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With all the music in review recently, I thought it might make sense to port these over from the Facebook page.  Immediately predating the first of the website music reviews, these were left off official posting due to their more or less capsule nature – which is exactly what the three part Spring roundup contained.

So for those who missed these the first time around, here are a few more relatively recent releases you may be interested in checking out…

Got a batch of interesting albums in from Svart Records, all acts hailing from Finland (not sure if this is a label focus, or just so happened to work out that way this month). Here’s my take:

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Sink – Holy Testament
Some rather bizarre, vaguely homoerotic promo photos (yep, that black area was a manual insertion…) introduce us to one Sink, a strange trio who has been labeled as “doom/sludge/dark ambient metal”, but only conforms in part to the latter element thereof.

A mellow, mainly instrumental, dark sort of keyboard driven gothic industrial on the first three tracks morphs into a bizarre mix of industrialized metal (think NIN meets Marilyn Manson by way of Ministry) and black metal (particularly on “ritual transfigured” and “into the current”). By the time we get to “justice”, it’s gone completely over to the black metal side, but the more pensive feel of the first few tracks makes some reappearances towards the end of the album (pretty much on every other track – “parallel”, “repulsion” and “recursion”). “Repulsion” in particular leans towards the sort of feel of early John Carpenter soundtracks, if not the similarly keyboard/electronically based OSTs that marked the Italian post apocalyptic films of the 80’s. An interesting, if somewhat uncomfortable melting pot, that to my ears could have done without the menacingly whispered or moaned vocals or the black metal crossover on several tracks.

Whatever its merits or lack thereof, black metal never went together with electronic/industrial – in its purest form (and thus the only one worth paying any attention to), BM is a tremolo driven guitar based subgenre, and brooks no intrusion or variation without being bastardized to the point of failure. By attempting to mix the moody retro stylings of their keyboard/electronic sound with a dash of Bathory by way of Mayhem, Sink ultimately fails to comprehend the virtues of either genre, and the structure they build crumbles under its own weight, its very base and structure having been built on sand and water, without the catalyst that would make the cement any building needs to sustain itself. Next time, shut up and forget the guitar and drums.

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next we come to Viisikko (‘gang of’ or ‘famous’ five’), another somewhat unclassifiable act who crosses some strong hints of 80’s style hardcore punk with a more 90’s generator party stoner metal meets Prong detuned guitar sound. It’s uptempo and well enough played to keep the interest of fans of either style, but
the monotone scream-shouted vocals tend towards the soporific, particularly as the album is recorded entirely in their native tongue. Their Roman-numerallically incorrect “IIII” comes with guarded recommendation for anyone who holds nostalgia for the likes of Kyuss and (very) early Cathedral, and doesn’t mind a dash of straight edge/hardcore speed and feel thrown in to liven up the mix a bit.

Tervey

Terveyskeskus (“community health center”, or if you prefer, “free clinic”) comes to us with a longer lifespan than many readers of this post, having debuted way back in the days of New Wave, 1982. Omat Korat Puree (“your own dogs will bite you”) finds a band whose sound leans far closer to late 80’s Hollywood glam/”dirtbag” metal ala Guns N’ Roses and LA Guns than Minor Threat, Black Flag or the Bad Brains, though the aggression, poor production and crappy drum sound definitely say “punk”.

Growl-shouted vocals compete with tinny, distorted “let’s blow the mixing board” style guitars (they must have been playing as loud as Manowar, from the sound of it) and those trash can lid snare driven drums endemic to the less well recorded bands of the style (forget hearing the rest of the kit, treble is all you get, kid). So yeah, they may technically be “punk”, but don’t expect the Circle Jerks or something.

Sammal

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Finally, we come to Sammal (“wild moss”), whose self titled debut seriously impresses my retro-driven heart. There are few bands out there tapping into the sound of late 60’s/early 70’s psychedelic rock so absolutely authentically as these guys – forget Finland, we’re talking anywhere on this earth. If you have a yen for the sort of music your parents (or grandparents) used to trip out and sway to while nude bathing in the countryside, this is your ticket, kid.

Keyboards, guitars and bass are equally prominent with the vocals, production is picture perfect (you feel like if a pick dropped in the studio, you’d hear it), and you have to wonder whether this was a true analog recording, with live room mic’ing and the band performing the entire thing together, en toto. Gentle Giant mixes with Grand Funk, Zeppelin, you name it – anything hard and perhaps a dash prog produced between 1969 and 1973 or so should do as a parallel of sorts. I am positively astonished this is a young act, and not some vault rediscovery of a forgotten band and album of that era. I personally know a few aging hippie types who I could fool with this one – maybe I’ll give it a try and report back their reactions. Sammal comes highly, highly recommended for anyone with a love for that era and its sound.

