Firespawn – Shadow Realms (2015)

Firespawn - Shadow Realms (2015)
As I suspected in September, this is a patronizingly stupid work of deathpop (reminder: straight up pop rock/metal with death metal aesthetics and instrumentation) of such simplicity that it will probably worsen the quality of discourse here at DMU for a few days by virtue of having been released. This sort of thing should probably been relegated to the level of Sadistic Metal Reviews, but part of having greater volume on this site is going into depth on why the chaff is chaff, as opposed to the cream of the crop. Shadow Realms is the type of album that could very easily be commercially successful if it got the right marketing push, but I don’t think that’s actually going to happen, and no amount of sales is going to secure this album a place in your mind for very long.

All the stereotypical elements of a deathpop album are here in full force. The instrumentation and production is “perfect” in the sense that everything here is appropriate to the 50% Stockholm/50% Gothenburg mixture that was used in this album’s construction. Shadow Realms is slightly melodic, not particularly Bossy, and generally built from fast, somewhat technical instrumental performances, but the end result is that each musician is playing something solely because if they didn’t, there would be no album. Some songs might slightly, almost imperceptibly bend towards other substyles at times, but the actual songwriting is as formulaic and rudimentary as it can be. L.G Petrov’s extremely simplistic and almost sing-song vocal performance continues to be the main emphasis on this album. Everything else is subordinate to the point that it severely inhibits the rest of the band’s ability to contribute anything beyond the banal and overdone.

By slamming together a roster of musicians with so much experience, Century Media has ensured that Shadow Realms sounds like death metal, even to those who give it more than the most superficial of listens. It’s still unfortunate that the musicians don’t have anything interesting to perform. All of the bands mentioned in Firespawn’s promotional materials have released better material than this, although not necessarily in a similar style. Stylistic specifics, though, do not take precedence over quality and coherence of output, and thusly listening to Shadow Realms is a complete waste of your time.

Firespawn to release Shadow Realms, but don’t bother purchasing it

Firespawn - Shadow Realms (2015)

What do you get when you form a supergroup from members of Entombed, Unleashed, and Necrophobic, all of whom released excellent formative death metal at the beginnings of their careers? Not much, apparently. Firespawn (formerly Fireborn) plays generic modern Swedeath with slight hints of melody and not much else of interest. If you ever needed a reminder that a promising lineup does not automatically translate into a product that is even promising at best, Shadow Realms is there for you – more accurately, you will be able to purchase it on November 13th from Century Media if its banality fails to undermine your interest. In the mean time, you can listen to one of its upcoming tracks (“Ruination”) for a textbook example of how to put together generic deathpop. Particularly notable are the rudimentary vocal rhythms and the exceedingly basic song structure.

Future coverage is possible, but very likely to be sadistic in nature.

American Snuff Company – Cotton Boll Twist

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Many (but not all) pipe smokers claim that they smoke for the flavor, not the nicotine. This is on par with wine drinkers talking about the “aura” and “palate” of a wine as they approach the end of the second bottle and begin slurring their words. For most of us, the pipe is a complete experience: taste, smell, feel, activity and yes, nicotine.

Why? Because Nicotine is a god among stimulants, providing cognitive benefits as well as relaxation. Because it helps us see our dead ancestors. Because it is fun. Pick one or more of the above, but be honest in recognizing that for many of us, nicotine is part of the trip. Accordingly, many smokers seek out a nicotine “holy grail”: the most intense nicotine blast that one can experience in a pipe.

A number of candidates arise, most from the Gawith Hoggarth stable, but rumored to be beyond even that in intensity are twists. These are nearly raw tobacco, taken from curing and wrapped in a distinctive shape, then allowed to age so the sugars in the leaf ferment and that dead vegetation flavor leaves. Twists are normally designed to be chewed and then placed against the cheek where nicotine absorption occurs through the membrane, but since the dawn of recorded history on the topic, smokers have been known to hack off bits of them and smoke them for a cosmic Nicotine experience.

You can get twists a number of places. Here’s a semi-comprehensive list:

These contenders for the holy grail of mind-blowing Nicotine trips are generally not all that expensive, in keeping with their functional origins in agricultural work. They do not have fancy flavors or extensive steps taken to reduce their rougher edges. But they do offer a staggering dose of the magic lady.

In my search for pipe smoking’s holy grail, I acquired an American Snuff Company Cotton Boll Twist, rumored to be one of the stronger twists. It arrived in a plastic bag, looking very much like a roughly dried leaf. Upon slitting the bag and removing it, I noticed a scent of old leaf, perhaps with undertones of oil, and felt how dry the twist was in my hands. But I noticed the hands were shaking.

Pipe smokers are famous for their lore, and while much of it is not strictly speaking factually true, almost all of it has metaphorical meaning, like religion or Texans telling tales where the fish keeps getting bigger or the boar gets meaner. It was entirely possible that this thing would kill me. They would find me, tense body twisted into an impossible pose in my comfortable share, surrounded by ashes flung aside during my final convulsions. The M.E. would shake his head sadly and proclaim death by misadventure, and I would be buried in a simple grave with the marker reading only HERE LIES AN IDIOT. This fear gripped me as I turned the twist over in my hands.

Being a somewhat intrepid sort, at least with my own life, I put it on the cutting block and hacked off an inch, then sliced it vertically and again, horizontally, to create small cubes. Because the leaf was dry and unpressed, these quickly expanded to tiny flakes — approximating the size of rough cut tobacco — of dry, slightly greasy vegetation. Figuring that here went nothing, I loaded up my favorite author style pipe and set match to tobacco, then waited for death to swoop down from the clouds and seize me in a spasm of final agonies.

Nothing of the sort happened.

First, I recoiled from the flavor. Almost no tobacco is actually “raw,” since you sort of have to dump something on it to help with the aging process and rehydrate it after drying. But this is as raw as it gets and it has a flavor that resembles, well, dried leaves. It burns quickly too, making me rehydrate the second batch. But for that first bowl, I lit, tamped, gagged and then lit again. After a few more puffs — slightly sour like the first notes of a newly-lit cigar — I found the flavor to improve. The nutty broad flavor of Burley replaced the raw taste of flame. Then a slight sweetness, very light, drifted to the surface. The more it burned, the better it tasted, although an oily undertone like old butter from an all-night restaurant persisted, and sometimes there was the slightly bitter “green” taste of minimally cured plant matter. But by the end of the first third of the bowl, I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

And then… it hit.

Like a serpentine form uncoiling in darkness, Nicotine wound its way through the smoke into my brain. My jaw dropped and cold sweat broke out on my forehead. I could see my fingers twitching like insects in the spastic repetition of instinctual motions. Sounds receded, and I could no longer speak. I could feel every hair like a finely-tuned instrument, detect even the slightest breeze brushing over my skin. “Unholy mackerel,” I thought, “This may indeed be the end.”

But I survived. And I hung on, chopping up another half-inch and adding the collected leaf-bits to a small bowl over which I draped a hot damp towel. I waited. And then I reloaded, lit, tamped and blazed. The same bitterness struck, the oily smoke curling around my head, but then the rancid butter and cut grass flavors faded and the nuttiness returned. The faint sweetness emerged as well, as did the Samurai warrior that is Nicotine. But this time, I rode the dragon. I felt myself pass into the shadow realms, and like the mythical Jenkem users of central Africa, I spoke to my dead ancestors. I enjoyed every minute of it.

In terms of raw strength, this tobacco is not more excessive than Samuel Gawith 1792 Flake or the infamous Gawith Hoggarth “Happy” Brown Bogie. It has some strength on those, but does not leap to another cosmic level. However, like a tropical storm it attacks quickly and holds you with an iron grip. In this case, it is pleasurable. Subsequent bowls revealed that this tobacco mixes extremely well, and even a pinch of an English mixture mutes its flavor extremes. Its heavy Burley takes the flavor of whatever it is mixed with, making this an even more enjoyable experience. But that power — the raw, infernal power — remains.

The stronger ropes from UK tobacco makers, or even some of the home-grown Perique mixes that the Americans concoct, most likely match this in strength. Part of its reputation comes from the fact that as a dry tobacco, it burns quickly and thus injects more smoke into the mouth (this is the same reason people like flake tobacco; the compressed flake burns a lot more leaf at any given instant than loose tobacco blends). But part of it is a sensible recognition of the dark forces at work within this demon of a twist. I paired it with Incantation Onward to Golgotha in recognition of its infernal strength, and sipped green tea to keep me anchored in the world of reality. This may not be the holy grail of Nicotine abuse, but it is one of them. And I am glad I found it.

Entombed A.D premieres new track from Dead Dawn

More generic Swedeath in the future, as Entombed A.D released a single from their upcoming studio album. Dead Dawn is scheduled for a 2016 release. Compared to other things these musicians have recently been involved in (uh… Firespawn?), this isn’t quite as banal, but it’s still a pretty generic Swedish death metal track that tends towards rock music, or at least crust punk in disguise. You never know – this might get a thrashing closer to when it comes out on February 26th, or we might be preoccupied with more important releases (like the upcoming Voivod). In the mean time, Entombed A.D is gearing up for the Europa Blasphemia tour headlined by Behemoth.

