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And here we are again, following last week’s more current slate of Prophecy Produktions releases with a handful you may have missed over the last few months.

So let’s cut right to the chase, shall we?

Novembers Doom – “Nephilim Grove” (Prophecy) (November 1)

Prog metal with clean chanted vocals. Well, not necessarily common, but we’ve heard similar via latter day Cynic. But with a weirdly gothicized feel?

I guess if you crossed Traced In Air with vague hints of Yes and Gentle Giant, more recent, post-The Giant Ahab with the vibe of Paradise Lost or My Silent Wake, you may get the picture of the gauntlet these Windy City oddballs are throwing down.

But then you have the oddly melodeath lead line phrases to contend with, moments that smell oddly metalcore…it’s weirdly syncretist, seeming to soak in influence and tropes from disparate genres all at once, while mixing this mad melange into something that never feels particularly original, but which may well be, in sum, all their own.

Production’s fairly strong as well, hailing from the nimble fader fingering of Dan Swano, though whether due to the download or the final production, there’s too much of a hissy, trebly overtone for our tastes. That aside, it’s full and reasonably lush, while retaining clarity on vox, drums and guitar (their respective prominence in the mix being in that exact order).

Not bad, beats the living shit out of, say, a Moonspell offering, and it’s a whole lot more engaging and heavy than anything Cynic’s dropped since Traced in Air.

Völur/Amber Asylum – “Breaker Of Rings/Blood Witch” (Prophecy) (November 1)

Way back in the heyday of metal (so yes, we’re talking late 80’s here), one of yours truly’s favorite albums (well, in those days, cassettes) was experimentalist classical chamber group The Kronos Quartet’s Black Angels.

A dark meditation on war and its effects on those who suffer under it, it tapped personal leanings towards the classical modern and gothic (Bela Bartok remains a favorite,* the Ravel string quartet, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Weill’s requiem and grim, trancelike minimalists like Steve Reich produced works near and dear to the ol’ black heart) and if anything, married them to an even darker subject matter. Most of the album (which gathered pieces from a number of oft obscure modern era composers) was priceless.

* his 2 sonatas for violin and klavier as performed by Pinchas Zukerman and Marc Niekrug are the closest you’ll find to the Music of Erich Zann…selah.

Why bring up this bit of, let’s be honest, obscuritana with little appeal to your average put your drunken head through a brick wall because…well, just because type (“classical? Are you nuts?“) you ask?

Because that’s much akin to what you’ll hear within, particularly from the strings-only Amber Asylum, whose “largo” brings the gothic dramatics, while their “seance” and “swarm interlude” lean far more abrasive, electronically enhanced and utilizing odd glissandos and suchlike to approximate much of what Kronos was delivering on Black Angels.

Volur works in a complementary but more fleshed out darkwave approach, where electronic effects mesh with sparse bass, occasional violin and even rarer guitar. Throaty baritone vocals and airy female soprano appear on most if not all of their offerings, leaving them a far more familiar, acceptably shrug of the shoulders affair.

But you’ll want to hear the Amber Asylum tracks, no question.

Year Of The Cobra (Prophecy) (November 1)

Interesting.

Seattle, former home of the detestable grunge scene that singlehandedly destroyed the careers and dreams of many a metalhead back in the day and established a lowbrow unwashed junkie culture and aesthetic that drove appreciators of actual music running for the hills to find something real to listen to for the better half of a decade (the 90’s were a strange animal…boy howdy were they ever…) now swaps out for a quirky stoner doom with light shoegaze elements.

Frontwoman Amy Tung works a light and airy vocal that almost brings Miki Berenyi and Lush to mind, but as appended to a Lemmy-style distorted bass. Sticksman Jon Barrysmith keeps things interesting enough, really pounding at the skins and drawing attention on the occasional faster track like the Biohazardish “ash and dust”. No guitars, no other members.

A setup consisting entirely of bass and drums is bound to shove things into somewhat atypical directions, but the two manage to evoke their city’s heritage (specifically Soundgarden) just enough to pay their respects and move on into more psychedelic territory.

So yeah: Lush meets Soundgarden with hints of Lemmy…and make it more doomy and druggy than even that implies.

I was OK with it, though it’d have scored a lot higher if Barrysmith threw caution to the wind and went full on Steve Shelley rather than keeping things more to a Dave Grohl homage here.

Vinsta – Drei Deita (Trollmusic) (October 18) 

Now here’s a truly bizarre one for ya.

Indie post-whatever with strong prog tendencies, clean, mellow singing (that occasionally turns all snarly-growl Pagan/Viking style) and really, really laid back, acoustic guitar and violin at times, but abrasively jagged dissonance and occasional bursts of neo-black metal for the better part hereof.

How does one even approach such a bizarre mess for apprehension, much less objective appraisal?

Sure, I liked the clean vox, and while the mellow moments were practically Cat Stevens meets the Carpenters level syrup, you could really pick up just how good the production really is here.

But the proggy bits leaned WAY too much on the jagged, almost pushing Primus in the sheer irritation this brought over the course of track after track of the same, and the faux-black metal bits, complete with the nastier vox…nah. You’ve heard much worse, but it really doesn’t work at all.

