Welcome to Heavy Metal Spotlight! On here you can find reviews and features about metal bands both known to many, and known to few. Sharing my discoveries, or adding to the discussion about well known metal music is something I deeply enjoy, and I'm delighted that it reaches people who are interested from time to time. Don't forget to like the facebook page to keep up to date more easily with what I'm reviewing, to make suggestions about reviews, and the blog in general, and to annoy me as much as you please.

Monday, 31 August 2015

#383 The Ruins of Beverast - Rain Upon the Impure

The Ruins of Beverast have been something of a stand-out band of the black metal scene over the last decade or so, offering a unique take on the darkness and atmospheric elements present in the genre - and if you're skimming through, I dare suppose that praise summarises this review as a whole. In the process, the band has created some of the most thick, substantial and successfully ambitious records the genre has ever seen, whilst at every hurdle succeeding in avoiding the trappings of gratuitousness, pretentiousness and insincerity. Whilst I could have reviewed any of the bands four full-length albums happily, my focus today falls on "Rain Upon the Impure", which, as my introduction to the band at the start of this year, cements it as one of their most significant works, in my mind. By coincidence as much as anything else, it also appears to be one of their most highly regarded works throughout the community at large.

"Rain Upon the Impure" is 79-minutes long. Not because that's about as much as you can fit on a CD, nor out of any pretentiousness; the album is not needlessly extended, but is such a sonic leviathan  because it needs to be. It works that way. The record is as a vast set of catacombs, in which the listener is engulfed and overwhelmed by its murkiness and vast, sprawling scale. Through the gloom, sublimely absorbing choral atmospherics ensnare and widen the eyes; a surreal descent through vast subterranean ritual halls. None of the run-time is wasted; all contributing to the individual beauty and atmosphere of its moments and tracks, while also forming a rich and cohesive whole; an album which, despite having a length which could easily be considered to be "hard work", nonetheless feels healthy and well utilised. The whole thing drips and oozes with atmosphere, cavernous but coherent, superbly composed and constructed as it churns and undulates. The crawling, pulsating soundscape lures the listener into a darkness which to the untrained ear may resemble that which many black-metal records can conjure, but which is nonetheless different. In a genre where albums often take the listener to unusual places, The Ruins of Beverast take the listener to somewhere before unexplored. While the occult atmosphere carries a striking familiarity - that's easy enough to grant - it also takes the black metal sound to Cyclopean subterranean depths to create something which no other band seems to.

The hazard which often befalls albums with extremely long songs - or simply long albums - is that of songs meandering purposelessly, or outliving their welcome. Through one factor or another, this simply does not appear to be true of "Rain Upon the Impure". Looking at a piece such as the album closing title-track reveals a 14-minute behemoth of a song in which every second is nonetheless utilised; lean and mean, but nonetheless enormous. Perhaps to reiterate the above, much about the album is so vast because it needs to be. It's a testament to strong song-writing ability to create a record of such magnitude with very few, if any, moments which leave the listener idle or bored of the soundscapes being offered up. As well as being compositionally impressive, "Rain Upon the Impure" demonstrates equally impressive musicianship; the drumming hits a level in terms of precision, technique and endurance which most black-metal drummers can only dream of, resulting in a deeply pleasing percussive integrity and intensity throughout. The choices with regards to guitar tone, sampling, and vocal-style all also collaborate excellently in the mission of rendering the album magnificent in its execution, whilst simultaneously avoiding many of the production-related follies which befall most one-man projects. Indeed, the testimony of my ears to my mind suggests that the record is one with very, very little wrong with it at all. 

 "Rain Upon the Impure" is truly a record of advantage without disadvantage. Vast without being bloated, unusual and bizarre without being comical or excessive. Crushing without sacrificing clear and potent production values... the list goes on. The record is an epic one in the earnest and meaningful sense of the word. For my money, it deserves to be held aloft aside almost any of the very best that the last ten years has to offer - within black metal, extreme metal in general, or even metal as a whole.

This is a 9.5/10.

The Ruins of Beverast on Bandcamp
The Ruins of Beverast on Facebook
The Ruins of Beverast on Metal Archives 

Saturday, 25 July 2015

#382 Obituary - Slowly We Rot

Death metal is - in the grand scheme of my journey through metal - one of the later sub-genres that I discovered. I mention this fairly often. Consequently, it still has among the largest selection of "essential-listening" bands that I have yet to explore fully and properly, or have only got around to listening to fairly recently. While in the last few years, I have gone from a very rudimentary understanding of the genre to a slightly broader appreciation of it, there remain plenty of gaps still to be filled in the path towards seeing the bigger-picture. One such gap was, until recently, one of the titans of the early Florida death metal scene; Obituary.

The interesting thing about listening to a band as influential as Obituary so late-on is that I've ran into a number of bands who were heavily influenced by the style before listening to the originators. In fact, in my understanding of death-metal, there was an exactly Obituary-shaped gap... which means that by the time I'd listened to a couple of records - namely the first three - I reached the conclusion that Obituary were more or less exactly the band I expected them to be, sound-wise. The consequence of this, among other things, is that by being so... expected... "Slowly We Rot" has left me in a state of indecision. Has discovering the band after listening to a fair bit of death metal already demystified their appeal and impact? The fact that Obituary embody not only most of the hallmarks of classic death metal, but almost all of the hallmarks which I genuinely enjoy seems to contrast with the fact that I'm discovering a band at a point in my listening where I'm almost jaded and desensitized by a number of the conventions of the genre. Of course, Obituary were more a convention setting band than a convention upholding band... but nonetheless, at times it feels like I've been unfortunate in listening to so many bands who follow a similar style first, as opposed to being blown away by discovering Obituary four or five years ago. That's an issue which has nothing to do with Obituary's music however, and everything to do with my taste, as a time-line. The fact I'm not blown-away by Obituary is entirely my fault for listening to them at - arguably - the wrong point in my exploration of the genre.

