Wednesday, 29 June 2011

#062 Bathory - Under the Sign of the Black Mark

I usually try to stray away from albums which are untouchable classics, but few of Bathory's releases are not classics in some way. I've regarded a Bathory review as an inevitability for a while now, being a massive fan of the band - and the only hurdle to overcome was to find an album to do so with. "Under the Sign of the Black Mark", the third album, has risen to being my choice.

The album marks something of a turning point within Bathory's sound - and the move towards a more epic sound, which would become apparent in the follow up album "Blood Fire Death" begin to become apparent in this album, in a way which it was not in it's two predecessors. While still thrashy, Quorthon at this point seemed comfortable to go with a more atmospheric, slower approach, which is exemplified in tracks such as "Enter the Eternal Fire", which is one of the strongest tracks on the album, with a dark, epic and vast feel to it, which was very much the shape of things to come. The album is definitely well balanced, in this respect, with other tracks, such as "Equimanthorn" retaining the speed and pounding drumbeats of Bathory's previous two offerings. Many consider the band to be one of the founders of black-metal as it is known today, and I'd certainly say that this album in particular gives a strong contribution to early-black-metal; While lacking some of the quintessential features of black-metal, this album certainly points in the direction.

The production of "Under the Sign of the Black Mark" is somewhat clearer, crisper, than it's two predecessors, however, not too much so. This is another example of the albums excellent balance, with the raw, dirty, thrash metal style tracks being catered for, but the epic parts of the album also receive some emphasis, and are boosted by the slightly cleaner production values. The albums darkness is probably the greatest of all of the bands works - The increase in atmosphere moves the sound away from the dirty-thrash sound of the first two albums, and towards a true proto-black-metal sound, especially in songs such as "13 Candles" which seems the darkest track on the album to me. Quorthon's slower paced guitar work is extremely pleasing to listen to, and has more form than the faster thrash work, which is pleasing too, but in a different fashion.

Listening to this album felt, to me, to be the sound of black-metal being carved out of the ancient rock. Anyone who enjoys black metal, I'd definitely recommend this to, if you haven't heard it already, that is. The album has the sound of a classic, and it's reputation is well deserved.

R.I.P Quorthon.

I give this album 9/10.

Bathory on Myspace
Bathory on Metal Archives

Friday, 24 June 2011

#061 Cangaço - Positivo

Brazillian folk music fused with death-metal, you say? Could that possibly work? Cangaço,  a band from  Recife, Brazil, have offered up compelling evidence in support of the idea that it can. "Positivo" is the bands first EP, and in the five tracks which the band produce a unique blend of sounds the likes of which I have never before heard, in a show of true originality.

I definitely can't claim to know much - if anything - about Brazillian folk music, however, the characteristics it appears to have come out very nicely in the mix, and the ratio of metal-to-folk seems to be very good. Not so metal as to be insignificant, but not so folky as to diminish from the works heaviness. What emerges is not the gimmicky, somewhat sterile offerings made by some folk-metal bands, but instead is a very solid, pleasing collection of songs. The folk adds a somewhat jumpy, almost upbeat style to the metal, and many of the guitar techniques which must be used in the folk are apparent. Musically, all of the musicians are solid, and play consistently and competently, adept in both of the styles within the musical fusion. Commitment to the folk aspect of the music is apparent - as each, and every, track has something overtly influenced by the folk on it, suggesting the band have become comfortable and lucid within their unique style.

The entire EP has a sort of energy which I've never heard from any death metal, or folk metal band before. The music manages to be upbeat, yet serious and possessing a very much appreciable heaviness, while also retaining the community-like, narrative attributes of folk music around the world. The production also seems to help to this end, with a very organic sound - everything has it's place, it's "balance" in the mix, with each instrument complimenting each other. It's noteworthy that the band don't need to resort to a single folk instrument to create the music, relying only upon the instruments traditional within metal, although it's probably helped by the fact that a lot of guitar work goes on in folk music of the kind which the band fused to metal. All in all, the mixtures of musical style, and the overall sound of the work, in it's own right, it very pleasing, and is thoroughly enjoyable.

