Thursday, September 26, 2013

Bölzer- Aura(2013)

Bölzer- Aura


If you find yourself at a loss for words after spinning Aura, the devastating and fresh EP from Switzerland's resident warlocks Bölzer, you are certainly not alone.  Aura is an album with a sound and sense of style no other has been able to obtain, and stands as one of Death Metal's most unique and mystifying records.  It's heaviness is matched only by the controlled but adventurous creativity, and both are completely dwarfed by the sheer sonic mass of it's riffs; all a galactic force of sheer density and dynamic melody  The second "Entranced by the Wolfshook" begins to soar from your speakers like a comet streaking across a blood red and black sky, leaving in it's wake ominous omens of apocalypse, you'll fully understand what you are listening to hasn't been attempted before.  It's exciting, and even more so worth experiencing first hand.

Bölzer has built the very essence of Aura around brilliant guitar work and flawless song-writing.  I've already described the riffs as monolithic, and to be honest there are a dozen other adjectives I could throw at them: titanic, haunting, oddly beautiful, captivating.  It goes without saying that Aura is the great guitar driven album of the year, and it a swirling mass of Blackened Death Metal which has no real analog in the rest of the scene.  Aura is at it's heart a very old-school sounding album.  Possessing little in the way of blast beats and no ambient keyboard or electronic noises, Aura feels like an album from the early years of Death Metal with it's supreme emphasis on riffs, riffs, and more riffs.  Yet Aura also feels alien; it's creativity borders on dangerous and challenging to the established song-writing in the scene.  Imagine Incantation and Asphyx had launched Onward to Golgotha and Last One on Earth into space, where it was discovered by an alien intelligence possessing the technology to use sound as a way to rip planets into pieces for some demented astrological property management.  Imagine that they wrote their own Death Metal album after absorbing these albums for a decade and added their own utterly inhuman flavor to it, then sent the sheet music to Switzerland in a pod which I imagine both HzR and KzR discovered. Aura seems like their near perfect attempt to translate this inconceivable creation with pathetic human instruments.

I like the space theme here, because Aura has the sort of expansive and riff driven sound which brings to mind early Post-Sludge masters Neurosis and Isis and the thundering and classic domination of Celtic Frost.  There are so many potential influences here, and they are all melted down and folded together to form a steel that cannot be broken; it will slice through your flesh with the ease of the metaphorical knife into the metaphorical flesh-butter.  This is all aided by the perfect tendons which hold the musculature of the album together: the drumming is effective and unobtrusive, and it bears mentioning again how nice it is not being assaulted by endless blast-beats.  The production is expansive, spacey and raw, yet even and incredibly full throated; Aura sounds fucking great, especially on vinyl(this is the kind of record made with wax in mind.)  And the vocals are second only to the riffs in pure power and effectiveness; KzR mixes a solid guttural growl with a strong mid-register scream, but he really shines with his moaning, tortured clean yells.  When KzR starts torturing his throat over this tsunami-sized riffs, it really drives home the Neurosis influence on Aura, though Blackend Death Metal remains the core of the albums sound.  This is an album which can bring together the trve and the false together for some fascinating pillow talk.

Whether listening to the gorgeous "Entranced by the Wolfshook," with its addicting and hook laden riffs full to bursting with dissonance and melody, or being crushed under the massive weight and repetition of "The Great Unifier," an unholy nightmare mash of Deathspell Omega, Incantation and Neurosis, you can feel the weight and power of each track work their way to your very core.  It leads to an incredible gushing of pure Metal-fucking-joy; Aura got me excited about fucking Metal like I was 13 years old again and just discovering heavier music for the first time.  I imagine Aura has that effect on many listeners, including putting fucking in front of Metal every time you say it, write it or think it.  Considering the cynacism of elder-status as a Metal fan, Aura accomplished something that not a whole lot of albums accomplish.  Perfection?  No.  Fucking Metal?  Verily.  Experience it.  I'll see you in the void.

Rating: 9.5/10

Friday, September 13, 2013

Ogdru Jahad- I

Ogdru Jahad- I

A savage and bestial grind from beginning to end, Ogdru Jahad's I is an album which fits comfortably into the mechanically putrid rot and filth of the scene, going through the ritualistic motions for a solid, uninspiring 30 minutes.  Complete with blasphemous artwork and Lovecraftian references, I is an album as predictable as it ugly, minus of course the brilliant cover art, though this is another staple of the scene that shouldn't be surprising, or the limited edition clear vinyl the album comes on(only 200 copies of course).

That's the thing about I that I find far more fascinating; its an album that feels like it was created in some sort of Ross Bay Cult-styled atomic generator which is pushing out filth encrusted, bullet-belted abominations in droves.  I itself couldn't be a more basic album; it sounds like Blasphemy, Conqueror and Archgoat, with hints of Thrash and First Wave Black Metal mixed in for extra credibility.  It features no unique traits to speak of, other than perhaps a  pair of songs which sound like they feature the same exact riff played only slightly differently in "Unholy Blessings" and "Empty Jehovah."  There are some killer tracks to be sure, with the groovy and barbaric "Weeping of Angels" and the utterly uncompromising and blistering "Necromantic Rites" standing out a solid highlights.  "Necromantic Rites" in particular features a hint of dissonance and mildly complex song structure, though it's fleeting and the grind will overwhelm all originality before the end.

What's more fascinating about I is how neatly in fits into the current Bestial Black/Death scene; another "super group" release featuring members of a dozen other bands including the mighty Lucitation and Sadomator.  It features glorious cover art courtesy of Alexander L Brown, whose done the artwork for dozens of other similar albums.  It's released on one of the premiere labels for such albums in Iron Bonehead Productions, and comes in both black and limited edition clear vinyl(it's since been released on CD as well).  You can check the boxes both sonically and culturally with I and neatly place in on the bookshelf in between your Gods of War re-press and your H.P. Lovecraft biography, never to be listened to after a few initial spins again and more than likely to end up on for triple what was paid for it new 5 years from now.

In an of itself, Odgru Jahad's I is an inoffensive album which has some limited visceral intensity, but it's an album so comfortable and safe that it feels stale and bland right out of the gate.  From the very second the opening sample fades out and the opening riff slices through the air, the next 30 minutes is laid out directly in front of you, the bloody puzzle pieces stitched together smoothly.  No bumps, no pauses and no mercy.  And no fun.

Rating: 5.5/10

Friday, July 12, 2013

Vemod- Venter på stormene(2012)

Vemod- Venter på stormene

Ethereal and twisted, Venter på stormene provides a hypnotic back drop of dissonant, melodic guitars and tortured, emotional vocals.  The Norwegian two-piece combine snippets of the primitive Second Wave sound, particularly influenced by Burzum and Ulver but also a bit of Darkthrone, with a heavily modern Ambient Black Metal deluge inspired by the genre's titans.  It's not revolutionary nor is it deserving of exhalation, but fans of the genre will find much to love about Venter på stormene twisting forest paths and screaming dead lost in the fog.

