Monday, 27 June 2016

#394 Havohej - Dethrone the Son of God (1993)

For some reason, I encountered the works of New York's Havohej disproportionately early on in my exploration of metal, inevitably resulting in a "what the fuck is this?" style reaction. At the time, the music felt quite inscrutable and unappealing; a bit much for me, lacking much of what I was looking for. Times change. Perhaps I was not equipped, then, with the ear to enjoy it, or alternatively, my taste has since, itself, changed to incorporate it; pick an interpretation congruent on one's understanding of how taste works... The point being built up to remains; that much more recently, I have revisited the "Dethrone the Son of God" album, and upon a second listen - and many subsequent listens after that, it has revealed itself to be a very enjoyable work of American black-metal, an achievement which, in the eyes of some, is a rare thing indeed. 

There are times when background-knowledge can greatly change the experience of listening to a piece or collection of music; not always changing one's perception of the sound itself outright, necessarily, but certainly holding the potential to enrich the experience. Having already listened to "Dethrone the Son of God" a couple of times, I proceeded to read-up on Havohej some more, as I tend to find such an activity to do precisely the above; to enrich the mere listening. On thing which comes to light almost immediately is the position in which Havohej stand in relation to the grander scheme of extreme-metal. At first I had assumed the project was relatively isolated in terms of its integration into any sort of scene; located far, for instance, from the day's embryonic second-wave of black metal in Norway. It emerges, however, that "Dethrone the Son of God" is an album comprised largely of unused Profanatica material. Who are Profanatica, you (and I) ask? Profanatica are a band comprised of ex-members of Incantation - leaving Havohej very few degrees of separation from all sorts of interesting things which I had become enthusiastic about between first hearing Havohej and revisiting the music so much more recently. While it can be granted granted that I could have written a review of this album without knowing that, instead focusing entirely on the music, having discovered the context in which Havohej exists puts an interesting spin on the listening experience. Not least highlighting the project as being very much among the many profane and murky dark offerings vomited forth by the USA's Eastern Seaboard at the time, as opposed to an outlier.

Indeed, this influence, once the seeds are planted in the mind, shows through on the record itself. The crushingly sluggish sections and the perturbing and hellish swagger of the record's locomotion reeks of the occult death metal style which remains so popular. In tandem, the record carries with it a scathing and treble-heavy scythe of blackened filth; raw and flaying, coated in spiderwebs of high-tremolo and an at times frosty distortion. These factors conspire to give it a liberal steeping in the very tar of black-metal, beyond all doubt enough to happily consider that to be its main genre, whilst nonetheless allowing for a record possessed of great distinctiveness; for its rawness, profanity, its relative minimalism, and its inventiveness. It is a record decidedly and enjoyably amid its genre, but by no means generic in respect to it; quite like - and quite unlike - its peers. It is an unusual and chimerical beast; intense and grim but also purposefully jarring and at times extremely rhythmically interesting; squirming and writhing as the bass takes a relatively prominent position throughout the album, warbling with an intricate and foreboding allure below the surface, less distorted than one might expect, particularly on the first half of the record - produced slightly differently from the second - but equally effective. The percussion, likewise, makes itself known by its distinct and at times deliciously unorthodox clattering; dreadfully clicky in places, to the point of almost breaking the spell, but its negatives are at least outweighed in that it serving to further enhance the album's bizarre and deliberately unpleasant aura, the percussive equivalent of an unpleasant metallic taste in the mouth.

"Dethroning the Son of God" is, of course, not meant to be an album of pleasantness. Instead, it is a record of profane filth and impurity; and in this role it wallows contented. It is a record which is primitive and ugly, casting the evil spells of black-metal with far greater legitimacy and non-contrived vitriolic hideousness than most; one of the few albums which truly captures the essence of the genre's darkness in earnest fashion. A certain mood is required to enjoy it, I found, but enjoy it, this time around, I certainly did.

This is a 8/10.