Pathways

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Article by David Rosales

In ancient times, a transcendental and reverential cosmological vision made of the hardships of reality a way to elevate intellectual life to the status of the divine. The power to speculate, explore and decode reality around us was considered a gift.The time given to pursue such enterprises was considered invaluable.

What we now call history is the constant decaying of civilizations, an ebbing of true understanding, followed by a wave of revolutions, one after the other in relatively rapid succession as a drowning man desperately clutching for air. Scrapping whatever he could, man acquired dominion over the material while all sense of meaning was gradually lost.

“…for the powerful children of natural emotion will be replaced by the miserable creatures of financial expediency.”

The following is a list of four artworks of the greatest refinement, be it formal or otherwise, achieved through experience or birthed by the innerworkings of an innate calling. The first three are metal and of a minimalist stripe. The third is a Baroque religious vocal work. These are the echoes of what once was.

However, if there ever was an art for the elite, this is it. It will challenge each of the shortcomings of the fickle man. The first will call into question the superficial appreciation of aesthetics and will render the disavowal of prejudices compulsory. The second will require self-internment and the ability to perceive higher truths. The third will furthermore force those with a mind for the complex and an aversion to clear, straight lines to look beyond these and settle down in an openness to the expression. Finally, the last and most ancient will bring to bear the capacity of imaginatively layered music to quickly wear down the animal mind. This will be the bane of the simple-minded.

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On Det Frysende Nordariket

Disdained by most metalheads and followed with unthinking loyalty by kvlt fanatics, Ildjarn has achieved an infamous reputation in one way or another. Either of these camps considers the project to be non-music, with polarized opinions divided between “far from filling the requirements of music” and “simply beyond music”. The former point of view assumes a position of authority on technique whence it presumes to judge what music is. The latter is the inexcusable blindness of spineless and undiscerning individuals who place image before content.

While one could easily disarm the first argument on philosophical grounds, an unbiased judgement of the performance itself leaves any knowledgeable instrumentalist with no option but to accept that this is certainly not the weakness of the music. If issue were taken directly with the arrangement — the composition — of the music, there could be a worthwhile side to these attacks. More often than not, though, these critics arise from the new funderground camp, who have a notorious obsession with sheer standard behemoth-sounding production values, and so the argument usually runs along the lines of Ildjarn’s music being buried too deep in noise to have any value to speak of.

However, Ildjarn at its peak is far more than the jumbled improvisations the early recordings let through. The extreme punk channeling raw energy that this music consists of took some time to be harnessed. Det Frysende Nordariket (“The Frozen Northern-Kingdom”) shows us a refinement and redirecting of these ideas. While the self-titled was barely more than a collection of scattered ideas, intuitive impulses and visceral cadences, it is in this release that Ildjarn develops these ideas into mature extensions which make efficient use of the strengths of the original riffs, thereby burying the relevance of their shortcomings.

Coming to an aural absorption or a gnosis, so to speak, of Ildjarn’s rougher side necessitates not only the listener’s amiability towards ultra-minimalist and long-winded ambient music, but also a positive familiarity with low-fi punk and metal production and its use of what are normally considered sound artifacts as tones and colors on the palette of the artist. Once this is understood and the raw texture is successfully digested, one can start to appreciate the unique ideas presented in each track. The genius of Ildjarn lies in the masterful ultra-minimalist manipulation of the original ideas that can be likened to a stretching and contracting, which is occasionally accompanied by a seamless expansion that is so shy it is barely noticeable if the listener is not attentive.

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On Hvis Lyset Tar Oss

1994 marks the turning point in metal history when innovation stops and a gradual degeneration starts to take place. This year is also the highest point in black metal, seeing the release of what we can consider the quintessential genre masterpieces. First among them is Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss.

The meteoric ascent of Vikernes’ previous works from varied yet focused ideas to the purest synthesis of elements in Hvis Lyset Tar Oss could only have one possible outcome. The groundbreaking impact this had on the genre can only be compared to that of albums like Onward to Golgotha or Legion on death metal. While some argue that Vikernes single-handedly “developed” or “defined” black metal, the truth is that he brought it to an end in this album. It is the kind of album that has the words “THIS IS IT” written all over it. There is nothing for us, mortals, beyond the incognizable infinite.

While there is much dark beauty in other works in the genre, works that may serve as veritable portals to hidden corridors of existence, when it comes to the art of composition, there is no other that brings this black romanticism to a more perfect incarnation. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss addresses all facets of black metal and gives them an equally important place in a masterfully balanced music.

The often-used descriptor “ambient black metal” falls criminally short of what this album has to offer. That this “atmospheric” feeling is the only thing blind men can perceive is empiric evidence of its extant layers penetrable to their last consequence only by esoteric means. The least trained will only hear repetition (variation details are lost on them), while those into ambient music will sense the fog around them. He who decries structures and can, to some extent, understand their relations, will be able to delineate muscle fibers and bones — an objective confirmation of content. Further and higher lie realms to be walked but never shared.

Navigating the waters of this ocean, we see indomitable and gargantuan waves slowly rise before us, we experience the placid breeze under a dark-grey sky streaked by clouds mutilated by the rays of a moribund sun, and we face the wrathful tempest. Battered and sucked into a timeless maelstrom, all that remains at the very end is the essence, the ultimate undifferentiated mother of creation.

On The Rack

Asphyx’s debut garners “historical” respect, but is often deemed to be the preparative stage before more refined ones. This argument appears to be supported on two pillars. The first is that a later Asphyx was more technically outspoken, and the second, that the band managed to narrow down their style into a more focused expression. Both of these are true, yet they did not result in higher artistic merit as later works became increasingly sterile. The fact that people get “a feeling” from them is besides the point. Yet, when it comes to art and especially to music, some might confuse these visceral reactions with effective communication through the intuitive.

The Rack presents a style that is both minimalist in its building blocks but displays a progressive tendency in the overall arrangement of parts. Here, Asphyx goes beyond style fetishization and instead uses characteristic phrases and riffs as symbols standing for moods and points in a storyline. This vision places it alongside classic albums that work at a higher level than the merely technical or the grossly emotional. However, it is important to keep in mind that all this intellectual dissection is only a way to uncover this work’s secrets and must not be confused with the end.

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The color palette with which Asphyx plays has a narrow enough range that its extreme opposites are not as contrasting that they incur in an incoherent string of topic changes, yet the individual strokes that riffs represent are distinctive enough that they form clear statements and unambiguously show the way. The triumph of The Rack lies, furthermore, in that it not only signals these inclinations but actually follows them to their last consequence without derailing.

These progressions may seem too clear-cut, leading to them being perceived as ‘blocky’. But when inspected closely, they are shown to be not so much as separate stones in alignment, but as rock-hewn steps in a massive staircase of which each stage is birthed from the underskin of the last. Other ‘brutal’ albums constitute a string of emotions, but here we find an ancient megalithic maze that dwarves petty human creations.
Switching between thematic solos and motific riffs, grindlike attack and doomlike arrest, this first Asphyx takes us through savage plains and forbidden peaks in a barbarian’s world. Now we hear the rage of souls crushed, the karmic cruelty thence resulting, now the ecstatic state following the release of unrestrained fury as we claw our way through this arid wasteland of unmercy.

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On Historia der Auferstehung Jesu Christi (recording by Roger Norrington and the Schütz Choir)

A baroque religious work might at first seem like an odd addition to a metal compendium, especially one featuring such corrosive albums. A sympathetic relation may nonetheless be found in deeper metaphysical recesses. This hidden concept being the most relevant connection that merits mention does not stop us from discussing other outer traits that surface from that common source, even though their materialized natures lie at antagonizing angles.

The homogeneous, cloudy exterior of Schütz’s offering to the highest being is a continuous exaltation in which each moment is as much a unique apparition as it is an illusory shadow in a sequence of conditioned stages. A flow through condensation, solidification and dispersion let the listener on to the infinite possibilities arising from the two, who are themselves from the one.

Dense, saturated and appreciable only as a mass, Historia der Auferstehung Jesu Christi will only reflect a clear image if the listener is standing in the right place (at the right time?). This same is true of the Ildjarn, the Burzum and the Asphyx as well. They represent mental spaces within which they are as palpable and engulfing as daylight itself. But places must be traveled to, gates must be unlocked and the decision to step through them is a voluntary one.

Seeds being planted,
guarded by the old ones below.
Against the sky they lay roots,
Once to bloom with signs.

