Abbath – Abbath (2016)

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Abbath’s pitfalls on Abbath are garden variety pitfalls (haphazard songwriting, too much time on the mixing consoles). What really distinguishes this album from all the other comebacks (like our recent coverage of Dystopia) is its main author’s legacy. Abbath’s previous accomplishments with Immortal factor very heavily into any promotion of his solo efforts, and this album has already received a great deal of praise because it doesn’t rock the boat by not sounding like Immortal and its more openly rock-like spinoffs (Between Two Worlds, March of the Norse). Divorced from the fame, Abbath might draw a little positive attention for having slightly above average individual riffs and instrument interaction, but that doesn’t stop it from paling in comparison to what Immortal themselves achieved.

A lot of what I could say about this album has already been used to describe previous efforts from when Immortal itself lost the impetus that made it so interesting in its early years. Running a simple search and replace on Brett’s descriptions of Damned in Black to replace band names makes for a very accurate, albeit not particularly original summation of how Abbath falls short. Surprisingly, it also describes some of the strong points; this album is arguably a lot more appealing on a superficial level than Immortal’s earlier studio albums. While skillful organization of musical content makes careful listening to a track like “The Call of the Wintermoon” off the debut pay off in the long run, I will admit that earlier material sometimes falls short in individual riffs and solos, mainly because the band members were less technically skilled in the past. That attention to detail, though, rendered the old works more ambitious. In contrast, a couple of tracks here come off as especially contrived; for instance, “Ocean of Wounds”, which sounds like Abbath and company decided that they absolutely needed to have a mid-paced arena headbanger. Many of the tracks aren’t as obviously pop oriented, but they’re still pretty haphazard and unmemorable once you start memorizing the individual elements.

It should come as no surprise that I don’t exactly recommend Abbath. The main difference between this and most of the chaff is that I think the musicians involved could do better if they set their minds to it based on the fact that they have, although the subtleties of the past sometimes just don’t pay the bills. At the very least, a financially successful but vapid comeback is a different problem than continued effort from bands that never put out anything of value.

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Naðra – Allir Vegir Til Glötunar (2016)

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Article by David Rosales

It is hard to ascertain if it’s pretentiousness or merely a poor appreciation of classic minimalist metal that brings about all these very underdeveloped (or simply shitty) releases. It seems that most of these would-be musicians think that all it takes to put out a folk-melodic black metal album is to write a simple consonant melody in standard time signature, play it in with tremolo picking, use variations of blast beats and mid-paced double-bass drums and a combination of bark-scream-screeches and the now-fashionable “war calls”.

The result of this sort of thinking is, again, surface oriented and only manages to turn what was originally a unique expression that bubbled up from a deep feeling into a list of characteristics to be filled in order to sound appealing to a particular demographic of undiscerning music fans. Rather than beat up another mediocre artist of absolutely no relevance, we must also turn our muskets in the direction of the masses of uncaring metal fans who take no heed of who they “vote up” or what they buy as long as it is mildly pleasing.

It is you, the average fan, that decides what sort of projects receive support and that subpar music is put aside. The old excuse of supporting up-coming acts that may in time improve and write outstanding music is a poor one. Let them struggle, let them first earn their merit. Metal is no aristocratic art that needs spoiled kids to have their ego stroked so that they somehow become musical geniuses. No legendary metal album is the result of undeserved favors, they are all, almost invariably, the result of struggle, of blood and tears.

For the sake of metal itself, if not for the sake of your own mental health and nutrition, throw away and put aside all projects that stand on the same quality level as Naðra Allir Vegir Til Glötunar. This has absolutely nothing to do with production. This has absolutely nothing to do with monetary support for touring. This is about not only creativity but the perseverance, ability and knowledge or intuition to arrange convincing structures that amount to Dionysian calls from the inner man. Allir Vegir Til Glötunar is only dead weight for the metal genre.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews mini-feature – Vargstuhr – Howlings (2015)

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Article by David Rosales

Musical genres work very much like languages, transmitting information at an abstract level, albeit simultaneously at a much more intuitive and unconscious level, hence its surfacing in the form of emotions. Unfortunately, many musicians fall into the trap of taking forms and cliches merely as that: a formula that is interpreted either as a constraint or a shortcut. Neither approach correctly assesses the real value of so-called cliched forms and expressions.

