Myth, dreams and the old forest

The colder days of January are always a time for contemplation. To dream, to wonder, to sleep and recuperate, as the icy cold takes hold of the land. It’s where you prepare and have time a plenty to fill your head with wistful memories of places never seen and myths never witnessed.

It’s also a time when the forest becomes more haunting, more dark in it’s slumbering days of winter. When leaves have fallen and the darkness descends earlier with a gibbous moon shining through the branches. It is at that time, when music can become ever so much more powerful. It can tell you of places untold and that is what these records do.

Holy Fawn – Death Spells

Origin: United States
Label: Whelmed Records

Nothing hits you quite as hard as some solid wall of sound delivered by Holy Fawn. The band may work with sounds that are both ethereal and translucent at times, the full wave of the shoegazy sound just slams into you on opener ‘Dark Stone’. Their tagline says ‘Loud heavy Pretty Noises’, and this is surprisingly apt. Perhaps you can compare the organic sound of the band with Icelanders Sigur Ros, who have that same mythical side to their sound. At times the shifts are very tangible, adding a little jolt to your experience in songs that feel oddly complex.

Holy Fawn is an immersion, a fall into the full sound of the Arizona group on a record that is enthralling to the listener from start to finish.

Dwalin – The Red Book

Origin: France
Label: High Cathedral Records

If you learned about Lord of the Rings in the post-movie age, you might not know what The Red Book is, but for those who do it is an instant gateway to adventure. No, thank you very much, good morning! Dwalin produces traditional dungeon synth of the more open and wavery kind, based on the works of Tolkien.  With sonorous passages and samples from the classical animated ‘The Hobbit’ film, it forms the narrative of this beloved work of literature. The long, meandering tracks offer a great backdrop for re-reading it actually, but also for your own exploration. It’s a narrative record, with one very notable and peculiar exception and that is the ‘bonus’ song ‘Dreams of Eschaton’, which is a Manilla Road cover. It only lasts 1,5 minute, but it completely takes you off guard with the dreamy vocals and acoustics.

Hiemal – The Wanderer

Origin: France
Label: self-released

Ever taken a walk on a stormy day in nature? This is the sound of wandering in the darkness when the trees become ominous and looming and every shadow lives life on its own. It is the music French dark ambient act Hiemal produces on ‘The Wanderer’ (and their extended work). The drones and eerie synths emulate the rain and the wind, as they slowly envelop you, unfolding and rolling out over the plains. At times the music just drifts away from you, only to return a moment later with force. Only rarely does the feeling arise of a sudden twist in the sound, rarely does it feel as if this record is man-made, that is what makes ‘The Wanderer’ so elusive, yet fascinating to listen to. In this, Hiemal is hugely successful in this single, over 25-minute long track.

Secrets of the Forest – The Amorphous Concept of Nature’s Essence

Origin: Norway
Label: self-released

The dungeon synth of Secrets of the Forest is another trek through the woods with eerie melodies in a haze of distortion. Is it the sound of the outdoors or is it actually the screaming of entities that dwell just outside the corners of your eyes? ‘Father Sun’ is a slightly warmer track, opening up the record with rays of light peeping through the hazy sky. ‘Mother Moon’ offers a similar warmth, but more cool and distant, which is the common emotional association with the two. The sound of the synthesizers feels almost brittle, so sensitive and peaceful, yet also steadfast in the middle of the bitter haze and stormy darkness. That’s what makes it so captivating to listen to this record, as it simply takes you to a different place, where the singular beauty is your only hold.

 

Underground Sounds: lcbrt – Incarnatie

Label: self-released
Artist: lcbrt
Origin: the Netherlands

Dutch black metal has started exploring the more recent cultural realms for inspiration and this is not without its benefits. lcbrt is the most recent of these acts, combining experimental black metal with the work and concepts of Dutch poet Lucebert.

Sole member Evio is also active in Morvigor from the city of Alkmaar in the Netherlands. With this act, he creates death-black metal. Also appearing on this record is the voice of the poet himself, who did a lot of recordings during his lifetime of his complex and bewildering works.

