Sunday, 31 January 2016

Caveman Battle Doom: Conan - Revengeance (2016)

Conan - Revengeance

Sleeping giants rise as chariots circle. A hand of steel rains fire as the earth cracks and fury spews from below. Steeds flee up mountainsides as blacks shapeless warriors hunt, a choking black cloud follows their every move. Revengeance is the soundtrack to an ancient and mystical warfare, the battle-cry of desolate armies, the dying moments of a monumental battle. Conan are oppressive doom titans from the North-West and with their third album Revengeance have chiseled a much more complete and well-rounded album from the carrion remains of Blood Eagle and Monnos.

There is a much greater urgency from the get go here as 'Throne of Fire' begins with a rapid fire barrage of doom speed before the song crawls to a pained stop. The disharmonious duel vocals breakthrough the slabs with power: the deep, airy gasps of bassist Chris Fielding cling to the surface like smog while Jon Davis' battle cries pierce like a poisonous arrow. They have a primal vulnerability that works so well. The song picks up pace again as the drumming comes to life: a rising giant. 

'Thunderhoof' begins with a less deep and cavernous riff, the song climbs higher, crawling up the mountainside. It's repetitive, imprinting it's fuzzy hooves into the memory.  The fourth track, 'Wrath Gauntlet', is slab after slab of drawn out doom that creaks and ruptures from all angles. It's a vast and loud sound: the guitars, as expected, are fizzing and flaming war-hammers. Conan are unforgiving andm carrying on the with ancient warfare imagery, they confront you from head-on, looking you in the eye as they gallop towards you with obscenely large war-hammer in hand. Revengeance - on the surface - is not subtle, it won't sneak up on you and cut your throat (although the drumming is rather nuanced and subtle at times).

Conan - Photo

With the speed of a thousand burning rocks hurled from catapults 'Revengeance' begins, striking in its change of pace following 'Wrath Gauntlet'. The single from the album is a stampede of sound: the thumping mammoth heavy drumming is littered with meaty blast-beats, the guitars also intensify with mid-paced riffing and high pitched feedback. There is a much greater diversity throughout Revengeance as a whole; the second half especially espouses a more classic doom sound with the occasional stoner-desert-classic sounding riff progression. Beneath the thick crust of fuzz, 'Every Man Is An Enemy', solid riffs dance among the chugs. 'Earthenguard' opens with a Kyuss desert-rock trembling, slowly finding a groove: a victorious army swaggering around - or fleeing from - the battlefield. It cascades into demented Mastodon-esque vocals with a heavy plodding rhythm. The drums once are once again  are captivating: new - for this album - drummer Rich Lewis really fits in. I'm not a drum expert but in them seems a vaguely jazzy fluidity that counteracts with the rigid slabs of sound from the guitars. A slow saxophone sounding solo emerges at 9.20 as the drums also cannonball and explode, it's a really glorious ending to the album.

I've always really appreciated Conan for there no nonsense and no vvimps approach to the doomier side of metal. They have a great aesthetic and their albums set an incredible tone and paint powerful images. (Also their album artwork is my favourite in metal; check out the artwork of Anthony Roberts here). Some may say that they are repetitive, but, in my opinion, that's their strongest weapon; they build their songs, layer on layer, slowly and simply but to great effect. Long may battle doom continue.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Vast Oceanic Melodies: Solifvgae - Avenoir (2016)

Avenoir cover art

Avenoir is 'the desire that memory could flow backward'. Avenoir the album, the debut release by Brazilians Solifvgae, is one of longing and loss, looking backwards only to be swallowed and sunk by the miseries of memory; the lyrics of 'Undertow': 'farewell my father, I’m heading out to search for answers into the deep. the vast unknown awaits me, my new destiny', are shrieked with an anguish that overlays an intense spurt of abrasive dissonance: whirling guitars build in scope to a melodic intensity, the bass - extremely loud in the mix - punches its way through like a clogged heart, and the drums are typical in their black-metal mechanical pounding. But Avenoir is also a very tender album: it opens with a sea hissing and rumbling, building in volume, as footsteps crunch their way in to the water to be swallowed by the sea; birds chirp, waves lap calmly and a lonely guitar rings with soft angelic ambient sounds as 'Undertow', the second track, begins. The whole thing has a cold static edge but there is a warmth residing just underneath the surface. Subtle yet powerful melodies flows like hot springs beneath a crackling ice-sharp black metal crust. On the whole the production is not clean sounding, but this is not to the albums detriment. The sound comes across as natural and unforced. 

The vocals throughout are diverse and powerful: putrid, steaming black metal snarls that remind me of Inquisition or Enslaved are mixed up with the occasional deep cavernous guttural. But the riffs and the atmosphere in general are the most accomplished feature of Avenoir, In 'Undertow' the riffs transcend, moving from loud to calm, unwinding echoing through the mix as the bass weaves its way around shards black-metal. 