The music in "Positivo" is certainly very different, and certainly isn't in-fitting with established metal convention. If your looking for something old-school, of a well established style, there is no question that this probably isn't for you, and for death metal, it's certainly not as heavy as you'd expect, but regardless, It's impressive, fascinating, and I can't deny that I love it.

I feel that for true originality, I must give "Positivo" 10/10.

Cangaço on Myspace (With a link to freely download the EP)
Cangaço on Metal-Archives

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

#060 Petrychor - Effigies and Epitaphs

Petrychor seem to be one of those bands which, despite being thoroughly underground, are being disproportionately well recieved in metal communities, and by others. The band's style is hard to fathom, however, the band's website describes their sound as "Black metal laced with folk, avant-garde classical, and other musical interests." which sums it up far more thoroughly than I possibly could. "Effigies and Epitaphs" is the band's first full length album.

There's something very inventive about the entire album, and the music has a very unique twist. Most of the songs have woven into them some extremely competent acoustic playing, in a variety of styles, from a fairly traditional style, to folky, fingerstyle-type work which adds to the project's uniqueness. On the other side of the coin, the heavy elements of the music are also intriguing. While on paper, the music produced - blastbeats, and other heavy drumming styles, shrieking, and other techniques associated with black metal would, theoretically, be extremely heavy and raw, what results is, in-fact, an immersing wall of music which gives a melancholy, explorable, and uniquely evocative soundscape in which the listener can roam. While many atmospheric black-metal bands do this, Petrychor has an unique character, inviting the listener to explore a wilderness ravaged and broken by mankind, and lament.

Compared to the bands which bear and similarity which I've heard previously, Petrychor are much more murky in this release, with a powerful, almost booming undercurrent, with lead guitar and vocals flowing beautifully over the top of what is, frankly, everything else. in this murky undercurrent, many sounds are present, but exist not as much independently, more as a blend, dependant on each other, but bearing no one resemblance. What first appeared to me to be weak production is, in fact, part of the atmosphere. Everything sounds to me to be as it was intended within the record, and with this record, "everything" is a pretty massive term - the album has a lot going on in it.

Overall, this is a fascinating album, and one which has all the potential to become a cult-classic. While not mainstream black-metal, by anyone's standards, this is still a widely acclaimed release, and listening to it, after a while, about a month, of it slowly growing on me, I thoroughly enjoy it.

I give "Effigies and Epitaphs" 9/10.

Petrychor Official site
Petrychor on Bandcamp
"Effigies and Epitaphs" on  Khrysanthoney records

Monday, 20 June 2011

#059 Dissolution - Plague of Violence

New Zealand isn't known as a huge hub of heavy-metal, especially on a global scale. I don't, to be perfectly honest, know particularly many bands from the nation, however, fortunately, the ones which I do know of seem to be pretty good. Dissolution are one of these bands, who have an individual, and interesting take on thrash-metal,  as demonstrated by their first release; "Plague of Violence"

"Thrash Hammer" the albums opening track, immediately sets the tone of the oncoming barrage of thrashy goodness. A virtuoso like solo breaks into a heavy-as-hell thrash song, with black-thrash and death metal influences, along with the more eighties, traditional style of the lead-guitar. The band consistently emphasise their solos, which, together with the other pieces of lead-guitar work, are often the crowning features of the  songs, creating an epic feel amid the growls and one-hundred mile-hour maelstrom of aggression. This aggression is, however, punctuated by moments of beauty. The epic feeling lead work, and, in the case of "Evil Belle", entirely clean songs, showing that the band has many directions, and isn't stuck constantly in one gear, which so many bands sadly are.

The album seems to have a great many angles within it, and each song has it's own character, while being, at the same time, at home among the others on the album. Genre wise, the sound is difficult to classify. The harsh vocals are in places reminiscent of black-thrash, or death-thrash, as are many of the techniques, such as the tremolo picking, evoking a dark atmosphere, and giving the impression of black-thrash, which is balanced by the slow, crushing parts of songs like "Bi Polar", which has a plodding intro reminiscent of bands like Bolt Thrower. However, there are also the features of traditional thrash, especially in terms of the lead guitar, and in a number of the riffs. All in all, the album seems hard to put in any one category. Maybe this is a good thing, as it makes the listener enjoy the music for it's own merits - I certainly wasn't sure what to seek as I listened, which helped me appreciate many of the aspects of the music for what they were, and what they were was impressive.

