Saturday, 31 May 2014

#345 Triptykon - Melana Chasmata

It took me a long time to discover Celtic Frost - and even longer than that to come to enjoy Celtic Frost. Early Celtic Frost, that is. The band's later - and final - work, Monotheist, was an album which, to quite an extent, and for quite some time, I didn't fully understand, and for that same reason, it took me even longer to appreciate the style which it developed which, ultimately, now lives on in Triptykon. However, over the past few months, I've begun to cherish an appreciation, both of Monotheist, and of Triptykon, and where before I misunderstood the purpose and aim of the records, it seems that now, I've equipped myself with what's necessary to enjoy them. It is only proper, that being the case, that I now attempt to review the new Triptykon record, Melana Chasmata.

It's not always easy to talk about Triptykon without talking about Celtic Frost as well, and I've already opened that door fairly thoroughly above. However, I think it's important to refer to it in order to understand where the identity of Triptykon comes from. The ways in which Celtic Frost were most influential are, by my reckoning, not fully congruent with the bands aim, per se. The inspiration to a great deal of death, black and extreme metal with records like Morbid Tales and To Mega Therion is certainly the band's legacy, but one often gets the impression that Tom G Warrior aspired to create something bolder, larger, and more grandiose than those records. Triptykon, in my view, is precisely that vision being realised - with huge, expansive behemoths of records picking up where Monotheist left of, to finally reach for the territory which, by my reckoning, Tom G Warrior has always tended towards. Either way, Melana Chasmata resembles its predecessor; a monolithic great swathe of music; crushingly heavy, unique, and wildly experimental at times, the record justifies all of it's near seventy-minute run time with ease. The Giger artwork, the rich, thunderous and brooding atmosphere, the whole thing resultant of the union of its elements sounds apocalyptic, and indulgently complete.

Musically, which is something I really aught to focus on before I get side-tracked by history, Melana Chasmata greets us with that unmistakable Tom G Warrior guitar tone, and riff style; at times reminiscent of even the old Celtic Frost, but shrouded in atmosphere, as we are lead through energetic sections, doomy and brooding sections, and everything in-between. The style which Triptykon seems to have settled on is among the most crushing, and distinct, approaches to metal around, and the whole record carries on where the last left off. However, it's not "more of the same" in a pejorative sense - I'm certainly not tired of the style, and I think I vouch for many when I say that. Instead, the "more of the same" feels more like a "plenty more where that came from" - an assertion and a promise, not a threat. In fact, a clear effort has gone into making the records sequential - part of a set. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Triptykon maintain, perhaps while evolving, the same aesthetic for their duration, indeed, the album feels good for it, giving the band a purposeful, thematically consistent air which few bands maintain. The whole album uncoils over a tense, expressive running-time, at once hypnotic, ferocious, profound and evocative. It's the sort of album in which the listener can truly bask; become lost - even found again, as it washes through the speakers. It traverses everything from the intimate, soft and personal sections, right through to reverberating, wall-crumbling chords, ringing-in some vast, cosmic upheaval.

It's good timing... perhaps good may not be the word... but fortunate timing on my part to get into Triptykon in the run up to a new record. Just as Eparistera Daimones left me hoping to hear more, Melana Chasmata arrived and truly delivered - to my ear, it is every bit as good as its predecessor, leaving us with the question which we must all decide for ourselves... that is, how good is that? For me, the answer is very. I think I can safely say that I'm fully converted to Triptykon now.

This is an 9/10.

Triptykon Official Site
Triptykon on Facebook
Triptykon on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

#344 Witchfinder General - Death Penalty

Evening ladies and gentlemen, it's been a while - as ever, longer than I'd like. People think it's frustrating to have more to do than you have time in which to do it. Clearly, these people have never experiences the related problem of having plenty of time in which to do things, and still not getting them done. Regardless, it's about time I got another review done, and this time, we're turning our ears towards 1982's "Death Penalty" - Début full length effort by Witchfinder General, and a hugely influential early doom record, which, as with almost all records ever, I was really late to the party about.