Music is, in many respects, a subjective experience, but I do think it will prove worth my while to try to skim the jaded feelings out of the way, and try to focus more on the musical substance of "Slowly We Rot" itself, for while I perhaps wasn't in the correct mood to be excited by it, there is certainly a swathe of elements in the record to be excited about. The rude, power-tool tone and well-cobbled riffs both ooze with a huge Celtic Frost influence - perhaps the most overt of any of the classic death metal acts, with the same rewarding effects; a lot of the tracks depart from their thrashy roots to deliver a crushing and dripping malignity, as the record romps through everything that old-school death metal does best. It succeeds in being intense, heavy, and above all, slightly-scary - probably even more so in 1989. It's the natural step-up from the early work of bands like Death, which was less of a progression stylistically from thrash. Indeed, you can very much appreciate the natural move towards extremity in the twilight-years of thrash-metal, as expressed sonically on a record like this. The merits of the record, in this light, are multitudinous; representing a step in the codification of death-metal into a genre, with its fantastically over-the-top heavy tone and crushing tracks. While to me, Obituary might prima facie feel like a chapter I accidentally missed, in a book that I managed to follow the plot of anyway, that does not mean that the chapter is without merits; quite the opposite. "Slowly We Rot" is splendid.

In my mind, Obituary is still a newcomer to the nexus of my musical taste. With time, however, I have confidence that the music will sink-in more fully, and open itself more readily for my appreciation for its own merits, as opposed to any extraneous baggage which the bands context in my musical journey brings. I look forward to being able to enjoy "Slowly We Rot" more fully with time, and for all of my discussion above, my appreciation for it is already growing. While my brief forays into their later work are considerably less promising, their early work is a growing dot on the map of my love of old-school death metal.

This is an 8/10.

Obituary Official Site
Obituary on Bandcamp
Obituary on Facebook
Obituary on Metal Archives  

Saturday, 11 July 2015

#381 Mortuary Drape - Secret Sudaria

As far as I know, the metal-scene in Italy never quite hit the heights of many of the others countries in Europe, at least in terms of producing well-known bands. Most people who have been into metal for a while could name half a dozen German bands... Sodom, Paradox, Running Wild, Kreator, Desaster, Blind Guardian... it's not too difficult. I'm not so sure I would succeed in doing the same with Italy... at least, not without a much longer pause to think about it. But what Italy seems, at least prima facie, to lack in terms of hard-hitters in the genre, it certainly seems to make up for in terms of quality. I don't need to list half-a-dozen Italian metal bands just now, and the reason why? Mortuary Drape count as at least seven, single-handedly.

It's a difficult task to think of one word or phrase to describe Mortuary Drape, such is the extent to which the band's sound is a vast and chimerical one. "Secret Sudaria" is no exception, and seems to do its utmost to bring a huge and diverse range of elements to the table. Indeed, it's almost confusing as a listener when one tries to decide which paradigm to listen to the music in. Fun, or grim? The only answer seems to be found in trying to take stock of everything at once. Rapid-picking and thrashy sections appeal to the old-school 80's thrash sensibilities in their sharp and athletic sound. Frequent d-beats and prominent bass then varnish the album in an almost Motorhead-esque sheen of filth and cruising nastiness, elevated further by the evil but extravagant solos. The rumbling and jagged riffs are among the best I've heard in any sub-genre of metal, reconciling the dynamic riff work with a cavernous and morbid atmosphere, particularly in the world-devouring vocal delivery. Infectious though much of the album may be, it still looms over the listener with infernal and malign intent, vomiting-forth from the grave with malice, for all of its bounce and swagger. It isn't doused in "necrosound", but it carries a distinct and flavoursome evil in its veins - it doesn't need to be scathingly raw.

The dominant elements of death metal and black metal likewise interact in interesting ways throughout the running time of the record, with the album maintaining an ability to writhe with the energy of old-school death metal, but also descend into a crushing and devilish darkness. It's a coming together of flavours, somehow both morbid and, for want of a better word, rocking, following-on from bands like their fellow countrymen Bulldozer in doing so. Indeed, while perhaps not the culmination - if any album could ever claim to be such - "Secret Sudaria" very much represents a buffet of some of the very best ideas and recurring tropes that metal had accumulated from its inception right through to 1997, when the record was released. It's not that the album itself is diffuse in identity, or gratuitously eclectic, either; the songs have a fixed and consistent style throughout, giving it great cohesion through its runtime. Instead, what seems to have happened is that Mortuary Drape are a band who sit so thoroughly betwixt the archetypal products of the various subgenres from which they take influence, it's impossible not to sit-up and notice the resultant amalgam. It's the sort of record which will challenge you if you try to be too meta. The most enjoyment it can offer, as writing this review has taught me, is when one listens to it without thinking too deeply into what it is, but savouring simply how it is.

Mortuary Drape have outright rocketed into being among my favourite extreme-metal acts, and with albums like Secret Sudaria appealing to more or less my every preference with regards to metal, it's in many ways unsurprising. While the band seem to be a treasure of the underground, reserved only for those who go looking, I nonetheless thoroughly recommend anyone with a vague interest in extreme metal to seek their material out.

This is a 9.5/10.

Mortuary Drape Official Site
Mortuary Drape on Facebook
Mortuary Drape on Metal Archives