Friday, July 25, 2014

Vader - Tibi Et Igni [2014]


And the flame returns.

A mere 3 years after their stunning, colossal, infinitely propulsive masterwork and offering to the Morbid Reich, Vader, the heralds and bannermen of the Polish death metal expand their retinue further, thereby installing themselves as the irrefutable kings of the scene. ''Welcome To The Morbid Reich'', I believe opened new fissures and gates for the genre at large. Showing that grueling on technical riffs or bashing out riffs like ignorant neanderthals wasn't the way to serve death metal justice; by finding the perfect, clinical yet buttery texture, the enduring cohesion and the years of experience Vader proof-read the deficiencies of all its peers splendidly. Yet as much as a victory that record was and a brilliant home run for 2011, your elation naturally disperses pretty quickly knowing it would be something of a mission impossible for Vader to strike a score as flawless as that one. Sure enough, ''Tibi Et Igni'', the band's first record with a Polish moniker, gushes out of the band's womb with not just the shadow of an elder brother, but with the pressure of insatiable curiosity and expectancy which the metal community has been harboring eagerly ever since 2011. So for the critical question: does Vader live up to the hype? Does Peter's outlaws of brutality ace the test?

The answer is, to be sure, a little complicated. As a parvenu of a band, with its humble origins as deeply rooted to as far as the 80's, Vader compels attention not just with its startling set of records, but also with its consistency, being one of the very few bands - in all of metal - to have actually released to many albums without falling shy of quality even in the least desirable efforts; so no matter what they do, after this point you know they're going to do it good. It's the classic forger's mentality, see. The more you work on the anvil, the better your craft becomes, and after a certain level you become proficient enough possess the inability to go down again. Hence, ''Tibi Et Igni''. To cut a long story short, Vader is awesome as always on this record, with its atypical stools of aggression and unchained hostility channeling an excellent level of durability and control, which is what they''re renowned for, after all. On the surface the riffing, the efficacious, infallible riffing that death/thrash maniacs salivate for, seems peerless. Yet as the listener delves deeper into the volcanic, explosive edifice of the record, some of the axioms about bands ''not being able to live up to their potential'' kick in and the gears start turning. Yet this is merely to say that ''Tibi Et Igni'' is not on par with its predecessor, and the latter was an indomitable record. So why the sullen face?

Contrary to a myriad of other bands, the drop of quality does not amount to something big with Vader. In fact, I almost snapped as many neck limbs on this album as the previous. And have no doubt about it; this record is a non-stop session of modern death metal meeting with uncircumcised, skinless thrash at its virtual best. Huge stompers. Megalithic riffing. Vader's style hasn't varied much, so there's still a metric ton of Slayer, early Death, Brutality, early Corpse and Morbid Angel in there, but Vader also elicits listener's with pummeling tunes that might just have been penned by some of their countrymen, like Decapitated, Hate or Lost Soul. In a boundless amalgamation of modern and antique excellence, Vader once more presents the unique Polish death metal sound with everything that is to brag about it. Whirling, majestic tremolos that crash through like serpents smoldering in fire, or some frenetic Ouroboros slithering unscathed, and there's a fair amount of technicality in the riffs that helps create some variation from time to time. And the leads. Those sweet, wondrous leads that seep through the record like molten gold. Perhaps what makes every Vader record so satisfying is that they're superb musicians, and that's not just say that the guitarists know their way around the ropes. The drums are terrific, clean, punchy and muscular, with plenty of machine-gun fills and double-bass plodding, and I don't even need to mention Peter's unmatched vocals, which, as the product of their unique vocal voltage and strangely appealing foreign accent serve the music splendidly. Peter will occasionally pull off a Deicide, infusing his guttural inflection with a wretched, snaring duplicate.

But those accustomed to ''Welcome To The Morbid Reich'' will find few novelties to behold. All of this; the pummeling discourse of guitars and paunchy drums,  the turbulent manifests of tremolos, the atmosphere of pure evil and sinister genius, and Peter's inflection are no surprises to the Vader listener. What does perhaps garner attention as a refreshment is Vader's explicit use of orchestral soundscapes and dreary ambient effects, which, despite being occasionally wrapped around a few of the tracks on the previous albums, have grown larger and bolder in scope and experimentation. We're talking huge synthesizers and howling winds, adding up to a downright imperial philharmonic upsurge of sound. Indeed, though not particularly renowned for their atmospheric tendencies, Vader can at times conjure the sensation of looking down from Sauron's tower to a gaping vortex of shadow and fire. This even works when the orchestration heaves along some of the heavier chugging complexes, but unfortunately much of the heavy onslaughts undermine the atmospheric quality of the album. Translation: if you're one for the aura, go grab a black metal album and try to keep away. Still, with tracks like ''The Eye of the Abyss'' or ''Hexenkessel'', one way or another any fan of death/thrash will succumb to majesty of the album; and I'm not even including the melodious, doleful death/doom masterpiece ''The End'' which pulls the curtains on the album and leaves you with an ear half demolished and half longing for more.

