Nokturnal Mortum – The Voice of Steel (2009)

nokturnal mortum the voice of steel

Article by David Rosales.

I. The Cult of Death

During the 10th century A.D., Prince Volodymyr and Queen Olha before him adopted Christianity in a war-torn land with deep-rooted Pagan beliefs. Little could either of them have predicted how hard it would be to impose a foreign philosophy on the yet unbroken Slavic spirit. Over a millennium later, the politically-imposed monotheistic deathcult would be suffering a slow death while the true colors of the Slavic nation would slowly resurface out of the fires of hate.

After all how could they have known that culture and spirit are embedded in the very marrow of bones and hearts of the people? Alas! This ignorance would still be espoused by armchair ideologists until the 19th century and further hammered from above from the second half of the 20th till this day, when true scientific thought is again challenging institutionalized blindness. That is, an ignorance of the logical implications of the lessons of history, psychology and biology, and instead seeing them through the lenses of a secularized Judeo-Christian paradigm. Such a modality of thought still reigns supreme today, even unknowingly among those who would claim allegiance to no supernatural power.

As the land of Ukraine became the collision point for both Asian and European hordes, its brave people soldiered through the intermittent periods of cold desolation and burning brutality. Their spirit weathered the storm, and as a sword forged between the hammer of growing materialism and the anvil of that Middle-Eastern cult of death (administered in a variant especially fostered for European minds, slightly different than that given to the Native Americans), a crude but precious Herculean force arose.

II. Slavic-Pagan Heavy-Black Metal

European nations previously beyond the Iron Curtain have not been known to produce the most accomplished black metal. These usually make prominent use of heavy metal technique while overlaying folk tunes on a poorly-focused progressive structure. These may still win the hearts of the fans of underground metal as honesty and spirit are still highly valued. This ‘best effort’ attitude is endearing, but such obvious naïveté, however authentic, can only take one so far.

Amateur tones characterizing the Slavic underground have meant simultaneously, salvation and bane to the subgenre. On the one hand, its crudeness has effectively forestalled the sellout phase that sooner or later comes about as entropy sets in. On the other, it has deterred a much desired collective coming of age. This is all very much in keeping with the general Slavic spirit: over the top bravado, sincere yet aloof sentimentality, but not the most structured of foundations.

III. The Coming of Age

Nokturnal Mortum’s history stretches back to the time when metal was on its deathbed, the junction at which the rise of parasitic and zombie-minded scenes first came about. The band achieved a certain degree of notoriety in the underground with their sophomore release Lunar Poetry in 1996. After that, the band did not offer much more than a few unconvincing recordings that flirted with pseudo-symphonic stylings: starting out big and epic early in the album and quickly degenerating into slightly comical rock beats and awkward folk tunes.

After five years away from the studio, the band returned with a folk-ambient album speckled with rock metal enhancements here and there. This was the necessary transition that would make the next album after it the most accomplished Slavic black metal album to date. To be more precise, what was achieved in that following album, The Voice of Steel, is an accepting of the full paradigm of black metal without giving up the naturalistic and folk-like tenor unique(in this day and age, at least) to Eastern European metal.

IV. Golos Stali: A Solar Black Metal

In contrast to traditional black metal, the ideological bent of its Slavic counterpart demands a different approach to technique in order to better convey the necessary impression. Instead of outright occult devilry, either through blasphemy or mystic conjuration, we find the remembrance of heroic personalities as well as true active(that is, through expression in the actions of life, ordinary and exceptional) reverence and worship presence of the forces of nature, both seen and unseen. This admiration for heroic prowess that so characterizes the native spirit of the land and people channels the powers of nature itself in their superlative expression at particular points in time according the times themselves.

Rather than the modal, riff-heavy construction of traditional underground metal, Nokturnal Mortum takes a harmonic, rock chord strategy. This may deter many a purist of the serious underground, but a little patience when approaching The Voice of Steel will result in a most rewarding experience. Once past the local use of rock aesthetics incorporated into a melody-and-riff riding that is closer to the methods of metal, the longer, repetitive structures of goal-oriented black metal become clearer.