The leads in 'Fullheart' are particularly striking but the bass in particular holds a great power: it's ominous and pounding, the heart-beat of the songs, stomping through the musical depths like a spectre shackled. At five minutes the drums rupture furiously, a barrage of noise rushing in before a wind-blast abrasiveness sweeps in. There is a striking yet simple solo at 6.40 which leads to a powerful ending with the bass strutting around and an angelic ambiance floating through the surf. The entire thing is a smothering blanket of atmosphere. 

'Submerge//Emerge' is 2 minutes 48 seconds of ambiance, the sound of some mystical aura rising and flowing as exotic sounding animals call from the dying sky. A lot of these bittersweet and  cloying atmospheric  interludes and passages remind me very much of the sounds on Danish depressive-doom icons Saturnus's Paradise Belongs To You album. Like that album, the ambiance flows nicely and brings it all together without seeming forced or jarring. 

'Pathway' picks up the pace, waves crashing with more menace, washing memories away. It's filtered with melodic touches and jumpy stop-start riffing. It is - I suppose - the most 'fun' track of the album, although at three minutes it shifts in tone; it slows and becomes more menacing, deep gutturals rise from the deep and darkness seeps. 'Ocean (As Elusive Memories)', the final song - on an album that I wish was a bit longer - begins with a foreboding grumbling before exploding into life with melodic death riffs, bellowing gutturals and an aggressive intensity. At  four minutes 35 seconds there is another incredible sounding riff - it reminds me of the epic melodic leads in Winterfylleth's 'A Thousand Winters' - that resonates like the sound of a siren. The song has that rich, vast, cosmic scope of sound and atmosphere that I loved so much in Mare Cognitum's Phobos Monolith. It's a fitting conclusion to a very good album.

This album has come out of nowhere really - I was scrolling through bandcamp and spotted the striking album art work - yet I find listening to it once through, then playing it from the start, not something I've done since  Panopticon's Roads To The North. It has so many memorable moments, such a great atmosphere and aesthetic and, despite not the greatest of productions, a real edge to it. For a debut release I'm incredibly impressed and really look forward to seeing how their sound evolves. 

Rating: 8.5/10

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Mystical Melancholy: Wildernessking - Mystical Future (2016)

Wildernessking - Mystical Future

Spectral figures emerge from the sea, waves as white horses, reaching forests thick with memory; to the top of mountains where voices echo from the past, where the black oceans sit in the distance - a swallowing void;  from the mountains down to the rivers where voices sing and an ethereal air clashes with the cold unruliness of its flow, a river that drowns sanity and consumes dreams, a nature unforgiving to man.  Mystical Future is not your typical frost-bitten corpse-ridden barren black-metal snore-fest, instead it carries a personal struggle and a vulnerability cloaked in mystical longing and human suffering. Mystical Future is an honest and powerful album and it is in Wildernessking's ability to fuse explosive energy and aggression with somber meditations and sadness that is this albums greatest achievement.

Mystical Future has the hazy warmth of Lantlos' Melting Sun and the sweeping, vast melodic soundscapes of Panopticon and Fall of Rauros. There is an extreme-metal core here that is layered with influences from the vast musical spectrum - post-rock, shoe-gaze, ambient, progressive - but Mystical Future feeds off the dissonance and abrasiveness of black-metal and dwells in the vast cosmic realms of atmospheric black-metal. It maybe lacks a misanthropy inherent in your typical black metal as the band come across as more human and less cold: they're not consumed by the flaming inferno of self-hatred and misanthropy that so many conventional bands hold close. Wildernessking are more concerned with human issues: personal loss, self-reflection, longing, and existential fears.

Atmosphere and feeling smokes from every corner of Mystical Future. The guitars melt in to one another and reverberate throughout, the drums crash with a tenderness and the vocals, high-pitched and floating like fog, permeate through the drifting tenderness and abrasive anger to great effect. There is a beautiful solo in the opening track that cuts through the music with a twinkling poignancy counterbalanced by the piercing cries of vocalist and bassist Keenan Oates. The bass sings throughout the record carrying, like veins, the energy and life-force of much of the album. The drumming throughout the record is also powerful - the snares are quite audible, but it's a pleasant sound - particularly towards the end of the final song, 'If You Leave', where they gallop in to the mystical future with textured force.

Wildernessking - Photo

There are well thought out riffs and transitions throughout; 'I Will Go To Your Tomb' opens with intense double-bass drumming, melodic tremolo riffing, sharp screams and layered leads before clawing to a steadier rhythm as a darker atmosphere siphons its way in to the song from the stars. The song picks up again as drums hasten and vocals become more maniacal, guttural and evil. The song progressions are captivating, layers and elements are added and taken away to great effect, it's not just a wall of sound, everything seems carefully plotted and positioned.

'To Transcend' is a reflective and poignant instrumental track that attempts to solidify the atmosphere Wildernessking are trying to create. It's not too long, it's interesting enough in that it's not purely ambient: bass, drums and vocals faintly waltz in a dirge-like pattern, leading up to 'With Arms Like Wands', another intense and cavernous eight-minute journey. The black-metal side of things picks up here with incessant dissonance grating from the get-go, before slowing down with the leads harmonising together. I really love the leads in this album, I get a real Fall of Rauros vibe from them and that's a really great thing.