Doom, as we know it today, has its roots in various places, but bands which brought close traditional and doom metal in the eighties - Witchfinder General being a very good example of such - are definitely a cornerstone in the genre's evolution. Deeper, more cavernous, and at times considerably more slow than many of their contemporaries in the at the time flourishing NWOBHM, Witchfinder General were something a bit different to the normal fair, and it shows. The vocals and riffs sit as a missing link between the instantly recognisable Black Sabbath sound (and, for that matter, instantly recognisable Black Sabbath influence upon Witchfinder General's sound) and the even more narcotic, rumbling tendencies which archetypical doom metal has come to have. As an album, Death Penalty has, for it's early appearance within the genre, many of the hallmarks of a doom metal record, leaping fully formed out of 1982. The guitar tone is thick and heavy, with satisfying crunch and sustain, differing from the treble-hungry sounds which were emerging at the time around the metal scene. Likewise, the vocals very much aspire to the hazy, Ozzy influenced sound which doom bands have been striving to make more and more strung-out and moderately crazed sounding ever since. In this record, they sit in the middle-ground, possessed with the same eerie charm as many of Ozzy's trademark vocal parts with Black Sabbath, while likewise having a echo and reverberating psychedelia to them which, for want of a better phrase, really boosts their doom. 

It might, however, be a mistake to consider Death Penalty - or the work of the band more generally - as simply conforming neatly to the stereotypes of the genre; there's more to it than that. The record pushes the envelope, particularly in terms of energy, going above and beyond the traditional call of duty when it comes to the genre's tempo... indeed, a lot of the record is played in a range of speeds more familiar within the traditional metal circle. Or course, it is perhaps wrong to assume that doom has to be slow, and as opposed to, as I saw some arguing, Death Penalty not being a doom record. I prefer to interpret the record as one showing that, akin to tracks such as Pentagram's Sign of the Wolf, doom can be quite a nippy, speedy genre. This swifter, more agile element of doom, as far as I'm concerned, is very much one which is neglected in the modern doom scene, and by all accounts should come back... indeed, if it has, let me know. I digress. As a less overly analytic take on the record, the best thing to focus on is probably something complementary to the riff-work; when I first discovered the band, my mind was somewhat blown by the riffs which the band had managed to conjure - every bit as dripping with spine-curling, hazy goodness as the other greats of the genre; Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus, Pentagram, and so forth. The record is a schooling in early doom, and one of the definitive examples of  mid-tempo doom riffs being used well. 

Witchfinder General were very much the sort of band which I, upon discovering their work, saw them as another piece of the giant jigsaw puzzle of metal. Probably one of the important edge-bits which need to go in first, at that. As ever, it's hypocritical perhaps for me to consider any band which I've only just discovered as being "essential"... but likewise, as ever, I fall back on a disclaimer; just because it's hypocritical, doesn't mean it isn't right. Do it for the riffs.

This is an 8.5/10.

Witchfinder General Official Site
Witchfinder General on Metal Archives

Sunday, 18 May 2014

#343 Fates Warning - Awaken the Guardian

This review requires me to talk about USPM. I'm not very good at it, and damn-it I don't know anything like as much about it as I should about it. Let that stand as a brief disclaimer before I leap more wholly into this review; it is a disclaimer which, indeed, might be best placed at the start of every review I write. If you ever catch yourself thinking that you're nearing the summit of metal... think again; there's plenty upward-more slope on the other side of that horizon, and this is proved to me time and time again. There will always be more bands to hear, more excitement, more discovery... and if you lose the will to discover more bands, perhaps you've lost touch with one of the most beautiful things about music. Regardless, it's time to review some Fates Warning, more specifically one of their longstanding mid-eighties classics, Awaken the Guardian.

