Sunday, January 24, 2016

Looking Back 10 Years: 2006

In 2006 I was too busy gorging myself on Iron Maiden and Metallica to appreciate the material coming out at present.  I was that kid acting like the disgruntled old man, saying shit like, “all the good shit came out twenty years ago.”  While there’s not a thing wrong with loving some Iron Maiden and Metallica, it’s a shame I didn’t realize at the time that 2006 was one of the best years for music ever, and now that the decade has passed and we’re halfway through the next, I can say with conviction it was the best year for music post-turn of the century. 
I got to thinking about this because Metal Injection posted a list of albums celebrating their 10 year anniversary in 2016, which can be seen here.

Needless to say, the author left out a lot of albums that should’ve been on there, including: 

Giant Squid’s Metridium Fields
Wolves in the Throne Room’s Diadem of 12 Stars
Ahab’s Call of the Wretched Sea
OM’s Conference of the Birds

…Just to name some of my favorites from that year.  But he did mention the best two of 2006: Agalloch’s Ashes Against the Grain and Celtic Frost’s Monotheist, not just the two best albums of that year but two of the best albums – metal or non-metal – of all time.


While Celtic Frost went out in dramatic fashion by throwing down the gauntlet on just about every other extreme metal album ever written (which I touched on in my last blog), Agalloch carried on and has since grown from a place of well-regarded semi-obscurity to become one of the most beloved and influential metal acts of the new millennium. And they themselves picked up some influences along the way (Godspeed You! Black Emperor on Marrow of the Spirit), and have done what any metal band needs to do to be great: they have evolved.

Agalloch's guitarist and pianist, Don Anderson, touched on some of Agalloch's influences when asked in an interview about Agalloch attempting to expose listeners to a variety of types of music: 

"We really do want to expose our fans to different kinds of music, because we ourselves are very eclectic listeners. We’ve always been eclectic with our listening. In fact, when we wrote The Mantle, we weren’t listening to metal at all. We were very disenchanted with it. At that time, it was a very difficult time for metal. The only metal record I remember John and I listening to was Bathory‘s Hammerheart — that was a big influence. Otherwise, we were getting into singer/songwriters like Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, and other things like that. Of course, then there’s the neofolk scene: Death in June, Current 93, Sol Invictus, etc. That’s when we really started trying to adapt neofolk into our music. One of the other weird records was by a band called Sand — a record called The Dynamic Curve. John was getting into a lot of electronica like Autechre, Aphex Twin, and Boards of Canada. We were trying to bring all of those different influences in, because we were trying to expose our fans to all of those sorts of different music. It’s rewarding, but of course, we like to provoke!"

- Don Anderson, PhD
Heathen Harvest interview, July 19, 2015

Yes, Anderson has PhD in English and teaches at the University of Washington. I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn he assists the typically credited lyricist, John Haughm, in the lyric writing process. The band's lyrics have always been very mystical and enchanting, often describing natural landscapes and old world emblems, without sacrificing devotion to even heavier subjects, like divinity.

I never heard any Autechre, Aphex Twin or Boards of Canada in Agalloch's music, but the folk influences are obviously there. The band used folk to establish its signature sound, and they did it right, in my opinion, without going completely over the top as some Finnish bands I'll refrain from naming have.  And we heard more Bathory influence later on, notably in Faustian Echoes, than perhaps anywhere else in Agalloch's catalog.    

Celtic Frost never wrote two albums that sounded the same, and neither has Agalloch.   But while Celtic Frost's change-ups tended to be more sporadic and unpredictable, Agalloch has taken a more linear evolution that feels more natural, kind of like Metallica did between Kill 'Em All and And Justice....  Each album is distinct in its sound but the artist is never in question.  And, importantly, (up to The Serpent & the Sphere) the evolution felt right

When Marrow of the Spirit came out in 2010 I felt a twinge of disappointment because it was so dramatically different than what's still Agalloch's best, Ashes Against the Grain, and this is even despite the fact that Marrow of the Spirit had the obvious influence of my favorite band throughout, especially on the album's standout track, "Black Lake Nidstång," and was thus stylistically at an advantage. But something about the heavy, polished emotion on Ashes Against the Grain, at a time when black metal and doom metal coincided less frequently, gives it standing above all Agalloch's other albums. I really think it might be the greatest metal album ever written. 
So what years were as good as 2006? It's a hard question. 

