Monday, 16 January 2017

[ALBUM REVIEW] Goatmoon - Stella Polaris















   

1. Intro
2. Stella Polaris
3. Kansojen Hävittäjä
4. Wolf Night
5. Sonderkommando Nord
6. Warrior
7. Conqueror
8. Overlord

Genre - Black Metal
 
The Finnish black metal scene continues to solidify its position as the strongest and most productive of the Scandinavian countries in the last 15+ years or so, with acts such as Sargeist, Horna, Clandestine Blaze and Satanic Warmaster among many others, it's a hard argument to counter that there's any other country in the world continually producing as much quality black metal as Finland. Where-as with the likes of Norway where the scene stagnated long ago, mainly due to the fact many of the acts still claw at the coattails of residual past glories, the Finns appear to have a consistent knack for drawing fresh inspiration while still maintaining the core ideology of what black metal actually stood for.

Goatmoon are one of these bands, now onto their fifth album of remorseless black metal barbarity, with Stella Polaris, and as with Voitto Tai Valhalla, Blackgoat Gravedesecrator (what a name!) continues with the band's progression from the primitive dishevelled black metal garage punk noise of the debut to a more structurally refined and melodic, yet still jagged and recognizable style of pagan themed black metal. If you pour a glance over the fantastic cover art, it actually does give you a good impression of the sound present on Stella Polaris. The main backbone of the music is still a heavily significant juxtaposition of the sadism of Satanic Warmaster and obnoxious punk styled riff work of Absurd.

One of the first things that stood out for me on this album was how much it reminded me Swedish band Vinterland. I don't think this was intended, it lacks the depressive attitude of Welcome to My Last Chapter, but at times the absolutely frigid, crystalline gleam of the atmosphere on Stella Polaris coupled with Blackgoat's harsh, bitter rasp, drew my attention to it more than once.

When the album is good, let me tell you it is fucking brilliant, the title track packs a punch with it's fast, icy sharp tremolo riffing, synths and upbeat tempo all tied up with some pretty flashy heavy metal styled guitar leads. 'Kansojen Hävittäjä', a track from the split with Der Sturmer early last year makes a return, and without doubt is one of the greatest tracks Goatmoon have ever wrote. The contrast between the sharp lively riffing and main 'chorus' riff is absolutely fantastic, and when it comes in again at 2:30 in the higher key wrapped in those synths, it is utterly astounding. The last three tracks are all very tight too, following the same paths between the caustic relentless black metal and the glacial folky atmospheres, even bringing to mind the likes of Emperor such as heard on “Overlord”, which takes a slightly more astral slant. What I like about Blackgoat's use of synth is that he obviously knows how to use it with restraint; synths used sparsely but at the the right time can be so much more effective than drowning the album in them like some overambitious Tolkien freak.

My problem with Stella Polaris has nothing to do with the actual music itself, and that's the really frustrating thing present here; the musicianship on showcase here absolutely stellar, it's Goatmoon doing what they do best, and the next logical step on from their last album. It's just once the last track finishes, I was kind of left sitting thinking to myself “Is that it?”. Because if you take out the intro, the unnecessary “Wolf Night” and “Sonderkommando Nord” (which is a nice almost Celtic-esque instrumental, but would have been so much more interesting with vocals) then you only have five proper tracks, one of which appeared on a split EP last year. And with the album as a whole only clocking in at 31 minutes, you almost feel a bit short changed, of which is only exacerbated by the fact that musicianship on those five songs is just so fucking excellent, it just goes by in a flash. And for that reason I just can't give this album the nigh-perfect mark I wish I could.

Still though, dis-regarding the previous aspect about the length, Stella Polaris should still most certainly be sought out by all self-respecting fans of the band and those into riff-centric, pagan-themed, atavistic black metal. Goatmoon deliver their doctrine with an iron hand, no compromise, and displaying everything that black metal should be, an ugly and raw middle finger to tolerance, pretentious 'progressive avant-garde' nonsense and just shite fucking black metal in general. It's short and straight to the point, just a pity it's all so brief.


7.8/10

Originally written for http://www.metal-observer.com

If you like  - Baptism, Sargeist, Satanic Warmaster

Monday, 9 January 2017

[Album Review] Mesarthim - ".- -... ... . -. -.-. ."














1. .----
2. ..---
3. ...--
4. ....-
5. .....
6. -....