Sections and patterns are allowed to sink in beyond familiarity and to embed themselves inside the mind of the listener. The lighter nature and swinging rhythm of the salient folk tunes are not given to induce a pensive trance-like state, and so the overall effect is used to a different result. Smooth yet significant transitions take place in such stealthy a manner that they may go unperceived by an inattentive audience. These bring a refreshing sense of justified variety to the strict continuity of events. A comparison with Sorcier des Glaces and the French method may not be out of the question in this respect, with the considerable difference that Slavic bands such as Nokturnal Mortum or Drudkh make more frequent and overt display of rock/post-rock textures and musical sensibilities.

To conclude, it feels necessary to point out the outstanding use of ambient techniques that should be part of the repertoire of any black metal band of any worth, whether applied explicitly or otherwise. These, in combination with rock texturing, rhythms and guitar soloing brought to the mind of the writer the late Pink Floyd. The result of the correct fusion of the more popular techniques showcased in the older band with the sharp focus of proper black metal can result in an interesting balance. The strictness of black metal seems to have been what the disconnected, apparently drug-induced passages of Pink Floyd required in order to contribute to the formation of a full music. These elements are humbly utilized in The Voice of Steel, which through the careful and patient working out of little aspects, their interactions and combinations, give birth to a formidable solar metal.

Defending Belus

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Article by David Rosales; read yet another (negative) contemporary review of Belus here

After an incursion into ambient metal that lasted for a few albums, Burzum was seemingly trying to make a comeback to metal instrumentation. But appearances can be deceiving, and what seems like a failed attempt at creating streamlined metal music may be, in fact, an attempt at riffing-up ambient music. There is also a hint that it is packaged into an integral release that has to be listened to as a whole. This does sound an awful lot like the premise of post-rock, and while there is a good deal of wallpaper repetition, there are also plenty of good ideas in what is the closest heir we have to Vikernes’ seclusion.

The old DMU reception of the album when it had just come out is spot on in its criticism, but much may be added that redeems this understated album. A very clear line of evolution can be traced from Det Som Engang Var through Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and the anti-black metal ambient expansion of Filosofem to Burzum’s 2010 release. For all intents and purposes, an album like Belus is the next logical step. That it cannot harness the energies of black metal while it attempts to spread like synth ambient is proof of the impermeability of distinct genres.

This shaky, middle-ground positioning was resolved marvelously with 2013’s Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, whose incomprehension by black metal fans shows it as a next filter in the practical evolution of transcendental metal as it maintains its ideals. The filters before them can be seen in the commencement of different underground metal genres, with Black Sabbath being the first obscure revolution, Slayer and Metallica on their debut leading the second, and the waves of speed-going-on-black as intermediary steps towards the third explosion of death metal, which in its technical fetish gave way to the more musical black metal. The next great purge takes place after 1995 as several of the best black metal musicians lean heavily towards minimalist ambient-focused projects, which in some cases turn into affairs that are more electronic than metal in instrumentation (Beherit’s Electric Doom Synthesis is one of the crown jewels of this very select group).

Weakened as it is in its most objective sense, the soft, layered and simple cadences and droning melodies unique to Vikernes’ mind are still more full and less candy-coated than the likes of Drudkh. And where, in Belus, the music seesm to drone on, the choice in length is never as much as the likes of Sunn O))) so that it falls completely into the background. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss was a trip to another dimension, each moment pushes forward, but the next album was a trance with subtle pulsations and bumps, breathing in and breathing out in a quality that cannot be measure quantitatively but qualitatively at an abstract level, admitting no materialistic distinction. The repetition scheme here is a compromise and application of what was learned in Filosofem, relying on a certain quality of endurance that Vikernes’ simple but multi-layered riffs focus on and uniquely shine for.