'If You Leave' opens cautiously, it's the last track and at 13-minutes something vast is expected. Atmosphere drips from every corner as female clean vocals - in the same vein as Chelsea Wolfe - fade in and ring atop of floating reverb-drenched guitars. The gruff hush of vocals intercedes and the song builds layer upon layer, bitter melancholy on top of bitter melancholy, toppling as the bass drumming intensifies.  It does feel that, after being stripped bare, with nothing left to give, the album fades into the setting sun, sizzling off mountainsides, steam rising, glistening into the night. It's a satisfying closure to a powerful album.

I knew that I'd like this album based off the tracks I had heard a few weeks prior and I haven't been disappointed. This album has everything I like in atmospheric black-metal: it's not overly reliant on external sounds to create atmosphere, instrumentation is used with a particularity and a diversity that is so much more powerful than the sound of birds chirping or flat violins played from a keyboard. It's top-of-the-range atmospheric black-metal from the most unlikely of places (Cape Town, South Africa) and I'm sure Wildernessking will continue to create powerful music like this for a long time to come.

Rating: 8.75/10

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Album Review: Borknagar - Winter Thrice (2016)

Borknagar - Winter Thrice

Not many bands do majestic and sweeping melodies as well as Borknagar; there's a real sense of grandeur, of mystical heroism and spiritual power, in many of the songs on Winter Thrice. It's a richly textured album with a lot going on. The first four tracks are exceptional; they're unpredictable and beautifully arranged, each song has its own fingerprint and own path to tread. It all falls under the theme of winter: groaning frost and eternal blizzards, the rhymes of mountains and ice draped rocks; it's a harsh yet harmonious landscape and, as in 'Panorama', 'Everything grows, Everything Dies.' Erosive black-metal collides with soaring folk-melodies, the best songs on this album are those that waltz between intense spurts of black-metal and melodious clean passages inlaid with tender keyboards, harmonious vocals and acoustic caressing. Occasionally, as in 'When Chaos Calls', the two worlds combine, one world flows in to the other, and this is when this album is at its best, when these tender melodies merge with abrasive shrieks and pounding drums.

The two pre-released tracks that open the album are incredible songs that lift the album to the summit of frost-topped Norwegian mountains from the get go, it's hard to top such a great opening and the rest of the album attempts to break free from its mountainous shadow. They may have been more powerful placed elsewhere in the album, as a centre piece perhaps, or as a mighty culmination at the end.

Borknagar - PhotoThe clean vocals in 'Winter Thrice' are fantastic; the rotation of vocalists works perfectly, each singer has a certain tone that reacts with the others and the song so well: Lazare has a soft melodious voice that seems to long for something, Vortex has a powerful idiosyncratic whoop, more fierce, Garm - of Ulver - comes in with a more depressive drawl before Vintersorg's shrieks infiltrate from the external cold. I like clean vocals when done right, and Borknagar are masterful.

Some songs fall a bit flat in comparison, the intensity and the diversity isn't kept up, 'Noculent' is rather bland with its folk hard-rock conventionality, but it leads in to the pummeling snow-blast opening of 'Terminus', There is a strong progressive element to this album. 'Terminus' and 'Panorama' are prime examples of this with modulated keyboard sounds not far from something by Yes. 'Panorama' is different and playful, it reminds me of Ihsahn or Solefald, it does seem Lazare - founding member of Solefald - had a much greater role in this album. ICS Vortex isn't as prominent, which is a shame.

The second half of the album, in comparison to the first, isn't as instantly memorable, there were no sections that hooked me like 'Rhymes of the Mountain' and 'Winter Thrice' did. It's a solid record all together, but it could have been so much more. It's certainly on par with Urd, in my opinion. They're consistently great and because of this so much is expected of them. 

Rating: 7.5/10

Brutal Bandcamp: Interesting New and Upcoming Releases #2

Carnosus - The Universal Culmination EP (2016)

The Universal Culmination EP cover art

Swedish death metal, produced by Tomas Skogsberg and recorded at the famous Sunlight Studio: did the production for Entombed, Dismember, Grave, Nirvana 2002; this has got that classic buzzsaw sound ripping production we all expect from Swedish death. More technical and frenetic than Entombed and Dismember. Mid-pace grooves and sweeping melodies aplenty; deep gutterals and higher-pitched black metal rasps are in constant conflict. Four short and sweet songs. The technical eccentricty of Pestilence meets the energy and intensity of early Death. The more I listen to this E.P the more I notice, it's both melodic and intense and the riffs really are incredible, very mature for a young band.

Suspiral - Delve into the Mysteries of Transcendence (11th of March)

Delve into the Mysteries of Transcendence cover art

Suspiral are a two piece black-metal outfit from Spain. They've only released the one track, 'Poisonous Essence', from their upcoming E.P. It's a 12-minute journey into the spiritual dimensions that exist before death. They're signed to I, Voidhanger and they usually have a great selection of eccentric and interesting bands. This band are one of those: they seem a dirtier, more pessimistic and more human spin-off of Spectral Lore, and that's a great thing. The song travels from swirling cacophonies of noise to sweeping, grand solos, from slow mutated feedback heavy doom-riffs to uncompromising black-thrash aggression; vocals fade into the back of the mix, echo through the poisonous dimensions, engulfed by an atmospheric abyss.

