Thursday, August 30, 2012

Review Round-Up: Raw as Fvck in the VSA

This whole review thing can be a real pain in the ass.  For one, you always need to be on top of the newest releases, yet because of this annoying little thing that keeps forcing me to do things like go to work and bathe, I never have any time to review them. I think it's called "real life" or something, and I'm not too fond of it.  Unfortunately, homelessness limits my Wi-Fi options, otherwise I would sleep in the alley behind the grocery store and listen to obscure shitty Black Metal albums all day, stopping only occasionally to fight off the packs of feral cats.  We all can dream...

The Rain in Endless Fall- Weald of Introspection(2011-2012)

Hailing from Portland, Oregon, The Rain in Endless Fall is the second project of Lord Vast and Grond Nefarious, also of Wylve and the masterful Blut Der Nacht.  With a more Depressive Black Metal slant, The Rain in Endless Fall are not as powerful and primitive as Blut Der Nacht, but it's still a solid project.  Grimm yet oddly melodic, Weald of Introspection does offer some uniqueness in its structure: the opening track "Ashes Left of a Flame That Once Burned Within" is the true song, the final three tracks making up a solid grimm outro of acoustic guitar passages and the hypnotic whispers of rainfall.  It's still pretty standard stuff, but well played and perfectly produced to satisfy your cravings for cold, thin, frozen Black Metal.

Rating: 7/10

Wylve- Wylve(2012)

And here we have Wylve's debut s/t demo, which isn't all the different from the stuff done by The Rain in Endless Fall: melodic, atmospheric and raw.  There is a bit more speed here, but it's all about the repetition and cold, frozen atmosphere.  It's also the cleanest material this duo have produced, but whether that's a good or a bad thing depends on personal preference.  Truth is, neither of this projects hold a candle to Blut Der Nacht, but then again few bands in modern Raw Black Metal do.

Rating: 6.5/10

Grinning Death's Head- Golden Dawn(2012)

Grinning Death's Head have been teetering the line between primitive, skull fucking Black Metal and sloppy, unlistenable Crust Punk better then just about anyone else since their 2008 debut demo, and Golden Dawn isn't much of a departure from the bands previous material.  Brain-injury may result from the raw, incomprehensible production, but sifting through the static waves of pain reveals a deep under-current of crusty, filthy riffs and ruinous, tortured screams.  Songs are simple and catchy, breaking bones and rending flesh with an effective mid-paced tempo, but I imagine the production will scare away more then a few listeners.

Rating: 7.5/10

Torture Chain- Time is But a Doorway to the Incinerator(2012)

If one band in modern Black Metal can make a claim to being the next Darkthrone, my vote would go to Torture Chain hands down.  Easily one of the finest projects in Black Metal today, Torture Chain are a defining modern act, and Time is But a Doorway to the Incinerator is 23 minutes of frozen bliss.  Equal parts unchained aggression and spine-tingling melody, Time devastates the very air, turning into a toxic, flesh-melting mist.  It's all heavily inspired by Norwegian masters as the aforementioned Darkthrone, Mayhem and even a bit of Emperor, but it also brings a bit of that American spirit to the song-writing with it's  crusty, powerful guitar sound and full-throated vocal attack.  Time is easily the bands best material since the nearly flawless Humbling Isolation Terror, and a must listen

Rating: 8.5/10

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Nightbringer/Acherontas-The Ruins of Edom (2012)

Nightbringer/Acherontas-The Ruins of Edom

Considering that I have been voraciously devouring anything and everything American black metal luminaries Nightbringer have put out since the day Lucifer Trismegistus first viciously carved the sigils of Satan unto my unsuspecting mortal form, it is needless that amid a sea of terrific releases I was anticipating this year, this was high upon the list.  Nightbringer is, quite simply, one of the greatest American black metal bands currently still in operation, utilizing vile yet grandiose riffing that takes the usual chthonic atmosphere of black metal to a far more dangerous level.   Acherontas too, is no mere acolyte in the scene, crafting darkly melodic overtures that draw heavily upon the riffs of such Swedish legends as Dissection and Necrophobic, while adding a more dissonant aspect that puts them firmly in the “Orthodox” black metal camp. 

