Ancient – Trolltaar Reissue

Ancient‘s last hurrah, the Trolltaar EP, has been reissued by Sleaszy Rider Records with three bonus live tracks from 1993 according to the band’s Facebook page. Trolltaar saw Ancient develop cyclical simple Enslaved style riffs into extended black metal epics inspired by the virtuosity of longer 1970s popular progressive rock songs from Yes, Pink Floyd, Camel, and Led Zeppelin. Ancient were one of the few death or black metal bands inspired by popular rock music where the mass-market inspirations did not render them impotent as a metal band at least at first. Ancient, lacking a truly distinct riffing style of their own, eventually ran out of ideas and decided to play Hot Topic rock after Svartalvheim and Trolltaar but that is a topic for another time.

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A Blaze in the Northern Sky Turns Twenty-Five

Darkthrone‘s second album, A Blaze in the Northern Sky, turns twenty-five today. For much of the mid 90s, Darkthrone constantly referred to A Blaze in the Northern Sky as their first album as it was the first commercially released record to adopt the quick and dirty “necro” production style and to have been part of the Norwegian black metal second wave initiated by Mayhem. However most of the individual musical inspirations were audible on their prior Soulside Journey album recorded at Sunlight Studio; the compositions on A Blaze in the Northern Sky were just much more sparse and droning due to different overall compositional goals reflecting the shift from progressive death metal riff mazes to minimalistic Hellhammerism.

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Emperor: Metal for Mordor

The music of Emperor is commonly misconceived by the mainstream metal media and certain YouTube clowns to be merely an atmospheric wall of sound or symphonic black metal orchestration engineered for superficial, surface level aesthetic appeal to an audience atypical for black metal. This is in fact not the case. In the Nightside Eclipse is just as perplexing to typical headbangers on first encounter as it was upon release in 1994. Mainstream audiences are even more flabbergasted and regard the record as a mere curiosity produced by those murderous church burners, preferring Emperor’s more rock-structured later work such as Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, which abandoned the band’s signature riffing style and method in exchange for ones influenced by more stereotypical Norwegian B-listers such as Enslaved and Kvist. Emperor did eventually sell out, becoming technical guitar wank, rock-structured heavy metal after their rhythm guitarist Samoth and drummer Faust were imprisoned in 1994 and their songwriting influence subsequently waned. Yet In the Nightside Eclipse‘s hymns to Satan and Sauron remain as natural mutations of their metallic predecessors’ attempts to imitate horror scores and classical music’s overwhelming power of sublimity.

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Reissue Radar: Immortal albums

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While the sundered remnants of Immortal are trying to go their own ways (Abbath released a solo album, the rest of Immortal promises one later in 2016), Nuclear Blast Records is taking advantage of their rights to the Immortal back catalog by reissuing Pure Holocaust and At The Heart of Winter on vinyl. We’ve written about the strengths of Immortal’s early work in the past, and even the more streamlined and accessible At the Heart of Winter has its charms, so it should go without saying that the content of these reissues is valuable. Currently, the vinyl records are only available through Nuclear Blast’s German-language storefront, and not officially available until March 18th. German speakers might want to get in on this opportunity early.

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Mayhem to perform De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas live

Mayhem recently announced that they would be headlining Temples 2016 in Bristol, England. Perhaps more interesting is that this is going to be the first time that any lineup of the band has performed De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas in its entirety. Since the current lineup of Mayhem relies on Attila Csihar for its vocals and contains two other musicians from the band’s early ’90s lineups (Necrobutcher and Hellhammer), odds are this is going to sound pretty close to the studio version of DMDS. Regardless of your preferences for Mayhem vocalists (I very much value Attila’s contributions to the album) and recordings, bootlegs, whatever, the band’s performance at Temples is probably a better novelty than the band’s recent studio albums.

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Dodheimsgard – Kronet til Konge (1995)

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Kronet til Konge shows what happens when a genre overshoots its inertia. Everything labeled “Norwegian black metal” with “that sound” was selling like hotcakes, which is a rare position for metal to find itself in. The fans, labels and magazines howled for more, which is always a sign that the quantity-over-quality groupthink has arrived. This band pasted together a bunch of riffs and called it an album.

The result shows us how important metal songwriting is: it’s not just about the riffs. Good metal comes from arranging riffs so they talk to each other to create “heavy” moments which feel like realizations (or provoke them). Normal rock is designed to distract you or get you lost in a sea of bittersweet conflicting emotions. Metal builds up illusions and tears them down, then inverts the whole structure to show you a hidden truth. This is the mythological nature of metal.

Dodheimsgard are talented musicians. They have about one good riff idea per song, and are musically adept enough to cook up the other riffs and bits necessary to tie it together into a song, but these are addressing the riff itself and not some underlying topic or feeling for the song. As a result, these songs feel random and convey nothing, although it’s hard to come to this conclusion when caught in a quality riff. But the sum has to be more than the total of its parts and that leap to greatness is not made here.

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Isvind – Gud (2015)

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Part of me still wants to like Gud. Isvind’s 4th studio album is a textbook example of how to sound like black metal, for sure, but the specific emphasis on consonant melody (mixed with some primitive and ambient elements ala Darkthrone) make for a substyle that at least can be done well in the right hands. Under this admittedly pleasing exterior, though, lies a heart of incoherence and confusion. Isvind, at least in 2015, is random to the core, and their inability to properly organize their songs makes for a tedious 45 minutes.

While this pervasive failure makes it more difficult to zero in on any one flaw, a few are at least more prominent and demanding of attention. One thing I immediately noticed were the presence of gimmicky female vocals – after the short but dissonant prelude at the beginning of the first track, they are scattered very sparsely throughout the rest of the tracks. They fail to add much beyond the occasional peak of shrill dissonance. As I kept analyzing Gud‘s tracks, I found that the tracks were full of these distractions in various forms, whether it was extra instrumentation, or stark shifts in tempo or tonality or other aspects of the songwriting. Each one of these is the musicological equivalent of being constantly pestered by a small child who demands your attention; eventually you get used to it, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. To their credit, Isvind manages to incorporate a great deal of dissonance into what is primarily a melodic and consonant style, which makes for some interesting isolated riffs, but since they can’t string the sections of their songs together properly, it almost doesn’t matter. To be fair, I don’t think this problem is caused specifically by the musical exploration, since other black metal bands (read: Averse Sefira) have written far more coherent and therefore interesting songs than are present on display here.

Still, I can’t recommend this in good conscience. It’s not quite as nonsensically random as Myrkur or a Krallice, but it’s a lot closer in spirit to those albums than what its aesthetics may lead you to believe on your initial listen.

P.S: I almost pluralized listens, but you shouldn’t give this album that much attention.

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