 Above all other adjectives to describe Venter på stormene, hypnotic would be at the top of the list; be careful blasting this record while driving along a sorrowfully alone highway in the dead of night, because you'll likely be coming face to face with a ditch(I nearly did).  A whispering, hollow and noisy production sound combines with inescapable repetition to cast upon the listener an all encompassing trance that is difficult to break.  The vocals are overwhelming, mixing shrieks, moans, guttural growls and effective clean singing to further intensify the atmosphere, while the highly repetitive drumming provides the foundation for this dreamscape of ice and fire.

Those looking for Black Metal which predicates itself on ultra tight, fast moving musicianship and lots of complexity will struggle to find much of value with Venter på stormene, but Vemod do a very good job of adding some Second Wave grime and brutality to their sorrowful, melodic sound.  The title track and second track, "Ikledd evighetens kappe" both feature a strong foundation of blast beats, throat ripping vocals, slithering bass and shrieking, thin guitars to go with the ambient, soaring compositions used to break up the endless, mechanical repetition.

Mechanical, but powerful and emotional at the same time.  Truly the strength of Venter på stormene comes from this facet of it's sound; despite the overall lack of complexity and the bare-bones content of the songs, Venter på stormene is an emotional, profound experience.  It's the very back-bone of the Ambient Black Metal sound, but far too many new artists utterly fail to achieve any sort of real emotion.  Often, they sound more like a boring art-house Drone project for their college performance art class than a truly absorbing Black Metal beast, but Vemod have clearly mastered this concept on Venter på stormene, while developing a sound which should appeal to a more diverse group of Black Metal fans.

That said, "Altets tempel" is a complete waste of track; mostly a collection of various Ambient Black Metal tropes that don't involve any of kind of Black Metal, but instead a grouping of generic melodic leads and keyboard work.  At nearly 13 minutes long, it sucks the energy that the previous two tracks electro-charged the room with.  These incredibly boring, lazy compositions are far to common in the genre and a major black eye for Venter på stormene.  The final track, "A stige blant stjerner" is a stronger ambient piece, featuring more straight up Black Metal and some strong melodic leads, but it likes energy and power overall.

Such as it is, Venter på stormene is still a fine overall album.  The failings of it's second half do little to diminish the raw intensity and profound introspection of the first half, and in the right atmosphere this album will simply cast a spell of confusion and dreams over you that is nearly impossible to break.  Fans of this genre, and purists looking for something more dynamic while still firmly entrenched in the old ways of the Fatherland of Oslo will find appeal in Venter på stormene's rotted, ice-tortured orchards and hard, lifeless soil which glows an unholy twilight across the night sky.

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Antediluvian- λόγος(2013)

Antediluvian- λόγος
Few bands receive as much universal praise and are endowed with as many accolades as the mighty Antediluvian, and deservedly so.  The bands last two releases, Through the Cervix of Hawaah and the brilliant split with Adversarial Initiated in Impiety as Mysteries, have set the standard for atmospheric, suffocating Occult Black/Death; terrifying and twisted in ways few artists have been able to match while developing a sound which sits on wholly unique ground.  Its been a truly horrendous transformation for an artist which started out as merely another Incantation-clone, and as λόγος(Logos) shows, it is a metamorphosis which is not yet complete.
Its a very subtle evolution on λόγος from the bands two previous albums; crushing, massive Black/Death riffs, twisted progressions, wild and chaotic drumming tempos and Nabucodnosor's squishy guttural vocals are still the centerpiece of Antediluvian's sound and λόγος is no exception from the bands two previous releases.  The devil is(probably literally) in the details here; λόγος is a more technical, chaotic, avant-garde release than I was really expecting from these Canadians.  While Through the Cervix and Initiated in Impiety had these inhuman, disjointed chaotic moments, they were tempered by plenty of rhythmically un-obtuse sections and lots of Doom-y repose.  Yet these moments have almost completely disappeared from λόγος, and instead the album is dominated by the gnarled and truculent compositions, creating a level of density few albums possess.
Its probably seems insane to think of anything from Antediluvian as "catchy," but going back to Through the Cervix in particular I was struck by just how many memorable many of the tracks were.  The crushing grooves of "Luminous Harvest" and the blistering yet simple assaults of "Turquoise Harvest" could really stick with you well after the fact, and despite the albums truly insane moments and thick atmosphere it was an album which felt grounded in good old fashion neck snapping Death Metal.  λόγος on the other hand is far more relentless and rhythmically chaotic: the drumming of Mars Sekhmet is far more turbulent and disjointed, and rarely is there ever a moment to hang your hat on, while the noisy elements of Antediluvian's sound have far exceeded previous releases.  Her performance on the kit is daunting to be sure, and those looking for neck surgery are the only ones who should even attempt to do anything even close to head bang.
The subtly of this is key here, and λόγος still feels and sounds very much like an Antediluvian release.  "The Ash and the Stars" twists and turns in the hurricane winds, and evokes the nightmares of ancient spirits with dissonant leads and swirling riffs.  "Nuclear Crucifixion(Turning the Spear Inward)" has some of the few remnants of catchiness and memorability left on this album, though it would have been the most chaotic track on Through the Cervix; it has some driving Incantation-style tremolo-picked assaults and some softer, less compositionally dense moments that offer a small reprieve from the onslaught.  "Towers of Silence" is truly an abomination, a bleak and devastating slice of Blackened Death Metal with perhaps the most ironic title ever, as the density and noise on this track is simply overwhelming.
If I can levy any major complaints at λόγος, they lie with the production: the drum sound is very hollow and while balanced with the mix seem loud, especially the snare, and the guitars sound much thinner and uglier than the warmness of Through the Cervix or Initiated in Impiety.  With how chaotic and dense the drumming is, the drum sound can become very obnoxious.  Its not a bad production mix per-se, but in comparison to previous releases this might be my least favorite since the bands early, nearly unlistenable demo material.
But from a song writing perspective, I find λόγος to be a slightly inferior album to Through the Cervix of Hawaah.  I find myself impressed with the bands continued foray to relentless chaos and utter hatred for their listeners, but part of me misses those truly memorable moments of the past.  I get far too much of a Portal vibe from λόγος, and while this album quite easily destroys anything that Portal have ever released on every conceivable level, it still suffers from too much noise and inhuman tempos to be truly enjoyable all the time.  λόγος offers more good than bad to be sure, but be prepared for an album which will quite literally hate you to death.
Rating: 8.5/10

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Consummation- Consummation(2012)

Consummation- Consummation

As if the Australian Death and Black Metal scene was not strong enough, loaded with a veritable All-Pro group of musicians and bands, here comes the mysterious and slithering mass known as Consummation with their brilliant, haunting and dissonant s/t debut.  Featuring a pair of mighty Satanic hymns for truly unclean worship of old spirits whose names cannot be uttered, Consummation is one of those brilliant little releases that despite it's minuscule running time delivers more than many full-length albums.  Everything here works, from the song writing to the musicianship to the production, making Consummation a little masterpiece whose value is diminished only by it's format.

"Heautontimoroumenos" shows off the strongest elements of Consummation's sound right off the bat: hazy, dissonant and mildly technical riffing, thundering and massive drums, earth shattering low end and vicious, tortured vocals which run the gauntlet of shrieks, guttural growls and deathly moans.  Consummation has a sound firmly rooted in the Australian Black/Death style, but flourishes of other influences shine through from time to time, whether it's the squirming and swimming dissonant leads and "pulpit preaching" vocal patterns that bring to mind later Funeral Mist or the Celtic Frost like moments of Doom-laden, percussion driven madness, and all of these elements are present on "Heautontimoroumenos";  The thundering percussion in particular reminds me of the Celtic Frost song "Dawn of Meggido" from To Mega Therion.  A better combination of spine-tingling solos and sheer face melting blackness you will not find, and this track without question the stronger of the two.

