September 30th – October 2nd, 2010 – Sadistic Demigod Ritual

Once again the streams of ancient songcraft from the kantele of Finnish past extended their freezing grasp across the ages to bring death-skalds from around the world to gather in a morbid mass of heavy sound at Dante’s Highlight, Helsinki, on the wake of the massively successful event one year ago headlined by the supreme warmongers Blasphemy and Revenge. As if gripped by demiurgish megalomania the organizers deemed that two days of black/death hybrids and Blasphemy clones are not enough, this time the event spanned three nights of violence, bloodshed and alcohol while the weak were trampled upon the mossy floor of the woodlands.

Unbending intent

The gates of Dante’s church opened wide for the worshipers to enter in the middle of the busy workweek of the middle class, but true to the ethos of Death Metal, it didn’t stop the venue from being filled to the brim with headbangers ’til the late AM hours. The attendance of underground gigs in Finland, especially near the capital area, has steadily grown from the meager cult of the 90′s and this contributes to the possibility of gig organizers to summon up massive events the likes of which are unknown probably everywhere else but Germany and USA. By all criteria, three nights of underground death metal mostly in a similar sub-style is an overdose but we couldn’t help but step up to the challenge. Even though the day already had included work, exercise and painting, I dragged my sorry ass up to the venue to get brutalized by the sounds of the foreign bands who deemed to come across the seas to herald the apocalyptic messages of old school Death Metal once again.

Vorum and Neutron Hammer from Finland are decent bands, but I didn’t care enough to try fitting their ritual into the schedule since plenty of chances to observe them await the locals. While traveling through the nocturnal cityspace, which always seems to bring forward a more grey, industrial, overcast threat when Metal is imminent, I inadvertently also lost the chance to see UK’s Craven Idol, reputedly a doomy, crisp and unpretentious massacre. I did get to see Diocletian‘s more old school incarnation Witchrist though, who spent about an hour conjuring a tempo-flipping contrast between Doom and Grind much like the forte of Finnish cult classic Rippikoulu, except lacking for one thing: intricate melody. Without it, the maiming down tuned web of chords seemed like a mockery of the modern war metal ethos with its Black Witchery spawned “street credible” ghetto hoodie “evilness”; lacking a dimension where essential things are said. Tough without purpose, the heartless spawn of urban netherworlds.

The wait for the main band of the evening, for this reviewer the main band of the entire festival, was torturously long since the Californians Sadistic Intent had but just arrived on their star-crossed flight and carefully proceeded with their soundcheck, as if carefully honing their weapons for the one and only decisive battle. At this point the atmosphere at the venue was expectant but relaxed, much less strung than the hysterical chaos that gripped even the most balanced partygoer in the insanity of 2009. When the sadists got their shit together, there was no evading the invincible force of Death Metal roaring from the stage. Sadistic Intent, who never released a full-length album in their career, had nevertheless realized the essence of Death Metal better than all those blackened bands of the 2000′s who were too caught up in “necro” manifestations of ghastly pallor; this band breathed energy, blasted away as if it was the world’s final hour. One of the central pillars of Sadistic Intent’s dark symphony was the sharply dynamic percussion work of Emilio Marquez, though we must not forget the clarity and precision of Rick Cortez’ and Ernesto Bueno’s dueling guitars. Through this band, the young audience glimpsed a mighty vision of the history of 80′s underground metal, with all its sensible and senseless implications – to me, it meant much more than the routine Morbid Angel gig in this land two years ago. –Devamitra-

This sound is no Nirvana

When arriving at Dante’s, I couldn’t help but feeling this visitation was to only a regular festival in the Finnish capital, for so strongly the walls of the old church emitted still the atmosphere of madness from the Blasphemy live ritual a year ago. That being said, it was time to commence the forthcoming aural hammerings. I didn’t see the beginning act, Stench of Decay, due to overlap in my tactical schedule. Them being a domestic act, I presume many more chances of seeing them in the future. Maveth didn’t ring any bells before the festival, and being the quick replacement for perhaps my most anticipated act personally, Cauldron Black Ram, I felt somewhat disappointed and in the end, Maveth doesn’t ring any even now after the whole event! Next up was Grave Miasma, who delivered their material as well as they could, I believe. Their precise playing and overall presence pretty much reflected the visions I have had from their “Exalted Emanation” EP. Even the sounds of the venue, in some odd way, seemed to back up their aural pathworking in the catacombs of darkness.

The muddy sound seemed to haunt all the bands during the three nights and not everyone profited from its nature. Mainly the rhythm and tempo of the bands seemed to dictate the clarity and catchiness of the acts, if one was without better acquaintance of the material being performed. This facet of reality added a huge positive impact into Hooded Menace‘s first live appearance, for their slower, blind-dead-worshiping, doomy metal profited from the overall muddiness of the sound, and structure-wise, concerning the night’s band line-up, their gig acted as a very functional breathing space between the other, more faster majority of bands, while Karnarium played their Swedish death metal of which I had only a few short experiences beforehand. The wickedness of live situations is that even though some bands do sound quite all right from their recordings, the reality of the gig can be just the opposite. All elements are right, but for some reason, the whole thing just doesn’t deliver. Unfortunately this was the case with Karnarium.

Although I expected things from Excoriate, their act suffered from the shitty sound at Dante’s and the whole gig just entirely passed me by, while my comrades praised their straight-forward deathrash brutality and merciless un-pretentious playing. Maybe I get to witness them again at some point in time and space. Also meeting an incognito man of mystery, who bribed me with a 7″ EP of best Finnish death metal and oversees the Finnish underground scene and the happenings from the shadows of the European Union committee, might have added an element of disturbance into following the deeds of the Germaniac necromancers. Nirvana 2002‘s classical Swedish death metal sound echoed throughout the church as the last act of Friday. I was a little suspicious about them being just another band riding the reunion wave. After the gig I really couldn’t tell if it was so. Maybe to some it served as a good soundtrack to beer-drinking, to some it might have refreshed the memories of the early scene of Sweden, and the band seemed to enjoy playing – might have been a reaction to the audience’s reaction. I guess that those not into the Swedish sound didn’t really get much out of Nirvana 2002, although they were supposed to be the very headlining act of the evening. –SS Law-

Towards the mist-enshrouded Infinity

For those who have not inhaled anything like the cold, northern atmospheres of Finland, it’s possible that they have never really taken a breath at all and filled their lungs with so much ancient mystery and natural purity. That these primordial dimensions of the Finnish experience could give rise to such canonical works of the Metal underground as are unquestionably from this realm, in all their brutal and grotesque yet contemplative and spiritual totality, is a unique and unsurprising fact. To be in the company of two proud Finns, journeying through eerie woods of twisted fractal forms, landscapes that crumble before the sea to be swallowed by sinister mists, and sites of the unknown dead, buried by millenia and rocks is nothing short of an education in the origins of Finnish Death Metal. An education that would close with the ultimate but unofficial final statement of this 3-day long Black Mass Ritual, taught by true professors of unholy metaphysics.