Raw black metal hammers on, much in the lo-fi veins of early Burzum, intermixed with samples of poetry. The dulled, flat spoken words resonate with the static riffing and metallic twang delivered by lcbrt. He simply picks up a riff and goes with it. Sometimes fast and bashful, at other times soothing and layered. As these parts continue, there are some tempo changes, but not too much. It just works, it delivers a straight-up piece of art with dissonant and confusing black metal.

As the main track ‘i t/mv’ lasts almost 15 minutes, the second song on this record only takes a little chunk of your time. ‘Incarnatie’ continues in the peculiar vibe and sound, that is lcbrt. It’s harrowing, cold and unpleasant, yet offering a warm bath to sink into at the same time with its haggard sound and feisty riffing. The ploinky outro is particularly enjoyable. Yet, at the same time, the guitars are sharp and almost cut your hearing. That is part of the delivery and particular concept behind the act. Curious to see where this moves from here.

Underground Sounds: Iskandr – Euprosopon

Label: Haeresis Noviomagi
Band: Iskandr
Origin: The Netherlands

Iskandr is one of the odd ones out in the Dutch black metal scene and on ‘Euprosopon’ they’ve made the next step in complexity, atmosphere, and mystique. The album deals with the topic of the impossibility of an ideal man and the value of strife and heroism in an age of loss. They aim for medieval symbolism on this record, that stands as a timeless piece of art.

Iskandr is a project by Omar K., who is also active in Galg, Lubbert Das, Solar Temple, and Turia. With this project, he explores more strange themes. The name itself is an eastern variation on that of Alexander the Great, which might explain some of that. This is the second album under this moniker.

The record opens much as a ritual, with slow, eerie passages and gentle prayer bells. Chanting emerges from the sides. Are we moving towards Clannad here? The guitars slowly turn dissonant, so I may be wrong as ‘Vlakte’ suddenly lunges into full speed with a remarkably melodic bit of riffing. There’s a subtlety to the sound, to the wavery riffing and the oft barely audible chants, woven into the texture of the songs Sure, there’s a working towards the summit of the song with violent turmoil and energy, but it is ever done with brute force, but smooth technical play. Much the same applies to ‘Regnum’, which contains some more mystique aspects and warm, upbeat sections. The vocals are commanding, but never full of venom, which is remarkably pleasant. I have to point out the Spanish guitar in the end as absolutely exquisite.

‘Verban’ is truly regal in its delivery. A slow-flowing tune, with grand movements and scapes, that lures you in effortlessly. The rattling drums emerge but sound as if covered by a blanket of atmospheric guitar play, dulling their crunch and submerging it into the overall shape of the song. Yet it is ‘Herlwalt’ that takes up that mysterious ending of ‘Regnum’ and weaves an oriental tune around it for close to 15 minutes, with an air of utter mystery and bewilderment for the listener. It is as if the band is taking you to a completely different place, with some truly abyssal black metal as an intermezzo of an obscure, religious meet. As if all fades, bewilderment remains.
Iskandr solidly establishes their name as a surprising obscure black metal band, paving their own way in the field with rich and atmospheric sounds, well worth checking out. ‘Eurposopon’ is a masterpiece in my book.

Underground Sounds: A Forest of Stars – Grave Mounds and Grave Mistakes

Label: Prophecy Productions
Band: A Forest of Stars
Origin: United Kingdom

A Forest of Stars has been wielding their very own style of black metal for years. Inspired by a mixture of the Victorian age, steampunk-ish aesthetics and the gloom of old spooky tales, they’ve been paving a singular path through the scene. What bands would be on par with them soundwise? Maybe concept-wise Arcturus? Anyways, they have a new record titled ‘Grave Mounds and Grave Mistakes’.

The group, which I’ve seen play the Little Devil in Tilburg with their large numbers, is a grand ensemble of musicians, all working to create a little bit of magic. They’ve been around since 2017 and this record is their fifth. The album tells a story, that is as bleak as the cover would make you expect. It’s mesmerizing, messy and different, but also captivating and creative. So let’s sink our teeth in that one now.

