Saturday, 28 June 2014

#350 Behemoth - Evangelion

When it comes to metal - or music in general, when I'm feeling adventurous - I like to have a shot at listening to everything. When I notice an oversight in my listening, I tend to attempt to undo it. One band I've recently been aware of as one I've barely listened to before, despite being aware of the band for many years is Behemoth. I think that's probably a solid sign that  it's about time that I sat down and listened to some of their work. When I dip into a band for the first time like this, picking which album to start with tends to be a difficult task; especially with a band with a career as varied as Behemoth's. For this review, I'm going to be looking at Evangelion, for one reason; It is the record which I looked at for some minutes in a shop about six years ago, and then didn't buy; it seems an apt starting point.

The sound which Behemoth employ in their relatively recent work both is, and is not what I expected. I'd always painted the band in my mind as an - if not the - archetypical blackened death metal band. However, this record, and some of the others I sampled around it, much more typify modern, somewhat more pure death-metal. Indeed, the record, pleasingly, feels reminiscent of bands like Vader, also a product of the Polish scene. Nonetheless, an after-taste of black-metal remains even at this stage of the bands move towards the death-metal paradigm, creating an album which has a succulence and grandiose leaning, with enough scathing and atmospheric character to be very digestible, and thus, it comes as no surprise to me that Behemoth often seem to be one of the formative bands in an individuals experience of extreme metal. Evangelion has a lot of intensity, but a controlled, extremely tightly-played intensity which is energetic and destructive, but also very accessible, with a focus which some bands would forsake for sheer heaviness. Evangelion seldom offers a wall of noise, instead invoking a clarity both in terms of song-writing, dexterous playing, and production. At every moment, you can very easily detect what everything in the mix is doing, which is very pleasant to listen to - after all, being well produced and being over-produced are very different things, and Behemoth seem to adopt only the former here, to their credit.

Evangelion has a lot of character as a record; identity and painstakingly careful writing practically ooze out of it, subverting any worries of the band having "big band syndrome" with many bands of Behemoth's stature sinking to create bland, over-produced records which sell in spite of themselves. Behemoth are quite the opposite; well paced, intricate, and above all still attentive; being a name on the lips of almost every metal fan can have a detrimental effect on some, but not Behemoth, it seems. I'm actually a little taken-by-surprise how much I immediately found myself enjoying Behemoth's musical aesthetic - often, if I've known of a band for years and still not listened to them much, there's a reason for it, concious or otherwise. In this instance, however, it must simply be the case that I genuinely made a mistake - perhaps it's because it has taken me a lot longer to enjoy death metal than any of the other genres of extreme metal which has delayed the process. Perhaps I've made the age-old mistake of conflating "well known" with "not good". Regardless, I've developed something of a new found appreciation for the band's sound; not so much "blackened-death-metal" per se - I'm not sure albums like Evangelion can be described quite in those terms, but what I'd describe as death metal which has been rinsed in black-metal, to great effect; death metal teeth with black-metal mouthwash. The music is deeper, more profound, and better written than I expected it to be. An utterly pleasing surprise.


I'm already looking forward to listening to more of Behemoth's work - and there is a lot of it to work through, but first impressions are very positive indeed. Naive to metal as I might seem by only discovering them about six years into a metal "career", it nonetheless perhaps allows me to see the band in different light - regardless, the band are more interesting than many might give them credit for. I always tend, it seems, to be someone who goes about listening to metal the "wrong way round", but at the end of it all, a good band is a good band, and Behemoth succeed to impress.

This is 8/10.

Behemoth Official Site
Behemoth on Facebook
Behemoth on Metal Archives

Sunday, 22 June 2014

#349 Immoral Hazard - Convulsion

Now to indulge in another band which I was requested to review some time ago - it was about six months ago that Greek thrash band Immoral Hazard sent me a message asking me to review their début full-length record "Convulsion". Now, finally, I've gotten around to listening to it. As a general rule, if a band request a review and I write one at all, they've already met a minimum-requirement of quality - there are some which I sample and never review at all. The rest, fortunately, get done eventually, or, ideally so. Regardless, time to dive into ten tracks of modern thrash-laced material...