Alchemyst – Nekromanteion

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Purveyors of occult black/death Alchemyst introduced their ominous presence in the underground in 2009 only to seclude themselves in 2014. During that time the band released three demos, a compilation, a split, and the full length effort in question, Nekromanteion. While the atmosphere that this band deploys finds kinship in the mystic aura of black metal, its genesis lies in the archaic realms of ultra-cryptic riff-labyrinth death metal.

Alchemyst manifests through cavernous, dark death metal with an atmosphere that crushes the listener under pressure while simultaneously enervating them with despair. Songs are comprised of unique, murky, and arcane riffs that resound varying moods, which creates a dark and meancing instability. The compelling essence of the atmosphere originates in the unpredictable motion of the music, which varies both tempi and riff form on a constant basis, like musical quicksand obliterating any consistency or hope wherever it finds it. Bass plays an equally vital role in the dynamics of the song, both structuring songs through foreshadowing, and traversing a vitriolic, dark tone that goes hand in blender with the chaos that the guitars conjure. Penetrating the sense as though breathing serpent fire, the ensuing descent feels like having a luminous light permeating your body and devouring it like nuclear explosion from the inside out.

Alchemyst share a kinship with contemporary abyss-dwellers such as Antediluvian, Abyssal, and Lantern, in its use of dark, meditative resonance as the basis of its mood. However, it takes a different route toward instability, which is to base its sound in unexpected variation rather than constant grinding.

Interview: Nidhogg

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History reveals little about Nidhogg, the musician known for his contributions to Ildjarn, Sort Vokter and Ildjarn–Nidhogg. These projects, while initially rejected by an increasingly faddish black metal “scene,” quickly gained fans for their use of elegant short melodies within ambient songs of abrasive noise fused with aggressive Oi rhythms and black metal riffs.

Using short songs structured around the transitions of song inspired by lyrics, Nidhogg creates albums that immerse the listener in a dark world of excitement: like the primeval forest come alive, this music pulses with the poetry of life in the wild. It embraces the world as a living organism in the pre-Christian tradition and brings out the fierce natural instinct for survival and power as well as the ambiguous lack of safety inherent to the frontier. Expansive and transcendent, like all good black metal from the Norse tradition, it transports the listener away from a failed functionalist time into a mindset of possibility and exuberant cosmic exploration.

Much of black metal would benefit from seeing into the mind of this primal artist concerning his contributions to the aforementioned nature-metal projects and his own artistic endeavors. Read on for the thoughts of one of the last embodiments of a genuine black metal mentality…

How did you first meet Ildjarn, the person?

Me and Ildjarn met when starting secondary scool at Bø Gymnas, Telemark in 1988. We had the same interest in metal and started hanging out together and experimenting musically in different directions in the basement at Akkerhaugen where we recorded “Norse” and “Svartfråd“.

Can you describe the formation of the musical project, Ildjarn, and how you became involved?

Ildjarn is his own project, and he started recording under that moniker in the early 90’s. Me and Ildjarn had played together in different constellations, and Ildjarn also played with Samoth and Ihsahn in Thou Shalt Suffer. After doing all sorts of stuff, even some noise/experimental, me and Ildjarn focused on the Black Metal sound, as it was where our hearts lay. I found some old lyric sheets which indicates that we initially called ourselves Nivlheim, but at the time of “Norse” we had landed on Ildjarn — Nidhogg, because Ildjarn had already started using the Ildjarn-name.

Nature is a big part of my life, and I’m not comfy living in the city. I’m lucky enough, now, to live right by the forest, surrounded by small lakes and mountains. Nature evokes most of all awe and calmness.

We recorded Norse in two sessions in 1993 which is discernible on the differences on my vocals between the a and the b-side. Samoth liked it and decided to release it on Nocturnal Art Productions. Ildjarn continued releasing his own records, and me and him then sporadically made music together, culminating with “Hardangervidda“.

What sort of guiding influence did you have on Ildjarn, and how was this different from your role in Ildjarn–Nidhogg?

I didn’t have any guiding influence on Ildjarn. He is very much his own man. But we had the same love for the proto-scandinavian black metal sound, shaped by athory and picked up by Mayhem with Dead, and so on.

Ildjarn — Nidhogg was a 50/50 collaboration, and we always had clear idea of where we wanted to go, both with the metal and the ambient stuff. The demos I uploaded were my concepts, like the Ildjarn stuff was his, so they were planned to be released as Nidhogg-demos.

Regarding vocal duties, what were your contributions in this area to Ildjarn–Nidhogg?

I did the vocals on all Ildjarn-Nidhogg recordings and also on Sort Vokter except for on “Hatefulle Tanker…” where I, Ildjarn and Harald all sang, and “Bak to Lysende Øyne” where both me and Ildjarn sang, but he did the prime vocals. The last song also appears on Svartfråd and I did the vocals on that version.

You previously mentioned that you were the collaborator with Ildjarn for the visual elements of various projects. What album covers did you create and is the impetus and process of creating them distinct from the musical process?

We did the layouts for many of Ildjarn’s albums on a computer I had access to. I mainly did the layout and was only artistically involved in the creation of Ildjarn transforming into a boar on the Strength and Anger-cover, Nob of NOB Art, did most of that, though. Nob was a friend of ours from Notoddden, and is the artist featured on albums such as Nocturnal Visions, “Minnesjord – The Dark Soil” and “93.” He also did the graphics for Forest Poetry along with another outstanding artist by the name of Javier Guerra who did the frontcover and at least two other illustrations Ildjarn used.

I’d also like to mention a fourth person who were also a close friend in Notodden at that time, who wrote the poem that was used for lyrics on “Eksistensens Jeger.” KK, as I’ll call him is now an established and published artist and writer. In Notodden me, Ildjarn, Nob and KK used to hang around, as three of us attended Telemark Lærehøgskole (teachers college) there. The pictures on the Sort Vokter-cover were taken in the forest behind the school, an area that stretches several miles. It was a place where especially me and Nob had many excursions, often in drug-induced states. I’m not exaggerating if I say I had some semi-paranormal experiences in that forest. This was also a feeling we tried to transfer to the cover.

What attracted you to metal in the first place?

Like all over Norway in the 80s, we were some kids in school who started listening to metal, copying tapes and borrowing music from each other. The energy and aggression was the appeal, of course. It was a rapid progression via Twisted Sister, Accept, AC/DC and such, to Metallica, Megadeth and Motörhead and then on to the more aggressive thrash as Slayer, Death Angel, Dark angel and Sabbat.

How did you first become entwined with the “black metal scene”? What was that time like, and what do you think of current “black metal” bands? What is missing from the present crop?

I was never involved in the scene, other than through Ildjarn and knowing members of Emperor. I met Ihsahn and Samoth, or Vegard and Thomas, first at a regional music talent show. They were playing as Xerasia and I was doing vocals with a band I sang in before me and Ildjarn did anything together. Later, we met in the basement at Akkerhaugen youth club, were Vegard and Thomas did all their initial projects. Besides some early exploits me and Ildjarn did together, we started started jamming as a hardcore/grindcore band with Thomas and Thorbjørn Akkerhaugen. Then when the Emperor concept was developed I was really blown away hearing them rehearse in the basement. It was clear they were on the verge of something. This was before all the ruckus started happening in the media.

When I got a tape copy of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” I played it repeatedly, and it’s amazing how it is really such a spot on musical interpretation of the progress through the year. Hardangervidda reflects a progression of time as well, from morning to night. The second half of “Sunrise” is very much inspired by Grieg’s “Morning mood.”

I think there are plenty of good acts around today, although one has to sift through more music now than before. I guess as with most genres that establish themselves, there are going to be waves and declines, but great stuff still gets released and will be released. The major challenge I guess, is to make something original in a genre that has been very much explored already. I think there are plenty of bands still around worthy of a listen, but now it’s of course a global thing, so one can just as easily find good bands anywhere else besides Norway, which is also stimulating to the genre.

What was the genesis of Sort Vokter? Were you involved from the beginning?

Sort Vokter was a spur of the moment idea and an opportunity between me and Ildjarn and two guys I knew from Notodden. Me and Harald (Heiinghund) ended up living in the same dorm and jammed some together on synth. He was a natural musician as was also Kyrre (Tvigygre). Sort Vokter was a concept we thought up in my flat, and as far as I can remember, we were all four there at that particular time.

The concept was doing very necro forest metal, or Folkloric Necro Metal, as we called the album. Kyrre worked as a studio technician in Grenland (Not Greenland ; )), and his boss granted him the studio for a weekend when we could do what we wanted. Sort Vokter was more a recorded jam session, than anything else, and most of the songs were composed/played through once and then recorded. Second or third takes would have greatly improved the album, but we were on a very tight time schedule. So “ignoring technical details” as the cover states, was more out of necessity than anything else.

Why has there been only one Sort Vokter album?

It was never meant to be anything more. We had known each other for some years before, and we stayed friends and connected until we one by one relocated from Notodden, but there was never any intention of making any sort of follow up to that one album.

