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

Friday, February 15, 2013

Sodb- Don Seantalamh a Chuid Féin(2012)

Sodb- Don Seantalamh a Chuid Féin 

Featuring a classic Black Metal sound which occasionally dips into the modern for moments of true inspiration, Sobd's debut demo Don Seantalamh a Chuid Féin will at times struggle to maintain a consistent pace of excellence, but when it peaks it towers over the listener with truly glorious arrangements.  Hailing from Ireland, Sodb's sound should at the beginning feel instantly familiar: elements of Emperor, Gorgoroth, Tsjunder and Shining all show themselves throughout the demo and provide much of the backbone for Sodb to explore darker, more melancholic or violent compositions.  It's an impressive demo from beginning to end no doubt, even if it doesn't consistently make a positive impression.

The first thing that stood out was the surprising musicianship featured on Don Seantalamh a Chuid Féin: I was consistently blown away by the individual performances on the album, particularly bassist Irene Giragusa, whose twisted basslines slither and squirm throughout the songs yet are never lost in the flurry of riffs and blast-beats.  This is largely due to the brilliant production here, which is absolutely mind-boggling for a debut demo and a band's first release.  The mix is even yet none of the rawness is lost in the guitar sound, while the drums sound phenomenal and completely raw while remaining at the perfect level.  The vocals are perhaps a bit high in the mix, and are also perhaps the least impressive aspect of the bands performance: there's a bit too much reverb on them, and they sound somewhat over-produced in comparison to the rest of the instruments.  The vocals are not bad per-se, but a more raw, throat-ripping performance might have better suited the sound that Sodb have developed.

Outside of the technical aspects however, Don Seantalamh a Chuid Féin suffers from a bit of what I like to call "the songs are too fucking long."  Long songs are an incredibly difficult thing to do, and many artists simply fail miserably when they attempt to go over the five minute mark: songs either become a mess of random experimentation or brutal, endurance-testing triathlons of repetition, and in both cases it's because the band ran out of ideas.  These failings are not extreme nor unforgivable on Don Seantalamh a Chuid Féin, but they are present, especially on the first two tracks.  "Don Seantalamh a Chuid Féin" runs out of steam about half way through and muddles about for about three minutes in a mire of random melodies, sudden starts and stops, and general apathy before it peter's out, while "Aigre Ré" suffers from poor use of repetition and far too much melodic noodling.  Both tracks start strong but end weakly, and show that Sodb still seem to be feeling things out.

But things ascend quickly with "Tethered," a brilliant piece of Norwegian and Swedish influences that heads in some surprising directions.  Starting with a brilliant acoustic and melodic intro, "Tethered" weeps atmosphere and envelops the listener in darkness; the proverbial blizzard in the dead woods.  One hears the influence of Emperor and Shining clearly, but "Tethered" also has some interesting and expertly used elements of modern Atmospheric Black Metal to flesh out the minutia.  There is a hint of Wolves in the Throne Room's rustic woodland-hymns and even a bit of Shoegaze-y ambiance ala- Krallice at work on "Tethered," though it's all very subtle and worked organically into the composition.  "Old and Withered Form" is far more traditional, but it benefits from it's somewhat shorter running time and straight up, Gorgoroth-style neck slicing attack.

 Don Seantalamh a Chuid Féin may not be perfect, but without question this is one of the more impressive debut's I've come across.  It's certainly one of the most listenable Black Metal albums in a while, featuring an even production and a classic, well thought out sound featuring plenty of melody.  Those looking for reverb-pinged snare drums and endless armies of grimm ghouls may not be overly impressed with the material here, but anyone looking for a Black Metal album that doesn't excessively challenge while remaining deep, and those looking for a more complex and melodic style of Black Metal that doesn't mesh completely with modern standards, will have a new favorite album in Don Seantalamh a Chuid Féin.

Rating: 8.5/10

Friday, February 8, 2013

Up Coming Releases to Meh About: Meh...

As the cynicism of instantaneous access and musical disillusionment begin to poison my every thought and alter the color of my blood to a dull, sleepy grey, I have decided to declare the year 2013 as "The Year of Meh."

I mean really, how can anyone be excited for music anymore?  Why bother?  All of it's free and sounds exactly the fucking same... I don't know guys.  How many more times can we listen to the same band repeat the same sounds from the early 90's over and over and over.  How many more Nintendocore guitar sweeps and type-writer drums can we stomach?  How many more times can I refer to the production style as "murky" and "static-choked" before those adjectives lose all meaning?(Actually they kind of already have...)

Meh... here's some upcoming releases to steal off the internet, listen to once and never listen to again...