Genre - Black Metal

 Another band I've been keeping a loose eye on recently was Australian Black metal outfit Mesarthim, after a strong debut back in 2015 and a productive period in between, this duo have finally released their follow up effort. Now admittedly I fell behind in the metal scene last year due to varying reasons, but this among select others were a few that stood out for me. Peddling a highly symphonic and expansive, yet still raw and caustic variety of Black Metal, something not unlike Midnight Odyssey, Nychts and Lustre, was what drew me to them in the first place, because let's face it, I'm a complete sucker for this style of Black Metal ever since I saw the cover to Moon in the Scorpio all those years ago. Plus, it brings a welcome change to the immortal conflict over who can produce the most pretentious satanic bullshit these days which seems to be present in many corners of the underground at the minute.

OK, while on the subject of 'pretentious' you can't ignore the absurd title they have given the album which is '.- -... ... . -. -.-. .'. Yep, that is Morse code. Back in the day when us old farts used to go into physical shops to buy our cds/records, could you envision going up to the cashier and attempting to ask if they had this album? So if, like me, you're not exactly fluent in the nautical vocabulary, you'd be a bit... well... fucked. So after consulting my oft-used Morse code to English dictionary, the title translates to Absence. So that's what I'm gonna call it from now on. I guess in a sense it kind of fits the whole stellar demeanour and panorama Mesarthim are trying to create, that of insignificance, as speck of a lone ship, lost and drifting on a celestial sea. But yes, it still is pretty ridiculous. Track wise each tracks translates in the corresponding Morse code for it's number, that at least is relatively simple.

One of the aspects on Absence which struck me the most was how similar the core Black Metal arrangements are to those composed by Aussie scene powerhouse Tim Yatras, otherwise known as 'Germ'. Now not much is known about the members on this album as far as I know, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was involved in some way. It's a massively rich and layered album, tortured vocals tear through the tumultuous maelstrom of pulsating static guitar riffs like tendrils of ice while the brooding, glittering synths weave in and out. Superimpose Austere on top of the chromatic soundscapes of Summoning and a bit of “I am the Black Wizards” and you've got Mesarthim basically.

I find Black Metal like this can be a difficult one to pull off correctly though Mesarthim manage to strike the right balance between repetition and variation without going too overboard on the synth work. It's a style where so many other bands fail, either it's just overtly pretentious and not interesting enough, or they end up diving in feet first suffocating themselves in cheese. The album feels like one big track split into smaller sections, though each track still contains enough to differ it from the next.

I don't really have much other way to put it but Absence is an absolutely stunning and captivating release by these guys, its glittering soundscapes are absolutely dripping in atmosphere, where Limbonic Art were more on the psychedelic side, these guys on the nostalgic and wondrous. Definitely one to stick the headphones on, lie down in the back garden on a clear night and have a mid life existential crisis to. An impressive piece of progress from Isolate. Some would say Death rides a pale horse, but here he straddles an intergalactic motherfucking battleship. 

9.5/10

Originally written for The Metal Observer

If you like - Midnight Odyssey, Limbonic Art, Austere

Thursday, 5 January 2017

[ALBUM REVIEW] Witchery - In his Infernal Majesty's Service















1. Lavey-athan
2.  Zoroast
3.  Netherworld Emperor
4.  Nosferatu
5. The Burning of Salem
6. Gilded Fang
7.  Empty Tombs
8.  In Warm Blood
9. Escape from Dunwich Valley
10.  Feed the Gun
11. Oath Breaker

Genre - Black/Modern thrash


Truth be told, Witchery were a band that had been completely buried in the recesses of my my mind for the last ten years or so, and not without good reason either as except for their pretty solid "Restless and Dead" debut, they were utterly middle of the road and run-of-mill as far as black thrash bands came. So upon receiving their latest "In His Infernal Majesty's Service", part of me while still surprised they still actually existed, was hoping for something a little more engaging than previous efforts.

So how does it hold up then in relation to their previous endeavours? Well as feared it's more of the same unfortunately. They're still at the Blackened Thrash, Aura Noir-ish side of things, though have managed to create a sound here which edges closer to the modern day Exodus end of the spectrum rather than the old Slayer influences from the debut.

The production is big and bruising and the guitars have a substantial groove to their fast riffing, one such thing that there is plenty of here, it's just a pity they're all rather vanilla with very little hooks on the album that stand out. Vocals have always been a weak point for Witchery, and again is such the case here consisting of a rather one-dimensional and half-assed Black metal rasp from the Legion replacement, Angus Norder.

Tracks range from the high-tempoed and frenzied such as "The Burning of Salem" to the more mid paced tracks "Empty Tombs" and "Nosferatu", the latter having one of the most mind numbingly irritating chourses ever.

