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And without further ado, here comes a Roundup almost entirely dedicated to labels (and bands or musicians) hailing from sunny Italy.

Hey, paisan!  Saluti a tutti!

Andiamo, sbrigati, eh?

Flamekeeper – We Who Light the Fire (Invictus Productions) (November 29)

Guitarist/frontman of Demonomancy, who we’d covered twice before for their split with Witchcraft and Poisoned Atonement moves to Sweden and goes the one man bedroom act route. Surprisingly, he scores a major win.

Where Demonomancy was typically noisy and sloppy (if comparative to their splitmates, well produced!) “war metal” overall, this is more of a clean toned, almost entirely properly sung (or at least “sorta growled” in the sense of a lot of Euro power metal and suchlike) affair.

The music pulls in a lot of Viking/Pagan bombast and some folk elements, but there’s a traditional metal feel bubbling beneath that brings the better (think Rotting Christ school) Greek black metal acts to mind. It’s so much closer to, say, “occult rock/doom” ala Hour of 13 or the faux-goth of Beastmilk/Grave Pleasures than it is to what you’d expect from anything “blackened” or “extreme”, you’d be hard pressed to identify this as coming from the pen of the same guy who delivered the aforementioned Poisoned Atonement.

Even the cover of fellow Mediterranean black/whatevers Necromantia fits the new sound and theme…so well, in fact, it may be the best track on the EP/”mini album”!

Don’t take that as a slag. This is all pretty damn decent, surprisingly so, in fact.

Human Agony – Putrescence of Calvary (Invictus Productions) (November 29)

Yet another B.C. Canada “bestial black/war metal” outfit.

We’d covered their Goring Christ a year and a half back, and were pretty bored by the slavishness of copycatting both endemic to and on display from band and genre.

This time around, we can offer some appreciation for the better than usual production values (believe it or not, any new kids to this particular corner of the “extreme”/”blackened” universe), which put even the “cleaner” iterations thereof like Revenge, Beherit and Blasphemy almost to shame.

But that’s just whoever’s manning the board and mixing the final product…the band’s playing as sloppy as ever, with distortion never budging from redline territory and drums barely above D.D. Crazy level of proficiency.

That said…it’s “war” or “bestial black”.* Were you expecting anything else?

* the border between the two being somewhat nebulous – the question of whether they sport gas masks or pictures of goats being a primary separator between the two (seriously).

Being more than comfortable with a lot of the “big names” like Conqueror, Black Witchery and the aforementioned? I was fine with this, yeah.

Israthoum – Arrows From Below (New Era) (December 13)

Another trans-European migration, these guys hail from Portugal but now reside in the Netherlands.

They work a strangely avant garde corner of the black metal spectrum, and by that I don’t mean the all too common devolution into atonality and nigh-Dadaist excursions of random noise and shrieking that fill up so many releases that have been keeping the fires burning on the eternally aflame Pyre of Dead Bards.

No, this is artsy fartsy on a much higher order thereof, as in strange first wave Eastern European acts or quirky death metal ones like Mordicus, Burial and Krabathor. Strange stuff that follows some awkward internal muse that none of the rest of us could ever follow, but not the pure shit we’re talking (and seeing all too often) in the far more common use of the term ‘avant garde’.

At times these guys get a bit too grandiose and affect the yawn inducing ubiquitous tropes of black/death ala Watain, Dark Funeral, Dissection or Behemoth (“ascetic temples” is a decidedly im-perfect example of this).

But then listen to weird shit like “litany of spite”, “tuam vocavit” or “bracu magistris”, and tell me where all that’s coming from.

Bottom line, if you’re looking for something weird and a bit fascinating, that half of the album should fill the bill until, say, Masters Hammer puts something new out.

NOVA – Veniamo Dal Cielo (ATMF) (December 13)

Here’s a shocker for ya. And now for something completely different! We covered these guys for Soli Contro il Mondo about 3 years back…

…and loved it.

Go ahead, take a look, we’ll wait.

…see? High praise indeed, eh?