Vargstuhr’s Howlings presents a pop opera variation of this thinking by making a wolf-pack themed album whose center are the lyrics. All music revolving around it is incidental and it tends to twist around in its particular emphasis while roughly remaining in the area of a third-grade black metal act with very poorly thought-out interactions between the vocals and the music. Like any opera-like production, it tries to keep its eye on themes of some kind, but the music is still too secondary and plays more like an excuse for a soundtrack.

Besides its poor structuring, Howlings also fails at a local performance level, managing to sound awkward in almost each of the instruments at least at some point. We normally do not complain at all about production, but here the music is so bad that the excessively out of balance mix emphasizes the flaws of the album. The only prize Vargstuhr will be winning here is an award for one of the most uncomfortable albums to listen to in recent memory.

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Zloslut – U Transu Sa Nepoznatim Siluetama (2015)

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Article by Corey M

Serbian black metal group Zloslut received some well-deserved coverage on DMU in 2013 when they released their first album, Zloslutni Horizont – Donosilac Prokletstva, Očaja I Smrti, in which the musicians demonstrated a humble and patient method of constructing epic songs based around the simplicity of a few chord changes. This method contrasts (pleasantly) with the typical songwriting method of modern black metal bands, which is to hurl rapid-fire oppositional riff pairs at the listener with the intention of disorienting and distracting from the lack of any coherent musical thread. Zloslut’s music promises a refreshing return to the minimalist style that the best black metal bands of the early 1990s used to produce memorable and effective songs.

U Transu Sa Nepoznatim Siluetama moves at a familiar pace for the experienced listener, but the albums dynamics are generally so well-balanced that even someone not engaged in black metal would not be offended or confused by the aural layout. The average intensity of the music is nearer to that of In the Glare of Burning Churches than Pure Holocaust, which means that each song has plenty of room to breathe and the listener never feels battered or overwhelmed by density or speed. Songs themselves are built out of a handful of chord cycles that are aesthetically consistent and highly motivational; never does a chord cycle become so stale that you will actually desire its end to relieve boredom, but never is a riff so complex that it blows by and is forgotten for not having been catchy or repeated enough. Each segment of music is paced accordingly and results in each song becoming a miniature journey of sorts, leading the listener along a path through moments of surprise, anger, despair, hatred, and finally toward some appropriate resolution that can’t be described in text, only experienced sonically.

Zloslut’s success stems from the songwriter’s intuitive sense of balance and momentum. When a song picks up speed, the tension increases but is balanced out with slower-moving riffs played with more major intervals. After a song has expended its motivational energy, the guitars drop down and drag the melody through murky valleys of foreboding and loss. I want to be clear that the dynamic balance maintained throughout this album does not mean that the experience is emotionally flat; rather, that every peak is paired with a valley, and every action has an equal and opposite (or, is it complimentary?) reaction. The spacious feel of the album allows for stretches of melancholic introspection like one might find themselves amidst while listening to Vampires of Black Imperial Blood or the more recent When the Light Dies. But don’t make the mistake of associating Zloslut with the emo-leaning depressive style that has crept into the black metal canon over the last decade. U Transu Sa Nepoznatim Siluetama is ferocious and concedes nothing, sparks the listener’s imagination, and encourages one to seek out and confront the obscure biases and phobias that lurk in the far-flung corners of the psyche.

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Cirith Gorgor releases video for “Wille Zu Macht”

We covered Cirith Gorgor’s latest album a while back; this Dutch black metal band is ahead of many of its compatriots in terms of writing coherent black metal even if they face very stiff competition from local luminaries as Sammath and Kaeck. They’ve since released a music video for a track off Visions of Exalted Lucifier with the help of their record label (Hammerheart Records). It’s got plenty of violent and possibly disturbing imagery, and it generally seems appropriate for the music, but I’m not enough of a filmic expert to say why or how in any specific fashion. The full album will release to the public on February 12th, 2016.