You additionally worked on a synth album with Ildjarn, which was dedicated to the glory of Norwegian nature. What was the process of composing and recording this album? What does your experience of nature evoke?

Hardangervidda is a celebration of a particular mountain region in Norway, yes, where me and Ildjarn have been many times, both separately and together, since childhood. It’s vast and relatively flat, and trekking across it takes several days. The album was written in my flat in Notodden and recorded and mastered a couple of hundred meters down the same street, with help from Tore Hansen. Because it’s very layered it was never considered to record it live in studio. I had put away all the money I earned during one of those summers and bought a Roland XP-80 synth which also functioned as a 16-track midi recorder. Me and Ildjarn started working on the album in sessions, gradually tweaking the songs, doing both composition and production together. Some songs are my original ideas, some are his. There was a very clear idea from the onset of where the album was going to go, and it was really just a matter of doing all the work. The XP-80 was very easy, but time consuming to work with, as we didn’t hook it up to a computer. When we had finished the album we sent demo-CDs out to a couple of record companies. Origo sound actually said they’d consider it if we made alterations, which was of course out of the question. Ildjarn ended up releasing it on his Norse League Productions some time later.

Nature is a big part of my life, and I’m not comfy living in the city. I’m lucky enough, now, to live right by the forest, surrounded by small lakes and mountains. Nature evokes most of all awe and calmness. There’s nothing like the view after you’ve trekked up a mountain.

Last fall, Ildjarn released a split album with Hate Forest, entitled Those Once Mighty Fallen. You’ve recently been active on youtube and have released the demo recording which that recording was based from. What’s your reaction to this situation? Will you be releasing any more recordings in the future?

Well, like I’ve also stated, I was just surprised to realize it. It didn’t dawn on me until I actually checked with some old tapes laying in my basement, but how Osmose came to mislabel them, I don’t know. I think the songs may have been copied onto the same tape as some of Ildjarn’s stuff, years ago.

No, I don’t have any plans to release anything else, although I have lots of riffs and ideas laying around. I might pick up music again, since I still have the old synth, but hat will be when I’m less busy. I started on a concept-album in Notodden about the time of Hardangervidda, under the name Shadow Hungry Onto God (S.H.O.G.). This project was purely classical music, and is what I would start up with again, if anything.

Do you have any recordings of your own, separate from Ildjarn-Nidhogg, that you will release in the future?

I only have two proper recordings, one of which I don’t know where is at at the moment, from the S.H.O.G. project. The other is an edit of the B-side from a 7 inch I intended to release on my own, self-financed. The A-side was already finished, but I lost it due to an equipment failure. Since this meant that I lost weeks of work, I didn’t pick up on it again, after I relocated out of Telemark. I’ll upload the edited B-side on my YouTube-channel when I get the time. It’s quite psychedelic and nothing like anything me and Ildjarn did, except for the rhythms which are quite punkish.

Most striking within your music is the level of refined aggression sublimated through strong melodies. In our interview with Ildjarn, he told us that grindcore/industrial band Godflesh was a major influence on you. In particular, the album Streetcleaner seems to embody a similar spirit to your work. What is it about that band that resonates with you? What other bands provide the same state?

In terms of any direct influence Industrial Metal had on me, it would have to be on an industrial band me, Ildjarn and Thomas played as briefly, using the basements Oberheim drum machine for rhythms. The name was Fast Breeder. We recorded some rehearsals but never released any first demo.

Yeah, Godflesh is pure genius, in my opinion, and I actually got to speak with them when they played in Kristiansand. I liked Godflesh from the moment I heard them, Justins grinding guitar and use of feedback is perhaps the foremost appeal with Godflesh for me, but of course the whole soundscape. I highly recommend the double CD reissue of Streetcleaner and the release of old Fall of Because recordings.

I was also very much into Pitch Shifter until they changed their style, and their debut “Industrial” is amazing. SWANS is, of course, a band that one has to mention, and their “Cop” is a favourite of mine. Saw Throats “INDE$TROY” is also a classic. And the industrial/crustmonster Sonic Violence of course.

At the time I was listening much to these bands, I was also listening to the Young Gods, Foetus, Minister of Noise, Skinny Puppy, KONG, Front 242 and In Slaughter Natives. G.G.F.H. is one of my all time favourites.

What influence does classical music have on you? Are there any specific composers who inspired you?

I grew up in the 70s, which was a time when classical music was still always played on national broadcasting TV and radio. When I got a tape copy of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” I played it repeatedly, and it’s amazing how it is really such a spot on musical interpretation of the progress through the year. Hardangervidda reflects a progression of time as well, from morning to night. The second half of “Sunrise” is very much inspired by Grieg’s “Morning mood.”

For the S.H.O.G. project I’d say music that would evoke the same feeling as I was after with that, would be Peteris Vasks, Arvo Pärt, Randall Meyers and Berlioz. Just talking about the inspiration now, of course, these are untouchable composers working with symphonic orchestras. I was using dark synths underlaying the classical instruments.

Another composer that may not be very known or revered in metal-circles that had a huge impact on me is Michael Nyman. Being a member and also running film-clubs in Bø and Notodden, the movies by Peter Greenaway caught my interest in particular. Michael Nyman wrote the music to four consecutive films (and more later on), and these four film/music collaborations are often referred to together. “The Draughtmans Contract”, “ZOO”, “Drowning by Numbers” and the epic “The Cook, the Thief, the Wife and her Lover.” Greenaway also made “The Belly of an Architect” with Wim Mertens doing the music equally good, and in somewhat the same fashion.

But everything is corrupt, obviously, and I suppose the more you learn about the world, the more disheartened one gets at society. I have great faith in nature and animals though, as nature have adapted catastrophes unimaginable to us.

On that note, I’d like to mention my friend of Yayla of Türkey. If you want to check out his works here is his homepage: http://www.merdumgiriz.org/ and YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/merdumgirizworks

What do you think the purpose of art is? When you make music, do you have a conscious intention or goal driving you beyond the finalization of a piece?

I can’t speak for anyone else but myself, but for me it’s just an urge to express oneself through music. I started singing with a thrash band in ’87 and was hooked.

Looking back, there was always a clear intention with the music, and never any doubt as to what elements to include or exclude in the various concepts. I went in many different directions, by myself and with Ildjarn, although the metal and ambient stuff was the only released (except for a drone/folk demo I did). For instance, me and Ildjarn started working on a project we called “Myristic” which never came to fruition. The direction was very different from the metal stuff from Ildjarn — Nidhogg, but was nevertheless fully formed as a musical concept. At least for me, a composition or album is more like a road waiting to be discovered and mapped, rather than something one has to toil to invent. Once you start with an idea, everything rolls by itself, and reveals itself as you progress.

A drone/folk demo sounds fascinating. What was it entitled and when was it recorded? Can we expect this to ever surface again?

Well, I’d rather not reveal the title of it since it’s a totally unrelated project with Ildjarn session on bass. I recorded that one demo, which was also just meant to be a one off in 1994. It was a 9-track post-apocalyptic vision with references to Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” where scavenging birds were now the rulers and terrorizers of man.

I don’t think I’ll upload it as it was a totally unrelated thing.

What role did THC play in Sort-Vokter’s music? What value do you find in altered states of consciousness?

Yeah, we put that on the cover as a spoof. Ildjarn didn’t smoke, of course, like he has already stated, but I guess music and drugs were the common interests of the rest of us. It added a certain feel to the whole weekend, so to say. How much it influenced the creative side to the music, I don’t know, but it certainly makes ideas pop up easier.

Altered States of consciousness has been a lifelong interest of mine, and I currently live in place where the surrounding fields are littered with magic mushrooms in the autumn. I find psychedelics can reveal a lot, and can also possibly be a door opener to unseen realms.

I have a great regard for Terence McKenna and Rick Strassmans works, and there are also many other previous pioneers which could be mentioned. In England there were some very early nitrous-philosophers. Ken Keasy said: “I believe that with the advent of acid, we discovered a new way to think, and it has to do with piecing together new thoughts in your mind. Why is it that people think it’s so evil? What is it about it that scares people so deeply, even the guy that invented it, what is it? Because they’re afraid that there’s more to reality than they have ever confronted. That there are doors that they’re afraid to go in, and they don’t want us to go in there either, because if we go in we might learn something that they don’t know. And that makes us a little out of their control.”

Do you find anything valuable in human society? What about individual humans?

While I don’t share Ildjarn’s nihilism (for lack of a better word, Ildjarnism, perhaps) I share some of his misanthropic attitude towards humanity. It’s obvious that we are, most of us at least, dependent on each other for food, lodgings and so on, so, on a practical level, saying fuck you to society and introducing full anarchy would feel pretty uncomfortable for most of us in the end. Some structure is required if we don’t want to go back to the stoneage. But everything is corrupt, obviously, and I suppose the more you learn about the world, the more disheartened one gets at society. I have great faith in nature and animals though, as nature have adapted catastrophes unimaginable to us.

