Friday, May 31, 2019

Darkenhöld/Griffon - Atra Musica (2019)

Always a pleasure to hear something new from Darkenhöld, one of the more consistent and consistently unsung acts on the French black metal scene, and in Griffon they have been paired up with another band that share their fancy for integrating the Medieval and antiquated aesthetics into their music without ever losing the style's core, traditional identity. Each of the bands offers four tracks here on Atra Musica, with the Griffon material clocking in longer due to some heftier cuts. I'd have to say that stylistically the pair are a good match on the release in some ways, or at least they WOULD be if Darkenhöld were performing something more akin to what is on their full-length albums...but here they have taken on a curious, almost more experimental folk edge to their material.

Essentially they're using a lot of cleaner guitars to represent what would normally be their heavier electric riffs, but keeping the vocals just as harsh as ever. It evokes a strange contrast, but one that becomes quite fascinating as you progress through their contributions. It's almost as if they had decided to put out a pure folk/acoustic EP and decided it would be better to include it as part of this split, but I'm not at all let down by the material, as it's super atmospheric and the vocals really drift over the busy clean strings in a menacing, obscure way. A Medieval Peste Noire? If they went in this direction for a longer record I would certainly be on board for checking it out, because all of their other traits are still present and there's enough variation and fertility of ideas due to the acoustic choice while it doesn't actually lack for sounding as majestic as they have when they're more 'plugged in'. On the other hand, Griffon is fully plugged in, and I think there's a contrast between the two bands' productions which might have served the split release better had it been smoothed over a little...

So the first half of this release is much louder, brighter, harsher in nature, with walls of force blasted sequences graced over by Romantic, winding tremolo picked guitars and all manner of voices that range from a nasty black metal rasp to cleaner, more narrative chants that sound quite cool in French. The riffing is quite busy, not always catchy but changing up the moods enough that it feels rich in its textures, and the rhythm section also sounds quite good, with dreamy bass lines and effortless blasts or double-kick breakdowns with a lot of splash to support the well-woven melodies. I do think the lead rasp is a little bit overbearing at times and sounds a smidgeon too nihilistic for the music itself, but overall there's just enough going on that I kept paying attention, and I dug the 'Interlude' which is all orchestra/organ and makes an interesting transition into Darkenhöld's less aggressive but equally elaborate material. Apart from the differences in volume and approach, which don't make for the most flush or consistently appealing split recording, the music here is all quite good. I wouldn't go at this for your first Darkenhöld exposure, any of their first three full-lengths would be the better choice, but they take a risk here which ultimately pays off.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Stormheit - Chronicon Finlandiae (2011)

Folk metal records always make me nervous, as I've come across so many tacky and goofy examples in the genre that seem as if their entire exposure to the style is other tacky, goofy folk metal bands that they heard at a Renaissance Fair or from their LARPer friends. Predictable melodies, predictable instruments and metal ingredients that are reduced to boring chug rhythms, occasional leads and the tendency to clone the folksy melodies being played on the strings, horns or most often, the synthesizers. I'm not saying there won't be an occasional record of that type that hits it out of the park, sure, but so often it feels like bands are grasping to the notion of 'folk metal' than really digging their heads into the details of their own atavistic longings to create something really intriguing and not just a forgettable soundtrack for gallivanting about the dance-tent with a Pilsner.

Chronicon Finlandiae, the fourth record from Stormheit, may have a list of shortcomings attributed to it, but I can say that this isn't your average, shallow sort of folk metal effort. No, this is more like what would have happened had later era Bathory emerged from Finland instead of Sweden. This is laid back, airy, spacious mountainside rock which drifts at you with countless, tinny melodic guitar lines and some occasionally surges into a fraction more intensity with the drums picking up into a mid-paced beat. The drums sound as good as they need to, with some fills and grooves to help mediate the languid pacing of most of the tunes, and the bass lines, while nothing special, at least help to plug up some of the gaps left by the lack of a sturdy or voluminous rhythm guitar section in a lot of spots on the album. Acoustic guitars are spaced out across the album to give it more of a rustic charm, and keys are used liberally when further atmospheric escalation is required. Where they do break out some heavier riffs, like the picking progressions in the beginning of "Ukon Malja", they are actually pretty decent sounding, and I wished for a little more than this throughout.