The character of the entire Convulsion album is immediately made clear in the first few tracks - unashamedly modern. There are a few "flavours" of thrash out there at the moment; the retro-thrash style of the thrash revival, the more old-school and underground variety thereof, and the various others which ebb and flow; black-thrash, crossover, and so forth. The style into which Immoral Hazard fit is different from these however; it's the style of thrash which seems to crop up everywhere, spawning naturally when musicians get together and mingle groove-metal, metalcore and thrash together all at once, to create what I can only describe as... "modern metal" - informed by the intermingling of many of metal's more mainstream elements since the mid-nineties. Indeed, the style which Immoral Hazard play is the sort which a lot of bands have been playing since the early 2000s. Nonetheless, the frequency with which bands like this come into existence is not grounds to dismiss their work - and believe me, such work can range from pleasantly reasonable right through to nauseatingly abysmal; the work of terminally local bands. Fortunately, however, Immoral Hazard work well with this style, playing it tastefully and making the songs not only memorable, but giving them enough character to avoid sounding utterly generic - although simultaneously, there is no denying that the sound which the band have is one which has been very thoroughly done previously. Happily, the album does manage to spring the occasional unexpected twist, however.

One of the notable strengths of the album is how "properly done" it feels. For a début - and by an unsigned band - the production is very tight, as is the playing. Everything is relatively well captured, and very competently played by the musicians, including a few riffs and solos which arose from the bubbling cauldron as being especially tasty. The record is a little bit sterile in places with regards to drum sound, but also quite forgiveable; this is not an album in an old-school paradigm, but instead has a thoroughly modern direction musically, in tandem with this production. It's not supposed to sound like the eighties, it is, instead, a good showcase of what the relevant fields of metal have been doing in the mean-time - there are riffs influenced by thrash, but plenty more besides; groove metal seeps into a lot of the record, and there are breakdowns and plentiful riffs inspired by the heavier, slightly more acceptable side of metalcore - the sort which can survive as something of a guilty pleasure, as opposed to the other school of metalcore, that which is best not dwelt on. Convulsion certainly manages to live up to its title, succeeding in being swaggering, energetic and at times explosive. Perhaps not the style of metal which, overall, I'm best suited to in terms of my personal taste, but credit is definitely due the band for their skill and song-writing. 

Granted, I really do try to be honest in my reviews, and for all that it offers, metal of this sort generally isn't the sort of thing which I listen to. Regardless, I'm just one person, one reviewer, and I think it's probably great praise of the band to say that I can think of dozens of people I know who would greatly enjoy a record like this. Indeed, even I; a real asshole when it comes to music taste sometimes, am willing to let my guard down a little and consider this record pleasingly solid.

This is a 6/10.

Immoral Hazard on Bandcamp
Immoral Hazard on Facebook
Immoral Hazard on Metal Archives

Monday, 16 June 2014

#348 Mayhem - Esoteric Warfare

I can never quite decide where Mayhem fit into the grand scheme of my musical taste. Sometimes, I feel that my listening was saturated by their music all too soon, as I listened to them a lot when I was getting into black-metal. At other times, I look upon them as a band which I legitimately under-appreciate; I can't remember, for instance, the last time I really sat and listened to one of their classics; De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, namely - instead constantly leaning towards other albums by their peers, much in the way that I haven't listened to an album like Master of Puppets in years, despite its massive status. Nonetheless, I can certainly be considered interested when Mayhem announce a new album, and Esoteric Warfare, their first in seven years, is the first time that Mayhem have infiltrated the top-tier of my musical attention in quite a while.

The opening notes of the album set the tone for the rest very concisely. Dissonant, cataclysmic and oppressive - cold, inorganic, seeping unforgiving nihilism like so much radioactive waste. The artwork for the record genuinely paints a picture - pardon the pun - of the album's sound in this respect; it is black-metal infused with cold, metallic ominousness; music not of forests and mountains, but of bunkers, and the secluded work of nuclear armament. The record is immensely foreboding and hostile. Esoteric Warfare represents a progression of this style, which the band seem to have landed upon in its predecessor, Ordo Ad Chao. Despite being quite inspired, that album was a challenging listen owing to its production, which, deliberate or not, rendered the album a "well organised collection of rumbles" - the music demanded an almost exceptional amount of scrutiny and careful listening to glean pleasure from it. Esoteric Warfare retains the atmosphere for which Ordo Ad Chao was most praised, whilst having room to breathe; you can hear what's going on much more easily, which is a godsend. Granted, the murk remains, but much more carefully measured, and induced not by production, but by the musicianship itself, with a wall of harsh, mechanical noise punctuated by screeching, squealing guitar dissonance, like a tumble through the bowls of some vast industrial complex, made all the more harrowing and engaging by the records unapologetic quirky structure, with pauses and bursts of energy which jerk the music around ferociously, placed at times, where you don't expect them at all.

