Crossbones from Albania: Olsi Ballta speaks

Albania has started to emerge in the metal world in the middle of the nineties. The country had been in isolation for a long time and for me all I knew about it was the insane amount of bunkers that were built in this peculiar country on the Adriatic shores.

Though the country opened up in 1992 to an extent, it took till the turn of the millennium (including the Albanian Civil War in 1997) for the country to get the flow of information it has now. So metal music came to Albania and with vigour and fascination many people embraced the new music. The Albanian metal heads faced very different problems though, like a lack of instruments. This is where Crossbones emerges.

Crossbones has been around since 1996. Their album ‘Days of Rage’ was released in the troubled year of 1997 and maybe embraces something of the time and troubles the country was going through. I got founder Olsi Ballta to answer some question about metal in Albania and the history of the band, who have finally released a new record 20 years after ‘Days of Rage’. This one is called ‘WWIII’.

Crossbones from Albania

Hi, who are you guys and how did you get together as a band?

Our current line-up is:
Olsi Ballta – founder/vocals
The Napoloni – drums
Ben Turku – guitars
Klejd Guza – bass

We had a lot of line-up changes over the years. We came to a point where it was just just Klod (former and long-time guitarist of the band) and me. So we needed to revitalize the band. I got a call in 2010 from Theo (drums). We both studied visual arts at the Fine Arts Academy here in Tirana. So we met and started to rehearse. It seemed pretty good, the chemistry was right so he became the band’s drummer. His first official gig with Crossbones was in December 2010.

Ben (guitars) joined the band officially in 2014.  We previously invited him a couple of times as a guest guitarist for a few gigs. We also had a gig with his prog/metal band Inverse Horizon from Italy here in Tirana in 2011. So in April 2014, Ben took over guitar duties whereas Klod would play the bass because we had no permanent bass player. We continued like this until beginning of 2016 when Klod moved to Australia. So again no bass player. This is how Klejd joined the band and became our current bass player. He learned our songs pretty fast and gave the rhythm section a boost.

So this is how we got together in brief.

Tell us a bit about the history of Crossbones please.

Original official line-up:
Olsi Ballta – vocals
Arbi Xhelo – guitars
Klod Shehu – guitars
Alban Male – drums/keyboards
Redi Hasa – bass

It started as just a group of friends jamming together and learning to play some covers from bands we’d listen to. It was early 1996. Very soon we started to compose our own songs. That’s the idea of having a band. Writing your own music.

From there on the band prefers to refer to their bio. Due to the changes in the line-up it feels more fitting.

Crossbones is the most recognized metal act in Albania and the only band from the early days in the mid-nineties that kept going. Among countless gigs and performances, Crossbones have played aside Rock and Metal giants such as Ian Paice, legendary drummer of Deep Purple and as a direct support act for Greek Black Metal Legends of Rotting Christ.

How would you describe your sound as a band?

The sound has definitely evolved technically also due to technology and good equipment. We pay close attention to it and yet the DNA of it hasn’t changed. We care about it and of course the guys in their respective section is doing great on making the sound tight and genuine and also enriching it.

I understand that the Albanian metal scene developed quite late and that the period ‘85 – ‘90 was a period that was particularly hard in Albanian history when it comes to the conditions and poverty in the country. In what way did that affect and influence the way you guys started out? Was it hard to get your hands on stuff like instruments?

It is true that Albania was isolated for a long time. But as soon as the system changed, a whole bunch of rock/metal bands emerged almost instantly. It was like everybody was waiting for the iron curtain to fall. Rock was the means of expressing oneself. We were totally isolated and it was the time to scream and shout freely. And rock was the answer.

There was a lack of instruments and mostly everybody who was in a band would borrow an instrument from some other guy. And they were going around hand to hand. It was really difficult. Not to mention rehearsal places. We rehearsed in our friend’s basement in our early days. Everything was missing infrastructure wise… But not the will and passion to make music. They were really tough but great times.

What artists inspired you guys to start making metal music as, in a way, the first band in Albania ever to do so? Where there any other bands venturing towards metal in your country that inspired you?

