Review: Myrkur – “Myrkur”

You may well have heard of Myrkur. This one-woman black metal project from Denmark has been causing quite a stir recently with parent label Relapse Records promoting and releasing this debut EP, comparing her music to early Ulver and Darkthrone; not comparisons to be made lightly, it must be said. She does appear to have come out of nowhere, and signing with a relatively major label before releasing even a demo aroused peoples suspicions. But I’m less interested in the person behind the music than I am with the music itself, so that’s what I would like
to focus on here.

While I understand the comparison with Ulver, I don’t think Darkthrone is a particularly useful point of comparison. In fact, the group that Myrkur most reminded me of while I was listening to this EP was actually Alcest. I think both seem to have a fairly similar sound and vision for their music. Both take a rather unorthodox approach to black metal, making use of clean vocals and atmosphere rather than brutality and low-quality production. Unfortunately in this comparison it became clear to me that Myrkur is less successful in achieving her vision. Perhaps the most frustating thing about this EP is I can totally see where she is going with this. I can totally understand how she is trying to balance these fragile choir vocals against a more raw, black metal set of instruments in an attempt to conjure an atmosphere of nature, forests, waterfalls etc. However the execution is not there yet. Continue reading “Review: Myrkur – “Myrkur””

Sinmara – Aphotic Womb

I’ve long been fascinated by Iceland’s music scene, its metal scene in particular. For such a small country with such a low population it’s surprising how many quality bands they produce. Svartidauði, Wormlust, Sólstafir, Angist, Carpe Noctem, Mannveira… Suffice it to say that they have a thriving metal scene. And if you know anything about the aforementioned bands then you’ll realise that Sinmara have some serious pedigree, as they feature former members of Svartidauði, Wormlust, Rebirth of Nefast, and Slidhr. Sinmara are a black metal group from Reykjavík, Iceland. They formed in 2008 under the name ‘Chao’ but renamed to Sinmara in 2013. On their debut full-length ‘Aphotic Womb’ Sinmara blend occult and mystical orthodox black metal with unparalleled atmosphere and brutality.

To me, Sinmara embody everything that black metal should be. It’s atmospheric but never too slow as to lose its ferocity; heavy and aggressive but never monotonous or one-dimensional. The spacious, cavernous production does wonders for the band’s sound, allowing each instrument enough room to breathe, with the bass being given a fair and prominent place in the mix unlike many black metal bands. ‘Cavernous’ is a good word to describe the production on the album; if you close your eyes in a dark room you can imagine yourself in some grim and kvlt cave and picture the band actually playing the music right in front of (or around) you. It makes for some compelling atmosphere.

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Fallujah – The Flesh Prevails

Very few metal albums have been hyped as much as Fallujah’s second full length album ‘The Flesh Prevails’ has. Though their first album put them on the map as one of better deathcore bands, blending technical death metal and progressive metal elements together, it was their Nomadic EP in 2013 that really made this a band to watch out for: ambient, heavy, and progressive all at once, the EP significantly raised people’s expectations for his band, though its short tracklist left us wanting more. So the question is: Does The Flesh Prevails live up to that hype?

In one word: yes. It absolutely does. On The Flesh Prevails, Fallujah take that deeply atmospheric and progressive death metal sound they began to really explore on Nomadic and really make it their own. There’s an even greater sense of atmosphere, but where Nomadic was dark and murky, The Flesh Prevails is ethereal and even upbeat. Of course, this is ultimately death metal so when I say upbeat take it in that context! There’s a great sense of contrast created between the ambiance and atmosphere created by the guitars and other instruments and the vocals; low, guttural, death metal roars keep The Flesh Prevails from floating away completely and keep it grounded.

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Rivers of Nihil – The Conscious Seed of Light

Rivers of Nihil’s debut album ‘The Conscious Seed of Light’ was actually released on Metal Blade back in October 2013. That means I’m pretty late with reviewing this album, but this album has impressed me so much that I feel I need to share it with you. If The Faceless and Fit for an Autopsy had a baby, this band would be it. Rivers of Nihil take a technical approach to death metal that is thoroughly brutal while also trying their hand at a bit of melody and ambiance, largely created by the two guitarists, as well as a nice sprinkling of black metal. I’ll be brief so you can just go and listen to the album straight away.