The doors of Dante were already wide open and broadcasting the buzz of hordes and other indeterminable bestial sounds from deep within, as one more apocalyptic night of darkness and chaos was underway. The bloodstained figures of Cruciamentum were the first band to be witnessed onstage as their set was nearing it’s end. The familiar polish and precision to their otherwise rumbling riffs, like a more rhythmical Grave Miasma, would be a sign that the sound of the venue would be favourable to this kind of band who played according to a careful dynamic framework, only to leave the blasting War Metal legions that comprised the middle-era of the evening struggling to convey their manifestos with enough clarity to lead any would-be army into battle. Blasphemophager from Italy followed with a set that would epitomise all the technical difficulties of the festival, with a lengthy period of being at odds with the sound before finally commencing their angry and drunken attack; a musical mess but nevertheless potent in the way the band creates a time-travelling vortex of sound, caught between the war worship of Blasphemy and the tropical heat of 80′s Death/Thrash from Brazil. Though not as peturbed by the failings of technology, Diocletian‘s sound would receive no favours from the set-up, with the indistinct noise of raging guitars falling short a much needed quality in this type of band, to justify their existence apart from the countless others who cast global nuclear omens. If there was any positive element of these New Zealanders’ performance, it lies exclusively with the hands and feet of their drummer, an expert in militaristic precision and the cascade of bombed city ruins and rubble.

With civilisation’s demise at least envisioned in some form, the time of more abyssic and introspective prognostications had arrived in the form of the legendary Death Metal band from Loimaa, Demigod, to once again reveal the eternal fate of all mankind. With all but a session guitarist returning as the force that channelled the transcendental ‘Slumber of Sullen Eyes’ album – one of the undisputed masterpieces of the genre – this was something of a special moment for anybody who recognises the importance of Finnish Death Metal and as the introductory keyboard motif of ‘Apocryphal’ finally sounded, this was the signal that the atmosphere of the venue was metamorphosising into a Dead Can Dance state of mystical curiosity. The band’s near perfect, though slightly re-ordered rendition of the album was a masterclass in riffcraft and energy as only the most elite Finns know how to deliver, demonstrating control over the requirements of their complex sound. Most notoriously is their penchant for disharmony which gives the songs their expansive and cosmic sense of beauty, as the blasphemy and discord of tearing down layers of ignorance and the control of human terror only serves to reveal the awakened visions of reality. Closing the set with the ‘Slumber of Sullen Eyes’ song itself, echoing those final words behind the mists of eternity, Demigod had completed a mesmerising and what should have been a headlining performance and dispelled all memories of the last couple of albums associated with this band.

Having shown all the young guys how to do it, even with an aging roster of musicians, Demigod entrusted the stage to one of the few worthy inheritors of true Death Metal spirit that remains in this current age. Greece’s Dead Congregation provided a highly competent and tightly delivered set that surprised the fuck out of the entranced onlookers. The sound was well-balanced enough to facilitate both the most crushing riffs and otherworldly ambiences, showing the strength of melodic composition as spectral leads passed through songs like an occultic storm of neutrinos. Dead Congregation demonstrated how they excel where other bands in this style fall straight into insignificance, putting many acts on this bill in their places. However, holding the supreme position on this night, as the night grew old and entered the early hours of a new day, Necros Christos had the daunting task of not just following two excellent bands, one being exceptional, but also risked lulling the entire audience into a deep sleep. Perhaps it could be said that they did just that, but with confidence and morbid intent, grasping the reins of the creeping, collective subconscious and transporting the entire venue to distant lands and times where the revelations of Hebrew gods are oppresed by the rule of tyrannical death-worshippers. Even Dante’s mists turned into a deep sandstorm as the cyberchrist-like figure of Mors Dalor Ra addressed the bloody, brainwashed crowds and launched into the sardonic dirges of the ‘Triune Impurity Rites‘, while introducing the promising and lengthy compositions from the upcoming Doom of the Occult. This veteran act concluded the night’s ritual with a sense of overwhelming evil power, regality and clarity, leaving the hordes to disassemble in a daze of hypnosis. A fitting end to the festival, and definitely justifying Necros Christos’ headlining status. Only the blackness of the morning unlight remained, to disappear into the mists where, in the words of Amorphis, “men can realise the meaning of life”.

-ObscuraHessian-

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Sentenced – North from Here

On the 93rd (number of the Thelemic Law) anniversary of the independence of Finland from the Russian Empire, let the northern lights flash their yearning flames beckoning the souls of the fallen warriors of the Civil War. While it may seem to some as a sacrilege to play anything but the Romantic sylvan mystery plays of Sibelius, the true heir of Wagner and one of Finland’s national composers, the early death metal symphonies of Oulu’s Sentenced epitomize a great deal of the same thundering natural melancholy. Following the youthful, reaping, Dismember-esque debut album Shadows of the Past, the musical theory of Jarva, Lopakka and Tenkula turned like the Roman mythical Janus statue two ways at once: towards the pure riffcraft of Iron Maiden and the ethereal, streaming melody of Nordic black metal. Much like At the Gates had captured nearly protestant-religious passion and sadness in Sweden, Sentenced managed to concoct music which was worshipful, raging, realistic (even pessimistic) and imaginative all at once, in defiance of the taciturn apathy characteristic (like alcohol) of the working class of northern Finland. In Sentenced, the pent-up rage of skeptical and prematurely cynical young men was transformed into elaborate poetic reflection.