Havohej on Metal Archives

Monday, 13 June 2016

#393 Vektor - Terminal Redux (2016)

In so far as it has been some time since my fingers graced the keys, staring at the blank screen with a sense of vague cognitive unease, it could easily be said - without deploying too much hyperbole - that Vektor's new record defies the English language, at least for a while. Roughly half-an-hour, all things considered. Its ability to do so, I would opine, is not only a testament to its quality, but is likewise musically and thematically appropriate; Vektor are, and always have been, unearthly. Lost for words though it may have temporarily rendered me, "Terminal Redux" has conversely been one of the most discussed metal records of 2016. The album's predecessor "Outer Isolation" has received ten reviews on Metal Archives, over the span of around five years - a fairly generous quotient, might I add, a number befitting an album of its quality. "Terminal Redux" has received fourteen reviews over the span of a month, and thus far, all of them positive. If that's not motivation to find something to say about the record, then nothing is, and thus, I shall struggle on.

Vektor have always been musically fascinating; it's a fact that made them stand out from their peers, by light-years, during the hit and miss shenanigans of the mid-2000s "thrash-revival". Both "Black Future" and "Outer Isolation" were records that stood at times almost completely alone in a raging sea of radioactive beer and zombies. While some bands, for better or worse, insistently superglued themselves to the constraints of the retro - to the figurative rulebook of their genre - Vektor were different; possessed, almost from the very outset, with a penchant to mould and transmogrify the thrash genre, to repurpose and refit it for their own musical vision. Like many of the best-of-the-best, instead of pouring their music into the mould of a genre, Vektor use thrash as a conduit for their bizarre and sinister music to traverse, and ultimately manifest itself from. While they have always done this, and, without exception, to great effect, scanners suggest that this cosmic amalgam, like some science-defying futuristic substance, is present in even higher quantities within this specimen. Indeed, "Terminal Redux" further warps the limitations of genre, simpliciter, to the extent that I'd be almost reluctant to ascribe it one fully, in the act of, for instance, recommending the band to a friend. Thrash, perhaps - but to some extent nominally so; and perhaps not the best mode in which to listen to the music. In many respects it is from this that the record takes on its inscrutable and massively appealing air of musical otherworldliness; its complexity and musical quirkiness forces one to listen to it almost entirely on its own merits, and those merits are, suffice to say, substantial. 

Each Vektor album, including this one, has been the site of an unusually well-executed reconciliation; of the side consisting of the band's almost absurd musicianship, rapturous technicality and magnificent inventiveness, with the opposing side. That is, whilst Vektor are a truly blistering band to listen to; requiring attention, dedication and numerous re-listens, their albums, including this one, also boast an uncanny ability to still flawlessly deliver direct and appreciable metal energy. It is powerful, memorable and at times down right ballsy. The complexity is not committed to the detriment of such foundational pillars as good-riffs - really fucking good riffs - memorable songs, and so forth, and in that regard the album's ability to be understood exists in a logically-uncertain but undoubtedly magnificent juxtaposition and cohabitation with its resplendent and exciting complexity. "Terminal Redux" is far from an unappealing behemoth of convoluted and gratuitously complex proportions - that is to say, it is decidedly not the type of progressive metal record which keeps me awake at night trembling in fear. Instead every inch of complexity and technicality are created for a purpose, and used - and I hesitate to use an objective term in a business so seemingly subjective as music - correctly.

"Terminal Redux" showcases Vektor at their most complex, ambitious and mature yet; further expanding their nebulous galactic empire into new systems, new influences, new swathes of genre and technicality previously unexplored. Indeed, perhaps the most tangible way in which I can capture it in words is to explain to the reader just how little I have succeeded in conveying about the record, even in spite of my best efforts. The album was almost five years in the making, and has transpired to be worth every minute; Vektor are a band who have every right to take their time, when the music they produce is as good as this. The record is a standout of 2016, and, with time, will perhaps come to be remembered as one of the standout records in metal more generally. Superb.

This is a 9.5/10.


