Therion – Gothic Kabbalah

October 5, 2010 –
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Being dissatisfied with creating what might be called a pinnacle of death metal in Beyond Sanctorum (an undertaking that for all its immersive grandeur and epic legends never felt entirely comfortable within the genre), Therion mastermind Christofer Johnsson embarked upon a massive crusade in pursuit of an album that successfully integrated a symphonic revelry into a metal foundation. While others, including Mr. Johnsson himself, might disagree, it is the opinion of this reviewer that, having toiled for over fifteen years in this particular effort, Therion finally achieved the full extent of its aim in ‘Gothic Kabbalah’, and album that we not only deem to be the single best record of the past record, but also the most inventive, most ingenious accomplishment to emerge from a band no longer affiliated with the original death metal framework.

Once the listener can eventually penetrate the deeper meanings of Gothic Kabbalah, which can require a great deal of time and concentration due to the sheer immensity of its vision, he is likely to be struck by how purposeful the music seems. Every track sets out an individual lyrical theme (all lyrics written by the studious Thomas Karlsson), and the composition as a whole (not merely the vocals) actually reflects the corresponding theme as it should always do. This is where truly excellent music will unfailingly show its quality: the imaginative vision of the artist, whether the intent be conscious or not, is sublimely displayed in the overall thematic unity of the album, in both conceptual and strictly musical dimensions, as well as in an intricate understanding of precisely what the artist wishes to create, and of course of the tools that he is working with.

In Gothic Kabbalah, we are entranced by a composition that sings and dances fluidly in a notable contrast to the relatively plodding movements that characterize some of the earlier records. A full sense of the album’s strong self-awareness is manifested by an easy alliance between some convincing, eccentric vocals, plenty of nimble solos and delicate melodies, and a deeply visceral performance by a devoted rhythm section; taken as a whole, the instrumentation is perfectly charismatic. This does not altogether give the impression of being a fun, careless endeavour to entertain guests around a campfire; the album does, however, address some perennial subjects with a certain seriousness that graces them with an unmistakable aura of authenticity, all the while doing so with a natural easiness that only reinforces the sense of sincerity.

What makes this, Therion’s ninth album, especially remarkable is not that it approaches arcane material in the hope of evoking something real and mystical; previous albums have evidently been produced in this very eagerness. No, what makes Gothic Kabbalah special is that it actually accomplishes the invocation of a strong esoteric presence in a musical fabric that goes far beyond the aesthetical, something which the albums prior could never do. The true moments of greatness on this record are found wherever the shocking light of revelation pierces through the veil of the myth and of the occult; whereas Therion were previously content to simply demonstrate the shapes and the outlines of the old legends, ‘Gothic Kabbalah’ cannot cease until it has transcended them altogether!

Now, it is quite clear that Therion have indeed managed an artistic representation of a wondrous realm in Esoterism, and have made it come alive therein; what is especially remarkable, however, is how the many different mythic strands that the albums touches on are eclipsed by a strong recurrence to the specifically Hellenic idea of the ‘Sophia Perennis’, or of the universal idea of the ‘Eternal Wisdom’. Just as a decidedly bombastic classical music has melded with a more crudely defined death metal background, as well as with other styles besides, so too have the various topics respectful to esoterism conformed to the overriding aim for the beautiful Sophia. So, while the cryptic meaning of the pair of terms Gothic Kabbalah still escapes us, the meaning of this album has not: it is the soulful execution of a vision set squarely upon the sun and the heavens above, and as such it is the perfect transition from a typically death metal perception that stares perpetually into a deep, long, and fiery abyss.

-Xavier-

June 2nd 2010 – Slayer, HMV Forum, London, England

June 6, 2010 –
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Fighting the conspirations of ill health, amounting to months of delays, the much anticipated return of Slayer to England’s capital was in ominous syncronicity with the most auspicious time of the year for disciples of their church. As the Hessian-led International Day of Slayer falls upon us once again, last week’s early blasphemy proved to be an highly adequate preparation. The Slayer we all exhalt on this site was a mystical entity and their music excoriated the flesh of society’s body of lies and delusions, revealing the inner, beating heart of darkness and measurer of our mortal lives. They were also the progenitors of Death Metal, without whom many of the cults that feature in our catacombs may not have ever manifested with as advanced a template. The heat of the Spring sun, optimal for decomposition, drew the wehrmacht to Kentish Town’s Forum for an evening where the secrets of the dead promised to be revealed.

