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Much like last month’s Holidaze Roundup, we’re bringing our year end review roundup to you a few weeks early, so all of us can get on with the business of attending to whatever religious, pagan or occultic endeavors one’s personal experience of the season may entail.

Admittedly, there’s not a whole hell of a lot to dig into this time around, which is somewhat to be expected given both the temporary shift in review cycle to more of a mid-month appearance (don’t worry, we’ll snap back to normal once we make our way into the new year) and, once again, the fact that everybody’s out there celebrating in some manner or other (or doing their damnedest to pretend everything’s status quo despite all the buzzing activity around them – ridiculous I know, but some choose that option).

So without holding up anyone’s tree trimming, shopping runs, gatherings, get togethers or conjurations, here’s the last few new reviews for the year 2015.  See ya ’round the bend…

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Peace Killers – S/T (Svart Records) (January 22)

Californians who steal a whole hell of a lot from the early 90’s heavy music scene – Zodiac Mindwarp, Mudhoney, possibly even a few hints of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Dinosaur Jr. – but who lift much of the depressive junkie veneer and whininess of the Seattle and alt rock sound in favor of more of an uptempo, hard rockin’ Monstermagnet by way of Zodiac Mindwarp “upbeat” sleaze approach.

One thing that keeps them interesting is the dual lead guitars, which hearkens back to many of the better 70’s “classic rock” acts.  Promo materials cite Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, pre-Buckingham Nicks Fleetwood Mac and Kiss, as well as a few more modern stoner acts like Fu Manchu and Red Fang, and surprisingly, the comparisons are quite apt this time around – you can pick riffs, lead lines and vocal hints of all of those bands at various points herein.

While it’s a bit too 90’s-ish for my own taste, there’s no denying that these guys would make a decent opening act for any number of touring bands, and the album is definitely quite listenable leaning towards catchy throughout.

Hard to give too much of a horns up when a band’s playing in a ballpark a bit outside your personal comfort zone, but look, if these guys were playing some backyard party or opening for some other band I went to see, I’d be right up front row cheering ’em on as a unexpectedly good “surprise discovery” of the night.

Good stuff, and curious to see where they go in future albums.

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Nachtzeit – Där Föddes En Längtan (Nordvis Produktion) (December 18)

OK, remember Lustre’s Blossom back in March?  Decent instrumental music, sort of a dark ambient post-black metal thing.

Who the hell expected this from the guy behind that? 

So forget about his other one man band/project entirely.  What you get here is a Burzumesque trancelike repetition of simplistic but very raw classic black metal riffing, with a strangely compressed gargle-snarl vocal that comes off like Satanic Warmaster dialing in a performance via phone.  But despite this, the music is rather thick and well produced – not exactly a classic second wave black metal approach.

It’s pretty damn old school in basic feel despite that, sort of like a cross between the aforementioned Vikernes and Dark Funeral, but as produced by one of the modern metalcore guys.  It works, and quite well, at that.

There’s one wasted track of wind (“londommens bris”), but hey, some of the earlier demos would pull shit like that on occasion.  You can say it “adds atmosphere” if that makes you feel better.

Overall, I was doubly surprised by this one.  First, to hear the guy from Lustre doing old school Norwegian style black metal.

And second, to hear some current band aping that style, and getting it more or less right.

Raise the horns.

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Amber Asylum – Sin Eater (Prophecy) (December 4)

Projekt Records used to put out any number of bands of this ilk: stuff like Mors Syphilitica, Arcanta, This Ascension and Unto Ashes that mixed contemplative if not depressively dreamlike female gothic vocals with traditional string quartet instrumentation.

It can be quite effective, particularly in silently snowbound Wintertime settings, and has made several of Projekt’s comps and individual releases, at least in the label’s earlier and more specifically gothic-darkwave oriented days, an inextricable part of my own yearly holiday playlist.

So here we have one of these sort of quite familiar sounding groups of females working a generally traditional instrument-based take on darkwave goth.  It’s all minor key, it’s quite dramatic and compositions build both individually and as a successively linked whole.

Appropriately, the album’s ostensible concept also sticks to the morbid end of spirituality, specifically the odd Catholic apocryphalia explored in Heath Ledger’s The Order, relating to the practice of “sin eating” as a sort of post-mortem plenary indulgence.