We all have our favorite band and artists like Beatles, Stones, Doors, Hendrix, Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Megadeth, Dream Theater, Sepultura, Pantera, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Korn, RATM, RHCP, the list goes on.

We had quite a few names that started and belong to the first wave of Albanian rock/metal bands like Centaur, Thunderway, Megaherc, Shok, Akullthyesit and Djemtë e Detit just to name a few. So seeing bands like these emerging and writing rock songs, influenced us mostly like “why don’t we start a band?”

Your first album ‘Days of Rage’ is about to celebrate its 20th birthday. Even though you didn’t release any records since (as in albums), I understood that Crossbones remains an active band and looking to still grow and play outside of Albania. Why did you never release a follow-up?

Yes it’s true. “Days Of Rage” 20th anniversary is just around the corner. It is the very first rock/metal CD album released in Albania. We didn’t release any other official album mostly due to financial but also industry infrastructure. Still at this day, the rock scene in Albania is small. There is not too much attention to it. Anyway, there are festivals or events that dedicate time to rock music and even brought international names.

We are active. In fact we’ve always been active and present in the local metal scene as well as abroad. We are trying to play as much as we can in other countries where the rock/metal scene is bigger and the industry is present.

Here the band likes to refer to a bit of their bio:

Crossbones is the only metal band as well to ‘sell’ outside the Albanian borders and tour around and gaining international recognition. The band have played and headlined in many concerts and festivals in the local scene, as well as Italy, Greece, FYROM, Montenegro, Kosovo and recently toured in Baltics (Estonia and Latvia) 1-3 June 2017, organized by THP Production.

Looking back to that time, can you say a bit how ‘Days of Rage’ happened? How did you write the album and record it and how did that go?

We already had a couple of songs. So we decided to write more in order to have an album. And we did. We would go to the studio, rehearse, and record.1997 was a bad year for Albania and also international press was talking a lot about that. I took the title from a CNN TV report with the headline “Days of rage in Albania”.

It was a good title and the situation inspired a lot of the songs and not only those in the album. This record was a self-released album, but it was the first and a lot of friends and fans remember it. It was a really big deal to release that kind of product back in the day. I personally hand-painted the cover and the logotype and the whole production was handled by GEMA in Switzerland.

When we look back at this album, we go back in time and we can’t help but recall all that period of time, difficulties, laughs, and endless hours in the studio recording stuff for up to 3 songs in a day. It was like we had to do it fast otherwise we wouldn’t do it at all. It was this feeling of impatience to finish the record and send it to production. Every day we would ask about when it is going to come out and so on. It was a self-released record, a full album. And I would like to thank Arbi (former band member and co-founder) and his family for making this record possible. We released the first Albanian rock/metal CD album in Albania. This is really important because that album is a piece of Albanian rock history and this how we got recognition here but as well as outside Albania.

There are thrash songs, heavy metal, grunge, hardcore and alternative. It’s a mix but it was us (the original line up I mean). And we want and we definitely going to continue that. We are alive and kicking.

I understand most Albanian bands that wanted to record had to do so in Pristina or Skopje. How did that work out?

We were very lucky at that time because my friend and co-founder Arbi, had this home studio so we could do anything, rehearsing and recording. Other bands recorded there as well. The equipment used was really great for that period of time. But this was not so important to us. We were the first metal band to release a CD album in Albania. And this was big.

You’ve got a new album out. What are the plans for that and what can people expect?

We released our new album “WWIII” on January 13 2017 via Nadir Music Genova. It is a worldwide release, in stores and online, ITunes, Amazon etc. It is again, the first metal album from Albania released internationally and with a label. We are really proud of that. We want to present it in as many countries as possible. We’ve played it Greece and Italy beginning of this year and just had our first Baltics Tour with THP Productions from Latvia. We played in Tallinn, Narva and Riga.

It was great. International festivals are important as well so we are dealing with it. We are featured on Ultraje Magazine Portugal(hard copy) March-April edition CD compilation with “Gates Of Hell” and another compilation through Against PR Portugal which comes out on July 31 2017. We already have shot two music videos, one of them coming out shortly. Our new album “WWIII” is making quite a buzz since its launch in January 13, 2017. The news has spread throughout 3 continents, Europe, USA and Australia in about 50 webzines and portals with great reviews.