1970 - Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, Deep Purple’s Deep Purple In Rock
1971 - Led Zeppelin’s IV, Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality, Funkadelic's Maggot Brain, The Who's Who's Next
1973 - Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy
It goes without saying that Black Sabbath released one great album after another between 1970 and 1975. 

1975 - Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, Black Sabbath’s Sabotage, Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run
Then there was 1986, which raked in a ton of classic albums.

1999 was a great year too, with Immortal's At The Heart of Winter, Sigur Rós' Ágætis byrjun, Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada, Nine Inch Nails' The Fragile, etc.   

But I don't know if any of those years were as strong as 2006 was.  

Okay... maybe 1973 and 1975 were. 


Monday, December 28, 2015

Triptykon's Melana Chasmata

I’m a year late posting a review of this album, but it’s something I need to do.  I realized while perusing through this blog that I never wrote anything about Triptykon’s first album, either, which was one of the best albums released in 2010 (maybe the best – I still have a lot of trouble deciding which album was #1 that year), so I’ll try to make up for it here. 

I can't understate the influence Thomas Gabriel Fisher has had on me. And I know I'm hardly alone. Few bands have crafted a legacy as enduring as the mighty Celtic Frost, and few bands have ever evolved to the degree that Celtic Frost did between Morbid Tales and Monotheist. Morbid Tales embraced a radical style of experimentation in speed and groove that is widely credited as preeminently pioneering extreme metal (black metal in particular). To Mega Therion threw down the gauntlet not only on all the bands intent on gimmicking Sabbath style doom, but on all bands that dared to call themselves "heavy." How many albums have we heard that are thrash/doom? Into The Pandemonium, which, though great in its own right, demonstrated experimentation greater in extent than that of even To Mega Therion (yes, even hip-hop seeped its way in), but had neither the direction or energy of Morbid Tales or To Mega Therion. I think this album sent Celtic Frost in a direction that ultimately wrecked the band and propelled them into the dreaded 20 years that followed the release of Into The Pandemonium that I'd rather not talk about, because, you know, one has been over the Cold Lake fiasco time and time again and honestly it's just not worth going into anymore.

With that said, the linear evolution of the band left long and lasting lines of influence and ideas, and nested nearly all forms of crude, violent, crushing, aggressive (it’s hard to characterize Celtic Frost with just a few adjectives) music under one banner. With Monotheist, Celtic Frost discarded all the failed experiments, trimmed the fat, extrapolated the elements that originally made them so unique, and crafted an album that throned them once again on a precipice of excellence that few bands ever approach, and they did it by reinventing themselves with a style of music that to my knowledge didn't exist before 2006.  Doom metal had existed in various forms since 1970, but Monotheist birthed a different animal altogether.  It was as immense an album as I’ve ever heard, devastating in impact and awe inspiring in magnitude. I'm not sure there's any other instance in metal, or in music for that matter, of a band reemerging with such a vengeance after 20 years of mediocrity to nullify all doubt and lay claim to, in one word, greatness.

Celtic Frost's legacy was cemented when they broke up after the release of Monotheist. Few bands throw in the towel, or ride off into the sunset depending on the way you look at it, after dropping the best album of their career. The Beatles managed to do it with Abby Road, and Simon and Garfunkel did it with Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Bolt Thrower might’ve done it with Those Once Loyal.  Not taking into account single album artists, like Thergothon, Winter, Black Math Horseman, etc., because the real claim to abnormality, and thus distinction, is the production of something spectacular after the passage of so much time.  This is what few bands seem to be able to do.  It's far more common for bands to reach levels of excellence early on in their careers, that they find impossible to replicate after the passage of so much time, and in turn we see bands dilute their discographies with mediocre releases or worse.