It works quite well, feels very retro-90’s second wave gothic (a scene I was part of and which I still hold near and dear to my little black heart) and comes inlecutably recommended for those of a similar bent.

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Secrets Of The Moon – Sun (Prophecy) (December 4)

I’m not sure how the band would define itself, but this feels much akin to what’s been generally saddled with the label of “post black metal”: there are elements of black metal, hardcore punk-style vocals delivered with a British sneer and the reverb and wide open, echoing guitar structures of an emo act.

It’s a strange mix to be sure, but may appeal to fans of those styles by dint of its very syncretism.  I found it a tad too reliant on emo (“hole”), Watainisms (“no more colours”) and druggy Soundgarden swipes (“took the sky away”) for my own tastes, but liked the Kevin Haskins-like tribal drum patterns and the sneering vocals went over well enough.

There are elements to like here, for sure, but as a whole, it’s background music at best – helplessly flawed by its catch-all melange of wildly disparate influences at worst.

Listenable, surely.  But does it actually work? 

Nah, not really.

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Eternal Of Sweden – Heaven’s Gate (Black Lodge Records) (January 29)

Sabaton backing choir, produced by Peter Tagtgren…you know this one’s all about big and bombastic power metal.

Pluses are, it’s extremely melodic, with tightly phrased song construction throughout and features Christer Gards’ clean-but-gritty vocals at the forefront, generally self-harmonizing via multi-tracking at the choruses.

Pontus Lekaregard’s keyboards drive and complement the compositions without ever becoming overly intrusive, and Bjorn Andersson’s guitar solos are melodic and once again, very well phrased (an art unfortunately long since lost in modern metal, and therefore worth pointing out in its rare appearances such as herein).

Finally and possibly best of all, their songs are concise enough that they never wear out their welcome (another common failing of power and symphonic metal bands, thankfully not repeated here).

Power metal is a take it or leave it sort of thing for me – sometimes you’re in the mood, usually it’s pleasant enough background music whose melodic orientation and/or musicianship are intellectually much appreciated but which in the grand scheme of things doesn’t make much of an impact or dent in the personal record collection.

But if you’re looking for a worthy band with which to dig in and try the genre on for size, rest assured, Heaven’s Gate is a damn good place to start, and the very likeable Eternal of Sweden comes quite highly recommended for the type, beating out any number of their more famed and established peers in terms of sheer quality and listenability.

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Anti-Flag – Live Acoustic at 11th Street Records (Spinefarm Records) (November 20)

“Oxfam projects the world’s wealthiest 1% will own more than 50% of the world’s wealth by 2016.

“There’s a class war going on.  The rich are waging it on the poor and they’re winning in a staggering wave of crushing defeats, over and over again,” says Sane.  “Most wealth is concentrated in about 200 corporations, which are owned and run by a really small group of people.  We’re living in occupied territory. When the Germans in World War II occupied the French they had a resistance. It’s up to all of us living in corporate occupied territory to be the resistance.”

“Change happens one person at a time.  It takes time.  But it’s important for those ideas to be out there,” Sane insists. “Change does happen in incremental steps.  The first part of being involved is being aware.  Then beyond that, there are steps we can all take to become a more active part of progressive resistance.”

Those bits of interview come along with the promo material for this recent acoustic evening with diehard politically savvy anarcho-punks Anti-Flag, who were a serious favorite of our household (and anyone we could possibly introduce them to) for several years there in the late 90’s through the early to mid millenium.

I’d addressed what went wrong last month, so no need to repeat the whole story here – those interested can go back and see for themselves.  So let’s get on to the material at hand, shall we?

Old classic “die for the government” makes an appearance, as does “turncoat” from jump the shark album The Terror State, but most of this material appears to stem from the recent American Spring and the RCA album era, therefore being wholly unfamiliar to old school, pre-2004 AF fans like the wife and I.

What’s nice about this setting is that the acoustic dual-vocal setup brings out the deeper nature of the band, linking them even more obviously to the old school protest movement of the 60’s folkie, particuarly the more strident voices thereof: the pre-Band Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs and their collective forbear Woody Guthrie.  Hell, they openly name check Joe Hill in the between song banter – how much more Baez can you get?

While the bulk of these newer songs are hardly Mobilize-era Flag worthy, the more intimate and lyric-centric orientation of acoustic folk brings out the strengths of their material to a far greater degree than the pop-friendly arrangements of the comparatively safe (for Anti-Flag, anyway) American Spring.