On to the vocals...they are often a clear weakness here, as they possess a lot of those inherent flaws that you might remember Quorthon had, or some of Vintersorg's older solo stuff, only here it's another language and a different pitch. Once you accustom yourself to the more chanted phrasings, or the higher pitched, soaring inflections, or even the crowd shouted parts, they become quite pleasing, but it's when that layer of angst or harsher intonation is applied that they can become a little awkward, especially in the first track. The style should work on this really well, and in places it does, but I feel you have to go ever deeper into the record for them to really hit a confident stride. Almost all of the tracks are also quite substantial, from about 7-11 minutes in length, and while they aren't terribly boring in structure, a total playtime of 77 minute seems overwrought when the spectrum of actual ideas here might span about 50 minutes of worthwhile material. Don't get me wrong, the material doesn't suddenly take a nosedive in quality, it's just that you feel you've gotten it after about half the album and there aren't many surprised waiting deeper on.

I will say that Chronicon is on the verge of being a pretty solid album, turning out a lot better than I suspected after the first track. Tightening the tracks and improving the vocals would have gone a long way towards making a better impression, but if you're a real big pagan for Bathory albums like Twilight of the Gods, Hammerheart, Blood on Ice and the Northland two-parter, and want to hear a slightly different approach to that from across the Tornio River, this might be worth a listen.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Monday, May 27, 2019

Asomvel - Full Moon Dog EP (2007)

If England's Asomvel bears more than a passing resemblance to the late, great Motörhead, one can hardly blame them, as Lemmy and company had such a simple, badass, fun style and disposition that who in their right mind wouldn't want to? It's not like they just kicked this off in the 21st century, in fact the group formed back in the earlier 90s, but didn't even start releasing much until over a decade later. Despite being put out in 2007, the Full Moon Dog EP is actually one of their earlier recordings, and one to feature their late, original bassist/vocalist Jay-Jay Winter, the 'Lemmy' for this particular production. From my experience, there actually aren't a ton of groups who play it this close to the London lords of filthy 'eavy metal, and that provides both Asomvel's strengths and their limitations.

For all intensive purposes, this is a well-produced effort with clear, rocking guitars anchored by the tangible and fat-toned bass lines. The drums sound great, and the vocals are also pretty even in the mix. Winter had a gritty style not unlike Lemmy, but with a little bite and bark of his own that comes off with a bit more of an accent than his influence. Unfortunately it often sounds a bit looser in the verses, almost drunken-natured, and lends a lot to how they have an overall sound like a bar band, which is sort of the point, but not terribly memorable. They do really simplistic verse/choruses with some leads splashed in there and attitude all around, with a bit less of a speed, punk or even thrash metal influence that Motörhead often toyed around with in their 21st century recordings; this leans more on bluesy hard rock side of those efforts, which in my opinion can often turn into insipid songs that are impossible to pick out from too massive a crowd of bottoms-up blues rock.

If there were a little more grit, a little more danger, or would work a little better than it does, but musically Full Moon Dog is a bit generic and doesn't take any risks. I'm not saying that Motörhead broke away from its own formula all that often...there was some variation and evolution, but it was gradual over the decades. But the thing was THEIR formula. I'm all for bands taking on that influence, but I'd like to hear some interesting spins on it, like how Tank veered more into pure heavy metal territory, or how the younger Swedish band Bombus worked it into their own massive sounding style which I really enjoy. This Asomvel disc is just par for the course, and it doesn't do anything particularly well that I'd listen to it over even my least favorite's in Lemmy's backlogs. Werewolves are cool and all, but the leather was a little stretched here, the spikes dulled. I'd much rather recommend checking out their 2013 album Knuckle Duster or their brand new World Shaker, which kick a lot more ass in the same exact niche.

Verdict: Indifference [5/10]

Friday, May 24, 2019

Kludde - In de kwelm (2019)

It's been a fair spell since the Kludde debut In den vergetelheid in 2008, but despite the many seasons the Belgian band has landed with a sophomore congruent with the sounds of the debut, a huge brick of black metal and sludge aesthetics with an even distribution across the album. When it comes to individual tracks, this doesn't always pan out in a 50/50 ratio, but the band is consistent when it smooths over the edges to make them fit. In fact, there's also a fraction of a death metal influence here, both in the vocals which feature more of a sustained hybrid of rasp and growl to their roar, and a few of the riff progressions which feed into or are fed by some of the album's grooves.

Now, if I were to favor one side of the band, it would probably be the faster, more black metal strain of riffing they create in tracks like "Schabouwelijke praktijken I - De rabauwen" or "Bloedkoesj", mildly engraved with melodies that help thunder it all forward. Once they go a little more mid-paced in that niche, the chord patterns become a little more predictable, and I find that also to be the case when they're laying out the sludgier sequences in tunes like "Schramoeille". That isn't to say that this is particularly weak material, it still hits you square in the gut thanks to the massive production values, and the other components like the vocals and lead guitars help flesh it out so it doesn't become too stagnant. In de kwelm is nothing if not forceful and consistent, while they might lack for some of the subtlety up front, they aren't really about that, but knocking you the hell over, which is exactly what this loud and potent mix will do, or what the material would do to you at a gig with Cerulean's massive growl digging your grave.