In 2008 Thomas Gabriel Fisher and V. Santura formed Triptykon after the disbandment of Celtic Frost due to, and I'll quote Fisher, "the irresolvable, severe erosion of the personal basis so urgently required to collaborate within a band so unique, volatile, and ambitious." And in 2010 Triptykon released album #1: Eparistera Daimones, and to everyone's delight, and perhaps astonishment (considering the company in question had never released two albums in a row that sounded the same), it picked up more or less right where Monotheist left off. It continued in the direction of latter day Celtic Frost, being an aggressive, crushingly heavy slab of doom/death/extreme whatever it is. And Monotheist set a pretty high standard for heaviness, so the fact that Triptykon's debut was even comparable came as a joy to fans that yearned for more Monotheist style extreme metal. And it was apparent pretty quick. Eparistera Daimones' opener, "Goetia," was as devastating as any album opener I've ever heard. I think Fisher realized after Monotheist that he held the recipe for something truly special, and was determined to see it manifest again in a new form.  And with the creation of Triptykon he had unlimited creative license to do just that.

Eparistera Daimones was special. And Melana Chasmata is special. Melana Chasmata is also a continuation in the same direction, and the third album cooked with the Monotheist recipe, only tweeked a little. We have Santura's vocals to compliment Fisher's, which is an amazing addition considering the two go so well together. Fisher has the tyrannical, dark, twisted, barking voice and Santura has the raspy voice. They go hand in hand and add depth to the music. We also have more focus on guitar tone and less focus on riffs. The purpose of Triptykon's guitars are to establish tone and crush, whereas Monotheist was, while equally crushing, more riff filled. The riffs that are present on Melana Chasmata are catchy and heavy as hell. What I like most about this album is that, like its predecessor, it cannot be described by one, two, or maybe even three genres. It's not just pulverizing doom (although there's plenty of doom for doom lovers), because there are occasional bursts of traumatically brutal speed. It's not just death metal or black metal although there are stamps of both throughout.  Fisher is adept at taking all the vile tones of the different metal genres and throwing them together to create a unique package.

This album seems a little more personal than the last, too. There are very sorrowful harmonies, very mournful melodies, and it's even more emotionally depressing than either Monotheist or Eparistera Daimones, lyrically as well as musically, and maybe that's because the subject matter is a little less about Satan and dying gods coming into human flesh and more about how Fisher will never see his children smile and "Emily" - whoever she is. Fisher might've reached somewhere even deeper within himself to extract the content for this album. I don't know who Emily is, if she's a friend of Fisher's or someone he used to know or someone he never knew, but he chants her name over and over in "In The Sleep of Death" and the song is written as though he's crying out to her.

Emily, why don't you speak to me?
Can't you see, I'm not sleeping
Emily, why don't you reveal yourself?
Can't you feel my yearning
Emily, the rays of the golden sun
Touch your tender skin, your frozen skin
Emily, this gentle morning chill
Silenced a voice within, your voice within
Emily, you were the blood in my veins
Emily, why did you abandon me?
Emily, how long may this dismal moment last?
Here in this world was your life
Emily, how can I find serenity?
This is the very ground you walked upon

Then there’s the strange gothic poem he wrote that is “Waiting,” which is soft and creepy rather than brutal, and which some complain is filler music that serves as a weak closer.  But damn if I don’t like it.  I can listen to Simone Vollenweider’s chorus “dying” and “we are the same” for hours.  She has a haunting voice and her vocals add even further depth and levels of melancholy to the music (I’m glad Fisher has always been attracted to female vocals, yet heedful enough not to overuse them).  I wouldn’t want this album to end any other way.  The listener turns off the stereo looking inward, wondering what’s coming.  It has an effect similar to “Winter (Requiem)” on Monotheist, where there’s an ambiance that’s calming but brooding at the same time.   

