Tagged: Black Metal

Flesh Cathedral: a daring if daunting adventure through ruin to redemption

Svartidaudi, Flesh Cathedral, Norway, Terratur Possessions, CD VOICE033 / DWP024 (2012)

“Flesh Cathedral” remains Svartidaudi’s sole album to date which may surprise a lot of people who listen to it the first time – I certainly was, because it sounds so accomplished and meticulous in its technical crafting. It certainly doesn’t sound like a first album but more like a second or even third album: the songs are part of a concept that’s taken time to develop (and for that reason the album is best heard in one sitting) and the music’s execution sounds well balanced, tight enough but not too tight. The band’s preference for dissonant chords does mean the music sounds superficially similar to famous French black metallers Deathspell Omega and these Icelanders may well have taken inspiration from DSO in their song-writing and concepts. Everything else they do here though is different: Svartidaudi don’t go in for avant-jazz rhythms, theirs is a more doomy style of black metal.

Intro track “Sterile Seeds” sets the stage musically and conceptually: this track introduces us to a post-apocalyptic world ruined by wars and pollution, or to a body wrecked by addiction and abuse of all kinds and that has passed the threshold between life and death. The track’s style is epic and monumental in many ways, with layers and layers of grinding or fluttering tremolo guitars, a cold atmosphere and harsh stentorian vocals. The drumming isn’t especially heavy or remarkable but doesn’t need to be – the guitars and bass shoulder most of the responsibility for building up and carrying such a massive edifice of music, mood and ambience. “The Perpetual Nothing” brings the listener to confront an utterly empty and bleak universe with stuttering rapid-fire rhythm thunder, tom-tom rolls, sinister spider lead guitars and the most dreadful death-rattle vocals that sigh resignation in the face of nihilism. This song is a mighty monster of machine-gun blast-beat and tom-tom punishment and wailing guitar, relentless in piling riff upon riff, and nearly drowning out the vocals.

The title track builds on previous songs with a huge deep cavernous atmosphere, a complex mix of thunderous drumming, flippy blast beats and shifting rhythms, monstrous grinding bass grooves, sinister winding guitar riffs and melodies, and above all those dry wraith vocals drifting overhead. “Psychoactive Sacraments” is a roller-coaster ride through highs and lows in mood and music with portentous doom, malevolent black metal and hellish dark ambient elements used where appropriate to create a dramatic shape-shifting sonic architecture that floods and overwhelms the senses. While darkness and despair reign, there also appears a glimmer of hope, of brightness, of potential renewal and access to a higher spiritual plane.

Each song is very long and structurally elaborate with new riffs and melodies coming in almost right up to the end, and drastically changing rhythm or direction about halfway through as well, so tracks probably aren’t as distinctive or memorable as they could be. No one track is typical of the album and all songs need to be heard together for them to make sense, not only as a whole, but as parts in the whole. For this reason, hearing this album is a daunting adventure in itself and several rounds with the album might be necessary at risk of feeling punch drunk after each listen. But those of us who’ve heard the album a few times can at least say it’s an adventure worth taking.

The one thing I think that would improve this album is a higher quality production that brings out more of its subtleties and highlights its sonic extremes and many moods and atmospheres.

Hate Yoga: a wacky black metal noise homage to legendary French Black Legions scene

Vergreuvbre, Hate Yoga, Australia, Australibus Tenebris, cassette (2016)

About 23 minutes long, this wacky exercise in cacophonous black metal noise hell seems inspired by the more obscure and demented projects of the French Black Legions / Les Legions Noirs from way back in the mid-1990s. (The band’s name itself hints at LLN worship.) Gosh, can it really be 20 years since that little scene set the black metal world on fire with the werewolf baying, the gurgling vocals, the suspicious snuffling sounds, the junkyard approach to composing and playing music, and the in-fighting that led to the scene’s dissolution? This album – Vergreubvre’s third apparently – barrels along at a solemn pace while ghouls and ghosts yowl, gibber and complain loudly and groaning-grinding guitars chung-chung-chung along half-heartedly.