At worst, Belus is solid ambient music played on suboptimal instrumentation, and at best, a unique chance at perceiving these landscapes through metallic lenses which distort and bring to the fore particular contours and colors. When positioned at the right place and at the right time (having the right mentality), the listener may find himself submerged into dense forests, fuzzy with the brume of unreality. The vision that Belus presents is not that different from Burzum’s early efforts, but where the quick underground fan may detect watered-down content, others may see a matured and spiritually refined thinking.

This is not objective music, this is a secluded path for those who have digested Burzum’s music beyond its atomic particles and into the very essence, flow and nature of it. This fourth filtering-out of profane minds certainly leaves most behind, and though these words may seem spurious, those with a balanced and logic mind, a strong and idealist heart, and an avid curiosity may find themselves on the right path to this shrouded grove.

The economics of metal evolution

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The DLA/DMU has taken flak over the years for being unwilling to embrace new trends, but this criticism forgets that we also avoided endorsing older bad ideas. Our writers have generally avoided jumping on the bandwagon for the “trve kvlt” just as much as the new, millennial-friendly indie-rock version of metal. The reason we can do this is that we apply a simple quality standard instead of using the consensus of others to determine truth.

Despite having many editors, each of whom had somewhat varied opinions on the process, if viewed on the large scale the site has kept a generally consistent opinion. That is: some of the so-called classics are good, and few of the new school releases are good, but the determination is not made by category, but by analyzing each release on its own merits. This leads to sudden shock for some who expected us to be cheerleaders for anything that seems to “uphold the true spirit of the underground,” and dismay for those who like the newer material as release after release fails our test.

Metal is in a slump and has been since 1994, in quality. Correspondingly, it has been in a boom in terms of quantity of fans. We have more “metalheads” (cough) now than ever before. However, anyone who is not in denial — and most are — can tell you that quality has fallen off dramatically. The music has lost its energy, its nerve and its insight and been buried under a wave of bands that are either obedient and docile system products, or slaves to the underground record-collecting audience that does not care about quality so long as the aesthetics of previous generations are preserved. Both groups unfortunately are useful idiots for industry, which can keep producing low-cost clone bands and reaping the profits.

We discard bands for two reasons: not being metal, and not being good. The bands that are simply not good tend to have the most fans, ironically. Who among us can claim that, for example, Blazebirth Hall bands and Drudkh offered anything musical or artistic to metal? They cloned Graveland in a light and breezy melodic form that is essentially music for children. In the same way we refuse to celebrate underground “favorites” that consist of ranting and disorganized music like Sepulchral Aura, or avantgarde prog fanboy-bait like Fanisk and Deathspell Omega.

In addition, we discard that which does not uphold the artistic, intellectual and philosophical spirit of metal. There is quite a bit of overlap here with “not being good.” We would not endorse Cradle of Filth; nor would we endorse Opeth, back in the day, or Cannibal Corpse, on the basis that they were essentially rock bands trying to assimilate metal and thus produced a moronic mindset. Similarly Pantera and to a lesser degree, Anthrax. Back in the day we thought SOD was inferior to Cryptic Slaughter, DRI, and Corrosion of Conformity. We refused to endorse Wolves in the Throne Room, Animals as Leaders, Gojira, Mastodon and other indie-rock pretending to be metal. We ignore Pelican and all stoner doom bands because they are boring and terrible. This music is distraction from metal, not metal, but its fans make a big show of being “very metal,” which tells you exactly what they are hiding and deflecting your attention from.