For this record we worked with the well-known producer and sound engineer Tommy Talamanca at his Nadir Music Studios who has mixed and mastered the album. The new record combines American thrash metal influences with a dark sound and typical East European sonorities. The result is an album created with the intention of hitting the ears hard without losing melodic passages and “catchy” riffs. An album where the recurring use of both English and Albanian languages marks a new way in the European post-thrash genre.

So how was the lead-up to releasing this album?

We were already writing new stuff in 2015 and we actually self-released a new EP titled ‘Alive’ on April 25, 2015. It had 3 songs and one of them was ‘Gjallë’ which means “alive”. The song is in Albanian language, so we decided to keep up and continue to write other new stuff. The new album “WWIII” was highly influenced by the recent events and conflicts. So the title and artwork clearly convey the intense violence and conflict of the recent times.

We sent a few demos from the new stuff at Nadir Music Genova in Italy and the guys decided to produce the whole album and also deal with its worldwide release. Our good friend Tommy Talamanca is the man behind the whole production of it. It came out really great. And this was pretty awesome because once again, Crossbones would be the first Albanian metal band from Albania releasing an album that anyone around the world could buy or listen to. It was a wider and broader representation of Albanian metal to the world. And we are really proud of it. Right now we are trying to expose it as much as we can through gigs or tours and of course reviews/interviews and also music videos.

Your country has been isolated for a long time, but after it opened up more it seems that you were in the middle of a high-tension zone with the wars in former Yugoslavia. How is the relation now with the metal scene in bordering countries?

In general mostly with Kosovo. But we have played in Skopje (FYROM) and Montenegro as well. I would love to play in all ex-Yugoslavia countries. We have no problem with that.

I read somewhere that there is very little physical music available due to a lack of means and the turbulent recent history of Albania. How do you feel about that?

It is the industry that is missing for rock/metal bands. This is important. And people don’t seem to care a lot about this. Maybe we are a very small market in terms of rock music. I hope it changes and improves.

Did you face censorship in the early days and how is that today? If someone would visit your country and was hoping to find some places that metal heads hang out, are there any bars, venues or record stores that are important to the scene?

We have played in many concerts and festivals, even those not related directly with music. No one ever told us “don’t do this or that”. Maybe censor is the part where we are not invited sometimes. Regarding places, we have a few good ones. You can either just have a beer or even listen a live band. Unfortunately mostly cover bands.

What is the secret to keeping a band together in such hard circumstances where bands usually seem to have come up in Albania only to fold after a couple of years. You guys have been together forever. How did you do it?

As I said before we had several line-up changes and this makes things difficult.

Actually I am the only original member of the band. But i think if there is a will, there is a way. I believe the best has yet to come and we are going to accomplish that together.

What future plans does Crossbones have?

To write a new album, tour around and gain more international recognition.

If you had to describe Crossbones as a type of food, what would it be?

Honestly, I don’t know how to answer this one but i can say it is east meets west, a mix of blends and flavours, musically speaking. I like to think that everybody who listens to our music can find one self. It’s all about connecting people and sharing your thoughts and emotions and be open.

The album is for sale on ITunes and Amazon. Give them a like on Facebook!

Underground Sounds: Veldes – The Bitterness Prophecy

Label: Independent
Band: Veldes
Origin: Slovenia

With ‘Ember Breather’, Veldes released one of the most haunting and grand black metal albums I’ve heard in recent times. Just last April the group, which is Tilen Šimon, came with a new record titled ‘The Bitterness Prophecy’. Where the last record was autumn, this is the winter.

Veldes is quite a productive band with a specific aesthetic, which I really like. The minimalism in the compositions offers something very comprehensive and easy going for the listener. Not everyone seems to enjoy this evenly much, but I think it creates a particular sound that may not be as dense and hectic but carries a straight forward feeling and emotion with it.

The album is not one with short, bursting songs, but long epics full of swooping passages and high peaks. There’s a tranquility to it, as there is to the forest in the winter times. The music simply soars, while the rhythm section drives the sound ever onward with fierce, but controlled drums. There are languid passages, to really dream away with. There is a lot of beauty here with beautiful melodies and a warm melancholy.