The resulting split could in some sense be considered a display of consistency on both bands’ part, yet I could not help but feel that for me personally, it represented the hitting of a creative rut that most great bands eventually stumble upon in their careers.  The split opens on the Nightbringer side with a cavernous, ritualistic dark ambient piece that serves as an effective, haunting introduction to Mare, the first true metallic track on the release.  In the tried and true spirit of a Nightbringer song, tremolo-picked melodies whirl (dare I say waltz?) like possessed dervishes over a blood-soaked mountaintop, equal parts nocturnal and blistering, while blasting drums simultaneously hammer away at the foundations of your sanity. 

The race towards perdition eventually slows down and culminates in a paean of dark triumph, providing a satisfying conclusion to this blasphemous assault.  While Mare was undoubtedly the most enjoyable piece on the split for me, in the end it still felt like an inferior rehashing of the scorching style they had perfected on Apocalypse Sun, albeit with every element that made the latter release great toned-down and condensed into more accessible form.  The song’s relative predictability and straightforward song structure ended up only making me crave the more mystical, jarring realms of their past releases, despite it being in all regards a solid track.

That being said, the second Nightbringer track would prove far more lackluster in form.  The Grave-Earth’s Son drags itself into nonexistence with its lack of song dynamics and plodding pace.  While similar, slower numbers had worked well for Nightbringer in the past through the sheer majesty of their melodic fervor, Grave-Earth’s Son simply just sits there and stews in menace, but ultimately doesn’t deliver the conclusive bite that would have made the song stand out for me.  While certainly not lacking in the trademark Nightbringer atmosphere, the song proved to be a narrative to nowhere, not aggressive or purposeful enough for its own good. 

After another long dark ambient interlude that, while serving its purpose effectively, felt anticlimactic as the epilogue of a below-average Nightbringer performance, it’s finally Acherontas’s turn to spread their miasma over hallowed ground.  And they do so, in great form.  Layil is a monstrous track that takes the mystical diabolism of Vamachara and adds a degree of dissonant urgency not unlike what we have heard in French luminaries Deathspell Omega’s work.  The riffs are relentless in their shifting nature and pummel the listener like molten meteorites.  Yet they never become too convoluted for their own good, and ultimately serve as mere conduits for a powerful atmosphere of unearthly blackness.  The track eventually pulls itself into a subtle yet beautiful melodic riff that draws this symphony of darkness to a close.  In contrast to Naas Alcameth’s monstrous howls however, Acherontas’s vocalist seemed rather meek, especially in the context of Layil’s more bombastic nature.  This minor irritant only slightly detracted from my overall appreciation of the track. 

Alas, the moment of triumph is all too ephemeral, as the Acherontas side draws to a close with yet another ambient outro that seems all too anticlimactic.  In the end, The Ruins of Edom falls prey to its own lack of ambition, yet is framed in a grandiose manner that belies the rather brief moments of triumph within its enclosure.  While the release does contains its flashes of brilliance, I cannot help but feel that so much more could have been accomplished through this unholy alliance.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Witchrist- The Grand Tormentor(2012)

Witchrist- The Grand Tormentor

New Zealand's Witchrist first caught my attention with their debut LP Beheaded Ouroborous: a vile progeny or the corpophagous swarm, slithering and sulking beneath the black, dead soil, searching for the sickeningly sweet scent of Death.  It was easily one of the most impressive and enjoyable debuts I have ever had the pleasure to listen to, and left me craving for more.  How surprised I was then that The Grand Tormentor was able to sneak up on me: it hit the distros and blogosphere before I even knew what was happening.  Needless to say, once I got my hands on the album, I was salivating at the chance to be enveloped in the bands next nightmarish evolution.