Yeah, well, as closer (for us, opener) “trovare chiuso” gallops its way through the headphones, we’re feeling that same effusiveness bubbling to the surface…

Downside? The vox. Were they always this silly sounding? It’s like when someone makes fun of death metal, and they start doing that “om nom nom” thing, mouth in an ‘O’, chin dropping to the chest in fake puke noises? Yeah, that. Pretty fucking ridiculous (check out “durezza e ascetismo” for a laugh).

But those guitars! Those chord progressions! That dark, bombastic yet doomed feeling they seldom fail to elicit or evoke…this is some amazing shit, laughable vox aside.

There’s definitely a traditional feel at play here – the opening riff to “in lotta elevata” reminds of how Deceased repurposed Iron Maiden’s “wasted years” for the opening track on Fearless Undead Machines to kick off some of their best material,* though you’d be hard pressed to call them “trad influenced” in any real way.

* well, for a few albums and EPs, anyway – that band’s certainly had their ups and downs, and I don’t mean the wrongheaded “fan favorites” before Fearless and after Mourners Veil…until the covers album and their latest studio release set them back on track again, anyway! See what I mean?

Bottom line, it’s hard to describe just what about what they draw from and leave out of this delectable boullabaise that makes it quite so tasty…just suffice to say it works, and leave it at that.

Damn good stuff once again.

COMANDO PRAETORIO – Ignee Sacertà Ctonie (ATMF) (December 13)

Interesting. Another Italian act, this time one who appear to be drawing from latter Judas Iscariot in all the jangling, often tremelo driven but quite deliberately paste and melancholic black metal guitars.

There’s also an odd audial disparity between the deliberately hyper-overcompressed guitar tone (which sounds like it’s routed through a portable Rockman and coming out of a Speak N’ Spell microphone) and the comparatively far wider range of the drums and especially the reverb inflected vocal belches and vomits.

It’s like the guitars are drawn from a completely different session and source, not merely paper thin and entirely midrange tonally, but the only one subjected to the mono speaker setup…then given a few tracks to play with and descant over one another. Possibly three guitar tracks, all sounding like utter shit, but mixed together front and center above the more traditional studio recordings of the rest of the band. Warned you it was really weird…

Either way…reminded me of Iscariot, and that’s a good thing.

Really liked this one too. (gasp! Is this some sort of record?)

BLOSSE – Nocturne (De Tenebrarum Principio) (November 29)

Long, drawn out and rather depressive Quebecois black metal.

Problem is, while you’d think this general sound and tracks that run from 15 to 20 minutes would deliver the expected introspective feel of travelling alone through vast Winter expanses of snow and desolation…there’s too much inappropriate, almost Charles Ives level of awkward polytonal clashing.

Sounds that have nothing to do with each other, whether rhythmically (in terms of meter) or sonically (in terms of harmony, melody or key) just get layered atop each other for no apparent reason. While the overall sound is of pensive droning, even beyond the band bashing away and shrieking too much at many a point…there’s all this background noise from the TV or whatever filling the recording just as loudly as whatever the band was trying to lay down.

Sorry, guys…a bit less stupid ass artsy-fartsy bullshit, you could’ve been decent.

Instead of another piece of shit for the fire.

WHIZZZ!!!

Damn, pieces of that flew in all kinds of directions…must have been all those weird and inappropriate collage recordings clashing with each other!

…next?

MERDA MUNDI – Hatred (Malpermesita Records) (October 18)

You know, we have a local college “metal” station. Back in the day, I used to know several of the DJs and a station manager or two, and had I pushed even a slight bit more for it, could’ve been one there myself (seriously, I was in talks with a few of ’em, all friends, mind, about doing just that).

Problem was, unlike your usual college station, there were no DJ-directed genre programs or (largely) self-driven playlists. Instead, they had a surprisingly strict dictated playlist (from labels or management was unclear, suffice to say, this was how it worked), and with allotted space for listener requests every hour, this left almost zero DJ/engineer directed choice of what music got played.