I particularly love ‘Seeking The Land Beyond’, as it is the perennial quest for most listeners of this music style. To escape into a different realm for even the briefest of times. Veldes takes you there. ‘Ancient Remedy’ is the shortest track on the album, but then again it is an instrumental break of peaceful piano music before we launch into ‘Hollow Antlers’. Now there’s a ferocious climax to a great record with a big finale of hard hitting drums and warm guitar parts. The drums sometimes sound a bit lifeless I have to say, but the overall effect stands tall.

 

 

Rimruna

Underground Sounds: Rimruna – Der Hatz Entronnen

Label: Naturmacht Productions
Band: Rimruna
Origin: Germany

Rimruna hails from Berlin and its two members are also active under the name Drangskapur. Rimruna has been active as a project since 2011 and this album is the second full length for the duo. The last one came out back in 2014. The title ‘Der Hatz Entronnen’ translates as ‘Escaped from hate’.

The music of Rimruna fits well into the German tradition of folk-flavored, atmospheric black metal. Thematically the band appears to have a particular fascination for the winter season. Much effort goes into the lyrics for this band it would seem. They are written in German, which might be a bit of work for you, but totally worth it. Being part of the Naturmacht stable, this group fits right in with their sound.

The dark folkloric sound is as dark cloud gathering and following you. Strong, galloping rhythms and drum rolls hit home, while the guitars seem to produce a thin but compelling sound of swooping dissonance. The gnarly vocals are as bent and twisted as old tree trunks sticking out from the snow, with the particular bite the language allows for.

The sound holds a clarity, which gives it a direct and melodic feel. On the other hand, it also makes particularly the rhythm section sound pretty raw and aggressive on a track like ‘Tor der Zeit’, where the melodies meander past, while the drums assault the hearing. That contradiction in sound is one of the great alluring powers of Rimruna, who truly drag the listener in all directions and often sound close to some of the blackgaze bands of these days. The sound is harrowing, but filled with melancholic melodies that take the listener along.

Still, the sound is rooted in raw black metal and that is what you get mostly. The tremolo guitar play on a song like ‘In Ewigkeit Versunken’ takes nothing away from that, but just makes the story and flow of the album so much more captivating and pleasant. This certainly is a good bit of music!

Underground Sounds: Unaussprechlichen Kulten – Keziah Lilith Medea (Chapter X)

Label: Iron Bonehead Productions
Band: Unaussprechlichen Kulten
Origin: Chile

Lovecraft worshipping death metal from Chile

Lovecraft’s work is alive and well in the hands of multiple obsessed bands (as you can read in my Lovecraft collection part 1, part 2 and part 3). Unaussprechlichen Kulten has been stoking that fire for for almost 20 years. They’ve taken their name from one of the fictional forbidden books in the Lovecraft Mythos and have held to the theme.

On this record, which is not their tenth album (in fact it’s the fourth), the band moves towards the New England stories of witchcraft and connections to more sinister, older forms of evil. That makes for some great material for the ferocious death metal this band creates. They take particular inspiration from the female characters or entities depicted in those stories. As the band says:

“This Chapter is inspired by women, the persecution against them by the Holy Office Sacred Congregation (The Inquisition), their essential role in the myth and legend, their place at the witches’ Sabbath, and the profound fear they spread – and still do – in mankind under the concept of Witch.”

So I use that full statement, because I appreciate it. It is hard to really get that from the ferocious, but regal sounding death metal these Chileans produce. There’s a steady flow to their sound, that reminds me of Bolt Thrower (though their sound is way too foreboding and filled with stop-go moments). The vocals of Joseph Curwen (yeah, that’s another Lovecraft reference) are the kind that feel like scraping the coarse bottom of a dirty puddle. It’s all quite intense.

