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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Old Wainds / Навь (Nav’) – We Are the North… Mean Cold War… (2003)

The early phenomenon of Old Wainds played an extremely condensed and straightforward style of black metal that represented the ultimate distillation of what the genre had to offer as a sequence of meaningful flows based on guitar riffs that form aggressively articulated phrases the pressure of which is carefully regulated. The project was a great exception to the reliable rule that says, from experience, that black metal (or metal music in general) from Slavic countries has nothing to offer musically. More often than not, what is called “slavic black metal” is anything but, and in the best of cases falls into what has been misleadingly and ironically called “flowing black metal” to describe a pointless, melodic meandering rock music that lacks significant changes in pacing and texture, and so never is never able to produce the necessary dynamics of tension and release. Alas, Old Wainds plays the exalted and unassuming post-1995 black metal form first seen in the condensed masterpiece of Uranium 235, crushing the heads of the genre as a whole, dividing the line between mundane scenester fanboys and solitary black mystics.

Навь (Nav’) was Old Wainds’ twin project, in which at least one of the band members differed. Musically, what distinguished the two was a the attempted emphasis of Nav’ on more fluid tendencies and softer contours, even if ever so slightly in comparison to Old Wainds. Nav’s distinct aim is arrived at in their first full-length, Чертоги смерти (2004), which basically was a pleasant but weak exposition of the melodic component already present in the best of Old Wainds’ music. While Old Wainds from the beginning has a very narrow style, in the sense of being impressively mature and well-formed, rather than incapacitatingly rigid, Nav’ expresses the riffing and melodic avenues that are left over from the former, but which still fall within this aggressive, dark music.

In time, both projects fell out of grace by their own hand, in a rather telling way that perhaps reveals who the artistic luminary was in both groups. While Kull only participates in the Nav’ demo that is reproduced in this split, along with the second Old Wainds demo, he participates in Old Wainds in every release until Oбжигающий холодныйScalding Coldness— (2005), a comparatively weakened but still recognizable expression of the project founded on proper black metal riff-flurry. After Kull leaves Old Wainds, the music changes drastically in to a completely uninspired imitation of itself, a sign that the departing element in the team was the author of the significant phrases at the center of the music. This is also true of Nav’, whose best work is found in their 1998 demo Гимн холодному безмолвию, reproduced in this split, and which sees the only apparition of Kull in the project.

Furthermore, after their first full length, Where the Snows are Never Gone (1997) —and with the exception of this split which uses material from the second demo from 1999— Old Wainds’ songwriting was suffering from debilitating notions ever since their second full-length album. We sense a lost grasp or connection to the powerful pulse that created a maelstrom around an inward-looking conversation between the riffs, which can only be described as a vortex of encircling energy. The energy in a void whence arises this power is said inner dialogue of the music, that can only be achieved by two necessary elements: the first is that each section must have a clear and significant fluxion [1] expressed; and the second, consequent of the first, is that these fluxions must achieve a certain dynamic flow in between each other. The interaction between the individual fluxions is most excellently demonstrated in Old Wainds’ debut, and consists in the sense achieved by the parts arranged in sequence, first of all, but also in how they match simultaneously. They who grasp the meaning of this lexic contradiction, but that is not a contradiction in the phenomenon described, may have a first key to unlocking the more effective value of this black metal to the more superfluous acts considered de rigueur.

Notes

[1] http://www.deathmetal.org/article/black-fluxions/

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Sabbat – Envenom (1991)

Sabbat are a cult Japanese band known for primarily for being Japanese and playing a heavily Venom influenced style of Heavy metal that sometimes crosses over to real black metal though rarely and for the briefest of periods. This record is actually more known for the exotic origins of its creators rather than the actual quality presented here. Replacing the seriousness of other similar bands with a certain rock and roll cheese and tongue in cheek lyrics that ultimately pull this band behind the rest.

Sabbat have a terrible habit of wearing their influences on their sleeves with far too much pride. “Satan Bless you” has a main motif particular similar to Venom’s “Black Metal” and all of the speed metal parts can be attributed to the English Sabbat. “Evil Nation” is so reminiscent of Iron Maiden’s “2 minutes to midnight” that you can easily sing the verse parts on top of it and there would be almost no difference as the chord progression, rhythm and techniques are practically identical. Carcassvoice steals the first two passages of Mayhem’s “Deathcrush” and only slightly changes the rhythm and added to this package is a hilarious imitation of Maniac’s high pitch rasp. Though these are the most obvious acts of plagiarism, the entirety of the album is drenched in déja-vu and this refrains the album from reaching the same level as their Norwegian and Brazilian peers.

Arrangements tend to be in the classic pop style except for some brilliant moments of over the top soloing and the inclusion of speed metal breakdowns. Though some tracks experiment with the stop and start mechanics from Motorhead’s Overkill (1979) but ultimately fail as the individual parts function in solitude but do not combine as a whole and we are treated to separate songs encapsulated within a single track. There is nothing to be found of the narrative Death and Black metal structures here as this album is firmly rooted in Heavy metal.

