Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Infinitum Obscure; Liktjern; Rotting Christ; Skogen

Infinitum Obscure (Mexico): Sub Atras Caelis
Metal occultism—in the sense of certain guitar/drum patterns (not necessarily referring just to the lyrical methods) is a particular metal strand informed by its own perspective/tradition—is a real entity, as Infinitum Obscure amply shows on this album.
Quite a classy approach, this one takes, with the mighty metal of death guitar tone/sound/heritage, and with the drumming, too. This guitar tone is one of the bravest: with this guitar tone, you can hear what the band is playing because it is upfront and clear. Therefore, devoid of trickery or deceit, you can decipher the guitar and hear how the band has organized each song, from one riff to the next, and the one following that, until the song ends.
The first impression will be black/death metal, with the sounds of “darkness” and the “underground” tradition. It does have those things.
But listen closely and these guitar riffs, licks and solos will practically reach out and grab you ear. What is the result? Metal that sounds meticulously constructed down to the last detail, but which appears unusually smooth, fluid and with a particular elegance of style and harmonious.
These riffs are an open invitation to bang your head. Or, if like some people, your neck has health problems, you can at least nod along in metal agreement throughout the whole cd: the sounds of the metal of death have a very specific tradition, but they are also, pound for pound, some of the most talented of metal guitar work.
About the vocals: the vocals are closer, possibly, to black metal, but this is NOT shrieked/raspy vocals, but a thicker/heavier/deeper growl. In other words, its appeal is for both death and black metal.
The drum work is done so well and correct and smoothly, that it doesn’t distract from the song. It’s not about showing off or doing strange beats or things like that. Rather, the drumming is like very organized, but big-idea drumming. Check out the track “Messenger of Chaos, I” (from this album and available on myspace, too) and hear for yourself a great example of the type of guitar tone and sounds, the proficient drumming, the vocals, the swirling guitar work and the general atmosphere that has been created. Some would say, it is the “cold darkness” of this band that stands out.
OK, well, fine. One more thing: the whole album is at that level of quality. The above example song is no fluke and it is representative.

Liktjern (Norway): Kulde, Pest & Død
Necrogrim black metal with the corpsepaint, chains, spikes, hatchets, bullet belts, leather, inverted crosses, skulls and every kind of obscurantism you can imagine.
These vocals are tortured by the black metal insight; the guitar sound is no friend of the studio or your ears!
The four songs waste no time on experimentation or any funny business for that matter. Chaotic, sloppy black metal pounding along to tremolo riffs.
An abrasive sound that they go for in this recording, which has demo-quality sound. Avoid if you require good production.
“Kirkebrann” (4:57) is no friend of certain buildings but friendly to fire and pyromaniacs. The speed is not blasting or super speedy, though it is a nice headbanging/uptempo pace and those tremolo riffs wind their way in trance-repetition mode: it pretty much sounds like it’s the same chord for the whole song.
There are three other songs and they are demonstrations in how to make music that sounds like the vocalist is taking his vocal chords to the limit. And he likes it! And he’s not the only one that likes.
The band declares that what they have in mind is called “true Norwegian black metal” and that’s their story and they’re sticking to it.
It is fugly, fugly metal.

Rotting Christ (Greece): Aealo (Season of Mist)
“Eon Aenaos” (3:59): A chunky chug-chug upbeat rhythm drives this, as well as an ear-candy melody (even pop-ish melodies); the growling is deep; uptempo song meant to be for headbanging; the result is something like a “rocking” upbeat, heavy-melodic goth track.
“Demonon Vrosis” (4:56): Midtempo goth-growl melodic, with a bluesy-melancholic guitar solo done in a very clear guitar tone, as are just about all the guitar melodies.
“Noctis Era” (4:49): Midtempo melodic goth-growl song; the energy level seems to have settled into a comfortable middle-of-the-road “rocking” along vibe; this is enhanced with background sounds that are kind of symphonic (but not too loud; it’s not upfront); of course, then there are those melodies played at a clear, high range.
“dub-sag-ta-ke” (2:59): Uptempo, harder “rocking” speedy track with some gang-shouting chanting and some high-clear singing. It goes by quickly
“Fire Death and Fear” (4:34): Another uptempo/midtempo track with some background “world-music” sounds (chanting, etc.); the track is part heavy, part light, but not in separate sections; rather, they run together and mix: “goth-growl” music? There is some “weirdness” or “experimentation” going on, but that’s taking place throughout the whole album
“Nekron Iahes” (1:08): Nothing but chanting something that sounds like the word “hey” being stretched out, as in “hhhheeeeyyyyyy heyyyyyyyyyyy” (don’t know exactly what the word could be) chanted in high voices and then it’s over; is this joke, genius or just plain annoying?!
There are other songs, of course. These are some examples from the first half of the album.