Plus you get to hear them playing Richie Havens, all driving, percussive steel string acoustic abuse throughout.

Who knows, maybe there’s some small measure of hope for another Mobilize yet.

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Black Blood – S/T (Inverse) (December 18)

Bouncy groove-style modern metal. Vocals are that silly growly Cookie Monster meets Animal thing that Dave Brockie used to do with Gwar, riffs fall somewhere between a more driving 4/4 Pantera and 80’s Black Sabbath.

If this were playing when you walked into your local Hot Topic, you’d neither be surprised or mind.  Take that as you will.*

* Third Eye regulars should know exactly what I mean by that.

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Scarecell – New Horizons (Inverse) (December 4)

Did we mention Hot Topic, by chance?  Aggro screamo in that early-Atreyu incessant puking and screaming “metalcore” vein, but without as strong of a melodic bent which often saves that band (particularly in the more recent, less screamo albums).*

You could also say Slipknot – there’s a strong feel of teenage mallrat if not CW tweeny “drama” soundtrack to all this.

* one exception: “lay down forever”, which cuts the ridiculous bits down a notch to allow for some actual clean singing and a melodic phrase or two.  Naturally, it’s the best thing on the EP.

I’m clearly not 12 years old, acne afflicted, virginal and depressedly pissed off, so I’m not the target audience for this one.

Mallrat tweens may have a very different take on this.

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Bloodlash – Rain EP (Inverse) (December 21)

You know, for a half a song on each successive review, I didn’t even realize I’d changed albums between Black Blood, Scarecell and Bloodlash.

Sure, there are stylistic variations and changes in emphasis, but they’re all playing in the same ballpark, and to the same basic audience demographic.  Emo screamo aggro little thin tenor voices that go all muppet growl…it’s very teenage.

That said, there has been a slight upward progression – Scarecell had one song that almost passed muster, Bloodlash tries to go all progressive death, somewhere between Gorguts and Watchtower with all the oddball amelodic noodling riffing and endlessly variant meter shifts on the drum end.

Look, they mention A Perfect Circle, Lamb of God, Mastodon, Tool, Children of Bodom and Opeth as influences, so that should say it all for ya, one way or the other.

Even so.

Can’t honestly say I enjoyed it in any respect, but there is a measure of technical skill required to pull stuff like this off.

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Wrathrone – Born Beneath (Inverse) (January 22)

Modernist “brutal” death metal.

Production leans towards overdriven to the point of leaving levels in the red throughout, all blown out speakers and scratchy hiss from in your face yet mid-heavy guitars, cymbal and snare-heavy blastbeat drums and early Napalm Death/early Carcass style death belch/blackened snarl dual vox, albeit with the mic shoved right down the guys’ throats.

Too “complicated” for its own good, and the production seriously sucks ass.

Listenable in a way, but the heyday of death metal, this ain’t.

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Wolfhorde – Towards The Gates of North (Inverse) (January 22)

Viking/pagan metal with strong acoustic folk elements butting heads with a somewhat incongrous melodic power metal approach when they actually plug in the instruments.

It’s sort of like Edenbridge trying to be Primordial, with elements of Tyr, Arkona, Trollfest or even Alestorm rearing their head at inappropriate times.

Like power metal, the Viking thing per se isn’t really my thing, though there are a few bands I really dig – Leaves Eyes for sure, Manegarm’s back catalogue and Graveland have really grown on me, hell, I even spin early Unleashed or Frost-era Enslaved on rare occasion.

And even in terms of the Viking scene, Wolfhorde is something of an anomaly, working an odd, pop radio sort of variant on the style that could easily bring in the newbies and plebes, but which feels kind of…fake to more experienced ears.

Not horrible by any means – hell, it’s pretty damn catchy, in fact.  But something’s very off.

But there’s no doubt it’s highly listenable, prone to start the fun drunken jig/hummppa sort of pit at shows, and the traditional instrumentation bits are always appreciated as balance to the heavier stuff.

I’ll give it a qualified nod – just be sure to note the above before diving in headfirst.

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Escalane – The Days of Decay (Inverse) (December 11)

Female fronted radio oriented metal.

Vocalist Hanna Uimonen works a reedy speaking-range soprano approaching alto range, marked by a pronounced head voice.  Unfortunately, this tendency translates as singing through her upper teeth to the point where she’s effectively lisping throughout.