While the tin says there are five tracks – and one doesn’t know what it wants to be, so it’s just called “Untitled” – the practical reality for most listeners is that one track bleeds into the next so you’re pretty much looking at a solid slab of near-industrial raw guitar grind and percussion bashing, accompanied by some of the most bat-shit strait-jacketed groaning and bleating you’ll ever find on this side of the nine circles of hell. Even those Americans calling themselves the Black Twilight Circle appear sane and restrained compared to this lot. At least the crazed lead guitar scrabbling in some parts of the cassette anchors the rest of the band to this physical plane of material reality.

With such a lo-fi presentation, the music is gritty and raw with a crunchy noisy low end and the vocals sound even more savage and rabies-infested than they might actually be. The torture is solid and relentless, and the sound is massive in parts. At the risk of sounding like a masochist, I hazard the band probably could have added some reverb effects to get a monstrously steamy, hellish steel mine-shaft ambience and a muddy sound. Towards the end the lunar mayhem starts to tire and would probably have fallen apart if the multi-voiced screaming hadn’t started up to keep the torture going. Everyone collapses in a hail of cymbal smasherama and croaking death-rattle. If you’re not feeling drained by this point, you either are not human or (more likely) you collapsed far back during the recording.

If you’re a self-respecting music fan willing to try anything once, you definitely have to try hearing this recording.

Exile: tough and desperate raw BM songs with an individual flavour

The cover artwork is based on a photograph of Arnold Bocklin’s “The Isle of the Dead”; the artist himself painted five versions of the work from 1880 to 1886. Four versions still exist, the fifth version (on which the cover art is based) was destroyed in Berlin during a World War II bombing raid and only the aforementioned black-and-white photograph of it remains.

 

Vrag, Exile, Germany, Schattenkult Produktionen, CD SKP076 (2017)

“Exile” is a very fitting title for Vrag’s most recent recording: in case your name is Rip van Winkle and you’ve just woken up after a very long sleep, Vrag is now a trio who moved some years ago from Sydney to Hobart in Tasmania. Those of you who’ve never heard of Tasmania, it’s an island state of mysterious misty Ice Age landscapes, exotic temperate rainforests, weird animal species that might be extinct or still alive, and a history of European genocide against the original Tasmanian hunter-gatherers, being an island prison for the most hardened criminals and host to Australia’s worst mass murder incident in which 35 people were killed and 23 injured by a lone shooter. Living on an island with such a history and an odd reputation for insularity – it’s the butt of Australian incest jokes, same way as parts of Appalachia are the target of incest jokes among Americans – should suit Vrag with their focus on darkness, alienation and isolation, madness and the band’s contempt for mainstream Western society, its corrupted institutions and the conformity these foster in people.

The band has always served up some of the most raw and aggressive old-school BM with a vicious edge, yet always with an ear for distinctive and punchy rhythms, strong bass lines and the most infectiously catchy melodies. At the same time, they don’t hesitate to use synthesisers and ambient effects like reverb or a cold atmosphere where these can add nuance and an individual flavour to the music and they’re not averse to nicking elements from doom, death, hard rock or folk where these might suit. On “Exile”, Vrag show no signs of flagging or mellowing in this respect: though their overall sound is still a bit thinner than it could be, the songs are still very individual and able to stand on their own as singles if need be, and have a cold, frosty ambience that gives them a rounded, slight three-dimensional feel.

For those keen on raw full-throttle attacking BM aggression there are tracks like “Cold Air” and the ragged, almost punky anthem “Youth Against Christ”. Other tracks have more emphasis on melody, riffs and sometimes a distinct groove. The most interesting songs though are later ones starting with “In the Cold Light of Solitude” where atmospheric BM, hard rock or melancholy doom elements join the raw BM to create fairly complex music pieces. Bass guitar sometimes takes a lead role on “Death Fetish” and staccato guitar riffs and clappy percussion beats appear on the title track. It’s details like these that make “Exile” and other Vrag recordings worth repeated visits.

The album does sound like a collection of songs more than it does a whole work of tracks that might share a common definite lyrical or musical narrative. The fact that most of “Exile” (the album) was recorded way back in 2009 and 2010 may partly explain the anthology nature in which half the album sounds like the work of young hungry musicians with nothing to lose and the other half is more considered and conserves the aggression of quite long songs. While I still think Vrag need a thicker, boomier sound that suits the tough music, there’s plenty of raw savagery and a ragged desperate edge to the self-contained songs.