These tracks are far cries from the prayer to Lord Satan that was "Goetia," or the call to worship that was "Synagoga Satanae," but the music doesn’t miss a beat. This album is as beautiful as it is ugly. It's very melancholic, dark, nihilistic. Writing music is Fisher's outlet the way writing books is Stephen King's. He'll keep doing it because it's his lifeline. If he stops there will be nothing left to keep him going. And as long as he's writing, I'll be listening. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Terra Tenebrosa's V.I.T.R.I.O.L. - Purging the Tunnels (EP)

I have been listening to Blut Aus Nord's The Work Which Transforms God, which is one of the most unsettling and disturbing albums in my collection.  It's a little problematic because it's so draining to listen to it.  A lot of music can inspire us and build us up but this album works at crushing your soul.  It not only works at it - it does it.  Not many recordings can put such a dampening on the human spirit.
The Work Which Transforms God had me yearning for more, so I started searching for bands similar to Blut Aus Nord, of the avant-garde, industrial black metal variety.  I came across Terra Tenebrosa.  I saw they had released an EP this year - V.I.T.R.I.O.L. - Purging the Tunnels, which is the third and final instillation, and will serve as the closing chapter, of the conceptual approach of the two albums that came before it: The Tunnels and The Purging.  The next phase of the band is going to be, according to one of the members, more violent, and... wait for it... more ugly.   

Rest assured, the music is already pretty damn ugly.  There's nothing beautiful or life affirming about it.  It's very similar in style to industrial/ambient Blut Aus Nord, and the music has the same dreadful effect.  It's uninspiring and unsettling.  The band already has an unsettling image with all the pictures of its members dressed in creepy costumes and masks.  They're obviously trying to evoke a sense of horror.  Their music does nothing but reinforce that sense.  It's a little terrifying in its own right.  It ranges from dark and ambient to dark, loud and violent.   

Both the tracks on this EP were actually recorded during the recording sessions of The Tunnels and The Purging, so they're "leftovers," I guess you could say, but still certainly worth listening to, for the atmosphere alone if nothing else.  I'll put this music on this coming Halloween instead of Lustmord and Aghast.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cormorant's Earth Diver

I've developed an increasingly bizarre relationship with Cormorant's music.  

Before I begin I would first like to give a disclaimer: this is as much a written critique of Cormorant's style of music and the direction it's taken than a review of Earth Diver itself.  

With that in mind... 

I think it's safe to say I liked Metazoa from the start.  After a few listens I liked it even more.  After a few more listens I really began to see and understand that it was an incredible album, and somewhere along the way "liked" turned into "loved" and Matazoa climbed its way onto my all time favorite albums list, and there I think it will stay forever.

Dwellings was a little different.  Everything about Dwellings indicated that it should live up to Metazoa.  At the time of its release I think I was so used to Metazoa, and identifying Cormorant only with Metazoa, that I had a hard time letting Dwellings have the impact on me that it should have.  There can be no doubt, Dwellings is brilliant.  It's far more technical than any album needs to be to be good, it's tight and fluid all the way through (the band claimed it's even tighter and more focused than Metazoa), it's as dynamic as all get out, the songwriting and tempo variations are flawless, the riffs are melodic, the overlaying of instrumental melodies are executed with pinpoint accuracy... all signs indicated it was Cormorant.  Unmistakably so.  So I kept waiting for it to impact me the way Matazoa did.

Earth Diver is Dwellings redux.  Not musically.  But it is in terms of the response it's elicited.  I want so badly to appreciate this the way I appreciated Metazoa, to feel those feelings again, to be impacted.  I want it to feel fresh again.  Metazoa was so fresh.  Earth Diver feels burnt.

I think one of the problems I'm having with the music is the overabundance of melody.  There are so many melodies stuck in here, and stuck in there, that the music feels forced.  By forcing in so many melodies at every opportunity maximum emotional potential is trampled upon, and instead of hearing build ups or crescendos we just hear a different melody stuck in where it doesn't belong.  Take the intro to "Solid As A Crow," which, like a lot of Cormorant's intros, is brilliant.  At some point that melody altogether evaporates, and it's never replaced by anything that's as contextually appropriate or emotionally impactful.

"A Sovereign Act" is another example.  If Cormorant had simply taken the theme of the first minute or so of the song, held onto it, expanded on it, built it up, there's no telling what heights the song could've soared to.  As it stands, most all parts of the song are unmemorable and lackluster because nothing is fleshed out.  Even the intro, which is, like the intro of "Solid As A crow," brilliant, is lost and suffers deemphasis in the endless sequence of subsequent riffs and tempos.   