Power metal riffs in a death metal production would later experience a horrible mangled mutilation death in Children of Bodom’s excessive rock stage theatrics, but the sharp minds of Sentenced treated their source material with such profound affection that heavy metal, thrash, death metal and black metal weave into each other as interminable patterns of tangled paths amidst hypercosmos – a Northern Finnish shaman’s spell. The careful production recalls the most biting moments of Kreator while the technical skills of the guitarists are on par with the hallowed “prog” moments of Atheist and Death. The songs hardly suffer from any useless repetition (the anthemic verse-chorus structure of “Awaiting the Winter Frost” serves a specific purpose in exclaiming the satirical “heavy metal victory” over the forces of light, while it is deliberately obscured whether the narrator is a man, a beast or a spirit). That North from Here was never Sentenced’s most popular or esteemed moment is a total wrongness, as Amok followed on the footsteps of this work adequately, but only that. One of the strongest candidates for the best Death Metal album in the history of Finland, the bewitching maledictions of North from Here, from “Capture of Fire” to “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” (and practically any piece since there is no filler), achieved the aims of “Gothenburg” much more effectively and impudently than the horde’s western neighbours.

-Devamitra-

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Diocletian – Doom Cult

One of the most well known of the close-knit and virile New Zealand death/black scene, Kiwi act Diocletian‘s full length falls and fits clearly within the war metal sound as was pioneered by Blasphemy, and taken to a more nihilist, apocalyptic climax by fellow Canadians, Conqueror and their suceeding act, Revenge.

Structurally, the songs of Diocletian adhere to the musical formulas that define Canadian death/black metal hybrids, but the production whilst still raw, is not as lo-fi and has more streamlined engineering on the guitars and drums, with the bass guitar playing, an unlikely rarity in such high intensity music, thankfully audible. Barked, roaring vocals commonplace within this niche of metal predominate Doom Cult. The tonal quality of the guitars whilst not trebly are less bass-heavy than what you would expect from an Revenge or Sacramentary Abolishment record, is of enough clarity to possess a harmonic distinction that has a similar quality to a less Norse-influenced Demoncy, and even draws a parallel to the first full length by Profanatica. To add to this, a similarity that vaguely resembles the Cut Your Flesh And Worship Satan album by Antaeus is present, in that nuances of distortion and feedback, samples of a warlike nature are used to build and intensity the framework of the album.

Along with a savage execution and great understanding of the pattern language that informs this style of music, Diocletian put forth an excellent full length.

-Pearson-

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July 21st 2010 – Inquisition, Vancouver, Canada

Situated at the edge of the notorious East Hastings St., where the filth and grime of Vancouver gravitates, the little dive bar known as Funky Winker Beans was to play host to the Columbian black metal duo, Inquisition. While it usually boasts a motley crowd of hipsters and various scenesters, tonight it would be assaulted by a crew decoratively attired in combat boots, bullet belts, balaclavas, even fur hunting caps (the guys in Blasphemy also made their appearance).  Contrasting the sickness of the outside locale with a barbarity of our own, the environment was quite prepared for the night’s festivities.

Radioactive Vomit

Opening the show, Radioactive Vomit seized the stage with an appropriate aggression, advancing forth into standard blasting war metal procedure. Obviously not set out to transcend the bounds of convention in the immediate future, this band nevertheless play a competent grinding affair in the vein of post-Blasphemy black metal, perhaps being more inclined to the singular darkness of Archgoat. One cannot accuse Radioactive Vomit of progressing beyond the first dimension of musical creation, but that straight-forward imitation proved to be the perfect formula for introducing the forthcoming acts.

Mitochondrion

The second of three B.C. bands playing tonight, Mitochondrion are a three-piece hailing from the province’s capital, Victoria. Instead of simply marching in the solid tradition of their metal forebears in the Ross Bay Cult, Mitochondrion elect to string together an articulate death metal that is actually quite unique in its vision, in its titanic aura that exudes some nefarious mystery. The ‘typical’ Mitochondrion track moves from an incessant vocal and percussive onslaught to a period of reflection and meditation, and then to a relentless storm that finishes in a brilliant rush of deep, throaty riffing and climactic songwriting. At times doomy, at others ferocious, Mitochondrion are a nascent band that has already advanced far in their development, which showed tonight in their surprisingly long performance (I believe that they had the longest set of the night). Mature and uncompromising, Mitochondrion were in full control, giving us a death metal that was as intelligent as it was brutal; despite a slight sound problem with the guitars, there was never a flagging moment throughout their lengthy show.

Gyibaaw

Crawling out from the frigid bitterness of Prince George, Gyibaaw descended upon the city in direct support of Inquisition, headed by lead guitarist J. Pahl who masterminded the entire tour. While not entirely death metal, black metal, nor entirely ‘war metal’ either, Gyibaaw are quite successful in not succumbing to ‘clonedom’, being able to combine elements from the past and make them into something that fits what they are trying to accomplish. A band that could probably be best described as ‘organic’, Gyibaaw summoned their brand of ‘Tsimshian war metal’ with a natural candour, playing with a fervent conviction that spoke to the youth and the spirit of the performers. Although they played a somewhat shorter set, we were not at all disappointed with the talent and the charisma that makes a band like Gyibaaw worth experiencing.

Inquisition

Image DetailMost would think that a bassist is an indispensable component of any metal band; Inquisition disagree. Far from the average live band, these two Columbians consider themselves quite adequate at performing between themselves, minus a bassist, despite their reliance on a strong rhythm section, something which was notably present during their ‘ritual’. The music of Inquisition is fairly straightforward, with a steady, pulsing rhythm occasionally giving space for an eerie melody to shine through the tempest; it is simple, almost formulaic, but the key timing and the pure quality of the melodies are what really gives life to the compositions. Anyway, the most important thing for Inquisition to accomplish in the live setting is to invoke a real sense of the ritual, to make manifest the strong feeling of darkness prevalent throughout their post-thrash metal albums. With an identifiable aura of black villainy (achieved using only the scarcest amount of corpse paint), and with a loud, flawless manipulation of their respective instruments (irrespective of the audience’s cries of ‘get a bassist!’), Dagon and Incubus succeeded in demonstrating the nocturnal power of their music through the medium of stage, conquering any doubts that might have been made along the way. On a more personal note, I was most pleased to hear a favourite of mine played, namely, ‘Empire of Luciferian Race‘, off of the seminal Into the Infernal Regions of the Ancient Cult album. Although it ended up being a bit of a shorter set, Inquisition nevertheless came out strong, and, with at least one new song amidst a number of staples, surely made lasting impressions upon everyone in the audience, bassist or no bassist.