Certainly I feel some may find something of interest here, but for me it just all sounds a bit too sterile and methodical in my opinion,  they just end up sounding like another decrepit old thrash band where any ounce of inspiration dissipated years ago. For me they've always been a minor irrelevancy and with "In his Infernal Majesty's Service" this pretty much remains unchanged. With the likes of Destroyer 666, Desaster and Vektor all releasing fantastic albums this year, this just begs the question; why bother? 

4/10


Sounds like - Aura Noir, Modern day Exodus, The Haunted


Originally written for http://www.metalireland.com

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

[ALBUM REVIEW] Soulburn - Earthless Pagan Spirit















1. Where Splendid Corpses Are Towering Towards the Sun
2.  The Blood Ascendant
3.  Howling at the Heart of Death
4. As Cold as Heavens' Slain
5. Withering Nights
6. The Torch
7. Spirited Asunder
8. Diary of a Reaper (Outro)

Genre - Black/Death Metal

Soulburn, another one of the side projects from ex-Apshyx members Eric Daniels and Bob Bagchus have returned with their latest offering and follow up to 2014's 'The Suffocating Darkness'. Originally conceived as a side project or 'off-shoot' to Asphyx back in 1996 for Daniels and Bagchus as their way to pay homage to the likes of Celtic Frost, Bathory and Venom, Soulburn returned to the fold after a long hiatus in 2013 to continue with their onslaught and seemingly the main focus of their attention at the minute.

'Feeding on Angels' is the only one of their previous works I'm familiar with, and it is a solid piece of work, a twisted slab of intense Black/Death/Doom-whatever in the same strain of the aforementioned acts amalgamated with that recognisable Dutch ruthlessness from that era.

The production duties on 'Earthless Pagan Spirit' were handled by Magnus Andersson, currently Bassist for Marduk, are one of the first things that immediately strikes you about this album, it has a very significant Scandinavian feel as opposed to their debut, much more aligned with the likes of Watain, Necrophobic and indeed Marduk than expected, dropping even more of the Death Metal foundation from which these guys originated.

Tracks such as the opener "Where Splendid Corpses Are Towering Towards the Sun" (what kind of a shit title is that btw?), Mayhem-esque "Howling at the Heart of Death" and "The Torch" showcase the more ferocious side of 'Earthless Pagan Spirit', chunky bludgeoning riffs of Daniels propped up with Bagchus' powerful drumming.  Then you have the utterly pointless addition of the generic 'siren' female vocals in "Withering Nights" that achieve nothing and just sound completely out of place and disjointed, jarring the otherwise relentless flow of the album. The outro track of "Diary of a Reaper" is a complete waste of space as well, a ham fisted attempt at a 'moody' and atmospheric closer with spoken vocals that serves no discernable purpose whatsoever.

It is on the numbers where the band shift gears down a bit though and they incorporate more of the dwindling  Doom elements they used to utilize so effectively that the album actually picks up a bit, tracks such as the dirging "Spirited Asunder" and extremely powerful "The Blood Ascendant" which begins slow before erupting into a furious and uncompromising colossus.

Vocally I feel the band miss ex-vocalist Wannes Gubbels the most, he brough
t a sense of depravity to the debut that seems to be missing here, don't get me wrong, Twan van Geel does a decent shift here, powerful and dominating, but Gubbels was on a different level altogether. The guitarwork is definitely highlight on an otherwise generic album, strong punishing riffs and cryptic leads scattered throughout, but even at that it feels at times Daniels is playing on autopilot.

"Earthless Pagan Spirit" is for the majority, baseline Swedish style Black Metal interwoven with Death and Doom elements that appears to be moving away from the homage of old. If undaventurous, the album while nothing extravagant, and not exactly pushing the boat out, will appeal to fans of the last album and is certainly acceptable enough for what it is. But for me they're heading down a dead end and it's just another album in the vast sea of Swe-Black Metal clones that so many others do better, and that's ultimately the most frustrating thing about it, because these guys have such an impressive CV. They're just capable of so much more. Time to roughen it up again I think.

Sounds like - Watain, Ofermod, Bathory

Originally written for Metalireland

3/5

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

[DEMO REVIEW] Venus Torment - Espiral Infinito


1. Intro (Vacio del Espiral Infinito)
2. Agujero de la Perdicion
3. Espectro Negro
4. Venganza y Poder
5. Andromania
6. Sin Muerte

Genre - Death/Thrash Metal

This is a release I've been meaning to write about for a while now, having come across this demo by these obscure Chilean's purely by chance, Venus Torment play a twisted, utterly ripping style of Death/Thrash lying somewhere in the chaotic devastation created by the riff focused brutality of Morbid Saint and bestial madness of the early South American Thrash scene. Being South Amercian themselves it's no surprise that the likes bands like Sarcofago, Chakal, Vulcano and the ilk play a huge influence in Venus Torment's sound.