There is no flow.  The songs never lock into a coherent groove.  The riffs don't interlock at all and the songs just blaze on in no discernible direction with no sense of purpose.  The listener is jolted around.  Melodies and riffs cede endlessly into one another in an endless procession of, what amounts audibly to, wasted material and spent creativity. 

The worst consequence of this formulaic approach to songwriting is lack of emotion.  The music isn't inspiring.  I could wrap my head around Metazoa.  It wasn't too much.  Dwellings and Earth Diver are just endless barrages of exhausting cycles of tunes that at times seem dysfunctional and conflated.        


However, despite Cormorant's approach to writing music, in the way I've described above, there have been noticeable progressions in their sound from album to album.  By this I mean that there have been significant enough differences from album to album to really highlight the direction Cormorant is heading inMetazoa was more or less melodic death metal with some folk and black metal influences, Dwellings was progressive blackened folk metal, and Earth Diver is progressive black metal with fewer folk influences.  Sure, Arthur Von Nagel's departure is noticeable, as everyone expected it to be, but Marcus's harsh vocals are just as strong if not stronger and they accompany Cormorant's blackened sound just fine.  There are fewer folk elements on Earth Diver than on Metazoa and Dwellings, which makes the music all the more aggressive and progressive and exhausting.  Earth Diver is a little darker than Cormorant's previous albums

Most good bands, at least the bands we'll remember decades from now, have discographies with traceable directions, and each album can be associated with a progression, a difference, while still being unmistakeably recognizable as an album by that band [insert memorable band].  Cormorant has all the traits of such a band.  But the general feeling I get when listening to Earth Diver is that of, as I've already mentioned, complete exhaustion.  The music tires me out.  It's somehow, despite its intricacy and technicality, still repetitive and vapid.  Their changes in direction have not remedied the issues they face as songsmiths.    

With all that said, I'm positive there are a lot of people out there that would love Earth Diver if they unearthed it.  The music is so technical.  And there are so many avid tech death fans out there.  Cormorant's music could be a bridge gap between fans of a number of different genres.  Cormorant has as much potential as any metal band I've heard.  Their talent and passion is absolutely undeniable and they have enough creative juice to fuel about ten bands, and if they would simply take lass material and do more with it, the sky could be their limit.

Most bands have the opposite problem - not enough creative juice and not enough passion. Most bands struggle to pump out more than a couple memorable melodies per album.  Advice to Cormorant: keep some of that music in your minds pent-up.  Let it flow from you and don't do it by numbers.  Don't let ambition become self-destructive.

Ambition has a way of devouring the once mighty.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

ARAKK's Self & Distance (demo)

There seems to be some confusion about the release date of this recording.  It was recorded in the summer and fall of 2013, and released in June 2014.  I noticed Metal Archives has it documented as a 2013 release.  That's incorrect.  It's a 2014 release.  It's also documented as a demo.  That may be correct, but it's unclear.  It's not a full-length, given the recording is just one 24-minute track, but it might be an EP.  It doesn't have the poor quality most demos do.  Either way, it's a recording that needs to be brought out into the open.  It has the potential to make some serious noise in the metal community.  This band has the potential to be the next big thing in funeral doom metal.

ARAKK hails from Copenhagen, Denmark, and consists of:

Jesper Christoffersen - Guitars/vocals
Kasper Ralsted Jensen - Guitars/vocals
Nicholas R. Tesla - Bass
Johan Trærup - Drums

Aske Øland Kjærgaard - Synth/programming

And on this recording we're fortunate enough to hear guest vocals by Ayo Krohn Mikkelsen.  Maybe she'll decide to join the band (and/or appear on future releases).  We can hope so at least.  

Self & Distance is a doom track to behold.  It has the painfully mournful and funereal riffs, calm, brooding atmospheric landscapes, hauntingly dreamy vocals (not dissimilar to the vocals of Sara Timms on Black Math Horseman's one and only record), crushing passages and building climaxes.  