Seriously. The station, despite its unique status as the only (more or less) fulltime daily metal radio in the tri-state area (others, like Bill Zebub and company were relegated to a trio of Saturday daytime shifts or like Matt O’Shaunessy’s Midnite Metal, overnight on late Saturday evening) was apparently viewed by campus bigwigs as just a means of practice and preparation for communications majors and a forum for local basketball game coverage (plus weekend slots alotted for public service programs of various extremely boring types, which DJs were expected to engineer for as part of the job rotation), particularly given the “satanic panic” scares of the time that resulted in a major purge of all the station’s metal records.

While fans donated money and CDs to replace much of same, listeners were forced to deal with comparative shit like Yes, Rush and Zeppelin, which the malfeasants of campus apparently deemed “safe enough” to air…this painful period went on for several months to a year, yet.

I’d always held mixed feelings about having passed on the opportunity, given that I’d have found myself so hogtied (the whole point is to introduce folks to all the cool shit they’re missing, isn’t it? Why a goddamn playlist, this ain’t professional network advertisting paid radio!) and if memory serves on where this fell on the timeline, possibly caught during that awful purge (with rare exceptions, “classic rock” is like pulling teeth for yours truly)…but then again, looking back…yeah, I probably should’ve gone for it, after all. You win some, you lose some, particularly when you’re young and dumb (and adamant about what’s right, man!)

So it was with some measure of horror that I remained an increasingly more unfaithful listener to the station as the years went by, and they started filling the airwaves with grunge…and aggro…and screamo…and…wait, are they doing a doom show on a certain night now?  Hey, they play a lot of power metal in the AM all of a sudden?  Was that a trad metal or thrash song thrown in there?

Oh, never mind, here comes the screaming and shrieking of emo, djent and metalcore again. And there’s the kiss of death…fucking Metal Sucks is working with ’em. That choice of moniker says all you need to know about those losers and what they consider “metal”…

But yeah. All of this to circle around to this perfectly shit one man bedroom band screamo meets Atari Teenage Riot by way of (post?) black/whatever thing…it sounds EXACTLY like the kind of pimply faced teenage scream your tonsils out because that makes it COOL, man, that’s so METAL (because it’s got nothing whatsoever to do with metal, but what do these zitbags know?), DUDE! that would get played on the station nowadays, with concert tour and promotion provided by Metal Sucks (who can blow me, before they fade away into a well deserved oblivion.)

Nothing personal, you guys just wouldn’t know metal if it bit you so hard in the ass that bone showed.

Hatred? Damn straight, I hated this.

You will too.

Dzö-nga – Thunder In The Mountains (Avantgarde Music) (February 7)

And another one we seemed to enjoy profusely for their last effort, The Sachem’s Tales, this is more of the same light and airy “beauty” clean soprano female vocals contrasted with a far too frequent snarling black metallish male croak, over heavily piano based, bombastic folk/pagan symphonic metal setting.

The best tracks are the ones that lean more midtempo and accentuate Grushenka Odegard’s pleasant pipes (“the death of Minnehaha”, “heart of coal”), while the more aggressive, male dominated tracks like “a soul to burn” sound like they belong on a completely different album, if not to an entirely different band.

Even so, the general feel here is of a Native American-obsessed Elvenking crossed with Manegarm, but with femme-fronted symphonic metal tapped just enough to make the whole affair special.

It’s not perfect…but more of Odegard and less of “Cryvas'” unholy croaks is all that’s really required to make this another essential slab of post-Skyclad, post-Epica goodness.

Apokryphon – Subterra (Avantgarde Music) (February 14)

Swiss one-woman (post-)black metal bedroom band.

There’s a lot of ambient business here (generally disposed towards a Moroccan/Turkish sonic orientalism) which eventually explodes into a curious mix of throbbing tremelo riffing (which sounds fine) and weird nigh-atonality and modalism (which doesn’t work quite so well, and just leaves the whole thing feeling somewhat awkward).

I guess we can keep this short and to the point, and give it a split ticket. The ambient bits are fine, and while hardly “exotic” in a post-Nile world, provide a bit of color to the palette, while the oddly chunky (in a hollow and mids-driven way) tremelo riffing provides genre familiarity if not comfort.

Its the rest of it that fails, dropping off into abject experimentalism without apparent aim.