"Rend the Ain Soph" has a very strong Orthodox Black Metal vibe to it, featuring a near impenetrable wall of dissonant fuzz and unholy vocal assaults.  The drumming here is phenomenal, absolutely leveling the listener with power and control.  I wouldn't be surprised if many a drum head needed replacing, because each strike of the snare or tom feels like a battering ram demolishing a castle gate.  Everything works in brilliant conjunction to create a dense, foggy atmosphere; a ritual of burning flesh in a desiccated cathedral where nothing holy remains.  "Rend the Ain Soph" isn't quite as catchy or as head-bangingly brutal as "Heautontimoroumenos," but you'll still feel as though you bathed in blood and goat urine by the time it ends.

Consummation doesn't really have enough meat on it to truly transcend into classic territory, but the quality of the limited quantity cannot be denied.  Finding a way to stand out in the Australian Black/Death Metal scene is no easy task, but Consummation stands as one of the more impressive debuts I've heard.  It's serpentine song-structures, effortless atmosphere and commanding, unique sound is refreshing and highly enjoyable, and makes this a demo well worth your time and money.

Rating: 8.5/10

Check The Effect- The Instant Queue Challenge

So my younger brother has his new blog, The Effect, the new version of his old blog The Polibus Effect, and The Great Netflix Instant Queue Challenge is underway.  I'll be writing film reviews for the Challenge, so be sure to check it out and see what's going down.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Knelt Rote- Trespass(2012)

Knelt Rote- Tresspass

Few albums are as relentlessly, appallingly heavy as Trespass, the third album from Portland, Oregon spine snappers Knelt Rote.  A group I'm not intimately familiar with, Knelt Rote apparently started as a Noisegrind side project for a group of well traveled Oregon musicians before metamorphosing into a new, equally savage and noisy though far less avant-garde beast.  With Incantation worship having been all the rage for many years(though this seems to have begun to die down slightly), Knelt Rote have found a far more creative and chaotic way to emulate them: by mixing in and equal amount of blistering Grindcore into the tremolo-and-Doom formula of the Old New Yorkers.  It's certainly an interesting concept, and one that surprisingly works despite what appears to be an oil-and-water mixture.

Perhaps the strongest aspect of Trespass is that Knelt Rote find a way to, for the most part, organically mix the two disparate styles without having songs fall into that "this part sounds like A band, this part sounds like B band" formula so many bands use.  It's always impressive when an artist can instead create a synthesis, combing the essence of both styles into a single uniform approach, and throughout Trespass we see this unholy matrimony in full effect.  The final track, "Catalepsy," is without question the strongest example of this union and the strongest track on the record, a dissonant and blasting track which mixes unholy Blackened riffs with relentless drumming, driving tempo and disjointed, demonic vocals to create that wondrous swirling effect that Incantation so completely mastered while moving at speeds far more reminiscent of Napalm Death or early Carcass.  "Hunger" has a more Grind focused approach, bringing some Pig Destroyer-esque chaos and mildly technical riffing before transforming into another driving, Blackened nightmare.  I was somewhat surprised by the complexities on display here, and like many of their peers such as Adversarial and Muknal, there is some subdued but tangible technical flourishes throughout Trespass which offer a nice contrast to the musty and murky invocations and sledgehammer blasting.

Just don't expect a ton of variety or a consistent atmosphere with Trespass.  Though certain tracks stand out over others, there isn't a great deal here to differentiate the individual tracks from one another, and at times Trespass develops a droning quality that clashes with the chaotic and static-riddle madness.  It's an album which can work you into a lull of concentration without ever finding a way to hook you back in, yet the loud snare often grinds against the backdrop of the coiling riffs and creates a somewhat disjointed contrast.  And all this relentless brutality can at times eviscerate the strongest elements of the record: the atmosphere.  Incantation did not become one of the greatest Death Metal bands, or one of the most influential, by being the most brutal or relentless band.  They did it by creating an atmosphere which truly evoked a dream-like state of demonic possession, one where bathing in the madness and the nightmares made you feel the music on a different level.  With all of it's fury and fire, Trespass can force you in and out of this trance in a jarring way.

Still, it's hard to find much overwhelming fault with Trespass.  The sheer fact that Knelt Rote have discovered a creative and original way to take use those Incantation elements that doesn't fit into either banal worship or occult naval-gazing is worthy of praise if nothing else.  You simply won't find another album which sounds exactly like Trespass, and it's an album of excessive extremes and suffocating barbarity that will not suffer survivors.  If you take this album head on, be ready to search the dirt for your teeth.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, April 29, 2013

Cultes Des Ghoules- Henbane(2013)

Cultes Des Ghoules- Henbane

The Polish Necro Warlocks of Cultes Des Ghoules are back, and this time they a more learned, cunning and sadistic force for the dark arts, acting as His(read: SATAN) Unholy Agents on this dying, divided Earth.  Henbane is an album made of equal parts dense atmosphere and classic concepts, drawing equally from First Wave Black Metal, Second Wave Black Metal, Ross Bay Cult styled Bestial Black Metal and thundering old-school Doom Metal to create a sound which no other band can truly match.  And aided by a brilliant conceptual identity which reeks of rot, witchcraft and occultism, Henbane is the perfect mood music for late nights lost in the misty woods, dripping blood upon the altar of sacrifice and preparing one's body to entertain the ancient spirits.

Compared to Haxan, Henbane seems significantly softer at first: the production sound is cleaner, more balanced and far less dense, and the bands more Bestial elements have taken a back seat to a greater focus on riffs, introspection and mystical energies.  But once the incantations of Henbane begin to shake and rattle your very bones, you'll soon realize the massive error in judgement you had made.  Sure, it's a more approachable album than Haxan, Odd Spirituality or Spectres Over Transsylvania, but its also a more fully realized, mature and utterly devastating album than anything Cultes Des Ghoules have accomplished to date.  The atmosphere is tremendous, using a combination of spine-shattering low end, diverse arrangements, ambiance and perfectly controlled repetition to envelope the listener in a shroud from which they might never escape.  Henbane also frequently and masterfully makes use of sounds and samples to further amplify the already over-whelming atmosphere on the album, creating moments of somberness, insanity and suffering.  Whether it's the ringing of a Death Knell, the chants of withered witches or the bubbling of a rusted cauldron, the use of these classic and spooky conventions further intensifies Henbane and gives it a rather charming novelty which is impossible to deny.