These guys could be leading comfortable lives writing pop pabulum for reality TV shows claiming to find the next big singer but no, they follow their inner muse where it leads – isn’t this a path more worthy of pursuit?

HØST: a wild ride into the most deranged realms of acid BM fury

 

Holokauston, HØST, New Zealand, The Dark Thursday, digital album TDT71 / Ukraine, Depressive Illusion Records, floppy diskette FNR218 (2017)

As debut extreme / experimental albums go, “HØST” by Holokauston, a one-man BM project based in India, is as mind-destroyingly extreme and bleedingly raw as any I’ve come across before. The music ranges from melodramatic synth-orchestral soundtrack music to primitive punk BM throb and pummel, all shot through with a demented and disturbed genius. As far as I can tell, the album is the work of Holokauston head honcho (and sole member) Arjun Somvanshi who produced it as well. I dunno what conditions Arjun S played under and what the studio was like but whatever, wherever it was, it must be one helluva hellfire-n-brimstone hellish place to be where churning guitars are chopped up into brain-destroying metal shuriken slivers that cut every nerve and every cell connection, the chainsaws wheeze with demon minds of their own, the drums throb and pulse in response to an unholy life force and the entire recording ends up a juddering, broken, psychotic beast on the rampage. Guitars spew industrial-strength liquid acid that corrodes and melts down machinery. Amazing how the fluttery pounding drums quickly take over your own heart beat and force your head and body to judder in time to the insane outpourings as well. The vocals range from angry crabby groaning and demented mutterings to screams and howls.

There do exist moments of the most astonishing clarity in which acoustic guitar melodies flow easily and breathy clear-toned voice sighs but these times are very brief and highlight the unhinged nature of the songs. In these moments, the production is clear and sharp, much better than what I would have anticipated for a self-produced album, probably made at home, in a country (India) where electricity isn’t always reliable and blackouts occur most days. After the album’s halfway point, the songs become much louder and sharper, and a lot more frenzied, so I assume the recording wasn’t all done in one hit. The riffs and melodies are much clearer and the racket turns out to be much more ordered and less chaotic than you might think. Arjun S really does play guitar and drums well and the more I listen to this album, the more cohesive the songs actually are in spite of their looseness.

All the way through you’re treated to a wild and exhilarating ride in sheer crazed acid BM fury but the craziest parts turn out to be the intro and outro title pieces which are truly bat-shit exercises in experimental synth keyboard / piano retarded noodling. I really had a great time with this album – the only downside is when it all ends and I have to readjust to the real world.

Life, Sex and Death: a homage to a Tantric Hindu goddess and what she represents

Kids, don’t try this kind of DIY cosmetic surgery at home …

Cult of Fire, Life, Sex & Death, Czech Republic, Beyond Eyes, CD BE04 (2016)

Judging from the very ornate cover, I presume this mini-album is a celebration of the Tantra Hindu goddess Chhinnamasta – there’s even a track “Chhinnamasta Mantra” which as it says includes the mantra that Tantric devotees chant to attract women – and all that she represents: death, self-destruction / transformation, renewal, sexual energy. In short, the album celebrates the duality of existence: life / death, and the energy that binds it all together. Chhinnamasta the goddess is usually represented as a nude, self-decapitating goddess holding her head in one hand and a sword in the other, with blood spurting out from her neck to be captured by her attendants, and that’s the spectacular sight that greets potential listeners and separates the brave (and maybe the foolish) from the fearful and wary.

As it turns out though, the music is very epic in scope and exhilarating in mood. Its sound is probably a bit too thin and the drums too tinny to do it and its subject matter full justice. The band relies heavily on orchestral synthesiser backing to fill out the music’s sound when a guitars-n-drums set-up, with the appropriate production, could have been enough. The slavering vocals suit the music but reverb robs them of their full horror potential. The music runs the gamut from symphonic to classic minimal BM, melodic post-BM and even shoegazer BM in parts.