From the 11:05 mark to 17:15 the pace really slows down and we hear a slow drum beat, an occasional guitar strum and the marvelously effective, almost chanted, whispering vocals of Ayo Krohn Mikkelsen.  The whispering at times sounds like its layered together as it builds.  The vocals come to a sudden halt and a soft, slow guitar melody follows before things get real heavy again.

Recommended to anyone who likes funeral doom and has the patience to sit through a 24-minute song that, despite its length, remains interesting and captivating throughout.  I'm already looking forward to ARAKK's first full length. 


Monday, June 16, 2014

Profetus' As All Seasons Die

...To Open The Passages in Dusk, for some reason or another, never grabbed my attention. I've got a copy of it on vinyl but I've never taken it out of the sleeve to put on the table. My listening time is valuable, and I don't like to spin records that don't affect me emotionally/psychologically, and that one just never did.  

It's a bummer because there's, in my opinion, not enough funeral doom to be heard, and when a band records funeral doom of Profetus' variety, with high production value, it's really a shame when it's monotonous (and no, not all funeral doom is monotonous, believe it or not).  Thankfully we have Mournful Congregation, Skepticism and Ahab to turn to when pickings get slim.  But it's still nice to get a different artist in the mix every once in a while.  Like Loss in 2011. And like Profetus in 2014.   

As All Seasons Die is an improvement over ...To Open the Passages in Dusk. It's the third full length from the funeral doom outfit from Tampere, Finland, where the snow lasts from late November to early April.  It's not nearly as lengthy.  It's thirty-six minutes instead of fifty-eight, so it doesn't drag on as long, and it feels like it's more crafted.  

Profetus' music is heavy, plodding and burdensome, but it's not of the impenetrable wall of sound variety like Evoken or The Call of the Wretched Sea/The Divinity of Oceans-era Ahab.  Profetus' music, while certainly heavy, has a rather serene aspect to it that isn't found in most doom metal.  It's mesmeric and immersive.  The listener is swept away in it and carried off to some far away place that isn't exactly inviting, nor uninviting, but arcane.  Most funeral doom is just doleful and depressing.  Profetus' is not.  It's more mysterious and introspective.  Forlorn, perhaps, and somber, but not 'I want to go kill myself' depressing.     

"The Rebirth of Sorrow," "Dead Are Our Leaves of Autumn" and the last five minutes of "The Dire Womb of Winter" are particularly mysterious and at times damn near spellbinding.  The solo in "Dead Are Our Leaves of Autumn" is very Mournful Congregation-esque (it reminds me a lot of the solo in "The Waterless Streams").  The spoken word chants add to the mystique.  I must say, I like the sparseness of death growls.  They're fine where they are, but the spoken vocals better compliment the album's atmosphere. 

This isn't an immaculate album, but parts of it are definitely worth listening to.  There is a chance it could win Best Funeral Doom Album of 2014, but it will have to beat out Concrescence of the Sophia and Skepticism's and Aldebaran's upcoming albums.  It's so rare for a funeral doom album to remain captivating throughout its entirety.  We have to select the parts we like and return to them over and over.  And I'm completely content doing this because the parts worth returning to are so, so good.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Thantifaxath's Sacred White Noise

In the court of Thantifaxath.

And a dark, chilling, ominous court it is.  Fringed with candles and animal skeletons, a stone floor, deep recesses cut into the stone and blood stains abound, there have been many incantations spoken in this court.  A wooden door clad in metal hinges leading to a staircase winding down into a chamber is the only exit.  No shafts of sunlight grace this court.

Every so often three figures in black hoods, whose faces we cannot see and whose identities remain anonymous, enter the court through the great wooden door clad in iron, light the candles on the fringe, and play beautiful, foul, dissonant, claustrophobic black metal.  But not before they take a light hit of psychedelic drugs.  

Sweeping anthems and mesmerizing chords engulf the court and resonate throughout the halls as the three men in hoods play purposeful, calculated, piercingly ornate music that summons dark spirits and then entrances them.

