Witchblood – Witchblood EP

witchblood-witchblood_epFor the past eighteen years, it has been clear that for black metal and death metal to survive, they must do more than imitate the past. In other words, it’s time to get weird. There are many avenues to explore but few trust the audience to understand and so the majority spend their time making fifth-generation copies of bands whose ideas have long been forgotten and who exist now only as aesthetic “brands.”

Witchblood shows us a band attempting to create something new within the weird side of black metal. Hybridized with heavy and power metal, Witchblood fits into that territory inhabited by bands as diverse as Gehenna and Absurd which lets the weird side of metal through. It embraces that which polite society normally finds difficult, which is uninhibited emotion and fascination with the natural, which means this music is less manipulative and more sentimental than the norm. This gives it both a cryptic energy and an endearing personality.

Much like Absurd, parts of this are “immature,” meaning that in their guileless state they lack the focus on surface appearance that we have come to expect, and in their raw exuberance they resemble the musings more of a child than an adult. However, there is nothing uncoordinated about the result. Unlike most bands, Witchblood like to edit their material down to the point where every part serves a role, which means it is slightly more repetitive but the parts work together to produce a gestalt of emotion.

This EP will not be for everyone, in particular the more recent types who like slick alternative rock style “mixed emotions” aesthetic draped over their music, but Witchblood will appeal to those who like a good heavy metal tune with black metal style and power metal energy. Some will find the background vocals, which are either clean or war-whooped in the best primitive style or clean vocals that shadow the rasp and give it fullness, to be disturbing but this reviewer found that after a few listens they integrated well with the sound.

Instrumentally this band acquits itself well despite using relatively simple elements and riffing off known styles from Burzum and Dissection as well as some of the vivid gestures and grandiose ballad-like tendencies of epic heavy metal bands. In particular, drumming echoes the riffing but does so unobtrusively while still providing the emphasis where it is needed. Guitars are often reminiscent of primitive bands like Ungod and Absurd, but just as much at home with Dio-era grandeur.

Witchblood are relative newcomers into a genre overflowing with imitators of the past. This band is trying to keep that spirit, but convey it in a new form, in part by escaping the slickness that becomes easy once a style is well known. In short, it’s a return to the “Wild West” days of black metal before the professionals took over and turned it into the same old thing everyone else is doing. For that reason, this band is worth a first listen, and maybe at that point, the vulnerable and feral sides will make a convincing argument for Witchblood.

Order Witchblood through the Witchblood e-store.

5 Comments

Tags: , ,

Helvete, famous Oslo black metal hangout, returns

helvete_store_oslo_black_metalBack during the golden age of black metal, the shop Helvete was the focal point of the Norwegian black metal movement. Run by Mayhem guitarist Euronymous, the store was the go-to spot for the genre’s elites to spread their music and ideas.

After the first media explosion of black metal occurred, Helvete shut down in response to negative reactions from the community. Shortly after, it became famous after the events surrounding Euronymous’ death and gained mythic status amongst the newer fans to journey to and attempt to understand what had occurred there.

After languishing in other business purposes for over a decade, as of this August the location of the original store will be reclaimed for its 1990s purpose: spreading black metal. Neseblod Records has decided to relocate there and is busy setting up a museum experience to preserve the history of the genre. Featuring classic releases and rare flyers and posters, the project aims to revive interest in what inspired the original black metal musicians to create what they did.

Throughout this endeavor, the project has had the support of Darkthrone‘s Fenriz, who has directly involved himself in the moving process, guiding the presentation to be as realistic and truthful as possible, which can only help increase awareness of both the history of the genre and its future exploits.

In this case, realistic and truthful means making the past come alive once again and remembering those ideals, which are timeless, and carrying them forward into a new time. At least, that’s if they want to avoid nostalgia, which pretty much killed off the souls of Generation X before they even hit their forties. Those interested in seeing documentation of the progress can head over to the Facebook page.

8 Comments

Tags: , , ,

Yass-Waddah – Cities of the Red Night

yass-waddah-cities_of_the_red_nightRising from Italy, Yass-Waddah play modern black metal in a style well suited for live performance. Simple, straightforward songs with coherent progressions bring about the merging of black metal techniques with heavy metal ethos, similar to Gorgoroth or Marduk.

Production wise, Cities of the Red Night (it’s unclear if this is named after the William S. Burroughs novel of the same title) has quite a clear sound for the genre: all instruments are audible and individually identifiable in the mix. Some may prefer this, as it avoids the “live from the sewer” feel of older black metal records, but others will lament the loss of the cold atmosphere so unique to black metal.

Musically, the band hits all the right steps of a band aiming to be invited to Wacken: Succinct tracks charge forward with a well-coordinated assault of blastbeats, high-pitched vocals, in addition to riffs constructed from melodies created by moving minor chords around the fretboard , which give the songs a focused method of attack.

Unfortunately, all songs on this EP follow the same structure, with only a few arpeggios and a bizarre solo sequence on the final track introducing variation. The consequence of this repetitive method of composition is that each track does tend to meld together, and after listening to this EP, one will be hard pressed to remember anything distinguishing them. Repetition in itself is not a negative (see Ildjarn), but the difference here is that there is little in terms of atmosphere and thus the attention shifts to the riffs – which do little to retain.

