare the appropriate environment in which to best appreciate them, and Förlorad is no exception to this, for its three segments tally up to an astounding 74+ minutes of music, and if using this as a foreground rather than a backdrop, one might quickly tire of the more repetitive tones spattered throughout its mazes of downcast thought and sparse instrumental glare. Based on when and where you hear this record, and with whom, it will either provide an experience of thematic incite or a torturous slog of ennui. I advise you listen to this alone, with something you can drink slowly, while you sit by the docks or riverbed one evening. BUT DO NOT JUMP IN. That is never the answer, unless maybe you are covered with bees or other stinging insects.

"Förlorad I" is the briefest of the three compositions at 14:32, but it sets the tone for basically the entire album. Slow streams of clean guitar tones wash over a simple drum pattern, pausing to ring out or slightly alter their course to give the listener the impression of his/her imminent doom. Within these wisping strings, one can count the drops of blood in crystalline clarity as they weep from an ocean, fresh wound by the tub-side. Or perhaps the slow decay of leaves, first fallen and then devoured by the invisible scourges in the autumn air. It's harrowing music, but extremely simple and arguably monotonous, but transcends well into the second piece.

"Förlorad II", a darker and longer journey into the annals of despair, coming in at over 20 minutes and recounting some of Svart's more metallic elements, with darkly twinging guitars that continue to ring off the bells of black doom that "I" indebted. At long last, the vocals arrive deep within the bowels of this haunting beast, and streams of desperate chords that recount the band's previous releases. I must admit, at around 12:00 this song really takes off into the depths of no return, a downward descent into punishing grief that inevitably manifests in the most crushing riffs on the record (around 16:00). I like the use of the thickly monstrous bass and Draug's distorted groaning.

Funny that we're not even half way through the album, as we've still the nearly 40 minute opus "Förlorad II" to challenge our commitment in hearing this out. This final piece returns to the repeated, clean guitars covering darker tones, as in "I", but there is an enhanced wash of psychedelic effects to differentiate it. This is a fascinating piece, excellent if used at the right time of life, while reading or writing or exploring some craft or art. After all, it's about an album's length in of itself, and offers no bludgeoning shocks quite like "II", but its the most hypnotic, in particular when Draug's nigh audible vocal accompaniment arrives around 20:00 in. Eerie.

Förlorad is a pleasure to listen through in the proper circumstances, but it faces an uphill battle for attention that might turn off fans who wish to hear the band's black metal side as on the debut album Vanära, Vanmakt och Avsmak. Many of these minimal, atmospheric albums often feel like a cheap ploy so that the musician doesn't have to write very much, but here, Draug has clearly metered this material out in such a cautionary manner as to gradually twist back each layer of sanity from the listener, until the soul admits to itself that the day is lost, and perhaps a lot more.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Kvelertak - Kvelertak (2010)

We've all heard black/punk and black rock'n'roll hybrids numerous times in the past, whether that be through Darkthrone's musings on their past few records, the hyper violence of Impaled Nazarene or the big rock grooves that inhabit the latest offerings of a band like Satyricon. There have also been a number of more obscure acts who more directly merge the two forms. But I doubt I've heard a band quite so promiscuous as Norway's young Kvelertak, who essentially take the booming, modern rock fuel of The Donnas or Turbonegro and mix in some premium grade black snarling, with occasional bursts into blasted territory or the melodic streaming of guitars that often characterize that genre.

Unfortunately, this has both its up and down sides. While it's very cool to hear that the band perform this all in Norse, and they do combine the genres very faithfully, I often felt like the black metal rushes were more interesting than the rock rhythms, which are pretty typical chord patterns we've heard many thousands of times from bands in both the punk and rock catalogs. This leads to a lopsided response on my part, because I end up enjoying songs like "Ulvetid" and the glorious, epic rolling of "Offernatt" to the more rock-inhibited "Blodtoerst", which sounds like The Donnas with Tomas Lindberg fronting them.

Still, I can access numerous places on this album where the two grow together like mated trees! "Fossegrim" sounds like the Norse band -I- with some rock infusion and a pretty evil bridge riff near the bottom, and with some of the latter tracks on the album like "Sultans of Satan" and "Nekroskop", the band knocks it completely out of the park, the punkish riffs taking on a vile illumination that was EXACTLY what I wanted to hear when I read about this band's merger of styles. "Ordmedar av Rang" also gets fairly passionate with the vocal range, and it's very cool to hear Erlend's screams right before the band will break it down to some bluesy rocking swagger.

Kvelertak is a damned interesting band, of that there is no doubt, and this is one of the brightest, most professional sounding attempts at this sort of fusion, enough so that the mix of the album captures each glinting, frenzied instrument in an almost accessible light. I am very interested to see the reaction at large to this band, because though I didn't love the songs quite as much as I'd have hoped, it's a decent debut, and should stir a lot of interest within and without of its constituent scenes, though I predict it'll make a bigger splash with the hipsters than the grims.

Verdict: Win [7/10]