Mordor – Csejthe (1992)

Medievalism with disdain towards life, punishingly tardive and yet theatrical, this is epitaphial death metal with an aim. This aim is to reframe a life of industrial decay by the droning transcendental funeral of the God in man. This is the soundtrack of living in Mordor.

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J.C. Newman – Tampa Trolleys

Every review site in the world likes to review fine, nuanced cigars, but this is a metal site, so let us look at cigars with the subtlety of an axe murder on a subway car. J.C. Newman named the Tampa Trolleys after the railcars that workers would take to the last American cigar-making plant in Tampa, Florida which was known as “Cigar City USA.” Coming from one of the birthplaces of death metal, these cigars aim for a similar brutality on the smoker but have lessons to teach.

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Profanatica – Altar of the Virgin Whore (2018)

Following the peak of John Gelso’s manic laughter melodic sensibility on Thy Kingdom Cum, Profanatica entered artistic decline by releasing the excuse-to-tour Curling Flame of Blasphemy where the riffs were merely those of Disgusting Blasphemy Against God in a lull given a slight boost in populist consonance for the purpose of pleasing crowds. The G.G. Allin of black metal Paul Ledney sounded tired and uninspired which was reflected by the shark-jumping biker bar promotional pictures which were included in the booklet of the album. With Altar of the Virgin Whore we find Profanatica once again selling an excuse to tour only this time it is said plainly.

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Inverloch – Distance | Collapsed (2016)

Inverloch are an Australian death/doom four piece mostly known for being composed of half of the members of Disembowelment and for being considered their rightful heir. With projects like these there is a fine line between upholding the heritage of a previous project and reiterating past works in hope of achieving former glory. Inverloch straddle that thin line but also manage to find influence in much more recent branches of death metal and the funeral doom subgenre and overall create an enjoyable piece of work that may push the listener towards the greater releases in the genre, especially Transcendence into the Peripheral.

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The One – I, Master (2008)

Hailing from Rhodes, black metal project The One comes to us from the mastermind behind Macabre Omen, who alongside Varathron have been the most consistent artists in the Hellenic scene during the past few years. The One performs a style of black metal that draws from various influences such as Mayhem, Hellhammer, and Bathory, yet it is filtered through the Hellenic prism of longer melodies and warm, ritual atmosphere.

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Nameless Therein – Hex Haruspex (2018)

One of the greatest challenges of art linked to mystical practices its concern with being able to codify pathways to the inner experience that is intended to be facilated or transmitted. Nameless Therein have taken a reserved yet thematically rich path towards the accomplishment of such a feat by creating sinister musical vignettes. The compositions in question consist in arrangements for three clean-sound electric guitars, and which arrangements focus on enriching textures surrounding a clear thematic line. The character of the music is one that flirts with different sentiments, with its only constant being a vague sensation of weirdness that is accentuated by the quick evaporation of single pieces. The full effect can only be felt as they are played in succession, allowing their similarities, contrasts and particularities to accumulate in the short term memory, the unconscious and the body’s chemistry.

Codification refers to the placing into intelligible patterns a message that will be decoded and transformed by its receiving agent. The efficacy of art as a portal, as a catalyst, is rooted in its artistry, in its effective deepening or altering of the world. Relation to technique and craft is direct, but the evaluation of its efficacy is its totality, since it will be probably found that the most efficacious experiences are based on craft effectively codifying —thus channeling— the intended experience. Nameless Therein is heard here using each and every ounce of technique and craft of instrumentality and composition to this end, and there are no loose strings in this respect.

What at first seems like a limitation is indeed the source of efficacy as a retainer for evocative suggestions in aural form. Very short pieces form pictures in a stream that allows them their own personality while restraining from elaborating excessively, and so avoiding confinement of the listener’s individual experience. Like beautiful entrances to secluded roads in an enchantingly dark, pastoral setting, enticing first and bewitching after as the path grows beyond the composition, yet within the designs of the composer’s manipulative schemes. Sympathetic strings are pulled, and one hovers above, or is shifted out of position, but incompletely. Perception is rent asunder, but in wild streaks, singaling marks seen by a now disturbed awareness. These are doors opened for journeys that can only be taken in solitary, and which no art can complete: art is always a portal, never the experience.