Sunday, 5 June 2016

#392 Conan - Revengeance (2016)

"Revengence"- which I suppose must mean the vengeance wrought upon those who avenged themselves upon you after the first time you had your revenge - marks the third full-length studio album by UK doom titans Conan. And titans, indeed, they are; one of the country's greatest current assets to the genre, and a band who have risen to a level that few do, especially given the time-span in question. The last five years or so has seen the band carving a place as a globally well-known name and a legitimate headliner wherever they choose to go, standing out from the burgeoning and crowded UK doom scene with an originality and uniqueness which often goes unnoticed to the inattentive listener. With their third album settling into its spot on the shelf nicely, no longer feeling like a bizarre extra limb, but rather a meaningful component of the Conan corpus, the time to review is upon us...

In a time before the internet, album art was of paramount importance; or I've certainly always thought so. On one hand, an album must be eye-catching, visually compelling, especially in that record-store environment of old - you must, in short see the record sleeve, the CD front, the cassette, whichever medium it may take, and think to yourself, "I want to hear this.". Secondly, good cover-artwork stands as a statement of the integrity of the music contained therein - a woe indeed it is to see albums where the artwork does the music injustice. Visual aesthetics remain, to my mind, as important as ever; record-store shelves oft replaced by the recommended-videos section of YouTube, the feed of Facebook, and so forth - visual aesthetics did matter, and still matter. And, to finally get to the fucking point, Conan know this. "Revengeance" stands, visually and musically speaking, a proud extension of the band's body of work; the desolate landscapes and ochre-washed primordial brutality of the artwork immediately aiding its inclusion into the set of the bands records, promising -and delivering - stylistic continuity. It is continuity which is indeed seen to be the case upon listening to the music; the same unfathomably heavy and hostile sound; gargantuan pillars of noise gnashing slowly like geological teeth, in a way familiar to all fans of doom, but executed in a way quite unlike any other.

On that subject, I've seen Conan decried as generic - a view in which, as far as I can see, is misled, unless my knowledge is truly lacking. Zero Tolerance gave their second record, Blood Eagle a zero-score some years ago, which struck me as somewhat illustrative of whoever wrote it having completely missed to point. The primitive and minimalist arrangement of the bands music carries an atmosphere which almost no other bands are creating; a primordial mountainside of wailing, soaring and disembodied vocals, and riffs which - as I've mentioned in previous discussions of Conan - sound almost akin to music instinctively and viscerally created, pounded on taut animal-hides and stones in a bygone time, whilst evading predation by the enormous creatures no doubt stomping the face of the earth. That sound is a concoction every bit as much subverting the norms of the doom genre as invoking them, particularly with the bands relatively energetic and forceful choices of tempo. This trademark sound reappears on Revengeance. This isn't to say that the album is simply another carbon-copy brought forth from the same cauldron, however. The retention of the fiercely rhythmic potency of the music is met with the signs of a slow and self-aware evolution. Sure, Conan could probably make the same record repeatedly and a certain crowd would adore every single one, but the nuances and variations from previous tracks is a sign that, while not gratuitously reinventing themselves - and thank goodness for that - Conan are more than happy to continue to explore the boundaries musical lands they claim as their own.

"Revengeance" is a welcome addition to the bands discography; the accustomed heaviness and atmosphere taking the listener once again to that desolate place that the band has taken us before. It is a record liable, I expect, to be remembered in years to come as being among the bands classic works. The album mirrors the virtues of its predecessors, reprising everything which the band have grown to be known and enjoyed for, whilst evolving their sound sufficiently not to come across as stale. "Revengeance" is different. Just a little different, but there is enough change in the air - in the form of a well thought-out, logical progression - to capture the interest even more so than it would if it were simply a competent but identical continuation - and heck, I'd have already been happy with merely that. A slow evolution, it must be granted, but slow is an entirely understandable rate for a band who sound so very, very cyclopean.

This is an 8/10.

Conan Official Site
Conan on Facebook
Conan on Metal Archives