This approach wins us zero friends in the short term, but trusted readers in the long term. People — especially those who lead purposeful lives and do not have lots of time, nor enjoy, combing through catalogs and blogs trying to figure out which 1% of the reviews are not lies — like getting the low-down on quality metal. They enjoy that moment of discovery when they find something really good, something they can listen to not just this week and six months or a year from now, but for future decades. That is ultimately the standard by which any music fan operates; they like music, so they veer toward the best, not just at a level of mechanics (technicality) but artistically, or its relevance to the ongoing philosophical and moral maturation of humankind. Most of humanity likes mediocrity or at least convinces itself that it likes those bands. After all, Third Eye Blind has sold more records than most segments of the metal genre. But popularity — whether among credulous hipsters or gormless mass media fans — has never determined quality. Consensus is not reality. Only reality is reality, and we make our best stab at it.

With that in mind, you may ask: why write negative reviews? The answer may surprise you. We seek to give music fans the intellectual tools they need to fight back the onslaught of Opeth, Pantera, Ulver, Cradle of Filth, Meshuggah, Vattnet Viskar, Cannibal Corpse and Deathspell Omega styled bands. We use both positive and negative examples to illustrate, to the best of our ability, what metal is and which approaches to it have produced the quality level necessary for prolonged listening. This puts us at odds with most metal journalists, for whom writing is a day job and as a result, is interpreted as endless enthusiasm for whatever is new and exciting because the consensus likes it. They are essentially advertisers because they are writing ad copy about these bands, not a look into what makes their music function. It is designed to make you buy music, because journalists who can sell music get famous and become editors. You will notice that major publications run almost no negative reviews. Why is that, you might ask? Because their job is to sell music, not review it, even if they call it “review.”

In all human endeavors our social impulses, which because we are selfish beings are actually self-interested impulses translated to altruism to flatter and manipulate others, override any sense of quality or purpose. The task ceases to become the task and becomes the process of creating the appearance of results instead of results; bands stop trying to be good, and focus on replicating what has worked before in new forms. The “best” (by consensus) bands “sound” different on the surface, but musically are extremely similar, because that formula has worked in the past. That is a social impulse: make what people like because it does not challenge them and makes them feel smart, profound or at least “with the crowd” to be listening to it. This social impulse has ruined metal since 1994.

Metal thrives — as it did during the mid-70s, early 80s and early 90s — under two factors: (1) it is ignored by most people, so it is free from the manipulations of those who want to sell rebellion-flavored rock to morons, and (2) it has some truly great artists to kickstart it and establish a standard. The former is self-evident, but the latter can be explained as follows. When early Norse black metal came out, it set a standard of quality and allowed fans, by simply choosing to spend their money on what was more rewarding, to exclude bands that did not meet that standard. Why would you buy Forgotten Wolves when you can get Darkthrone? Why would you pick up another speed metal clone when you can have top-quality death metal? Metal thrived when it was elitist, closed-minded and viciously competitive. Now that it has become a group hug, quality has suffered and no one seems to have noticed. Except us — and we are watching.

Bureviy – Concealed Beyond the Space (2015)

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Hailing from Ukraine, Bureviy (Буревій = Hurricane) play a modern take on black metal which makes use of old school sub-styles by keeping them relatively uncontaminated but subsumed under the band’s personal voice. In Concealed Beyond the Space we find the folk-oriented black metal with rock sensibilities of Nokturnal Mortum, the swaying of long melodies of Drudkh, and a collection of strumming, tremolo picking and metal riffing that meld as diverse raw material for a black metal language descended and definitely compatible with but ultimately different from the more uniform black metal of old.

 

This approach is somewhat of a signature among Eastern European and Québécois black metal bands. The phenomenon is interesting when found in albums that manage to channel this almost faceless style into beautiful and meaningful expression. It demands a stricter attention to musical coherence in composition as the link between musical ideas will not be found in stylistic uniformity. Bureviy even makes use of acoustic guitars to decorate or fill passages that at first may feel like misplaced filler. A closer and paradoxically more comprehensive look also shows these passages are in line with the sections they connect and are not gimmicky interludes but articulations, points of exhalation.

 

A single spin of this will pass unnoticed. It is like a dense temperate forest, you need to get close and see the trees, the rocks and the streams. It takes more time and familiarity with the album to experience what it is trying to transmit. Ancient Slavic nature-worship and the mystic contemplation in tune with the proud mountains, the warm hillsides and the powerful rivers is channeled through Concealed Beyond the Space.