Valtiel - The Druid (9th of January)

The Druid cover art

Harsh and oppressive ritualistic swamp sludge from the waterlogged misty plains of . . . Alaska. Valtiel are monstrously heavy. Thou meets Electric Wizard. Three tracks spanning 22-minutes of stoner-doom grooves, harsh, pained shrieks and a swampy suffocating atmosphere. 

Monday, 25 January 2016

Streaming Online: New Conan AND Wildernessking Albums

Conan - Revengeance

Noisey are streaming the new Conan album four days before release (with a bonus interview!) I'm extremely excited for this album based off the earth shattering heaviness of the single 'Revengeance'. 

Wildernessking - Mystical Future

Noisey are once again being a bunch of bloody heroes by streaming the new Wildernessking album four days early (also available on their bandcamp page here), Exciting post-black metal all from Cape Town, South Africa. 

There's also my Borknagar Winter Thrice album review coming up very soon!

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Album Review: Megadeth - Dystopia (2016)

Megadeth - Dystopia

Dystopia is very good. It has the energy and diversity of a rejuvenated band; Mustaine seems more intense and angry throughout, his vocals seem gruffer, his snarls more menacing and the tone of the album as a whole owes more to the angsty political persona of early Megadeth, heavily influenced by hardcore-punk bands like Fear ('Foreign Policy' is a Fear cover). Kiko Loureiro and Chris Adler are a near perfect fit for this refreshed sounding Megadeth: Adler's rhythmic and frantic pedaling brings back a pummeling speed-thrash edge and Loureiro's progressive-eccentricities (he has three writers credits on the album) brings about a rather flamboyant and creative touch. 

It's a diverse album with tempo-changes, spiralling solo after solo, acoustic passages, melodies and groove galore and, I think to it's minor detriment, there is perhaps too much indulgence, or if not indulgence too much going on; the speed-thrash aggression pops up from time to time and that intensity mixed with progressive touches is when Megadeth are at their best, but too often it does not maintain that intensity, rather it slows down to a more groovy, still quite angry, and melodic NWOBHM-esque sound. It's ultimately down to taste, the slower tracks really aren't bad at all.

The first three tracks, the three singles,  maintain a thrash-energy that permeates from song to song; 'Dystopia' is a great Megadeth song with a melodic groove and sleak transitions; it has an underlying aggressiveness that seems genuine, not forced. 'Fatal Illusion' opens with a crunching riff leading in to Ellefson's punchy bass popping into the mix alone segueing to dual guitars and the trademark Mustaine snarl: It's well written and certainly heavy-metal, a long way from the hard-rock filth that was Super Collider.

Following on, 'Death From Within' seemed a little uninspired, it's steady and bland riffing littered with quite interesting licks, the drumming interesting, but it was all quite conventional; it didn't quite manage to reclaim the energy from the previous songs, although this would probably be the best song on Super Collider. 

'Bullet To The Brain' illustrates the importance of an imaginative rhythm guitar; Kiko and Mustaine interplay, they are both near-virtuoso's and they're not afraid to flaunt it: the solos soar and switch between dramatic and frantic, soft and forceful, the guitars sing as they harmonise and fluctuate back and fore. Kiko and Mustaine really seem to work well together. And Kiko's influence is even greater on the next three songs - 'Post American World', 'Poisonous Shadows', and 'Conquer or Die!' - as Kiko is attributed, along with Mustaine, with writer credits. These three tracks feel a lot more different: the acoustic opening to 'Poisonous Shadows' is a well-placed rest, there is an atmosphere that doesn't feel too cheesy or forced. The three songs have that progressive-power metal eccentricity that one attributes to Angra. But, and this one of my few gripes, my issue is that, although these three tracks are decent enough, they seem to stop the album in its tracks; it feels a bit plodding and less furious. 'Poisonous Shadows' is the closest thing to a ballad and, although not bad, is that what we really want from a Megadeth album? We know the band have so much potential, and they've shown us that with some of the previous tracks, so hearing this shift in tone is a bit of a let down. (Still better than Super Collider).

The rest of the album though, following on from the instrumental 'Conquer or Die!' is fantastic; it really sounds like old-school Megadeth at times and, with shitty 80's production values, I'm sure Dave Mustaine could try and palm off a few of these songs as once-lost-now-found unused studio recordings from Peace Sells. 'The Emperor' is another fun, fast-paced melodic gem; it's cheesy and eccentric and idiosyncratic with fantastic musicianship and catchiness (it even has a Tom G Warrior ughhh thrown in): isn't this all we really want from life? 