They also are modern enough to throw in some of those obnoxious screamo phrases, but because her voice is so thin and light, these are nowhere nearly as obnoxious as usual. Alyssa White-Gluz she ain’t, and that’s a decided positive, to say the least!

The riffing is quirky and inventive, while sticking to an entirely melodic orientation, and this makes the songs work very well indeed.  Check out “singularity” for a good idea of what I’m getting at here – at the very least, it’s far from the same old, same old.  And with so much soundalike crap being released month after month, that very difference translates as a real positive.

While Uimonen’s quirky vocal approach is hardly likely to put her on any list of the great female singers in metal, she’s also entirely inoffensive and quite listenable if you’re not being overly particular or paying too close attention to the toothy hissing lisp thing (an oddity which I imagine could grate on the nerves if you’re in the wrong mood at the time).

They even throw in a few death metal-style sequences on the riffing end, so it’s not exactly soft soap throughout.  I could definitely see these guys going over well enough with less diehard or misogynist crowds like the power or gothic metal scenes.

Despite some reservations about the vocal approach, I definitely liked ’em.

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GRAVEWURM – Doomed to Eternity (CD, LP) (Hells Headbangers) (December 25)

Hell’s Headbangers’ other go-to house band beyond Nunslaughter, Gravewurm has been around since the early 90’s. We gave a good review to their Infernal Minions a few years back, and I even picked up another one of their albums after enjoying that one.

Suffice to say, they don’t change stylistically from album to album.  Can be a good thing for diehards – after all, who really cares about, say, Immortal post-Blizzard Beasts, or Mayhem after all the main players were dead?

But if you’re looking for any real variation* from the last two, four or six Gravewurm albums in your collection, forget it.

* Okay, okay, they may have slowed things down a little and emphasized the…dare we say it? – melodic bits somewhat.  But it’s really not much of a change at all.

Definitely good for the type, which is a straightforward, midtempo, gargly-vocalled underground blackened thrash-style USBM with recognizable riffing and a measure of traditional metal catchiness.

Salute them for sticking to their guns after all these years.

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Sacrocurse – Destroying Chapels 7″ EP (Iron Bonehead) (January 15)

Same as Sulphur Blessing and Unholier Master from 2013 and 2014, respectively.

That’s right, 3 years and very little change or improvement.  Maybe the production’s a tad better, but it’s hard to tell when these guys are thrashing away in a monotone drone of blastbeats and nigh-indistinguishable climbing riffs and belch vox throughout.

There were a change in tempo or two, which I don’t recall from the prior offerings, but who knows, it’s been a year between each.  “Bestial” it may be, but South American blackened thrash, Blasphemy and Beherit this decidedly ain’t.

Oddly, final track “total destruction” sounds like a completely different production, and even sticks to midtempo throughout.  You can actually hear all the double bass footwork and tom rolls, the guitars and vox are buried in the mix, it’s a huge, huge improvement.

Why just one track out of four was written and/or produced in this style is beyond me – but it’s the first and only time Sacrocurse sounds like an actual band…

Whatever the reason is, they’d do well to repeat what they’ve done on “total destruction” and forget everything else they’ve recorded, present company inclusive.

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Hostium – The Bloodwine of Satan CD/LP (Iron Bonehead) (January 11)

Watainish/Gaahl-era Gorgorothlike to the extreme, but strangely, it actually works for them.

That’s right, a Watain clone that I’m not cussing out.  Should say something about the quality here.

There was a brief period where this sort of thing dominated black metal, and considering the competition at that time, deservedly so.

This is not that point in history – in fact, so many dozens and dozens of up and comers have adopted this style so slavishly, I could do without ever hearing this sound again.

But unlike the seemingly monthly glut of such poseur wannabes, these Canucks actually bring a measure of atmosphere and flair to their efforts.

It ain’t original in the least.

But I was able to listen to it without wanting to throw the iPod at a wall, and that says a lot.

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Baphomet’s Blood – In Satan We Trust LP (Iron Bonehead) (January 25)

I don’t think I’ve heard an Italian blackened thrash act this enjoyable since the heyday of Bulldozer.

More Motorhead than Lemmy and company have been in decades, crossed with decided Teutonic thrash elements – and there’s even a touch of Accept in the solo section of “command of the inverted cross” – and an unapologetic accent beneath the Lemmy meets Alberto Contini rasp of Vittorio “Necrovomiterror”‘s vocals.