Hopefully that conveys the idea of what’s going on here. To some, this band is very hip or ahead of its time or adventurous or something like that. Whatever the word would be for people who are a pretty weird bunch but still use some, even substantial, metal elements. Maybe this is considered totally normal in some circles; or just normal goth metal. Don’t know.
This is the kind of album that some people will say that it opens their perspective to experimenting and things like that. The band obviously knows what they are doing.
On the other hand, if you are interested in words like “true” anything or “pure” this or you are “anti” this or “against” this or that “false” thing or whatever, you may want to stay away as far as possible because this band, this Rotting Christ, will make you angry or you’ll start ranting and raving. Save yourself the stress attack.

By the way, “Orders from the Dead” (Diamanda Galas cover) (8:57) is a spoken-word track, with some background music. It’s some sort of poem read aloud or something similar. Don’t know who they are covering. There is no singing or growling, but some person talking, sounding like a mystic or prophet or something like that (don’t know, really) declaring facts or observations. Some will understand and like; others might not; you decide.

Skogen (Sweden): Vittra (Frostscald/Hexenhammer)
How can Skogen be diverse elements and then bring them all together into cohesiveness?
Skogen is traditional, raw: tremolo riffs and those black metal vocals. Skogen is a prog metal band that has taken their prog to the lands of black metal; their songs often are eight or nine minutes long, where they work it out and bring it to fruition. Skogen is a folk/forest/atmospheric band that incorporated black metal into their craft; there are acoustic passages, and such other characteristic, important components. Skogen also uses some very clear and shiny guitar melancholies and even a bit of clean vocals for atmosphere. Of course, they do NOT use those clean vocals a lot and it’s not a formula; it’s a tiny bit, for background feeling, in a few places.
The album as a totality shows that they have done a lot with raw black metal, giving their music other angles, edges, sounds. This is big-idea, ambitious music and they sound as if they are making music only for themselves (there are only two people involved) and with no major goal of pleasing anyone else. The fact that other people like it, that’s a bonus. (Svensson and Nilsson play all instruments; drums are not listed, which may mean it’s a drum machine; the overall sound quality is good, though; maybe next time use a real drummer)
Something adventurous, different, but still very much for metal people, especially those into more ambitious music.
Here’s where you can listen:

Ensemble of Silence; Hellsteed; Immolation

Ensemble of Silence (Malaysia ): Dark Moon Rising
1. “A Force to Kill” (5:09): For the most part, on here, it is a thrashy guitar sound with semi-growl vocals that takes precedence. Quite a few influences come across, such as that style of melodic-thrashy guitar playing: sounds like a band still working out its musical direction.
2. “Dark Moon Rising” (5:14): Despite the scream/growl vocals, there is quite a bit of that guitar sound described above that pretty much dominates. The band goes for some slower, more melodic moments.
3. “Kiss of the Whisper” (4:47): Once again, the guitar work is the centerpiece. For the main guitar rhythm parts, it is a thrashy style, but there’s a decidedly melodic-metal guitar sound for other parts, like some licks, solos, etc.

Ensemble of Silence is closer to that more successful and commercially viable sound that some Swedish bands have made popular, and which has become very popular amongst U.S. rock bands that play “hard rock” or “metal.” This band sounds like a metal band, but definitely different from the majority of the bands reviewed in this zine.
This is their demo and it’s hindered by the sound quality, but their musical style comes across relatively intact. Having no knowledge of the metal scene in Malaysia, it is difficult to judge, so, if interested, check them out, if you don’t mind that melodic/twin-harmony thrashy guitar sound and would like to hear this band’s take on it.

Hellsteed (U.K.): Bastion of Cruelty
Hellsteed should be pleased with the sound quality on here. For example, the bass is very easy to discern and it’s heavy with a rumble. These three songs are a good representation of their seriousness of purpose.
1. “Bastion of Cruelty” (6:19): The vocals have a definite clenched-teeth black/death metal anger, but with pretty good enunciation. The song is uptempo, but this is not blasting death metal. The result is a song that utilizes its own sound to attract, where the band has to show what it is made of, without resorting to just playing fast: let the guitar convince or dissuade the listener, hear the riffs and see if you like.
2. “Behind Me a City Burns” (5:47): A more straightforward song, easier to remember simply because it emphasizes the uptempo speed. Is Hellsteed “progressive brutality”? Maybe “cold, prog brutality”? Part of the time the guitar riffs lean in the direction of dissonant sounds that underline non-melodic licks. Then they bust out with some headbanging moments. The two worlds coexist and thrive.
3. “Alone We All Die” (5:14): Begins with mellow guitar leading to uptempo, rumbly track with compact riffs that build a frame to a memorable verse, “Life has no reason, no bigger picture, in isolation, alone we all die.” It’s a good way to end the song with such an upbeat guitar part, raising the question as to what else this band is capable of.
So far, it’s got serious songs somewhere between brutality and prog metal. The growling will give the impression of a death metal band, but it’s really not just that, for the musical objective is a combination of several origins. Hellsteed doesn’t sound like anyone in particular. Few bands have the bass this upfront. Despite the framework of black/death metal, Hellsteed’s guitar work has some different elements (could be prog) in it that’s a bit hard to place. There is an integrity to the sound, and professionalism. It doesn’t sound like a bunch of people just recording stuff in their garage. This is not to say that it sounds like a big-budget production, but it’s pretty solid.