Khors – Cold

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Khors is a Ukrainian black metal band formed in 2004. Coming from the same general scene as Drudkh and Nokturnal Mortum, Khors’ brand of black metal is made by mostly simple riffs and long, simple and slow melodies.  These are all very typical of the Slavic black metal sound. Accessible to the novice listener of black metal, Khors offers an experience that lies closer to what purists would consider closer to black metal than most mainstream acts rising the flag of the genre despite the real nature of their music

Cold consists mostly of simple guitar strumming outlining singable melodies with constant rock-like drums that use the double bass intermittently. The music relies on heavy repetition with very little changes. This is compensated by the tightening and releasing the drums provide through the simple effect of using and not using double bass drums. Particularly understated keyboards provide the spacious backdrop in which ghastly vocals carefully make sparing apparitions.

Production in this reissue of the album is stellar, outshining that of releases by countrymen Nokturnal Mortum. The rock-oriented sensibilities of this Ukranian black metal could tick off purist fans of the more extreme expressions of black metal, but Cold remains a black metal album at its center. Content-wise representing little more than a mouthful for the experienced listener, this is a perfect release for those starting out with the genre. Strongly recommended as an authentic gateway album.

Absurd Asgardsrei: possibly the worst re-issue in metal

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In 1998, a few black metal musicians — many of whom faced legal troubles in their home countries — came together to make a recording. The result, Asgardsrei, captured black metal in transition: its epic past, its roots in punk merged with Oi, and its tackling of unpopular subject matter, in this case out-of-the-closet NSBM.

This form of music differed NSBMTM that was to follow which meant exclusively Drudkh-style droning sugar-substitute melodies and battle-related titles with neo-Romantic lyrics:


Alone I wander
Wastelands of the soul
Among the corpses and ash
A single flower rises
Kill the Jews with fire

Absurd back in the day combined a poetic style that might be called “immaturism,” a wide-ranging complaint with the modern world, and yes, some rather violent ideas. It defied categorization. Their debut album, Facta Loquuntur, sounded at times like ultra-simplistic punk with lyrics from a child’s point of view, pointing out not policy failures or physical breakdown in Western society, but its completely backward spirit and denial of all existential importance. Always on the edge of black metal, Absurd both increased the discernible Oi/RAC influence and put together more black metal style riffing, creating a hybrid that kept both voices without allowing the extremes of either to take over.

Fast-forward to 2012. Absurd — now with none of the 1999 members — re-issues Asgardsrei in a new form. As it is arguably the most musically interesting album from Absurd, combining the raw forest metal (this is the band that wrote “Green Heart” after all) with greater proficiency and alertness, it could be a big seller for this band. Unfortunately, they decided to under guise of a re-master actually alter this album. First they turned up the guitars and turned down keyboards, background sounds, etc. They replaced the subtle intro with patriotic bluster and industrial percussion. Then they either modified or added drums to give the album a constant kick-happy Oi beat. Finally, they modified vocals to sound more like the recent Oi/metal hybrid the band has been putting out. The result crushed all subtlety and made this album very much the exact thing this band in its original form would have recoiled at.

Thuringian plain, deep dark forest
Evil dwells on there in the woods
Snowcovered hills, cold winds blowing
Romantic place, is it understood ?!

Evil in the forest in Germany’s Green Heart !

Hateful savages, strong black minds
Out of the forest, kill the human kind
Burn the settlements and grow the woods
Until this romantic place is understood !

Interview with Utvara of Zloslut

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Serbian black metal band Zloslut has created some of the more interesting music to emerge from the underground of late and stand on the verge of releasin their second album, U Transu Sa Nepoznatim Siluetama in spring 2015. Main composer Utvara took some time to talk with us about the upcoming album and future of this innovative act…

What first attracted you to black metal music?

