Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mgła - With Hearts Toward None (2012)

Mgła - With Hearts Toward None

Since 2005, Mgła's unique sound has developed a cult following within the black metal underground. With their monumentally excellent EP Mdłości and its quality follow up Further Down the Nest, they refined a song-writing style centered on melodic leads, backed by thick rhythm guitar, varied drumming and deep growls. After four years of silence, they've finally hit us with With Hearts Toward None, the follow up to their 2008 debut album Groza, delivering everything fans have come to expect from the band.

To get my main problem with the album out of the way quickly, With Hearts Toward None follows the style they perfected on Mdłości and Further Down the Nest pretty closely. Mgła's style is unique, but I'd really love to see them expand upon what they do with it. I find it impossible not to compare it to their debut album, Groza, which had more adventurous song writing and a clever use of bass that is unfortunately rare in black metal. While I'm not going to claim that Groza revolutionized black metal, With Hearts Toward None is less exciting in the composition of its songs. This could have something to do with the song lengths; it has 7 songs averaging around 6 minutes, while Groza has 4 songs averaging around 9 minutes each. As such, the album provides less space within each song for variation, so I'm inclined to be forgiving.

Though that's certainly an issue I have with the album, the nuts and bolts of the songs are brilliant. It says a lot about Mgła's song writing that, even if it feels a bit less complicated than Groza's, With Hearts Toward None is still one of the most enjoyable black metal albums I've experienced in recent years. As usual, Mgła's ability to shift from riff to riff is reminiscent of the early works of Darkthrone and Burzum, with each switch feeling like a smooth, natural progression. Their leads provide memorable melodies, with “III” and “V” being some of my favorite in Mgła's catalog. The lead guitars contrast with and compliment the darker rhythm guitar, which make a strong showing. The bass is there, but is less audible and used to lesser effect than in Groza. The rhythm guitars steps in to provide interesting moments instead; they make dramatic showings in “I” and “IV”, and the riffs they play in “II” and “VI” are album highlights. “III” is a good example of the albums subtle strengths; the military snare roll that shows up during the bridge and the solo at the end of the song are stand out. The vocals are as usual excellent, their depth and strength being reminiscent of Mikko Aspa of Deathspell Omega and Clandestine Blaze fame. Their depth gives the songs a sense of invocation that compliments the Orthodox style of black metal they play, and you can even make out the lyrics! The 10 minute long ending track, “VII”, is particularly worth mentioning. As I said, the length of the songs in Groza are to its benefit, and the 10 minutes allotted to “VII” give it the room to breath that gives it a great deal of gravitas. While it may not be my favorite track on the album, it is a worthy finisher.

With Hearts Toward None isn't a step in any new direction for Mgła, but it's listenable in the extreme. Despite the fact that they developed this style expertly on Mdłości, and that Groza's song writing and bass work make it more structurally unique, songs like “III” and “V” prove how utterly enjoyable With Hearts Toward None is. Both old fans of Mgła and those new to them will find much to enjoy here, and Mgła have proved once again that an individual take on the traditional black metal sound can be as interesting and fresh as any experimentation.



Stone Angels- Within the Witch(2011)

Stone Angels- Within the Witch

I really love that cover art.

It was certainly the first thing that stood out to me about Stone Angel's debut LP, Within the Witch. It looks like the dessicated corpse of Yggdrasil exploding from the Earth into a mass field of crucified victims who cry out in pain. It's also perfectly appropriate for the album: blackened and monolithic. Within the Witch does not do anything new or different then any other Sludge/Doom album ever released, but it does pack massive riffs and plenty of atmosphere into tight, heavy tracks.

Musically, Within the Witch is fairly standard yet highly competent Doom/Sludge in the vein of Thou, Burning Witch and Noothgrush, so there are not a whole lot of surprises here. Larger than life riffs, tortured screams and earth-shattering bass drive each song along fairly predictable paths, all performed well and with good energy. It's all fairly standard business as usual type stuff: "Bleeding Black" could easily be an EyeHateGod song with it's groovy riffs and thundering low end, while "Withdrawing the Jinn" has that classic New Orleans-metal charm to it... like EyeHateGod as well really. "White Noise, White Light" takes more from the Burning Witch/Thorr's Hammer style of Sludge/Doom, complete with that occult blackened edge and cavernous vocals.