Though it's still all about the riffs with Henbane.  It's got more of them than you can shake a crucifix at: thundering, Doom-y, Thrash-y, dissonant, melodic, noisy riffs which give off an equal mix of To Mega Therion, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and Angelcunt(Tales of Desecration).  "The Passion of a Sorceress" drips grime and filth, and the bass and drums combine to flatten mountains: at 2:25, prepare to have your skull force-fucked by damnation right off your slender, weak spine.  Vocalist Mark of the Devil is simply inhuman as he moves from yelps, shrieks, growls and moans.  He brays at the Moon and screams like his testicles have been forcibly removed, he chokes on his own tongue and whispers ancient enchantments into your ear.  He simply dominates this album, and his ancient and desiccated style fits perfectly with the tomb-dwelling riffs.  "The Devil Intimate" becomes a truly terrifying sojourn, led through the bowels of Hades by the hand of Virgil, and slowly builds to a horrifying and frozen crescendo in the icy halls of the Ninth Circle.  Once again, Mark of the Devil pulls out every vocal trick at his disposal and acts as the most ferocious and demented barker ever, while the skull crushing riffs and horrifying organ(so fucking wicked) act as a gory and pestilential back-drop to the madness.

Awesome honestly doesn't even begin to describe what Cultes Des Ghoules have achieved with Henbane.  This album is such a fresh and fascinating take on classic Extreme Metal sounds, as well as classic Horror elements, which makes it one of the most enjoyable and charming Black Metal albums I've ever heard.  For an album which creates such an unholy and inhuman atmosphere, Henbane is also an album which, for lack of a better term, is a hell of a lot of fun.  Its an album which conjures up old fears from your childhood, an album which brings you back to the first time you head-banged to a killer riffs and an album which can appeal to all the musical complexity you desire in your advanced age.  All aspects are satisfied, and the Devil will get his due...

Rating: 10/10

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Wormlust- The Feral Wisdom(2013)

Wormlust- The Feral Wisdom

What great and terrible knowledge The Feral Wisdom is, unlocking long dormant synapses and pathways of the mind and rewiring the mainframe of the self into a new creature, more beast than man.  Icelandic Black Metal duo Wormlust have unleashed this ancient erudition, this incantation of grotesque dementia that few albums will be able to match this year.  Structurally progressive, hauntingly melodic and suffocatingly atmospheric, The Feral Wisdom is one of those rare albums which succeeds at creating a dense, inhuman melancholia while also moving at a "narrative" pace.  Individual riffs may not be the center of the album, but they do matter and The Feral Wisdom's four glorious tracks are structured in diverse, exciting ways which to draw as much intensity and devastation from each composition as can be mustered.  Nothing is left but pure dynamism and emotional permanence, and it makes The Feral Wisdom easily the most complete album of 2013 so far.

Describing The Feral Wisdom as "ambient" doesn't quite work, despite the ambient Black Metal elements ingrained throughout the record.  While it has moments of Lurker of Chalice-esque dementia and Paysage d'Hiver's ethereal minutia, The Feral Wisdom can be and is often loud and heavy as fuck, swirling with technical, dissonant riffs and blasting drums.  With how often Wormlust moves between the two styles, its a wonder that they make it feel so effortless and organic.  Take "Sex augu, tólf stjörnur," the open track, which deftly transitions between truly creepy and vaporous ambiance and speedy, Progg-y Black Metal with a great sense of timing and atmosphere while doing enough to keep things interesting with some varying tempos and slithering bass lines.  The riffing here is strictly technical and Prog influenced, so those looking for a more traditional take on Black Metal will likely need to look elsewhere; The Feral Wisdom is in many ways one of the most modern Black Metal albums I've heard in a while.

Modern, but not easy to pigeon-hole anyway.  The ambient elements, while gorgeous and essential, are a bit easier to identify; it isn't anything you haven't heard Lurker of Chalice, Paysage d'Hiver or Blut Aus Nord do.  It's the heavier, nasty sections which really defy categorization: falling somewhere between Krallice, Deathspell Omega and Aosoth without ever comfortably filling any of those stereotypes, when The Feral Wisdom gets fast and harsh it enters some exhilarating and original territory.  "Djöflasýra"is perhaps the strongest of the four tracks, largely because it finds the ultimate synergy between the two contrasting styles and unleashes it in one truly fucked up, agonized track.  The tortured vocals yet diverse vocals help bring the songs together and help sharpen their jagged, flesh rending edges, and the production on The Feral Wisdom could very well become the new standard for any kind of Atmospheric Black Metal.  The mix is very even, save for the vocals which are distant and ghostly, and the dynamic range is kept almost completely intact without any one instrument overwhelming the others.  It's a brilliant piece of engineering and only helps make The Feral Wisdom an even more transcendent experience.

Any complaints I have are minimal at best: the albums heavily ambient compositions are very much back-loaded on the album and it's insanely heavy and technical compositions are really only found on the first two songs.  I would have liked more than the four tracks provided.  These are minor issues and little more, and did almost nothing to detract from the full-contact listening experience of The Feral Wisdom.  No other album I've heard this year has been more emotionally affecting or as addicting, especially in Extreme Metal.  Crack open the flesh-bound tome of The Feral Wisdom and obtain the knowledge of the inner abomination in us all...

Rating: 9.5/10

Monday, April 15, 2013

Desert Rot: Doth- Datura Wrightii(2012)

Doth- Datura Wrightii

Over the next several weeks, Curse of the Great White Elephant will be doing some spotlight reviews for Extreme Music acts located in Arizona.

Why?  Because Arizona's local music scene, and particularly it's local Extreme Music scene, is mostly terrible.  There is a reason why bands who gain any measure of success in the AZ either move the fuck out(Graves at Sea, Vektor) or break-up(Vehemence): because the AZ scene can be incredibly toxic at times, sucking the life out of bands and artists who try to reach a greater audience.  The reasons for this are numerous: AZ largely lacks a strong youth culture and is populated by migrants from other states who would as soon leave and head to California, Oregon or New York and pursue their musical dreams there.  Cities and towns in AZ are often great distances from each other, and getting together with like minded musicians can be both time consuming and cost prohibitive.  As someone who was in a band, and had to drive 15 miles just to get to practice and sometimes 100's of miles just to play at an anarchist bookstore without pay, being in a band in AZ and merely being able to focus on the music can be difficult.

But it's not all bad.  Since I quit following the local scene, things have started to pick up just a bit.  AZ is experiencing a bit of an upswing in it's local Extreme Music scene, and since this is where I live and since I often bitch about the state of the local scene, I owe it to the bands in the AZ to support them and help build up the scene in my own little way: by being a critical, nit-picking asshole about their demos.  So welcome to out first ever Deseret Rot segment.

Doth are a mysterious Tempe, AZ Black Metal band with very little in the way of available information on them.  Signed to Phoenix based record label Tagobella, Doth play a style of raw, atmospheric Black Metal which is not easy to pigeon-hole.  It's far more throat-slicing, nasty and aggressive than the Liturgy's of the world, yet has a more modern and progressive feel than the Black Twilight Circle and their LLN-esque traditionalism, falling somewhere in a strange, caustic middle-ground populated with trumpets and insane, swirling, Death Metal-infused riffs.  At times eerily melodic, at other times simply head smashing, Datura Wrightii is a limited experience at only two songs, but also dynamic enough to be engrossing.