Some might actually find it too even of a beating, but thankfully Kludde mixes up the tempo and riffing throughout. For example, "Poesjkapelle" is like a punkier/crust piece that strikes just at the right time to brighten up the record, and the closer "De laatste reis" is a moody, murky doom piece that opens with tribal drumming, clean guitars and sparser electric riffs, before it gradually explodes and kicks you back into the bleachers. In de kwelm is a well-rounded, professional album that has no intention of boring its listeners, and could find itself a pretty broad audience between fans of crust and d-beat, harsher sludge, and the more rockin' black metal acts like Denmark's Horned Almighty. A little more nuance, originality to the chord choices, perhaps even a further integration of more dissonant, evil riff patterns, or extra instances of the atmospheric stuff which does occasionally appear, and this would drill itself into my memory a lot further. No question though that this is a step up from the debut, the decade between them been spent honing the chops.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Ghastly - Death Velour (2018)

As interesting to the eye as Carrion of Time initially was, Ghastly's sophomore effort easily trumps it with that hypnotic cover art, using a rich color scheme I rarely encounter in this genre. Not to mention, Death Velour is a pretty classy title for a death metal record, a title that the album actually lives up to as a substantial evolution over its predecessor. Rather than approach their genre nostalgia like so many others in the field, treading down the expected paths of early Swede worship, cavernous claustrophobia, or even the nuances of their own Finnish forebears, Ghastly adopts its style into a more melodic, graceful presence which haunts while it soothes, chills while it comforts; an improvement over their more primitive debut in every category I can think of.

That isn't to say there aren't a few of those thundering, simplistic death metal grooves strewn about the rhythm guitar choices, but a large portion of the album is devoted to these melody or harmony driven sequences which are almost unanimously memorable, evoking a mournful sadness to the material which is loyal to how the album looks. By contrast, some of the tremolo picked throwback death metal riffs here sound even more evil by comparison, as in "Violence for the Hell of It". Due to this lighter, eerier, airier approach, the drums carry a lot more power, and even the bass lines thrive, since you can really hear them grooving off under both the heavier riffs and melodies. The vocals, while not changing up much from the style of the debut, have a little more potency and sustain to them which is a better fit for the often soaring, murkily majestic effect of the guitars. Other little atmospheric embellishments like clean guitars or the keys used in pieces like the intro further enhance its effects upon the listener as a bastion of Romanticized horror molded to death metal flesh.

Death Velour is certainly a throwback to an earlier age of the genre, when the melodies on records like North from Here or Tales from the Thousand Lakes were a new thing, but Ghastly handles them in its own way, wrenching the doom and gloom from the beauty of the guitars rather than from the constant drudgery of the band's bottom end. To that extent it feels quite unique in a crowded field where so many bands would rather foment the aggression and raw heaviness. This band has within a few years already evolved along the lines of groups like Tribulation, Morbus Chron, Horrendous, and their like, who used that late 80s death metal inspiration to lead them into new directions, rather than dwell too long in the past. The result is that this is by far one of the most promising bands on the Finnish scene right now, which does not lack for them, and I'm eager to see where they'll take this sound next, whether it's a more direct continuation of Death Velour or another sizeable ascension.

Verdict: Win [8.75/10]

Monday, May 20, 2019

Ghastly - Carrion of Time (2015)

I was really curious about this record at first because somehow I had registered that the trippy cover aesthetics and 'death metal' branding might result in some quirky, psychedelic spin on the genre, and after listening through Carrion of Time a few spins I realized that was not exactly the case. Sure, you could make the argument that the Finns' debut was a death metal that leaned more on atmosphere than musicianship, and that's what it is, a hazy and truly old school death metal record, threaded with death/doom influences and reaches so far back into the genre that I'd almost label it a proto-death album due to the primordial production and simplicity of the riffing patterns. There might be a small fraction of influence from their fellow Finnish exports of the early 90s, but this comes off as even more ancient in its own way.