The twin guitars are at times pummeling, in the opening track ‘Rain Eater’ acting as an auditory jackhammer, drilling away at your eardrums with absolute ferocity, while at others such as on ‘Mechanical Trees’ where they play with the contrast between a down-tuned background chugging and ambient post-rock moments. The riffs come thick and fast, with the only problem being that there are so many riffs that I’m not sure which one I like the most! The drums compliment the guitars as an equally varied instrument, moving with ease between mid-tempo rhythms, to blastbeats, and other complicated, fast-paced arrangements. The vocals have a slightly deathcore edge to them but remain varied, with deep gutturals and powerful mids, while on some parts of ‘Place of Serpents’ they’re more hardcore. The vocals may be the only point on which Rivers of Nihil may divide opinion, as they’re not your usual death metal gutturals.

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Falls of Rauros & Panopticon – Split 12″

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Both Falls of Rauros and Panopticon are United States black metal-ish
bands who have collaborated for this powerful 12" split release.
Panopticon (actually a solo project) is openly anarchistic in the real
sense of the term, opposing both the state and capitalism. While I’m not
quite so certain about Falls of Rauros, looking at the lyrics they seem to share a common distaste/bitterness for modern consumerist,
capitalist society and they both seem to express a preference for the
natural world over an ultimately coercive and destructive human one.
These political and environmental views certainly seems to fuel the
sound of the music they create. The two artists apparently spent some
time together in Norway, and such an environment that has inspired so
many Norwegian black metal bands like Burzum and Gorgoroth to create
such dark, atmospheric, and compelling music, has clearly had an effect
on them.

Falls of Rauros’ side:

  1. ‘Unavailing’ (11:53)
  2. The Purity of Isolation’ (06:45)

This is actually the first new material from Falls of Rauros since their
last full-length album in 2011, so in a sense there’s some pressure on
them to not let people down, and they certainly don’t. ‘Unavailing’ is a
wonderful exposition in atmospheric black metal, featuring numerous
beautiful, sorrowful guitar melodies soaring amongst the tasteful and
measured drumming, and a deep, earthy bass contribution to help ground
the guitars and keep them from sounding too airy. About 2 minutes
in there’s an astonishing but short guitar solo which is picked up
again later in the track which really does provoke an emotional reaction
to the music.

The second track ‘The Purity of Isolation’ begins as a
pretty big departure from the previous track, instead focusing on an
acoustic guitar and soft, chanted vocals, before introducing a few more
electrified melodies and black metal screams instead of singing, but
never leaving the folky acoustic base of the song. There is something so
utterly compelling about the mournfulness that permeates every moment
of both these tracks that one cannot help but be moved by it. One senses
at the same time a deep love for the natural world and life itself, but
also despair at the tragedy that has befallen nature at our hands.

“I can not find any beauty
in our sightless ambitions
I am through with forgiveness
for our unseeing
I will not feel any sorrow
by the crumbling of towers
raised from the earth in arrogance
Cleaving the welkin
Piercing the heavens”
Falls of Rauros – Unavailing

Even before I read the lyrics this was something I had a real sense of,
drawing from what little knowledge of the political backgrounds of these
two artists that I had, from the album cover, the track titles, and the
kinds of feelings they were eliciting from me, but if you do read the
lyrics (you can do so here)
I would argue their sound and their message work in tandem,
complementing each other and expressing more viscerally the concepts
they wanted to communicate. At times reminding me of Alcest’s second
album ‘Écailles de lune’ FoR’s side of the split impressed me greatly
and as soon as I publish this review I’m off to go have a listen to more
of their music.