So what does that leave us with? A band with the potential to (almost, but not quite) approach the stage of playing cover band to Ulver circa Kveldssanger or Manegarm circa Urminnes Havd, who never really work at that enough to excel at it?

Or worse, a band sidetracked by a culture of noise and over-aggression into leaving their strengths to gather dust, while chasing after a pipe dream nobody even wants them to achieve in its sheer ill fit to their propensities?

Drop ’em a valium or megadose ’em with chamomile tea, these guys need to seriously chill to work their true strengths and cut the rest of this bullshit out.

 

E-L-R – Mænad (PROPHECY) (September 27)

Weirdly described as “post doom” in the promo materials, this Swiss trio manages to pull a Lycia-level sense of vastness and vaguely darkwave feel and append it to a slightly more aggressive, moody post-black metal meets ambient space rock template.

Tag in some airy, reverb heavy female vocals (and occasional male ones), and you’ve got something that’s extremely gothic (face it, these guys could have wound up on Projekt Records 20 years back) but bears enough of a growling bassline and more of a direct, angry guitar than that implies.

Trying to get in (or retain) a melancholic, depressive or trancelike mood?

We got your fix, right here.

Pencey Sloe – Don’t Believe, Watch Out (PROPHECY) (September 27)

French shoegaze act.

Apparently they’ve got the ear and endorsement of Alcest’s “Neige”, and you can hear why – it’s so much of that old school London based scene, you could easily fool a newbie or those less versed into thinking them contemporaries of the likes of Ride, Slowdive, Catherine Wheel, Cranes…there’s precious little here to differentiate them from the crowd.

And considering this is a brand new act, and being said by a longtime aficionado of that late lamented sound? That’s high praise indeed!

Quite good, particularly with the winningly authentic drugged out femme vox…certainly hits the spot.

Kayo Dot – Blasphemy (PROPHECY) (September 6)

What exactly is this? Indie post-something or other? But there’s that neo-gothic busy drum (machine), guitars and approach that suggest more of a goth rock than any sort of metal.

But then it fails that categorization in so many ways, they can barely be counted. Vox are too light and thin, eschewing entirely the usual Peter Murphy by way of Andrew Eldritch faux-baritone. The guitars are processed, but not with enough effects and awash in enough reverb and delay to evoke the proper feel. The sound is never jittery enough, the guitars alternate between sparsely slow and simple and black metal tremelo, nothing between.

And then there’s all this odd pop/dance music influence…”an eye for a lie” comes off like some shitty top 40 radio hit you’d hear when your girlfriend drags you out clothes shopping with her (guys are groaning and shaking their heads in pained solidarity…how do the ladies listen to such dogshit, and why do they take so long trying stuff on so we’re subjected to it on blast in these stores?)

It’s really strange, and only likely to bear any appeal to the typical Third Eye audience if their main go to is the Ektro coverage…this one may fit in with that label’s quirky electronic/motorik dance better than it ever does with Prophecy’s well produced and generally quite quality driven gothic/folk based roster.

Yeah, I didn’t care for this one much at all, let’s leave it at that.

Disillusion – The Liberation (PROPHECY) (September 6)

Easy description? Pagan metal gone slightly prog.

Clean, chant style vox, pleasant clean, folk/traditional acoustic instrumentation that gives way to loud, bombastic and occasionally slightly jagged/atonal guitar and typewriter double bass drumming.

Rarely, the vox get more Viking/Pagan style growly, but never overly death metallish or particularly abrasively so. Occasional riffs feel akin to metalcore/melodeath lead lines, but really aren’t…it’s more part of the prog influence bleeding through.

On the whole, this sounds pretty nice, though it feels a bit lacking in focus, like the tone of this wasn’t quite settled on.

Do we make this clean sung, mainly acoustically mellow and majestic, like a modern day pagan calling to his nation’s savage past? Do we make this a quirky prog affair to show solidarity with (at least) the likes of Enslaved?

Or to simplify things again, is this Vintersorg? Or do we just aim low and shoot for being another Borknargar?

I’m looking at this particular glass as half full, and saying they were shooting for more of the former, just got bogged down in aping a few too many stylistic tropes and flourishes of the latter (and worse).

Still rather good, just fails to set and retain the proper mood.

 

Noekk – Waltzing In Obscurity (PROPHECY) (September 6)

Empyrium has another side project besides Sun of the Sleepless, this time involving both parties. And you may remember them from these very pages.

We more or less praised their Carol Stones and Elder Rock to high heaven a year and a half back, and here they are with a proper full length.

This is the Empyrium guys attempting a straight up 70’s prog rock, and coming out sounding like…well, Empyrium, but with David Bowie at his most histrionic on vocals and drawing in a bit of the oddball feel of Gentle Giant. Acoustic guitars are more frequently heard than you’d expect and the vox stick to that “ashes to ashes” moan throughout, and the guitar lines often come off more syncopated than the drum patterns…but it’s a very British prog vibe in the end.

A strong album to be sure. Moody and impeccably produced, and certainly more likeable than your average Yes or ELP record…just don’t expect, say, Cherry Red/Goblin or Fripp/Belew King Crimson here, and you should be quite happy with what you’re hearing.