I'd probably liken it to a descendant of Hellhammer, with some additional influence from the first few Tiamat records when the Swedes were almost wholly death metal. The former is felt primarily through the vocals, which are like a more fleshy, dynamic Tom G. Warrior bark which weaves in a bit more of a grotesque guttural circa Killjoy or Chris Reifert. The guitar tone isn't quite as raw edged, but clearly they were going for a tone that felt like it would if it were spurting out of a cab in the same room as you. A lot of the riffs slog along at a workmanlike pace, with somewhat predictable chord patterns, but the magic is when they erupt into these truly evil sounding, slower tremolo picked riffs which will recall bands like Death and Obituary, along with some more spacious, open string or higher pitched riffing which creates an incense-whiff of archaic atmosphere that helps round out the experience. The bass doesn't do a whole lot of interest except hover like a smog behind the rhythm guitars, and when the leads or melodies burst forth they really deliver a needed dynamic charge to the experience.

Drums are quite appropriate, with lots of splashing and crashing, fills aplenty to once again help emphasize the riffs since they are so basic in structure for the style. And it's that minimalist style which both hinders and helps the album. I mean it can certainly evoke the vibe of a very basic demo level death metal act from the late 80s/early 90s, paraphrasing the riffs of others and not in the most intense or interesting of configurations, but at the same time when the guitars come across a truly eerie riff it stands out quite a lot and makes you appreciate the whole package. I also like some of the more subtle, creepy melodies which arrive in tunes like "White Flowers Abloom", there probably aren't enough of them scattered through the album, but they make it clear that Ghastly is quite focused on its composition, the patience to let these details elevate the material beyond the mere redundancy it would otherwise suffer. It's a solid, and somewhat intriguing debut for fans of seminal death and or death/doom, and a seat from which the superior ideas and craftsmanship of their second album were sprung.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Mystik - Mystik (2019)

I've received a lot of pretty damn cool promos from I Hate records out of Sweden, but Mystik's eponymous debut blew me back about 30 years into the past when I was a pimply, awkward teen weaned heavily on traditional European speed and heavy metal. It doesn't sound a day more modern than, let's say 1986, and all for the better. Not to be confused with the recently revived band of the same name from Ohio, this is a Swedish group featuring Beatrice Karlsson and Lo Wickman on guitars, Julia von Krusenstjerna on the bass and vocals, and drummer Sven Nilsson, also of Antichrist, who we all know is one of my favorite bands in the world right now. They dial back the calendar several decades to create infectious, authentic tunes that sound like they could have come out through the Noise Records, Roadracer or Steamhammer imprints back in the mid-80s, and not simply thriving off of that sort of nostalgia but composing some genuinely catchy, timeless tracks.

The key here is the washed out, reverb-heavy sound that lends the guitars a load of atmosphere, especially through the melodies and leads, and Julia's vocals, which shift between a more evil, mid range and some higher pitched, but humble shouts that resonate out over the frenzied undercurrent, which I just love. Any excess polish is eschewed for sincerity, and that means even the little flaws to her intonations work as boons on this album. I'd compare them to the first two Warlock albums, in style, but the music running off beneath them is much faster in nature and so the effect is different. The short-lived US project Original Sin is perhaps a better parallel, since the riffing styles are a bit closer, although Mystik's stuff is a little more glorious and less mean sounding in spots. The rhythm guitars stay busy with a riff-set that will thrill metallic Germanophiles, I could hear little spikes of everything from Iron Angel to Running Wild here, especially in how the melodies are constantly being integrated over the chords, but you'll also here a little of the vintage Canadian speed metal sound in their circa Exciter or Razor, as well as Overkill's debut Feel the Fire.

It all adds up to something totally awesome, and while I could understand the argument that the tunes could grow a little samey as they often speed along at the same clip, I was hooked for the whole 37 minutes, and bits like the organ intro to "Lake of Necrosis" or the slower sections to the, self-titled track "Mystik" help to pace it all and balance it out. The bass-lines are corpulent enough to notice, the drums sound great, with a lot of thunder and crash to them that emphasizes how this album sounds like you're experience it outdoors, with traffic racing past you. The actual construction of the riffs is wholly traditional, but they're just the sorts of the progressions that never get old for me, especially when paired up with this production style. And that's probably where my own nostalgia does step in, since I'm a huge advocate for these older studio sounds; you can only punch in and polish something so much until it become sterile, so I really dig that the band not only chose to play in a fundamental style but to fully occupy that style with nearly every aspect of the recording.