The title track is by far the better of the two, and comes exploding forth with the most devastating riff on the album, one heavily influenced by Blackened Death Metal and inhumanly ferocious.  It quickly begins running the gauntlet between grimy and atmospheric traditional Black Metal riffs and haunting, melodic and modern atmospheric compositions, as well as the most effective use of a trumpet I have ever heard in a Black Metal song.  It's an absolutely massive track, slamming like a meteor into a Russian woodland and leveling everything for miles around.  The vocals are powerful and deranged, and the drumming, while a bit raw and sloppy, is also explosive and thunderous.  It's the kind of track that gets heads banging and blood pumping, and it's a damn fine effort which fully explores the bands musical palette.  "Schist Crevice" doesn't fare quite as well: the production quality is clearly much different and generally very poor.  It lacks almost all of the aggression of the title track and stumbles in a failed effort to be hyper-atmospheric and noise-y.  It has some haunting moments, particularly in the last minute or so when the noise begins to crescendo into what sounds like a choir of banshee's, and the vocals remain vicious and unhinged, but the horrendous drum sound(sounds like a drum machine) is a major buzz kill.

Doth are planning to begin recording a new album shortly, and if the album bears any resemblance to the title track of Datura Wrightii, than we are going to be in for a treat.  Doth are a band which don't sound like any other Black Metal band from Arizona that I have heard, and have serious potential to become one of the big new things in Atmospheric Black Metal.  That potential is not completely realized here, but the title track alone is worth any Black Metal fans time.

Rating: 7/10

Be sure to check out Tagobella's Bandcamp here

And be on the look out for more Desert Rot segments.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Selling out is hard to do...even when there is no money in it.

Curse of the Great White Elephant has officially joined Facebook, and what little credibility this waste of bandwidth once had is now completely obliterated.

So what can you expect to find in your worthless News Feed that is always pissing me the fuck off(FUCK OFF GAME OF THRONES SPOILERS!!)?  Ill be sharing videos, reviews, Bandcamp links and as always, updating all my Facefvck friends when my new shitty reviews are up.

So check it out.  Just search Curse of the Great White Elephant on Facebook and like me!  Or poke me... I guess.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Coheed and Cambria- The Afterman: Ascension(2012) and Descension(2013)

The Afterman: Ascension

The Afterman: Descension

It's been a long time coming.  Hell if feels like an eternity since I felt this tingle down my spine, this electricity in the air...this obsession.  But I can safely say this, and it's been way too long let me tell you:

Welcome home, Coheed and Cambria.  I've missed you, and I forgive you.

It felt as if the Keywork itself fell apart after Co&Ca, the purveyors behind some of the best Prog and Pop albums of the previous decade with their first 3 masterpieces Second Stage Turbine Blade, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 and Good Apollo I'm Burning Star IV: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness, had dropped the bane that-should-not-be with Year of the Black Rainbow.  It was an album that was so devastatingly bad, so poorly produced and so lifeless that it drove many diehard fans of this once mighty group, myself most of all, into a pit of musical cynicism and despair.  A bit dramatic?  Certainly, but then again this is what real passion does to the person infected by it.  It leads to dizzying highs and subterranean lows, and after Year of the Black Rainbow and it's utter lack of anything, well, Coheed and Cambria in it, I was buried under miles of defeat.

So when faced with The Afterman: Ascension/Descension, I felt like a jilted lover face to face with an old, painful flame for the first time in ages.  I felt cold and angry, but also intrigued.  I had to know what they had been up to since we had been apart, I had to see if this old flame would once again feed my obsession...

Ascension/Descension in fact did satisfy me in more ways than I could have imagined.  It may not have been a complete return to the bands classic, incredibly epic Prog-Metal-Pop they had mastered, but instead a new evolution on those same genre's to produce something wholly new and exciting.  By increasing the focus on the Pop elements of the bands sound, which were completely missing from Year of the Black Rainbow, and layering the Prog and occasional Metal on top of the hook-driven sing-along compositions, Ascension/Descension felt like as though it were both a brilliant return to form and a completely new sound: familiar yet fresh.  Ascension/Descension features only a handful of songs over 5 minutes, and the epic single track yarn-spinning of earlier albums is replaced by a more accessible and textured songs which are less exhausting but even more infectious.  Led by Claudio Sanchez's unique falsetto, Ascension/Descension is like a pied piper, leading any within earshot to start dancing like an idiot and singing along like no one is listening.

Not that Ascension(album 1) doesn't have it's classic Co&Ca moments, bu they are few and far between.  "Key Entity Extraction I:  Domino the Destitute" would have felt right at home on Good Apollo I or II, with it's saga of Metallic riffs, shredding solos and orchestral trappings, not to mention those glorious sing-scream along moments specifically designed to incite a crowd.  But beyond this track(and IMO, the best one between both albums), Ascension is largely new territory for the band.  Tracks like "The Afterman" and "Subtraction" sound closer to something from Claudio's solo project The Prize Fighter Inferno, mixing Electronic music and textures with understated or acoustic guitars and soft, whispered vocals, while "Goodnight, Fair Lady" is pure no frills Pop Rock.  It's also incredibly contagious, so good luck not singing it in the grocery line.  And "Key Entity Extraction IV: Evangira the Faithful" is a truly unique beast: Blues-y, psychedelic, ominous yet beautiful, it's a far more subdued and atmospheric track that we have come to expect from Co&Ca in the past.  The rest of this album is so god damn fucking awesome, I can forgive the lone mis-step: "Key Entity Extraction II: Holly Wood the Cracked."  Imagine Coheed playing Nu-Metal, and you about get the idea... it's an atrocious, ugly, frankly stupid song which stands out like Nicolas Cage in a good movie with talented actors, and the lone pock-mark between the two albums

One simply cannot under-state the importance of one key line-up change that occurred between Year of the Black Rainbow and Ascension/Descension: the departure of drummer Chris Pennie and the return of Josh Eppard, the man behind the kit for Coheed and Cambria's first 3 albums.  Now, I am reluctant to place the blame of Year of the Black Rainbow on Pennie: Claudio writes the songs after all, and Pennie has serious chops and is a tremendous drummer.  But it doesn't seem like a coincidence that Eppards return helped make Ascension and Descension the bands best material in nearly a decade.  Eppard's performance on the kit for both albums is the highlight bar-none.  He seems to literally play the hooks, and his punch-y kick drum becomes a beloved companion throughout the entire experience.

If Ascension feels like a new Co&Ca, than Descension(album 2) will feel even more alien, yet like Ascension it still feels like a true Co&Ca album.  The Pop elements take an even stronger hold on the album, and there is a much greater emphasis on just pure Pop Rock and even more Prize Fighter Inferno-esque moments.  "Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry the Defiant" is about as close as we get to the bands classic sound, featuring a more Metallic approach and an epic acoustic intro, but it's still very thick and heavy more in killer vocal hooks than head-banging moments.  "Number City" is like a brain slug: prepare to be it's host for a long, long time.  It's funky, Pop-y bubble-gum they way it should be, and Co&Ca always find a way to make even their happiest of songs feature a twinge of sadness and darkness that lets you know that the song is more substantial than sugary sweet cotton candy.  "Gravity's Union" truly stands out: for a moment, I thought I was listening to a lost track from In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3.  It has those serpentine riffs, those sudden one-off sections that never repeat but amp up the atmosphere to 11, and of course the bands patented intense bridge-section that the band has become famous for.  But like the rest of the album, it has a unique feel from any previous Co&Ca effort, with the vocal hooks taking center stage and the drums thundering and smashing about, leaving the guitars to create texture and atmosphere.

