Underground Sounds: Nam-Khar – Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa

Label: Winter Light
Artist: Nam-Khar
Origin: Germany

Inspired by the mysteries of Tibet and far-eastern mysticism, Nam-Khar creates music that his highly ritualistic, marvelously uncommon and wildly unsettling at times. Still, the German artist creates pure magic with his blend of industrial, ambient and drone effects, which leaves you with a modern age ritual of aural magick.
The mixing was done by Martijn Comes, who is an absolute expert when it comes to amplifying the minimal into the maximal as done on this Winter Light release. ‘Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa’ is by far not the first release of Nam-Khar. The artist name is derived from a ritualistic object, a weave from the Buddhist and Bön traditions. Wholly fitting, as that is how the music is created too.
‘Dri Za’ opens the record with eerie drones. Cold and metallic, they suck you into a darkness where the self slowly is peeled away. To a realm where in the dark, with your eyes shut, you can only hear the odd shuffling, dripping and industrial cracking beats that come at random intervals. The cavernous sound does much to intensify the listening experience, with the clangs reverberating from cavernous walls. Though there is a sense of foreboding, the horror element doesn’t frighten but merely focusses the mind on ‘Sab Dak’, as the sound slowly shifts.
On tracks like ‘Srinmo’ the drones are ever present, waxing and waining like the underground waters that they sound like. It’s different on the soundtrack-esque ‘Shidak’, which immediately creates a rising tension. Cold and eerie, but well entrancing. The sound o Nam-Khar is not that of fear, but of immersion and meditation. To dissolve the self into, the mood and calm unfolding itself, closing with the magical ‘Klu’.

Underground Sounds: The Malnàtt Collective – Pianura Pagana

Label: Il Male Production
Band: Malnàtt/The Malnàtt Collective
Origin: Italy
Since 1999 the group The Malnàtt Collective has been paving the way with their experimental metal. Playing with poetry, futurism and black metal, they’ve settled on… Well, that’s hardly settling you hear on ‘Pianura Pagana’. Their logo even contains a bit of Marinetti’s futuristic writing, suggesting the perpetual, machine-motion of the dynamic art movement. Peculiar? Indeed, but well worth listening to.
The core of the group is Helios Pu, also Porz, who has rand the mechanism for a good 20 years now. He also played in Marbas Cult, Buzzum, Vedova and probably other projects. Surrounding him is a never rotating line-up of musicians, filling in the vacant slots. Translated from Bolognian dialect, Malnàtt translates as ‘swine’.

You might not think of the combination directly, but the melodic and emotional Italian singing, combined with metal riffing and poetry delivers a powerful, atmospheric experience. Call it avant-garde, or atmospheric black metal, it matters not, because this is unlike anything you’ve listened to before. After a brief intro, the tune ‘Io ti propongo’ opens in a rather common way, with blast beats and remarkably clean riffs. It’s when the melancholic singing pierces through, that you get the uncanny experience, where metal and the cantautori of Italy meet.

During ‘Il Collettivo Malnatt’, the group moves into a more power metal direction, with dramatic, powerful songs and big movements. Bravely and boldly, the band implements poetry and art into a sound that is so unlike anything I’ve heard before. It’s innate melancholy and power almost completely obscure the thrash roots the band has (though they shine through now and then). Limits hardly hinder The Malnàtt Collective, as they move to a more punk-driven sound on ‘Chiese Chiuse’. I would call this whole album fascinating and daring, and it should be listened to a lot more.

Underground Sounds: Garhelenth – About Pessimistic Elements & Rebirth Of Tragedy

Label: Satanath Records/The Eastern Front
Band: Garhelenth
Origin: originally Iran, now Armenia

Garhelenth must have a story to tell, since the band is on its third run, currently residing in Armenia after a spell in Georgia. The band now comes on with their latest record ‘About Pessimistic Elements & Rebirth of Tragedy’, which is quite the charismatic release if I may say so.

This is only the second full length for the band, which has been active since 2010. The duo is dedicated to creating true black metal, devoid of any trends or cool sounding niches like DSBM or blackgaze, yet they’ve been lumped in the depressive corner fairly regularly with their dark lyrics concerned with themes of morals and mental states.

An ominous, dark ambient intro with mad, cackling laughter welcomes the listener to the strange realm of this band. After that reception, we launch into it with the song ‘Destruction of the Will’, which sounds quite mellow in a sense. The music forms a continuous flow of ripping riffs that fit together as a fish’s bones in rapid succession. The peculiar chanting is a noteworthy feature, but almost every song has some oddity happening. It’s exactly that, which makes the band stand out a lot.

The barked vocals work well with the particularly melodic and emotive songs and the harrowing riffs on tracks like ‘To Impersonal Mankind’ really do their job. The almost whiny noise, sustains the negative that permeates the sound completely. I particularly enjoyed the slow, threatening pace of ‘Perspective of Exorbitant’, which is strong, powerful, but also on a steady pace full of lumbering drums and grand movements. Even some operatic singing is added to the mix in granting the duo an even more strong sound. An exceptionally strong record, with strong emotional overtones in a classic jacket.