The guitar work showcased here is utterly savage and sharp, the riffs come at you relentlessly, tearing breakneck through the chaos like a whirlwind of rusty daggers, and the lead work similarly stellar, wild unhinged shredding flailing all over the place and one of the highlights of this demo. The vocals are what gives it that real primitive 'South American' feel, a low throaty rasp previously used by the likes of Wagner Antichrist, indeed you can tell 'INRI' is most likely a huge influence here.

The first track is, as with lots of underground releases these days another completely pointless intro. I guess by now I probably sound like a broken record with respect to this, it's something I've come across so many times but very few intros ever 'set the mood' as they're intended,
serving no purpose in my eyes other that to fill up a bit of time. Anyway, with that bugbear out of the way, as you've probably guessed, the music showcased here is top notch, right from the opening note in track two tearing full throttle out of the speakers and grabbing you by the balls and not letting go right to the very end. From the hardcore punk influences prevalent in the bass and riff work (just listen to “Agujero de la Perdicion” for example) to the deranged soloing in the middle section of “Espectral Negro”, I can only compare it to something like early Kreator on speed.


I may have found these guy by pure accident, but have high hopes for the future, the one guy behind this act has real talent and can only imagine what he'd come up with with a real production behind him. It's a brief affair, clocking in at just under twenty minutes, but nothing other than what you'd expect from a demo in this style of music, just enough to leave you wanting more. No it's not in anyway original, nor do I have a fucking clue about any of the lyrics, but when the music is a brilliant as this, who gives a fuck? Or if you want a somewhat more blunt summary of what's on offer here, just look at that fucking cover. The South Americans seem to have a knack for this, don't they? If you like your metal flat out and morbid, keep an on this guy.  

Sounds like  - Morbid Saint, Celtic Frost, Sarcofago

4.5/5

Monday, 21 January 2013

[ALBUM REVIEW] Hell Militia - Jacob's Ladder

 

 Genre - Black Metal

1. Jacob’s Ladder
2. Jonah
3. Sternenfall
4. Death Worship
5. The Black Projector
6. Second Coming Of The Pig
7. Deus Irae
8. Jericho

Fresh off their recent signing to Season of Mist, Parisian black metal super-group Hell Militia have returned with their third offering and follow up to 2010's 'Last Station on the Road to Death'. With a roster boasting names who are linked with likes of Arkhon Infaustus, Bethlehem and Vorkriest among others spearheaded by the enigmatic genius that is former Mutiilation mastermind Meyhnach, it's hard to look past such a pedigree of names.

On paper Hell Militia should be untouchable with such a lineup but previous efforts were below average attempts at something which boasted so much more. 'Jacob's Ladder' is a vast improvement on the preceding albums it must be said, the band have appeared to continue their stylistic shift towards a manifestation more similarly aligned with the likes of Ascension, Dodecahedron and countrymen Deathspell Omega while still retaining that traditional orthodox Swedish vibe of Watain, Ofermod and the ilk.

When you look at the aforementioned bands recent success that can be a hard point to argue against. So does it work? To a degree yes but it's a style that has been performed and perfected so many times before now by the likes of DSO and Blut Aus Nord that it's inevitable anything anywhere remotely in the same vein immediately gets stacked up and dissected against what is essentially some of the best black metal created this side of the millennium, which just doesn't seem fair does it?

It is by no means bad though, the likes of the title track initiate things with an intense whirlwind of breakneck blasting and heavily obscure, piercing riffs accompanied by Meyhnach's wretched vocal delivery does make for some immersive listening at times even if this is a path extremely well worn by now.

Meyhnach's vocals are arguable the standout aspect of 'Jacob's Ladder', something which holds true for pretty much every album he's ever performed on, I mean just try and tell me 'Vampires of Black Imperial Blood' would be anywhere near lauded as much as it is without those twisted, schizophrenic vocals. The guitar work is well enough executed, steeped in layer upon layer of scything, caustic dissonance and the drumming tight and dynamic enough and when intertwined make for a heavily intricate and multi-faceted release which in practice should sound fantastic but in reality lacks that final sheen and memorability to really take this album to the next level.

For every decent passage there's another passage of exhausted and uninspiring boredom that has you reaching for the skip button. Take for example the likes of 'Death Worship' with its basic one dimensional rhythm and utterly stale riffing and the tedious and plodding dirge of 'Jericho' which overstays its welcome by about five minutes and you certainly have a lot of room for improvement.

