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As your family and friends proceed to make merry and pass around the turkey and the pumpkin pie, we’re going to take a few minutes of your time as we review a few holiday offerings spanning everything from traditional metal and AOR standbys to neo-folk and black metal…or in other words, business as usual.

As noted in one of my earlier DVD reviews, this is a strange time of year for releases.  Labels and manufacturers realize you’ve probably already spent your holiday cash and are likely saving the bigger guns for sometime in the new year, so there tends to be less new material available for your eager hands to sort through.

Despite that, we still have a good twenty something platters to spin and lay down the verdict on for you, so put on your Santa hat, kick back with some spiked egg nog and crack out the Bailey’s Irish Creme, because we’re not letting a little thing like the biggest holiday of the year stop us, right?

Here comes a big steaming plate of goodies…dig in!



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Fluisteraars – Dromers (Eisenwald)

Grinding midtempo black metal less driven by tremelo picking than a dark, chordally driven and dare I say melodic feel.  Vocals are vaguely Burzumesque, perhaps leaning towards Tulus stylistically, while the music itself feels a bit Darkthronish, with a touch of the more droning, deceptively relaxing trance inducing drive of Vikernes’ one man show and once again some accents of both Tulus and surprisingly enough Taake.

It’s somehow traditional in feel, yet very third wave BM in approach – hard to classify, but quite excellent and (gasp!  Is it possible?) even fairly unique among the dozens on dozens of soundalike acts the genre is plagued by the necessity of calling its own.

Only 3 tracks, but they’re rather lengthy, sufficiently atmospheric and reasonably grim despite the flirtation with major keys and (bo-ring) Watainisms in the third and least of its offerings “wortels van angs”.  Pick it up for the first two tracks and pretend the last one never happened.


Alcest – Shelter (Prophecy)

A true oddity in the black metal scene, particularly the French black metal scene (best known for it’s dedicatedly “necro” Les Legions Noires of Vlad Tepes and Mutiilation), Alcest has always leant towards the decidedly light and airy end of the equation.  So little has the band bore in common with its more aggressive and sinister brethren in fact, that it was always a question as to why they were lumped in with the genre at all.

These days, Stephane ‘Niege’ Paut seems to have abandoned all pretense at playing in the same ballpark as such acts as Immortal, Mayhem and Bathory, instead embracing fully his more ethereal 80’s Britpop and 90’s “shoegaze” leanings.  The result is somewhere closer to the Cure or the Church by way of earlier, darker efforts from such acts as Echo & the Bunnymen, Cocteau Twins and All About Eve, but with touches of such saving graces among 90’s dreck as The Darling Buds, Lush, Curve and My Bloody Valentine.  It’s wholly guitar based, but more or less clean signal, slightly jangly walls of guitars.

There’s plenty going on in there to pay attention to – much like the aforementioned Church, you can tell there’s some actual talent involved musically, and there’s enough melancholy to satisfy the most morbid of Robert Smith disciples out there.  It’s airy and dreamy, but with enough slightly-overdriven oomph and despairing aggression to remain quite listenable to those not normally so inclined.

Think of it as a cri du coeur, a heartfelt moaning to the heavens that turns into a scream as it is given its long repressed release – a build that starts with a vague sadness and forearm to the forehead and develops into a full throated, arms thrown back shriek and cry of existential pain that demands reply…yet is answered only by the hollow silence of empty space.

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Royal Hunt – A Life to Die For (Frontiers)

Huge symphonic orchestras akin to Epica or Within Temptation back when either act mattered, but with a somewhat 80’s metal feel to the melodic lead guitar lines.  Vocalist DC Cooper (likely a pun for In Search Of fans…D.B. Cooper and his hijack money want their name back) has an unusually midrange approach, clean and accomplished but firmly based in the middle tenor range (which speaks more to 80’s “classic rock”  and AOR than metal per se), while simultaneously managing to come off a bit like Geoff Tate in the glory days of Queensryche tonally.  Think Fifth Angel and you may get the general idea of where they’re going here, though again, we’re looking at a very different range – neither high and multi-octave like Tate or throaty and baritone like Ted Pilot.

Musically, Royal Hunt comes off quite bombastic and likeable, punctuated by nice leads that show a flair for phrasing and changing things up.  Don’t expect the same old same old approach of all too many guitarists in heavy music these days, these solos are carefully crafted to keep things interesting.