The guitarwork is constantly peaking, screaming and crying on tracks like ‘Sacrificio Infanticida’. There’s no moment of peace for the listener to Unaussprechlichen Kulten, it’s an onslaught of brutality and mighty guitar work. Sometimes the band uses parts that are pretty classic sounding, but in a polished, controlled manner. Actually everything done by these gents sounds controlled, but there’s a constant threat of them blowing the lid off and creating complete cosmic havoc. Opener ‘Unholy Abjuration of Faith’ is a good example. The track feels like oldschool death metal, in all its glory.

In general I think the band sticks to what it knows. They can easily be placed in a more conservative corner. The sound is more or less like that of Immolation, Morbid Angel and their ilk. Heavy and filled with musical excesses, they embrace the extreme. The result is a solid record, that clocks just under 40 minutes. What a trip it is.

 

Underground Sounds: La Torture Des Ténèbres – Civilization Is The Tomb Of Our Noble Gods

Label: Independent
Origin: Canada
Band: La Torture Des Ténèbres

The first time I played this record by Canadian group La Torture Des Ténèbres, I was baffled. I turned it off after a few songs. Maybe it was not entirely what I expected when I read the tag ‘raw black metal’, but the sound makes much more sense if you look a bit deeper. This band creates something that lies between black metal and dense ambient sounds, thus evoking the sound of the city, of urban chaos.

La Torture Des Ténèbres has been around for a while and is the creation of Jessica Kinney. ‘Civilization Is The Tomb Of Our Noble Gods’ is the third album under this name and actually the third album in one year (2016). That makes this a rather productive act.

From peculiar intro ‘Column Of Astrological Memories’ onwards, you get into a weird sort of Sky Captain of Tomorrow -like story telling of past and future intertwined. The intro lets you hear samples, music and conversations, which launches into ‘The Great Escape From Capricorn’. A mesmerizing swirling chaos of music, ambient and noise, that holds hidden at the core vocals and lyrics that speak of a doomed world.

Civilization offers us but one choice. Conform to the collective architecture or perish beneath the weight of aeons.

The music is pretty much the unleashing of torrents of sound. ‘Descending Through Autumn Fields’ is a maddening flow, that somewhere coalesces into a melancholic melody. Surrounding is maddening howls. freakish barks and an overwhelming display of noise. The album is all the way like that, furthermore it never relents for a moment. A harsh experience for the listener, but one that has beauty hidden within. La Torture Des Ténèbres is definitely not for the casual listener I suppose. I t leaves you staring into the abyss, while waiting for the world to fall apart.

A roaring climax comes with the two parts of ‘Into The Metropolitan Abyss’. Two movements of despair and concrete madness. What a powerful record, especially relevant today.

Underground Sounds: Jute Gyte – The Sparrow

Label: Blue Tapes / X-Ray Records
Band: Jute Gyte
Origin: United States

I’ve written before about the music of Jute Gyte, which I wrongly wrote as Jute Gryte at the time. The fascinating thing about Jute Gyte is that the music made by Adam Kalbach, the sole member, is highly experimental. He makes listeners  aware of a whole distinct musical movement that apparently exists. A movement exploring music’s unknown.

The result of that is often that the music of Jute Gyte is very much an acquired taste. It listens as an oddity for the listener thanks to complexity, wealth of uncommon sounds and droning core. ‘The Sparrow’ is the latest release by the, dare I say, avant-garde musician with a knack for the extreme. With just two songs, this is one hell of a ride.

The start of ‘The Sparrow’ should have been called ‘The Bees’, since that is the feeling of the song. A buzzing, droning festival of intensity hits the listener. Dissonant and almost on a pitch that simply annoys the hell out of you, the track soon reaches the point where roaring vocals disturb the droning. After a few minutes we vind a break, where just eerie sounds fill the sonic void left behind. After minutes of slithering sounds, a more tumultuous, cascading sound develops. Just under twenty minutes, the track hardly gets dull or unsurprising in its intensity.

As soon as you start putting Jute Gyte in the noise category, you realise that there is always a structure. Structure that is hard to determine because it is so different to what you know. ‘Monadanom’ is the second track with an almost equal length. Lacking the ferocious passages of the former, this track is a continuing drone fest of atonal, disjunctured passages launched into the distance. At some parts it sounds soothing and melancholic, in others it’s simply uncomfortable. But that is what the music of Jute Gyte does, it will force its presence upon you as a listener. That is what makes it so brilliant.