I don't know man, normally I'd be so fucking excited for the new Cultes des Ghoules.  I mean yeah I pre-ordered it on two formats, but why?  I'm just wasting my money, since I already downloaded the European CD rip.  I've already listened to the album once and forgot about it.  It's just more of the same, even if the album is incredible and amazing and worth owning on two formats and an early album of the year contender... meh

 Hasn't this leaked yet?  I mean everything leaks.  I want the leak man.  I'm not sure why, cause this new song fucking sucks.  Remember when Deeds of Flesh were making some of the greatest Brutal Death Metal imaginable?  Remember Path of the Weakening?  That shit was really wicked, even on the 192 kbps rip I downloaded.  I actually listened to that one twice.  Now Deeds of Flesh sound like every other lame Brutal Tech Death band on the planet: over-produced, toothless and wanky.  The definition of meh...

 Shit man, this one is gonna blow up the internet when it leaks.  Wait, it leaked?  When?  Can someone hook me up with a link?  Seriously, I can't live without hearing this.  Not that I even like Portal or anything.  But what else am I supposed to listen to on my 80 GB iPod all day?  Shit I actually want to listen to?  This new song is actually pretty cool though, sounds like the best Portal album so far.  But still pretty meh I guess...

 Man, this new song fucking sucks.  Will probably still download.

 New Wormed huh?



Ok, so maybe 2013 has some pretty cool shit on the horizon.  Maybe there is some shit to get excited about and a lot to look forward too.  Maybe there isn't a good reason for all my apathy and instant access fatigue... 


No, fuck music.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Curse of the Great White Elephant Top 20 Albums of 2012 Part 2

Spawn of Possession- Incurso

The return of Technical Death Metal legends Spawn of Possession did not disappoint, as the Swedes showed that their long time away from the musical arena has not impacted them or their knack for inhumanly precise devastation of the brain cavity.  While the obnoxiously clean production sound takes some punch from the bands sound, the song-writing here is just phenomenal: highly atmospheric and complex while never losing the speed and brutality we have come to expect from the band.  Tech Death may have fallen out of vogue, or more precisely changed its name and started calling itself "occult," but Incurso proves that there is still room for this kind of aural micro-surgery in Death Metal today.

Muknal/The Haunting Presence- Split 

Occult visions and the bellowing of secret, evil things long forgotten.  That's what to expect when two of the premiere young extreme Metal acts get together to release a 4 song split that never loses it's edge despite it's running time.  Muknal are simply one of the best new acts around regardless of genre, and have tapped into aspects of Atmospheric Black/Death that few bands have been able to obtain while doing very little which would be described as purely original.  The band are merely song-writing savants.  The Haunting Presence may be less dynamic, but are even more savage: the battle-cry of the angel slayer.  The split format saw a lot of great releases in 2012, but few better than this.

Rahu- The Quest for the Vajra of Shadows

Drawing a fairly even mix of Burzum and Darkspace with just a hint of Horna, Rahu's The Quest for the Vajra of Shadows can devastate as well as entrance.  At times even a bit "beautiful"(or as beautiful as raw, static choked Atmospheric Black Metal can be), The Quest for the Vajra of Shadows is not an easy album to absorb in a single sitting, yet never comes off as overwhelming or that it sets any serious barriers to entry.  It's an album which creates an atmosphere of dread no doubt, but it's also inviting; the siren song encompassed.

Plague Widow- s/t

There certainly wasn't a more exciting, and ridiculously addicting, release in 2012 than Plague Widow's self-titled debut EP.  With so many Death Metal bands picking one style and sticking steadfastly to it while incessantly dissecting competing styles for their "trveness" or "the level of talented needed," it proved incredibly refreshing to find a new band say "fuck all that shit, lets just mix them."  When the only way to describe your band is Blackened Brutal Technical Death-Grind, you know you are in for either a giant fucking mess or something special.  We definitely got something special here though: taking the best elements of bands like Portal, Deeds of Flesh, Circle of Dead Children, early Decrepit Birth and Mitochondrion, this s/t never lets up, deftly jumping between atmospheric sections and good old muscle and speed with ease and skill.  Songwriting doesn't get more varied yet catchy.

Putrevore- Macabre Kingdom

I admit I never thought I would hear from Putrevore, a Rottrevore worship/tribute act from Dave Rotten and Rogga Johansson, again after their incredibly good debut album Morphed from Deadbreath.  The project languished in obscurity despite it's quality, and with Rogga and Rotten involved in multiple other acts with a much higher profile, I thought Putrevore would end up on the back burner until it was charred beyond use.  However, 2012 brought one of the most welcome surprises I've ever had when Macabre Kingdom hit with little fanfare.  And after listening to this album, I was hit with an even bigger surprise: Macabre Kingdom is no Rottrevore worship album.  Yes, Rottrevore's Americanized and brutalized Swedish Death Metal remains at the heart of the album, but Macabre Kingdom is far more dynamic than mere worship: it's an album which encompasses huge swaths of Death Metal, from modern Occult Black/Death to Death/Doom to classic gut-bucket 1989 old school and back.  Truly a magnificent return for Putrevore.  And I can without a doubt make this claim: the vocal performance by Rotten on Macabre Kingdom is easily the best of 2012, if not the last 5 years.