On a personal level I do find value in other people, although I don’t consider many people close friends. One good friend outweighs ten bad ones tenfold, as have been said. And family will unlikely ever fail you.

Your first love in metal was thrash. How did you discover this genre, and what did you like about it? Were you able to carry over any of its ideals to black metal?

After listening briefly to the more commercially established metal for some time, I became a Metallica die-hard fan when I discovered Master of Puppets at about the time it came out. I’m from a rural area, and Metallica wasn’t heard here until Master. Ride the Lightning and Kill ’em All were gems I discovered subsequently. Before I left for the States, I had bought Reign in Blood, The Ultra-violence and Darkness Descends, and Slayer just ruled. Stll I was a Metallica-head. I lived in the States when Justice came out, and although it’s a great album, I, like so many others, started to smell something fishy. At the same time I bought Bathory’s Under the sign of the Black Mark which was one of a kind back then and still is my favourite black metal album. Back then I guess the only prerequistite was that the music was hard or edgy and I also listened to punk and such. Ildjarn introduced me to all types of music, like The Exploited, Napalm Death (love “Evolved as One”), Misfits and many others. Thrash and black are very different, for example in vocal style. It takes a lot more to be a good thrash-singer. I did the vocals on Ildjarn – Nidhogg, and the standard “witch-scream” of nordic black metal suited my voice and not least, my capabilities. So I can’t really say we took anything from thrash to the music we made, other than sheer energy, of course.

How much of an influence have other genres, such as classical music or punk music, had on your listening and your work?

Classical music has been an inspiration, although not consciously. There are some pieces on Hardangervidda, for instance “Night” (Ildjarn’s composition), which are more or less classical compositions and not ambient. Punk has been a more direct influence, which many people have also commented on. The drum machine I used back then were pretty basic, but there’s definitely a lot of “Ompa” (European term, perhaps) going on in the rythms. Combined with Ildjarn’s distored strings and my voice, our music displayed a certain punk-attitude. In norwegian Black Metal circles this was not necessarily a good thing, especially since the scene at that time had become very dogmatic, hence the term TRUE Norwegian Black Metal.

What are your favorite classical subgenres and composers?

As for classical subgenres, I’m not familiar with the terms on that. I’ve listened a lot to Arvo Pärt, Michael Nyman, Wim Mertens, and Ennio Morricone, as well as the old masters. I also like Peteris Vasks a lot. I listen to all kinds of music, though, and after Vidar bought Juno Reactor’s Transimssions, I got into Goa Trance. I’ve been a convert for many years, and I warmly recommend the afforementioned album and Hallucinogen’s Twisted. I guess I have to blame it on the drugs : P

Still love metal, though, and I also very much like bands who carry out their own unique mission, like Foetus and G.G.F.H.

Where did the concept of “forest metal” come from? Do you identify strongly with the forest? Why?

Norway is sparesly populated, and as you can guess, pretty cold. Nature is all around us. We also have a strong tradition of folklore in Norway, and tales of such creatures as “huldra,” “de underjordiske,” “tusser,” “troll” and others are deeply ingrained in Norwegian culture. I would suggest you do a Google image search on “Theodor Kittelsen”, and you will no doubt get an impression of what I mean, and you’ll also see where many black metal covers came from. Being non-satanic, this cultural tradition of the supernatural and the old Norse culture were the inspiration behind the themes and attitude in my approach to black metal.

I feel a strong pull towards the forest, and one of my favorite things to do is venture into native forests, and observe the natural cycle of decomposition and new life springing forth. The atmosphere in such a place can often have a feel verging on the supernatural, especially as night sets in.

How much do you think forest-worship is integral to black metal as a whole? You mentioned the proto-Scandinavian sound of black metal as seen in Bathory; was there forest-worship or something like it there?

Forest-worship was primarily important to the imagery of black metal bands in Norway, and the esthetics of an old forest is totally fitting the genre. An example would be the cover of Djevel’s “Besatt av Maane og Natt.” Of course, venturing into a forest in corpse-paint to take promotional pictures and such, I guess it was inevitable that the feeling of a dark forest would also influence the feel of the music. As for Bathory, no, I don’t think Quorthon was to prone to such, at least not on his black metal albums. Later, perhaps a little bit, I’ve seen some bloody good pictures of him and his musicians in battle gear in an overgrown forest, but that’s about it, as far as I know. I guess Darkthrone were the first to incorporate forest aesthetics fully into their concept. Also lyrically.

Based on the sound of some of these demos, I sense a kinship with some Oi punk music especially in the percussion. Was this an influence, or coincidence?

Yeah, I touched on that a little before. It was no intentional thing, but I liked rythms that made me want to move, quite different from most black metal. When pacing the drum machine to Ildjarn strings, I guess you could say we tried to make it “swing,” so to speak. I think Norse accomplishes this best, and is the one of the two EPs I’m most happy with. Ildjarn liked Svartfråd better.

Do you think black metal has a spirit, or a set of values to it? Where do you think these came from? Are there any historical antecedents?

It’s hard for me to make any valid statements about this. The music itself carries a spirit, yes, but where ideology fits into the music, is an answer best put to someone else. What united all Norwegian black metal, Norse metal or Viking metal bands was a hate for Christianity. As has been realized as years have passed, this has to do with the opression of the people the church has been guilty of for the last thousand years here in Norway, more than with any wish to carry out “Satan’s cause on earth.” We still have a state church in Norway, and I think about 76 % of norwegians are members. When I grew up “Christianity” was part of the curriculum at school, and the church still has a great hold on the population through the rituals of baptizing, confirmation, marriage and burial. So the genres in question held the same basic attitude towards christianity. It was forced upon us, and now we expressed the discontent through music.

Have you noticed any similarities between black metal and its values or imagery and that of Romantic literature, art or music (from the 17-18th centuries)?

There may well be similarities there, but it’s not something I have the knowledge to comment on. There is of course a strong element of classical and progressive composition from the more symphonic bands in the black metal genre.

I don’t know if I’ve ever listened to individual songs, just put the whole thing on like a classic symphony and let it rip. I don’t know how to ask, but I wonder how you achieved this effect of albums as a whole.

I can only speak for what me and Ildjarn did together. He had a different vision for his Ildjarn solo-project than I had for mine. At the time we released Norse, we had already played both hardcore/grindcore, industrial, drone/folk and noise/expertimental. Mostly just jamming and sometimes recording an obscure demo or performing at local talent shows. Thomas Haugen also played with us in two of these bands, as well as on the last demo I uploaded, as the demo states. So already when we recorded Norse we had known each other for about five years and there wasn’t anything uncertain about where we wanted to go with that recording. As the flyer also stated: “Raw and primitive Norse metal.” Thankfully Thomas liked it and put it out as his second single on Nocturnal Art Productions.

What united all Norwegian black metal, Norse metal or Viking metal bands was a hate for Christianity.

I don’t know if you are familiar with the old rehersal studio where we recorded “Norse” (an old bank vault, no less)? This is where Emperor went through its various stages and also where Ildjarn recorded his albums, using one mic. for the whole drumset. His metal-albums and “Norse” and “Svartfråd” where recorded there. It was basically like this: If you showed interest in using the vault for rehersals or demos, you were pretty much given keys, and you could lock yourself in and out as you pleased. An article in norwegian about the place is here: http://www.akkerhaugen.no/Heavy%20Metal.htm

Hardangervidda was a totally different vision, and at the time I was attending the teachers college in Notodden, where music was one of my majors. Hardangervidda was guided totally by nature (and the instructions for the synth ; )), and there was never any doubt or disagreement about where we wanted to with that album either. The nature is overwhelming there and it has a lasting impression of most people who visit the place. Ildjarn, Nob and I went there for a pilgrimage in the closing stages of the making of the album, ventured for some hours into the area, enjoyed the sunset and slept there in nothing but sleeping bags. There’s always a lot of commotion when album covers are changed, but I really think the artwork on the vinyl edition does it more service than the original would. The pictures on both editions are by me and Ildjarn and he’s also been up there again shooting pictures for another edition. As far as I know, this edition is intended to be in colour, I guess that makes some people cringe. I’ve seen the pictures, though, and they look great. I don’t have any details about that release as of yet.

Also, are you aware of the ressurection of “Helvete” (where Euronymous ran his business)? “Neseblod records” (Nosebleed Records) have recently moved in there and a museum of Black Metal is now emerging. I’m sure you’ll find the pictures on the web-site interesting. Check it out, here’s the link: http://www.neseblodrecords.com/

I can inform you that I’m currently in contact with a small record label for the possible release of the Nidhogg demo and a future extended version of “TrollTripp”. I recording the B-side of the demo now (bass and vocals) and then we’ll turn it the right way around and hear if it’s usable. It sounds good so far.
Here’s a link to the label. Like the sound of the WROTH-demo, btw. http://intotheshunnedhouse.wordpress.com/

We were also able to get some words in with Apelseth, one of the members of Sort Vokter who participated in recording Folkloric Necro Metal. While his answers are brief, they reveal his mindset about the recording and the nature of the band.