This album takes a moment to get into because it doesn’t really offer you the typical ‘handholds’. The soaring violin and keys are the overly present ‘Precipice Pirouette’, which is the first track of the record. The vocalist shouts and rants like a disgruntled noble, with stature yet fearful poignancy. Perhaps it is interesting to note that members also collaborate in other set-ups, like The Water Witch and Hryre, which probably explains how all comes together so well in the well composed and recorded music.

Yet the record is filled with notable songs that sound more folky, mysterious or even slightly industrial. ‘Premature Invocation’ is one of those, that I can hardly place, except when I compare it to Hail Spirit Noir with that woozy sound. My favorite track though is ‘Taken by the Sea’. The ethereal vocals opening the song are ones that cause a shiver to go down your spine. The weariness, the longing, it simply could not get better than this.

As the record comes to a close with ‘Decomposed Deity Dance Hall’, a macabre type of humor and wordplay, it is clear how exceptional A Forest of Stars actually is. Not just in their direction, but also in their wonderful sound as thudding blast beats and gentle whistles wave us away.

From the mountains to beyond the wall of sleep

It’s music that sometimes helps to take you away from the dull, mundane affairs that fill our daily lives. We don’t all get to be sassy Instagram models, parading the luxurious holiday places or the exceptional bits of nature, some of us just need to join the daily drag. So do I.

These are tunes that take me to those places though, to the magical bits of nature that I can only dream about most of the time, the vast mountains and deep forests through synths, ambient and other forms of music. Follow the path, sometimes it’s overgrown and hard to find, but it’s there and leading far from the regular throng of people that stick to their Netflix and literary thriller reads.

Kaya North – Tribal Mountain

Origin: France
Label: The Eagle Stone Collective

There’s hardly a more awe-inspiring image to present than a sheer face of rock. The pillars on this cover, truly captivate me and so does the mild drone that sets on as I launch this release by Caleb R.K. Williams. Under the name Kaya North, Williams is releasing a  project of improv music, next to the solo work, Eagle Stone, Old Green Mountain, Uktena Kult and Cosmic Canyon (and probably a dozen other). All projects of ambient, nature-inspired. This record just offers the drones with little ripples, like the tiny holds and nooks you’ll find in the rock. It’s booming, with the odd sound of a circling bird of prey resounding through the booming tunes. There’s a tension in the sound, that you recognize when you’ve ever climbed a rock face with little between you than the rope, a next clip a meter or three ahead and your trembling fingers. It’s a feeling you can barely describe, but you can capture it in sound it turns out.

Black Hill & Silent Forest – Tales of the Night Forest

Origin: Hungary
Label:  Self-released

The artwork by Kapiller Ferenc is easily confused by me for that of Costin Chioreanu. It depicts nature as something idyllic, something almost perfectly outlined in the green, vibrant and natural colors he uses. It’s perfect over by this release of Black Hill & Silent Forest. A duo of projects that mash into the postrocky storytelling on ‘Tales of the Night Forest’. Like a gentle, babbling brook the guitars flow by. The lack of drums help to diminish any ostentatious flourish in the music, keeping the flow tranquil and soft. From the elusive ‘The gathering of deer’ to the melancholy of ‘An old owl calling’, the album keeps you in a state of flux, just as a witness to the beauty and pleasant harmony of the forest. An absolute pleasure to dwell within the tunes of Black Hill & Silent Forest for a while, no matter the pressure you’re currently feeling.

Kalmankantaja – Tuulikannel

Origin: Finland
Label:  Illuminandi Service

Kalmankantaja translates as ‘death bearer’ and is a black metal band from Finland, who uses a lot of synth and atmosphere in his music. An odd including perhaps in this aural traverse, but his easy flow makes his work as immersive to me as the others, so I gladly sidestep tot the shimmering stream of black metal that opens ‘Tuulikannel’ with ‘Aarnihauta’, a track that will last up to 14 minutes. The progression on both tracks is slow, with the occasional guttural scream emerging from the murky mists of the forests the sound appears to emulate. On the second track, we encounter a melancholic dirge, that repeats and meanders onward for minutes. Even when the music swells to a more rocking sound, there’s always that hint of continuity and an endless stream moving forward on ‘Tuulikannel’. The vocals sound hateful, but this is merely a crust to the deep greyness of the music. Which is wonderful…