The dense guitar arrangements here make very natural use of the properties of the instrument. Rather than strumming incessantly, or attempting to emulate usages that are more suited to bowed instruments, we hear craftful arpeggiations supporting the passage of melodies that glide over string activity. The last is the proper use of a clear or acoustic guitar-like instruments, whose sonority lends itself to constant vibrations that form a pool over which appears a face: that of the spirit of the melody. That is the germ that infects the mind, and it is a daemon of possession as well, one that invades and lives in the listener.

The underhanded disalignment induced by the music makes portals of such narrow openings into secretive, wide spaces. The effects can be dizzying, even sickening, submerging us in a vaporous twilight that is neither here or there. As the short pieces pass almost unnoticed, a slow but clear altering of one’s biology seems to take place by virtue of the effective completeness of the “circular motion” that they do possess despite their limited length. Each one moves the eye’s mind, the humors in the chest, and the emotions in differing directions, miniscule in individual magnitude, yet hardly negligible as fifty-six spirits create a vortex at the center of which is the bewildered listener.

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Osi and the Jupiter – Uthuling Hyl (2017)

Osi and the Jupiter play a mostly acoustic ambient with synthetic overtones that borrows heavily from ancestral Nordic cultural remnants for its conceptual, and musical, orientation. In Uthuling Hyl, this takes the form of what we could call a European Pagan Drone music, with all that each of these words could imply by themselves and together. As European, it seeks that connection in instrumentation and tone to pre-traditionalist roots. As a Pagan affair, it is based on a numinous connection to surroundings, contemplative and wordless reflection, and an unfolding wyrd presencing a quality that has come to be known as ‘honor’. As all ambient, the music depends entirely upon its ability to very explicitly maintain a continuous flow of sounds that are not allowed the minimal digression. Thereby is a more esoteric teaching concealed in the construction and balance of the music itself, which is as all art should be. For in trying to bring to bear a connection human beings can have to nature when they place themselves within it with respect and devotion, the music also reflects how delicate this affair is, and how quickly it can all be burnt down by our hubris. In truth, it would take a mundane simpletone —or an utter imbecile— to relegate the experience presented in Uthuling Hyl to a debased utilitarian function such as serving as soundtrack to some ill-advised television show.

The hidden drone component here dictates that the variation of the elements must be done ever so slightly, taking care that texture and tone are gauged with due attention to craft. Texture is sustained while introducing and remaining particulars, relying on relatively abrupt changes in pacing or timbre only in very specifc cases and with a very specifc aim in mind. In general, and above all, the delicate fullness in unity that marks this work serves as a mantle for a whole cosmos in which organisms live a precarious existence but whose essence eternally flows. The patterns of said fabric are sewn by the threads of individual musical voices, surviving as they do mindlessly, but doing so only because their actions fit the pacing and balance of the whole. The endings of those existences are timely and waste not energy nor leave space unmarked. Sounds of worship and numinous contemplation permeate this summoned spiritual world. The cello parts by Kakophonix do not overimpose nor indulge, but enhance ekstasis, bringing an energetic waves that travel the landscape across darkened wood, mountain and sky. In the midst of this interpretation, the mournful, pleading vocalizations stand out as the human presence submerged, wailing, unnoticed in a sinisterly-numinous ocean of flowing forces in colossal dimensions perhaps quantified by some physicist, but ultimately undreamable by our daytime minds.