It’s maybe not a good thing that my two favourite tracks on first listen were covers: ‘Foreign Policy’ a cover of 80’s hardcore-punk band Fear and ‘Melt The Ice Away’ (a Spotify bonus track, so it probably should not count, but I listened to it as part of the album before realising) a Budgie cover (Welsh hard-rockers from the 70’s). Before knowing this I had noted the punk-thrash simplicity of 'Foreign Policy' and it made sense after finding out it was a cover. Even as a cover it's a fantastic track, each member really shines through. The same can be said for 'Melt The Ice Away', Chris Adler in particular has some great fills.

All in all I am pleasantly surprised by this album. I was expecting it to be good based off the singles and based off Mustaine's recent return to a reasonable level of sanity. It really does have that unpredictability and diversity that Megadeth do so well: solos melt in to solos, solos fuse into grooves and eccentric bridges, bouncing bass interludes merge with gruff snarls and diverse drumming. It's extravagant but still espouses an 80's thrash-hardcore-punk sentiment that Megadeth seemed to be missing before. The lyrics, I find, still make me laugh - more likely cringe - at times, but this is Dave Mustaine, he's more of a stereotype, a cardboard cut out of a rock-star these days; he seems a bit more normal but he is still an anomaly. Dave Mustaine is a concept, an idea, a feeling, a movement deep inside of us all; he is human - well, half-human half-robot - and so I can forgive him. 

It's better than Super Collider!
Rating: 8.25/10

Friday, 22 January 2016

Extreme Non-Metal: The Curious Case of Scott Walker

I thought I'd attempt something quite extensive and detailed for this post, I hope it reads well and doesn't get to ranty or pretentious. I really consider Scott Walker an artist in the truest sense and hope that you agree with what I've written, and if not please argue with me!


Dance music for the manically depressed. Meditation for the schizophrenic. From a rich and warm world of musical fame to a sparse and oppressive wasteland; Walker's music is that of the fallout,  the human mind collapsed in on itself, the  weight of its own flawed consciousness seeping into a desolate insanity. Walker's musical world is jarring and oppressive, and the change in his  personal world - from idolized world famous pop star to experimental musical genius (in my opinion) - is just as striking.

Scott Walker, it seems, has always been unconcerned with the trappings of money and fame; in fact, from his days in the world-famous The Walker Brothers he came across as aloof and disinterested. There is one black-and-white clip I came across where The Walker Brothers were being interviewed: the two other members talked of money and fame and how to enjoy it, then the camera cut to Scott – pensive, even forlorn looking – sitting alone; he talked of how he wanted to be able to create, write and produce and how he did not care for money one bit. It was the music, as an art form, that mattered: nothing else would be allowed to interfere. Printed on the back of his 1969 album Scott 4 – his first solely written album - is a quote by Albert Camus that epitomises Walker’s belief:

‘A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.’

The songs that Scott wrote – for The Walker Brothers and for his solo records of the late 60’s (I highly recommend his solo album Scott 4) – were less conventional and more obscure, downbeat and pitiful,  yet they are striking in their scope and atmosphere: a teenage super-fan of Walker in the early 60's would turn these records on melt under the weight of there melancholy, they’d be changed people – or they’d hate, disregard it, and move on to their new manufactured heartthrob.

A few bad decisions – influenced by record labels – led to a series of flat and uninspired cover albums in the 70’s that Walker strongly regretted and, after the final Walker Brother’s album in the late 70’s (it’s worth checking the first four songs written by Walker, a precursor to the sparse oppressiveness of his recent output) he left the music business by his own accord and faded into obscurity. Walker likes being alone, he has said in interviews that he can spend a long time with himself in solitude, and this self-exile of sorts was used as a way of gathering ideas and inspiration from a vast cultural world: European cinema, beat poetry, classical avant-garde, Gregorian chant.

10 years later, in 1984, Walker reappeared with the album Climate of the Hunter, a drastically different recording to any of his earlier output: unconventional and hard to pin down. Walker’s sonorous baritone singing voice was somehow even more melancholic, downcast and desolate.But I highly doubt that anybody expected the bleak, sparse and oppressive trilogy of vaguely connected albums Walker released after: Tilt in 1995, The Drift in 2004, and Bish Bosch in 2012.

 Scott Walker - The Drift.jpg

Tilt, The Drift and Bish Bosch are very similar in their presentation and for the purpose of not dragging this on for too long, I'd like to talk of The Drift. When I first listened to The Drift I didn’t know what to look out for, it seem to neglect all forms of structure; I had entered a surreal and nightmarish universe, it was completely alien to me. There were vast sections where only Walker’s sluggish baritone moaned atop crackling feedback and barely audible scratching, at other times I thought my speakers had stopped working and as silence creeped and lay heavy in the room a wall of industrial noise and fragmented semi-rhythmic music knocked me into oblivion. Silence itself is an instrument that binds it all together and these jarring contrasts between loud and quiet sent my mind throbbing. The entire thing was just so bleak.