Sleep is for the Week

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while now, because I think I need to share things. A year ago I was in a swamp. I was depressed, tired and stressed out.  Right now I feel more energetic and driven than ever. I’m shedding weight (not gaining hair unfortunately). I want to share what happened, because writing is therapy… though not always is it easy.

Dreaming is a luxury,
Like stopping-staring and beauty sleep.
I’ll stop when I’m finished,
And sleep is for the weak.

Frank Turner, ‘Vital Signs’

Sleep…

At work I felt I was completely stuck. I didn’t have the energy for anything, couldn’t face any conflicts and genuinely was terribly unhappy in the place I was at. Years of conversations with people that had the best intentions for me didn’t seem to yield much and though I learned a lot I remained stuck. I decided to pursue a teachers degree. It seemed a good idea at the time and a way out of what I thought was a dead-end street, a proverbial rope to drag myself from the swamp.

I started having pain in my arms and after various consultations with the doctor, I received some braces for what must be Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Right, that seemed logical… I had overworked my hands in combination with stress and weight gain and that was probably the issue. I went to see a company doctor, I talked to a psychologist, the whole shebang. Some told me that it might be deeper, others told me to worry less. I decided that it must be the environment and that I needed something new. I was very wrong about what I thought was the problem.

I didn’t sleep… Well, not in the sense where you get a full nights rest. What I have is called obstructive sleep apnea, which basically means that I stop breathing in my sleep and then wake up slightly… sink back into sleep, stop breathing and wake up again…and so on. So what are some of the effects and causes for sleep apnea.

Apnea

Some of the effects of apnea that I experienced are the following:

  • Exhaustion
  • Problems with building up a condition
  • Pains and other random complains
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Forgetfulness
  • Headaches
  • Anxieties
  • Weight gain

In the long run you can even get damage to your intestines, like your liver and heart because the body simply doesn’t get the rest it needs. There is an extensive list of causes and they’re not things you can easily ‘handle’.

So why didn’t anyone find this out years ago (I might have suffered from this for 15 years or more)? Because like most people around me, I thought snoring was simply that… snoring. I never connected it to anything health related. I wouldn’t have even found out if it wasn’t for the work-related stress, which combined with weight gain to make matters worse. The basic cause for my issue is genetic, which is unfortunate since I have quite a severe version of apnea.

A solution and a different self?

It’s weird, the thing that happens when you suddenly get a rush of energy. When you sleep through a whole night again and wake up refreshed and full of spirit. That’s what happened to me when I got a CPAP machine. The machine operates at night, with a face mask, and pushes air through my nose and keeps it open so I breathe. I breathe and sleep deep sleep. I’m now like a resting Darth Vader (better try to see the fun in things right?).

And then I started to work out again. Not like before, where I was dragging my weary body all the way to the gym. No, I train with energy and drive again. My muscles are sore the next day, not just tired. That was also a new experience, to feel physically well. So what next? I get to revisit pretty much every decision and feeling I had. My habits are in a clash with my mental state, which is hard and exhausting, but exhilerating at the same time. I don’t feel the need to keep people on an arm’s length, but my behaviour isn’t easily changed. I don’t want to think doom, but my mind is so used to that road. Changing is going to be a challenge, but as I get my rest I’m not worried.

So what the hell do I do with this info?

I have to live with a machine pumping air into my throat for the foreseeable future. If I travel, I need to specially contact the charter company to discuss this and sleeping in a tent is no longer a real option. I hope to get healthier and qualify for a brand new treatment later, but it’s all good. The feeling of being well I would not trade for anything in the world… I feel the energy to pursue my dreams now.

I want to write. I want to write professionally every day, because it is what I love. The shaping of text, the creation of content. That is the dream I pursue now. And I’m very grateful for the fact that I can do that with all my energy and heart.

If you recognize any of these symptoms, if you do snore, get it checked out. There’s a huge taboo on the whole snoring thing. It’s embarrassing and annoying to have to cope with that in itself. There’s a solution though and it has its downsides, but they are outweighed by the good. Get this checked out!