Immolation (US): Majesty and Decay (Nuclear Blast)
Of the ten songs on this album (plus an intro and an interlude), it would be acceptable to write reviews for each composition. However, instead, consider these four random examples of the work delivered, and from there, extract the necessary conclusions, since each of these songs is representative of the level of artistic expression at which Immolation functions.
7. “A Glorious Epoch” (4:39): From 0:00 to 1:43 this is hovering doom; the speed and major contortions begin at 1:43 and from there it’s riff upon massive riff building a monolith that twists and turns upon itself. Riffs and licks fly about the place, giving the impression that only repeated listens will clarify just what is happening here.
5. “Divine Code” (3:40): Interspersed with compact sections of speed and blasting, this is an exemplary praxis of that big-riff heaviness that’s key to the Immolation sound. It is framed with several of those contorted tempo changes. The two guitar solos are different, both of them short: one is crisp, crystal clear and fluid, while the other one is circular, simpler. This song does have lyrics and vocals, but the song sounds a bit like an instrumental, though obviously it is not.
12. “The Comfort of Cowards” (5:52): Mr. Dolan’s vocals are very low and gruff, but his enunciation is clear enough that some of what he’s growling can be understood when he’s not growling very fast. When growling slower, he sounds like a diabolical character-monster in a movie. Look at how long this one lasts. As you can imagine by now, it’s fairly representative of the more complex side of Immolation.
10. “The Rapture of Ghosts” (5:21): It sounds like there are at least three guitars very audibly swirling into a bundle of plodding heaviness, with a fast double bass drum balancing the weight. Mr. Dolan’s vocals are pretty deep and there are some crisp guitar licks that appear and disappear, like sparks. Plus, towards the end there is a guitar melody worked and reworked until the song’s finality.

These ten songs all display a serious effort to engage the composition at its multifaceted focus. Those that enjoy guitar work that is challenging and non-linear will find much to explore. Notice, for example, how Immolation actually uses what are called “traditional black metal riffs” (but with a thick/heavy sound) in some places and yet this hardly ever gets mentioned because supposedly Immolation is considered “pure death metal.” Or check out the “melodies” and how Immolation utilizes them, trespassing limits, yet doing it in an intelligent way, the opposite of ear-candy sounds or sounds that pander to the audience’s nostalgia (re-hashing other band’s melodies). As if this weren’t enough, take a few listens to those dissonant, riffs-working-against-each-other-in-harmony elements that impel to the listener to return to the songs: how is it that these riffs work together when they sound like they are colliding against each other?
This album is about feeling and vibe, heaviness and a twisted way of writing songs. This requires more than a couple of listens to understand, but this is not a new situation with Immolation. Of course, this has bursts of speed and blasting, but simplicity and linear songs are not Immolation’s main features: massive riffs, dissonant riffs, quality licks and solos, deep vocals, well-placed speed, capable drumming with carefully done technical elements and lyrics contemplative of the band’s perceived state of the planet.
This is the band whose music will give you hand cramps when you play along on your guitar to what captain Vigna is playing.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Crypt (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Crypt (Bosnia and Herzegovina): Controlling the Madness
1. “Fresh Cadaverous Flesh” (4:23): This demo is low-guttural death: basic and cozy, jackhammer-drumming-driven growl music. With this band, the drummer sounds like the heartmachine of the band: such dominant drumming just anchors the whole proceedings. There certainly is a Mike Smith school of drumming going on. Not too shabby, Crypt!
2. “Maggots” (5:09): this song’s lyrics are actually not jackass gore-zombie lyrics, but about mental domination. With a title like that it’s easy to observe, “Not another band with the lyrics about zombies, worms and excrement.” But it’s not. However, it is true that the other lyrics are still very much into the gore, but maybe in the future they can find a way out of this cliché, as they did with this song.
3. “Throne of Insanity” (5:09): Crypt flexes their fast, blasting and uptempo, and occasionally midpaced, musical muscles to get what they want by way of a “brutal death metal” sound. There are a couple of brief guitar solos, and this track goes straight for a pounding-drum attitude.
4. “Tomb of Abomination” (5:56): They use a little of that groove/mosh/crunch. Sure, the band is still honing their sound.
It’s a demo with easy-to-enjoy songs by a band clearly developing their sound. Crypt is very a meat-and-potatoes death metal band and they are not pretending something else besides loud, blasting, growling music for the moshing crazies. It is “sick death metal” that motivates them.