I listened to it a second time to try and make sense of its fragmented and trance-inducing soundscape. I tried to keep track of each change and each new sound, and the more I listened the more I began to see patterns, few and far between. At times, like at the end of ‘Jesse’, it is just Walker’s voice echoing and vibrating in a void, singing ‘I’m the only one left alive.’ It’s the repetition of monotone vocals that connects. ‘Jolson and Jones’ stops and starts, instruments seem to melt and warp, weird ticking and ominous strings underlay Walker’s moans. It’s jazzy in that things work that shouldn’t; the entire thing dwells on the boundary of chord and discord: it’s purposely unsettling. A pained donkey brays as the song leads in to a plodding yet spiralling section with a brief, transient beat that is submerged shortly after by a void of sound that re-invades the space: a chasm of silence, ambience and isolated instruments flood. It is industrial in the truest sense of the word: metal pipes, slabs of concrete, pieces of wood, bins, and slabs of meat were all used to create a natural – or unnatural – soundscape that creates something just that slight bit off-kilter. In fact, the entire album has a feeling that everything is just about being held together; pushed even a millimetre to the left or right sanity might turn to insanity.  

Detail from Bruegel's 'Triumph of Death'
The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel

The lyrics are also just as impenetrable: fragments of thoughts drawling through my speakers, they didn’t sound like they were coming from Walker. I felt like I was listening to a recording of The Waste Land, voices seems to come from the outside. Walker is well read and has borrowed from external texts that are know for dwelling in the extremes of human emotion, none of it should  work together in an album, but somehow it does. 

The themes are unconventional and the lyrics vivid: ‘Jesse’ is about Elvis Presley’s stillborn twin brother Jesse Garon, 'Six feet of foetus | flung at sparrows in the sky | Put yourself in my shoes’; the execution of Benito Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci is the subject of ‘Clara’, ‘This is just a cornhusk doll | dipped in blood | in the moonlight'; other songs focus on dictatorship, totalitarianism, torture, disease, and a whole array of morbid and terrible subjects.'Jolson and Jones' is a weird one that I found out is about washed up Las-Vegas singers Al Jonson and Allan Jones; the lyrics 'I’ll punch a donkey in the streets of Galway’ are repeated in Walker's forceful drawl throughout the song. I found out that Allan Jones had a song called 'Donkey Serenade' in 1937 which sort of explains the odd lyrics. The reason for all this talk of donkeysand old singers is because I've found this rather disturbing and unsettling video on YouTube that should really belong on a Scott Walker album:

Walker talked of himself as being a poet first and foremost, writing the lyrics first and shaping everything around that. Without the music the lyrics read like some late 20's avant-garde poetry that wouldn't be out of place between the writings of Getrude Stein, Mina Loy and Ezra Pound. It's rather fascinating to dissect but I don't think you really need to know what the subject is to experience the eccentricity and vulnerability that the lyrics possess, his songs are purposely cryptic and ambiguous. Yet Walker has said that he doesn't 'have a manifesto, I’m not an avant-gardist,' he wants his music to be listened to, he wants to share his music; in extreme metal there are bands that seem to think it's the cool thing to stay underground, to only put their E.P's onto cassette, to have a faint online presence or no presence at all, to be hard to reach or difficult to communicate with, but what is the point of making music if you're going to completely shut yourself off? It's annoying finding one track online that blows you away and then it being impossible to get hold anything else because the 'musician' is more obsessed secrecy and maintaining an aura. I think a lot of bands could learn from Walker about how to maintain a mystique, of sorts, while maintaining accessibility (although it can be argued that the only reason Walker has been able to be so reclusive and experimental while remaining accessible is because he has the luxury of money from his Walker Brother's days.) Bandcamp and Soundcloud and similar sites have made it all much more accessible, and to be honest I think I'm talking in circles a bit, but ultimately I'd like there to be more interaction and less hiding.

There is a lot to take from Walker that should be used in extreme metal; his influence in metal is widespread, most noticeably with Sun o)) who Walker collaborated with for the album SousedIn extreme metal a lot of bands – ambient/atmospheric/unorthodox black metal, drone, post-metal, and so on – really care for atmosphere; riffs and heavy instrumentation, of course, satisfy our aggressive, maniacal, and violent needs, but atmosphere – the way the albums move and sound around the conventional instrumentation – often eludes many albums, or is employed in such a way that is jarring and unnatural. There is often a lot of shallow, naïve and unimaginative attempts at evilness that in fact, when you look at some band photos, comes across as humorous. It should be about the music and about the music only.

I'd highly recommend everything Walker has done from the Climate of the Hunter to Soused; he also composed the soundtrack for french movie Pola X directed by Leos Carax and has also produced a contemporary dance piece for disabled and non-disabled dance company CandoCo. He truly goes by the beat of his own drum. The documentary about Walker, 30th Century Man, is also fantastic in that it focuses on the art and the music rather than biography and trivialities. 

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Coming-Up: A Message From Sir Akerbloger

I - Akerblogger - have been pretty busy in the last week with university deadlines and all that jazz, I've managed to fit some reviews in between essay writing as rather productive forms of procrastination. Well I've finally been released from the shackles of time, if only for a short while, so I hope to be able to bombard this blog with quality posts. Here's what we've got coming up in the next week or so:

In Retrospect: Taake - Bjoergvin

Taake - Over Bjoergvin graater himmerik
I'm going to start a weekly thing where I look over some of the albums that I think have either: a) had the biggest impact on myself, b) had the biggest impact on the genre, be it good or bad c) I've no previous knowledge of whatsoever (I'm thinking of selecting the, let's say, 10th randomised band on Metal Archives, and taking it from there).