Panopticon’s side

  1. ‘Through Mountains I Wander This Evening’ (4:33)
  2. ‘Can You Loan Me a Raven?’ (7:29)
  3. ‘Gods of Flame’ (4:26)
  4. ‘One Cold Night’ (7:56)

Panopticon’s side of the split is a much more straightforward affair
though on a similar level of quality. Sole band member A. Lunn was
clearly a lot more influneced by traditional Norwegian black metal than
his FoR counterparts. Opening track ‘Through Mountains I Wander This
Evening’  has a pretty traditional verse-chorus song structure and I really enjoy the ‘chorus’ part of this song. The band take a moment away from
the blastbeats and noise to focus on an Agalloch-ian tremolo-picked
guitar chord and settle into a more rhythmic drum pattern before leaping
straight back into the fray. ‘Can You Loan Me a Raven?’ is a much more
experimental piece of music. Though still remaining strictly within the
boundaries of black metal, it seems to explore the effects that an
almost hypnotic sense of repetition can achieve, in a very Svartidaudi/Wormlust-ian way, with a slow, droning pace, audible and
enjoyable bass, massive sections of noise, static and guitar feedback
before the drums kick back in and these wonderfully dark guitar notes
are introduced that are ingenious in their simplicity and the sort of
dark atmosphere they help further intensify.

Gods of Flame is more closely aligned with the opening track opting for a
more straightforward Norwegian black metal sound with all the
essentials you might expect with layers of atmosphere and a great raw
sound, as well as a really evil passage just before 3 minutes in. The
final track ‘One Cold Night’ is the one that made the greatest
impression on me, however. The song starts slow and the opening guitar
riff is utterly dark and entrancing, probably my favourite on the entire
split. The introduction of the muffled black metal snarls muffled in
the distance with the introduction of quiet but reverb-heavy guitars
layered on top of the whole thing heavily reminds me of the sort
of thing Burzum might have written for, say, Dunkelheit. Moments of
frenzy with blastbeats and hectic riffs, complimented by identical bass,
break up the slow pace of much of the song before slowly returning to
the depths, only to be summoned forth once more to tear off what is left
of your face by the end of this split.

This is definitely among the best splits I have had the pleasure of
listening to. Falls of Rauros present a compelling and emotionally
resonant atmospheric and melancholic take on black metal while
Panopticon opt for an equally atmospheric take but with greater emphasis
on rawness and influence from such Norwegian greats as Gorgoroth and
Burzum. The album artwork (high-res version here)
is also fantastic in my opinion, perfectly epitomising the kind of
scenery brought to mind by these two talented bands. Highly recommended
if you’re at all a fan of black metal.

Falls of Rauros & Panopticon – Split 12" is available May 3, 2014 through Bandcamp (FoR, Panopticon) or on vinyl through Bindrune Recordings

Hour of Penance – Regicide

Hour of Penance are a technical death metal band from Italy that have been around for about 15 years now, forming back in 1999. For a decade and a half this band has been refining and perfecting its brand of death metal largely in the shadows, being better associated with consistency and iteration rather than dramatic changes in sound. After Fleshgod Apocalypse’s album ‘The Agony’ they gained a wave of fans who rejected that new, symphonic sound, and wanted more of what they got on Oracles, which HoP deliver in spades. On their sixth full-length album, Hour of Penance continue down the path of technical death metal but seem to move more in the direction of Behemoth or Immolation’s brand of blistering brutality.

Part of the success of Hour of Penance is a result of their ability to pile catchy riff upon catchy riff into a single song while sacrificing neither the overall structure of the song nor the overall ‘heavy’ factor that might be somewhat weakened the more melody you introduce. The riffs are technical and very tightly performed, and the benefit of having both a rhythm guitarist (/vocalist) and a lead guitarist is made clear on this album. Addictive riffs almost blend in with the powerful lead guitar, often blending with the riffs before taking off in its own direction, throwing in an astonishing solo before pummeling you over the head with some other crushing riff.

Continue reading “Hour of Penance – Regicide”

Review: Naðra – “Eitur”

In the last few months I’ve been fascinated by the Icelandic metal scene. Musically it seems to take what Norway and Sweden are doing with death and black metal but somehow make it even darker and, in many cases, stranger. A good example of this would be Wormlust who take atmospheric black metal and infuse it with psychedelic craziness. Naðra take a slightly more conventional approach to black metal but emphasise a sense of technicality and speed. Eitur is their first release, and was released on April 1 of this year digitally and on a limited number of tapes. There are two songs on this EP, the first of which (‘Fjallið’) is four minutes but the second (‘Falið’) is 13 minutes long, so there’s actually a good 18 minutes of music on this demo tape. Continue reading “Review: Naðra – “Eitur””

Teitanblood – Death

I was not prepared for Death. I was tipped off about this album from a bunch of people over on last.fm and after I worked up the courage I eventually gave in and decided I would have a listen. From a quick look at their last.fm profile, at their picture and at the most common tags (three of them being “black metal”, “death metal”, and “war metal”) I went into Death with the idea that ‘okay, this is probably going to be pretty heavy.’