Still though, tracks like 'The Black Projector' which contain some of the most impressive guitar work here, discordant ringing and sweeping riffs envelop the listener in a malevolence and filth that is unfortunately missing from a vast chunk of the rest of 'Jacob's Ladder'. Similarly 'Second Coming of the Pig' also harbours some fantastic pummeling moments of swirling chaos and an illustration that this isn't all complete monotony. And for fuck sake cut out those shitty B-movie samples next time around, the cliché barrel is completely and thoroughly scraped through in that regard.

Unfortunately once again Hell Militia fail to really deliver anything remotely threatening to those that they so obviously aim to emulate though it is at least an improvement on their previous releases which were to be frank, fucking shite. There are certain moments of inspiration scattered here and there but ultimately that's just not good enough and though the musicianship is indeed pretty impressive it doesn't have any particular coherence or definition. 'Jacob's Ladder' promises so much yet what we're left with is something altogether far too formulaic and non-eventful that it just wont cut it these days.


5.5/10

Originally written for Metalireland

Sounds like - Watain, Deathspell Omega, Ondskapt

Thursday, 1 November 2012

[ALBUM REVIEW] Saturnus - Saturn in Ascension


Genre - Doom/Death Metal

1. Litany of Rain
2. Wind Torn
3. A Lonely Passage
4. A Father's Providence
5. Mourning Sun
6. Call of the Raven Moon
7. Forest of Insomnia
8. Between
9. Limbs of Crystal Clear (Bonus Track)     

There are some bands that just completely transcend their perceived genre confines they're that far ahead of most of their peers in sound and stature that no matter if they were to release a shitty album tomorrow you still have to sit back and admire the sheer magnitude and impact their influence has had in a certain corner of music. It's been nigh on twenty years now since their momentous debut Paradise Belongs to You; the dismal Danish doomsters Saturnus are back with a full length after a barren six years with their gloom ridden soul siphon and believe you me, they're just as fucking miserable as before. I'm not going to lie when I say I wasn't holding out a considerable amount of hope for this release when I heard about it, I mean I wasn't expecting it to be bad, there's just only so many times you can release nigh on perfect album after nigh on perfect album, you've got to slip at some point surely?

Their previous three albums have all been astounding slabs of melancholic doom/death and each different in their own unique way and straight from the opening notes of “Litany of Rain” I just knew this was going to be another classic. For those who're none the wiser as to who Saturnus are, they're one of doom metal's relatively unsung heroes with their heavily melancholic and gothic stylized brand of death doom, think of something along the lines of Angel and the Dark River era My Dying Bride, Winter and Skepticism if you're looking for a close comparison as to what they sound like. Paradise... is widely regarded as one of the genre's finest examples of this style and not without good reason, it's easily one of the top ten doom/death albums of all time. Saturn in Ascension swings stylistically back towards the aforementioned album yet still incorporating elements from both the excellent Martyre and Veronika Decides to Die for a release which while extremely melodic and gothic in design, is still absolutely crushing in it's execution.

As I sit here with that familiar telling chill in the air, I can't help but feel that Saturn in Ascension is exactly the perfect soundtrack to these portentous nights. “Litany of Rain” begins with some tasteful choral vocals before the guitar comes crashing down to slowly lumber through agony wrought riffs interwoven sporadically with those angelic chorals for ten minutes giving the impression of a black draped funeral procession, shorn by wind and lashed by rain. Simply put, if you were in a positive 'life is great' mood before you listened to this, you'll be knocking out the Prozac afterwards. Thomas' vocals are as impressive as ever, his death guttural a grave shaking growl while his clean vocals emotive if a little awkward at times. The new recruits on axe (or shovel) duty, Rune and Mattias play with such a conviction and familiarity that you'd be forgiven for thinking they'd been in the band from day one. The atmosphere which is compounded through their skull crushing, heavily encumbered riffs and forlorn, meandering leads is second to none and where the similarity to Skepticism comes to mind, though don't be mistaken as this isn't funeral doom, it's a tad more upbeat and dynamic than that, though it's inarguable that in the past Saturnus has certainly lent their sound to such bands.