The atmosphere of Ascension/Descension is without question the greatest strength of the albums.  They may be infectiously catchy, but there is an air of sadness and despair over both of them which leaves a powerful, lasting impact on the listener.  As you sing and scream along to these tracks, you can feel the real emotional weight behind each and every track, the power of the story and of the characters who inhabit it.  Coheed and Cambria have truly bounced back in a massive way, completely blowing the lid off of low expectations and once again basking in the light of the sun.  Do either of these albums compare to the band classic album?  Nothing really does, but that is an unfair comparison.  Ascension/Descension is the kind of thing which can completely rehabilitate a bands damaged image.  Well done sirs... well fucking done.

And welcome home.

Ascension: 8.5/10
Descension: 9/10

Monday, March 25, 2013

War From a Harlots Mouth- Voyeur(2012)

War From a Harlots Mouth- Voyeur

Those of us in the underground, Extreme Metal community have gotten pretty damn good and filtering through the endless garbage that invades the scene from all sides without every really having to listen to any of it.  We have all developed a comfortable routine of check-marks, usually a mix of general broad guidelines and personal preferences, that allow us to avoid ever having to confront a single artist which may in anyway offend our sensibilities.  We form safe, secure barriers around ourselves and let the shit that's flying from the fan bounce off it, allowing only the diamonds in the rough through the force-field.

Germany's War From a Harlots Mouth was one of my many "instant fuck-offs" the very second their existence became known to me.  Between the bands absolutely stupid name(which remains embarrassingly bad), their affiliations with dozens of shit artists, and well...

Looking like that, I instantly wrote them off as Hot Topic overhead tunes for 13 year old scene queens who like to "mosh and fuck shit up" between classes at the Junior High School.  I am, after all, and Extreme Metal sophisticate whose pure ears are better suited for brilliant, mind-altering music such as XXX Maniak and Cock and Ball Torture.  A band like War From a Harlots Mouth was, I thought, below me.

Consider me properly fucking learned, for the bands most recent release Voyeur has reminded me one shouldn't judge a book by it's cover(a lesson I should have learned after Morbus Chron tricked with with their gorgeous pink cover art...).  Don't mistake this for endless praise: Voyeur is not where near the best album I have ever heard nor does it feel particularly essential.  But for an album which gives off such a Devil Wears Prada-esque vibe from it's asinine cover art and, well, the fact that the band is called War From a Harlots Mouth(ugh!), Voyeur is a damn solid little 40 minute album which, like a good book with a worn and tattered cover, needs to be cracked open to really enjoy.

WFaHM(even the abbreviation annoys me) have stumbled on a sound which certainly stands out from the vast majority of modern Metalcore bands, mixing the aggressive, tech-and-sludge of Gaza with the dissonance, off-kilter riffing of bands like Ulcerate, Deathspell Omega and Abyssal...and lots and lots of obnoxious and same-y sounding chugs(more on this later).  It's a pretty cool style, one which I haven't heard any other artist attempt and one which certainly stands out in a sea of "me too" Unearth-clones.  These styles might seem clashing, but throughout Voyeur WFaHM finds cool, interesting ways to make it work.  "Vertigo" features some very cool dissonant leads over quiet, ambient compositions to match some vicious blast-beats and some very heavy, aggressive Sludge sections, while "Terrifier" actually starts off with a good breakdown before unleashing a torrent of blast-beats and hyper complex riffing which instantly brings to mind a Sludge-y Ulcerate smoking bowls in a Louisiana dive bar.  "Terrifier" is particular is a great song, creating a really strong and atmospheric sense of unease with some truly evil sounding compositions, while "Of Fear and Total Control" is a more subdued and melodic track that also has some very strong atmospheric undertones, using some Black Metal-esque sections for maximum effect.  When Voyeur works, it works really well and shocked me to know end when I first spun it front to back.

And this whole thing is driven by the fantastic production sound, which is both incredibly professional without being in anyway too slick or sterile.  The guitars and bass are Leviathan-sized, completely crushing anything and everything beneath their massive weight.  The drums are obviously triggered, but they sound great, with very little to no "clicking" on the kick or the snare, which is a death-knell for most modern Metal of any genre.  Obviously supported by time and money, Voyeur is one of the best sounding Extreme Metal albums I listened to in a long time, keeping all the punch and static without giving up on clarity and balance.  It's a brilliant piece of sound engineering that helps elevate Voyeur to new levels that perhaps the music couldn't quite reach on it's own.

Yet for all it's strength, Voyeur suffers from a lack of concrete ideas to support the WFaHM ambitious style.  Around the track "Temple," Voyeur quite literally grinds to a halt creatively and in some seemingly desperate scrambling begins to recycle it's own compositions for the second half.  It's not a completely unimpressive second leg, but it is mostly forgettable, heavily handicapped by the incessant chugging which begins to infect it.  There is quite a bit of chugging throughout the album, but it reaches a fever pitch in the second half, ending with the sleep-inducing "Scopophobia," which when it isn't chugging features an atrocious clean vocal section and riffs pretty much stolen from "Of Fear and Total Control."  In truth, there is such a thing as a "good chug" (see "Terrifier"), but if your tolerance for chugging is low, then even the best elements of Voyeur will leave you cold, so be forewarned.  It also doesn't help that vocalist Nico Webers is abysmal, belting out his weak, uninteresting Hardcore growl for most of the record.

For a brief moment, I lifted my blinders and discovered quite the surprise in Voyeur.  And my final score isn't really indicative of the enjoyment I got from it, but Voyeur feels like an incomplete album which is missing many key elements for brilliance or even consistent competency.  Yet for it's fault Voyeur is a fucking heavy album, sounds great and has some atmosphere and intensity to it, enough so that it's worth listening to.  So does this mean that I will no longer judge bands by their name?  By who they associate with?  By their physical apperance?

This...or the...Apocalypse?  Really?  No thanks.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, March 18, 2013

Vassafor- Obsidian Codex(2012)

Vassafor- Obsidian Codex

For the weak, I have a message: get the fuck out.  Obsidian Codex is simply too much for you.

Those looking for an album which in any way caters to the casual or accommodates the uninitiated simply need not apply for this review or Obsidian Codex, the latest masterwork from New Zealand two piece Vassafor.  The long running project, which formed in 1997 but has had a very irregular release history, have crafted a masterpiece so thrilling and mesmerizing that working through it's incomparably dense facade becomes a journey in and of itself.  In fact, describing Obsidian Codex and it's 96 minute running time(you read that right) as a "journey" is about the best description I can formulate: Phil Kusabs and Ben Parker(known as VK and BP) take us on a musical adventure which features terrifying abominations, hellish landscapes and twisted black forests inundated with freezing snow, where moments of beauty and emotion are few but present, the driving force that keeps us on the path to this massive quest's ultimate conclusion.  It is in no way an easy album to enjoy; it will pummel and suffocate all who challenge it, and test the endurance of anyone foolish enough to take it lightly.  But it's also one of the most worthwhile musical experiences to be found in Extreme Metal of any genre.  Obsidian Codex is simply a masterpiece removed from needless classification beyond "awesome."