While all manifestation is One, we can highlight aspects or levels of it as they come to the fore of our impressions. In the case of Uthuling Hyl, this would be more unconscious vaporous tension, the watery flow of emotions that lie below reason and will. The humid web that holds things together here is ever so vulnerable, our transgressions the probable cause of dissolutions that are no crimes but mere effects to causes. The listener, the conscious human, intrudes upon this space, and a decision must be taken to coalesce or see it all dry up, and waste into cold —or perhaps burn up into merciless hatred and ambition. Such is the picture that Osi and the Jupiter reveal in pattern and spirit. As numinous worship, the present work calls for our knowing our place, and seeking our destiny; for our seeking a voice and power, for our evolutive ascendance, in a picture of our cosmos that finds beauty in bleakness.

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Mørketida – Panphage Mysticism (2018)

Written by Merlin Lemasters

Hailing from Finland, Mørketida present us their debut album which, unlike most of the festering horde laying claimant to the precipitous banner of black metal this year, has some actual merit. Perhaps what is most impressive about this release is that, despite its utter reliance on the most elementary of black metal chord and note progressions, there is such a wealth of depth in the interplay between elements that the essential lethargy and entropy prototypical of the modern form of this threadbare genre is fully exceeded. Verily —and in traditional, true black metal fashion— they have made the utmost out of rudiments. Every section here is wrung out, thoroughly, meticulously and by means of layering, coalesced into a microcosm of sound. This is aided by the production’s overlaid murk, an intensely atmospheric affair; manifold veils reveal obscured information upon close inspection, in this way taking its cues from early Burzum. Indeed, most parts of this album can be traced back quite easily enough to the cornerstones of the genre. As mentioned before, the language that makes up the barest essence of this genre is present here in full force and yet that language has been twisted to fit its needs, to create an experience. There is no concession to vanity here, all is arranged in service to a pervading darkness and this puts the craft of this album above most. In this way, it is true, it has not simply regurgitated the requirements of the genre but used them in expression. Traces of Darkthrone, Gorgoroth, Graveland, Ancient and Burzum, all make appearances here, though not in imitation by any means. These classic bands have indeed scribed the language but the arrangement and order of its morphemes is fully Mørketida’s own.

A deliberate brooding pace sets the tone for much of this album, at times finding brief resolution in well-worn, thrumming tremolo bursts, hallmark of the Norwegians. Drums too, are played in the classic way, wisely devoid of any clutter they rumble, blast and accentuate without syncopation, pure in that they do not attempt to suffer arbitraries upon the listener. Vocals chant in intonations obscure, oft buried in the umbrage and at times barely discernible, only made known by their echo, like chanting heard from a cave some distance away. Some brief sections of keys, emphasize moments of power or ambience, they are present in much of this album however, usually as another layer in the foggy production. In its most fervent moments, there is force of passion here, etched out as sharp contrasts between the meandering stride. The brunt of this work appears uniform with its slow chords and droning arpeggios but sections are arranged in repetition only with the greatest patience, never failing to end that which has dwelt too long. In fact, this album is utterly untouched by the inertia of lingering thought-forms past their day; all sections have been measured diligently and like the ancients they shift when it is time, never after or before.

This organic sense of composition is much missed in these days of note clamor, where the essential power of the black metal language is roiled by the entropy of an unnecessary, incessant changing of riffs, vomited out with little application of artistry. Songs are well wrought, there are no loose ends to composition and another impressive facet of this release, there is no excess of vanity, no flirtations with extraneous influence. The uniformity of this approach, with just enough discernible waymarks to keep the listener guided throughout its realm, lends a rare strength to this release. Very few parts make any attempt to be seen as indelible, and of these, the title track in particular sets itself apart by letting the bass wander, exploring different trails and in one glorious moment lets it solo, a longing sonority against the melancholic scratching of the guitars. Moments like this one are rare and with good reason, this is the type of black metal that longs to dwell in worlds away from modernity, it crushes the ego, it spurns the trappings of the mundane. The goal of a permeating, consuming, crepuscule is always in mind and with it; the apprehension of an atmosphere pure, reveling in its fealty to an ultimate darkness. A mature and conservative work in all aspects, what may at cursory glance appear to be contrived or unremarkable will soon prove itself well worthy of study.