Nevertheless, the band avoids many of the pitfalls prevalent among its generation: there is no “glitter”, nor strange concessions to other genres included to entice more fans – just honest metal which has the potential to both drawn in new fans and appeal to long-time listeners of the genre. As this was merely a short demo, the band has potential to build from in future releases.

2 Comments

Tags: ,

Sammath unleashes title track from Godless Arrogance

sammath-godless_arroganceWhat a difference studio recording and mastering can make. Sammath went into the studio with a demo full of their iconic black/death battle metal, but in the studio, something magic happened: it became transformed into a hybrid of early Morbid Angel and early Ancient, being both relentless and hiding melody inside its rigorous riffs.

Godless Arrogance promises to be a relentless war-charge of high speed percussion, fuzzily distorted fast riffing, and demented mocking vocals which sound like a criticism of the mundane world by something beyond it. The band have upgraded their playing to leave fewer spaces in the wall of sound, and have used production to mate their fuzzy guitars and whirlwind drums into a channel of sonic violence.

To be released by Hammerheart Records worldwide, Godless Arrogance shows this Dutch-German band backing off of the technicality of the last album in favor of the relentless riff assault of their most popular middle albums, combined with the sublime sense of melody that made their first album a keeper for so many metalheads.

3 Comments

Tags: , ,

Varg Vikernes arrested in France

varg_vikernes-burzumAs related in this news report, Varg Vikernes has been arrested on suspicions of terrorism in France.

The evidence against him appears to be that Anders Breivik wrote to Vikernes some time ago, and while Vikernes then called Breivik a “Christian loser” on his blog (for killing Norwegians), Varg’s wife had recently purchased four rifles legally in France. Somehow these two events add up to a possible massacre.

This is unfortunate because Vikernes has just released the excellent Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, which is like a cross between classic Burzumic ambient and the music of William Orbit. We’re hoping he’ll be freed to make more floaty ambient albums.

We also tend to think the whole thing is dumb and overblown. He went to prison; he served his time. Now he’s living a normal life for the first time in two decades. He should be encouraged to do this! Not only for society at large, but for metal, which now permanently has Burzum in its blood.

5 Comments

Tags: , ,

Seasons of Mist unleashes Ildjarn re-issues onto a grateful world

ildjarn-re_releasesBack in the 1990s, most people couldn’t stand Ildjarn and side-project Sort Vokter. These bands were seen as too simple, primitive, nihilistic, raw and amoral for even black metal.

One web site — our direct ancestor — praised the releases to the skies, claimed they were brilliant, and aggressively advocated them, culminating in an interview with the mastermind behind Ildjarn himself. We were ridiculed, mocked, scourged, spit upon, etc. until suddenly people woke up and realized the brilliance of Ildjarn.

Ildjarn mocks deconstruction. Modern people love to deconstruct things into tiny little statements that are true but also incomplete; Ildjarn took many tiny states, and using them like spatter-paint making a silhouette on canvas, used them to create a vision of a much broader and pervasive truth, as exemplified in the phrase “Forest Poetry.” Ildjarn is naturalism that does not retreat to happy Disney Land where all the animals are fuzzy and cute. Ildjarn is feral reality coming back through the (poetic) beast within.

Many years later, label Seasons of Mist has opted to re-release the classic of the Ildjarn era with new artwork and hopefully minimal remastering if any. These releases are already available for pre-order in the Seasons of Mist online shop.

We encourage all people who have not experienced Ildjarn to listen and revel in the simple coordinated profundity of this primal black metal band. These mighty slabs of minimalist metal will be available on August 16, 2013.

Ildjarn – Ildjarn

ildjarn-ildjarn-re-issue

Ildjarn – Forest Poetry

ildjarn-forest_poetry-re-issue

Ildjarn – Strength and Anger

ildjarn-strength_and_anger-re-issue

6 Comments

Tags: , , , , ,

Sammath – Godless Arrogance to be released in October 2013

sammath-godless_arroganceRipping high-intensity Dutch-German black/death metal band Sammath plans to release its latest work on Hammerheart Records in October of 2013. The album, entitled Godless Arrogance, will likely continue the Nietzschean-cum-Jack-London themes of this band: war, Darwin, struggle, death, misery and pain.

Best known for their 1990s melodic yet violent black metal release Strijd, Sammath emerged at a time when death metal was drifting into nu-core and black metal was spacing out like an aristocratic heroin addict into the territory of indie, post-rock and save the whales punk music. In contrast, Sammath brought a vision of humanity in constant struggle against its own stupidity and tolerance for the delusional, and expressed it in music that is equal parts knife fight and architectural grandeur.

Godless Arrogance will be Sammath‘s first release on worldwide Dutch metal conspiracy Hammerheart Records, and will continue the legacy of the past four Sammath releases with more streamlined music with a better integrated riff vocabulary and more selective but correspondingly intense use of melody. Expected to result in mass murder and spontaneous immolation of hipsters, Godless Arrogance includes the two tracks below in their final form.