My first post is going to be one of my favourite extreme metal albums, one of those that bridged the gap and led me into the wonderful world of extreme. It's funny because a few years ago, when I was making the jump from Alice in Chains and Deftones (who I still love) to heavier stuff, I come across Taake and instantly shunned it as a load of old tosh. How wrong I was and how quickly, after the routine and habit of building up to heavier music, the mind seems to start liking things it once didn't


Extreme Non-Metal: Scott Walker

This could potentially be another weekly thing. I've been listening to The Rift quite a bit these past few weeks and Scott Walker's entire artistic life story is incredibly interesting: a member of the pop group The Walker Brothers in the 60s he went solo in the 70s with pretty run-of-the-mill folk/singer-songwriter records, but then he sort of disappeared. He was know for being socially reclusive, always on the outside, and in the late 70's/early 80's he exiled himself from the music industry and hid from the limelight. He reemerged as an anti-popstar; his music was had a depressive, symphonc-drone, avant-garde sound, his vocals were deep and haunting and his music was sparse, heavy and long-winded. He avoids interviews: there are a small few online. His albums gestate and each aspect is thought out meticulously and with complete care and respect for music as an art form, not merely a vehicle for money making and fame. 

Hopefully this will be posted within a week. 


Album Reviews

It's a busy week in terms of releases; there are a few big name's on Friday: Ulver, Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Megadeth, Brutality, Vinterblot, Borknagar...Drowning Pool. A lot of albums that I want to give a thorough and balanced listen to, expect to see reviews of these - not Drowning Pool, although... - over the weekend.

Ulver - ATGCLVLSSCAPBorknagar - Winter ThriceMegadeth - Dystopia


I'm also wondering if there's anybody out there? I've been very surprised, in a good way, by the amount of pageviews the blog has been racking up and it would be really great to know if there are any regulars who come here, I'd love for this page to become more interactive. I know that Angry Metal Guy and No Clean Singing have great communities and I'd really like to pull a Vince McMahon and put them out of business! (not really, they're great blogs)

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Tree Toppling Sludge: The Lumberjack Feedback - Blackened Visions (2016)

The Lumberjack Feedback - Blackened VisionsIt's the sound of trees toppling over, roots ripping up from the ground and flailing like mindless tentacles; it's turf and mud and rocks being fired high into the sky as vertical slams to horizontal: the sonic boom lays waste to all. I imagine this album to be the aftermath. The Lumberjack Feedback - based in Lille, Franceplay an oppressive instrumental sludge with intricate and textured Melvins-esque drum work, pounding bass heavy riffs similar to Old Man Gloom and Omega Massif, and black metal inspired progressions and structures. 

Blackened Visions - released on the 12th of January - is a captivating and detailed album. It's an abrasive and heavily distorted tree toppling tree to the face: trance-inducing build-ups collide with intense bursts of aggression. The songs weave and thrust their way through: 'Blackened Visions' will coil around your brain, draining your life force.  There are actually two drummers rather than one octopus armed man, as I initially thought, that have have the simultaneous intensity of a jackhammer and the subtlety of something subtle.  

If you like industrial drones, grating feedback, intense and nuanced drumming, slow and sludgy riffing mixed up with a bluesy-Melvins groove along with melodies and progression - in 'Mah Song' in particular - that sound like something taken from Taake's Bjoergvin, you'll like this. 

Rating: 8.25/10

Monday, 18 January 2016

Album Review: Witchcraft - Nucleus (2016)

Witchcraft - Nucleus
I wasn't expecting much from this when I first saw it scheduled for release. That's not to say that I dislike Witchcraft, its just that there's only so much retro-occult-trendy Sabbath inspired doom that I can stomach. Witchcraft have a great ear for melody and a distinctive vocalist in Magnus Pelander, and I was expecting a similarly melodic hard-rock sounding album following on from their 2012 release Legend.

From the moment the first riff in 'Maelstrom' hit me I realised my preconceived judgments were wrong. Nucleus is a much more aggressive, downbeat, melancholic album; its dirtier and heavier than Legend, in fact it has some of the heaviest stuff they've ever done. It's partly psychedelic Sabbath worship with soulful blues and David Gilmour-esque guitar solos but it also has a sludgy and melancholic heaviness similar to that of more recent Katatonia and Anathema. 

'Maelstrom' an eight minute opener of plodding doom that slowly builds,  has the textured sparsity of Saint Vitus and the feel of early Sabbath and as the song progresses quicker riffs, forlorn vocals and heavy drumming swirl to powerfully. I never expected such oppressiveness from Witchcraft,

'Nucelus' at fourteen-minutes begins with an occult rock sound akin to Pentagram, before delving into a regal sounding epic with melodies not to different from Pallbearer's Sorrow and Extinction. Pelander's vocals on this album - and this song in particular - are much more forceful and wild, often building from sweet melodies to exasperated gruffness, and for this heavier retro-doom sound his vocals are really great. Flutes, (taken from a secret Jethro Tull album it seems), keyboards and an acoustic interlude build as a downcast group chant leads into a guitar solo and, to be honest, a rather flat ending.