Such bands like Agalloch owe a great deal to these guys as well, again just listen to the debut and you'll hear what I'm talking about. Those delicate acoustic melodies and reflective, autumnal guitar passages present there return and are vividly present on “Wind Torn” and it bears a more than passing resemblance to Agalloch indeed. If ever a song threatened to tear your very soul out and nail it to a weather beaten cross then here you go, the guitar passages are mesmerizing and just welling in emotion and the vocals embracing a disconsolate abandon. It's entering the season of death and decay, and fuck if there's a song out there as fitting as this then I don't want to hear it. Depressing doesn't even cut it. “A Lonely Passage” and “Call of the Raven Moon” provide the non metal tracks this time around with the former a heart tugging soliloquy layered with acoustics and gentle piano passages. The latter is a good track also but comes close to being the only one here I would come close to calling filler material. The addition of the flute in along with the acoustics at the start was a nice idea but ultimately the song ends up being rather uneventful, not helped by the fact the spoken vocals sound a bit awkward and indifferent to be honest.

When your shortest track is still over five minutes, the quality and diversity which each track must contain becomes exceedingly important especially through a release this dauntingly intense and expansive, and something which Saturn in Ascension does well to maintain. The relatively brief “A Father's Providence” is a behemoth of a track with the most energetic rhythm here, a head-banger of sorts with more huge crunching riffs which gives us a slight glimpse to the bands primitive early roots with it's crude death gutturals interspersed with some tasteful piano work dancing underneath like droplets of water. As far as the second half of the album goes “Mourning Sun” is the standout track here, another with such an emotional burden that it'll bring you to your knees with it's overbearing riffs weighing a tonne, slowly inching forward. Again I have to state how amazingly sublime the lead/solo work here is, just as it was all those years ago with Kim Larsen; the guitarist has the tone down to a tee so much so that the album would be a lot less memorable without, and guitar leads were never really a focal point with doom metal. Just listen to “Forest of Insomnia” and you'll know what I mean, the guitar work in it is similarly enthralling in the way it builds up to the climatic solo at the end.

Saturn in Ascension is pretty much a doom metal masterpiece, but then Saturnus are apparently only able deal in masterpieces as this is now their fourth. It's standalone in it's utterly agonizing brilliance, an emotionally draining, sprawling and pious journey of desolation laying clear all one's woes and grief for all to see, and another doom/death monolith in the genre to file alongside an untouchable legacy. Saturnus are finally back guys and they're here to show a new generation of pretenders just how the fuck it's supposed to be done. A hopeless, shining paragon of modern doom metal and one that'll you'll undoubtedly be hearing more about further down the road. Can these guys ever do wrong? It doesn't seem likely. A certain contender for album of the year. Buy or die.

9.5/10

Sounds like - My Dying bride, The 3rd and the Mortal, Shape of Despair

Originally written for



Friday, 26 October 2012

[ALBUM REVIEW] Darkenhöld - Echoes from the Stone Keeper


 

Genre - Melodic Black Metal

1.     Intro         
2.     Alchemy and Arcana         
3.     Wyvern Solitude Chant         
4.     Echoes from the Stone Keeper         
5.     March of the Sylvan Beasts         
6.     Interlude         
7.     Mesnie Hellequin         
8.     Chasm of Asylake         
9.     Nightfall and the Fire Doom         
10.     Castle Ruins Anthem

Darkenhold initially came to my attention with their collaboration last year with compatriots Aorlhac on the La Maisniee du Maufe split, a band who they share many attributes with. Both draw their influences heavily from the old Norwegian black metal scene with the likes of Emperor, Satyricon and Taake forming the bulk of their sound, a heavily riff-centric strain of melodic black metal. They're also both from roughly the same area in South/South Eastern France, and most importantly with the the release of Echoes of the Stone Keeper, they're both fucking awesome. The tracks off the split were decent but nothing outstanding, similarly their debut release A Passage to the Towers... was a modest release that had all the echoes of a band who were yet to hit their true stride.

So enter their sophomore effort, Echoes of the Stone Keeper, with its pummeling, semi-melodic tremolo riffs and expansive patchwork of synth based atmospheres draped behind, it has all the hallmarks and qualities of a band who have really worked hard to hone their sound and create something very distinguished and memorable indeed. If you know Darkenhold already, you'll know they have a fetish for all things medieval and fantasy, more specifically, wyverns and castles, so you'd expect the music to reflect this then right? Correct, the atmosphere has been kicked up a notch or two and the arcane keys of which Echoes... is comprised of really emphasize that eerie, haunting and medieval atmosphere Darkenhold are striving for. Atmospherics wise, oft overlooked Norwegian act Wallachia I suspect play a huge influence in this, while the 'metal' itself is drawn from the same pool which gave us Satyricon, Emperor and even Abigor among others.