Burning Thy Symbols (Germany)

Burning Thy Symbols (Germany): Superior E.P. (Mountain King Records)
1. “Superior” (5:57): No introductions, just black metal storms from the start: raw, speedy and blasting traditional-torch black metal of raspy-throat-shrieked vocals. Due to the shriek and overall noise, it’s a bit difficult to notice the gem: this song has several twists that take the tempo in nonlinear directions. It’s raw metal, but it’s not two-chord music. If it were, maybe it would not be easy to do a six-minute song? Do they mean to sound this raw or is it simply a lack of resources?
2. “Lords of Chaos” (6:05): Here the band displays a raw-tremolo-melodic edge, but then with those total-shriek vocals, how this vocalist can raise a noisy jamboree all by his corpsepainted self! Of course, he gets help from the rest of the band. Again, this is not repetitive-riff black metal, raging on the same riff for one song. For instance, by the middle of this song, there quite a bit of road that has been traveled, pretty far from the beginning’s riffs.
3. “Burning Thy Symbols” (6:17): I’m starting to think that the vocalist MS is a raging sado-masochist: he loves to torture his own throat. Yes! And wouldn’t you know it, at 3:10-4:00 these crazies show a little guitar-catchiness, before another round of rage.
4. “The Slaughter of God’s Child” (5:07): Plenty left in the tank. Nice part with some tapping, at 1:50-3:23, gives it a rocking vibe, but of course those shriek-vocals are screaming over the tapping. This whole part lasts a little while and the song is better for it.
5. “Invoke the Emperor” (7:10): This one starts out like another we-play-black-metal-and-that’s-that track. Fine. Bring it! But this song has an unexpected twist: they bust out with some clean singing at 1:55-2:23, then until 2:53, there is simple but very effective solo, and all of this is followed by a return of the grimness and chaos. Later on, those same clean-vocals lyrics appear to be done in the shriek style, giving it a different angle.
With this last song a clearer picture emerges: raging black metal, but they have a constant tendency to change the patterns within a song, so it’s not a one-trick pony. Final answer: yes, it’s raw and shrieked, but not one-dimensional. Speculation: expect more ambitious undertakings in the future.
Cynics might say that this is just typical angry-Donald-Duck-vocals black metal, but there is more to it than just shrieking and blasting.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Botritis Cinerea (Germany)

Botritis Cinerea (Germany): The Burning Slave Mark
The black metal hunger of Botritis Cinerea is compact and to the point: six songs of traditional/raw black metal, each song lasting approximately 2:30 to 3:30. Botritis Cinerea is about a vibe: their desire is to keep it elemental. The sound is transylvanian: the musical values of a purposely fugly, primal feel. (In addition, the seventh track is 2:29 of solemn instrumental piano, in contrast to the other six songs. Is it a hint of future things?) Anyway, their songs stay at the shorter end of the spectrum and their impact is felt immediately. Their idea is not that you should wait around for the “good” part of a song, since the good part is the song itself. Then it’s time to move on to the next one.
Now, Botritis Cinerea is no fancy proposition and they are in the area of “for total-black-metal-maniacs.” The band likes black metal oriented towards the old school, so while they might be one-dimensional to some, to others this will be exactly what they like, as if the band has been asking: “Whatever happened to just plugging in your guitars and going crazy on basic black metal?” Accordingly, it is revenge, grief, dogma, obscurantism, etc., that are the topics of the lyrics.
“Multiple Personality” lasts 2:31and the vocals are complete throat-destruction and pain-amplification in the shrieked style. The guitar riffs on a black/thrash tone and rides it out until the wheels come off. The drumming doesn’t exactly always sound like blasting, but it’s pretty much in that speed, chaotic, etc.
“Bitter Song” (3:05) is a barrage of noise pounding away, screaming bloody murder to the breaking point of the vocalist’s throat and the guitar player’s tired wrists. The drums sound like they will fall apart any second now from the beating they are taking.
If someone told the band that “My Own Hell” (3:00) sounds pretty much like all their other songs, they would probably say, “Thank you very much, you are so kind.” Or invite that person to fly a kite. Their recording is a good demo and it allows the band to bring their songs to life and for metallers to check it out, particularly the black metal devotees.