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Upcoming tours – Mgla, Aosoth

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Part of the Agonia Records stable is out on the road again. DMU contributors have discussed both Aosoth and Mgla in the past and at least in some cases have been able to find value in them (although I’ve found Mgla hasn’t aged too well and that their formula is need of greater nuance). Continental Europeans will get a chance to judge these bands for themselves during this upcoming tour. So far limited to 10 dates and leaning towards the northern part of the continent, this seems to be a standard “support previously released material” type of tour. Aosoth is also performing at the Netherlands Deathfest (a subsidary of Maryland Deathfest) on February 28th.

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Witchblood – Hail to Lyderhorn(2014)

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Article by David Rosales

Witchblood is a black metal band that falls on the darkest corner of the folky side of the fence. While not specifically minimalist, Hail to Lyderhorn is a very simple and straightforward music that leans completely on the guitars for content and texture. This album may get repetitive or even a little thin at times but its saving grace is its coherent diversity of textures and techniques. The scant but effective use of keyboards is laudable, being effective as it is magnetic.

The guitars function as one only voice most of the time, with a trusty bass for a spinal chord. The meanness of this portion of the instrumentation places great stress over the role of percussion. The drums have now to fill up spaces and act like the second rock in the bolas of an Argentinian gaucho. To Witchblood’s merit, this is accomplished more than satisfactorily, with drums that compliment or mirror the metal strings, rising to the occasion as required.

Comments will be made about the quality of the vocal performance, which is neither deep, rich nor very powerful. Despite this, the overall result of the music in Hail to Lyderhorn does not seem affected negatively noticeably because of this. In part this is because, as with the instrumentation, the vocalizations were performed well within the boundaries of their limits, allowing them to perform effectively, and therefore avoiding the possible blunders of overextension. We may also want to point out that the textures for guitar riffs and their chosen registers stay clear of the space in which the voice moves. When the guitar’s approach changes (for example, arpeggiating chords into higher notes), the vocal approach also changes, sometimes to a haunting witch chant.

Released in 2014, Witchblood Hail to Lyderhorn is a deserving release that might have escaped the radar of most fans who would otherwise have derived much value from it. While it’s no classic or game changer, this album is nonetheless a low-key example of shrewd amateur efficiency and spirit.

Editor’s note: “Hail to Lyderhorn” was briefly covered in our best of 2014.

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Blliigghhtted – Kosmoskampf (2015)

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It taunted me with its existence – for nearly half a month, working on DMU meant being privvy to our eventual stream of the upcoming Kosmoskampf. Blliigghhtted is for all purposes another star in the Merdümgiriz constellation (read: label), most notably sharing several members with the AxCx flavored Viranesir. As a result of this, there are some musical similarities, but at least going by the the lyrical content, Blliigghhtted is oriented a bit more towards the occult end of the shock rock spectrum, possibly making it easier for laypeople to digest. It’s still an especially challenging listen. While Kosmoskampf is marketed as a sort of black metal, I wouldn’t be surprised if it had instead been sold as some sort of extreme post-punk recording. Overlap and common ancestors aside, Blliigghhtted’s lengthy, dissonant songs make for easier comparisons to an act like Swans. It just so happens to be the complete antithesis of what I look for in music!

At this point, the reviewer took a break to wallow in his own unfamiliarity with the subgenres on display.

Kosmoskampf is a complete mess, but as far as I can tell, it’s an intentional mess. I remember seeing the term “critic-proof” somewhere while doing my perfunctory research for this review, and to put it bluntly, it’s the perfect description. Each of the songs is a 10-11 minute cesspit of whatever technique thrown together without much in the way of coherent organization. The constantly shifting tempos and repeated periods of pure dissonance don’t exactly tie things together, although the instrumentation stays fairly consistent. So far, I’ve been able to dredge up the occasional guitar phrase reminiscent of a melodic black metal recording, the occasional moaned vocals drenched in reverb, and so forth; in general there are some musical elements I can latch onto, and I can say with some confidence that the album isn’t complete noise. Beyond that, all bets are off. Performing such music must be interesting on a ritual level, but outside perhaps a live experience, a great deal of potential energy (or at least concert debauchery) goes missing.

Despite my attempts not to, I find Kosmoskampf‘s efforts endearing, perhaps influenced as I am by the performers’ antics outside the album. I still would not be surprised if few shared my admittedly nebulous opinions.