The note selection stays within the usual combination of the natural minor scale and the minor pentatonic except when the band allows themselves forays into fully developed black metal territory as seen on track “King of Hell” which has a long droning sequence with a lot of chromaticism that contrasts most of this record but then on closer inspection this feels more like a reject on Bathory’s The Return (1985). The drums hint towards more developed black metal at times as they play a martial techno beat here and there without fills but this record is exceedingly behind what was going during that time period. The best part of the entire record are the solos and how are they given the kind of space and freedom suited for the more commercial strands of metal. The solos first and foremost obey the whims of the accompanying riffs and seek to amplify what they convey with the use of a large repertoire taking from the most famous relevant shredders. The compositions do have their charm in how they use the energetic approach of their heroes to create uplifting and fun music but ultimately play on shock rock tropes like main influence Venom.

The best composition here is the instrumental “Dead March” which takes a simple Judas Priest like motif and advances it forward with perfect control of mood as the motif twists and turns and the interactions between it and the second guitar that either harmonizes in conventional thirds or plays some contrapuntal melodies. The song conveys perfectly a march of the dead and escapes the pop structure through the reuse of certain passages and a complete lack of chorus. A fantastic bridge between the Heavy metal of the past and the Black metal of the future as it takes those elements and applies it in ways that the Norwegian bands would then apply on darker melodies.

Envenom shows a band going through multiple periods as this album was released seven years after the band initially formed and shows this progression from NWOBHM worship to Mayhem’s Deathcrush unfortunately this record shows the timeline of the genre but fails to do anything with it nor add a unique twist to it. Envenom remains a fun record but lacks any transcendent quality that separates it from some of the more forward-thinking acts in the genre and probably because there seems to be not a single ounce of influence from what was going in the Death metal or a willful ignorance to the innovations brought over. An easy listening album to bring over neophytes but for the experienced listener this is enjoyable for a few listens with a beer or two but has nothing else to offer.

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Serpent ov Old – Withering Hope (2012)

S E R P E N T  O V  O L D

Withering Hope

2012 Era Horrificus

It is the way of things that genres arise from culture and philosophy, as well as from personal interpretions of that culture and philosophy. In the case of metal, we see its subgenres and styles mingling in different ways to different degrees of acceptance and satisfaction by audience, artists and critics. In the case of Serpent ov Old, this has taken the form of an amalgamation of black metal and power metal, which has surprisingly and graciously bypassed the technicisms of death metal. And while there is word of power metal taking up death metal techniques into its repertoire, the mainstay of power metal has never executed this transition. The truth of the matter is that the melodicity and emphasis on comprehensible chord progressions of power metal has more to gain from the elegant emphasis on melodies-made-flows that the best of black metal has mastered inwardly. At the same time, Serpent ov Old makes music that stands primarily as evocative music elevated above discussions on techniques or style, even if the techniques and ways of expression have been clearly adopted from the sources mentioned above.

Serpent ov Old builds music by stating themes in the fashion of power metal, while balancing —purging— the saccharine effects by the application of black metal underpinnings in percussion, vocalization and guitar strumming. What we can hear is a music dominated by harmonic movement across which significantly active melodic lines move. Tension is built and released and then recaptured by both the melodic-harmonic interplay of lessons learned from black metal here, and those adopted from power metal there. Furthermore, the textural effects of the percussion and how these affect impulse, constriction and relaxation are taken primarily from black metal. The band makes this work by connecting power metal and black metal techniques to their common speed metal foundations, meaning that in many of the cases, the approach of the central riffing and percussion could fall into a nebulous area which both genres share in mature forms of speed metal, although this ambivalence is usually resolved towards black metal. As a whole, power metal is used as a bombastic paintbrush that allows Serpent ov Old to magnify the usually understated dramatism of black metal.

All this has to be accomplished tastefully, and we never find a reliance on trope or techniques: compositions are driven by the central, “invisible” essence of motion and contrast, and fluctuations of power and direction, by and for which the instrumentation exists. The “shredding” abilities of the guitarists in this work are used much in the same way that Trey Azagthoth’s atonal noise solos ripped through old Morbid Angel songs: as hyeroglyphs rather than as pretentious elaborations. These are to be taken as impressionist impressions, and should not be confused as baroque virtuosic displays, for such scale-based quasi noise shreds lack the self-sufficiency of the proper baroque solo instrument that we would hear in a work for viola da gamba by Marin Marais, for instance. And as one listens to the music more and more closely, subsequent spins allow the listener to perceive these relations properly, allowing them to see where the backbone is located, and how the peaks and valleys are formed by the creators of this landscape of poetic rashness.