If I'm not mistaken - which I say as a genuine hope, as opposed to any kind of assertion - Fates Warning fits among the USPM (United States power metal) scene somewhere-or-other. I'm not sure where exactly, but for now, never mind - the band also slots comfortably under the umbrella term of traditional metal, for our purposes. It can be easy, especially for the neophyte first embarking on the venture of traditional-metal, to inevitably ignore many of America's contributions to the genre, but to do so, as records like Awaken the Guardian show beyond all doubt, is a sad omission indeed.The album represents heavy metal at it's most grandiose and, in a phrase which may sound inherently contradictory, wholesomely pompous - it's not a record which holds back, and the atmosphere and dramatic sound is overt - few albums to this day come close to the glorious, rich and inventive sound which this one possesses - a sound which, more to the point, is inventive without interpreting the word as meaning "gratuitously unusual" - quite the opposite - Awaken the Guardian brings together a progressive element which laces the songs with an unpredictable but not outputting edge, while simultaneously the band cling to the coast of conventional metal enough to keep the warm welcome laid-out for the listener to enjoy - I have often said that the job of a good hook, lick or melody is to give the listener pleasure by being roughly what they would expect - but the best ones are ones which offer the listener new things to expect the next time around - and this album brings enough of those along for everyone.

The songs - in terms of riffs, leads and vocal structures, can only be commended for this ability to surprise and reassure at the same time, flowing smoothly but uniquely forth, with effective buildups, and , juxtaposing, equally effective surprises seeded throughout the entire record. Indeed, speaking of vocal structures, (something which the band are especially innovative with), some of the best choruses I've ever heard make an appearance on this record - the glorious crescendo of "Guardian", to name names, is a rush of breathtaking intensity, beauty, and memorability. Moments like that really exemplify the uplifting glory and virtuoso playing on the record, and the second of these points is definitely one worth remarking on; There is not a single musician on the record who doesn't know exactly what they're doing when it comes to playing, and this fact echoes in how the overall sound of the album - this is music made by very, very skilled people, from the dexterous, thoughtfully written - and played - guitars, right through to the genuinely impressive vocals and percussion, which blends being impressive and augmenting the songs, with likewise being unobtrusive on the other aspects of the music - a perfect mixture, and one which stands at the helm of a record which truly asserts it's uniqueness and classic status with every track, not a single one of which goes wrong. Awaken the Guardian is a record which scarcely ever put so much as a finger out of place, and you can really feel that when you listen.

Awaken The Guardian is heralded by a huge number of metal fans as a classic, but is, likewise definitely one destined to be more obscure than some of its peers - Too progressive and unpredictable, perhaps, for the true mainstream, it serves the role, in my collection at least, of being that record you're really glad that you took the gamble with. Every listen makes me enjoy it more - and it is the sort of record which you need to listen to a couple of times to appreciate, but I can testify that if you have a taste like mine, you'll be glad you did.

This is a 9/10 record.

Fates Warning Official Site
Fates Warning on Facebook
Fates Warning on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Live Review #010: Taake w/ Aeternus, Slegest and Noctem

Black-metal shows are often a bit hit and miss - ranging from truly captivating and steeped in atmosphere, right through to being quite disappointing affairs with sulky, unimpressed crowds, and musicians simply going through the motions on stage, regurgitating their studio material with a somewhat bored attitude. Consequently, I'm never quite sure what to expect when I go to see touring black-metal bands; will their performance - and the crowd's - be fair of foul? Usually, you can take a wild guess by how the band conduct themselves in general - are they divas? rock-stars? Are they professional or unprofessional? I've seen everything from Watain being unsurprisingly fun and rock-star like, with a pristine image and triumphant stage presence, through to much more underground acts like Mare, conducting their shows like a true ritual, captivating the crowd to simply stand and listen to the ceremony which unfolded. There are, in short, a huge number of ways which a black-metal show can be, and such is the genres diversity that you seldom see a show with quite the same atmosphere twice. Thoughts like this crossed my mind as I sat on the train through to Glasgow on my way to see Norwegian black-metal institution Taake - what sort of show was this one going to be?

Ivory Blacks is a reasonable venue - comfortable, and suitable for most of the medium-to-underground metal bands in circulation - bands like Eyehategod, Destroyer 666 and Vader have packed the place out quite nicely in the past, and, fairly consistently, acts have had good sound. Indeed, the place is never one I've heard very often mentioned in the context of disappointment; sure, I saw Vomitor there once with about seven people in attendance, but even then, the sound itself was fine. Regardless, I arrive with no idea what the turn out - or atmosphere - is going to be like. I enjoy Taake's studio material thoroughly, and have heard good things about Aeturnus, but beyond that, I have no idea how anything is going to sound, how many people are likely to show up, or anything of that sort. As the opening act, Spain's Noctem sound check, the attendance seems rather low - you could still count, without great effort, the number of people standing around. Fortunately, the numbers gradually grow over the course of the evening, to the point of being reasonably busy by it's conclusion.