It’s all driving, straightforward thrash with blackened overtones, only occasionally slowing to an Iron Maidenesque gallop pace for a solo here and there.

Nice stuff, well produced and shows the confidence and skill of a road tested act – something you don’t find all that often in metal nowadays.

Alzare le corna.

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Temple Below – The Dark Goddess 12″ MLP (Iron Bonehead) (January 22)

OK, depending on who you believe, this is the guys from Slaughtbbath and either somebody from Sweden’s Bestial Mockery or an unnamed Greek black metal act.  I don’t know about you guys, but I hate when they get cute like this.

Either way, it’s Slaughtbbath and who the hell knows who working a surprisingly evil sounding yet well produced blackened death metal thing that, I have to admit, works pretty damn well.

I said I was curious to hear what else they could do, despite being fairly nonplussed by their split with Hades Archer, and this definitely fulfills that unrealized promise I sussed out there.

And yeah, it’s relatively modern underground black metal masquerading as death (or perhaps, in this case, the reverse) – but it’s not as derivative as that label usually indicates.  Not a hint of Watain or even Marduk here, and that’s already practically branding them as “original” in a horde of slavish soundalikes…

Four tracks…well, really three, the last one’s just an ambient drone.  Even so.

Not bad at all.

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Chaos Echoes – A Voiceless Ritual LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (December 15)

Chaos Echoes – Duo Experience / Spectral Affinities LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (December 15)

Chaos Echoes – Parisian Sessions / Rehearsal I LP (Nuclear War Now! Productions)  
(December 15)

Well, you can see what we thought of their big debut album Transient here, so how well do you think some pre-release demos, live material and an EP will fare?

Unlike Aluk Todolo, these guys are far noisier and more along the lines of an early Abruptum than anything else. Obscuritatem Advoco Aplectere Me much?

Their live album A Voiceless Ritual is far louder and clear sounding – not to mention comparatively listenable – than their early rehearsal demo Parisian Sessions/Rehearsal I, which actually sounds like it was recorded in a basement (which it probably was).

It’s perhaps interesting that for a live recording, there is absolutely zero crowd noise or response until the very end, when a sparse audience of…maybe 10? – gives that yuppie-style overanimated hoot and applaud thing you saw on even the lamest MTV Unplugged back in the day.  Really?  You’re acting like it’s the second coming of Christ, over Celine fucking Dion?  Get a life, losers…

The one thing you can say about Chaos Echoes is that there does appear to be an upwards progression in terms of listenability, if you’re willing to sit through a bunch of droning, detuned and aimless ambient-leaning instrumentals.

Parisian Sessions is pretty questionable (you’ve heard and probably performed far better in your own or your buddies’ basement band rehearsals, trust me).

Duo Experience/Spectral Affinities surprisingly goes whole hog into ambient, with an even quieter, nigh-acoustic approach throughout.

Finally, A Voiceless Ritual manages to keep a handful of band buddies and hangers-on hanging around finishing their beers through 43 minutes, and at least bears the best sound and marks the closest the band gets to coherent jam structure, if that’s even an appropriate designation.

This is seriously loose shit, kids – I’d be unsurprised if these were improvised on the spot, and we’re hardly talking jazz fusion-style creative improv.

A direct comparison to Abruptum – and early Abruptum at that – is about right.

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Reencarnacion – 888 Metal DLP/CD (Nuclear War Now! Productions) (February 1)

Brazilian blackened thrash with a serious intrinsic flaw.

What you get here is a compilation of yet another forgotten if not undiscovered band from what I can tell you firsthand was not only one of the most exciting eras of metal per se, but with respect to the underground in particular.

You’re a fan of black metal?  Death metal?  Thrash metal?  Doom metal?  Some obscure variation or combination thereof?  This is where it all started, kids.

Back then, we just called it all “thrash” or “underground”.  Right on the ground floor, nomenclature was confused – were Accept, Megadeth, Nitro, Agent Steel, Annihilator and Toxik all “speed metal”?  Was Manowar “black metal” for Hail to England?  It got kind of silly, and that sort of confusion and micro-subtyping has only worsened over the years.