I was not prepared how heavy Death was going to be.

Death is the sound of a thousand corpses being crushed into the ground by some huge machine, their souls screaming out in agony, and all about the sound of war and noise. All of which, it goes without saying, takes place within an impenetrable vortex of torment and suffering. This is not an album of subtleties or complexity: it does one thing and it does it really fucking well. There is absolutely no intention of fundamentally revisiting what death metal should or could sound like. Instead, they see how far they can push it in terms of extremity.

Death is almost certainly the most relentlessly extreme and terrifying album you will hear all year. I certainly can’t remember a heavier one. The drums, performed by “J”, are like a machine gun, relentlessly smashing away with such ferocity and precision that it becomes a force of its own. “NSK” is responsible for the guitar, bass, and vocals and he is really at the top of his game here. The vocals aren’t really black metal so much as a range of howls and  roars ranging from shrieks to bellows to guttural growls; whatever works  in the moment.

The guitars are tuned low. Really low. The mix also results in a huge amount of distortion, and seems to blend the guitars, bass, and drums into a single cacophony of fury slightly below the vocals, while also providing a kind of ‘cavernous’ sound to the record, with some echo/reverb on the vocals and drums. Among the muddied, thundering guitarwork you also have occasionally flairs of dizzying, powerful, and electrifying guitarwork. Electrifying is a good word here, I think, because in the context of the music it almost sounds like a crash of thunder and lightning above the battlefield. There are some seriously headbangable riffs throughout this album, but the two that stand out for me appear towards the ends of ‘Sleeping Throats of the Antichrist’ and ‘Burning in Damnation Fires.’

That said, at times Death is so single-minded in its approach that it can become tiring, particularly when the album clocks in at a pretty massive 70 minutes. When you listen to Death it really does demand your undivided attention, but on the other hand Death lacks the variety and dynamics to make that sustainable over such a long period. By the end it does all stand to blend together a bit, which wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t demand so much time to finish in the first place. You may instead have greater success listening to the first half, taking a break, and then coming back to the maelstrom in a bit. And, in general, I certainly enjoy listening to this album. I love putting it on my record player, turning the volume up, and getting lost in it until the end of the first of the two records, before I go and do something else for a bit, and come back to finish it. But after that experience is over, I can never remember exactly which track I enjoyed the most, as they all sounded so similar. There are only a few moments I can point to that were real highlights.

Death almost requires a mindset change to appreciate it. I know it did for me and for others I’ve talked to online. Fundamentally, you have to know what you want out of this album before you go into it. If you go into this album expecting some avant-garde piece of art metaphorically exploring the metaphysical consequences of the human condition… you’re going to be disappointed. If you want unbelievably powerful, cacophonous metal, representing the most brutal and dark recesses of extreme metal, extreme music taken to its most extreme, then you’ve come to the right place, and what a place it is.

Liber Necris – Negative Creator

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Sometimes you click play on an album
without knowing quite what to expect and find yourself blown away by
what you find, and this is one of such occasions. Liber Necris’ EP Negative Creator
is one of the most ferociously heavy records I have ever had the
borderline-masochistic pleasure of listening to. Drawing together
influences from death metal, black metal, thrash, hardcore, and crust,
Liber Necris throw them all into the cauldron and what comes out is
nothing short of an auditory assault on the senses.

Liber Necris formed in Leeds, England in 2010. They released their debut EP The Immutable Aversion back in 2011 and Negative Creator is
their first release since, recorded by Rob Hobson at Silent City. I
cannot knock the production at all: it perfectly captures the visceral
sound of their music, while also adding a lot of atmosphere to the
music, such as the howls in the background towards the end of opening
track ‘In the Beginning (First Light)’ and the screams off in the
distance on closing track ‘The Eulogy for Our Earth.’