The one track that really stands out is the jangly “Chhinnamasta Mantra” for its female vocal chanting the mantra against an accompaniment of shrill jewel-toned guitar, background ambient effects and hand drumming. This has a very beautiful psychedelic sound and the mood is trancey and dream-like. Too bad it’s not long enough and seems to peter out just when you think it should dissolve in a shower of guitar and ambient sparkle effects. While the rest of the album charges with loads of spitfire fury to spare, the songs don’t differ from one another – though I suppose the concept of the album suggests they should all relate to one another and not be too individual – and if it weren’t for non-BM melodic touches like acoustic guitar or sitar in parts, the music would be very monotonous.

Shortcomings aside, this EP is very enjoyable if heard as one continuous work rather than as a set of four songs. Some time in the future it could be reworked with longer trance-like psychedelic music and with a better sound and production so that it celebrates all that Chhinnamasta represents in all her contradictory dualistic glory.

Black Wisdom: taking dissonant black / death metal into dark ambient and prog-rock realms

Grey Heaven Fall, Black Wisdom, Russia, Aesthetics of Devastation, CD AOD-2 (2015)

True it is that French avant-garde black metallers Deathspell Omega have spread their influence widely across the world and across metal genres, and most bands who fallen under DSO’s spell have been content to follow in that band’s shadows and rarely venture beyond to take the Tao of Dissonant Metal into new territories. One band who might prove the exception is Russian trio Grey Heaven Fall on their second album “Black Wisdom” with a despairing message about the nature of God as a capricious, even psychotic and nihilistic being who demands humanity follow Him in His less-than-godly image, only to reject and damn His faithful when they obey His decrees. GHF play a straightforward and melodic song-based style of dissonant black / death metal, very similar to DSO in sound but easier on the ear in its structures and rhythms, with many surprises for those expecting yet more DSO hero worship and nothing else.

The first half of the album plays out in fast-paced minimal black / death style, dominated by grating raspy vocals filled with a mixture of anger, frustration and hopelessness. The long songs reach epic heights of sorrow and tragedy thanks not only to the dense and layered music and the intense emotion in the vocals but also passages of solo lead guitar that deliver even more pathos, as if there was not sadness enough already. The turning point where we start to sense that GHF are staking out their own territory comes with “Sanctuary of Cut Tongues”, a completely dark ambient piece springing from some hitherto hidden depths where black smoky mists block out the light and discourage entry, and only a forlorn guitar and distant chanting are evidence of spirit activity within. From then on, the remaining tracks stand out for their musical diversity: “Tranquility of the Possessed” includes slow doom elements along with the usual blackened death and “That Nail in a Heart” features a passage of downbeat urban blues guitar melody transitioning into a soaring prog-rock lead guitar solo of incredibly dark loneliness, and later a taut but delicate descent into a quiet atmospheric coda after more black / death rumble.

Parts of the album, especially in its second half, could have been edited for length and the production doesn’t quite do the music justice – it’s clear enough but doesn’t bring out the band’s full power. The drums especially don’t seem as thunderous as they should be for such intense and complex music. Apart from these admittedly technical details, the album is a very good and thoughtful effort. GHF certainly have the ambition, vision and technical chops to carve out a long and distinguished career. They do need to have a more distinctive sound away from the DSO worshippers: taking their music into realms of atmospheric, even psychedelic prog-rock might be one way of achieving that.

Flogo de Bort: small deadly release of powerful raw ambient BM

Gnipahålan, Flögo De Bort, Sweden, Ancient Records (2015) / Germany, Purity Through Fire, PTF059 (2016)

Gnipahålan looks like a new group but its two members have long CVs playing in other bands. “Flögo De Bort” is the first of two cassettes Gnipahålan has released so far and consists of two fairly similar-sounding songs. The style is raw and distorted melodic ambient BM dominated by wild raging banshee vocals. The music has a strong garage quality with lots of clanging and clashing cymbals, a strong bass sound and a roaring hellish guitar over the top. Both musicians play as if their very lives depended on playing as fast and chaotically as they can, though both songs are more structured than what initially appears.