Regardless, Noctem come on to a rather shy crowd, who are milling around the columns and generally in a bit of a sleepy mood - which is fairly normal; everyone has only just arrived, and one poor band at every metal show has to take one for the team. Fortunately, the sleepiness is something which the band manage to remedy a little by the end of their set. Musically, Noctem are quite pleasing - blackened death-metal with quite a good atmosphere thrown in, competently executed. The sound doesn't quite seem right, however - I can hardly hear the drummer, particularly the kick and snare drums, and the guitars initially have a very murky tone, with the leads being quite badly muffled. Fortunately, like the crowd, the sound conditions improve a little over the course of Noctem's set, enough to enjoy the band's work, which is energetic and engaging enough to overcome the shortcomings of the sound. The band have a hard time coaxing a great many people to come to the front, but nonetheless, everyone seemed to be reasonably impressed and enthused by what the band delivered, surpassing my expectations, and, by the sound of it, everyone else's too. The support acts may not have been bands I'd listened to prior to seeing them, but starting with Noctem, a trend emerged for them to be nonetheless extremely enjoyable, as opposed to unexciting.

Second up are Slegest. I initially expected a straight-up black-metal act, but was surprised, not unpleasantly, to hear something more akin to black n' roll, with elements from heavy and doom metal. Slegest play what, to my ear, sounds like Aura Noir playing Mercyful Fate covers, and the vast majority of their set was extremely catchy, memorable, and mid-paced. Not especially intense in the manner which the other three bands were, especially in terms of tempo, but offering a different, more rock n' roll section of the evening, and an enjoyable one, at that. The sound problems which befell Noctem has been near-enough completely fixed at this point, and from Slegest onward, the sound from the stage was nearly flawless to my ears, with the swaggering, doom-like blackened music played flawlessly, and with a good stage-presence by the band - they kept the audiences visual attention along with their listening. Support-act though they may have been, they left me with no doubt that they were very much a proper band, and, as with Noctem before them, seemed to pleasantly surprise the crowd - I can certainly rank them among the acts who I intend to listen to again.

Next are Aeternus, who deliver a mixture of death and black metal, all of it extremely explosive - the crowd has now swollen to the critical density at which enthusiasm is flourishing, and a lot of people thoroughly enjoy Aeternus' set. The music is intense, fierce, and easily as energetic as anything I've seen, give or take. The drums pound remorselessly, with unapologetic tempo, stamina, and technical prowess, and are, on every single track, impressive as hell - a true sonic assault on the senses, and the self-esteem of any drummers, myself included, who happened to be listening. The whole band are clearly very passionate about their performance, seemingly putting their heart and soul into it, and sound-wise, it definitely seems to pay off. For the entire set, the band have a scowling, determined stage-presence, and it makes one hell of an impression - you can practically feel the hard work going into the music, and the boost which that gives to the sense of integrity coming from the stage is very tangible.

There is a suspense building interlude - about fifteen minutes, perhaps, followed by an intro track of spoken words - I'm not sure what language, but someone suggested it might be Old Norse. As it fades out, the live musicians of Taake take to the stage. A minute or two later, they are joined by the man himself, Hoest. The crowds response is uproarious. Taake are one of the most consistent bands in the Norwegian scene, but I never truly had an idea of just how big they were, or how enthusiastic the crowd's reception of them was going to be until it happened. The atmosphere in the crowd is, in fact, exceptional - I can feel, and feed-upon the enthusiasm of those around me. Every song Taake deliver is met by a truly electric reaction from the crowd, and the number of people truly in the throes of the music is wonderful to behold. Each song is perfectly executed, too - true to Hoest's vision when he wrote them, and played almost flawlessly - the guitar tone is oozing atmosphere; cold, sharp and absolutely true sounding. The drums are un-triggered, but very audible, and sound all the better for being natural, truly propelling the songs. The fact that Taake makes use of more double-kick than blast-beats is very apparent in a live setting, and gives Taake a sound to call its own, and a furious energy, with few other bands coming close to a similar style.