-Xavier-

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Embryonic exhumations – Unearthing classic demos

Ras Algethi – Oblita Divinitas
Helheim – Walpurgisnatt
Alioth – Channeling Unclean Spirits
Graveland – Drunemeton
Tsjuder – Ved Ferdens Ende

Ras Algethi – Oblita Divinitas

If the architecture of the great Gothic cathedral, with its upward arches, towering spires and cosmic domes laden with images of the suffering divinity on this earthly realm, had been constructed as a kind of sacral road sign to the eternal paradise beyond, then the music of Ras Algethi’s demo is a fitting soundtrack of cathartic expression, a release from the pain and misery of the mortal existence. Like the immortal Oneiricon – The White Hypnotic album to follow, ‘Oblita Divinitas’ relies heavily on the sounds of the mighty organ for it’s intensity as an imposing beacon of death, magnifying the mournful, melodic patterns that guide the listener through the distinct passages of these songs. Where the organ picks up on the general idea of a riff that’s introduced first, the guitars go on to elaborate this phrase in an almost improvisational, though highly restrained, story-telling manner. The bigger picture develops more gradually – far more slowly and funereal than the full-length – and the organs and percussion eventually give way to the austere logic of the main riff, with clever variations that manipulate this momentary freedom from time and space, or blissful acoustic passages that prolong and reflect in it (anticipating ‘When Fire is Father’, one of the most memorable songs on ‘Oneiricon’), before the other instruments return in an emphatic transition, taking the music to an even deeper level of suffering. Ras Algethi show a very mature compositional style from the onset, not just giving a vague sensation of sadness, but carefully detailing the journey with a reference point of possibly going beyond the world that causes it, re-addressing this emotion as a painful longing for release. –ObscuraHessian

Helheim – Walpurgisnatt

Ghoulish, ethereal and enwrapped in a magnetic tape production reeking of ancient tombs and broken 4-trackers, Helheim’s vision of industrial black metal is far more elemental than the connotations of that description during the last decade. As with the primitivist throbbing drum machines of Mysticum and the ambient blankets of Sort Vokter, the aim is ritual-hypnotic music which does not try to spice up black metal in order to make it more comforting or exciting; instead, it challenges one’s concentration by looping, returning and rewiring little fragments and pieces of riff in powerful early Norwegian black metal language, conducted by the raging screams of the now-deceased vocalist Jon A. Bjerk. The svastika simulacrum depicted on the cover highlights the natural difference with the smoother approach of the other Helheim of the same era, famed mostly for the vagrant mythological epics of “Jormundgand” – this Helheim rather spits in the face of the observed tradition in order to bring forth the subconscious terror of life and death that has been embedded in the mythos of all ancient cultures and bring across a pertinent message to the civilization (macrocosmically) and the black metal of our time (microcosmically). –Devamitra

Alioth – Channeling Unclean Spirits

Remember how disappointed you were the last time you heard a new Varathron or Rotting Christ album? If the same lack of consistency and effort permeates other areas of Greek society, them having descended from the mythic glory of Athene into debts and poverty needs hardly the prophetic eye of Cassandra to fully explain. As in Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel “American Gods” the lost European deities are found prowling the Wisconsin backwoods, Chicago based Alioth’s mystical and sensual tribute to Hellenic black metal ca. 1993 is admirably not only a continuation of the electric technoid dynamo drumbeat and an application of the palm muted speed and doom riffs in esoteric underground context; it’s also a highly logically strung sequence of moods as if the physical organization of pain and pleasure in a Dionysian ritual theatre, succumbing with the heavy held back moments of “The Channeling” and “Apocryphal Dimensions” and rising through the interludial “Invocation” and “Invocation II” to softly expire orgasmic relaxation. So much could be created out of this basic concept that it’s a pity the full-length album has remained cloaked in the depths of the primal sea, while Wargoat Obscurum iterates far less subtle (and far less interesting) metal with Cult of Daath. –Devamitra

Goreaphobia – Morbidious Pathology

Goreaphobia’s debut album wouldn’t have been quite so eagerly anticipated without a strong back catalogue of minor releases such as the ‘Morbidious Pathology’ demo, which provides an unexpected listening experience if Mortal Repulsion is the only recording you’ve heard from the band. Where the full-length communicates visions from the abyss through the blank eyes of an old mystic locked in a lucid dreaming state, this demo is full of enough youthful energy to express the paranoia of a thousand souls trapped within the claustrophobic confines of their own mortality. Variations in riffs reflect these tightly packed structures, seeming to progress with not so much a linear logic than the re-arranging of parts of the whole, like limbs being removed from a body and sewn on to somewhere else entirely until the true grotesqueness of humanity is revealed. As with Mortal Repulsion, despite the physical connections to Incantation, there is a stronger similarity to the craftsmanship of Immolation and albums that would come in later years, such as the complex and disjointed but melodically evocative Here in After. The lead guitar work, though highly restrained, possesses a sense of neoclassical refinement that bridges some short-burst riffage with eloquent but totally disturbing solos. This demo shows the beginnings of an all too rare experiment in Death Metal where you can observe the maturation of a consistant idea as it goes through the turmoil of a tortured, temporal existence. –ObscuraHessian

Graveland – Drunemeton

It’s not difficult to understand the distaste that Darken has for the recordings commited to tape during Graveland’s infancy in the light of his recent catalogue of pristine, epic and Atlantaean creations. Some distance away from the expansive scenes of battlefields and expressions of Romantic nationalism, this ancient offering from the living master of Pagan Black Metal is totally shrouded in a necrotic production, like ghostly shadows moving through oaken forests, casting a spell within more cloistered and Druidic surroundings than the output of Graveland from the past 15 years. Alongside the visions that created the force of Scandinavian Black Metal in the early 90′s, this demo represents the reclusive and misanthropic esotericism of that era, especially the primality of the lowest fidelity cults, Beherit and Ildjarn. Sounding like the work of a punk ostracised by that increasingly over-socialised group for being too idealistic and inhuman, Darken conjures a lurid interpretation of hypnotic Bathorean riffing that develops through the echoing of majestic, synthesised voices that open this recording as though a prologue to ‘The Celtic Winter’. The experimentation with primitivism in ‘Drunemeton’ is so deconstructionist that the guitar technique becomes fragmented completely and subordinated to reveal gloomy ambient moods that amplify the silence of a forest at night before the dawn of battle. There’s a similarity to the Beherit song ‘Nuclear Girl’ in how the guitar is used more like a sample, reverberating it’s texture through the keyboards to emphasise a cloistered sensation, accompanied by monastic chants at other times. Culminating in the ambient classic, ‘The Forest of Nemeton’, this demo is the successful beginnings of Graveland’s exploration into unconventional and nihilistic territory beneath the folky phrasing of guitar-led melodic work, which would shape the dynamic of his entire discography to follow. –ObscuraHessian