Mystik is an extremely appealing debut, and if like myself, you cherish records like Branded and Exiled, Violence and Force, Burning the Witches, Hellish Crossfire, Executioner's Song, Vibrations of Doom and their like then I cannot recommend this one highly enough. If this came out back in 1985 I would still listen to it today with the same fervor, and where it doesn't really bring anything new to the table, it's another glaring example of how something which isn't broken doesn't need to be fixed.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.25/10]

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Gratzug - Gletscherklang EP (2017)

Gratzug is another underrated German black metal act which has been quite productive in its near decade of existence, with about five full length albums released and a good number of splits, EPs, and such under its belt. But even despite the positive response I've had for some of the prior efforts, I was not quite prepared for the euphoric, majestic escape offered me by the four tunes on this Gletscherklang EP. Limited to about 300 copies, it's understandable why this really hasn't been a 'thing', but considering the popularity of heavily atmospheric black metal these days I think it's a gem well worth tracking down in whatever format you can find, or at least talking about so that it's availability might one day flourish.

Just around 25 minutes, each of the tracks here complements one another and provides a fulfilling experience without the need to bog itself down in the swollen repetition that other, comparable acts might attempt with 9-11 minutes and less riffs. Gratzug generally plays blasted black metal entwined with a number of slow to mid-ranged breaks where the double bass is hammered on and these are often the most glorious moments throughout the material. The guitars are just raw and acidic enough to appeal to deep underground pundits, as are the suffocating rasps of frontman/multi-instrumentalist Mephistopheles. But this is all drowned out in just the perfect level of atmosphere which creates an important balance of both distance and immediacy, and a lot of the credit is given to the whooshing and windy symphonic elements placed to support the surging of the guitars. Tastefully implemented, they create a warmer, I daresay more positive feel than a lot of the more frightening bands to attempt this like the legendary Emperor on their classic In the Nightside Eclipse; but the result is no less impactful upon the spirit of the listener, and honestly I could listen to this exact same style for far longer than the 25 minutes this EP asks of me...

Combine this approach with some tremolo picked guitar lines that create an appropriately hypnotic melancholy, as well as small segues like the firelit ambiance awaiting in the depths of "Wandelt Wieder" and you've got an amazing outdoorsy black metal release which is about just that...the 'release' that is so vital to me when listening to this style. From the trappings of man, the follies of civilization. I went into this on a whim, not expecting much apart from the rather attractive cover art and got so much more out of it, a good half dozen listens already, with many more on the horizon.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]

Monday, May 13, 2019

Insanity Alert - Insanity Alert (2014)

You won't even need a second glance at the cover of this Austrian band's eponymous debut to know what they're all about. The D.R.I. shirt and vest, the bent up hat, the straightjacket, all of the violent moshing and tearing up the town... Clearly we've got a party thrash crossover band from overseas, forming at around the same time they'd be inspired just as much by other nostalgia-fueled acts like Municipal Waste as the originators of the style back in the 80s. Sure enough, Insanity Alert comes complete with goofy ass lyrics about zombies, weed, beer, skateboarding, and most importantly, THRASH ITSELF. Because honestly we wouldn't have had any idea otherwise that this is exactly the sort of music they intend to celebrate and rub your nose in repeatedly.

Now, to be fair, while I've often found this approach to thrash metal to be rather disposable and laconic whenever bands other than Tankard do it, Insanity Alert realizes the low bar of its thrash ambitions with a pretty hefty, exciting riff-set. Sure, if you've spent the last 30 years listening to groups like Nuclear Assault, Anthrax, Hirax, Exodus, Vio-Lence, Cryptic Slaughter, D.R.I. and so forth, or the more recent proxies of this sound like Iron Reagan, Gama Bomb and Municipal Waste, then this is nothing unexpected and a lot of the rhythm guitar patterns are predictable, but even with that in mind they are explosive enough with their hooks to have you smiling. The mix on the album is quite good, with clear, cutting guitars, peppy drums, and even some solid bass tones when that instrument is given some breath of its own, although generally it sits comfortably behind the rhythm guitars doing little to stand out. Vocally you know what to expect here, a bit of splatter thrash, some gang vocals, and a lot of lines that sound strikingly like John Connelly only with a little less of the genuine vitriol, but in general they move by so blazingly fast and frenzied that they get the job done and will satisfy what the diehards for this niche crave.

There's a little bit of an excess to the cheese here, literally on "Macaroni Maniac", not the first and not the last thrash anthem for the layman's comfort food (thanks Annihilator), and tunes about getting wasted and smoking up are a dime a dozen, but once in awhile they had a slightly more fun topic in there like "Arac Attack" about spiders, or "Flamethrower". I mean this is two topping pizza thrash and both of the toppings are cheese. The band make a good use of a few samples, especially as an intro to the album closer, their dorky cover of "Run to the Hills", which they have dubbed "Run to the Pit", because man you can't have thrash metal without talking about MOSHING, and THRASH METAL. M I Rite? Nevermind that the many of the greatest albums of the genre did neither and could be taken somewhat, or completely, we've gotta keep those keywords in there lest our audience forget somehow that's what we were on about. A little bit too self-aware for me.