At the centre of this, Hoest demonstrates that he is one of the best front-men black-metal has to offer, and his passion and enthusiasm for performing truly brings a similar enthusiasm forth from the crowd - the band sound the part, and look the part, with excellent corpse-paint, and a smoke machine keeping their presence hazy and ethereal, driving the focus to the atmosphere and energy of the music. Live, it soon becomes apparent how ferocious, energetic and driving Taake's music can be, whipping the crowd into an at times frenzied state, but also possessed with the true spirit of Norwegian black metal. Of all the Norwegian bands I've seen live, none came close to the sheer legitimacy which Taake seemed to have - the music is the real thing, the genuine article; un-cliched, sincere, and truly exhilarating to listen to. Hoest, and the other musicians, prove beyond a doubt that Taake is among the best black metal bands there is, was, and will be.

Taake Official Site
Taake on Facebook
Taake on Metal Archives
Aeternus on Facebook
Aeternus on Metal Archives
Slegest Official Site
Slegest on Facebook
Slegest on Metal Archives
Noctem Official Site
Noctem on Facebook
Noctem on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

#342 Destroyer 666 - Cold Steel... For an Iron Age

On the back of one of my metal vests, I chose to emblazon the lyrics; "Gather 'round all you Fire Starters! Whirlwind Reapers and Comet Riders!" in bright yellow paint. As that might suggest, I'm a huge fan of Destroyer 666 - and I would have reviewed one of their records a lot sooner if I hadn't thought I already did so... but no. It turns out I just had "Unchain the Wolves" as the song of the week a few months ago, and I've actually never visited a Destroyer 666 record with a full review. As a reviewer, in fact, something I really do tend to neglect is talking about albums I've listened to for a lot longer than I've intended to review them. I often, discover bands in the name of finding something to review, but less often these days do I review bands I already love. Time to change that, with Cold Steel... For an Iron Age.

Describing exactly what it is that Destroyer 666 do on Cold Steel... is a task which is much more difficult than you might imagine it to be; the band have always been quick to forsake the conventions of every genre - black, thrash, death, speed - into which their tendrils creep, and especially so in their later work. Earlier records like Unchain the Wolves seem, upon reflection, quite distant stylistically to this, the form which that early style eventually mutated into. Cold Steel... represents the band's material at it's most battle-hardened, militant and weaponized - the guitar tone is thick and powerful, and the relatively clean production succeeds in casting the songs in a vicious, but equally retaining the natural savagery by steering away from being a clinical production job - the energy is truly captured, and part of the secret to the songs being so thoroughly explosive lies therein. As for the music itself - almost every song which the band have penned has felt in some way massive, but Cold Steel is, without a doubt, the finest distillation of this massive, almost over-the-top sound. The record is one made of infinitely memorable, glorious and triumphant moments - melodies which stir the heart with their martial sound, choruses which are both enraged, frenzied and percussive, hammering their words into your heart, and an atmosphere which truly feels empowering. Metal is supposed to be powerful music, and Cold Steel... is one of the most powerful records I've encountered within it.

The album doesn't limit itself by genre when it calls upon sections of music - the album is unconstrained, and the combination of a truly varied collage of styles comes sharply into contact with the pleasantly old-school leaning towards the "riffs, solos, choruses and verses" approach to song-writing. Thus, the record has all bases covered when it comes to the diversity available to them - going well beyond the borders of black-thrash in terms of atmosphere, innovation, and generally bucking the trends of everything laid out before them, whilst still having a sound which is instantly digestible to anyone with a pallet for extreme metal. The album is subtly but effectively soaked in an atmosphere which is both very rich, but also possessed with a real ability to bludgeon, with a greater intensity and rage inherent within the songs than anything the band created before, and what they seem to have been aiming at since - it's not the cacophanous sound of the world ending in a cosmic way, but it is the sound of the world ending in a very human way - slaughter, fire, rebellion and cold steel, and that is perhaps one of my favourite elements of the album - the fact that it is a very human album, and one which you can listen to in that context; it's not an album which transcends humanity, but one which appeals to those it summons; The Fire starters. The Whirlwind Reapers and Comet Riders. I wouldn't be surprised, in any case, if a large proportion of the band's fans consider this to be their definitive work.