Anyway, one of the most exciting emerging subgenres, at least to this old school thrasher, were the blackened thrash scenes of Germany and Brazil.  I was talking Sepultura to groups of Brazilians who had no clue who the hell they even were, this is how early we’re talking.  Their “mainstream” era of Arise was several years away, yet.  So I think I can safely reckon myself as something of a fan, if not authority on this stuff.

Well, here we are with Reencarnacion.  The photos tell quite a bit – note the Bestial Devastation poster and the Dark Angel shirt.  But also note that the one guy’s playing an acoustic guitar. Another guy’s playing violin.  And then there’s the guy on synthesizer

WTF?!?

Well, I’m glad to say that their earlier demo/EP Accompane a la Tumba is fairly traditional, if poorly recorded, Brazilian blackened thrash in the general ballpark of larger and more celebrated acts like Vulcano, Sepultura, even Sarcofago, Mystifier, Holocausto and Sextrash.  Loose rule of thumb, but it’s definitely recognizable as such.

The subsequent live material here is a noisy mess, but you can say the same about the live stuff from Chile’s Pentagram on Under the Spell of the Pentagram.

Where the problem arises is in the 888 Metal material, which mixes strong elements of that sort of South American blackened thrash approach with weird synth sound effects – guns, lasers, crying babies, electronic feedback tones – and awful pick scraping noise solos.  A lot of it is comparatively slowed down, leaving a surprising degree of open space, oddly utilized.

There were songs…or more accurately, portions thereof, that work just fine.

But there’s too much of that weird shit going down for this later material – which opens up the CD, mind – to work.

The bottom line?  Skip up 9 tracks to get to the demo material.

Though you have to ask yourself: are a mere 3 overdriven tracks and 6 messy live ones of classic Brazilian thrash worth it?

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Aluk Todolo – Voix (The Ajna Offensive) (February 5)

I think they were being a bit ironic with this one: an album recorded entirely sans voix, titled Voix.

It’s all instrumental, in plain English, with a noise-meets-Burzumic trance through repetition motif.  I guess if you took the vocals and Steve Shelley’s accomplishedly frantic punk drumming away from Sonic Youth, it may sound a bit like Aluk Todolo.

Oh, and another way they’re being “clever” – the jams…er, ‘compositions’ are all titled by their running time.  So “5:34” runs…you guessed it…5m 34s.  How John Cage of them.

Look, I tend to like French and French Canadian takes on black metal (and dark music per se) – they really get the aesthetic approach, emphasizing mood and tone over outright aggression without ever turning truly “ambient” or BGM.  I’m also a diehard fan of Sonic Youth, at least up through Dirty, which was a real jump the shark moment in their otherwise spotless career prior to.  So you know I’m good with this.

But just keep in mind: it’s voiceless, repetitive, simplistic instrumental music that makes heavy use of guitar feedback as an “instrument”, and never actually goes anywhere – don’t expect anything approximating a proper song to be found herein.

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Titaan – Kadingir (ATMF) (January 29)

A band who takes early Carcass/Napalm Death style dual-vocal grindcore and mixes it with a similarly noisy take on black metal.  Every other track* is ambient BGM.

* if not more. There are more ambient tracks than black metal ones, in fact.

The big conceit here is that they’re going all Mesopotamian mythos on your ass. Hello, Tiamat, Annunaki, Absu, Marduk, Blood of Kingu, Therion…shall we go on?  Yeah, it’s hardly original at this point.  Even Pathfinder Legends goes around talking Lamassu in barely disguised form.  zzzzzz

It’s noisy and derivative on the aggro stuff and pointlessly movie soundtrack BGM on the rest.

An easy pass.

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Naðra – Allir Vegir Til Glötunar (Signal Rex) (January 22)

Icelandic black metal. One of the members was in Carpe Noctem, if that name rings any bells.

It’s all in Icelandic (gasp – really?) and the vocals are sort of high pitched whiny growls, like Elmo goes emo – the black metal version!

But with a dramatic, almost Viking metal approach to the generally tremelo picked bombast behind them, the vocals – which come to think of it, remind you a hell of a lot of Roger Martinez from Vengeance (Rising) – actually almost work.

I hear a hell of a lot of black metal every month, and just as much black metal pretending to be death metal, with a heaping helping of blackened thrash on the side.  It’s not just what gets reviewed here, folks.

So here’s a secret: this stuff tends to blur together after awhile, and even the best new material generally pales in comparison to older and more established bands, at least when said bands were back in their salad days.