"Plague of Violence" is certainly an impressive album, and should definitely receive better recognition than it does. What made the album for me was the Lead guitar, which I have mentioned continuously. It's what I can only describe as sounding like a cross between Alex Skolnick and Chris Poland.

I give the album 8/10. It deserves it.

Dissolution on Myspace
Dissolution on Bandcamp (You can download the album for free here)
Dissolution on Metal Archives

Friday, 17 June 2011

#058 Municipal Waste - Hazardous Mutation

I'm usually into more serious thrash, but recently, I've felt more exploratory towards all of it's forms, and, to this end, decided to investigate Municipal Waste, a young, energetic crossover-thrash band with, in this album, and most of their others, fun, beer-fueled lyrics, as opposed to the political, angry themes of the majority of thrash I'd listened to. Of their four studio albums, "Hazardous Mutation" seemed to nicely sum-up the band's style.

This album doesn't have any slow songs. It doesn't have any long songs either, the longest being a massive 2:38. Having been someone who considered Toxic Holocaust songs to be short, this album absolutely flew by, but, at the same time, had a lot to say. It's not that the songs shortness takes their meaning, instead, the songs are simply immensely fast and frantic, in order to fit as much content into the short space of time each song is allocated. The vocals are almost entirely spat out at machine-gun speed, and seldom is a lyric understandable without some degree of consultation with google. Nonetheless, the vocals epitomise fast, reckless, and undoubtedly beer-fueled thrash, at it's fastest, and most fun. The lyrics don't take themselves too seriously, nor are they mind-bendingly deep - they neither need to be, nor want to be. And they work that way.

From a technical point of view, the musicianship is pretty tight from all corners, and manages to stay integrated, even at the highest of speeds. While the riffs over which vocals are flowing are sometimes bordering on bland, while nonetheless fast, the real skill of the band is exemplified by the gems which are scattered liberally around the songs - the "thrash" bits, as opposed to the punk influenced areas. These gems hint at the band's ability, and also bolster the songs catchiness, doing a good job, for the most part, of preventing the songs from sounding too thoroughly similar to one another, which is still, undeniably, a factor - the vocal patterns, especially, follow very traditional, dare-I-say predictable paths, although, generally, this is prevented from being overly detrimental to the song-quality by their length - the songs on the album don't attack as individuals, they attack as a swarm of moshable two-minute entities.

Overall, "Hazardous Mutation" is a solid, consistent album. It is quite clear that Municipal Waste is a band which knows what it's doing, and isn't afraid to do it. Not only does it show definite direction, it it also thoroughly enjoyable, when in the right mood.

I give the album 7/10.

Municipal Waste on Myspace
Municipal Waste on Metal-Archives

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

#057 Hooded Menace - Never Cross the Dead

Hooded Menace are one of those bands which are formed by a group of individuals who already heavily experienced in the music world, with both of the members involved in the recording having come from relatively successful previous bands. The band are a fusion of death and doom metal, very much in the vein of bands like Asphyx, which can't be a bad thing.

The mix of death and doom in "Never Cross the Dead" seems to be very nicely measured out, with extremely dark, sinister parts, blended with epic, slow paced and melodic sections. The entire album is also stuffed with extremely noticeable, heavily emphasised slow-to-mid tempo solos, with there usually being a few per song.
Somehow, the band manage to use techniques not commonly associated with death metal, or indeed particularly with doom metal, especially the use of harmonies, and other forms of "non-brutal" guitarwork which my limited guitar-vocabulary cannot quite explain, but I can assure you, you will notice upon listening to it. All in all, the blend of genres creates a brutal but beautiful concoction, which is definitely a case of the best-of-both-worlds, as opposed to two genres cancelling each other out.