I admit that my first impression was not a very positive one. But that comes from the fact that, all told, ''Welcome...'' was beyond a superb record. It rocked and shook the earth and splintered its center to raise hell. Then all hell let loose. Yet quality-wise the main reason why ''Tibi Et Igni'' doesn't rock as hard as the previous record is that the Poles are playing it relatively safe. Very few innovations, except maybe an added speed/thrash current, make the record adherent to the safe zone. In their universal appeal both records are, to me, well-night equal in their masterful balance of brutality and brilliance, both smashing homages to the Floridian death metal scene and the primeval, rudimentary flourishes of the Polish death metal scene.Yet because we've all heard ''Welcome...'', ''Tibi Et Igni'' feels somewhat... drowned out. But it's still a sweltering wet dream for any death metal collector of die-hard Vader fan. So yeah, do believe the hype (if there's any) and purchase this record immediately. Reign, annihilate, Vader. Rinse and repeat.

Highlights:
Hexenkessel
The Eye of the Abyss
Go To Hell
The End
Abandon All Hope

Rating: 90%

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Iron Dogs - Free and Wild [2013]



It's always comic to see a band wielding such a cheesy, over-the-top cover art somehow cultivate a far more unique and engrossing sound than a good many of its peers who invest such money and effort into their album covers. Good covers do no necessitate good music; I think we all know that by now. Here's the second moral of the day: never judge a book by its cover. Indeed, a sword-wielding angry wench surrounded by a bunch of heads piled up on wooden stakes does precipitate the most worldly and intriguing of musical machinations, but however much this may be frowned upon, there's no denying that neglecting Iron Dogs' sophomore ''Free and Wild'' is a big mistake. With a wise selection of precursory influences that extend further than simply Maiden and Priest, but with a celerity and liveliness that would make the two gods proud, a pop/rock-variety brevity in the songs, and more melodies stuffed in a mere 28 minutes that so-called ''melodic'' metal bands would dare imbue into their song patterns, ''Free and Wild'' screams out with nostalgic, unabashed bliss.

''Free and Wild'' is such a load of tremendous fun and 80's awesomeness that I can't really state its selling point. Everything shines through. In case you still couldn't get a picture of what the Canadians have in store for you, I'll be as lucid as possible. The album draws strength from a number of concurrent influences freely flaunting with each other; the occasional Maiden, Priest, but there's still more Jag Panzer (think ''Ample Destruction'') than, I daresay, any other retro heavy metal to ever strap on a guitar and mount a drum stool, and I haven't even begun to mention the minuter spectrum of sounds converging in the mix, notably Angel Witch, Exciter, Agent Steel, ''Kill 'em All'' era 'tallica - even tits and bits of Razor flirting with the more rapacious outbursts of tempered energy. Yet in all the colorful palette of influences, creating a true melting pot of traditional heavy metal, (if not an apotheosis of the genre's manifestation) the Canadians somehow dazzle the listener with style of their own. The same way the English Deceptor challenged me to my wits' end with the sheer insurmountable quality of their EP ''Chains of Delusion'', Iron Dogs manage sound as cool as bands did in the past, without being tied down by the past.

Swirling, spiraling flirts of harmonious melodies are reminiscent of Satan's outstanding ''Life Sentence'', but different still. Irreprissible and meretricious, ''Free and Wild'' in the kind of album that refuses to be bound to the ground with chains, and attracts attention with its sheer punch and crudity. The manic, melodious guitar riffs aside, though, vocalist Jo Capitalicide can just as well be the BEST thing this record has to offer. As much as I am a great big guitar nerd myself, a staunch boaster of technicality and blazing guitar solos, Jo's vocals enamored me so much that I could listen to the first 3 seconds of the ending track ''Island of the Dead'' over an over again just to immerse myself in his outstanding voice. No need to elaborate - the man in the resurrection of Harry Conklin of Jag Panzer. Doused in reverb and heedless of ''professional'' vocal values, his inflection kicks nigh-over as many asses as the plodding guitars. Who said heavy/power metal had to be done with a banshee, screaming at the top of his lungs? Jo fits the bill for ''Free and Wild'' more perfectly than I might have conceived, and literally catapults Iron Dogs to the next level of musical excellence.