I would say it’s atmosphere, and its attitude toward all opposition.

What does black metal music communicate, represent or have as a value?

This depend from person to person, band to band and from era to era of the genre itself.

For me black metal represents all negation that “normal” people can’t stand. Primitivism with a way and a goal.

Its value was lost long ago. There are some good bands today of course! Even if I didn’t have the chance to experience black metal in the 90s, I can feel that it is not now what it was intended to be, judging by people who been through it, interviews and some well-documented movies.

Are you the sole creator of Zloslut? How did you decide to go ahead with this “lineup”?

Yes, Zloslut is me, Utvara.

The faithful individuals that follow me on shows are live session members.

You write and sing in your native language. Why did you make the choice to do this and not just use English, German and Norwegian like most black metal now?

I do this because I live in Serbia currently and I think it is an opportunity to know another language than English.

Many bands sing in English; I think it’s more original to sing in your native language, other then English if you have that privilege.

For those who don’t know that language, it will give them an esoteric feeling. As it gives me too when I listen to some Norwegian, Polish, German bands…

Zloslut have songs in English (three on the demo, one of them was re-recorded, it’s “Abyss of Eternal Deception” the track that closed the EP “Pustoš i prevare izgubljenih duša”) and two in French (one on the demo, and one other that was on the split “Anti-Human Manifest” with the song “Le Tonneau De La Haine,” with the text of Charles Baudelaire from Les Fleurs du Mals).

But I’m pretty sure that a musician who speaks several languages will agree with me that it depends from song to song.

Some sound better in English, but some must be in their native language because of its uniqueness.

Are you self-releasing your work as Dark Chants productions? Why this route and not another label?

Yes. Why? Because today anyone can be a label and many of them don’t take this work seriously. I have a problem with trusting a guy who runs a label on the other side of the planet. I don’t want someone to release my work and make a mistake. So I prefer to carry that burden myself.

I feel more safer when I do the work. I would rather support a mistake made by myself than by somebody else. The day I would let someone do that work is the day I will sign to a serious label who knows how things must be, but I have not had that chance yet.

What would you say inspires your songwriting, as in topics or emotions?

It depends; I guess that the lifestyle has a big impact in the work of a one man band.

The majority of my days are passed in reading, listening to music, and playing instruments. I’m not an “evil misanthropic” guy… It’s just that I enjoy times of loneliness. The feeling of melancholy gives me a lot of inspiration to write lyrics, music…

Or I let the intuition guide me. More people should try that, it’s amazing!

Too many bands today want to be like their idol, or for example the Disney band Watain. This brings us back to the second question, haha.

You’re about to release a new album, U Transu Sa Nepoznatim Siluetama available in 2015. How will this differ from your past work?

A lot. I think that this album is what I wanted to make since the creation of Zloslut, but couldn’t because of many obstacles, such as maturity, money, time and countless other factors.

Basically, everything is how I imagined it, so I think this album is the stamp of Zloslut, until further work.

This is definitely the most mature album and songs I’ve ever made.
I’m generally very negative when I make something. I always think that it should be otherwise, but I didn’t let that feeling overtake me.

What other styles or ideas influence you outside of black metal? How much does the history and current social/political/economic situation in your nation influence your thinking?

Literature (especially poetry), classical music…

I don’t let politics affect me in my musical world. I have some political opinions about Europe which are extreme for some people I believe. But I prefer to keep that for myself.

I don’t want to mix politics with my music, because they don’t have a connecting point. It’s pointless. Even if I love some bands that have some connections with politics.

What bands primarily influenced your basic style, and has this changed for U Transu Sa Nepoznatim Siluetama?

The bands that influenced me for Zloslut have not really changed since I created it.