Underground Sounds: Tempel – Tempel

Label: self-released
Band: Tempel
Origin: Norway

The rockers Tempel from Norway are a band of brothers, literally. Espen Gjermundrød (guitarist), Inge Gjermundrød (bassist/vocalist), Kjetil Gjermundrød (drummer), along with their best friend Andreas Espolin Johnson (guitarist), create an eclectic mix of rock music from up north. 

Their heritage is clear in the artwork, showing a wooden stave church as we know them well from Norway. This record is their debut and the identity and image the group brings across are immediately clear and tangible with this exceptional musical effort. All the way from Oslo, with their chest-thumping, t-shirt toting, balls to the wall heavy sounds! It appears no one has signed these guys yet, which is beyond me really.

Tempel instantly releases a barrage of rock’n’roll on ‘Vendetta’, with screaming, hardcore vocals. In the best tradition of Norwegian rock music, it kicks off with vitality and vigorous rhythms. At times their sound has a bit of that thick, black metal layeredness. but overall it’s big, Kvelertak and Skambankt-like waves of powerful rock music. The vocals are definitely the rougher edge this music needs to stand out from the masses, but the frantic drumming has a hand in that too (two hands, obviously).

Dense and fierce, the music never really lets down, but when you get that clear, all-piercing riff like on ‘Fortress’, it is as if the clouds are pierced. The phenomenal sound of Tempel is one I absolutely love. Ranging from bluesy riffs to rigid powerplay, Tempel blasts their way onto the scene with this excellent debut. It has all the catchiness of classic hardrock, but also the Norwegian ruggedness bands from their neck of the woods often produce. Surprising is therefor the emotional ‘Farewell, featuring Benedicte Edvardsen from Mowlith as guest vocalist. It only enhances the versatility this band has to offer on their debut record.

Underground Sounds: møl – JORD

Label: Holy Roar Records
Band: møl 
Origin: Danmark

Blackgaze is an interesting phenomenon. Relinquishing the claim for black metal heritage, it’s rapidly become the outcast child, from a scene that refuses any forward movement. This is more and more reflected in the artwork and overall aesthetic of the bands involved. I have no idea how the gents from møl feel about that, but as I see their work they are in no way showing their desire to get their music lumped into that.

This is a shame in my perception, but regardless of my personal divulgences on what black metal is in 2018, let’s not bother these Danes with it. Their album ‘JORD’ is a masterpiece, whichever way you want to turn it. The band has been doing their own thing for a while, creating two EP’s and finally their debut album this year. With a distinct feel and aesthetic, they are one of the stand-out acts for this year, pushing this sound into new realms in their very own way.

Bands have often explored the cleaner and more grand realms that black metal can move towards. From the epic, symphonic stuff in the 90’s and industrial endeavors following what has been dubbed ‘The Matrix’-effect onwards. Creating densely atmospheric music is what møl does, with utmost polished sound and striking tremolo parts that pluck at the heartstrings on a track like ‘Bruma’ or the beautiful, tranquil tunes of ‘Lambda’. This track is an oasis after the onslaught of some previous tracks, with the all shattering vocals and melodic power of every song, which are extremely well constructed.
The production really does the trick here. The band clearly is not going for the good ‘ol necrosound, but maximizes their melodic and harmonious sound, giving it raw edges where it actually hurts with vocals and razor-sharp riffing. A particular example is the track ‘Ligament’, that opens with a flurry of cuts and piercing vocals, yet such tight sound. By the end, we get to the gentle parts of the title track, møl already completely captured you with their smooth, yet intense sounding tunes and beautiful soundscapes.

Underground Sounds: Unravel – Eras of Forfeit

Label: Life Lair Regret Records
Band; Unravel
Origin: Australia

Australian youngsters Unravel are ready to storm the world with their debut album ‘Eras of Forfeit’. The group set forth with a fresh sound in 2015 and has made a few releases since then. However, this is their first full record out on Life Lair Regret Records.

Blending a sound that contains death metal, grindcore and the vibrancy of hardcore, there’s a vitality to the sound of Unravel. Having played with bands like The Black Dahlia Murder to Parkway Drive, these guys clearly have a sound that resonate with whats going on today.

This record just grips me instantly, from the very first rumblings of ‘Arbitrator’. The pace and vibe of the record is much more that of a hardcore record, with its violent breaks and tormented screams. Yet, the ingredients are screeching death metal solo’s, guttural vocals that crack through the surface and an overall catchy groove. Not metalcore, it lacks the slickness to my ear at least. Relentless, the band barrels onward at that energetic, high pace, with ‘No Validation for Violation’. Sheer brutality and muscular riffing.

 By the time you hit ‘Mortal’s Thrist’, you are pretty much black and blue from the continuous beatings by Unravel, who never really let down. Every mellower passage only serves to warm up the pit for the next unbridled clash with perfect paced rhythms and guitars that shoot from ominous to an almost jagged, prodding sound that makes you want to smash and destroy. Lyrically the band mostly deals with the fucked up state of the world around us. Fitting, because that should fuel any furnace of anger. This is a record, you shouldn’t play in traffic.

