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