Any gripes? Only that the record was too fucking short! Given that the whole record clocks at 28 minutes, it's a bit difficult to excavate a huge deal of pleasure with just one spin. ''Free and Wild'' requires more frequent spinning than a dozen or so efforts by the generic retrogressors of the field. For fucks sake, if you can't derive any fun from the maniacal chords and melodies fluttering around the record, nor Jo's vocal delivery, you need to see a doctor, asap. But Iron Dogs are still willing to forgive that. Just open the lyrics to the title track and sing them out; the anthem is so utterly uplifting that it motions involuntary nods even as I'm writing this. Indoor! No more! And for the love of God, if you're still not properly enthralled, you need a serious fix. Sure,''Free and Wild'' may not be the masterpiece of the decade, but its sheer distinction serves as a viable consolidation for the fact, for which I couldn't care less. Enter, but beware of the nude guardian lying in wait. Posers need not apply.

Highlights:
Firebird
Free and Wild
Adversity
Island of the Dead

Rating: 92%


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Thantifaxath - Sacred White Noise [2014]


Although it's become a serious difficulty to find an apple that's not ridden with worms nowadays, it is more importantly increasingly difficult for artists to discern themselves in the metal universe. That one third, however, seems to be the front-runners of the genre, the ones carrying the torch in the darkness, and the mavericks of black metal, who, usually, despite their outstanding achievements, fail to make into major markets, constantly bested by the more fashionable and over-hyped kings of the scene. Unfortunately, the question of why we humans neglect and demean the small is a discussion for another day. The real story here is Thantifaxath. A bunch of hooded figures hailing all the way from Canada, nothing out of the regular, you'd imagine. And coincidentally, just as I was perceiving a subtle divergence in Dark Descent Records from its usual old school death metal catalog, to my delight, I found they were also bolstering these guys with their debut album - probably the most enigmatically apocalyptic concept album (if you can call it that) I've heard all year. It's noise. It's sacred. And it's white. What more can a man want? Three of some of the most favorable things in the world in one wholesome package.

That aside though, ''Sacred White Noise'' pushes itself all the way from the boundaries of mediocrity to a self-sustained crevice of its own, buried under its own unique bliss. Being from Canada, you'd expect the trio to put out a performance fit for their Quebecois counterparts, and while it's not a whole different plot from what Gris and Monarque is doing, undeniably there is a great deal of difference. Where to start? From the fantastic opener ''the Bright White Nothing at the End of the Tunnel'' with its pallid aftermath allusion, to the impossible denouement ''Lost in Static Between Worlds'', the album is such a convincing and attractive force over the fatigue of traditional black metal bands that I found it to be one the most addictive black metal opiates I've hard since 2012. What seems to be a reasonable continuation of what Deathspell Omega and Negative Plane are doing is actually so much more; a brilliant and discordant witchery of crystalline chords and restless, relentless voracity. That's probably enough to summarize any black metal outfit in the field, but Thantifaxath takes its further. The progressive elements on this record are nothing short of stifling and formidable. I could have just said that the Canadians were giving test runs on a few of the Enslaved songs from their last three records, or just fleshing out the psychedelia of Hail Spirit Noir - but no. Imagine precise technical riffing plotted out perfectly along the bantering chords, a nightmarish descent into hemlock and the long-waited afterlife...

Yet the record initial tracks are so dense with ideas that you'd be less confused and frightened at gazing into pit of spidery demons. That's not to say the latter tracks lose their lust, but after the ideas have been presented the Canadians simply outline them once again for the obfuscated listener which helps convert utter bewilderment into comprehension and appreciation. ''Sacred White Noise'' is as moody and depressive as the downtrodden child on album cover, but I would fail to do them justice by leaving it there. Here, depression turns into anger, anger into momentum, and momentum into actual quality. On top of it all, there's this almost unprecedented sense of modernity that lurks deep in the ambient cinematic effects that encircle the record at random intervals. We're not talking 80's horror flicks here, folks, but some of the most creeping, crepuscular cinematic soundtracks I've heard since Cultes Des Ghoules released its magnum opus last year, and though this album doesn't score the same level of fright as the former, with fiendish musical acumen it's the prized set of songs that would resonate through an old abandoned church. And with the intro of ''Gasping in Darkness'' it manages to do just that. In a manner, there's certainly an approval of Negative Plane's aesthetics, with seamless, oriental harmonies strewn arbitrarily, but, as said, Thantifaxath hardly fails to be an album of its own.