The music of Serpent ov Old is fierce romantic dramatism akin to powerful forces of nature that destroy yet also create. By adopting and moderating the extroverted expression of power metal and delicately subsuming it under black metal, Serpent ov Old makes the music genres escape the narcissistic trap and makes them serve a transcendent expression of inner experience. Furthermore, this profound experience, if authentic, is one of darkness and anguish; but which darkness and anguish, if contronted and assimilated unto individuation, can presumably lead to the creation of a new type of being. However, the music is still limited by this personal flavor, which still tends to be merely inward looking, but not yet deep enough that a new space is opened up through the self as a gate. We may say that this is ultimately a question of personal experience, reflection and individual meaning. But ultimately, as music, it must be able to develop the ability to somehow come up with an aural language that can communicate a general intimation of what is presenced from beyond.

Note: We might yet see Withering Hope released under the banner of Deathwave Nexion.

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Fanisk: 2002-2013

Article by Doron Rosenberg

It would certainly not be far from the mark to say that Fanisk are the crowning achievement of “NSBM.” The limits reached by Eldrig’s sublime compositions, tempered by the conceptual direction given by Vitholf, far exceeded anything that came either from the “NS” or the “US” camps, altogether escaping the cliched definitions of either. That is, as music, Fanisk fits neither of the pseudo sub-genres in quesion, and only belongs to either by dint of their ideological sponsoring and geographical location. (more…)

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Kristallnacht – Blooddrenched Memorial 1994-2002 (2006)

Article by Doron Rosenberg

The present is the final compilation of all music released by “NSBM” band Kristallnacht. The importance of this release lies entirely on the fact that it is one of the few acts coming from said ideological background with any artistic merit at all. That said, Kristallnacht was always a band of modest musical means, making up for it with a subtle talent for suggestive melodies in lullaby-like triplet feels. As is “tradition” within these circles, the music aims at the formation of axis between melancholic longing, mystic elevation and disenfranchised anger. These are deeply connected to point of origin of everything that underlies the movement, explaining the very limited, usually embarrassingly poor resulting art —to which projects like Kristallnacht or Fanisk are an exception.
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Kataxu – Hunger of Elements (2005)

Kataxu play a style of black metal in which the keyboards appear to lead, while the guitars follow a complementary role that enhances and sustains. In maintaining activity in the melodic movement of the phrases, and a distinct harmonic progression between sections, Kataxu avoids relaxing on the guitar riffs avoiding a meandering feeling that is common to bands utilizing this type of approach. Guitars in distorted power chords are always behind the keyboards in the mix, but are given prominence in between sections or in certain passages in ways that enrich textural variety accross the pieces. Percussion is ever present, but one can rather sense their bulk in the spectrume, rather than actually hear drum patterns.
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Vargavinter – Frostfödd (1996)

A single-release project from Sweden, Vargavinter play a style of black metal that could accurately be described as melodic and ‘ripping’, ‘pagan’ and ‘symphonic’ without falling into any of those narrow misnomers. By holding its influences together into a pointed lance-tip, the music is able to maintain a dignified character as it preserves a certain aggression. The driving, aggressive impetus is able to stand even major chord progressions without disassembling its unitary momentum into constituent mediocrity.  When such disintegration takes place, subpar passages arise, and the music is no longer black metal, but ‘pagan’ or ‘progressive’, for instance. This process entails a frequent alternation of outstanding and mediocre moments in Frostfödd which make of it a tragedy.
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De Vermis Mysteriis / Azhubham Haani [Split] (1992)

Sweden’s Angramain’yo was responsible for various, interrelated black metal projects in that appeared in demos during the years 1991 and 1992. They were all rather primitive, clearly eschewing musicianship for musical elaboration on minimalist premises. In, Desentery, the artist appears focused on developing a clear structure for the crudest but expressive phrasal riffs, this flourished into the project for which he is mostly known: Azhubham Haani. The transition from the precursor to the actualized musical goal came in the form of a higher awareness of the ‘sound’ principle, utilizing structures to define areas of mood by variating texture, intensity as well as the vocal tone, the last within limited bounds. Somewhere in this journey we see the appearance of a singel rehearsal take from an alternate project called Daemonius. Contrary to the more dark cosmology of stars and blackened spaces depicted by the music and words of Azhubham Haani, Daemonius would rather attempt to formulate a mysticism of violent naturalism not unlike the spirit and musical approach of Ildjarn, however informed by the artist’s personality. Before serving prison for stabbing a man in the throat, Angramain’yo brought to our world the crown jewel of his underground metal achievements in the form of a veritable dark revelation: De Vermis Mysteriis.
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Reverorum Ib Malacht – Im Ra Distare Summum Soveris Seris Vas Innoble (2018)

The present album sees Reverorum ib Malacht moving towards more concise expressions of their by-now established sound and style. While now we see less of the separation and experimentation of approaches in instrumentation that circled around a definite sound and concept, the same are no condensed to concentrated moments and particles in the more standardized texture of black metal consisting of drums, guitars and vocals —with the important addition of synths and some programming. The end result is nonetheless highly differentiated and very much in line with the spirit of the project, as the implementation of the elements is dragged to functional extremes so that we find a music that is more accurately defined as dark ambient utilizing black metal “samples.” (more…)

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