Sun Through Eyelids – Glacial Iridescence

Origin: New Zealand
Label: ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ

But let us step back into nature with Sun Through Eyelids. A deep ambient act, consisting of Tom Necklen and Meghan Wood. On ‘Glacial Iridescence’ they take you to an eerie polar landscape or an Alpine glacier, where they freely explore sounds and let nature offer its healing magic to the listener on the drony tunes of ‘Shelter of the Taiga’ or ‘Subarctic Oasis’. Booming sounds, with reverb attached to its edges, gets complemented with distant music and cold keys, maybe with a mouth harp here and there? It sounds like the buzzing of an insect as astral waves wash over you. Yet as you stick with the sound, your blood seems to thrum in your veins and your ears feel like they are in the middle of the sound instead of simply receiving it. An almost transcendental experience looms, with the sound of water, birds and nature, all acting in harmony and pure majesty together, not needing humanity one bit for its perennial cycle and balance.

Oneiromancer/MAW – Oneiromancer/MAW

Origin: USA
Label: A Moment of Clarity Records/Orb Weaver Collective

Oneiromancery is a form of divination based on dreams, which is quite an apt name for the act that provides the first side of this record. Titled ‘Dukkha’, it’s a slow waxing and waning of tumultuous drones and odd chanting, which feels as if it gets lost in the sounds of the wind. The droning keeps intensifying, forming a wall that drowns you in it, drowns the noise in your head and takes you to a place of tranquility. A valuable experience, when you’re caught up in thinking instead of doing. Subtle melodies weave through, but not at regular speeds but briefly rising from the noise and sinking again. ‘Naljor’ by MAW then just slithers by mostly, in near silence, with far-removed sounds, but ending in what feels like a guitar wall. A mystical experience, all in all, this release.

Underground Sounds: Ride for Revenge – Sinking the Song

Label: Independent
Band: Ride For Revenge
Origin: United States

Ride For Revenge appears to have been around forever and are part of that dirties, grittiest segment of the Finnish black metal realms. Their sound is almost atrocious, disgusting and profoundly evil and that is particularly enjoyable from this band. Even the artwork resonates with its origins, with a red logo and black and white artwork.

The band has been out there since 2001 and the members seem to be in a ton of other acts. At the core of the group we find Harald Mentor, who has been riding the wave of hatred since the start as founder and also plays in Flooded Church of Asmodeus, Militaris-tic (in which bass player J. Pervertor is also active), and Uskonrauha. Drummer Harri Kuokkanen notably also plays in Hooded Menace and Horse Lattitudes, some excellent bands in my humble opinion.

Initially, you might think you’re listening to one of the rawest, unpolished demo recordings ever, originating from some basement, a tape recorder and a bunch of mildly untalented musicians. You may be on to something there because that is consistently the sound Ride For Revenge produces. Gritty, slow and muddy black metal, full of demented growls and rickety rhythms, that almost sound too simple to be considered fitting. Gnarly guitars welcome you from the first track, as the band drags itself onward.

Band leader Harald Mentor has a voice, that sounds barely human, which proves effective. Joined by the solid slabs of unpolished black metal, Ride for Revenge barrages onward on ‘The One and Same and All’ and never comes to a halt without the grinding squeaks and squeals of guitars being vigorously tormented. Lumbering rhythms make it sound as if there’s glue or slime attached to the skins, as the next dissonant guitar line is spun out on ‘Sinking The Song’. What a trip this record is, much like driving your car with only 3 wheels, barely any gas, no front window and 50 miles to go.

From The Bogs of Aughiska: Fairy trees, remote places and black metal

Far corners of the world breed the most astonishing music acts. ‘Mineral Bearing Veins’, the latest record by From The Bogs of Aughiska, is proof of that in all its splendor. From it’s mild, folky tunes, to it’s ambient and recorded samples to harrowing black metal, it shows the limitless possibilities black metal offers.