Underground Sounds: Wolf Faced God – Stone Altars

Label: Dead Moon Records
Band: Wolf Faced God
Origin: USA

As we look back to our past, we delve further on to find meaning. The prehistoric times have started to fascinate us and various artists are exploring the sounds from that time. Wolf Faced God is one of those acts and with the album ‘Stone Altars’, the artist behind it reimagines the ancient past in a world full of wonder.

Hailing from the United States, Thorn Skarthborg is also the owner of the label Dead Moon Records, which releases various exciting acts in this dark ambient/ritual corner of the more explorative music. Boldly treading ancient realms and howling at the moon that still on a good night can fascinate us.

The trickling of water and eerie flutes resound in the distance as the tribal drumming starts. Instantly you are taken to a world, much quieter and smaller than ours. Peculiar synths reach through the hermetic, hallucinatory rhythm and take you to a bird’s eye position, from which you soar from opener ‘Children of the Sun’ to ‘Glacial Journey’. The wind rattles you as drones create the semblance of a song structure, but perhaps it is simply your mind trying to find structure in the wild sounds of nature?

Even more low and foreboding is the sound when we enter the ritual on ‘Paleolithic Rituals’. Humming, murmuring tones sometimes break through, evoking the sense of ritual chanting. A wonderful experience, not unlike the one on ‘Cult of the Mammoths’, which sounds playful and lively like the great forest. Immerse yourself in the splendor of a world that is simply much more dangerous and fleeting with this record, filled with magnificent ambient tunes. I absolutely love it.

Underground Sounds: Neter – Inferus

Label: Satanath Records, Cimmerian Shade Recordings, Murdher   Records, Black Plague Records 
Band: Neter
Origin: Spain

The titanic stone slabs on the cover may suggest a more doomy sound, but Neter plays straight-up death metal and has been doing so for a good 14 years. The band has had some line-up changes through the year but appears to be still going strong with this release of ‘Inferus’.

The production of music will never be called prolific for these guys. That’s fine of course, but with a mere two albums to their name, you’d be surprised to find that there’s not a lot of other projects going on. In no way does that say anything negative about the gents, who produce a solid slab of death metal with this release, reminiscent of Immolation and Nile.

After a gentle piano intro, we launch fully into it, with crushing riffs and melodies, that hint of a mysterious oriental theme on ‘Faceless’. The sound of Neter is threatening, dark and ominous, but also very clean polished and full of technicalities. The thudding drums never seem to stop and prod the songs forward with a steady surge of heavy bass behind them.

Perhaps the tunes by Neter sound a bit stiff after a while. The steady pummeling doesn’t really show much variation, apart from the melodic guitar parts that appear here and there. On a tune like ‘Galvanize’, they are slightly more present, but still swamped by the rhythm section and the barked, guttural vocals. During a song like ‘Endemic Warfare’, it even goes down to a fragmentary presence, as the drums keep hitting hard and pushing the song towards it’s end.

Underground Sounds: Hamferð – Támsins likam

Label: Metal Blade
Band: Hamferð
Origin: Faroe Islands

Doom from the Faroe Islands

Hamferð is one of those bands hailing from the Faroe Islands. Isolation begets inspiration it seems because the island nation under the Danish crown has spawned various bands in the metal genre that have made a splash. Tyr being the foremost of course, but Hamferð is definitely not an unknown entity, making songs in their own language for the masses. Members have also been active in Barren Earth and Heljareyga, connected to aforementioned Tyr.

‘Támsins likam’ is the second full length of the doom band, after their 2013 debut. Signed to Metal Blade, the group can hardly be called prolific, but definitely has something in their sound that only seems to be found on these islands in the north, something forlorn and melancholic. Not surprising for a band whose very name refers to the epiphany of dead or missing seamen, of which the tales on the island are rich.

‘Fylgistflog’ opens with the class and stature of a bygone age. Filled with a particular mournful mood, the song remains elegant in its opening. Perhaps the sound is reminiscent of the romantic qualities known from My Dying Bride and ilk. Vocalist Jón Aldará has the quality of a story-teller in his voice, which he uses aptly. The story is that of a family in mourning over a lost child. Supernatural entities visit and torment the family, whose sorrow is expounded through the crushing music of Hamferð. Music that is as heavy and cold as the sea.
When the floodgates open, the band reminds me of Ahab in their nautical element. Wave after wave crashes into you, from the depths of the abyss onward. On a track like ‘Tvístevndur meldur’, the grief is tangible, yet the voice of Aldará breaks through the dark clouds with an almost angelic quality, a light that breaks through the turmoil and chaos. The music never loses it’s composure and remains regal and noble in all aspects. Yet the guitar work is so massive and oppressive at times, that even the listener might give up. Even when the darkness completely overwhelms, the northern beauty of this record remains undisputed when the notes of ‘Vápn í anda’ slowly ebb away.
Nothing but appreciation for this exceptionally immersive, but hard record by Hamferð and its fantastic artwork by Costin Chioreanu.