The productions of the album are pleasingly thick - there's plenty of low end, earthy depth, but this does not compromise the higher parts of the music. The guitars especially, have a very enjoyable quality to them, with deep  resonant riffs, complimented by smooth, fluid lead, without too much fuzziness or treble. The vocals sit on top very well, seeming to fit snugly amongst the other instruments, and are one of the major sources of brutality within what is an album of much contrast, between the doom-metal epicness, and the aforementioned brutality. The mixture, when blended, is some pretty fantastic sounding metal. The combination of the death metal elements, and the earthy, booming elements of the doom, I will reiterate, is a fantastic combination.

The album manages, quite effectively, to be consistent throughout, sticking loyally to a single style. Of course, if your persuasion is to do so, you could interpret that to mean that all of the tracks are a "all the same" to a degree. I'm not going to deny that this is a little bit true, however, I think the band stick to a style, as opposed to simply creating an album which is excessively "samey"

I give the album 7/10.

Hooded Menace on Myspace
Hooded Menace on Metal Archives

Saturday, 11 June 2011

#056 Alestorm - Back Through Time

Alestorm are a relatively well known folk/power metal band from Scotland. "Back Through Time" marks their third voyage accross the seven seas, and, much like their previous albums, the band mixes epic sounding tales of swashbuckling quests with tounge in cheek humour, and generally what can only be described as "fucking about", in the most charming sense of the word.

Behind the lush cover art, Alestorm are a damn consistent band of scallywags. Musically, "Back Through Time" is very much like it's predecessors. Fun, at times epic sounding riffs combined with the piratey melodies from one of those keyboard-guitars, combined with reliable bass and drumwork. On top of this resound the traditional pirate-esque vocals of the earlier work, with catchy choruses, which I don't hesitate to presume improve exponentially with the listeners rum consumption. If anything, Alestorm's catchiness has only increased over the years, and I, personally, find this album to be the most catchy so far, and is a rewarding listen, if you get the humour behind it, atleast. It's not deadly serious, but it's not downright silly, it's simply fist pumping, party n' pirates heavy metal banter.

There is certainly more humour and randomness in this album than in it's it's predecessors. While the two albums before it were chiefly pirate based, many of the songs on this album are non-piratey in essence, but have had a piratey twist added on to them - for instance "Buckfast Powersmash" is about a mighty concoction with little relevance to piracy. While many of Alestorm's previous songs have been about alcohol, they references are much more overt on this album. The album does, however, have an epic side, with songs like "Death Throes of the Terrorsquid" being excellent power-metal pieces by anyone's standards, and features some guest vocals by Ken Sorceron of Abigail Williams, which gives the track a vocal edge which makes the song stand out.

Of course, if you don't get Alestorm, this album isn't going to help very much, and I wouldn't recommend it to any of the "Trve Kvlt, only listen to second-hand cassette tapes of songs recorded in ancient pine-forests" variety of listener, or indeed to anyone who likes deadly-serious music, however, if you let the album appeal to the fun side, it's a rewarding and enjoyable listen.

I give "Back Through Time" a respectable 7/10.

Alestorm on Myspace
Alestorm Official site
Alestorm on Metal-Archives

Thursday, 9 June 2011

#055 Enslaved - Frost

In the early days of black-metal, there were a limited number of stylistic paths that a band could go down. Darkthrone, Mayhem, Burzum and their type went down a path of atmospheric, extreme, and eerie metal. Enslaved, on the other hand, were a bit different. While still maintaining a black-metal sound, Enslaved created a more crisply produced, keyboard enhanced brand of viking influenced black metal. Frost is an album which very much shows this in full force.

Enslaved immediately stick out as being different to the other black-metal bands of the time, and many audible factors contribute to this. The use of atmospheric sound, horns, and other viking-invoking instruments being conjured by keyboard, and the occasional use of clean vocals, for example in "Yggdrasil", setting the album apart from the other pioneers of the day. The intense atmosphere is complemented by many of the staple-sounds of black metal - Thunderous, blast-beat filled drumming, and tremolo-pick guitar driving the album forward strongly, in an unmistakeably black-metal vein. Vocally, "Frost" makes use of what i'd consider my "favourite" style of black metal vocal - harsh, but evocative, as opposed to simply brutal.