The music is thematic and blistering, atmospheric, shrill, harmonically disconcerting.  It's black metal with the weight of doom.  There's a great weight to this music.  The three mysterious musicians surely feel the weight of the music they play, and they must feel anguish.  Tremelo picked harmonies drone on and on.  Sometimes the light is bright in the darkness.  Sometimes darkness and light blend together. 


When the anthems end and the chords echoing off the walls die down, and fade away, the spirits sober and retreat back into the crevices in stone from whence they came.  For a while there is a gasping in the darkness.  And then even the sound of the gasping disappears. 

And once again the court is silent and still.  

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Saor's Aura

It seems like there are more and more one-man bands cropping up all the time, especially in the extremities of the underground.  Panopticon, Borgne, Woods of Desolation, The Fall of Every Season, Saor.  It's amazing how these artists are producing such impressive, well-rounded compositions.

So many atmospheric black metal bands have exhausted the themes of cold winters in the northern lands, dark forests in the night, and silent lakes at the coming of dawn.  Not that there's anything at all wrong with those themes (they're very appropriate for this style of music and oftentimes very moving), but it never hurts to hear something different once in a while.  This album brings something different, but something not unfamiliar.  We've heard these sounds before, but they're a little less cold, and a little less dark.  This album brings the wind to your hair.  

Also, despite its Celtic, folky leanings, there is nothing in the sound reminiscent of war.  We don't feel like we're being led into battle.  This is a good thing.  War metal is almost as bad as weightlifting metal.  Instead, parts of this album are reminiscent of Écailles de Lune - era Alcest, which is never a bad thing.  The intro to "Aura" sounds like "Sur l'océan couleur de fer" with the chanting and soft guitar melodies.

The sounds are layered together nicely.  None of the instruments, be they keyboards, piano, acoustic guitars, replicated strings, whistles, feel out of place.  Everything flows.     

This is beautifully crafted black/folk metal.  The melodies whisk you away to the hillsides of Scotland.  It's sorrowful, yet triumphant.  Rarely are black metal albums so bright, but this one is.  And the future of this band is bright.  

Northern Silence Productions has, so far, brought us three of the best albums of the year: Woods of Desolation's As The Stars, Cross Vault's Spectres of Revocable Loss (even though it's on Eyes Like Snow, Northern Silence Productions is its parent label), and now Saor's Aura.  

Keep up the good work!


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sólstafir's Köld

This album came out in 2009 but I just discovered it a few months ago.  I've been listening to it a lot recently.  My mother tells me frequently, "don't you listen to loud music, you'll destroy your hearing."  I know she's right, but some albums are just styled in such a way, and are so good, they have to be blasted.  Sólstafir's Köld is one of those albums.  I don't mind listening to it at a volume that makes my ears throb.  It's just that good.  To listen to it any other way would detract from the experience too much.

Listening to Aðalbjörn Tryggvason scream "Í dögun birtist þu" at the top of his lungs is like watching Lisbeth Salander throw the leather suit in the dumpster. 


Just when there's a little bit of hope, it vanishes in an instance. 

This is simply one of the best albums ever, and I would say Sólstafir's best hands down. Sólstafir draws its influences from all over the place, and the result is a very avant-garde, unusual sound.  I swear at times when  Aðalbjörn Tryggvason screams he sounds like a raspier Billy Idol. It's the soft parts of the album, and the way the melodies are carried over from soft to hard and hard to soft, that make it so damn good, in addition to its styling and unconventional fusion of genres.  See all of "Köld," especially the 4:20 - 6:45 part and the subsequent part that reverts back to metal.  The music is sometimes joyous, but always haunting.  "World Void of Souls" is extremely haunting, non unlike something Trent Reznor & company might write, with hummed vocal melodies and an eerie ambient riff playing throughout about a 10-minute span after an eerie sound sample concludes of a man muttering this:

I woke up at 9:30 thinking I had already missed the daylight
But it won’t be here for another two hours.
It doesn’t matter, I’ll probably sleep through it anyway.
I drift through my days like a zombie,
Looking for reflections of her in the grayness of it all.
The daylight only lasts for a couple of hours,
So I haven’t seen any colors for a couple of weeks.
It doesn’t matter, I’ve always been into bleakness.
Even my dreams are in black and white.
But maybe that is just because so are the photos of her,
The last evidence that she, happiness, really did exist.