Whether you think this is a real breath of fresh air among the current musical landscape or merely a pleasant enough way to pass the time, the bottom line is that the band is quite listenable and worth looking into a track or two to see how strongly you feel about their efforts.

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Boston – Life, Love, Hope (Frontiers)

Wow, this is really strange.  As far as I knew, Boston ceased to be a concern after two amazing albums back in the mid to late 70’s.

Well, OK, I knew there was an attempt at a comeback album nearly a decade on, but Third Stage, whatever its merits, just wasn’t playing in the same league.  Too much had changed societally and presumably within the lives of sheltered home studio mastermind Tom Scholz and vocalist Brad Delp to leave the album as a real contender with the self titled or its nearly as good successor Don’t Look Back.  Only “Amanda” really made any waves chartwise or hearkened to the trademark sound Boston was known for, and I recall feeling rather disappointed with my purchase at the time.

Apparently some further history happened under the radar, with two further albums, multiple vocalists rotating in and out of the band and an unfortunate bit of business concerning the untimely demise of Delp, but most interesting to me was the fact that Stryper’s Michael Sweet was apparently fronting the band (and providing dual lead guitars with Scholz) for about 4 years there.  Unfortunately, nothing was recorded during this time, making his entire tenure something of a historical footnote akin to a credit as “touring member only”.

It’s a damn shame, particularly as the new Stryper is THAT freaking good.  And while Sweet’s continued presence in Boston would likely have precluded that amazing comeback effort, it certainly would have resulted in a much better album than Life, Love and Hope turns out to be.

A strange mishmosh of rearranged songs from their last album (therefore featuring the late Brad Delp once again handling vocal duties, albeit effectively ‘from beyond’) with a gaggle of comparative unknowns and even Scholz himself vying for the lead spot on the other half of the album, Life Love and Hope can’t help but feel disjointed.

What was unexpected is that the Delp tracks are by far the least of any represented here, with David Victor (“heaven on earth”), Tommy DeCarlo (the title cut), a jam session of Kimberly Dahme, DeCarlo and Scholz (“you gave up on love 2.0”) and an instrumental by Scholz (“last day of school”) providing the only real signs of life in the old warhorse this time around.

Look, we’re talking about a band whose heyday was in the 70’s.  Like War (who I was surprised to see putting on a rather decent show the other week), it becomes more of a situation where those not utterly blinded by the rose colored glasses of nostalgia really don’t expect much from the aging veterans of the scene and find themselves (as with the War show) quite amazed to see folks as old if not older than their parents still capable and willing to rock the house.  As such, can you really blame at least half of the album under discussion for being tepid at best?

What it comes down to is just how hardcore of a Boston fan you are, and whether you’re just happy to see Scholz and company capably trucking along, if perhaps coasting a bit more than the listener might hope.

Scholz is still a top notch melodic player and proves able to write the same sort of uplifting midtempo AOR rockers he was nearly 40 years ago, so any pushback comes off a tad disingenous – hey, he’s still pretty cool as a lyricist, songwriter and musician per se.  Just don’t expect the 70’s all over again.


REO Speedwagon- Live at the Moondance Jam (Frontiers)

While known as a slightly more edgy boogie band throughout the 1970s, it was with the arrival of Kevin Cronin on vocals and a stylistic change to a lighter, more radio friendly approach that REO Speedwagon attained their greatest fame.

While they’d already made minor waves with “ridin’ the storm out” and “roll with the changes”, their most famous and popular effort Hi Infidelity featured at least 3 top 10 singles (‘don’t let him go’, ‘keep on loving you’ and ‘take it on the run’) and sold well beyond the platinum range.  Subsequent efforts, while hardly as spectacular in that respect, kept the band’s name in the spotlight (with ‘keep the fire burnin’ and ‘can’t fight this feeling’).