But make no mistake – I may be knocking the vox here, but this time around, it’s with affection.  Because Naora may have delivered one of the better non-reissue black metal releases in months.

Hails.

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Seer – Vol. 1 & 2 (Art of Propaganda) (January 22)

Vancouver, BC goes all stoner meets groove/aggro on your ass.  Why they would want to is another matter entirely.

So yeah, if you’re a big fan of Red Fang or some shit, where you like constipated growls and screams and bouncy detuned and simplistic guitar/bass unison riffing with your Kyuss and Fu Manchu, have at it.

Then they go all dark metal meets emo on the choruses of “hive mind”.  Then they start using detuned drones and chants, the sort of uber-simplistic lunkhead thing you hear with bands like Chaos Echoes.

In fact, it’s only on the slow acoustic tracks “cosmic ghost” and the ambient-leaning “aeons” that they even sound like a proper stoner band…except for the guitar tone and solos, which clearly are.

Don’t ask me.  Too much ill-considered cross-genre syncretism going on with the younger bands these days.  If you want to hear one thing, unless it’s a subtle overtone or a surprise track to show how versatile a musician you are, nobody wants to hear you play something completely different.

You don’t go to an Iron Maiden concert and cheer when they play Hank Williams and Britney Spears songs.

There’s a reason for that, kids.

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Ostots – Hil Argi (Altare Productions / Darker Than Black) (February 1)

Spanish Basque black metal with an old school Polish BM feel. Tracks like “sarrera” and “azken hegala” hearken right back to Fullmoon, while others sound anywhere from early Graveland or Infernum to Arkona (Poland) – though presumably without all the questionable political associations that mar some otherwise outstanding music.  Promo materials reference France’s Les Legions Noires, and that’s not far off the mark either, though more in terms of Mutiilation than Vlad Tepes.

There appears to be different production on every other track, for some reason – and being black metal of the truest variety, the more muted ones like “itsas haizea” and “bide bakartia” just seem to work better for what he’s trying to get at here.  Yep, I said “he” – it’s another one man band.

This is another reissue, albeit a very recent one – apparently the guy self-pressed a few hundred copies on vinyl before getting picked up by Altare and DTB, the latter of whose involvement pretty much confirms the stylistic bent I’m picking up here musically.

After Norway and to a lesser extent Sweden, the Polish and French black metal scenes were the strongest and most resonant back in the heyday of the second wave.  To find a new band modelling themselves rather tightly after their example is a definite horns up to these ears.

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Mons Veneris – Sibilando com o Mestre Negro (Altare Productions / Frost and Fire) (February 1)

I used to listen to a lot of modern classical music.

Bela Bartok was my go-to, particularly his Sonata for Violin and Klavier. Stravinsky, particularly the Rite of Spring.  The Ravel String Quartet.  Steve Reich’s Desert Music.  Kurt Weill’s Lamentations.  Debussy’s La Mer, particularly Nuages.  William Schumann.  Hell, even 12 tone could work, if there was any sort of proper structure and melodic undertone involved.

So to hear a guy doing Abruptumesque moans, croaks, vomits and shrieks over nearly an entire album worth of atonal violin bowing and out of tune acoustic guitar didn’t exactly faze me.

What was strange was when the last two tracks…which are really the same track split into two for some unknown reason…went all electric noise, guitars jacked all the way up front in the mix and pounding drums over those same shrieks and puking sounds.

There’s zero purpose to this, though I actually got a bemused enjoyment from the familiarity of the off kilter BGM that comprises 8/10 of this release.

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FROZEN OCEAN – THE PROWESS OF DORMITION (APOCALYPTIC WITCHCRAFT) (February 26)

Bombastic gothic industrial metal goes all pagan.

It’s quite melodic and – if you can believe this nowadays – emotionally affecting.  Most surprisingly for something this well performed and produced, it’s a one man operation.

That’s right, no kvlt hissy bedroom black metal job, but a proper, neo-symphonically inclined pagan/gothic/dark/industrial thing, and one that gives the impression of wide open space and the air of heroic fantasy to boot.

Go ahead, have a laugh at the photo shoot.  He’s a big dude, and he’s being molested by a chicken in a robe.  It’s kind of hard to take seriously.

But “Vaarwel”‘s croaked vocals aside – and those both fit and blend in, mind – this is one powerful release.

I salute you, tovarisch.

Horns way the fuck up.

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