The Viking influence is also very clear. The keyboard elements create a Bathory-esque sound, albeit colder, darker, and more sinister. Enslaved's take on viking-metal is not evocative of valour, honour and pillage, but instead of the strange and surreal, bloody and  world of norse-mythology - giants, gods, and the darkness of the Nordic winter. The songs on frost are intensely listenable. Enslaved's work on Vikingir Veldi was extremely long, generally, and while epic, was hard to absorb. Frost is different - each song feels self contained, and most are very memorable, a fact which is especially aided by the profusion of synth, which adds a dash of true uniqueness to each song.

Production wise, the album is neither here-nor-there. The production does not let the album down, but doesn't bolster it in any way. The lower end seems a little lacking. The drums are excellent, with a typical black-metal sound, with deep, thundering fills, and steady beats, however, there seems to be a bit of a lack of bass, which takes away a bit of the albums momentum and richness... however, the nature of the songs themselves more than compensate.

I give Frost 8/10.

Enslaved on Myspace
Enslaved Official site
Enslaved on Metal-Archives

The Crude but effective suggestions post

Well, If anyone reading have suggestions for bands they'd like me to lend my ear to and review, They're  more than welcome to post on this - I know it seems a bit of a workaround system, but hopefully it'll work okay. I don't mind how big, or obscure the bands are, so long as their material is accessible, through Youtube, bandcamp, or as a CD or Mp3 download. I'm relatively against torrenting, so I won't be able to get ahold of any of the music in that way.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

#054 Undying - A Haunt Within The Mist

When it comes to wondering what style of black-metal Undying's lengthy, and well-recorded demo (some say it's an album) - "A Haunt Within The Mist" is going to be, I think the sound of crows cawing at the start of the first track says it all. It's from the epic, melancholy, pine-trees and emptiness school of black metal. The band haven't done anything since, and this was released in 2006, but if they do, I'll be looking forward to it, on the strength of this.

 Undying seem very reminiscent of bands like Wodensthrone, and others of that ilk. Especially vocally - Making use of the echoey vocals which add to the albums atmosphere, giving it a melancholy sense that this kind of black-metal usually overflows with. This album is no exception. The guitars too, seem to have a lot of character. Unlike many atmospheric black metal bands, The guitars here are not simply a "wall of noise" which exists only to be a vehicle for the synth-sound, but are, instead, memorable and evocative, without being merely a drone - Sometimes the bits which make the guitar sound great are the bits with no noise in them. The synth effects are also enjoyable, being used in more moderation than you might expect in some songs. This makes them even more rewarding, as they become a treat, as opposed to a constant. The albums final track, "Beneath The Shroud Of Midnight", is an almost entirely synthesized piece, and is utterly beautiful. The drums, too, are a lot more crisp and awake-feeling than many of the atmospheric black metal bands out there, which may be down to the production.

Atmospherically, this album is vast, expansive and gives an air of melancholy, loneliness, and a vast sorrow of some bygone day - Staple evocations of an album in this style. Undying produce these well, with their own unique fingerprint thrown-in. While many bands produce an atmosphere of melancholy and bygone days, Undying add a sinister, possessed, and lurking presence to their music, creating a sound both beautiful and ominous, but also powerful... almost headbang inducing in some places, which much atmospheric black metal is not.

Not the most well known of bands, Undying are, sadly, after much Youtube searching, without videos of any kind. On the plus side, this entire album (demo, call it what you will) is available for free download at bandcamp. And its well worth it.

I give this album 10/10.

Undying on Myspace
Undying on Metal-Archives
Undying on Bandcamp (With album free for download)

A Thankyou

Once again, I feel I must thank one of the artists I have reviewed - This time Adam Kalmbach, the man behind the one-man experimental black-metal project Jute Gyte. I reviewed Jute Gyte's latest album, "Verstiegenheit" not long ago. The review was found, and, consequently, I've been sent Jute Gyte's three black-metal albums, which was extremely generous! My thanks go to Kalmbach, and I wish Jute Gyte success, and recommend it to anyone who likes some heavy-as-heck black metal with an experimental twist.

Incidentally, despite the profusion of tumbleweeds of late, I plan to get plenty of reviews done in the near future, as soon as I'm finished with the exams which have been slowing my output.