Over the top of this assault, Attila delivers a typically absorbing vocal-performance, roaring, screaming, and delivering his trademark low, growling chants. His vocal approach is one which very much suits the direction in which the record heads - a traditional black-metal vocalist would have felt out of place on this, which is, after all, certainly not a traditional black-metal record - Attila's style compliments it perfectly. Indeed, Esoteric Warfare is a prime example of the fact that Mayhem have never made the same record twice; even with its similarities to Ordo Ad Chao in mind, the record, in its uncoiling, reveals itself to be a very different beast. Granted, this ever changing style leaves Mayhem as a band who possess no sure "string" of classics in the way that many of their peers do - instead leaving each album as an island, but likewise, it's almost impossible to deny that, for better or worse, Mayhem have never created a record which wasn't interesting, and this one is no exception - in fact, it feels among their best formed and most sonically rewarding works in a long time. At the moment, I'm tempted to weigh-it-in as being their best work since De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, although I'm going to wait until the initial elevated mood of listening to a new album subsides before I call in such a judgement for good. Nevertheless, Esoteric Warfare is the first Mayhem album which has deeply impressed me upon discovering it, the only other being the Deathcrush EP - both of which I listened to and was impressed above and beyond the normal mental-hubbub of listening to a record.


Of course Mayhem haven't made "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas - Part II" - and I think for the most part hoping for such is naive, and even closed minded. Why should Mayhem create a record in the old style? A style which they helped to pioneer, but which has since, nonetheless, been adopted by a multitude of bands. It's worth remembering that at the time, Mayhem were creating something which very, very few were creating - and in this respect, this record harkens back to that; it is very different from their early work, musically, of course, but it is a return to the creation of music which very few others are creating, and it is within that sphere which the band seem to thrive. It's very clear, at this point, that Mayhem are a band who are creating the music which they want to create, and when records like Esoteric Warfare are delivered to us, we can be very glad of that indeed.

This is an 8.5/10.

Mayhem Official Site
Mayhem on Facebook
Mayhem on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

#347 Neglektum - Blasphemer

Something like five bloody months ago I was sent a link to a download of this album, and asked to write a review of it. As ever, when I take a long time to get around to reviewing something, I tend to start the review with an apology for such. Nonetheless, I usually mean to get around to writing reviews as soon as I can, which is something I've been failing to do so far this year, sadly. To attempt to remedy this, I'm going to proceed, in the next few weeks, to catch up on the queue of bands who have asked me to review their material, blending such reviews into my usual rambling about whatever other records cross my path. Today, I'm taking a look at Swedish black-metal outfit Neglektum, and their début full-length, Blasphemer. 

Blasphemer is a dynamic album, immediately rejecting the possibility of being dominated by blast-beats, norsecore style. Instead, it travels through a range of tempos and styles, with angular, spine-crawling riffs and a definite ear for atmosphere. The mid-tempo sections, especially, evoke a particularly dark and chaotic edge, of the style which bands like Ondskapt and early Watain made known, and it is certainly bands like those two, and perhaps to an extent Funeral Mist, with whom I can make the most comparison. The difference, perhaps, is that Neglektum seem to seek to make their sound richer, and lusher still than the lucid, fluid black metal which typifies the bands similar to them. Blasphemer sounds extremely full, and the production, tone and playing all unite to create a very suitable atmosphere, especially in terms of guitar-work, which has a fantastically frozen, cutting tone, with the right level of regal, occult majesty meeting the frigid but tonally wealthy chromatic attack. The guitars are, frankly, spot on. In fact, production wise, the only thing which stands-out as being slightly at-odds with the feel of the record is the drum sound, which has been rendered slightly too neat, tidy and pristine; you can hear every drum beat, cymbal hit and so forth, but at times they seem to refuse to interact sonically with the rest of the mix, gliding over the top slightly obtrusively - albeit nowhere near so badly as to genuinely harm the record much - it wouldn't surprise me if the drums were played on an electric-kit, or possibly even programmed, but regardless, they are enjoyable musically, and better drum-production could further enhance this sound.