Track 1 is a forceful, surging song of blaring drone strings, ever-changing rhythms and beats that sometimes achieve hyper blast-beat levels, and screeching voices that bleed into the music around them. The vocals are not very clear and can be very ragged to the point of disintegrating into loose threads and strips. The song has a desperate mood as it charges madly towards its doomed end. Track 2 is a weeny bit slower with a more limping rhythm and a more settled, less harried feel. The drumming is the most outstanding feature and the guitars boom out overhead. As the song develops, a melancholy mood appears about the halfway point and the screaming seems to be less angry and more agonised.

Both songs are very powerful and moving in their own way, coming out of the speakers like huge waves of full-on guitar bellow, thundering drums and intense emotion. The vocals are a bit thin and restricted in their range for this style of strongly epic raw BM, and the shrieking does get tedious. While two songs might not be enough for folks to make a full judgement call on what Gnipahålan is capable of, beneath the roaring distortion they are quite complex in their rhythms and riffing, and the music expresses emotion surprisingly well.

 

The Irrepassable Gate: an uneven recording with good moments … and some very long ones too …

How does the cliche go? “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here …”

Ash Borer, The Irrepassable Gate, Canada, Profound Lore Records, CD PFL174 (2016)

If you’re thinking “there’s no such word as irrepassable”, well you’re wrong now because US West Coast black metallers Ash Borer have just brought it into being. Go on, is there another word in English that expresses the sense of wanting to pass over or through a threshold or portal, finding yourself stuck, yet being unable to go back, and being possibly condemned to remain in eternal limbo? This is the sense I have with the title of Ash Borer’s most recent album after a long hiatus of three-and-a-half years after the band’s last release. The cover art also conveys an impression of an occult temple entry into another dimension, one that will have a dramatic effect spanning the rest of your life if you dare try to go through; and if you don’t, you’ll remain in a child-like state forever, unable to progress to a higher spiritual level or state of conscious existence.

The title track is a mighty roaring guitar-dominant beast rampaging through its jungle domain, all thudding drums, whining guitar and subterranean growling vocals. The sound is very clear and the style of music is close to very melodic, clean-sounding BM with thrashy elements. Any pretensions to being ambient BM are being left behind and Ash Borer is becoming a full-fledged guitars-n-drums band. This in itself presents a challenge to Ash Borer to convey atmosphere, mood, intense emotion and their full, densely layered style without the help of keyboards. Stretched over 11 minutes, the title track appears a bit one-dimensional as the band concentrates on piling riff upon riff and plows its path speedily and relentlessly, forcing listeners to follow as best they can. The slower, bass-heavy (in its first half anyway)”Lacerated Spirit” is more successful at carving out a three-dimensional sound and distinct atmosphere with feedback drone and an experimental bent. Likewise “Lustration” is another step further into the twilight world promised by the album title with deep drone, repeating guitar strum shrouded with echo and moaning voices and effects suggesting the presence of ancient spirit beings.

The album does have its bombastic moments and at times these and the long passages of never-ending blast-beat drumming, guitar noodling and background demon wailing can start to sound like filler material. There may be some fine melodies and moments where the music is intense and unsurpassable but when songs are very long and get carried away by constant repetitive fidgeting, no matter how technically good that is, such jewels can be missed. Listeners who find the second half of the album something of a drag (I have to say I did) can spend some time with the songs to their halfway points and shoot through to the final track “Lustration II” which is a return to the slower, complex doomy BM style of earlier songs like “Lacerated Spirit”.

As you can guess by now, this album was a very mixed bag of good, avant-rock music and longer scrabbling pieces of endurance-test proportions. The experimental ambient avant-rock style of tracks like “Lacerated Spirit” and the two “Lustration” pieces unfortunately doesn’t extend all the way through and the distinct sounds these have compared to the more straight-ahead melodic BM of the rest of the album make “The Irrepassable Gate” a very uneven recording. Well, Ash Borer didn’t exactly promise us a smooth ride through what may very well be a transition phase in their career. It seems that “The Irrepassable Gate” symbolises a formidable challenge for the band at this crucial moment in their history, whether to advance in a different musical direction or stay as they are, as it is a listening experience for its audiences.