 Despite the clarity of the guitars and the harsh, punkish guttural lows of the vocals, ''Sacred White Noise'' is still a hard pill to swallow. It's rich, with a myriad mortal wounds engraved on it like permanent tattoos, like ash and dust on a broken piano. To be fair, I'm a bit of a hypocrite at not giving this album a go in the first place. Only after a few positive reviews on the internet did I feel actually elevated about it finding its way to my pool of promos. And even so, it didn't quite kick the first time. The second spin gave me somewhat more pleasure and understanding, compared to the mild appreciation of the first, but after the third listen the album's cavernous soundscape and dissonance had me captivated like a bug in a jar. It's absolutely terrific musical experience, your free ticket to a live orchestral cacophony, delivered by the three hooded impresarios. Though not quite the record that would be bequeathed to later generations, if you know a band can conjure anything as haunting as ''Eternally Falling'', you know you ought to get it, regardless of your futile taste.

Highlights:
The Bright White Nothing at the End of the Tunnel 
Gasping In Darkness
Eternally Falling
Lost in Static Between Worlds

Rating: 90%

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Avatarium - Avatarium [2013]


It comes as a surprise that seasoned musicians who showed their real flair with astonishing 80's masterpieces (in this case being Candlemass) can show similar if not equal proficiency with their resurrection as artists in the 21st century. Hence Avatarium. A five-piece from Sweden for which the legendary Lief Edling of Candlemass serves as the bassy powerhouse. All things considered, Avatarium's existence as band risen from the ashes of an old master, its hasty linkage with mainstream label Nuclear Blast, and the general outlook of its style make it terrible prone to suffer from becoming just another face in the crowd, another meager contemplation of modern doom metal which one could not help but adhere to sheer tripe. Yet the band almost masterfully steers away from such a detainment of skill. It refuses to be clouded with a lack of motivation, to be trod down by the rueful overtones that typical doom bands implement oh so recurrently, and their self-titled debut doesn't quite reinvent the wheel, it does manage to buy itself a parole from mediocrity.

Despite its relatively modern texture, I found this album to be one of the most fluent and enjoyable doom metal records I've heard in some time. The Candlemass influence is evident, even with some appreciation of early doom a la Witchfynder General and Black Sabbath, but the main story here is the percussive, and, most importantly, gothic sound put into the record that pervades into every square inch of the steady, concussive riffs that work their way to the listener's cranium like firm, gradual hammers slamming into a slab of half-molten steel, eventually creating a successful forgery. And what I mean by this is basically a more contemporaneous, forgiving approach to what Tiamat and its followers scraped up in the 90's as more personal, emotive alternative to the booming melodic death metal tradition of the time - not that this has to do a deal with the Swedes, but it's impossible not to make note of the soaring orchestral voluminousness of ''Moonhorse'', or the occasional acoustic interludes obtruding the crushing finesse of the grand, polished guitars. Indeed, in a firm elucidation of its desires and confrontations, ''Avatarium'' seems to encompass both traditional doom metal values with the inherent Candlemass sound, and a more accessible tone that belongs to its age.

Yet the band owes much of its awesome, crushing balance and clarity to the powerful, soaring female vocals of  Jennie-Ann Smith; but she in now way proves a hindrance for the record. In fact, the wonderful eloquence of her pitch is a terrific thing to behold not just because it helps excavate the band from strict simplicity to epic panache, but it also refuses to be a pretentiously maudlin in its delivery. yet the band simultaneously achieves the sort of poignant fragility that so many others flounder at. This album is not just a pointless bridge of riff upon megalithic riff, either; you can feel each pounding veracity of each chord, a sublime metallic resonance, but keep in mind that a progressive touch that's heavily redolent of early Dream Theater spikes the atmosphere with sufficient technicality and mournful psychedelia to push the pastoral dream even deeper into the listener's emotional sanitarium. The magnitude of the riffs, the patterns and the melody, intertwined with blatant but effective chorus tropes is amazing. And the lush, yet strangely moving aesthetic is only coupled with the fantastic imagery of the poetic lyrics, like the unforgettable title track, making each track really, really fucking count despite the sheer length.

And what about the flawless modern-goth doom/rock tune ''Boneflower''? Its simplistic mid-paced verse riff, married with the impeccable adroitness of the vocalist make it one of the most memorable tracks of the year, and I'm not even biased. It's, as it melodiously proclaims, ''a one way trip to the promised land''. True, not all the songs hold up with the same rambunctious delicacy, and being essentially a melding of slow, lurching power chords, the album does get a tad redundant at times, but who the hell can blame you? For fans of Tiamat, (both early and late) Lake of Tears or Katatonia, this a reckoning that ought not be missed, a minute wonder of elegiac strength that has the strange ability to elevate the youthful spirit of a ''Clouds'' fan as magically as a sorceress resurrecting the souls of the doleful. It's jam-packed with 80's Candlemass and 70's nostalgia (thanks to the stupendous keyboard work) and while still no maverick in a market loaded to the tits with anything that's utterly uncanny and audacious, its still holds up splendidly. Give yourself in, spin it, savor the elegance and spin it again.