By the mid-80’s, though, times had changed and the sheen was off the chrome, so to speak.  They released a whole two (studio) albums apiece in each of the subsequent decades before kicking off a long run of live releases in the millenium, essentially working the nostalgia market for aging baby boomers with a yen for better days long gone (and face it, we all stand accused of that at one point or another in life.  It’s no crime…)

This is another one in an increasing line of such “remember where you were when you heard this one?” releases by the band, showcasing modern day renditions of nearly every one of the aforementioned singles plus. There’s a bit of a nod to earlier Speedwagon history with ‘keep pushin’, ‘golden country’ and ‘157 riverside avenue’ added to ‘ridin’ the storm out’ and ‘roll with the changes’, but the understandable emphasis is on the “hits era” of Hi Infidelity.

Cronin sounds a bit more nasal than usual, but this is a highly credible performance, with the earlier material hearkening towards the more pre-Sykes Whitesnake and Ronnie James Dio’s Elf era boogie rock the band was known for in its earlier, harder rocking days.  It is this material that I wish the band would have further explored, albeit with Cronin handling vocal duties throughout.  As decent as the earlier material was, we’ve all gotten used to his nostril-heavy, corner of the mouth slurred takes on the band’s material in the interim.  To return to a pre-Cronin Speedwagon could work, but it’d just be strange at this point…so I for one am glad to hear him still plugging away with the guys here.

While I’d certainly choose an all-70’s REO Speedwagon set (much less a new album tapping firmly into the vibe of that era of the band’s history) over the mix they went for here, the fact is that most folks know the band for their top 40 1980’s sound.  The band is still on point, if less jam oriented than they had been in the pre-Cronin days and presumably everyone walked away from this show happy.  Can you really ask for more?

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Baxter Stockman – Punter (Ektro)

er…I think somebody stuffed me in that damn DeLorean, or maybe Bill & Ted’s phonebooth.  Somehow it’s the early 90’s all over again and we’re all back listening to noisy artrock with heavy grunge and dawning aggro influences pissing all over it.

Think Prong by way of Pantera with a vague touch of Flipper or post-Damaged Black Flag (you know, the era nobody talks about or covers, all that business where Rollins had long hair and there was a girl bass player…).  Even a track called “femdom”…which winds up just being noise and mumbled stream of consciousness ‘lyrics’, by the way…can’t save it.

Is it complete dogshit?  Depends on how much you like that sound, I guess.  It’s noisy, sloppy and amelodic as hell – you could even tag in Rollins’ post-Flag Rollins Band into the mix here, but strip away any traces of catchiness or mass appeal.

Whatever.  Not my thing.

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Mother Susurrus – Maahaavaa (Ektro)

Oy.  It’s not all that far removed from Baxter Stockman, though at least the guy is (occasionally) singing in a standard semi-melodic manner this time around…

Jagged, noisy guitars that seem to be leaning towards a Monstermagnet by way of My Bloody Valentine thing, but trust me, it’s hardly as interesting as all that.  5 tracks never felt so long.


Satan’s Host – Virgin Sails (Moribund)

With a name like that, were you expecting cheery pop songs?  No?  How about sorta Candlemass under ‘Messiah’ Marcolin but with a guy who tries to be John Arch?

Yeah, me either.

I guess it’s supposed to be tapping into the whole ‘occult rock’ thing done so well by acts like Devil’s Blood, Blood Ceremony, David Bower’s Hell and the first Ghost album (the less said about the dreary Infinitessimum the better), but it feels more played out than that – like a lost underground record from 1989 or thereabouts, but more mediocre than that comparison would suggest.

The production is extremely clean and has a nice balance of “modern” and 80’s style reverb, the vocalist has a really good voice, and the band is tight – I liked the drummer a lot.

Really the only problem here is…it’s kind of boring.  The guitars are downtuned (strike one) and don’t really seem to go anywhere…ever.  There’s no real solos to speak of (strike two) and the entire affair just drags, with one song blending into the next without any real change.  Like Dark Funeral, the riffing is dull and just seems to repeat over and over again from track to track without appreciable variation – can you really say one song stands out from the rest?  Or is it just one long suite in the same tempo and key, droning along until you hit the hour mark?

I guess I like “infinite impossiblities” better than the others, but it’s a subtle thing – you’d be hard pressed to tell one track from the next here.  A vocalist and production this good deserve much better.


Thrall – Aokigahara Jukai (Moribund)

Nasty death metal in the new style (i.e. black metal masquerading as death metal).  Way too much emphasis on mids in the mix.

Decent enough for the style, but I’m hearing waaaay too much of this kind of thing of late.  Yeah, I’m sure every band out there thinks they’re perfecting the template set down previously, but geez.  An original idea, please.