Here’s a second post from the same period.  A bit more in depth, but this is its first airing on the website.

Jorn

Got an interesting CD in the mail yesterday, from a musician I knew nothing of: a certain Jorn Lande, who goes by the nom du plume (or recording, if you prefer) of Jorn, with the title of Symphonic (Frontiers Records).

With a bizarre cover featuring an orchestra being conducted, but with all members having the heads of vultures…you have to wonder what was being said here on a symbolic level…Jorn has released a sort of greatest hits compilation with a difference.

In the liner notes, Lande claims this was a spontaneous idea: to set selected tracks from his back catalog (which apparently stretches back 13 years, and 9 albums, 2 prior hits compilations, and a live album…so I have to wonder why I’ve never heard of him before) and set them to a classical symphonic arrangement.

Now, any implication therein that combining traditional symphony orchestra with metal is just some inspired idea from out of the blue (which is what I came away with the first time I read it through, though this may have been a misapprehension) is patently absurd – the first track I recall in this vein was Believer’s “Dies Irae” way back in 1989, and certainly he and the rest of us have been exposed to acts like After Forever, Within Temptation, Krypteria, Epica and so on over the past 15 years or thereabouts. But again, that was just what I took away from his words when I first read them – subsequent viewings imply that was not his intent.

What he DID do was to rearrange and remaster the original studio album tracks and layer in the symphonic stuff, and that IS an interesting idea (if done in one form or another since the first days of MTV unplugged and its ilk). Having no familiarity with Jorn’s back catalogue, here’s my take on what I heard:

Jorn and his band hail from Fredrikstad, Norway, of all places, but there are no black metal stylings to be heard here. In fact, strangely enough, Jorn’s music and vocals adhere fairly closely to the template established by three fairly different bands: Dio, Mr. Big and Lynch Mob.

The Dio influence is obvious – it’s all over the music, and he chooses to cover the late Ronnie James Padavona no less than TWICE on this comp – dead on covers of Rock N’ Roll Children and The Mob Rules more or less open and close the album. But despite the appreciable influence on Jorn’s style in terms of the dramatic bluster he leans towards, it’s hardly the sort of uncanny closeness you find in Diego Valdez of Helker.

In fact, almost immediately I was struck by his stylistic debt to both Eric Martin of Mr. Big and Oni Logan of Lynch Mob. The similarities are obvious, though both choices would seem to come out of left field when considering a track like “I Came to Rock”, which is the one song on Symphonic that truly lives up to its intent – I actually thought Jorn was going to be an Epica fan gone overboard (a longstanding stated desire of Mark and Coen Janssen has been to abandon metal entirely and become straight up soundtrack composers), and was actually pleasantly surprised when the song proper kicked in a few minutes into the proceedings.

But forward up a few tracks to “Burn Your Flame”, and the swipes become apparent – it’s nothing if not “Addicted to that Rush” combined with “Wicked Sensation” or something thereon. But even while the music tends more towards a mix between mid to late 80’s trad and its European 90’s variant of “power metal”, Lande’s vocals run in lockstep with those of Martin and Logan (with the occasional Dio-esque flourish here and there to spice the mix). Those who remember them may also compare Jorn avorably with Glenn Kaiser from hard rock missionaries Rez (or the Resurrection Band, if you prefer) – the same gravel-gargling yet powerful tones come across.

As for the rest of the album, it’s OK, if unspectacular, in that he’s likely (again, please note my unfamiliarity with the original versions) sacrificed some of the edge of the original tracks to accommodate a dash of the symphonic – and yet, with two
notable exceptions (opener “I Came to Rock” and near-closer “A Thousand Cuts”), the symphonic additions come off as overly subtle, or what they effectively were, an afterthought.

While it is highly unlikely that the genre of symphonic metal (and its close relation gothic metal) will ever surpass that aforementioned Believer track, much less Epica’s Phantom Agony for a truly seamless admixture of driving distorted guitars, relentless drumming and the traditional tones of a symphony orchestra, efforts in this direction, when well done, are always welcome. While Jorn falls short of his stated intention here on the whole, there are a few choice tracks that succeed admirably, and “Rock and Roll Children” and “the Mob Rules” are probably the best covers of Dio you’re likely to hear on record.

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