Tsjuder – Ved Ferdens Ende

Fifteen years ago, we were too proud and lofty to listen to it, our sensory devices soothed and inflamed by Panzerfaust, Battles in the North and Høstmørke, while the new generation of neo-progressive and mainstream black metal bands sought to enrapture even wider audiences with movie soundtrack influenced keyboards and angelic female voice conjured by fat-bottomed gothic tarts. For the atmospheric maniacs only, as it’s hard to argue for its musicality against the likes of Vikingligr Veldi; but the epic wanderlust and distorted pagan death ritual of this demo’s centerpiece, “Fimbulwinter”, unfolding like a flower at dawn or the psychedelic mandala of LSD invading brain receptors, is one of the pure innocent and mesmerizing gems of underground black metal in this sacred and forsaken era. The primal Isvind-esque melody dance like ripples of waves on a forest pond, the hissing tracker production complete with the macabre clack of a drum machine and the dampness of a Nordic bedroom cellar permeate the recording to such a thickness of adolescent black metal fury that it’s hardly palatable to generic audiences then and now. Barely a trace of the fast norsecore of the more familiar debut album Kill For Satan is noticeable here, the only similarity being the guitarist Draugluin’s technique of bricklike tremolo chord architecture where rhythm plays little importance. While primitive, this compositional method bears an intrinsic beauty which is worthy of recapitulation when the pure augustness of early Norwegian black metal has mostly become forgotten in favour of seemingly more rich and elaborate indie stylings. –Devamitra

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Vomitor – Bleeding The Priest

On first listen some would easily assume that this release were a mere product of nostalgia of underground metal of the 1980′s, at least indicated so by the production and indication that are present here. However this is death/speed/black metal firmly rooted in the underground crossover tradition of the 80′s and retains a firmly Australian sound to it. A good description of Vomitor‘s output would be the the epic thrashing of national pioneers Slaughter Lord and the crusty, retrograde execution and production that was witnessed on Spear Of Longinus‘ brilliant ‘Domni Satnasi’ album. Seeing as Vomitor have two members of SOL in their line-up this overlap is of no surprise, and gives Bleeding The Priest a similar quality of riffcraft and execution, which is atavistic but is well versed in older styles of metal. The attitude of this release evokes German speed metal, doing the early works of Sodom and Kreator strong justice, and the manner in which catchy guitar sequences are utilised sometimes evokes Razor, had they been influenced by Possessed rather than Motorhead. A thoroughly consistent work, Bleeding The Priest stands strongly as a milestone of Australian metal, a like a few other traditionalist acts within this genre serves as proof of ability to make new waves from trodden water, rather than being a ‘re-hash’. Very good.

Pearson-

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May 1st 2010 – Bolt Thrower, Benediction, Rotting Christ – The Next Offensive

Awakened in remorse

To rebuild from destruction

Recreate life’s evolution

Returning from the brutality of a Bolt Thrower show to recollect the events that defined it brings to mind the task of Ernst Junger, depicting the graphic scenes of martial violence and destruction in his soldier’s memoirs, ‘Storm of Steel’. Not merely the sounds of war and chaos, but the philosophy of death is what one has to confront on such a stage, and this sums up the depth of the Bolt Thrower experience. The great elemental gods of Britannia fired the opening salvo of the evening, unleashing a torrential downpour on the troops to be in attendance once conscripted into the dismal but still functional ULU venue, around the University College London site and home of the un-elite Utilitarian philosophy. A single flash of lightning, probably striking the Cenotaph for the war dead a few minutes away in Whitehall, would indicate that this night belonged to only one elite group, and the slowly multiplying hordes as if signalled to the venue by this storm omen, proved that the headliners were in everybody’s iron sights.

In the meantime, some fairly well-known bands would run through comparitively uninteresting sets in order to plug new albums or just an association with Bolt Thrower on this Next Offensive European tour. For the one unknown band, clearly grateful to the Coventry squadron for being able to provide opening infantry support, Ancient Ascendant took to the stage with some confidence and raged through their set infront of the minimal crowd at this time. The sound was not good and the technical setup of the venue’s sonic equipment would be a recurring issue throughout the night, usually leaving bands with an unbalanced sound. Even less impressive was Ancient Ascendant’s music, which was practically educated by the newer schools of Death Metal exclusively, sounding like a more frivolously melodic version of Bloodbath. A lot of generic rhythmic business with some predictably inserted flourishes of lead guitar lines and none of the compositional sense that at the very least ripping-off the old school Death Metal formula would have imbued the songs with by default. Even the next band, The Rotted’s only listenable song was from the older generic Gorerotted project, which is not much less moronic than The Rotted who are really damn retarded in this incarnation, with their stripped down songs consisting of one riff from a later Cryptopsy song played out as blasting Punk music. It’s also quite strange and not recommended to watch old, drugged up men performing breakdowns.