The music itself is brutal. If you were to ask me for another band as a sort of reference point for what to expect from this album, I would probably say Plague Widow,
who blend similar influences to a quite different result. The vocals
are varied, shifting between a high pitch black metal shriek (with a
considerable amount of power behind it too, it must be said) and a more
guttural death metal growl. The guitars likewise display their influence
from both black and death metal, with tremolo picked passages, powerful
riffs, and even some passages that border on breakdowns – of the good
kind, you can be assured. The drumming is seriously intense stuff, with blastbeats to accentuate the heaviest and fastest moments, and a lot of variety through the tracks.

Closing track ‘The Eulogy of the Earth’ is one of the most interesting
of the tracks here to me on the basis that it deviates so strongly from
the formula established on the previous three. The guitar leads are much
more melodic with a more atmospheric introduction before the blast
beats and black metal screams kick in (somewhat reminding me of early
Watain), though the middle section of this song settles into a strong
formula of vicious, intricate riffs and powerful drumming, while
alternating between howls and growls. The section just over 2 minutes in
reminds me of some of the more recent post-black metal music movement,
and then the band lays on some atmospherics in the background to
complement the tortured guttural vocals. The final minute of the track
moves from haunting and hypnotic to a powerful declaration of intent,
ending this record as forcefully as they began it.

Invidious – In Death

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Invidious are a Swedish death/black
metal band from Uppsala, Sweden, a city also home to Watain and In
Solitude. What first drew me to this band was the discovery that Pelle
Åhman, vocalist in heavy metal band In Solitude
(a personal favourite), was also the vocalist in a death metal band.
Having heard his fantastic clean vocals and spurred on by the few hints
of harsh vocals in In Solitude’s first two albums, I was curious to see
what Pelle had been getting up to in this side-project of his. Their
only release is this, their 2011 EP, ‘In Death.’

The first thing to make quite clear is that this is not In
Solitude. This is old-school Swedish death metal at its best. Chaotic,
heavy, low-fi and fuzzy, noisy, and heavy as hell. Each of the four
tracks on this EP are tight and focused assaults on the senses. Åhman’s
vocals are superb, at times sounding like Erik Danielsson of Watain but
with a more consistently extreme sound. One the one hand this means
less variety, but given the short length of the EP this isn’t a major
issue. The overall ‘sound’ of the band isn’t easily pinned down: on the
one hand comparisons could be made to Entombed, Degial, or Entrails. But comparisons could equally be made with early Watain, Valkyrja, or Dissection.

Opening track ‘Black Blood’
is a pretty strong start to the album. Blastbeats, nicely mixed bass, and some
frenzied, chaotic riff-work, with the harsh vocal acting as the icing on
the cake. This sort of description could easily be applied to the
following three tracks though; Dead Salvation Spawn, Throne of Death,
and Visions. But not all songs are created equal – some here are
evidently stronger than others. The chorus sections on the first two
tracks just don’t do it for me. The feeling of relentless chaos is lost
as they slow down for these choruses, often allowing single notes to
reverberate for seconds at a time and the drumming to slow down as Åhman delivers
what’s really quite a simple and bland chorus. The exact same can be
said for Dead Salvation Spawn: good until the chorus kicks in and then
just about bearable until they get back into their stride in the verse
sections again.

The last two tracks on this EP are the strongest by some margin. In
‘Throne of Death’ the chorus is a big improvement, no longer forsaking
the energy of the rest of the song and finding itself much more at home
within the context of the rest of the song. That said it still suffers
from the problem of getting a little lazy with the guitarwork behind the
vocals, content to just let a few notes hang behind the vocals.
‘Visions’ is my personal favourite from the four tracks on this EP, with
some compelling bass-work, all four members deftly transitioning
between the different parts of this song.

Ultimately, this is a good EP held back by a lack of time and experience
in refining their ability to write compelling tracks. It is for this
reason that while I will continue to enjoy this EP, I hope
that Åhman comes back from In Solitude’s compelling new album ‘Sister’
with a renewed sense of focus and a strengthened songwriting ability, to
put these into action in Invidious. There’s a lot to like about this
EP: the song is chaotic, heavy, and conveys a sense of honesty about
their vision for this band. I still recommend you give this a listen if
you’re into old-school Swedish death metal and keep an eye out for them
in the future, because there’s lots of potential here.