No Comments

Tags: , ,

The enduring brilliance of Varathron’s His Majesty at the Swamp

varathron-his_majesty_at_the_swampHad I encountered this album in the early days of my journey of metal discovery I probably would’ve dismissed it as boring. True enough, this album does get a bit samey and the production doesn’t really help things by being quite plain and unadorned. What this album does have going for it – and what certifies it a classic, is its patient and utterly logical riff writing.

Taking the tradition as laid down by Hellhammer/Celtic Frost (more on that next week), each new musical idea on this album proceeds from a blueprint motif/riff that drives the whole track and makes each change sound like a clear and meaningful development from the one that preceded it. Most of the tracks remain in the one key for more or less their entire duration, whilst introducing a sparing and arguably quite Classical (Haydn, Mozart) sense of chromaticism at specific points to colour passing harmonic regions and create the necessary dramatic arc in the track. Being largely monodic though, it skirts the line between evocative ancient-feeling, modal style melody and more Classical structure-centric writing.

For example, Son of the Moon first deviates from its blueprint Aeolian/natural minor by introducing a riff with a # 3rd, returns to the Aeolian melodic shape and then introduces a riff with a raised 4th – two very typically Classical bits of chromaticism that colour regions related by the circle of fifths (a system that explains keys relationships and how to change key coherently) yet also, in the way they are used, give the riff a folkish/modal feel. They also come at just the right moment in the track, when the initial idea has been very much established and it’s time to reveal a bit of conflict and ambiguity. True to the narrative structural approach the track has been leading us along, what follows is a riff that returns to the Aeolian basis, responding to the ‘conflict section’ and expanding the original melodic idea. A properly satisfying emotional resolution is delayed until the very end of the track, yet even then, in typically metal form, the sensation it leaves the listener with is one reminding them that the journey goes ever on – rather than offering up a neat ‘happily ever after’ cadence, the way a pop song or even a piece of Classical music would be expected to end with.

The fact that the production comes with no proverbial bells and whistles means all the more that the riffcraft is laid bare and made the main focus of the listener’s attention. Melodically a lot of the album is very simple, and it really doesn’t stretch itself in terms of speed, variety or technicality, but it does what it does very well, revealing the essentiality of metal song writing in a relatively calm and assured way.

5 Comments

Tags: , , ,

The enduring beauty of Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism

immortal-diabolical_fullmoon_mysticismThis week I have mostly been listening to…. Immortal – Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism

Less often cited as a classic than the follow up, Pure Holocaust, Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism is still to my mind one of the gems of second wave black metal. Some of the transitions between riffs/themes are a bit ragged, and the drummer is clearly not up to much of a standard playing-wise, but there’s great charm in this album, and some real magic about the riff-craft at work on it.

Riff-wise, this album is not fully black metal, but borrows heavily from death metal, although the band covers the fact with a cavernous production and droning under parts. Unlike the straightforward melodic approach of black metal the bulk of these riffs are composed in two parts: a modal/chromatic melodic part that becomes more detailed with iteration, and a counter-part that responds to the first idea at a lower register with an oppositional retort. ‘Epic’ moments are generally more straightforwardly black metal – single-motif melodic ideas with plenty of yearning, emotive harmonies.

The interplay between the epic bits and the controlled-chaos parts are really where this album shows what it’s about – an icy warrior outlook that turns whirlwinds of strife into the joy of the fight and the triumph of cosmic forces.

Musically this is also where things can become a bit rough sounding. Sometimes it works really well – Like around the 3/4 minute mark in “A Perfect Vision of the Rising Northland,” where themes from the chaotic/violent moments intermingle and then separate again to create an excellent fist-in-the-air, hair-flying-in-the-wind sort of moment. Other times, there’s only a steep drop off from one theme to the next; which is a little less satisfying even if the production does a decent job of smoothing over the edges (see certain moments in “Call of the Wintermoon” and “Unholy Forces of Evil” – less obvious when you’re just letting the mood of the music take you along, but a bit more noticeable when you’re listening more intently. Contrarily though, “Unholy Forces of Evil” is probably a better track on the whole than “A Perfect Vision”…).

This style of riff writing disappears somewhat on the following two (more melodic-riff centred) albums, but makes a return on Blizzard Beasts – which, although also a good album, wears the death metal influence in less of an understated way, taking away from some of the mysteriousness that made the first album special. Unlike with some of the other prominent Nordic second-wavers (Darkthrone, Mayhem, Burzum) I can’t immediately think of anyone who successfully and completely took on Immortal’s early riff writing style (although Averse Sefira’s latter two albums sound like they might’ve been at least partly influenced). Perhaps this is down to the more technical/complex nature of the band’s sound when compared to that of their peers, and the hyperactive, difficult-to-repeat playing style of Demonaz. As well as being a quality album then, Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism is also an interesting hint at where black metal might’ve gone had it stuck closer to death metal ideas of riff creation.

12 Comments

Tags: , ,

Classic reviews:
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z