Conchur O’Drona is the single mind behind the entity that has become From the Bogs of Augishka. When you’ve stumbled upon this work of art in the past you must already be hooked to the mystique that is this band. Over the years, the project has evolved into a full band, but something singular always remains with the group and its sound.

With ‘Mineral Bearing Veins’ out in the world, I was curious to get in touch and ask some questions about the music, this album and context of the group and kindly I was granted answers.

Above and below: From The Bogs of Aughiska

How are things going for From The Bogs Of Aughiska?

Things are very good, thank you. We’ve just completed a UK tour where the four of us played together for the first time and despite a few technical problems at some of the gigs, it was a successful run.

Finally, after some years in the works, the new album ‘Mineral Bearing Veins’ is seeing the light of day at the end of the month. I think this is the strongest FTBOA music to date if I may say so myself.

Could you take us briefly through the history of the band and how it was formed?

FTBOA was originally created as a solo project in 2009 when Myspace was still a thing. The first FTBOA song that was written was the track ’Leabhar Gabhala Eireann’. The self-titled debut album was released in 2010 on Lone Vigil (Chris Naughton of Winterfylleth’s own label ). In 2011 I started performing live, the very first 2 show were in The Netherlands (one in Utrecht and the other supporting none other than Ulver in Rotterdam) and a split with Dark Ages (Roman Saenko from Drudkh / Hate Forest) came out later that very same year. ’Roots of This Earth Within My Blood’ was released in 2013 to much acclaim and around that time the band became a two piece and toured Europe. The ’Fenian Ram’ EP came out in 2016 and this year as a four piece we are gearing up to release our third album ’Mineral Bearing Veins’.

Now, I know that Aughiska is a place, as the new album deals with nearby locations, such as The Burren and surrounding region. Could you take me (and by extent the reader) on a mental tour of the region and why it is so essential as your inspiration?

Aughiska More is the region I grew up in. It’s an area on the road to the world famous Cliffs of Moher between Lisdoonvarna and Doolin in County Clare on the West Coast of Ireland. As a child, the place was a massive bogland (wetland created from a dead forest) but over the years the forest has been replanted. For such a small area it has so much interesting nature and has had a massive inspiration on my life.

Your sound appears to me more as a form of aural storytelling, through the atmosphere and spoken word fragments, combined with black metal as expressive means. What, the sort of feeling and maybe message, do you want your listeners to take from the music?

There isn’t any particular feeling or message, it seems everyone has a different reaction to our music.

FTBOA hails from Lisdoonvarna according to your bio. It would seem that this makes the band rather isolated and it has an impact on the sound. Do I understand this correctly?

Lisdoonvarna is a small town that’s famous for its spa water and believe it or not an annual matchmaking festival that has been running since the 1800s. Growing up there I was definitely feeling somewhat isolated and I discovered extreme music myself as a way to escape (I was listening to The Berzerker & Pig Destroyer amongst others from my early teens). I don’t really feel connected to any scene as such.

Can you tell me more about the latest album ‘Mineral Bearing Veins’ and take us through the process of its creation?

I think ’Mineral Bearing Veins’ is the most complete FTBOA album to date which combines dark atmospheric soundscapes with elements of black metal while still having the Seanchaí (a traditional Gaelic storyteller/historian) vibe going through the record. The album flows like a journey that will take the listener on an otherworldly trip.

Regarding the creation process, I record the dark ambient parts using basic computer software and add field recordings, the audio of which is usually taken directly from the videotapes of the footage we use when we perform. I tend to mix this all in stereo to give it a cinematic feel and then send my parts to the other lads who layer it with guitar, drums & vocals.

I would love to learn a bit more about the cursed fairy trees, dark underground cave systems in The Burren, isolation and Irish superstition that form the themes of the album. These are aspects most people might only have a very faint idea about and perhaps you can share a bit about it?