And there we have it - Cold Steel... For an Iron Age. For my money, one of the best albums to ever come out of extreme metal as a whole, and certainly a powerful mission statement of what it means to be extreme. The records sheer ability to forge together so many of the elements which make metal great is a pleasure in itself to hear, and this truly is a record which I would recommend to anyone within the metal scene - there are few records which I have ever listened to on such a regular basis.

This is a certain 10/10.

Destroyer 666 Official Site
Destroyer 666 on Facebook
Destroyer 666 on Metal Archives

Friday, 2 May 2014

#341 Dark Forest - Aurora Borealis

There are a couple of bands out there called Dark Forest; I know this all too well, because every time I attempt to listen to one of them on shuffle on my MP3 player it is interspersed with random tracks from the other. Such is life. Regardless, the Dark Forest we're discussing tonight is the one originating from Canada - players of grandiose viking-infused black metal; with more than a hint of synthesisers. In terms of my abstract and ever changing list of bands I need to investigate, Dark Forest were certainly up there, and over the course of this year so far, I've acquired, and rather enjoyed, their full length début, Aurora Borealis. A dozen or so spins later, I think the time has arrived to write a review.

I always, always place plenty of emphasis on great cover art, and this album manages that, with luxuriant, genuinely evocative and beautiful artwork oozing with promise for the record to come; when the CD was sat in its case upon my desk, I became legitimately excited to hear what musical treasure was held inside. Fortunately, Aurora Borealis - the repeated typing of which has permanently taught me how to spell aurora - is an album which truly delivers musical glory in the way I had hoped for. Usually, when black metal is heavily symphonic, I panic, squirm, and try to jump out of the nearest window before someone puts Dimmu Borgir on. However, I must concede that there is a habitable zone of synth use which, as opposed to being a problem, has created some of the most beautiful, atmospheric records in the entire span of metal as a genre. Records like Loss by Wodensthrone truly taught me, when I was discovering the genre, to respect what synth can do, and also taught me that it isn't necessarily going to result in a record being cheesy or silly sounding. So too of Dark Forest - on Aurora Borealis, the band play a very earnest, sincere sounding  mixture of black metal with viking and folk elements laced into the mixture to create a vibrant, dynamic album which offers a very memorable listening experience, but also shrouds the listener in cloak of noise, with thick, atmospheric black-metal sections carrying the listener away from reality, and letting their glance be cast over a beautiful, unforgiving ocean of pine tree tops.

The whole record shows a keen ability to blend the grandiose and epic with a more graspable feel - one in which the songs still feel like songs. Indeed, the variety which the record throws at you is exceptionally enjoyable for that reason - the album feels complete, but also quite stylistically eclectic and diverse. The album has many of the things you would hope it does, and plenty more which you didn't expect, but nonetheless enjoy. It can do anything from evoke sharp, frozen air in tandem with frigid synth work on tracks like Thurisaz, right through to glorious. soaring work with a much warmer feel on the more folk-infused tracks, at times accompanied by superb clean-vocal, choral-like sections which, instead of standing out in a bad way, slot neatly into the song structure, and complement the albums direction superbly. Likewise, the tense riffs with a rising, happening feel buck the trend of tremolo-only black metal, and, I think, boost the listening pleasure and reward which the listener feels during the record, in doing so. For all of it's diversity, however, the album handles travelling such a range different emotional and musical paths extremely well too, with brooding and explosive sections  mixed effectively, instead of sporadically, as the record swims smoothly between the two elements, striking a great balance, indicative of equally great musicianship and song-writing skill. 

 I mentioned earlier in the review that in good circumstances, synth use can really create albums of great beauty, and I can safely say that Aurora Borealis is, without question, an album of that sort. Now, as I hasten to listen to the follow-up, I shall leave you with a thorough recommendation that, if you are into the larger picture into which Dark Forest fit, then there is an exceptionally high chance that you will truly love Dark Forest's work. Heck; the worst that can happen is that you listen to the other, very good Dark Forest by accident - you truly can't lose.

This is a 9/10.

Dark Forest Official Site
Dark Forest on Facebook
Dark Forest on Metal Archives