How did you get involved with the musicians who became Sort Vokter? Did you share any interests? Were you into metal, or black metal?

Metal and some black metal

I am told you are responsible for “Tårers Sang.” Did you compose this alone? What helped you come up with the unique blend of emotions on this piece?

“Tårers Sang”; melody and guitar on “Fra Kilden til Tjernet”; sound-engineering on the whole album.

The melody came to me one full moon night, I was in the forrest. Inspired by the shades and special light that is in the forrest at those times.

What kind of atmosphere do you think this band produced? Does it correspond to any real-world events, places, or emotional blends?

It is a soundscape based on the different landscapes and emotions in the norwegian nature

Thanks to all members of Sort Vokter and Nidhogg himself for making this interview possible.

The Best Underground Metal of 2012

The year is done. It brought many things: a new wave of hipster metal that blipped and died, an old school revival that’s been percolating for years, drama and sadness with the recent death of Rigor Mortis’ Mike Scaccia. Above all else, however, it brought us some quality music, some of which is heavy metal and some of which is metal in spirit only. Enjoy this survey of the best of 2012.

The Best Metal (and related) of 2012

  • Abhorrence – Completely VulgarThis legendary band existed before Amorphis and plays a grittier style of the bold, warlike and heavy yet melodic music that graced Amorphis’ first album, The Karelian Isthmus. These Abhorrence tracks show the band that would later write that album as they emerge from early grind/death stylings and gradually work more melody into their work. This is metal’s holy grail: how to be both epic and amoral in the nihilistic sense of worshipping power, darkness and nature, but also use melody and harmony to give the works some staying power. As this collection of re-released demos progresses, the fusion of the two gets more confident and deft, leading us up to the point where the greatness of the first Amorphis album was inevitable.
  • Angel Witch – As Above, So BelowAfter a lengthy absence, this classic NWOBHM band returns with an album that shows integration of more recent influences, specifically American heavy metal and progressive metal, but still keeps up the power. These songs are not as distinctive or as oddball as the heavily personalitied offerings from their self-titled album, but As Above, So Below is important because it takes disparate influences and places them under the control of one voice and style, which gives others room to build on. The oil-on-water aspect of bands switching between influences is gone and replaced by a smooth enwrapping of these styles into the substrate of Angel Witch’s lauded and learned evil heavy metal.
  • Beherit – Celebrate the DeadIf death metal was modernism, with its emphasis on structure, black metal was postmodernism, or an attempt to show through atmosphere the many facets of an idea in a clarity which could not be confined to a single statement. This was a quest as old as humanity, which is how to communicate in such a way that people who do not understand it do not simply imitate it from the outside-in and make something that looks about like it, fooling most people. Since the late 1990s Beherit have been at work inventing the next wave or movement of metal, one in which multiple statements co-exist in contradictory opposites that reveal the shadow or silhouette of an underlying truth. Two forms are in tension here: the “loop” form of traditional ambient music, in which layers are poured on top of a basic dub to create a simple sonic tapestry, and the pure narrative form which electro-acoustic music (and even some dubstep) touches on, in which a story is told through the change of riffs. This is closer to the original death metal idea of structure, but it is structure created through atmosphere, like old Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno albums, or even classical music. To this end, Beherit has re-released two demo songs from Engram which are ambitious longer (13- and 15-minute) works which show a deepening and changing of atmosphere, using both looping and narrative constructs at the same time. This is a valiant and clear-headed attempt to resurrect black metal, which has fallen into the hands of those who imitate the “external” aspects of the early classics like simple riffs and fast songs, but understand none of the underlying ideas or songwriting methods. While it seems unconventional at first, Celebrate the Dead is a return to the truest form of black metal by expanding its orthodoxy to include the transcendental narrative of those more experienced in both this world, and the realms beyond. Be not fooled — evil pervades this release, so subtly that you will not know until it has seized your soul.
  • Dead Can Dance – AnastasisFor their return after some absence, Dead Can Dance have taken the style on Spiritchaser and refined it even more with the sensibility of modern club music and soundtrack influences. Rhythms and tempo work like you might expect a big label ambient album to work, fitting very much into the slightly picked up chill-out range with gentle backing beats that are still identifiable enough to make it easy to listen to. Consistent with even earlier work, songs use extended structures, but they fit the pattern of an early MTV video or short film more than a musical one. The result is that these are immersive little sonic ventures that are both easy to hear and not surprising, and also, rewarding in their consistency and adept arrangements. Melodies themselves are not as adventurous or period/locale-specific as older Dead Can Dance, and in fact more lifts from earlier influences can be heard (check out the Doors “The end” inspirations on the first track). For a purist, this will not be the best Dead Can Dance album, but for something that has stepped into the Loreena McKennit or Enya range of “accessible,” this is far beyond what most would encounter otherwise and makes for a pleasant listen on its own.
  • Demoncy – Enthroned is the NightAlong with Beherit, this shares the top spot as album of the year. In 2012, a wave of bands like Cruciamentum and Heresiarch rediscovered the sound of classic Incantation from the Onward to Golgotha area. Having come from the same school, joined to Incantation by Ixithra’s former band Havohej’s primary composer, Paul Ledney, having been an original member of Incantation, Demoncy launched into the same by creating a faithful followup to 1996’s Joined in Darkness. In this case, Demoncy add a bit of melody and atmosphere, channeling from first album Unleashed and other Swedish death metal classics, thus combining the two most intense areas of death metal into what is really a death metal album with a black metal sense of atmosphere. The result is a descent into a dark and primal place in which occult spiritual warfare transpires through the battling of motifs in this complex album made of simple parts. Like Joined in Darkness, it is otherworldly and foreboding, but a bit less purely alienated; instead, this album creates a sense of symbolic significance emerging like melody from the clouded obscure. Very little black metal of this intensity has been made since the mid-1990s which makes this both faithful to the spirit and pushing the boundaries of the genre, a simultaneous advancement that eludes most musicians and fans alike.
  • Derkéta – In Death We MeetArising from the ashes of Mythic, the all-female doom-death band from the early 1990s, Derkéta follows in a more purely doom metal path including some of the juicy 1970s heavy metal style doom metal that audiences enjoy with bands like Pentagram and Witchfinder General. 24 years later, this album is the first for this promising band, and holds back nothing. Like Mythic, the music is formed of giant bolsters of tunneling power chords colliding slowly over a changing melodic landscape. Atmosphere emerges from within. The simplicity of it removes the glitz and contentless enhancement of current doom metal bands, and takes the listeners back to the essence of the genre, which is an unsettling sense of pervasive dread. A prominent Candlemass Ancient Dreams influence seems to be present in these compact and droning songs.
  • Desecresy – The Doom SkeptronDesecresy approach Finnish death metal the way others might approach doom metal, using melody and abstract song structures to convey an experience not unlike watching the helmet camera of a pilot flying through a vast and ancient underground cave in which demons seem to lurk behind every stalagtite. Comparable to a hybrid between Amorphis and Skepticism, this album nonetheless keeps up the umptempo riffing and lets its melodies emerge to construct an emanating atmosphere. The result is both aggressive and enjoyable from a purely death metal perspective, but where appropriate, it uses the moods of doom metal to complete that raging insanity to produce an experience that is like a journey. There are doubts, fears, joys, rage and sadness, but pervading all of it is a sonorous melancholy which indicates a change in viewing life from orientation toward what is safe, to prizing what is adventurous and as such being alone on a planet of people concerned with safety labels and microwave cooking.
  • Drawn and Quartered – Feeding Hell’s FurnaceImagine a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Num Skull. These songs are extremely basic, like the melodies of horror movies, but are put together with interlocking rhythms that propel them forward and give them atmosphere. As a result, their themes feel intuitive like paths through a forest remembered from a childhood story. There will not be surprise at the ways these tunes twist and bend, but appreciation for a well-done interpretation on a necessary idea. In the same way you might appreciate an excellent sword or well-executed painting of a familiar subject, these songs will be appreciated for how well they do what they love. Just as most musicians make their best work when they design it to be enjoyed repeatedly by people with their own tastes, this faithful and yet creative interpretation of the old school death metal genre will be shared among those who can appreciate it, for taking the past and making it live on by keeping it current to itself and through inventiveness, an enjoyable listen.
  • Faustcoven – Hellfire and Funeral BellsThis release is not particularly metal, or at least underground metal, even though it aspires to the aesthetics of it. Rather, this is like Marilyn Manson interpreting classic heavy metal in a gothic doom metal context as informed by death metal aesthetics but not technique. It’s basically blues rock with short phrase power chord riffs and highly compelling rhythm, underneath leads that are reminiscent of a friendlier version of St. Vitus. Good use of theme allows this release to be a faithful listen and also have some staying power for those who like this style. Like most doom metal, it is designed to build a repetitive atmosphere that is part curl of enjoyment, and part linear path of a melancholic mood. The death metal vocals would normally be out of place here but with the heavy reverb they take a backseat and let the guitars talk, which is the point of this band. It will probably not delight those who like underground metal, but if you’re looking for someplace to go for your next Cathedral or Sleep fix, this furry doom band holds the ticket.
  • Grave – Endless Procession of SoulsGrave return to the Swedish style which they helped make famous. Like later Fleshcrawl, this music is simplified from the original riff-salad which was reverse-assembled to make a journey into darkness emerge from thin air, but although it uses plenty of verse-chorus segments, they are not the entirety of each song. There are enough labyrinthine twists and turns to be fun, a good motivational rhythm, and an atmosphere of darkness and aggressive that is also (oddly) comforting and natural. Although musically this is fairly basic, like early Grave, it shows more use of melody and harmony, which adds an appreciable dimension of compactness and centering without falling into standard rock music. The result is easy to listen to and yet brings out its power in moments of sudden clarity which, as in life, make the listener think there might be more afoot than the obvious.