Stylistically, it's not hard to pick out the genres and artists which influenced Obsidian Codex, but everything here is put together in such a way that those influences feel like they are being transformed by Vassafor, molded and shaped into effective new tools for the song writing mechanism, beyond the well worn instruments that have been continuously reused for the same purpose again and again.  At the most "brass-tacks" level, Vassafor could be described as "Occult Blackened Death/Doom," but such a classification simply misses the mark that the band has set with this album.  The atmosphere is thick to the point of solidification, the creepiness of the compositions is so spine chilling that ice forms on the flesh and the unshakably somber moments, driven by smothered melodic leads and some deeply emotional compositions, brings about occasional moments of truly subdued beauty; a fallen angel, wings broken and flesh cleaved, laying amongst the ash and crying silver tears.  Of course, Obsidian Codex has plenty of good old brutal, bestial and even Thrash-y moments that reminds you that Mr. Kusabs has played with the likes of Blasphemy and Diocletain in his long musical career.  And you can note that all of these elements are right in the very first actual song on the album, "Rites of Ascension," and continue to appear throughout the album, culminating in the truly epic monster known as "Nemesis," which starts with a short but incredible woodwind intro(unsure of the exact instrument) which sets the tone for a 23 minute epic of unparallelled  proportions.

I've often complained about extremely long songs, and "Nemesis" certainly fits the bill of an incredibly elongated piece that runs the risk of going disastrously off the rails.  But that's the glory of "Nemesis" and the other epically long tracks on Obsidian Codex: they are perfectly fleshed out with a combination of ambiance and ideas that they never grow stale or lose the listeners interest.  Tracks dance between tempos and riffs with perfectly calculated brilliance, showing a level of song-writing which transcends what most artists could even hope to achieve.  "Sunya(Void  Paradox)" maintains a driving, aggressive rhythm throughout, showing a more take no prisoners approach to song writing that instigates furious bouts of relentless head-banging and stands in stark but effective contrast to the more Doom-y aspects of the record, while the aforementioned opening track "Rites of Ascension" features some truly horrific yet oddly haunting compositions which give off an unhinged and ritualistic intensity.  And the final real track, Makutu(Damned to the Deepest Depths)" starts off with a tribal, ritualistic drum pattern before morphing into an unholy fusion of Blasphemy and Portal.  And it ends with a slice of Sludge, yeah Sludge, which just adds icing to an already maggot ridden, gory cake of true nihilism All of these tracks are well over the 7 minute mark, yet never fail to entrance for a single moment.  It's almost stupefying.

I mentioned the albums 96 minute running time, and that will automatically create a barrier of entry for many.  Truth be told, I could see why a lot of people simply wouldn't like this album, or even hate it.  Obsidian Codex is one of those albums where the creative direction of the artist is encapsulated to the point where it offers no leeway to the listener, a "my way or the high way" style of song-writing which some will find dull, others obnoxious or even offensive.  Even the ambient tracks go for several minutes, and the album leans heavily on them to help intensify the already dense compositions.  And while the production is fairly accessible, especially by the standards set in this particular genre, and many of the riffs invitingly familiar to fans of bands like Diocletain, Antediluvian or Mitochondrion, Obsidian Codex is an album defined by excess and disregard for the listeners time or sanity.

Yet for all of Obsidian Codex's excesses, for all of it's density and disregard, its an album built mostly on accessible, inviting riffs and enjoyable variety.  Every track feels intertwined, yet all of them also feel distinct and unique when compared to each other.  And while this album was clearly meant to be experienced front to back in one single sitting, each of the actual musical tracks on Obsidian Codex stand on their own feet and can be enjoyed and replayed independently of each the whole album experience.  This is perhaps Obsidian Codex's greatest triumph, and a true rarity in this particular genre, where the whole album experience is the rule and playability is more often than not the exception.

I hesitate to use the word "perfection" here, but in many ways Obsidian Codex is the perfect album: 
perfect in it's atmospheric and thematic presentation, perfect in it's execution and musical competency, perfect in it's song-writing and production.  Obsidian Codex is the ultimate realization of a single musical vision being shared by two musicians who are working as a single, cohesive creative force.  It's an absolutely stunning album, one whose flaws are so few and far between that mentioning them is simply pointless beyond the need to be typed here; hyperbole be damned, Obsidian Codex is unlike anything I have ever heard.

Rating: 10/10

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Chasm of Nis- Redolent of Spheres(2012)

Chasm of Nis- Redolent of Spheres

Justin Blake Smith has quickly become one of the more prolific performers of putrid, pestilential putrescence in the American Death Metal scene.  As one of the main forces behind Encoffination's brand of sinfully slothful down-tempo Death/Doom and Father Befouled's well oiled Incantation worship machine, JBS has also had a prolific solo career with acts such as Hills of Sefiroth and Vomitchapel.  But his newest project, Chasm of Nis, is by far the most interesting and dynamic project yet.  In today's modern Death Metal scene, Chasm of Nis might not be as original as it would have been just a few years ago, but it still brings a somewhat fresh perspective on Occult Blackened Death Metal.

Redolent of Spheres doesn't too a lot to separate itself from the myriad of highly atmospheric, low-fi Star Cult provocateurs that are quickly saturating the genre, but it does just enough to stand out.  Featuring only two real tracks(it also has a cool intro and a completely pointless outro that borders on offensive), Redolent of Spheres doesn't have much time to make an impact but makes the most of it.  Comparisons to Portal, Antediluvian and Grave Upheaval are almost mandatory here, and they do fit.  JBS brings many of the same aspects to the table: lurching, ritualistic tempos, deep guttural vocals(which suddenly sound powerful and interesting, after being completely pointless on the recent Father Befouled, which makes me think it's a production issue), and a hazy production which suffers from some unfortunate distortion that occasionally gets obnoxious.  But Redolent of Spheres does bring a bit more to the table, namely in a distinct and surprising influence which stood out to me almost immediately: some of these riffs will being to mind Demilich, and in the best way possible.  "Œnemic Subjugation" explodes right out of the gate with ferocious blasting and a strange, dischordant and chaotic lead with a guitar sound as close to Nespithe as I have ever heard.  It's incredibly awesome, and after a moment of sleepy miasma, it returns again and expands in a way which is really exciting.  "Archaiciasis Ænfernal" is an even more dynamic track, which runs the gauntlet of Portal, Grave Upheaval and Demilich with fluidity and song writing chops.  It's a killer track, filled with creepy underpinnings of melody and some truly demonic atmosphere.

I can honestly say I haven't been all that kind to previous projects from JBS, but Chasm of Nis shows that the man has more in him than slow stuff and Incantation worship.  Redolent of Spheres is short and doesn't truly light the world on fire, but it's a highly enjoyable listen which brings just enough originality to the table to stand out in an increasingly over-crowded scene.  Hopefully, the Demilich-esque elements take center stage here, giving Chasm of Nis and even more defined place in America's massive Death Metal scene.  Be sure to purchase the demo here.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Vorum- Poisoned Void(2013)

Vorum- Poisoned Void


It's 2013 and the Old School Death Metal Revival, or Aping depending on your perspective, continues full steam ahead with Vorum's Poisoned Void, a short and succinct blitzkrieg of "Old School is the only School" Death MetalIt's an album, which as to be expected, throws a bunch of different obvious influences at you and does so with aplomb.