Highlights:
Moonhorse
Avatarium
Bird of Prey
Boneflower

Rating: 85%

Monday, May 19, 2014

Electrocution - Metaphysincarnation [2014]




With the little need to elaborate on the upsurge of old school death metal that has literally been the largest explosion in metal in the last 5 years, I think it would be reasonable enough to pinpoint a few others bands that have somehow found themselves intermingling with this putrid resurgence of death metal. Of course, I'm talking about the old breed. A handful of 90's legends who, by making use of their cult status and this underground bombast, have soundly found themselves at the center of this movement. The ones that come to mind immediately are Autopsy, Incantation, or the more obscure Rottrevore; in short those who haven't attempted at and succeeded in some of the most tragic failures of the decade, like Morbid Angel, a band which requires no discussion. That said, I would imagine Autopsy and Incantation didn't face much of a problem when they were looking for labels that would harbor an interest for the particularly gruesome and cavernous brand of death metal that they cultivate, whereas, a few, like Italy's Electrocution, I'm sure weren't exactly greeted with commercial deals after deciding to reform.

Now, I firmly believe that Electrocution is a band that we will need to elaborate on, folks. In a death metal scene where obscene, cataleptic gestures alone wouldn't find enough attention to last one for a week, with the entire retrogression movement rigidly planted upon either buzzing chainsaw necromancy or primordial, squamous cavern-core aping, derived largely from what Incantation put out in the early 90's, it is indeed difficult to distinguish yourself. The resuscitation of Electrocution, easily the premier death metal act of Italy, made a great impression on me with their ''Inside the Unreal'', which, despite being essentially a practice of Floridian death metal propensities with nice, technical flavor, was an album deeply cherished as one of the first ''real'' death metal albums I listened to years ago, along with ''Leprosy'', ''Human'', ''Altars of Madness'', ''Consuming Impulse'', and so forth. Though naturally devoid of the classic appeal of the uncanny debut, Electrocution's sophomore resonates with similar fervor but with an audacity that would be more on par with modern technical death metal bands than the cylopean dirges of its current peers.

Indeed, this is still ''death fucking metal'', but neither is it as modern-sounding, as, say, Nile or Deeds of Flesh, nor as disgusting as Autopsy. ''Metaphysincarnation'' is literally halfway through the two boundaries. It's hard not to comply at first with its melodious twist, booming, proto-brutal death metal riffage that burst the seams and wires that connect the album like hyper-charged juggernauts, and the riffs are well-balanced with almost equally voracious drums - a tight circuitry running eagerly and proficiently. It's jumpy and nearly as punishing as Suffocation on the basis of its mechanized tremolos and chord protrusions, and I can even say I appreciated the vocals to a certain extent: the loud, bassy gutturals that were sown into into the thrashing mayhem with seasoned competence. Even the leads are clever and memorable. Unfortunately, that's where the good news ends. In spite of the frenetic feast here, it quickly becomes obvious there isn't much of an essence in this record that would do to penetrate the armor of a dragon, so to say. The tremolos are sufficiently effective, and I quite liked the fact that they meddled with some of the technicality of the debut, refined it, coated it in shiny titanium plates and made a temporary craving material for all the guitar nerds out there, but the effort is rather futile in the end.

So basically, the record started to get tedious after the first 2 or 3 spins, and that's when  you know the battery is in need of a nice charge. A charge which unfortunately does not exist in this case. ''Metaphysincarnation'' (a name which I will not try to type again) ultimately makes it point, that not all of the old breed have the life left in them to produce something more than just worthwhile in the grim 21st century, even if the Italians have sure as hell proved that they can sustain their survival, if that was ever the problem. It's unfeigned and polished death metal that gives Vader and Brutality a shy little nod, but if you're low on money, there are definitely more fish in the sea.