A running theme throughout his record is cursed fairy trees, this is influenced by the protest storyteller Eddie Lenihan held at the turn of the century when a lone whitethorn bush was going to be removed to make way for a new bypass between Newmarket-on-Fergus and Ennis in Co. Clare. He warned of terrible consequences if the fairy bush was destroyed, saying that the site in 10 to 15 years time would have a higher than usual casualty list, including fatalities. In the end, the developers changed the route so the tree wouldn’t be removed and it is still there to this day. The other main themes on ’Mineral Bearing Vein’s are underground cave systems and isolation which are portrayed on ’Poll An Eidhneain’, named after the Doolin Cave which contains one of the world’s longest known free-hanging stalactites which remained undiscovered for years. The track is about being a cursed soul trapped in the internal darkness of the cave.

On this record, you move towards a more harsh sound and more black metal elements. What made you go in this direction? Was it the themes and stories or a musical preference?

This was always my goal when I first started FTBOA. I wanted the music to be a progressive journey via extreme music that portrayed the atmosphere from living in a unique place and which told the stories I heard growing up in the west of Ireland.

Did you do any other things differently on this album that you’d like to share?

This is the first FTBOA album that was recorded as a band. With me doing all the electronics, fielding recordings and some vocals. Bryan on guitar. Ronan on vocals, guitar and recording and Padraic on Drums. We also had guest appearances from Eddie Lenihan (Storyteller who feels like a member of the band anyway), Liam from Soothsayer, Paul from Corr Mhóna and Johnny Rua on Harp.

What role do you consider for traditional music in the art you create? It seems to be an ever-present part.

Traditional Irish music is in my blood and will to a certain extent feature in the music I create. It’s really not something you can take out of me so I might as well incorporate it.

The mastering was done by Ken Sorceron (Abigail Williams), who worked with artists like Perturbator and Leviathan. Was he your first pick to create this new sound and how did this work out in your opinion?

Ken has been a friend for a good number of years and shares the same outlook on music as me, so naturally he was the first choice when it came to getting the album mastered. He heard the record for the first time while being snowed-in in Cork on his trip to Ireland in Spring this year which I thought was rather fitting.

Perhaps an out of the box question, but I wonder, would you make the same music, if you lived anywhere else? Also, what does it mean for you as a musician to be Irish?

No, I think the place you are brought up in shapes your life. If I had grown up in a city I might have become a Grime artist. What does it mean for me as a musician to be Irish? Playing the music I do, it’s just an expensive hobby with no support despite the fact that a lot of people chose to visit Ireland after seeing our live performance and seeing the visuals we play in the background. The Irish Tourist Board should be giving us a grant!

What future plans does FTBOA have?

Currently we are working on the final details for our first proper ’video’ and ’Mineral Bearing Veins’ comes out on September 28th so hopefully, the album is received well and we get to play live more often.

If you had to describe FTBOA as a dish, what would it be and why?

Braised Venison stew with red wine & redcurrant sauce served on horseradish mash. Rich food with a lasting aftertaste you won’t forget.

Underground Sounds: xGADDAVÍRx & AAIIEENN

Label: Independent
Band: xGADDAVÍRx & AAIIEENN
Origin: Iceland

There are two great things about bands from Iceland. One is their incessant hunger to create and innovate, the second is their refusal to be confined in narrow-cast genres. I am hardly surprised, therefore, that straight edge hardcore wreckers xGADDAVÍRx team up with electronics artist AAIIEENN.

AAIIEENN hails from Grundarfjörður and produces electronics that are raw and straight-forward, yet weirdly captivating. Cooperating Akranes band xGADDAVÍRx is a fascinating clash of two styles that still works pretty well since, I quite dig this release and am eager to share it with you here.

xGADDAVÍRx is a violent eruption of Icelandic proportions. Bottled up rage and fury is what they deliver after the distorted, electro-intro of ‘Freki Karlinn’. Simmering riffing brings the song on, after which a galloping pace takes over as the band races onward to oblivion with a catchy tune and energetic pace. Vocals are furiously spat out. Man, this grips me. That actually makes the follow-up ambient grooves of AAIIEENN so weird. One minute of flowing water and tranquility, following directly on the violence has a particular contradictory effect on the listener.