Regardless, the only song here I thought was actually dumb musically was "Blunt In/Blunt Out" for its dumb Southern heavy rock grooves that sound pretty weak alongside the Austrians' more frenetic fare. The rest are perfectly passable for the style, with "The Claw (Of All That is Evil)" actually being quite awesome, and others like the hardcore-infused "Shit for Brains" and "Crucified by Zombies" passing muster. The lyrics are beyond stupid, at one point I think they even paraphrased Snoop Dogg or whatever he's called now, but if you're listening to pizza thrash like this to garner some sort of important social message or intellectual stimulation you've come to the wrong place. Or maybe the right place. Either way, while Insanity Alert doesn't quite distinguish itself from better records by Municipal Waste, Iron Reagan, or their like, it's actually fun enough to recommend about 13 of the 15 brief, fast-paced tracks to those who live lives full of bong hits and mosh pits, or those of us who wish we could. Assuming you don't have Zombie Attack, Survive or Hazardous Mutation at the ready.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Friday, May 10, 2019

Desecresy - The Mortal Horizon (2017)

With five full-lengths since 2010, Desecresy has certainly proven to be one of the revitalizing forces in bringing ancient Finnish death metal back to the spotlight. Sure, their forebears like Convulsed and Demilich have still been touring, or putting out newer albums, but it's always cool to have some fresh new voices in the scene. Of course, by 'fresh', I mean a festering, guttural nightmare that sounds like it's been moldering away in some cavern alcove since that era in 1993-1995 when this country's death metal royalty was emerging onto the international market as an oblique, rotting overseas proxy to groups like Incantation, which were making strides in the sonic spelunking field here at home. Albums like Arches of Entropy and The Doom Skeptron were not among the most robust in their niche, their production values weren't quite on the level of Disma or Dead Congregation, but they were nonetheless charming for their commitment to subterranean creepiness and cover artwork which used simple dual-tone color schemes to create an almost demo look.

Those two albums and the subsequent Chasmic Transcendence were where my interest in the band reach its summit, whilst Stoic Death felt like more of the same, and to an extent so does The Mortal Horizon. The cover doesn't quite hold the same appeal to me, and neither does some of the music. Don't get me wrong, when Desecresy is working at that slow, drudging pace, gut rumbling chugs paired off against haunting or droning melodies, they certain relive a little of the magic of why I started listening to them in the first place, but when one really stops to dissect the rhythm guitars a little they all seem relatively bland or predictable and would have a hard time thriving without that higher pitched accompaniment. They've often had a very sincere, organic production on the drums, and that's very true of this album too, but I sensed that this often leeched away a little of the power that the music might otherwise seems such an inhuman, underworld sort of death metal that having beats that feel like they're playing next to you in a jam room on an off night countermands the potential atmosphere. The belly-busting bass grooves are quite good, as well as Tommi's growl, but you can tell a bit more here than on prior efforts that this is primarily one musician, and not all the instruments resonate equally through the recording.

In The Mortal Horizon's favor, it sets up these wonderful atmospheric intros to cuts like "Concealed Depths" or "Telekinetic Ignition", using guitars alone to invoke otherworldly escapism, but then once some of the full on heaviness arrives they often seem a little on the disappointing side. Also I felt that where the album sped up it became a little more bland, like some generic underdeveloped deathgrind. All that being said, I wouldn't consider this a bad album whatsoever when you add up its strengths, it's simply not that much of an interesting development over the prior releases. One could certainly still wrest some enjoyment out of this for those slogging, morbid melodic passages that populate a good percentage of the music, and it's loyal to its underground pedigree, but there have simply been a lot of similar efforts which bred more excitement and horror through their fleshy depths, and The Mortal Horizon's low end could have used some stronger support for its ghastly growls and ghostly melodies. Still solid, if my least favorite of the Desecresy outings so far.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Time Lurker/Cepheide - Lucide (2019)

I was first exposed to Time Lurker just a couple years ago through their eponymous debut album, a fine entry into the field of black metal atmospherics and yet another band of quality populating the French landscape. Here they've teamed up with countrymen Cepheide, who I had not heard, but have a few prior recordings under their belt, presumably of a similar style and disposition judging by what I'm hearing on this disc. There are but three tracks here, Time Lurker offering up two and then their counterparts closing out the release with a 19+ minute opus, and apart from the obvious difference in length, and to some degree the production, the two pair up rather well aesthetically, performing vistas of blasted black metal that contrast against ambient segments.