Vattnet Viskar- s/t

So, are we still calling this stuff "Hipster Black Metal?"  Or "Blackgaze?"  Do I care?  No, not really.  Vattnet Viskar might be a huge number of things, and all of them are positive: dynamic, emotional, powerful, complex.  Whether or not the band have any "kvlt" credibility or listen to a little more Neurosis than Mayhem, what Vattnet Viskar were able to accomplish on this self-titled EP is nothing short of astounding.  This sound, a mix of Atmospheric Black Metal and Post-Sludge with a cleaner, more defined production style, is incredibly trendy and pretty big right now.  And for my money, Vattnet Viskar do it better than anyone else.

Antediluvian/Adversarial- Initiated in Impiety as Mysteries

Throughout the history of Death Metal, I am generally unsure how many split albums would be considered "essential."  Splits have always been the mechanism of economics: limited edition recordings where the costs are shared, usually used to increase the hype for a future full-length for one of the acts or for an established act to help promote a young up and coming act looking to break through but lacking name recognition.  Yet make no mistake; Initiated in Impiety and Mysteries is not some thrown together hype release, but a focused, artistically minded full-blown release by two of Death Metal's premiere bands.  Both Adversarial and Antediluvian, while having distinct sounds that share little straight up correlation, brought their best material to date to bear here and appeared to have a completely focused thematic direction in mind for the split.  Adversarial's sonically devastating mix of Bestial brutality with hyper-speed technicality and Antediluvian's murky, musty Satanic bowel movements play beautifully off of each other here, and combine to create arguably the best Death Metal collaboration of all time.

Wreck and Reference- No Youth

 No Youth is the definition of bad mood music.  Nothing good ever happens to anybody who listens to it, and you can't shake the feeling that nothing good ever happens to the guys in Wreck and Reference.  It's essentially Breaking Bad or Oldboy in musical form: the sins continue to pile up, higher and higher until they blot out all light.  Those caught underneath the shade grow colder and colder until there is little left to hope for and life becomes a cruel cosmic joke devoid of a punchline.  Musically, the bombastic mix of thick electronic noise and acoustic drumming with the Michael Gira-esque vocal attack and healthy doses of skull-fucking Sludge and Black Metal makes No Youth simply one of the darkest albums I've ever heard.  And one of the best.

Muknal- s/t

If you are not on the band-wagon, allow me to make a seat for you next to me.

Without a question in my mind, Muknal are the best new band in Death Metal.  The band's self-titled debut has become a personal classic for me, and it's simply one of the best written, performed and produced Death Metal albums I have ever heard.  The music perfectly evokes the gorgeous cover art: cosmic, occult, shifting and hiding in the blackness of the Earth until it can claim the blackness in your soul.  The thick, musty production remains perfectly even, giving every instrument a say in the overall tapestry, while the vocals are simply unhinged and demonic.  But it's the song-writing above all else that makes Muknal as close to perfect as it can be: no section goes on longer than it needs to be yet the album creates a flawless and suffocating atmosphere of dread.  It evokes an even mix of endless navel-gazing and uncontrollable head-banging, while maintaining a consistent theme and tone throughout.  The bands sound remains firmly rooted in the Old-School while feeling forward thinking and starkly original.  Simply put, Muknal is one of the best Death Metal albums I have ever heard.  Not bad for the three song debut EP.

And the best album of 2012:

Charon- Sulfur Seraph(The Archon Principal)

In order to verify my personal feeling that Charon's Sulfur Seraph(The Archon Principal) was truly the best album of 2012, I gave myself a challenge: don't listen to it for a solid three months at least.  Step away from the album which was becoming a solid part of my listening rotation and see if it holds up to the changing of time and perspective.  It's a tough test for any album to over-come, and banishes more than one former flame to obscurity.

What I found surprised me: not only did Sulfur Seraph hold up, it felt...well, as the song goes, it felt like the very first time.  Charon's sound is easy to describe yet difficult to envision, utterly accessible yet beyond heavy and incredibly fast, mired in Old-School sensibilities yet as fresh as anything I have heard in a long time.  The sound Charon achieved on Sulfur Seraph is simply magical; Thrash, Black Metal and Occult Black/Death all meet at a perfect center apex and proceed to savage the fuck out of your ear-drums while never coming off as overly abrasive or self-indulgent.  It's this surprising listenability, this "pick up and listen" style of brutal, fast and evil song-writing that doesn't feel like a rehash of early 90's Death Metal that makes Sulfur Seraph such an impressive album, and the best album of 2012.