Considered by many as nothing more than a brief distraction, this was soon forgotten as the once powerful entity of Promethean Greek Black Metal took to the stage and the floor swelled with eager hordes. For someone that reveres the older fraction of their catalogue as highly as the Nordic classics, the Rotting Christ set provided both frustrating disappointment but also possibly the biggest surprise of the evening (not the appearance of Diamanda Galas). The transition from ancient Heavy Metal-inflected compositions of blackened mysticism to a boring and cheap form of fast and extreme Rock music with pseudo-cultural embellishments that would make Vangelis either laugh hysterically or summon the wrath of Mars upon Sakis and company, was made quite some time ago when the band sold out to Century Media and although the recent jump to Season of Mist has only marginally improved the quality of their music, the bulk of their songs is blockheaded rhythmic work that wouldn’t sound out of place on a System of a Down joke and disembodied keyboards typical of mainstream Black Metal bands to accompany the minute flickerings of nostalgia that is the signature Rotting Christ melodic style, the same tactic used by fellow Greeks, Septicflesh. Within this disastrous but obviously crowd-pleasing selection of tracks was something quite unexpected given the current direction of the band and their most recent live performances. Almost as though the old spirit of Necromayhem broke free from his sealed confines, the band launched mercilessly into ‘Sign of Evil Existence’, flooding the crowd with a sea of beautiful, extended phrasal work, causing an absolute frenzy and evoking the first old school invocations of the night. Not content with such a brief introduction to arguably the pinnacle of their early discography, ‘Fgmenth, Thy Gift’ continued the magic of ‘Thy Mighty Contract’ with the folky but regal opening riff surging into those magestic, ascendant patterns of guitar. The higher register key of these older songs manipulated the flatness of the sound setup brilliantly, with every note perfectly audible and a memorable contender for song of the entire show.

Benediction were next on stage, an aging group of Death Metal punks fronted by Dave Hunt of Anaal Nathrakh, Mistress and Never Mind the Buzzcocks fame, who nearly talks as much shit on stage as Barney Greenway, including an embarrassing appeasement of some girl’s sob story about a now deceased Benediction fan, thankfully met with a shout of ‘Only death is real’ from the front of the crowd. The set itself was a typically reliable collection of songs spanning most of their discography, better suiting the live environment than on CD, inducing as much violence from the crowd as their primitive, bouncy Death Metal can, like ‘Harmony Corruption’-era Napalm Death meeting ‘Tower of Spite’ by Cerebral Fix. It wasn’t much of a loss to have a guitar cut out during their stint, as the rest of the band seemed to push onwards, building up as much aggression as possible and justifying their placement on the bill, though it was huge relief to hear the end of Benediction at long last, for the lights to dim and the next offensive to commence proper.

Anticipation was immense for the legendary Grindcore/Death Metal ensemble and the battle hordes pushed forward like a scene from Braveheart, rivalling the force of a 90,000 strong audience gravitating towards the celebrity status of Metallica. Faint sounds of approaching war lingered from the amps over the field as Bolt Thrower finally took to the stage and launched straight into the sombre yet mammoth opening riff to ‘IVth Crusade’. The deliberate, sinister pacing of the double bass began to roll through and the crowd imploded into deadly chaos and aggressive force. As bodies began raining from the skies like mortar fire, crushing necks and leaving temporary indents of fallen victims, the atmosphere became thick with the smell of blood, sweat and the disturbing fragrances of shampoo. A large bulk of the set consisted of tracks from the last album but these were all delivered with enough power and rousing, anthemic vigour to blend seamlessly with the more skillful dynamics and evocative melodies of the older songs, from the brilliant rendition of ‘World Eater’ into ‘Cenotaph’ to the unforgettable lead guitars of ‘…For Victory’.

Bolt Thrower commanded the crowd, Karl Willets looked like a war-torn veteran but still yet to be tamed as the ferocity of his vocals didn’t let up for an instant. Jo-Anne Bench is undoubtedly the most menacing female presence in the entire Metal scene, and the poorly balanced sound worked well to render the songs with more bassy fury than can be heard on record. The subtle rhythmic variations of Baz’s guitars on the other hand were not as discernable, but for a seemingly undiscerning crowd, this did nothing to quell the primal violence that tore bones asunder in a ritual of combat replication. The signature riffs were also fairly muted but managed to somehow shine through like the sun between Afghan mountain peaks, and as the band returned for an encore, the perfect choice of songs scorched the stage like a vast napalm attack, with the ominous theme of ‘War’ transforming into ‘Remembrance’ as though the sorrows of Arjuna had been cast aside as he takes to the empty plains of Kurukshetra, seeing the world as it is.

Even as the band exited, the feelings of confrontation and pugilism reigned as brawls ensued and battered humans walked out to count their wounds. The show proved how bands such as Bolt Thrower who retain their integrity, remain possessed by this same eternal process of nature’s evolution and deliver like a well-trained soldier, with precision and consistency will rule for the longest time. We will remember them.

-ObscuraHessian-

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Burzum – Belus

ANUS came out a couple weeks ago with a giant defecation on the new Burzum. People immediately complained that we hadn’t heard it, were being judgmental, and all sorts of silly stuff. What they didn’t realize is that you can hear a lot of things without officially owning them or getting them from the label, but you’re not going to do anything to hurt your sources. All of that changed last night, of course, with the official leak of the Belus master and 2LP version.

You want the tl;dr on the new Burzum? “Sounds good, soulless and disorganized.” This album has no direction but Varg is so adept at making simple riffs pretty that you want to drink it down. Cold, sweet, vast in flavor like a Snapple — but after listening to it a few times, you end up thinking: why am I doing this? This is no different than watching TV, going to a megachurch to hear about my immortal soul, or buying wallpaper. It’s pretty but has no direction so it ends up being like all other drone albums: a basic theme that picks up detail as repetition increases, then trails off into nowhere.

If you want music to replicate the experience of watching cheerleaders attempt to act out Macbeth, this might be for you, but not likely. Riffs are based on simple harmony and well-composed, but go nowhere, incorporating at random influences from Russian black metal, Ukranian black metal, German speed metal, Terrorizer and random death metal. A good deal of this shows the tripartite influence of Swedish melodic death metal, Slavic drone metal, and the American style of black metal flavored indie rock. The first track “borrows” the melody from the title track of one of the keyboard albums. Two of these tracks are obvious Uruk Hai do-overs.

The final track sounds like Sunn o))) doing their version of Burzum. Makes me wonder if the label and his Russian handlers didn’t sit him down with recent black metal blockbusters and try to get the trained monkey to make his own version. The musical ability here is precocious as always, but the raw material fed into the machine is gunk, so what’s output is really well-adorned gunk.

When you hear it, notice how simple the riffs are relative to the fills, trills and decorations that space them. It’s like dressing up a turd until it looks like a Faberge egg, from a distance. But when you get close, or listen to it a dozen times, you’ll see the difference.