Sadly, The Grand Tormentor merely reacquainted me with the evils of high expectations.  The album didn't even sound like the Witchrist I knew and loved: instead of the horrifying stew of Archgoat, Incantation and Beherit I was expecting to dine upon, I instead received a pile of ground Bolt Thrower-meets-Asphyx chuck, raw and covered in flies.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but also not what I signed up for either.  Truth is, The Grand Tormentor is a perfectly fine album in it's own right.  The production is wonderful: powerful and static-riddled, each riff landing with sledge-hammer force.  The songwriting also holds up to scrutiny: an easy mix of groove and Doom that will no doubt satisfy big fans of Bolt Thrower and Benediction.  Needless to say, it's got riffs: "Cast Into Fire" is short. groove-laden and heavy, and will no doubt get heads banging and mosh pits thundering, while "The Tomb" will draw many favorable comparisons to Asphyx with it's slow,   monstrous pace and underpinnings of creepy melody.  The Grand Tormentor works well for what it is.

And this is also my biggest issue with the album: The Grand Tormentor is a pretty massive departure from the bands previous work, so much so that I just can't get behind it.  It may not be objective, but then again music is never truly objective: the value of personal preference is vastly under stated when it comes to the analysis of any album, and disingenuous attempts to curtail it's importance are frankly obnoxious.  I simply cannot get into The Grand Tormentor precisely because it is such a massive departure from a direction I vastly preferred.  Gone is the atmosphere and dessicated bleakness of Beheaded Ouroborous, replaced with groovy-riffs and monotonous guttural grunts.  Many have complained about the bands new vocalist, known as Void, because he lacks the range and rawness of the bands previous vocalist Impecator(these two must have been tortured as children with such names...).  I am not one of these people per-se: Void is a very competent growler, and his style fits perfectly with the bands new direction.  My issue with his vocal attack comes from my problem with the band new direction more than his performance.

It's true, "Occult" Black/Death like Witchrist played on albums like Beheaded Ouroborous and Curses of Annihilation has become pretty trendy in Death Metal.  There are a veritable sea of bands dabbling in occult mysterious and impious practices right now, and I can understand any band wanting to separate themselves from the scene.  But why jump from one trendy sound to another?  There are just as many "Old-Skull Death Methul" bands rehashing played out Bolt Thrower and Asphyx riffs as there are grimm, lo-fi C'thulhu Cultists mucking about, so I really don't understand the change.  And at least the "Occult" Black/Death movement is a new one, born from a revival of classic Death and Black Metal perhaps, but none the less a new phenomenon.  Everything about The Grand Tormentor(no doubt a reference to Benediction's The Grand Leveller) feels watered down, from the musical approach to the artwork to the song titles.  The Grand Tormentor will no doubt appeal to a larger audience, but it's also missing something that the bands previous work had in spades: personality.

Much like recent albums from Undergang and Cruciamentum, Witchrist have toned down their evil in favor of a more accessible, well-worn sound.  And like those recent releases, The Grand Tormentor is a solid album for what it is.  And what it is exactly is a large step back, away from downward progression into true nihilism and instead into well tread paths of various beloved forebears.  Competency can only get this album so far, but those who are looking for a head-banging good time should seek out The Grand Tormentor.  For me, I'll wait for more intoxicating whispers from the dark.

Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Review Round-Up : Dissonant Fields

It's been a while since I've done a review round-up, but I found myself dealing with four separate albums that shared way too many similarities of influence: Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord and Ulcerate.  So rather then be all redundant and shit(you guys all hate that), a few mini-reviews seemed in order.

Azoic- Gateways(2012)

It doesn't get more fresh then this: a brand new duo from Iceland(though both members have plenty of experience), Azoic have released a damn fine debut with Gateways.  It's not exceptionally original: if you have heard anything from Deathspell Omega, Ulcerate or Blut Aus Nord(or just about any current "Orthodox" Black Metal band or modern "Atmospheric" Death Metal band), you have heard much of what Gateways has to offer.  The strength of the album comes with the details: the production is thick and warm, featuring brilliantly ethereal vocals and a rich, full guitar sound.  Gateways consistently mixes up the intensity and tempo, and it's fairly effortless in it's atmosphere while remaining highly technical and aggressive.  It may be little more then the sum of it's influences, but Gateways works and works well.