When it comes to black metal, bands that influenced me the most were Burzum, Judas Iscariot, Taake, Peste Noire, Inquisition, Drudkh, Urfaust…

And I can’t hide my appreciation for the Finnish black metal scene. Almost all of them have something melancholic in their sounds… So Baptism, Sargeist, Noenum, Satanic Warmaster, Nattfog, Horna… I think that today they are the bearers of the “black metal flag.”

But the band that made my path into metal was Iron Maiden, and still today after more than fifteen years, I listen to them everyday at least once.

Classical music is also tied to me since I was a child. I was in music school for seven or eight years as a kid.

I love minimalistic pianist such as Philip Glass, Eric Satie (but just a few composition from him), but also the famous Tchaikovsky, Strauss…

And from time to time I like to put some OI Punk bands in the player, simple riffs, nervous voice with good messages.

Where did you record this latest album, and what techniques did you use? What were your goals for the sound/production of the music?

It was recorded in Belgrade, Serbia. I wanted something between crystal clear and raw sound, how to say, to keep the atmospheric spirit of Black Metal.

I’m not a gearhead, to be honest, I’m more into music creation. Knowledge of technical sound production was never my interest (until recently). I leave that to the producers in general, in this case for this album was Nemanja Krneta (a.k.a. Zlorog). I tell him what I want, and then we together explore all the possibilities.

And I’m very happy with how everything turned out.

How do you compose? Do you start with a riff, an idea, an emotion or something else? How do you link together your riffs?

Oh, this depends from track to track, generally with a riff, then I slowly start to create a text, and then assemble everything until it sounds well-arranged for my taste.

What comes next for Zloslut? Will you tour, or record again?

Well after U Transu Sa Nepoznatim Siluetama will be released around spring 2015 we plan to tour in Europe to promote the new album. We have some offers, but much more details will come after the release see the light… And maybe some summer festivals.

For more recording, definitely I have some ideas, but nothing for 2015, since I really want to promote the album as it should be.
I don’t want to drown the fans with many albums, EPs, splits, singles etc…

Sadistic Metal Reviews 09-14-14

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What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? You are mortal; your time is short. Listen to the best and death to the rest! We recognize that music quality is an objective measurement, where “taste” is more subjective. Taste however is easily fooled and leads you and the genre to a place of mediocrity. Thus we select the better options and mercilessly destroy the weak… if you are a false, do not entry!

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Abysmal Lord – Storms of Unholy Black Metal

Borrowing some ideas from the flowing columnar death metal fad/trend of last year, Abysmal Lord attacks this phenomenon from the opposite end, mimicking black metal like Demoncy, Beherit and Blasphemy but giving the music less of a “messy” aesthetic and more of a structured, hard-hitting death metal approach. Perhaps some would call this “blackened death,” but we all know what a waffle that phrase represents. Unlike most of the clone bands, Abysmal Lord merits a second listen for tight compositions and a strong understanding of how to fit together these riffs. Alas as the saying goes there will be nothing new here to shock you, but really what is new? Little: we find music that expresses an emotion and then go with that. In this case, Abysmal Lord creates a sensation like being part of a malevolent fog attacking a city of oblivious burghers with intent to rip out their souls and force them to face the emptiness of the lives they lead. While many riffs cite from earlier bands, the overall feeling of these songs stands on its own, although the band will want to renovate ancient sounds in order to move forward with its own progress.

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Aratron – The Recovery

Aratron creates efficient death metal in the intersection of styles between Centurian and Aura Noir, with lots of high-energy rollover rhythms pervading the riffing. The songs come together tightly and each riff fits in to the simple song structure and makes it more powerful. Like many bands of this type it stays within high-speed and mid-paced tempi and performs most of its motion with guitars over relatively passive drums. Riff forms will strike no one as stunningly new but belonging to this band in a form of its own when heard together. Unfortunately the band possesses a great weakness in the vocals which use chihuahua-style rhythms and sometimes, assemble themselves around the simplest pattern derivable from the song and repeat it slowly without variation in timbre or tone. That subverts some of the subtlety of this work which aims to be full-ahead-go and yet avoid falling into the pitfalls of that style. Periodic melodic breaks are reminiscent of Black Sabbath and show the capacity of this band for building more complex songs even when at heart they favor full-energy riff-chorus loops with a few extra riffs to reinvigorate their momentum. Many of the chord progressions used sound like these guys really like early Mayhem.