And the ambient pieces rather win the day here, because in particular for the Time Lurker tunes, I didn't find the more aggressive passages quite as memorable as those on their debut. Spacious and savage surges with monotonous drums, smothered in sustained vocal snarls that fill the firmament of the recording, but rarely do they hit strings of notes that titillate until you get well into the piece, like past the five-minute mark of "No One is Real" before it slows its pace, or the middle of "Unstable Night" when the double-bass battery collides with some uneasy picking progression and bludgeons you fully in the chest while the howling and atmospheric guitars float above. Cepheide's title track, on the other hand, is a little shinier and more compelling, the way the vocals evoke these numbing chants and howls over the ebullient soundscape bursting off beneath them. The ambient segues in this tune also help defend it against the monotony a nearly 20 minute track might invoke, and they are quite immersive, the parts of the disc in which I sank the most; but otherwise I think the writing is very much in the same mold as the Time Lurker material.

If you're familiar with these groups or this general style of black metal in which atmosphere is conjured largely through sheer force, and the blasted regions of the tracks being used as a sort of transcendent hypnosis, then Lucide is nothing really to scoff at. I simply feel that the latter half of the run time is superior to the former, and overall the guitars could be written to be a little more memorable than half to play second fiddle to the windy momentum and esoteric tortured howling that doesn't stand out too boldly from the mix. Where the album hits its calms, like the intro to the first tune or sections of "Lucide", I felt myself most drawn to it, but once this ceded to the harsher parts, the material didn't really offer up a highly rewarding counterattack. Ultimately's its got a meditative feel to it on both ends of its heaviness, and it's not really intended to go for cheap hooks or melodies, but even then I didn't find the experience as evenly engrossing as it is stylistically consistent.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Monday, May 6, 2019

Axeslasher - Anthology of Terror, Vol. 1 (2013)

My love for 80s schlock cinema, horror, gore and being eternally locked within the mindset of a 13-year-old pretty much ensure that something like Axeslasher is going to catch my attention, and I mean that in the best possible way. While I don't always get a lot of the results I'd like from throwback-looking bands whose members are also obsessed with similar cult horror and exploitation kitsch, I have to applaud the efforts to revive the cheesy sentiments of that era. With their thrash terrorist ski masks, great sci-fi drive in cover art and track titles like "Mark of the Pizzagram" and "Invasion of the Babesnatchers", this was either going to be entirely awesome or another retro-clone pizza-thrash piece of trash that fails to elevate itself from its puddle of audio-genetic influences.

Anthology of Terror is somewhere between these two extremes, an EP that rounds up some of the Colorado group's previous singles into a nearly 20 minute exhibition of slightly party-tinged death thrash that by no means feels cheap or played out, even if its not super impressive. You can certainly hear some of those primitive 80s West Coast thrash influences, like Exodus-paced jerking rhythm guitars, but I'm also reminded a lot of death/thrash outfits like Ghoul, Exhumed, Cardiac Arrest, Frightmare and their like due to the mix of snarled and growled vocals and the way they can occasionally weave in some melodic intensity and frenzied leads. The rhythm guitars have a firm, abrasive tone to them which is very mosh-ready while providing a seat for the sicker, often sustained vocals. The rhythm section is adequate for the task, with a lot of fills being thrown around everywhere, especially the double kick variety, and that certainly gives Anthology a bit of modernity rather than feeling like a pure 80s retro idolization.

The downside here is that for all the considerable energy and propulsion Axeslasher metes out across these five tracks and intro, very few of the riffs are actually that catchy, and the songs don't burrow themselves into your head as much as the band's image, moniker and artwork might. Lyrically they have some fun topics like aliens conquering humanity and feeding them to their pets, supernatural serial killers, and witch-hunting, and the band is musically competent without any doubt, but I just didn't find the note choices or vocal lines here really resonating with me beyond a fleeting initial fun factor. I do like the style they go for, and a number of established acts with comparable sounds, so being that this material is already six years old or more, I wouldn't be surprised if they land some full-length record with a lot of improved songwriting chops some time soon. But this isn't quite there yet.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Friday, May 3, 2019

Perverticon - Wounds of Divinity (2019)

2019 has been such a great year in black metal so far that an album like Wounds of Divinity almost seems second tier in quality. And I say that because, while the Perverticon sophomore does little to distinguish itself from a good many other offerings in its genre, it's still a rather enjoyable effort that throws a few interesting riffing configurations at you that don't quite lineup with a million others you've heard, leaving you just enough slack on the line that you'll keep circling the bait until some other album comes along and catches you on its hooks. This is a slightly anonymous band with the handles 'Uncleanest Invictus', 'Necrosadistic Elite' and my favorite of the bunch, 'Omnicremationist Supreme', and from the degree of competence on exhibition here I'll just assume they've probably been involved with other Swedish black metal outfits in the past.