  • Imprecation – Jehovah DeniedThis four-song EP shows the resurrected Imprecation: more consistent in its songwriting, slightly less manic, and more inclined to create a pervasive atmosphere of darkness. The occult death metal founders from Houston originally shone in the early 1990s, when their demos and later CD were released, but returned after inaction and the lending of band members to other acts. Their earlier material had more of a Morbid Angel influence and presented itself as clear occultism, where the newer material goes back more toward where Possessed and early old school death metal (Morpheus Descends, Massacre) were headed back in their day. Mood-enhancing use of background keyboards gives an aura of the mysterious to these dark melodies and the organic rhythms which suffuse them. Influences on this music span from pre-death metal, through the walking and stalking rhythms of speed metal, to the later black metal works in song structure and atmosphere. This EP presages a killer full-length but stands on its own as quality music with a voice particular to its worldview.
  • Incantation – Vanquish in VengeanceWith new personnel and possibly the strongest sense of unity in a long time, Incantation very sensibly took influences deliberately from their own two greatest successes: Onward to Golgotha and Diabolical Conquest. The result is an album that self-consciously borrows from those albums in style but tries to create new songs to wrap in that style, and with the aid of new guitarist Alex Bouks (ex-Goreaphobia) shapes its works around melodic shapes but does not adorn them in melodic riffing, creating a sense of an inner region of hidden energy within the exterior of rugged chromatic shapes. The result is one of Incantation’s most conventional albums but also a festival of the methods that made early Incantation so distinctive and powerful, which combined makes for a good later death metal listen.
  • Legion of Doom – The Summoning of ShadowsThis oddity of an album begins with some form of sung prayer and launches into songs that are both adorned in the harmonic glaze of melodic playing and also possessed of the manic simplicity of early black metal. Like the primitive era of black metal, these songs are specific structures fitting the content of each song, with droning riffs that interact and build to a culmination before dissipating. On this album, Legion of Doom use more death metal and speed metal technique in with their Burzum-inspired black metal, ending in a result that sounds more like an ornate and elegant version of Gorgoroth’s Destroyer. Like all Legion of Doom releases, The Summoning of Shadows features songs that accelerate thematic intensity in layers and produce an immerse, ambient experience that suspends reality through the sheer dominating power of its riffs. This album is more efficient than the last couple of releases of this band, and by embracing a listenable style, makes the type of outsider album that Marduk or Watain wish they could.
  • Lord Wind – Ales StenarIf you want to immerse yourself in ancient sensation, Graveland axeman Rob Darken’s ambient/neofolk/soundtrack project Lord Wind is a good place to start. Unlike previous Lord Wind efforts, Ales Stenar mixes real vocals and violin with electronic music that is roughly inspired by the Conan and Red Sonja soundtracks. The goal however is less like the rock-ish folk songs of neofolk, or the grand accompaniment for cinema provided by soundtracks; this is music like Burzum or Graveland that is designed for the listener to lose themselves in its repetitive hypnotic surges, like a catechism or mantra. Its soaring melodies and plunging dynamics give it a familiarity like the rush of blood through veins in the ears, and the result feels natural and yet inspired to rise above the mundane at the same time. Like entering a forest, the songs open up to repeated listens and soon each part is distinct, but our natural way is to hear it all at once and derive a sentimental feeling, perhaps warlike, from it. This is the most proficient and perhaps most profound of the Lord Wind albums, proffering a complete escape from reality to a world that is both fantasy and more real than the stuporous dream of modernity.
  • Master – The New EliteOver the past few albums, punk/heavy metal hybrid Master has steadily been migrating toward late-1990s death metal. This new album presents a more technical view than the verse-chorus-exposition songs that Master (and related Speckmann projects) evolved from. Much like On the Seventh Day God Created…Master, riffs are strummed with precision at high speed and tend to lead away from stable grouping by adding riffs to the existing loop. These riffs use longer progressions and more chromatic fills, giving the music a mechanical terror that makes it sound like technocracy taking over. Speckmann’s vocals are tighter than in the past and urge the music along, but somewhere in this musical process of evolution, his overall tone has started sounding less like protest music and more like a cheering of the coming conflagration. Seeing that Master keep improving over time provides a great incentive to follow this band as they evolve further.
  • Profanatica – Sickened by Holy Host / The Grand Masters SessionsSometimes, in order to reach your next aspiration, it is necessary to part with the past. Profanatica have done this in grand style by accumulating old tracks and re-working them in parallel, with one disc containing newer versions done in the early 1990s style, and the other containing older session takes on the same songs, interspersed with acoustic landscapes by Aragorn Amori, the band’s much-admired deceased former guitarist. Through its long history, the entity known as Profanatica/Havohej (or: Paul Ledney and friends) has consistently released material showcasing a truly artistic brilliance. Usually, between moments of brilliance there are experiments and less intense offerings that make it easy to forget that when they are in full swing, these musicians are unstoppable forces creating a unique type of black metal that is closer to ambient death metal but unlike most black metal at this time, possessed of a full mythos and unique view of the world. Like the best of Profanatica/Havohej, these two discs are ripping sonic terror that transcend daily life and divulge the essence of the feral spirit of pre-civilized humanity. In that vision of evil, Profanatica offer us something both inspiring and instructive, and do so through some of the best music of their career.
  • Terrorizer – Hordes of ZombiesPeople love change if it is constant and hate it if not. Terrorizer misstepped with their first post-World Downfall album, but came back with a strong contender on Hordes of Zombies. It does not attempt to be World Downfall II which is intelligent since outward-in emulation of the past usually produces hollow shells, and a good many classic bands have gone to their graves in disgrace by doing the same thing. Instead, this aims more at the territory scoped by Napalm Death with Fear, Emptiness, Despair: a modern form of grindcore that is musical and listenable without being commercial, and aims less at creating an atmosphere of terror and misery than creating motivational, energetic and yet literalist/realist music. These songs convey a desire to look at a dangerous situation with hopeless odds, then jump in and fight it out. It’s war music, but music of a normalized war, like going out into a declining civilization and fighting for mundane survival. Hordes of Zombies does this through a somewhat overused metal metaphor, that of the zombie takeover of society, but as a movie/musical trope this theme has remained consistent since the 1960s because it so aptly describes egalitarian society. Consumerism, mass trends, fads, panics, elections, Black Friday sales, save-the-children; it’s all in there. Terrorizer may be brilliant satirists for transforming all of that mass neurosis into a simple symbol and then making these engaging songs about it. Each piece uses a combination of rhythmic and slight melodic hook to lure us in, then pits grinding riffs against one another while fitting them into bounding rhythms that unleash an inner fury in their conflict between the fear and the mundane. The result is a stream of ferocious riffs in songs that hold together as songs in the Terrorizer tradition, creating an experience of immersion in conflict that is both justified and everyday. For a genre such as grindcore, this more stable form is preferable to re-living the past or trying to “innovate” by including outside elements. As a result, Hordes of Zombies is not only a great listening experience but an archetype others will follow.
  • Thevetat – Disease to DivideOne of the more interesting entries comes from ex-Ceremonium musician Thomas Pioli who has assembled a new team to make music that sounds like early NYDM mixed with the melodic undertones of heavy but intriguing bands like Montrosity, Malevolent Creation and Gorguts. The result hits hard with a rushing wall of chords and then drops into socketed rhythms that invoke a change in riffs, causing a twisted inner torment to emerge in Protean form. This gives old school death metal a new life without giving it a new form, since the form is the result of the content, which is essentially unchanged but slightly updated since 1992. No concessions to “modernization” (a/k/a mixing death metal with rock, jazz, metalcore, disco, punk, etc.) occur here, which allows this music to be in touch with its own spirit and flow freely from the source of its own inspiration. It is thunderous and yet perceptive, bringing with it the spirit of doom metal and its introspective melancholy. Although a three-song EP, this release beats out most albums released this year for pure death metal intensity.
  • Timeghoul – 1992-1994Metal developed its own sense of “progressive” and “technical” music long before it imported jazz-fusion in order to help it. In fact, part of metal’s birth was from the original progressive rock in the 1970s and the soundtracks of horror movies, which gave it a predilection for this direction. “Progressive” itself is a misnomer since nothing new gets discovered in music, but probably more accurately means “complex”: music with unconventional song structures, extensive use of harmony, melody and key; possibly linked to some kind of story outside the music itself and the usual topics (love, sex, drama) of pop songs. These songs craft winding riffs and intricate structures, using embedded melody to transition between more chromatic riffs, and culminate in odd twists of fate that translate them into seemingly the reverse of their initial outlook. Culminating in the epic 10-minute “Occurrence on Mimas,” this collection of early works by this band showcase the enjoyably weird variety of death metal in its early days.
  • War Master – Pyramid of the NecropolisThis modern band attempts to revive the death metal style, starting with the deathgrind of its namesake Bolt Thrower and incorporating influences from many of the bands of the era, and succeeds by staying true to its own enjoyment. As a result, it’s working in a style, and not from a template; the band want to create old school death metal, but aren’t doing it by imitating songs or styles, but by writing in that style based on similar inspirations. As a result, this band has its own voice despite being very familiar in technique, and has chosen its own path for subject matter and thus the arrangement of many of these songs and the types of riffs used. Its aesthetic mixes the grinding mid-tempo riffs and repetitive choruses of grindcore with the circuitous riffing of death metal and its tendency to unveil changes in layers of rhythm, guitar and vocals. While the style shows the influences of later death metal, its sensibility is firmly grounded in the early years, which makes this a great old-school death metal experience. However, its most salient factor is that it’s also interesting music. Songs are formed around their topic, with riffs and structure contorting to resemble the object, and riffcraft shows learning from the past but creation of its own new forms. Guttural vocals which maintain an ascetic detachment from the emotional content of the music help to give Pyramid of the Necropolis the ultimate death metal point of view, which is as a dispassionate observer amongs the ruins detailing the conflict that created this mess, and must endure after its collapse.