Experience it as a whole and experience it with headphones!

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Helwetti – Unholy Extreme Black (1999)

Released in 1999, Unholy Extreme Black is the second of two demos released by the transitory Finnish black metal project Helwetti. Here, Helwetti provides richness through depth in the reach of its rather brief material by making constrained technique malleable to the natural requirements of a flow aimed at bringing in new ideas in a coherent yet always evolving stream. The secret of the elite, almost non-existent underground to producing rare minimalist music of such sublety is a rather bestial and ritualistique effort fueled by dark spiritual ideas founded on enacted reclusiveness. Within this darkness embraced, the true artist manages to bring a powerful invocation of infernal —lower-world, unconscious to the uninitiated— forces in a way that most of the later, allegedly more mature, projects have never reached by a long. The racing melodies of Helwetti’s music in traditional black metal dissonances arranged through percussive changes, opportune breaks and vocal overlays raise its minimalist expression to the best that could possibly be achieved while remaining so simple. The vocals on this recording are an incredible delight to listen to as they express a nuanced wealth of emotions, within this limited framework as the rest of the instruments, greatly adding to the overall atmosphere. The necro sound resulting from the tampering with the original sound gives it a veiled that is certainly not a detriment to the sound of the instruments. Thereby, the clarity of the instruments is not only maintained throughout, but it actually attenuates distractions typical to the metal genre, allowing the merit of the musical arrangements to come to the foreground.

In the matter of technique, guitars do not go beyond softly strummed power chords, not quite fast downstrokes and “tremolo picking” on one string. The bass serves as a proper low frequency holder that does not get in the way but noticeably reinforces the texture of the music. Drums vary between laid back, standard rock patterns in duple time, sometimes with triplet feels, that go on smooth crescendos of double-bass runs; these patterns are then alternated with “d-beats” at different speeds, depending on the location within the pieces. These are all very standard and quite basic techniques, but what raises this demo in musical, rather than technical quality, is arrangement of the parts. Logic is not enough, but a sense of naturality must be expressed that can only be correctly represented by the use of intuition. Black metal in general prides itself in placing intuition before mere logic or the debasing —often clownish and overbearing— technique flaunting of death metal. However, intuition depends entirely on an inwardly developed or innately inherited talent of the individual that is not produced by the application of logic. Also, under close inspection, music resulting from the application of logic (structure-oriented death metal, for instance) is quite different from music prominently steeped in the application of intuition (like the best of black metal). Which means that a lot is outside the normally conscious, calculable control of the individual composing. It is just in this trap that the elitism of black metal lies.

Within the seemingly narrow constraints of raw black metal, we can appreciate how Helwetti creates a rich variety of fluxions which overflow one into the next. Without leaving any question regarding the soundness of their transformations, adjacent patterns are related by transitions that flow smoothly as water downstream. More interestingly, the four different pieces in this demo act as movements within one work. Arguably, many underground demos were compounded in this way. And without there necessarily being a conscious intent in relating it to the classical tradition, the effect is somewhat similar when a release of the stature of Unholy Extreme Black manages to present variety of texture and theme within a coherent and consistent style, bringing interrelated pieces together further under an hidden phantasm grasped by the artist’s senses. It is in communion with “Satan,” “satans,” or “dead things,” and in their consistent, focused sensations thereof, that the black metal musician brings a stream of riffs directed at channeling patterns which vibrate with what is perceived in altered states. The extent to which such a communion is attained, and perhaps the authenticity or the quality of the experience, is what makes the results vary —not to mention actual musical talent. This is precisely the “ritual” to which many a wordless black metal acolytes (For who is truly an adept in this inherently left-handed path?) refer when attempting to describe what this music is as opposed to other kinds of “music” that are aimed at entertainment or technical exercise or narcissistic indulgence.

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