Everyone, pull out your check lists:

Does it have blacked, blast heavy bits of furious Death Metal ala Angelcorpse?  Check

Does it have Doom-laden, chunky riffs for skull cracking ala Autopsy or Asphyx?  Check it off.

Does it have tons of melodic solos and leads ala every Death Metal band from the late 80's and early 90s?  Check and check.

Does it have lurching tremolo picked abominations ala Incantation?  You better fucking believe Check.

Does it have vocals which sound like John Tardy or Martin Van Drunen? There's a big fucking Check there buddy.

Poisoned Void is basically text book when it comes to modern Old School Death Metal Worship, moving from influence to influence with speed and prowess, something I have to give it some credit for.  With some many of these recent worship albums feeling lazy and passionless, Poisoned Void remains highly aggressive and energetic throughout, and the bands musicianship is top notch and tight.  On a basic technical level, musicianship and production, Poisoned Void delivers the goods.

Where it simply doesn't deliver is in the song-writing department, as throughout Poisoned Void you are taunted with moments of pure, head-banging, spine snapping, furiously flailing awesome, only to be smashed back down to earth with another redundant bit of generic blasting and riffing which sounds like the same transition from song to song.  Take for example the intro to "Rabid Blood": it's fucking awesome, with some slower tempos and fantastic drumming which shows the skill that the bands talented drummer, Mikko Josefsson, is capable of.  He is one of the highlights on this record, displaying incredible speed and dexterity as well as the ability to play some very complex rhythms.  But like, well, every other song on the record, "Rabid Blood" becomes a generic, time a dozen amalgamation of various played out "old-skull" tropes that never ascend to the next level, and it feels like Josefsson's talents are being wasted here.  It's the same with "Thriving Darkness," a killer intro followed by two brilliant sections which channels early Morbid Angel in all their Ancient glory... before it too falls into a relentless rut of basic old-school stuff that just makes one yawn.  In fact, we should rename Poisoned Void to Awesome Intros, Boring Results, as this proves to be a consistent theme throughout the record.

Not to be too harsh here, for as far as blatant old school worship albums go, Poisoned Void is not bad.  Although it lacks much of the strong atmosphere of Ectovoid's Fractured in the Timeless Abyss, and it's simply devoid of that wonderful spark of creativity and originality that Execration achieved on Odes to the Occult, Poisoned Void is very furious and is guaranteed to get ones head-banging on more than one occasion.  Vorum avoid most of the major prat-falls that can make this style almost completely unlistenable: boring and pointless Funeral Doom segments are thankfully absent, and Vorum prefer to keep things short and violent, with songs rarely going over the four minute mark.  As much as elements of this album infuriate me with it's utterly generic moments, there is just enough here for it to rise above the utter shit that the Old School Death Metal Revival has produced.  It's worth a listen, but when the history of this era of Death Metal is written, Poisoned Void will be little more than a footnote in the annals of time.

Rating: 6.5/10

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Desolate Shrine-The Sanctum of Human Darkness (2012)

Desolate Shrine-The Sanctum of Human Darkness

By this point, Dark Descent has become a label that has well established itself as a flagship of darkly evocative and powerful underground black and death metal.  The latest Desolate Shrine album, the Sanctum of Human Darkness, is no exception to this tradition, containing eight tracks of monolithic Finnish death metal that will not fail to have ground your bones to powdered ash at the end of a full sitting.  A noticeable improvement over the unfulfilled potential of its predecessor, Tenebrous Towers, Desolate Shrine’s sophomore effort manages to collect the former album’s expansive, yet meandering atmospheric approach into a more focused attack, ultimately creating an album that leaves a greater impression due to the sheer momentum generated by the coupling of muscular riffwork and stark, obsidian atmosphere.

What is particularly impressive about The Sanctum of Human Darkness was its inability to conjure comparisons to the usual troupe of enfranchised death metal legends that every “old-school” revival act and their 5th cousin claims to be the inheritor of.  While glimpses of regional Finnish patriarchs Demigod and Convulse flashed by, coupled with a bombastic, infernal delivery that more than slightly hinted at Immolation and Morbid Angel, and topped off with a filthy layer of Incantation-esque soot, nowhere in the middle of digesting the album was I ever given any inclination to pinpoint specific riffs and passages to any entity other than the tormented muses of Desolate Shrine themselves.  In a death metal scene that has in recent years filled with acts whose sole claim to note was to do a particularly “legitimate,” undeviating rendition of an older template, it is refreshing to find a band that, while clearly “old-school” in their approach to the craft, interprets their influences in a way that accentuates their own identity as opposed to subsuming it behind a revivalist banner.  

While on a song to song basis, the album is hard to analyze, as every track more or less meshes together into a single cacophony of whirring, choking black miasma, the album never truly becomes tiresome due to the monolithic relentlessness of its chaotic attack.  Occasionally acoustic guitars and piano pieces break the mayhem, acting as a somber eye-of-the-storm, a calm that becomes all the more nerve-wracking knowing that the hurricane of guitar riffs and nocturnal ambiances will inevitably return.  Yet even in its most violent moments, The Sanctum of Human Darkness never loses its more morose tendencies, and as a whole there is a feeling of tenderness and sorrow contrasted with your usual old-school sensibilities that is more characteristic  of Peaceville-style melodic death/doom efforts, including early Katatonia, Paradise Lost, and more contemporary acts such as Daylight Dies.  

Don’t be fooled though, this is not an album that strives to approach accessibility in any shape or form.  Almost nonexistent are the hooks and overarching melodies that serve to anchor many other records to a backbone, and Desolate Shrine never seem to settle down into comfortable, headbang-conducive groove.   Instead, this opus works its way into the mind of the listener through the layering of musical textures in a way tasteful enough to paint evocative images of desolation and despair.  At certain points, it almost feels as if you are staring at the smoldering pillars of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where the fragments of human civilization (analogous to the moments of extremely human pathos that emerge through the aforementioned tenderness) stand as stark supplicants to the majesty of destruction, heightening the sense of loss as you ponder the futility of humanity in its struggle against the forces of inevitable entropy.  Indeed, the greatest strength of The Sanctum of Human Darkness is, more than anything, as a holistic work working through a wall of slightly-melodic ambiance to generate its desired effect.  The songs themselves serve as individual variations of a shared theme, as opposed to distinct entities with their own artistic identity.  However, the album truly comes together when listened to in one sitting, taking the listener through an entire obsidian mountain range of emotional peaks and valleys.  

The Sanctum of Human Darkness’s role as atmospheric, impressionist music ultimately fails to place it in the upper echelon of death metal albums, as its ambitious yet monotonous approach towards composition renders its movements largely devoid of individual standout moments.  The band mostly plods along heavily at the same tempo throughout the album, reinforcing the idea of The Sanctum of Human Darkness as more of a deliberate, unmovable hellforged machine than a musical album, and unfortunately the album eventually begins running out of steam to propel it forward in any attention-grabbing manner.  However, when all is said and done, you could do far worse than to give this unique, yet wholly traditional piece of death metal a spin or two in your passing hours.  

Rating: 7.5/10