We switch back to the Icelandic hardcore punkers, with ‘Kominn með Nóg’. This song sounds like they’re chopping wood, with constant strikes of a hatched. The rattling base is a prominent element in the grooving sound, but it’s that drum that keeps knocking you to the head with force. Some high-intensity riffing comes in as well, to add a taste of fire to the whole expression on a galloping pace. After a brief break, we go to the real beatdown part. This band is so hard, you got to love it. We close the split with another AAIIEENN track, namely ‘Hypersurface’, which is a Nintendo-beat dance tune, featuring hardcore vocals roaring over it. A bit like Enter Shikari when they were at their must awesome. Sweet beat too.

Underground Sounds: Neamh-Mharbh – Neamh-Mharbh

Label: self-released
Band: Neamh-Mharbh
Origin: Ireland

From the far Galway, Ireland, comes the act Neamh-Mharbh, who play a distinctly dark and gloomy bit of atmospheric black metal. It seems the west of the green island has a particular knack for the utterly dark and haunting you’d say.

Little is known about the band, and the only connective point I’ve found is the mention of Ben Merlin Wilkinson from the UK-based Where The Crows Gather as a guest vocalist on ‘Excursion of Cathrain’, linking the band to a wider UK black metal movement keen on the atmosphere.

The sound that greets you on ‘Genesis’ is unlikely described as atmospheric black metal. Yet, the band might actually more approach a sort of churning funeral doom with its slow, leveled drones. Deep, guttural vocals resound from the bowels of the earth. We do move more towards that black metal barrage on ‘The Terror of the Revenant’, though the sound never gets a flowing motion to it and sticks to the simmering and seething sound, offering a blood-curdling sense of doom.

As in a three-step rocket, it’s the track ‘Excursion of Cathrain’ that goes full on in its ascending riffing and tumultuous drumming. A fierce grasp to the heavens in full vigor and vitality. The record takes a turn on ‘A Grave of Thorns’, where a folkish, tribal tune slowly unfolds. A sense of serenity comes over the listener, as the slow, throbbing wavers like a fog over the hillsides. It’s a simple sort of beauty, hard to dismiss. The vast atmosphere comes to a close with ‘Remission’, which may be the best song of the album yet.

This record was a surprise, as the cover left me a bit puzzled. Yet, this record is a remarkable piece of heavy, captivating atmosphere that tells you something of its origins.

 

 

Underground Sounds: Svalbard – It’s Hard to Have Hope

Label: Holy Roar
Artist: Svalbard
Origin: United Kingdom

The fourpiece Svalbard has been around for a bit. Named after the frozen, Norwegian island far up north, the band plays what can be best described as post-metal or post-hardcore, yet their whole concept seems to resonate with the wavering spirit of the punk and hardcore community as they brazenly touch upon the topics of this time and age on ‘It’s Hard to Have Hope’.

This is the second full length by the English group, who originate from Bristol. Their sound is a rich tapestry of black metal, hardcore and some crust and post influences, which creates something that is full of vitality, but also complex and layered in its own right.

Have you ever worked as an ‘Unpaid Intern’? Because Svalbard has you anthem now. Furious screams and ascending melodies with a deep-rooted frustration behind them launch at you with ferocity. Pretty much sticking to that, the song ‘Revenge Porn’ is as visceral and essential as the opener, with lyrics that are as straightforward and direct as you can get. The beauty is that there is no accusation, no closed statement, but open questions and ideas conveyed in the song. In that lies its very power.

Let’s not forget that hardcore traditionally is hardline opinions and Svalbard in that sense makes you think. You don’t need to be idealistically aligned with the band to gain some wisdom from their songs. On ‘Feminazi’ the position is slightly more forceful, while the music takes on a more melodic an driven sound. Yet, there’s so much explanation and context given, this is a musical dialogue with any opponent. It puts the record in a very different light for me, which demands respect.  The feel of their sound is much like More Than Life and Touché Amoré to me. Full of feeling and excitingly melodic, a great piece of music to really get your heart beating a bit faster and gain some purpose.

The energy is infectious, while the passion is almost tangible on this record. It defines the relevance of hardcore, even today in a world that doesn’t seem to hold its breath for 2 seconds, whatever comes their way. Svalbard nails it.