Where Within the Witch stands out are during those moments of subdued bleakness. During the last few minutes of "White Noise, White Light," the listener is treated to a lovely piece of ambient noise; jarring feedback filters in the distant while a woman whispers indecipherable words, perhaps of evil, perhaps of sorrow. These moments are sadly rare during Within the Witch, and I can't help but hunger for more of them. There is a serious spark of creativity and adventurousness here: "Coffin Cross," by far the strongest track on the album, seethes with Blackened rage, ascending the well trodden paths the rest of the album follows and entering new and exciting territory. It's just too bad that Stone Angels didn't appear interested in following these moments over the entire album, instead choosing to give us lots of EyeHateGod stuff.

Not that there is anything wrong with that: I fucking love EyeHateGod, and even the most worship heavy moments of Within the Witch feel superior to most EyeHateGod worship bands out there today. Stone Angels are an extremely young band, having only formed in 2010 and already with a full-length under their belt. The talent and songwriting skill is here, and it peeks through often enough to give Within the Witch plenty of value. Within the Witch does not live up to this obvious talent, but it gives us a glimpse into a potentially grim future.

Rating: 7.5/10

Cara Neir- Stagnant Perceptions(2011)

Cara Neir- Stagnant Perceptions

Dallas, Texas based Cara Neir have a pretty interesting song writing technique. Take everything you have ever listened to, and play that. It's big, exhaustive and ballsy, but also charming and extremely enjoyable. Stagnant Perceptions can be almost overwhelming in it's diversity, but for the most part maintains a unique identity throughout, even if it doesn't have complete consistency.

At it's most basic, Stagnant Perceptions is a mix of classic Norwegian Black Metal ala Darkthrone, and the more violent, dark and crusty Screamo of acts like Joshua Fit For Battle and Funeral Diner. For some, this will lead to all kinds of retarded whimpering about "trveness" and what not. Those people are fucking stupid: Black Metal has always been about doing what others think is wrong because fuck them for thinking that way, and Stagnant Perceptions is certainly a "fuck you" type record. Classic, by the book Norwegian rawness will suddenly transform into a flurry of melodic Emo riffs before ending in Doom-y repose, all in the same song...specifically "Imperialist Design"... which would be the opening track. "Return to Torquemada" is classic Dissection at the beginning, then shifts to Crossover Thrash without any real warning in awesome fashion. The final track, "Not Enough" sounds like an unholy combination of Daylight Dies and Converge... seriously, that was the only thing I could think of to describe the song. Stagnant Perceptions could be described as spastic, and in a way it is with how often genre's shift over the albums eleven tracks. But it also really isn't all that spastic, as each individual shift feels natural and well written, not merely chaotic for the sake of chaos.

It's damn impressive, but also likely too much for some. I can easily see some listeners losing patience with Stagnant Perceptions because of how all over the place it is. Sometimes even I was a little annoyed with just how much stuff was going on. It can certainly be difficult to keep up with all of it, but Stagnant Perceptions songwriting is mostly strong enough to over-come the wide open nature of Cara Neir's style. It's a style that while a bit cumbersome is also perfectly fearless and without cynicism. Cara Neir sound like a band that actually love music; not just the esoteric concept of musical creativity, but actual music that has been recorded by other artists. One can hear a real passion for the various crusty, dark and inherently nihilistic music that only a select few of us can ever really enjoy. Stagnant Perceptions is an album for those who love noisey shit that your parent's still fucking hate. So many fans of Metal and Punk run away from those concepts, become embroiled in endless battles for the legitimacy of Extreme Music as art and become cynical pseudo-fans who would rather bicker then listen. There is no generational musical disenfranchisement on Stagnant Perceptions, only pure emotion and chilling bleakness.

Rating: 8/10

Download Cara Neir- Stagnant Perceptions At "Name Your Price" Rates Here.

And seriously, no fucking 0$ bids. The album is self-released, so all the money goes to the band.