Moon (Australia) – The Nine Gates (Moribund)

Atmospheric noise.  Somebody went crazy in the studio with a delay pedal and cavernous reverb.  Moon’s sound is comprised of mellow arpreggiated guitar going on over midtempo double bass while some guy roars incomprehensibly Zom-style, but somehow it all builds into a lot of white noise.  There’s a track or two with church pipe organ, but even that’s distorted into near-inaudibility.

Yeah, it’ll do the trick if you’re looking to trance out for a half hour or so, but I’ve heard much, much better.


Vardan – …Dreaming …Living My Funeral (Moribund)

Wow, that’s a really strange mix.  Totally high end treble and a few mids, which for a black metal recording just seems totally inverted…isn’t the idea to stimulate your lower chakras and a more atavistic, limbic area of the emotions and self?  Pushing things to the high end just seems…bizarre.

Sure, black metal is known for a deliberately lo-fi sound and approach, but this is just weird.  I’m thinking they were shooting for the same sort of crummy production as the third Ulver record, Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger or the Vlad Tepes demos, but somehow managed to get it horribly wrong in the process.

While the band themselves seem decent enough, with “wandering spirit” even coming off somewhat anthemic, this one didn’t really do the trick.  I can’t even blame it on the band or its sound per se…this is 100% the fault of the production, which is absolute dogshit in the worst sense of the word.

Nearly unlistenable, with a hollow, hyper compressed sound akin to somebody hocking a loogie into an empty paper towel roll.  Hopefully they’ll get a real producer next time around and release something worthy of the potential I’m hearing buried under a truly crap mix.


Nocturnal Fear / Seges Findere – Allied for the Upcoming Genocide (Moribund)

Wow, did Demolition Hammer get back together or something?  That’s Nocturnal Fear to a T.  Good production, hyper aggressive thrash cum death metal riffing and drumming and a nasty snarled vocal…but if you already have Epidemic of Violence, you probably don’t need this one – certainly nothing new to be found here.  Consider it bonus tracks to that 1992 classic.

Seges Findere…not sure what they’re going for, the vocals reminded me a bit of Baphomet (of the Dead Shall Inherit), but the band’s a little odd, with off center production that emphasizes the snare drum.  Yeah, they deliberately have a bit of a marching beat section in one of their tracks, but it sounds like they hired the drum major from the local military marching band here.

Add the fact that they seem to like singing about WWII from the wrong side of the equation, and the end result comes far from recommended.  Not impressed in the least.

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Truth Corroded- The Saviours Slain (AFM)

After hearing a surprisingly dead on spoken word indictment against media manipulation and propaganda (particularly as regards civil liberties, the “Patriot Act”, Haliburton and war profiteering), I really hate to give anything less than a glowing review – rational minds are becoming a disturbingly rare commodity of late.

That said, to the extent that you can give a thumbs up to a band’s stance while distancing yourself from their actual musical and stylistic choices, you’ll find my position towards Truth Corroded.

The band is somewhere along the general lines of your typical aggro act, but with some strong ties to death metal.  The relentless pummeling machine gun riffing definitely calls to mind the less interesting latter Death (when Chuck went all “technical”) and its progeny such as Echoes of Eternity.

I’d presume a whole load of bands falling somewhere in the “technical” “progressive” or “math metal” variants of death metal would be similarly apropos to mention by way of comparison, but honestly, I can’t stand any of that amelodic shit.  Give me a Morrisound or Sunlight Studios production, preferably with James Murphy or Scott Burns involved, any damn day of the week.

What makes the death metal influence slightly questionable are the terrible aggro/screamo vocals, which come with a huge stamp of “90’s” all over them.  If you were desperately missing bands like Prong, Pissing Razors and any number of Phil Anselmo led projects, you’ll probably have a decidedly higher opinion of this than I do.

Bottom line:
Band’s stance: A-OK.
Musicianship: decent enough, if dull.  There’s no real solos and little variation – just the same thing over and over again.
Vocals:  please.  Enough of this style already – it sucked 20 years ago and hasn’t exactly improved with time and reiteration.