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An ennead of Terrifying visions – classic EP’s of Death Metal

Slayer – Haunting The Chapel
Napalm Death – Mentally Murdered
Rotting Christ – Passage to Arcturo
At the Gates – Gardens of Grief
Wings – Thorns On Thy Oaken Throne
Sacramentum – Finis Malorum
Zyklon-B – Blood Must Be Shed
Vulpecula – Fons Immortalis
Divine Eve – Vengeful and Obstinate

This series of reviews shows the infectious potential of condensing the multidimensional texture of darkness and mythology into a carefully trimmed brief explosion with no room for filler or long, meaningless passages of droning, experimentation or interludes. Those who mastered the art of the metal EP or mini-LP are rare, but deserve all the more credit for their achievements. The fact that you can listen to everything we have here easily within the space of one evening does not mean that the unlocked experiences won’t stay with you forever.

Slayer – Haunting The Chapel

Showing a strong advancement in technique and an evolution towards a darker style that would be the staple of records to come by the band, Slayer throw off the camp shackles of their excellent first album, and give a more progressive approach to songcraft yet give more emphasis on repetition within individual riffs. The violent droning guitar timbre of Discharge makes itself ever more present whilst the musical language of Judas Priest and Angel Witch works itself within those patterns. The dissonant twin soloing of King and Hanneman is more suitable to this new direction also, whilst Lombardo’s aggressive battery finds more cohesion in using less variation and being more of an ambient backdrop than before, with Araya’s unmistakable rasp encoding itself sadistically within the depths. A bleak affair that summed up the apocalyptic meanderings of the speed metal movement and the embryonic beginnings of the death metal that was yet to manifest. -Pearson

Napalm Death – Mentally Murdered

This work is like a convergence of Napalm Death and Carcass, having left From Enslavement to Obliteration and Reek or Putrefaction behind in order to expand on their styles, towards Harmony Corruption and Symphonies of Sickness respectively. By Napalm’s standards, at this point in their discography, these songs are quite lengthy and structured with an attention to detail that recaptures the subtle shifts in mechanical motion of the earliest side to Scum. This technique is re-invigorated by the cleaner production, relegating the extremity of fuzzy bass for the sake of a twin-guitar assault that creates an hypnotic and delusional sensation, and shows the input of Jesse Pintado who would go on to record another highly influential work of Grindcore – Terrorizer’s World Downfall. Composition is practically freed at very the earliest moments of songs onwards, unlike previous Napalm Death albums where these parts were used to establish exactly which single riff will become immersed in a barely discernable anarchic explosion for the rest of the 30 seconds of music. Instead, it’s given a more Death Metal treatment, e.g. in ‘The Missing Link’, the opening riff seems to degrade over time into smaller grinding patterns until the fragments are juggled like sacks of meat by morbid Death Metal riffs. This is where some of the tremelo melodies that would tear through the rotten wall of sound of Carcass finds its place, accompanied by the mocking lead guitars of Bill Steer. The human tornado, Mick Harris is even more precise than his previous effort, but doesn’t lose any of his epithet’s justification. Lee Dorrian’s vocals become more guttural and undecypherable, conceding to the futility of mainstream political discussion. The seeds of an approach closer in line with the burgeoning interest in Death Metal were sown here, simultaneously taking Grindcore one step further away from reaching the dead-end of short and simplistic outbursts of truncated riffs and hollow statements. -ObscuraHessian

Rotting Christ – Passage to Arcturo

Warm, playful and overflowing with the abundance of inspiration in the rediscovery of ancient shamanic techniques of mystical metal creation, the Greek pioneers of Rotting Christ forsook the aggravated modern noise of grindcore in time to ride the wave of blackness that usurped the European metal underground. Remnants and glimpses of 80’s fast modern metal (Slayer) give way to an astral, luminous intensity of synthesizers and slowly picked melodies that suspend the themes for a moment to enable the mind to stop wandering and relish the unholy moment of concentration, in a yogic gesture of blackness. Few have ever used the crushing sonic world of black and death metal to so fully immerse in ethereal ritual, and such rare examples as Drawing Down the Moon preserve plenty of subtle reminders to this widely heard classic of European black metal. As their chaotic exhortations in countless zines of the period conclude, Rotting Christ’s hybrid of gothic and black metal aimed for an architecture of the infinite, regal sunsets of lost kingdoms whose landscapes are not for the eyes of mortals, except in dreams and in death. As “Forest of N’Gai” aptly proves, black metal was at its height when not contorted to fit the schemes of a political ideology or an orthodox Satanist movement, but like the great works of literature a realm of fantasy of its own whose symbols are rooted in our deepest unconscious fears and desires. This sub-space can then be used by the analytical mind to figure the patterns of generation for a multitude of creative, even lunatic, concepts. -Devamitra

At the Gates – Gardens of Grief

The original Gothenburg gloomy melody cult made one of their strongest statements on this early EP, pressed from demo to vinyl on the first year of the band’s existence. Fresh from life disrespecting bands such as Infestation and Grotesque, these Swedes nail the most desperate guitar harmonies since Candlemass, but infect them with the viral sensibility of a flux of death current. As if plugging the Sunlight Studios into your brains in direct interface, Svensson’s tremolos rip and rend mercilessly apart the soul of the beast that dared expose its true feelings of living in a world of hypocrisy and uncertainty. The band has preserved the most fragile moment of the Swedish death metal underground, the precarious balance between the catatonic psychosis of headbanging under alcoholic influence and the deep, burning, thoughtful soul of an encrypted Romantic in a world of pain and disguised memories. It all takes such tangible form in Tomas Lindberg’s cracking, maddened scream: “I am at the gates – Lord of Chaos – Let me sleep”. The fear and anger of At the Gates’ most revered albums will always remain something that divides audiences according to their response to such emotional cues, but “Gardens of Grief” is the un-terrorized, exuberant sound of youth that realizes the presence of death and dives into it headlong, appropriate to the Per Ohlin dedication in the liner notes. -Devamitra