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Atara/Miserable Failure – Hang Them

Two grindcore bands comprise this split, Atara who are groovier and Miserable Failure who are more manic. Listening to these, the casual metalhead will recall that grindcore fizzled like a damp fuze in the 1980s not only because all the bands upsold into Led Zeppelin hybrids but because the genre itself is so limited. We get it: short songs, screaming, noise, havoc. But when does the cliché wear thin? When do we realize that we are making a parody of what elders said about our music for three generations? That riffcraft and songwriting take a back seat to novelty? Napalm Death was “cute” on Scum and From Enslavement to Obliteration but they bailed out after that. Carcass moved on after Reek of Putrefaction, and even the mighty Repulsion left it at one album. Within a narrow scope, there is only so much to say, and so grindcore like the previous minimalist experiment in punk rock abolished itself. Atara manages solid songs with a bit of groove between the extravagant flourishes but songs are extremely similar; Miserable Failure sounds like more constant screaming with repetitive droning riffs going on in the background. In one of the great paradoxes of humanity, both are probably at the tops of their genre, and yet that is not enough for a second listen.

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Integrity – Systems Overload

Bands like Neurosis and Integrity inspired the “sludge” revolution in metal by playing post-hardcore slowly and for atmosphere, but what attracted the industry was that as these bands gained experience they began sounding more like regular rock music. This allowed the simple calculus of all record labels: new thing / same old thing = new thing we control. This Integrity album shows the band pulling back from the punk and into the punk rock while keeping the aesthetic — the numerator of the fraction above — of hardcore, but adding in the raw structure (the denominator) of basic rock songs. You will recognize many of the patterns on this album from hard rock and classic rock albums, although to their credit Integrity have thoughtfully modified them and extended them, mixing the single items up across songs so that nothing sounds exactly like something else. In this, Systems Overload is one of the most professional albums to come out of punk; they worked hard on making every bit of this fit within the product range the audience expected but with a new aesthetic so it could be branded and a differentiated product. In that area this album is admirable, and it makes for easy and pleasant listening other than the strained and soar throat vocals, but otherwise it strikes me as music for the inexperienced that would be fun for a season and then discarded.

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Nihilistinen Barbaarisuus – Väinämöinen

This two-song EP evokes the golden days of Bathory with a long and hypnotic track followed by an acoustic instrumental, but owes more to the Norwegian wave such as Burzum and Gorgoroth. Much as with the latter, it composes in the melodic minor scale, and borrows much of its sense of pacing and trancelike riffing from second-album Burzum. This creates a sense of being suspended in time while watching for action to occur within a scene, and the use of flowing tremolo suspends reality much as it did with Gorgoroth and Graveland, another background influence — by the sound of things — on this band. The first track expands to six minutes on a few short themes and develops internal counter-melodies to give them depth (a less-overused version of the technique in Borknagar), which avoids the lazy wandering of bands like Drudkh or Inquisition, and instead creates a deepening sense of mood. The second track uses acoustic instruments and creates a folkish aura for the first, developing similar themes as if shadowing darkness with light. Much like other faithful retro-continuation projects such as Woodtemple, this music maintains integrity and avoids the pitfalls of contemporary music. It may not be the most exciting owing to an internal balance that is not as savagely unbound as Burzum, for example, and to its arrival twenty years after these techniques hammered audiences for the first time. However, unlike almost all from the genre today, Väinämöinen understands how to make beauty in the darkest despair of the human soul, and from that find not a contrarian impulse toward “good” but a desire to resolutely wage war on all that is inferior and thus, raise the darkness to a higher level of clarity that approximates beauty.