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Legion of the Damned – Ravenous Plague (Napalm)

Very modern metal with black metal (or at least blackened thrash) style vocals that remind me of Desaster circa Tyrants of the Netherworld with a touch of early Destruction to the phrasing.  There are 80’s thrash influences peppering some of the riffs to be sure, but the production and general approach of the band put the lie to any assertions of their shooting for a retro vibe.

Certainly not as bad as some of the more modern stuff that comes my way and I can even say I sorta liked it in passing, but I doubt I’ll be pulling this one out often.

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Rattus – Turta (Svart)

80’s hardcore punk in aggression, latter 90’s-early millenial punk revival in feel and production.  Sadly missing the retro production and political bent of the former* and the pop catchiness of the latter.

*at least to non-Finnish speaking ears, your experience may differ if you’re a native speaker…

While hardly essential, it’s not bad at all and certainly would fill the bill if you were looking for something to follow up a double bill of Negative Approach and Verbal Abuse aggression-wise.

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Mantar – Death By Burning (Svart)

Love that cover.  Was just chatting about St. Lucia day in Sweden with Angelica Rylin the other day – nice to see the traditions being kept alive.  But what the hell it has to do with a grinding Trouble by way of St. Vitus doom metal act with a gargling voiced shrieker of the aggro meets emo school, I have no frigging clue…

You know, once upon a time folks looked at cross pollination between genres, styles and scenes as a good thing – kept things from stagnating.  These days, just about every band populated by the under 30 set can’t seem to make up its mind just who the hell they should be marketing to: look, it’s a black metal polka act!  A brutal death metal Christian folk combo with elements of punk, trance and gothic symphonic metal!  A country hip hop dance music band with a strong devotion to satan!  I mean, seriously…

Yeah, I’m being deliberately absurdist here, but think about it for a minute.  And while you’re thinking, we’ll move on to the next victim…

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Graveborne – Through the Window of the Night (Seance Records)

Oh, joy, yet another Watain wannabe.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the band or the sound they’re trying to ape, but how many of these do I get to hear per month?  Seriously.

It feels like Danielsson and company have put out 35 albums this year alone…

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Satanic Warmaster – Nachzerer (Hells Headbangers)

Now THAT’S more like it.

Look, I’m not going to dwell for very long on some rather unfortunate if not downright reprehensible associations and politicosocial standpoints this guy is known for having espoused.  Needless to say I’m against fascism and oppression in all its forms, which should be dead obvious to regular readers and listeners.

That duly noted, I still listen to Burzum, Vlad Tepes, Mutiilation and a band called Werewolf, all of whom are among my very favorites in the second wave black metal scene, all of whom have at one point or another said something idiotic in an interview and gained the reputation (rightly or wrongly I leave to the interested reader to investigate for themselves) for expressing or being allied with some very backwards viewpoints.

Like praising the devil and speaking of hatred for all humanity (and even oneself) is an enlightened viewpoint…

Anyway, putting the blatant stupidity of some of the man’s past assertions aside, what you get here is straightforward old school “true kvlt”, “totally necro” black metal much akin to the bands aforementioned.

There’s a distinctly European folk tale vibe going on, from the cheesy old woodcut style cover right down to the tracklist, with titles like “satan’s werewolf”, “vampires” and “rotting raven’s blood”.

The production is distinctly lo-fi without being obvious or annoying, bearing more of a “recorded under a pillow” sonority than the more blatant “all mids and hiss” approach of any number of other bands in the genre.

If the uncomfortable associations scare you, I get it and agree…but you’ll probably want to stay away from (at a bare minimum) Slayer (at least the Jeff Hanneman songs), photo books of the early British punk scene (Siouxsie was hardly the only offender), Fox News and pretty much the entire genre of black metal if so.

Bottom line, if you dig any of the bands I mentioned earlier, you’ll probably want to check these guys out as well – it’s pretty damn good.

Certainly the best black metal release I’ve heard this month…

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October 31 – The Fire Awaits You (Hells Headbangers)

OK, now I get it.  While you’d be hard pressed to tell from last month’s middling to fairly lousy Gone to the Devil 7″, it’s King Fowley from Deceased and Jim Hunter from Iron Maiden worshipping retro trad metallers Twisted Tower Dire.