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Raven Music selling sheet music of Emperor’s debut

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Raven Music Editions is a relatively new company that sells sheet music transcriptions of various ‘alternative’ musics, including black metal. Recently, they’ve published a transcription of In The Nightside Eclipse, Emperor’s classic debut whose quality and notoriety should require no introduction. While the rest of their catalog is fairly limited at this point (consisting of two non-metal albums by Ulver), supporting the company by purchasing these transcriptions at their website may allow them to transcribe more music. Given how much you can learn about a work of music from reading it and analyzing it, it’s my hope that this company is able to continue their work. I’d also like to hear from anyone who does end up purchasing these transcriptions, since the very act of putting music to notation involves some interpretation and opinions are understandably going to vary on how Raven handles that.

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Upcoming Tours – Absu

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Spring 2016 will see Absu on their… cumbersomely named “Merelogical Nihilism Connexus Tour”. The main purpose of this tour is building up hype for Absu’s next studio album, which creatively will be named Apsu. As of now, said album is partially constructed, band frontman and percussionist Proscriptor claims that he’s completed recording the rhythm tracks, and makes statements that suggest that a great deal of effort has gone into the lyrics. Hopefully similar effort is being placed into the other aspects of the recording; word on the street is that Absu lost some critical direction and cohesion when they reformed. I guess we’ll just have to listen in; a release date has not yet been set for this material.

A list of confirmed tour dates follows. The gig in Somerville, MA places this technically in my commute radius.

March 17, 2016:  Richmond, VA – Strange Matter
March 18, 2016:  Charlotte, NC – Amos’ Southend (with Abbath & High On Fire)
March 19, 2016:  Charleston, SC – The Tin Roof
March 20, 2016:  Jacksonville, FL – Burro Bar
March 22, 2016:  Tampa, FL – Brass Mug
March 23, 2016:  Gainesville, FL – The Atlantic
March 24, 2016:  Atlanta, GA – The Basement
March 25, 2016:  New Orleans, LA – Siberia
March 26, 2016:  Houston, TX – Walter’s
March 27, 2016:  San Antonio, TX – The Korova
March 28, 2016:  Corpus Christi, TX – Boozerz
March 29, 2016:  Austin, TX – The Sidewinder
March 30, 2016:  Arlington, TX – Diamond Jim’s Saloon
March31, 2016:  El Paso, TX – The Sandbox
April 1, 2016:  Scottsdale, AZ – The Rogue
April 2, 2016:  San Diego, CA – Brick By Brick
April 3, 2016:  Los Angeles, CA – Complex
April 5, 2016:  Bakersfield, CA – Babylon
April 6, 2016:  Oakland, CA – Metro Operahouse
April 7, 201616:  Sacramento, CA – Starlite Lounge
April 8, 2016:  Portland, OR – Ash Street Saloon (Northwestern Black Circle Fest)
April9, 201616: Victoria, BC – Upstairs Cabaret
April10, 2016: Vancouver, BC – Astoria Pub
April 11, 2016:  Seattle, WA – The Highline
April 12, 2016:  Missoula, MT – The V
April 13, 2016:  Boise, ID – The Shredder
April 14, 2016:  Salt Lake City, UT – Metro Bar
April 15, 2016:  Denver, CO – Hi-Dive
April 16, 2016:  Kansas City, MO – The Riot Room
April 17, 2016:  St. Louis, MO – Fubar
April 18, 2016:  Omaha, NE – Lookout Lounge
April 19, 2016:  Minneapolis, MN – Triple Rock
April 20, 2016:  Milwaukee, WI – Frank’s Power Plant
April 21, 2016:  Columbus, OH – The Summit
April 22, 2016:  Pittsburgh, PA – The Smiling Moose
April 23, 2016:  Rochester, NY – Bug Jar
April 25, 2016:  Burlington, VT – T.B.A
April 26, 2016:  Portland, ME – Space Gallery
April 27, 2016:  Somerville, MA – ONCE Lounge
April 28, 2016:  Brooklyn, NY – Saint Vitus
April 29, 2016:  Philadelphia, PA – Kung Fu Necktie
April 30, 2016:  Raleigh, NC – The Maywood

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