Highlights:
Wireworm
Bloodless
A Son To His Father

Rating: 70%


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Gris - À l'âme Enflammée, l'äme Constellée... [2013]


Though the notion of lengthy musical journeys has often had a magical kind of appeal to me, so few bands actually possess the ability and flair to mete out the level of color, intrigue and hooks required to keep the listener at the edge of his/her seat throughout the in time the prospect has dissolved into a weary, fruitless idea. The problem is that despite so many bands plunging into the same otherwordly sounds and emotional undercurrents, very, very few can produce a layer of musicality that not just worthwhile but also memorable enough to firmly seat itself in the listener's subconscious. Granted that, there's extensive scope of sounds one can choose from; whether it be a soundscape of daemonic sufferance, swelling bucolic beauty dawning upon a rustic, natural expanse, or, as the Canadian label Sepulchral Productions has grown so fond of, ebbing and flooding tides of anger, repentance and gnawing sorrow conveyed in various ways... The Quebecois have now a wide belt of offerings in which they can present this particular form of music, with some of my favorites over the years being Neige Eternelle and Sombres Forets, but their countrymen Gris, with the follow-up to the highly acclaimed ''Il Etait Un Foret...'' has won me over almost effortlessly compared to its counterparts.

To be sure, Sombres Forets' last two albums were erudite and brilliant showings of what Quebecois black metal can take the form of when confined to an icy, uninhabited landscape, with orchestral and acoustic motives almost as overwhelmingly terrific as the guitars, but Gris beats them all... It's rather ironic how among all the label's releases I spun the Gris record last - and I'm aware of the grave mistake. The album is a megalith in its own right, split into two individual 40-minute CDs with 5 tracks each, but there's so much to feed from and harness into one's own emotions that I find it difficult to put it in the same context as the other bands with their purportedly ''megalithic'' albums. With the axiom of atmospheric black metal and acoustic sentimentality firmly established and accepted, Gris wastes no time in applying its non-metal influences into a peripheral metal record. The dust-caked paean in its ceremonial stance may serve as some indicator on what the record has in store, but even the beauty of the statue is merely a fragment of the bliss that awaits in the arms of the record's woe-torn arms...

The music, bound to evoke a feeling of reveries and haunting illusions in the listener, naturally retains a suitable length, but acoustic and ambient interludes protrude from every square corner of the album; and we're not just talking simple acoustic interludes and cheesy outros/intros. The guitars start creeping up with elegiac beauty, subtly accompanied by orchestral sounds and even female vocal samples occasionally popping up; but the really plangent sound is derived from a series of screaming, folksy violins snapping loose at arbitrary points. Imagine the crepuscular charm and coaxing effect of those marvelous violins! Embittered little children wailing over their lost mother. A group mournful angels with their teardrops slowly falling on mankind. And Gris, unlike so many other bands which try to incorporate similar styles, does not tussle and overdo the musicality of the violins and acoustic guitars. Everything is nearly immaculately balanced, coordinated, yet plangent and natural. With the opener ''L'aube'' already delving into cavern of stars and sorrow in a brief of 4 minutes without the real bulk of the album even giving a hint of its existence, ''À l'âme Enflammée...'' already makes the statement that it's here to linger.

And once the phenomenal ''Les Forges'' ends, the listener is sufficiently enthralled and addicted to eagerly make the remainder of the album. It's true that the tracks that make up the bulk of the record, being lengthy, invest more or less the same patterns of chord progressions and swells, but this hardly seems to matter with the orchestral work looming over the guitar riffs. And, in addition, the riffs are still diverse enough to bloom into any one of traditional post-rock riffing, progressive black metal, or just crude, dauntless raw black metal, taking any form of the genre as long as it hovers in the realms of sheer, unrelenting pain and emotion. What I love about the guitars it that they seem to avoid both the primordial posture that retrogression has so unabashedly promulgated, and the metallic sound that many modern black metal acts give in to. You can hear the distortion well enough, but it doesn't meander or buzz around as if melting away as the carnal, guttural barks of the vocalist sear through. Speaking of which, the vocalist is just as terrific as any other component of the album. His raw howls are not just wretched, but charged with the same emotional exactitude as the guitars and the unnervingly surreal violins... and they even rarely seep into the acoustic interludes. The idyllic, yet grief-stricken approach of the album is not a hard pill to swallow if you're used to acts like Forteresse, Monarque or Austere, but I'm nonetheless enamored by the poetic grace of the lyrics which befit the music, even if my French is a bit shaky:

Nous venons d'avant
Les mondes effondrées
À jamais vivants
Des rythmes d'avenir.
Le fruit de toutes les ténèbres,
Dans nos yeux, a inventé
Un jardin de diamants.