The final track, 'Breakdown', at nearly 16-minutes, is an absolute monster of a song and by itself notches my rating up by a few points. After opening with eerie droning sound,s akin to Earth, and slow, downcast vocals the amps crackle and the voice of Sylvia Plath reads from 'The Stones': 'Drunk as a foetus, | I suck at the paps of darkness [...] This is the after hell, | I see the light.' leading to creaking riffs that sound on the verge of exploding and there really is a foreboding sense of that everything is about to fall apart; the vocal delivery becomes more erratic as Pelander sings of ‘a sick black smoke stored in my cells, coming out of me | I’m possessed, undigested, it dwells deep inside of me.’ as the guitar screech and whimper and the drums pound like slabs of meat and even at one point the vocals turn to semi-whimpers similar to those of Niklas Kvarforth of Shining. 

It's a long album at one hour and nine minutes - maybe too long. The longer songs are broken up by shorter, more hard rock based songs and I feel this juxtaposition is to the albums detriment. With the omission of a few songs the album, in my opinion, would be a more compact, focused and heavy album.The shorter songs on the album, although decent enough, distract a listener from the heavy, oppressive atmosphere of some of the longer songs.

Rating: 7.5/10

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Wonderful and Weird: Age of Nefilim - Cataclysm in the Land of the Watchers (2015)

Age of Nefilim's debut album, released in November of last year, is a treat for the ears. I'm not sure how I would accurately describe it without spiralling into a blackhole of over-the-top similes and comparison, so this review is going to be over-the-top and excited, suitable for this type of album. This is a genuinely fun album: Destroy All Humans meets Rick and Morty meets Kang and Kodos meets Abe's Odysee. This is what Carach Angren would sound like if they had been abducted to the Land of the Watchers. Technical death on top of video-game, dungeon diving, hack-and-slash soundtracks.

The artwork caught my eye initially as I scrolled through the cosmic-plains of the interwebs, the music abducted me upon listening and  I woke up this morning compelled to write this post. Intergalactic swamp symphonies reminiscent of Bal-Sagoth and Summoning  form the backbone of this album; it's less power-metal, less flat and more space-age, simply more well produced; according to the gospel of Metal Archives 'it is especially noted by the band members that one of their greatest influences in their composition is Nubuo Uematsu, the composer of the Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts soundtracks.' I can hear this here, the sonic soundscape is varied and refreshing, but that's not to say that the fundamental extreme metal elements are not up to scratch.

From the Age of Nefilim Facebook Page
There is a very clean, tech-deathy production throughout which complements the epic, alien landscape that Cataclysm in the Land of the Watchers creates. Inhuman brutal drumming does make way for more textured accompaniments; the guitar work is epic and imaginative in scope reminiscent of Obscura, guitar leads sweep and sing throughout, intricacy and brutality interplay; vocals are one of the albums strongest forces: gurgled snarls, brutal-death croaks, black-metal shrieks and  slow moans (think Dark Fortress) but most engrossing are the symphonic elements that connect it all and differentiate this album from being another clone.

'Poached from Forests and Fields' has a punchy string based base, a flute-like sound meanders, thrash like gang vocals at a few points emerge, runescape-esq trumpet sounds crash through the gurgled vocals - frantic drumming and fun riffs aplenty The entire album is made up of these inter-playing nuanced sounds; occasionally ambient passages silence the extreme metal, at other times they merge as one to conclude with epic, dramatic scope the end of songs such as 'The Flood Swept There Over'.
And overall I really do think that the album flows, it's not too jarring at all.

If you want something fun and creative, something that doesn't take itself seriously yet retains a technical proficiency and care for the craft, this is an album for you.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

New Song: Oranssi Pazuzu - Hypnotisoitu Viharukous

20 Buck Spin are streaming the fourth track from the upcoming Oranssi Pazuzu album Värähtelijä (pronounced 'vagina') set for release on the 26th of February; you can find the song here.

Oranssi Pazuzu - Photo

I've been pretty excited about the album since it was announced last year and this new song has intensified that excitement.

This quote from Metal Archive pretty much sums up the dual nature of the band: 'The band's motto is "Oranssi Pazuzu makes music that invites all the arsonists and smokers to hold hands." It's a mix of psychedelic experimentation and hard-edged black metal.

'Hypnotisoitu Viharukous' is a hypnotic track opening with a doomy, atmospheric noise before rupturing into excellent, no nonsense, riff based black metal;  keyboards and synth sounds - high in the mix - screech and throb over the riffs as maniacal vocals grate. The bass takes to the front as the song spirals into its mystical conclusion as chiming flute sounding synths swirl. 

At four-minutes - after a reasonably measured respite - an isolated riff opens a vortex of swirling sound: drums, guitars, synths, keyboard, and shrieks all in one. I really think this album could live up to the expectation.