Wings – Thorns On Thy Oaken Throne

An all too brief EP from Finnish gloomophiliacs Wings, as ephemeral as the tortured existence that is enshrouded in these twisted sounds of darkness-raped melody. Almost like the missing tracks from Cartilage’s cult classic ‘The Fragile Concept of Affection’, this continuation goes further to explore the sombre moods of songs like ‘Why Do I Watch The Dawn?’, in their Replicant-like reflections upon the transience of a human existence placed between the crushing, vice-grip of nothingness. Wings don’t peturb the balance of pace of slower, more expansive lakes of hypnotic melody that made up Cartilage’s contribution to their split with Altar, but there is greater focus on creating a doomier atmosphere, leaving no space for the grinding riffs of the past incarnation – a technique that parrelleled the Swedish Unleashed on their first album. Instead, an older treatment is given to the bouncier riffs, which could be heard as Punkier passages, but as this EP comes together as a whole to reveal, these bridge the narrative that seems to span across both songs with a mid-pace tempo in which the drawn out melodies pass through towards an expressive, quite neoclassical riff of totality – encompassing all the hopes that are weighed down by all the sorrows in the journey towards death. This poem in two parts is a valuable recording of Death Metal history, as a valid direction for these Finnish musicians to have taken following the demise of Cartilage, with all their weird melodic knowledge as baggage. -ObscuraHessian

Sacramentum – Finis Malorum

A true gem, Sacramentum’s first EP showcases a style that is melodic and emotive in a manner not unlike countrymen Dissection and Unanimated. Epic, catchy and well crafted compositions are multi-layered not unlike Emperor minus keyboards, the rush of guitar notes being vibrant and lively, with little emphasis towards a rhythmic expectation, as one would expect with most heavy metal and hard rock music. Simultaneously moody yet without being whiny, this early release by Sacramentum showcases a band who are able to master quality control and bring the best out of all the elements that define their music. Alongside At The Gates, artistically the finest Swedish metal act of the 1990′s. -Pearson

Zyklon-B – Blood Must Be Shed

Fast, raging black metal with the fury of early Deicide and the sharp harmonizing typical of Mayhem and Immortal’s ‘Pure Holocaust’ come head to head, in the guise of technically precise, abrupt songs. Shouty hardcore vocals, warm synth overlaps, a near constant blastbeat and anti-humanist lyrical concepts indicate a desire by known Norwegian musicians to advance the aggression of the black metal style and shift it’s idealogical focus away from romantic nostalgia. This brief E.P. lacks the spark of Norway’s foundational acts, but remains an influential statement of the subgenre. -Pearson

Vulpecula – Fons Immortalis

Who would have expected Chuck Keller to open the gates to very Orion itself after the folding of the aggressor squad par excellence Order from Chaos? As if a continuation of the promise of the astrological and alchemistic symbolism of the former bands’ lyrics, Vulpecula slows it down and strums soothing, yet vigorous melodies while the vocals multiple into wraith-like dimensions of rhythmic rasps and Keller’s leads occasionally burst into the aggressive, spasmous flight of an eagle amidst a thunderstorm. “Phoenix of the Creation” delves into exercises in authentic space synth, while “The First Point of Aries” harkens to the mid-paced woodland meditations that the Norwegians used to record at Grieghallen. Occasionally slightly hindered by the band’s eagerness to cram all the influences from Schulze to black metal into one short EP, the mere richness of it invites the ears to take their pleasure at will from the Babylonian garden of ponderous and prestigious movements that are achingly attractive and acceptable in their innocent refusal to complicate things with dissonance. Credit also goes for the lead guitar efforts of Keller on their traditional melodious injection which easily avoids the neutrality of more pop oriented bands trying to do the same. Almost like envisioning a “new age” approach to the genre, Vulpecula is an alien saucer amidst the orbit bound technologies of “progressive” death metal. -Devamitra

Divine Eve – Vengeful and Obstinate

The first new release that’s being reviewed for 2010 and it’s already giving distinct impressions of the kind of quality that made 1993′s ‘As the Angels Weep’ a genuinely classic EP. Divine Eve keeps the form of this new material far simpler, stripping away the Death Metal-infected sludginess for a more rudimentary homage to early brutal music like Celtic Frost. ‘Vengeful and Obstinate’ makes its own unique statement by honing in on the nihilistic and warlike spirit of the Swiss legend’s To Mega Therion magnum opus, even invoking the same battle-horns on ‘Ravages of Heathen Men’ that bring focus to the beauty of conflict and strife in a meaningless universe. The varied tempo of grinding riffs set to a dirty bass guitar adds to the atmosphere of struggle as an outlet for this primitive, instinctual response to the world. ‘Whispers of Fire’ being the exception on this EP for the constantly up-tempo pace, it’s a pleasure to hear such slow and sludgy music churning visions of the darker universe beyond our lives of comfort and languish. The final and most devastating touch of ‘Vengeful and Obstinate’ is how Divine Eve makes extensive use of the piercing tone that Xan’s grating guitar setup produces, highlighting the spiral passage of powerchords by revealing their hidden, melodic architecture, ingenuiously managing to explain and enhance this rugged approach of legendary lineage. It’s about time the band produced a full-length and they’ve proved that they possess more than enough knowledge of unholy riffcraft to do so. -ObscuraHessian

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Amebix – Arise!

amebix ariseComing from the anarcho-punk school of musical and ideological tradition, and finally releasing this, their debut full length in 1985, Amebix had already released a series of excellent EP’s in the early half of the decade. The unique character of their music was a sound that fused the violent hardcore punk of Discharge with the circulative, repetitious song structures that were a staple of post-punk acts such as Killing Joke and Public Image Ltd. Escaping the social-activist themes that were a staple of hardcore, and transcending the melancholia and fatalism that was a common theme of post-punk, Amebix took on board the musical apparatus of both substyles and turned towards a contemplative, naturalistic direction that subverted the generalisation of how we associate themes with forms. Inspiration comes additionally from the NWOBHM of early Motorhead and Judas Priest in the crunching, percussive guitar playing that made itself a staple of speed metal and subsequently death metal. Drums batter clearly as if to stadium anthems, and boom with an echo one would clearly associate with said decade. Droning riffs make an appearance and have a harmonic depth to them that evoke the archaic and the dystopian much like Burzum and Godflesh simultaneously would do in their most prominent work. Whereas the metal subgenres of the 1980′s slowly influenced one anothers musical language, Amebix single handedly introduced new themes and formats that would become the structural basis of future acts to come, and alongside their compilation album No Sanctuary, this important work deserves it’s applause.

-Pearson-

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