What this means to you: aggressively underground traditional metal with a bite.  Fowley is singing reasonably clean here and the production, while unspectacular, is a whole hell of a lot better than the aforementioned single.  The music is pointedly midtempo, but with more drive and forward thrust than you may expect – it just smells mid 80’s, sub-New Renaissance level metal all over.

Nothing to necessarily jump and run to grab, but certainly a good purchase for those so inclined.

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October 31 – Meet Thy Maker (Hells Headbangers)

whoa, what happened here?  All of a sudden they got really loud and in your face.  The musical style is more or less the same, though Fowley is growling more this time around.  The trick is the production, while still not exactly major studio level, has improved dramatically over their prior album The Fire Awaits You.  I think the lo-fi production of that release suits their underground vibe much better than the relatively clean, more punched up take here, but it’s not out of hand.

You also get the Visions of the End EP, which as you might expect comes with different production once again, and a few live and demo tracks which include a cover apiece from Saxon and Lizzy Borden(!), so if you really dug their first album, you’ll probably want to pick this one up as well.

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Hell / Amarok – Split LP (Pesanta Urfolk)

Hell (not the David Bower UK NWOBHM revivalists, but another band going by the same name reviewed here previously) is going straight for an Abruptum vibe here, with one 20 minute long detuned track of random noises and shrieks that eventually turns into a more standard song of sorts.  Sort of interesting, if you were one of the 5 people worldwide who really dug Obscuritatem Advoco Amplectere Me.

Amarok seems to be doing more of a funeral doom take on the same idea, but the production is a lot louder, it’s more akin to a proper song than Hell got around to for a good 12 minutes of running time, and the overall effect is much less appealing or atmospheric.

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Kinit Her – Hyperion MLP (Pesanta Urfolk)

Were you really into that whole new agey thing where people were buying Tibetan monk chant and singing bowl CDs back in the mid to late 90’s?  Because that’s what this is.  For the cult film aficionado, think the soundtrack to Born of Fire or perhaps Gradiva: all desert wailing and droning pipes, punctuated by occasional metal bells or percussion.

It almost gets Tangerine Dreamy, but seldom heads off into the space rock territory they’re more colloquially known for.  Some quavering chanted vocals are mixed with croaked ones in the second track, which feels even more yogic-ritualistic than the first. The final track falls somewhere between the first two in focus and proves the least appealing of the three thereby.

If you’re really looking to do some hardcore kundalini or something along similar esoteric lines, this could either be the ideal accompaniment or totally screw you up – the equivalent of a bad “brown acid” trip in audio.

Hard to either recommend or slough off, this is pretty intense stuff for the type.

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DBUK – The Red Cross Is Giving Out Misinformation 7″ (Pesanta Urfolk)

Weird pseudo-folk with a 90’s feel.  The guy and general zeitgeist remind me a bit of Voltaire without the sense of humor, but the goofy “bopping” female vocals feel very Aimee Mannish or something.  This could have been a big hit at Lollopalooza if not Lilith Fair, and definitely seems to be playing to that crowd of tattooed, flannel sporting hipster types.

The second track works much better, with a mournful feel that taps equally into Chris Isaak, Hank Williams or earlier Johnny Cash and the sparse western soundscapes of Ennio Morricone.

This 7″ does have some definite appeal to it, but shows a band with two distinct sides – are they trying to be some ersatz good time goonish take on Stereolab, or reaching for credibility as a haunted gothic western ensemble?

I wholeheartedly appreciate and recommend the second track and the sound Dbuk seems to be going for there…the value or lack thereof of the rather bizarre first track, I leave up to the listener to decide.


I Shalt Become – Louisiana Voodoo (Saadi Saati (SS-0°1), A Pesanta Urfolk Imprint)

Very, very strange mix of soundtrack symphonic stings and effects with a more black metal like noise approach.  It’s quite discordant but not unlistenable, unsettling in a relaxed ethereal sense due to the lack of a steady tonal center.

Picture an atmospherically inclined, mournful black or pagan metal act who eschews guitar and bass (for the most part) and replaces them with a First Spell-era Gehenna like keyboard and stranger yet, symphony orchestra.  You can hear distorted guitar buried there in the mix, but that whole front end has effectively been replaced by the keys and orchestra.

When it got and stayed darker and reasonably tonal (as with the title track), I certainly did like it.

It’s dark, it’s ambient, it’s evocative.

It’s really fucking weird.