Like Wallachia, the album sounds like it was composed in some crusty old ancient dilapidated castle in the middle of Transylvania. It's melodic black metal constructed and delivered exactly the way it should be, huge immersive swathes of synth/key driven atmosphere at no expense to the fundamentals of black metal whatsoever, and getting that appropriate balance is a difficult thing to achieve. The guitar is in fact arguably the strongest element of Echoes.., the riffing is utterly scathing as it should be, and suitably diverse as no two riffs ever sound similar. Tracks like “Under the Sign of Arcanum” and “Chasm of Asylake” even have a sprinkling of acoustics just to mix things up a little and further compound that mystic and archaic atmosphere. The Satyricon influence in the riffing is painfully obvious, they could be very well lifted straight off Nemesis Divina itself, but that's no bad thing, for just listen to the absolutely devastating introduction to “Castle Ruins Anthem” or one of the many riffs in “Wyvern Solitude Chant” and you'll see exactly what I mean.

Aboth turns out an extremely impressive performance behind the kit as well, a thoroughly assorted affair refraining from the typical flat out blasts and unrelenting hi-hat abuse, a good drum performance being a rarity in black metal. A special mention must go out to “Nightfall and the Fire Doom” though, the out and out standout track here which can only be described as majestic, a sprawling behemoth of a track drenched in esoteric chanting, sepulchral riffing and an enthralling, enchanting atmosphere which lasts for six very brief minutes before fading out to something not unlike Wongraven. “Caslte Ruins Anthem” as well it must be noted is an absolute bulldozer of a track with that opening riff and it's staunch medieval sway which what I imagine the perfect combination of Satyricon and Wallachia to sound like.

The really full production does wonders for the music here as well, not exactly clean but thankfully not ever entering 'bees in a biscuit tin' territory. Echoes of the Stone Keeper is exactly what I expect 'medieval black metal' to sound like, like it was recorded in a colossal and grandiose gold littered throne room from the depths of some far fetched fantasy novel. It's distinctly unrepetitive and broad enough that there's always something going on that your mind never wanders. Darkenhold have really stepped up to the plate with this one and they'll be a force to be reckoned with in the future. This is majestic and melodic black metal performed about just as well as you're going to hear all year, and an album that will definitely be up there in my end of year list. Highly recommended. 

9/10

Sounds like - Wallachia, Nerthus, Aorlhac 

Originally written for Metalcrypt 

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

[ALBUM REVIEW] Visigoth - Final Spell

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Genre - Heavy Metal

1. Creature of Desire
2. Final Spell
3. Seven Golden Ships
4. Call of the Road

Just look at that cover, if that doesn't instill you with confidence from the outset then you're a lost fucking cause. Visigoth are a relatively new band hailing from the heavy metal wasteland of Utah, and coming at a period when it appears the latest traditional metal revival trend is slowly winding down, are an absolute breath of fresh air to these ears. Fair enough, as far as finding originality goes, especially in the traditional metal scene these days is about as fruitful as pissing up a rope but when it's performed as well as this, who the fuck needs originality? Final Spell is the band's second release after their decent enough demo Vengeance from 2010, and where it was set firmly in barefaced doom laden Omen territory, Final Spell has all the characteristics and glint of a band who have finally 'found' their sound, where much bigger and better things inevitably await.

So they have abandoned the epic, pounding US style for more traditional style of flat out heavy metal with a strong aroma of Euro power metal, much like countrymen Twisted Tower Dire, in fact so much so Final Spell is what their last album could have sounded like without the scourge of Johnny Aune. At times the similarities are uncanny and especially on “Call of the Road” which bears a striking semblance to Make it Dark, sound a bit more than coincidental, still I guess there are worse bands you could sound like. Jake's vocals are what really bring these tracks to life though, and imagine my surprise when I discovered this was the same voice behind the Agalloch worship act Gallowbraid. The tenacity and conviction with which he tears through the vocal melodies present on Final Spell is astounding.

Creature of Desire”, an anthem to metal's favorite two wheeled warrior machine has all the echoes of early Hammerfall and Priest with its sublime vocal harmonies, rolling riffs and spiraling guitar leads making the only place you want to be is hitting the highway with wind in your hair and metal coursing through your veins. The title track raises the bar even higher with it's criss crossing Maiden-esque shred and high tempo drumming, and when Jake nails that final scream you can't help but feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, even Halford himself would be proud. I cannot stress enough how strong the vocals are here, the polished production really does them justice. I'd liken them to Rain Irving from While Heaven Wept or even Harry Conklin if I had to chose anyone. “Seven Golden Ships” has a imposing crunch to the riffing in it, the guitars noticeably heavier but no less effective. Closer “Call of the Road” is more of a straight forward infectious 'rocker' for want of a better word, lively rhythms, blazing guitar leads and stratosphere piercing vocals, which as previously stated sound suspiciously like a couple of tracks from Twisted Tower Dire's last effort.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, no matter what genre of metal you tend to favour, there is nothing greater than pure unadulterated adrenaline pumping heavy metal performed the way the masters intended it, and this is exactly the way they envisioned it. Jake delivers his vocal lines like a man possessed and the performances on the guitars are nothing short of spectacular. Simply put if leather clad, fist-clenching and testosterone fueled metal borne from the smell of burnt tarmac and rubber is your thing then go buy this, if it isn't then go fucking buy it anyway and be converted. Bring on a full length, I'm getting withdrawal symptoms already, this shit is like musical crack.