Disappointments of 2012

Abigor – Quintessence

Apparently this is new and old material. The shift between the new and old is like jumping out of a sauna into the snow. The newer material shapes itself to an expectation, much like the newer Swedishy bands in the style of Watain, that combines melodic punk with raw and random riffing in catchy rhythms. The result is like a painting made of painted dog turds, in that from a distance it is appealing, but as you get closer its mundane nature is revealed. Abigor have always suffered from being too quick-thinking and inventive for their own good, because they can always throw together a bunch of quality riffs and make most people think a song happened, but here that model breaks down. The songs feel more like slide-shows than organic wholes. The older material is good however.

Absurd – Asgardsrei

This remaster of the 1998 album was in theory supposed to improve sound quality. Had they simply done that, this would have been a shining victory. Instead, it has been standardized. The drums have been pumped up to emphasize rhythm, and the guitars doubled and bass-maximized, with vocals shrouded in reverb. Alone that removes much of the distinctive sound, but attempts have also been made to lower the volume on elements that are not orthodox black metal-cum-oi that Absurd makes now. The result is a loss of detail and an emphasis on the simpler parts of each riff, not the interesting interplay of riffs. They’ve made this album sound more like their remakes of earlier material and by pandering to one audience, lost a lot of what made Absurd interesting.

Acephalix – Deathless Master

A highly-praised release, this album purports to combine Swedish death metal and crustcore. What it ends up with is neither, but a mishmash of riffs around a rollicking beat, changing entirely at random. You hear a little bit of old Entombed, some Dismember, and a lot of filler riffing that really goes nowhere. For about three songs, it’s pleasant listening because you can tap your toes to it and it reminds you of Left Hand Path. Then you realize the songs never went anywhere. They’re like wallpaper. And to the horror of any crust fan, this is built on the bouncy beats and song structures of pop-punk. It’s closer to Blink 182 than Entombed or Amebix.

Aura Noir – Out to Die

Once upon a time, I referred to Aura Noir as a black metal Britney Spears because their music is pop dressed up as black metal. However, it’s normally fun pop with high energy and catchy riffs, even if in verse-chorus structures so repetitive that you have to background it. But with this album, they go into the boring zone. This is almost like a drone with a horse galloping in the background to keep up energy. And yet, like the lady that doth protest too much, the more “energy” you need to inject, the less the music is actually compelling. And on that level, this album is basically the same speed metal/Motorhead style riffs that bands were rehashing back in the 1980s, but now revived in an even more exhausted form.

Coffin Texts – The Tomb of Infinite Ritual

The people behind this band are good, and their intentions are good. The result of their efforts however is bog-standard death metal, not so because it imitates anything else, but because it is unreflective of any purpose outside being death metal. It’s predictable in the sense that nothing is surprising, and yet, it doesn’t really gesture at anything more than being death metal itself. I hope these guys stop trying to be whatever they think they should be, and find whatever they actually enjoy instead. Best yardstick for your music: what you enjoy and would listen to on your own, even if you knew no one in the band.

Graf Spee – Reincarnation

Some things should stay in the 1980s. This is prescient in that it emphasizes the kind of bouncy riffing that fits on the spectrum from Anthrax to Meshuggah and onward to metalcore, but it’s disorganized, inconsistent with the vocals, and feels more like a pile of spare parts than a smoothly running engine.

Hellevetron – Death Scroll of Seven Hells and Its Infernal Majesty

2012 was the year everyone rediscovered Onward to Golgotha. I agree, it’s a killer album. There’s nothing wrong with Hellvetron, who seem like competent musicians, but this album attempts to imitate the outward form of Onward to Golgotha without grasping the underlying tension in the music that makes it work. As a result, Hellvetron impose current song structures (loops) and standards onto the aesthetic of the past, which makes for a decent listen until it becomes apparent that it’s not really about anything except itself.

Impiety – Ravage and Conquer

It’s hard not to enjoy this album, which is like a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Mortem with a squidge more melody. However, it is highly repetitive because it doesn’t go much beyond that concept. Like Krisiun before it, the concept is full speed ahead skull-crushing aesthetic, and this is so powerful it squeezes out most artistic content. This leaves you with some creative riffs, some talented use of tempo, but nothing that holds together long enough to listen to for a decade.

Inverloch – Dusk | Subside

These ex-Disembowelment musicians have a bit of a cult formed around themselves. Part of the reason is that unlike almost every other band before black metal, they knew how to write melodic music, which they do here as well, in something that resembles a cross between death-doom like Asphyx and melodic doom like Candlemass or Paradise Lost. Crashing riffs coexist with gentle melodic fills and overlays that create a dense atmosphere of nocturnal wonder. However, beyond that, the direction seems confused, which is appropriate for a re-entry EP but excludes it from this year’s best of.

Mantas – Death by Metal

Before the first Death album, Chuck Schuldiner tried out his riffcraft in Mantas, named in tribute (by educated guess) to Venom. There’s a reason these sort of re-releases are confined to collectors, and that is that these demos show a young band trying to get the order of riffs in its songs correct and at the same time develop an image, sound and voice. The result is great, if you like listening to parts of the same six songs 18 times each. A true-blue die-hard ultra-kvlt collector will put this on the stereo next to “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Spiritual Healing” and start working out each riff until he’s sure how everything works. Then again, with the hindsight of nearly thirty years, we know exactly how it should turn out, which means that for the rest of us, this will sit on the shelf in perpetuity except as a conversation piece.

Maveth – Coils of the Black Elite

This album reminds me of middle period Immolation, in which creative riffing often fell into very similar rhythms and as such, the songs sort of became a continuum which resembled pulled taffy: cut off a length of Immolation, let’s listen to that. Oh look, sliced Immolation! It’s the same way here. Maveth has very creating riffing with excellent right-hand control, but the songs themselves are a muddle because the riffs are the direction and as such, there’s not really a way to put the riffs together that makes sense, so the band converges on a mean and drops into very similar trudge rhythms to make the songs catchy. At first listen, especially the first three tracks, promise is everywhere; by track five, it’s clear that circularity has occurred.

Purtenance – Sacrifice the King

This EP suffers from a primary flaw, which is disorganization. It’s not random, but it’s what happens when you decide to make death metal and so treat that as a container, and then “write to fill” and twist the riffs into place so they work with each other. It’s not about anything, and thus is “random” in the sense that it could mean anything. As a musical experience, it mostly conveys a sense of disorganization and frustration. The best bands mold that sort of raw emotion into something which rises above the confusion and achieves clarity. If not beauty, truth, goodness, etc. at least something that is desired more than it is hated, and so inspires them, even if that goal is hatred itself.