It's good, on the other hand, to hear a black metal album which genuinely sounds - and intends to sound - evil in this day and age. The multitudinous directions which the genre has taken - atmospheric, folk-infused, progressive, dissonant, and dozens more - are wondrous to behold, but likewise, often leave me craving some no-nonsense evil music, and Neglektum very much deliver that; spiralling, resplendent evil, rising from the pit, striding proudly to the creation and ruination of worlds, evoked through blistering guitar work, crushing vocals which are roared with malice, and some truly excellent crescendos, including well-deployed solos; rising above and beyond the call of convention at times. Indeed, while they possess quite a conventional sound in the grand scheme of the genre, it is a sound which the band work with sufficiently well to create something which does not feel tired or overused; there are plenty of original and inventive tremolo sections, and sturdy, well written structures, giving the record an enjoyable blend of the familiar, but twisted slightly, as to remain interesting, as opposed to being "yet another" black metal album. Instead, the record is a strong - very strong - declaration of black-metal's vitality, and a statement of  the band's ability to create a ferocious, rich, atmospheric and above all engagingly energetic black metal record.

Once again, I apologise that it has taken me so long to get around to reviewing this record. On a positive note, however, I have found it to be an enjoyable and very impressive record to listen to. Ultimately, when I'm sent an album to listen to and review, there are two end results; the first is that I listen to it, review it, and then delete the folder... the second is that I keep the album to enjoy again and again. Blasphemer is definitely an album I will keep - it's really quite good. 

Easily a 7.5/10.

Neglektum Official Site
Neglektum on Facebook
Neglektum on Metal Archives

Thursday, 5 June 2014

#346 Dark Forest - The Awakening

I discovered Dark Forest - the UK heavy metal band, and not the other one - at some point last year, if memory serves me. Immediately, I was quite impressed by their earnest, gritty approach traditional metal, and I listened to their first two records with gusto, and both of which exuded the promise of great potential to come. Earlier this year, I noticed that they had released a third. Nobody, however, should underestimate my ability to see a new album by a band I enjoy, mutter "ooh, awesome" and then spend the next three months not listening to it. Now, fortunately enough, I have finally gotten around to listening to "The Awakening", and with a few spins spun, it's review time.

Since Dark Forest last released an album, they've had a few line-up changes, including a change of vocalist, which can often be the change when it comes to a band. As a first impression of the current line-up, The Awakening does an exceptionally good job, and allows me to use a phrase I've been storing up especially: The album sounds like a mature release by the band. The first two albums showed a steady ascension, and The Awakening carries on this trend, but genuinely seems to take the band's sound and go somewhere else with it... somewhere lofty indeed. The Self Titled, and Dawn of Infinity were both largely understandable as conventional traditional metal records; they did what they set out to do, and that was to deliver the sort of heavy metal which is rough, reliable, and comfortably familiar sounding. This new one, on the other hand, retains the uncompromising heavy-metal heart, but definitely ventures into more grandiose, more fluid, and more sonically indulgent territory. The new vocalist is certainly one of the features which bring this to attention, with thick, well-measured vocals in the style of classic Fates Warning, and Dark Forest's overseas label-mates Atlantean Kodex. The singing is skilled, warm vocals which impress - and absolutely entrench the vocal lines in the listeners memory - but likewise spare the listener much of traditional metal's accustomed "virtuoso" pomposity and foppishness, giving them something of a sincerity; the vocals deliver precisely what they should, in their context.

I don't know if the band's leap forwards can - or should - be chalked up to one feature, however. The Awakening seems to be one of those albums; the musicianship, the song-writing, the tone, the production - everything has ascended a level from where the band were before; every instrument is played, to my ear, the best it ever has been played, and the song-writing has truly leapt into overdrive, hewing tracks which, for want of a better word, are epic - although sharing a label with Atlantean Kodex will definitely do that to you. Regardless, the record is thick and lustrous, a heavy metal record which genuinely feels full, with glorious crescendos, fantastic melodies and solos which are earnest, rather than gratuitous. It's sonically vibrant, complete, and really feels like an album with direction. The songs, in tandem, feel like an album, as opposed to the trap which many bands fall into, of having collections of songs which are just that; a pile of songs. The Awakening feels well thought out, the tracks nestled where they belong. Certainly, the record keeps you listening for the whole of its length, with great ease. At risk of being one of those awful people who work the album's title into the review they're writing of it, this record very much feels like an Awakening* of the band's true glory.

I'm often blown away by records, and at times one has to be very careful when reviewing them, on that basis. It's easy to heap praise on a record for a day or two, before putting it on the shelf and forgetting all about it. However, I have the distinct feeling that the quality of this record is genuine and tangible, and when the dust falls to earth in terms of my impression, I'll still hold this record in high regard - heck, it wouldn't astonish me if this was one of the best traditional metal records of 2014, and certainly Dark Forest's best yet.

This is an 8.5/10.

Dark Forest on Facebook
Dark Forest on Metal Archives