" Ô Petite Humanité,
Qui crève dans l'aube des jours,
Tombées, comme une flamme silencieuse,
As-tu dévoré tes rêves ? "


So, to return to my chastisement of bands who use music as a journey with their bombastic, hour-long single-track albums I stated in the opening paragraph, Gris is indeed one of the few who can achieve structural cohesion and captivation at the same time. The first part isn't hard to do. I'm sure anyone out there can stack four 15-minute monoliths into a CD with ambient effects of acoustic compositions jutting out in between, but, again, few can make the journey worth taking. The endless praise over Agalloch, the inexplicable adoration for funeral doom with its bantering pointlessness - it all seems so dull that Gris' achievement with this album would be some consolation for what the aforementioned failed to achieve... It's not perfect, sure, but I'd rather let my body be swept away by the doomed beauty of this record than any funeral doom band any day. Not just that, but the record's conceptual approach is a viable alternative to the rural appreciation of its countrymen. A Quebecois masterpiece for the decade to approve and bath in. Go ahead, cleanse your sins.


Highlights:
Les Forges
Igneus
Seizieme Priere
Une Epitaphe de Suie

Rating: 90%

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Emptiness - Nothing But The Whole [2014]



It's always interesting to witness the evolution of a band from its primordial aesthetics slowly, gradually into the manifestation of something almost inexcusably darker and emotive. Such has been the case with Emptiness on their fourth full-length ''Nothing But The Whole''. As group whose talent and experience in the fields of extreme metal reach sizable proportions through their affiliations with other Belgian projects such as the notorious Enthroned, and as one which had successfully harnessed the currents of the sound which they'd been striving to execute with their latest offering in 2012, I was quite confounded by the amount of experimental touches that adorned and bedecked each and every lugubrious corner of this record. Has traditional black/death come to and end? Has the tradition of wild, promiscuous goats and satanic ghouls raping whores suddenly been outed by depression and emotional catharsis? Far from it I imagine, as certain flag bearers such as Diocletian and Teitanblood still produce material akin to that ravenous, diabolic sub-genre has promoted, but some, like Emptiness choose to follow a somewhat different path...

This is not the French Revolution here, mind you, but we're still talking about certain stylistic changes. It's almost as if the primitiveness that the band had since their very first recording been eventually exfoliated and wreathed out of the body with every release, with the evolution finally making an abrupt stop at ''Nothing But the Whole'', whose almost indolently suicidal and depressive title bears fruit pertaining to the changes in the band's course. Indeed, Emptiness never quite was inundated in the same grime and blasphemy of the aforementioned acts, being somehow more modern and refined; but this never prevented it from bedeviling the listener with sinister, crushing riffs or atmospheric feats. So then, if we're not in for those, what can we expect of ''Nothing But the Whole''? Well, if I may be so bold, we're expecting a forecast of cantankerous termagency, floods of subtle emotions, pacing through an unaccustomed fervor for experimental details, and the same suicidal, depressive motive that the title bears overridden with a paranoid discrepancy that in some way penalizes the band's consistency in return.

I know, that's a quite a bit to take in, and all will be explained, eventually. What Emptiness is essentially doing here is marginalizing its own set of influences and unique sounds to a single piece that quite doesn't fit into any other kind of door. We're talking drone metal. Absurd guitar distortions and dissonances. Weary waves of serpentine black/death. Groove-like drum patterns. Industrial soundscapes. Indeed, there's no denying that the Belgians have strained their imagination in many perceivable ways to the point where it would be rather difficult to dub them as simplistic or platitudinous anymore. But, - and here's the big question - does originality always sum up to quality? I think even the ignorant schoolboy would be aware that the answer is no. Hell, comparing this to 2012's ''Error'' or their 2007 opus ''Oblivion'' I felt the band had been sapped of its succulence and vitality so much that they were in some respects just recycling material from their previous releases with the speed dropped to a lower gait and with a few oddities attached here and there. Yes, it's pretty obvious that they were going for a less sincere, and, I daresay, more ''spiritual'' sound, and while they do manage to do just that, they flounder in the consistency department, as well as lacking the incentives to produce something just plainly memorable.

I may have demeaned these guys a little more than I ought to, what can I say? How does one go from ''Oblivion'', with its massive roiling guitars and melodic sesibility, to something that's more on par with the average sludge/drone doom band? It's certainly not terrible, however: you've got tracks like the opener ''Go and Hope'' where the replacement of muscular, grinding attributions don't seem to have taken any kind of toll, with ghostly, harrowing melodies accompanying the lurching guitars, and for some the album as a whole may have a particular appeal due to the sheer continuity of the discomfiture, but I doubt anyone whose interest don't fall under Ulcerate, Flourishing or Triptykon will be particularly taken by this. In a way, I faced a dilemma where I couldn't decide whether I wanted to love or hate the album - the doomed poignancy of tracks like the finale ''Lowland'' was beautiful, but something like the megalithic ''All is Known'' almost bored the fuck out of me - so in the end I decided that I was stuck in between. This album, beyond the snarling, harassing vocals, seems like a serious departure from black as well, which could mark the band's sojourn into pure-death metal territory, but that discussion is for another day. For now, folks, try to enjoy ''Nothing But the Whole''. It has its good moments, but lacks the polish of the previous records too much to be something overwhelmingly good. Maybe some Belgian ale would be good?