I say that also because the sound here is certainly one you could relate back to Dark Funeral, earlier Watain, Marduk and Lord Belial, one that relies heavily on incessant blasting rhythms and then using its guitar patterns to capitalize on that velocity with hypnotic weavings of tremolo pickings. The form isn't at its most savage and nasty here, although the drums are effortlessly fast, but there's a certain unique subtext within the chords and melodic single-picked notes that elated by tracks like "An Absence of All But Ashes" that really pay off with this approach. That's not to say that the band is all blast all the time, in fact they have a number of slower passages here to break up the flow of the record, but to be honest I found that the faster the notes and drums here, the more the material had my ears perking up. They do a lot of good work feeling out their chord choices so they can create this dramatic, eloquently evil momentum, which often reminds you of the old days of the 90s when you were first hearing stuff like Old Man's Child, Dissection or even Borknagar in a few cases. Not quite as eerily mood-inducing as other Swedish bands like Ondskapt or Armagedda, but I think fans of those might indeed get something out of this too.

A few downsides. The vocals, which are carnal enough of a rasp to match the riffs, but not all that distinctive from far more pain-wracked snarlers and growlers, don't exactly live up to the guitars. I could say the same for the drumming, it's fast as shit and does what it needs to, but in terms of throwing interesting beats and fills your way it's a bust, erring on the side of monotonous efficiency. The album does have a good bass tone though, loud and swerving along the guitars to give it an atmosphere across more dimensions than just the tinny blasts and the rhythm guitar tone. In a way, some of the deficiencies do let you focus in on those interesting riff patterns, so it's not all a bust, but the album does lack some punch and power if not speed. All told, though, this is yet another black metal record I've heard in these last four months which certainly doesn't disappoint, it's got enough moments of captivation that I think the potential of Perverticon is obvious.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Bädr Vogu - Wroth (2016)

Wroth is a record that really strikes a balance between its crusted and doomed aesthetics, imbuing them even further with some elements of death metal, Southern blues-injected grooves, and an occasional direct window into those angry hardcore fundamentals from which its sludge and crust components are derived. Oakland's Bädr Vogu bind this mass of styles into a unified whole in which each of them seem to complement the others, and then drown the entire experience in loads of existential and depressing samples from sources like True Detective character Rustin Cohle. The whole package is rather brutal and consistent in its disposition, comprised of lengthier tracks ranger about 7-11 minutes that pretty evenly distribute the influences I mentioned above.

And for the most part, I was on board here, because the sound of the whole thing is quite good, the rhythm guitars effectively cycling between doomed grooves and crushing chord barrages, given a little more depth by the occasional use of dour melodies, brief tremolo-picked departures and other 'musical' contributions that help recede the record from the shore-lines of boredom that a lot of its contemporaries often get their toes a little too wet in. Certainly there's a core here of the old NOLA Eyehategod sound, as well as Boston's Grief, albeit less nasty and hopeless, just replete with the crashing, loping, striding guitar riffs that themselves are often fixed with percussive changes that you don't quite expect. This helps the album retain some degree of freshness since it never strangles itself with ceaseless, dull repetition, even though a lot of the rhythm guitar riffs throughout the album are hardly memorable, and will draw your mind back to the many times you've heard similar within the sub-genres that it draws from. Vocals vary between the snarl typical of the style to a broader guttural, and both work although neither of them are bringing anything new to the buffet either.

My favorite piece on the album was surprisingly the shorter closer "Of Misanthropy and Malaise", with beautiful downtrodden acoustic guitars that repeat beneath a shroud of samples, spoken word and eerie violins to create an amazing, slowly cresting atmosphere as the fat bass lines erupt to drive it ever forward. It's a little bit of a left turn from the rest of the material, but offers such a bluesy and swampy vibe that it's irresistible and almost makes me wish they had included more segues of a similar nature, more immersion than their heavier tunes gifted me. However, I won't get too down on the rest of the record, because I think it will certainly hold an appeal to fans of sludge, Southern-fried doom and slower, driving crust or even slower death/doom. Loved the logo and the cover art to this one, which I think the guitarist designed, and the anarchic lyrics which attack everything from the average daily grind to substance abuse to the American Dream seem to mesh well with the selected samples and pounding certainty of the riffage.

Verdict: Win [7/10] (actions glisten like gory daggers)