Rating: 8/10

Beyond Terror, Beyond Grace- Nadir(2012)

I just don't get this album.

Beyond Terror, Beyond Grace were once one of the better young Techgrind acts around, and seemed well on their way toward joining the elite of that genre.  Then comes this massive shift in sound, and a massive down-shift in quality: Nadir is not a bad album per-se, so much as a just terribly boring one.  Nadir feels like a practice recording, a band toying with a massive change is style and getting the feel for the genre.  These moments have their place, but not on a major release.  Nadir has a few individual riffs and moments where things pick up, but the tempo remains consistent most of the album, the production mix is atrocious and the vocals do not fit the new style in anyway.  Nadir is an ugly, incomplete-feeling album that struggles to find a voice in a crowded, trendy genre... a rehearsal recording dressed up as a full-length album.

Rating: 4/10

Dodecahedron- Dodecahedron(2012)

No album has been more polarizing for me then Dodecahedron.  The part of me that craves adventure, creativity, originality and personality wants to love Dodecahedron for the experimental, genre-bending tornado that it is.  While featuring a dozen or so obvious influences, particularly Deathspell Omega, Dodecahedron never becomes reliant on these influences to justify itself.  From the first note to the last, the album pushes as many boundaries as it can, and quickly as it can.  Mixing elements of Death Metal, Black Metal, Prog Rock and Post-Rock, Dodecahedron is the kind of album that would normally get me all hot and bothered.

Unfortunately, Dodecahedron is equally as limp-wristed as it is progressive.  A strange complaint perhaps: it seems likely that this Netherlands five-piece weren't really trying to crack open too many skulls or slaughter too many innocents with this album.  Yet this particular reviewer still laments the total loss of aggression and intensity in the search for genre-decimating technicality and progressiveness, and it makes Dodecahedron a major missed opportunity for me. It also doesn't help that the vocals are... well, bad.  Anaal Nathrakh bad.

Rating: 6.5/10

Esoterica- Idololatriae(2012)

Like Azoic, Esoterica are another oven-fresh two piece(US based), and their new EP Idololatriae is fairly solid.  It's a very similar album to Gateways, though it also features the strongest modern Blut Aus Nord vibe of all the albums featured here.  It's another slab of thick, warm and technical Atmospheric Black/Death that isn't strikingly original, but works for what it is.  "Dilated" in particular stands out as a dissonant wall of noise, though this track also stands head and shoulders over the rest of the album.  Solid and acceptable.

Rating: 7/10


Deathspell Omega- Drought(2012)

Since their shadow looms large over this entire post, it seems appropriate that we touch on the brand new EP from the masters themselves.  They need no real introduction: Deathspell Omega are without a doubt one of the defining Extreme Music acts of this, or any, generation.  Whether every note fills you with intense love or sickening hate, Deathspell Omega have always held great power, regardless of how many times they made drastic, explosive changes to their sound.

Until now anyway.  Drought is an appropriate album title: it's dry all right, in both new ideas and evil.  Imagine Paracletus, merely devoid of any real Black Metal sensibilities, and you have Drought.  It has far more in common with the progressive, Proggy Death Metal of acts like In Mourning or Fallujah then anything else, complete with a butchered production sound.  At times, through sheer force of musical prowess, Drought begins to show some life: regardless of genre, the members of Deathspell Omega are some of the finest musicians in the world and Drought proves it unequivocally.  Yet it was always the song-writing that made Deathspell Omega truly great: a black fog of un-life, filling the air with electricity and suffering beyond compare.  Drought evokes none of these images, drenched in Prog and unimpressive melody, seemingly trying to get by on technical prowess and nothing else.

It's not a devastating blow to the legacy of Deathspell Omega by any means: it is more slight and forgettable then truly disastrous.  Deathspell Omega have always sought new ground for each individual album to stand, and truthfully Drought is yet again a new direction for the band musically.  It was an album of calculated risks, and when a band takes risks, no matter their talent or history, they are capable of a mis-step.  Drought is a failure, but an admirable one.

Rating: 5/10