Highlights:
Lowland
Go and Hope
Tale of a Burning Man

Rating: 67%


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Persuader - The Fiction Maze [2014]



With so much jostling going up front with the black and death metal genres, one quickly forgets that the reviewing business is more than just a bunch of cadaverous ghouls and satanic grimoires. Given their tumultuous nature, it can sometimes be something of a problem to keep your auditory nerves constantly inclined to this kind of music, so every now and then the ear yearns for something both more pleasant for the ear and the nose (believe me, dealing with ghouls and zombies all the time is some pretty putrescent work). When I come across Sweden's Persuader, I'm left in something of a dilemma: I don't know quite what to expect, not being acquainted with the band, but on the other hand the rather generic cover art song titles testify to a modern simplicity which for some reason obliged me draw comparisons with Sonata Arctica, Edguy and Gamma Ray prior to the actual listen - not exactly an inaccurate comparison. But if I had to cut a long story short I'd say that Persuader offers a dynamic, proggy and damnably solid power/thrash album that, despite being quite enjoyable, doesn't do much to break into the realms of originality.

To be fair I initially thought I would hate Persuader's lack of guts, but there's more juice and flavor to this damn thing than an average power/thrash recording. Besides the aforementioned similarities drawn up from more notorious acts, ''The Fiction Maze'', the group's fourth full-length, is actually on par with the latest Hellstar record, both in terms of technical prowess and thrash-oriented edginess. The production on this thing is pretty professional and well-done, giving plenty of space for the guitars, but that's not to say the drums are drowned out; they ring on their percussive dominion as a superb accompaniment to the ballistic riffs. Yes, Persuader is principally a power metal band, and a very modern one, at that. The melodies could easily attest to that dogma, with their lightspeed accuracy and viscous flow on the brickwalled guitars, but Jens Carlsson's vocals are soaring and opaque with a traditional banshee's high, though heroic voice. So, as you may imagine, the Swedes are in no shortage of epic, peripheralizing chorus sequences; memorable moments in the ''The Fiction Maze'' are in abundance. And the Swedes aren't just good ol' power. They try add as many intricacies as possible, but I still thought the progressive components of this record weren't being strained to their human limits.

That said, Persuader sounds a lot like Angra as well. In fact, ''Aqua'' was a pretty vivid representation of the roller-coaster of riffs going on here. And the list of these fuckers still don't end because in addition to all the mumbo-jumbo about epic, atmospheric choruses these guys can make some fucking awesome songs, and I'm not biased when I say that. Sure, they're generic, as though Havok and Warbringer got together in a gang fight and pounded the crap out of Dragonforce for being a bunch of tech-wanking weiners, especially with tunes like the title track or ''InSect'', but their persuasive (excuse the pun) savvy is unquestionable in forging some rocking songs. Their enticement, fortunately doesn't stop there. As I said, the Swedes try every now and then to confound the listener, and they figure, if riffs can't bludgeon 'em, is banshees can't shatter 'em, we'll use something else. And it's well that they do: ''The Fiction Maze'' flirts with modern, gimmicky power metal keyboards and synthesizers more frequently than you'd expect. Granted, these auxiliary employments do provide a bit of freshness to the schtick, like on ''InSect'' where the guitars and keyboards intertwine, but they don't have a spellbinding magical resonance to them, which probably wasn't the band's aim anyway. The album is coated with 21st century production values and modern power metal aesthetics, but the pervading emotion is straight out of the 80's, a Manowar or Crimson Glory seeking revenge in a new epoch.

No matter what you say, ''The Fiction Maze'' is catchy (though not absurdly so) and in its singular pursuit is successful in raising spirits. Not exactly a triumph of technicality and intricacy, but who would care? Certainly not me. In fact, with every listen I felt elicited deeper and deeper into the humbleness of the band against a predominant army of guitar-lickers and cheesy show-offs, so, the way ''Son of Sodom'' likes to unabashedly proclaim from the rooftops, ''all I see is what I believe''. A solid fucking effort.


Highlights:
War
InSect
Son of Sodom
Worlds Collide

Rating: 82%