That, they would be, but not before some distractions within a chronology of events that would befit any highlight reel of modernity’s undoing, beginning with the supporting band from Sweden. The Haunted’s line-up consisted of some familiar faces, not just because they’ve been around for 10 years or so, initially Swedish Hardcore influenced Thrash before becoming the post-At The Gates band of Swedeath-influenced Speed Metal that they’re now famous for. Lead guitarist, Anders Bjorler of past-At The Gates fame, sporting a Disfear shirt in reference to both Swedish Hardcore and former bandmate Tomas Lindberg, launched with the band straight into ‘Bury Your Dead’, a signature track from their second album. Their set would mix old and new with some energy but the only problem from them is that their music sucks. This grammy-award winning combination of cliched galloping, groovy riffs interspersed with familiar and incoherently fragmented bursts of Swedish Death Metal melody, resulting in little to no melodic fluency is made even worse when the newer tracks demonstrate their love of pure nu-metal guitarwork. You know a set is bad when, despite it’s relative brevity and insignificance, every second of tedium feels absolutely unmitigated. They exit the stage with a warm crowd reception behind them but the diabolic concoction of Metal madness to follow boils the venue over with the hellish crepitance of anticipation.

Plumes of smoke veil the scene of everybody’s attention in stages of trademarked descent through noxious tributaries of the underworld. Led by battery commando Dave Lombardo, Slayer finally materialise from amidst the scarlet haze and open with ‘World Painted Blood, rendered near-flawlessy with Tom Araya’s completely static frame being the only, negligible sight to conflict with the fact that they’re still a well-oiled machine. Unlike other bands of such age and well-earned veneration, Slayer at least seem to understand the difference in purpose and spirit between their new and old recordings, rather than just the wear and tear of discographical order and simply ‘mixing it up’. The set was split roughly 50/50 in terms of timing, so there was quite some wait for the veterans to get their nu-material out of the way. The three standing band members would then congregate in a Seance-like circle formation around the beaten kit of Lombardo, ritually manifesting the schism and unleashing the demons of ancient times, channelling the wails of feedback as they did in their youth. Thus, the show really exploded with a rupturous performance of ‘Hell Awaits’ sending the violent hordes into a possessed frenzy. King and Hanneman were in brilliant, conversational form, damned to strike all the right notes and give a real sense of narrative familiarity to the chaotic and atonal guitar solos. Araya’s exoteric shouting was laid to rest and the invoked Mephistopheles conferred upon him sadistic scorn, the true voice of his priestly years, befitting such apocalyptic sermons as ‘Seasons in the Abyss’, ‘Mandatory Suicide’ and ‘Raining Blood’. The opening riff to ‘South of Heaven’ was possibly given it’s finest rendition to date, as the audio technicians menaced the sound with Kali-Yugic siddhis and lava on loan from Azagthoth. The song of the night was undoubtedly the pollutant ‘Chemical Warfare’, performed with as much vigour as on record way back in 1984. The intelligent, layered riff progressions that played out a multidimensional, mythologised communication of death, paranoia and destruction confounded the crowd but struck them hard, with the anthemic, holocaust winds of ‘Angel of Death’ to follow, releasing a tide of hatred and malevolence, and the highly multicultural crowd rose in unison to sing for the benefit of the Aryan race. The band known only as Slayer departed after covering the most recogniseable songs from ‘Haunting the Chapel’ through to ‘Seasons…’, reinforcing the memories of their greatness and perpetuating the echoes of their cryptic, Satanic messages.

-ObscuraHessian-

Swedish Death Metal – Daniel Ekeroth

March 23, 2010 –
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Swedish Death Metal by Daniel Ekeroth is an easy and enjoyable read that recounts the glory years of Swedish Death Metal told in large part through the mouths of those who actually lived it. Ekeroth presents the history of Swedish death metal, focusing mainly on the release of seminal albums and demos, and the means by which fanzines and tape trading played a role in the development and proliferation of the Swedish death metal genre. This is definitely a worthwhile read if one is looking for a chronology of all of the important bands, namely Bathory, Nihilist/Entombed, Dismember, At the Gates, and Therion, that played an important role in the development and consolidation of Swedish Death Metal. Additionally, the layout of the book is such that it is easily navigable, making use of handy headings, subheadings and band headings, which also make this a great quick-reference text. However compelling, it is a slight draw back that the various snapshots throughout the book interrupt the flow of the read, and are laid out in such a way as to provide a distraction. One may be better off reading the book through and then returning to the snapshots at a later date.