9.5/10

Originally written for Dead void Dreams

Sounds like - Judas Priest, Twisted Tower Dire, Jag Panzer

Monday, 22 October 2012

[ALBUM REVIEW] Witchrist - The Grand Tormentor

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Genre - Doom Death/Black Metal



1. Into the Arms of Yama
2. The Grand Tormentor
3. Meditation for Sacrifice
4. Wasteland of Thataka
5. Exile
6. Beyond Darkness and Death
7. The Tomb
8. Tandava
9. Cast into Fire
10. Funeral Lotus 


Beheaded Ouroboroswas one of my top rated releases of 2010, one of the most downright unrelentingly putrid and heavy albums to crawl out of the gutter that year with its insane gutturals and earth cracking guitar riffs. Certainly if esoteric Death Metal that takes its leads from the Helmkamp inspired barbarity of ANGELCORPSE and ORDER FROM CHAOS along with INCANTATION's monolithic death processions then you've come to the right place. Fresh off making the transition from Ireland's Invictus to the high-flying Osmose, The Grand Tormentor” is the sophomore effort from this act and big things were expected. So how much has this unholy monstrosity progressed since their awe inspiring debut? Well, if it was possible to better such a masterpiece then somehow they have managed to do it with “The Grand Tormentor”, and in the process managed to make it somehow even fucking heavier than before. The result is a band who now along with countrymen DIOCLETIAN are now essentially the flag bearers for extreme metal in New Zealand.

'Into the Arms of Yama' kicks off proceedings, a ten minute filth encrusted opus that plunges you straight into the inferno with its initial INCANTATION-esque Death/Doom dirge with the impression that this is “The Grand Tormentor” slowly dragging its lumbering bulk up and out of the pit awakening for its tyranny on the world above. This eventually succumbs to a menacing drumbeat, down tuned guitars soaked in distortion and Void's inhuman gutturals hovering just beneath the music like unearthly bubbles of evil, which I suppose is basically the foundation for the whole album. Once you've heard this you'll understand what I mean about this being incredibly heavy, I mean there's more crushing low end present on “The Grand Tormentor” than the collective mass of your average American 'Weight Watchers' class. The tempo of the album varies frequently enough so things never get stagnant, faster passages with some rather headbangable rhythms intertwined with those previously mentioned slow and foreboding ones. Such an examples of faster moments would be the likes of the title track which hits you with an intensity which could cleave skulls or 'Wasteland of Thataka' of which the only way to describe is as pure unholy barbarism. The production here is such that as fucked up, chaotic and asphyxiating as it is, it still lends extremely well to each individual aspect of the music. All the instruments have enough clarity to flourish in their own given way, and when you can include two songs over nine minutes on album and still retain the listeners attention then you're onto a winner.

The music hits you like a wave of thick black tar with a noxious putrescence; the riffs bore through with a grinding ferocity ranging from doomy dirges to echoes of Black Metal with frantic tremolo picking and the drums ominous like an encroaching thunder while the vocals indecipherable and sickening, lurk beneath. Hell there's even time now and again for a few esoteric solos to raise their head. It almost sounds as if this is one of Satan's apocalyptic sermons that has been spewed straight up through a vent from the underworld and presented itself in all its fetid, sulphuric glory as what we now know as “The Grand Tormentor”. It's pretty much the embodiment of the 'anti-mainstream' within Death Metal, no technical nonsense and no melody whatsoever, just a sewage pit of ritualistic Doom Death Metal insanity. Fans of DIOCLETION, HERESIARCH and WRATHPRAYER probably already need no introduction to these guys, but this should definitely appeal to those who are fans so-called 'War Metal' and of bands such as INCANTATION, WINTER and even ASPHYX. Just be warned, gas masks out lads, you'll certainly fucking need them

9.5/10

Sounds like - Wrathprayer, Incantation, Diocletian

Originally written for The Metal Observer