The emotions stream in this album.  This is perfect music to listen to over a frozen, desolate landscape, maybe as the sun rises.  Sólsafir is from Iceland; I suppose they've always drawn influence from their unique and isolated environment.  There's a craving of old, better days - better times in life that have passed and aren't coming back. This is especially the tone in "Necrologue" and “World Void of Souls," where the listener feels as if they're sitting around a campfire in the dead of night while a stranger recalls the beauty in the midst of all the colorless, black and white days that seamlessly blend together.    

Iceland has one of the best music environments of any country out there.  Maybe it's because of its isolation.  Maybe it's because it's located just a few miles outside the Arctic Circle.  I know bands - the best bands - draw from their natural environments when writing music, and usually their finished products reflect that. Sometimes it might even be accidental.  Sometimes we are impacted in ways, and by things, we don't understand.  And sometimes we're not even aware of it.  What most Icelandic bands probably are conscious of is the fact that Iceland has a small population, and that countries with small populations, especially isolated countries with small populations, of which Iceland is a prime example, are often ideal places for cross-fertilization.
Iceland has more bands per capita than any other country in the world.  All these bands and musicians know one another, or at least know of one another.  They are influenced by one another.  This results in unusual music fusions.  Icelanders also suffer from "small nation complex."  "Per capita" is probably one of the most commonly used phrases in Iceland.  This accompanied with its nasty history of being a colony to a larger, richer nation probably perpetuates a cultural sense of self-consciousness that also finds its way into the fabric of Icelandic music. 

Wherever Sólstafir's feelings are coming from, those feelings are in their music.  They echo loud and clear.  And whatever their influences are, be it black metal or death metal or Sigur Rós, they go from writing radio friendly pop songs to prolonged raw, texturized, instrumental passages that are quite deep, gripping and emotionally exhausting.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Epta Astera's Semper Reformanda (EP)

This is the best Christian recording since Virgin Black's Requiem: Mezzo Forte.  

I don't say that lightly. 

Nor do I particularly like using religion as an adjective for a type of music, since it in no way describes sound.  In the same way that geography doesn't describe sound, but still we see bands throwing "Chilean" or "Balkan" in front of their genres trying as best they can to be more descriptive (and failing).  Finding good "Christian" music is so rare though nowadays it almost needs to be emphasized when something good comes along.   

This music takes influences from Gregorian chant, folk, post-rock and atmospheric post-black metal.  The architecture isn't predictable and tempos vary throughout, changing suddenly and sporadically from quite slow/doomy to aggressive and uptempo (the black metal tempo isn't really a footing).  There are all kinds of instruments on this album, and I don't know what most of them are, but what is really proven here with these instruments is that folk can be worked into about any type of music without sounding gimmicky if done right.  Unfortunately, most bands don't do it right. And the result is... well… gimmicky.

Epta Astera and Falls of Rauros and Skagos and bands of the like are, unfortunately, the exceptions.     

Nevertheless, that makes this avant-garde stuff, when it comes along, all the more sweet.  Ornate and bombastic baroque that even Bach might've found tempestuous. It's a pity these Eastern themes don't show up in music more often.           

To quote Epta Astera's blog, "Black Metal and the Reformation":

Black metal is about individualism. Often times it comes dressed up in vestments of paganism or satanism or misanthropy, but at its core it’s about the freedom of the individual in the face of society (NSBM notwithstanding); a rejection of external norms and authority in pursuit of internal vision.

Black metal's philosophy couldn't be stated more clearly and explicitly. It's important to remember, too.  It's important for black metal bands and listeners not to become a drove - a drove of opposition opposing other droves; that shouldn't be the imprint left by the black metal culture. Rather, it should be a conduit for consciousness, self-examination and internal vision.         

The works of Epta Astera are available for free download here:

Support the avant-garde and the free expression of music without the limiting effects of coercive institutions.