In addition to analyzing the careers of many important Swedish Death Metal bands, Ekeroth indulges the curiosity of the reader and earns additional merit for mentioning important non-Swedish bands such as Master and Deathstrike, and for emphasizing the role of Morbid Angel in the overall development of Death Metal. Interestingly, the author seems at pains to make sure that the reader understands the relationship between Crustcore, Punk, and Metal and adds some welcome depth to his account of Swedish Death Metal by mentioning Discharge, whose strumming style and melody would influence countless metal bands. If you are looking for a chronology of the glory days of Swedish Death Metal, this book proves enlightening. Thankfully, there is little mention of Slaughter of the Soul and second rate Swedish bands such as In Flames and Soilwork that would later hijack, dilute and all but destroy this once living art form.

With that said, readers beware! Ekeroth has a tendency to try and convince his reader that death metal was all about “fun” back in the day and tends to present the extracurricular activities, namely drinking and partying, as the highlights of many bands careers. Although Ekeroth’s goal was to tell the history of important bands, releases and tours, I believe this book could have been improved had Ekeroth attempted to explore the philosophical underpinnings of this genre and refrained from presenting Metal culture as simply an offshoot or replication of self-indulgent rock culture. New frontiers await those willing to explore this aspect of Swedish Death Metal and Ekeroth’s book may in fact prove to be a trailblazer. Time Shall Tell.

-TheWaters-

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

February 3, 2010 –

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

October 24th, 2009 – AMON AMARTH, ENTOMBED, The Academy, Dublin

October 30, 2009 –
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In what was what I would call a ‘mixed bag’ of a gig, Entombed were the disappointment, and Amon Amarth the pleasant surprise. The Academy was a packed venue, nearly full and with a decent enough set-up, good acoustics and an intimate setting, the stage not being isolated from the proximity of the audience.

Entombed played a set that disappointed, and this was partially due a lack of their better material being played. Much of the setlist consisted of numbers that were lifted from their third full-length, Wolverine Blues and then onwards, with a lack of attention given to their more pioneering work that was put out on their first two albums, Left Hand Path and Clandestine. Songs were less death metal than they were an aggressive take on stoner rock, songs being much more inclined to the verse/chorus school of rock songwriting, the rhythms more inclined to provoke the shaking of hips and the tapping of feet than they were to bang heads. Whilst this was all good and competent, certainly the great soundtrack of an alcohol fueled evening in the capital of Eire, none of these works, as far as the reviewers opinion is concerned had the violent charge nor the momentum that characterized their legendary debut. Some credit will be given to the vocalist, whose onstage presence and frantic onstage manners gave more depth and urgency to songs that otherwise were devoid of it, and the guitarists tone was brilliant, the same buzzing, ‘chainsaw’ like tone that they helped pioneer back in the early nineties through maximum amplification. Entombed concluded their set with a brilliant rendition of Left Hand Path the staple and title track of their debut album, and it put a redeeming conclusion to what was an expertly performed, yet borderline mediocre set on occasions. It would be wonderful to hear what paths could be treaded if they realise the urgency that made their earlier music essential.

Amon Amarth played an excellent and intense set, mostly consisting of the melodic, fluid and anthemic traditional metal that they have come to be easily associated with. Infectious melodies and precise, double-bass lead drum rhythms bring to mind a hybrid of Blind Guardian and late period Immortal, whilst the muscle and simplicity of their music brings to mind fellow countrymen Unleashed in both the subject matter and the simplicity of the song structures. Musically Amon Amarth have an obvious strong commercial potential, sound highly accessible by the subgenre’s standards, and whilst they are not exactly breaking any new artistic ground, they are still workmanlike and this shows in what was a very well received and well performed set. Johan Hegg is a good front man and throughout the set uses the opportunity to incite the audience to terrace chant amidst his bellowing, whilst taking turns to consume from the mead horn that is his custom to bring on stage with him. Admittedly I would not consider these to be an act of the highest caliber, though they are unique in that they have one foot stood in the primitive and barbaric, with one firmly in the ability to reach out to a large audience. It was a privilege to be involved among the audience that night.

-Pearson-