 

Reading of Books #27

There’s just too much material that I would want to read, so these are the latest books I enjoyed reading. Magnus Magnusson, Nick Hornby, Marc Eglinton and Lars Brownworth were my reading victims this time.

Adam Nergal Darski/Marc Eglinton – Confessions of a Heretic: The Sacred and the Profane: Behemoth and Beyond

source: goodreads.com

Let’s get one thing straight, I’ve read many books by musicians, but listing Nergal as an author on this is not correct. He’s the subject of the book and most of the words are his, but he’s an interviewee here, not the writer. This is highly suggested in the promo surrounding the book, but as he himself would say “people should be more critical”. Originally the book was published in Polish, but Eglinton rewrote it in English. In a dense collection of interviews, Adam ‘Nergal’ Darski talks about his life, his views and his music. Nergal likes to shape his own image, which is that of a hedonist, a liberal thinker, a freedom fighter and more often than you think an alpha male. There’s a certain arrogance in this book, but it’s the right sort of arrogance.

As a fan of Behemoth, I found that reading this book made me like Nergal less. Maybe it’s breaking down the hero status, maybe it’s realizing there’s not that many connecting points. I did find my respect for the man growing with every page. The book humanizes him, but also shows that his whole iconoclastic attitude is just an expression. Nergal is no basement dwelling, goat sacrificing mad men, but a thinking, reading, reasoning man trying to find his own way in the world. It’s hard to imagine how his celebrity status works alongside his carreer as a black metal singer, but this book gives you an image. This book is a pleasant read and a lot of fun, but its just that for those interested in the man Nergal. If that is not interesting to you, this book will not make your knowlegde of metal any bigger. No need to pick it up for that reason.

Nick Hornby – Fever Pitch

source: goodreads.com

I love football. I tried to deny it for many, many years, but I have a profound love for the football game. The culture and all its aspects fascinate me. What I lack is  true fandom of one team, but once upon a time I had my room walls plastered with posters. That team was Arsenal from London. This is what attracted me to the book by Nick Hornby, an author I have not read that much from this far. This story is his personal recounting of how football had an impact on his life. On him and the way he turned out. From the day his father took him to see Arsenal his fate was sealed. The most boring team in the world defeated Stoke with a boring 1-0 win. It was enough to get hooked. Not even a visit to Tottenham could shake his allegiance.

Hornby uses certain games to illustrate phases of his life. He connects them to where he was at as a person and how it all made him feel. He describes a relationship between his personal well being and the clubs performance through the years, the cynicism that comes with being a football fan and the joy of a championship, It’s  a story of becoming an adult, becoming a person and growing up with a passion for football. No one, as far as I know, has ever put the place football has in peoples lives to words as good as Hornby does in this pleasant and enjoyable book.

Magnus Magnusson – Tales from Viking Times

source: goodreads.com

Many know Magnus Magnusson  as a Brittish tv-host of certain quizzes. This puzzling fact I found rather interesting about the man who has written extensively about the viking era of the past. Magnusson worked for most of his life as a journalist and translator, but the bulk of what he left behind comes from his origins. The writer was born in the Kingdom of Iceland. His birth was in the time when Denmark and Iceland were struggling to find a solution for the wish for independence. Magnusson grew up in Schotland, but writes about the ancient tales with a special kind of passion in this book.

Ths book deals with the traditional Northern stories and folk tales and is not just a collection of those works. In a fragmentary way Magnusson delivers segments of stories. Accompanying those stories are brief explanations about their roots and settings. This makes this book highly educatonal. The world view of the Northerners was strongly defined by these stories and really are a product of those. Magnusson takes ample time to give the right attention to this. It’s a pleasant collection presented as an audiobook, which is fitting. The saga’s work best when spoken. Even better around a fire.

Lars Brownworth – The Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings

source: goodreads.com

Writing a history of the Vikings is a dense and complex task. Where to start and what directions to go in? Vikings travelled in all directions and there are many stories to be told. Do you wish to focus on their ferocity and the lasting stamp of fear or on their exploring and progressive nature? It’s a struggle for writers, but Brownworth chose to start somewhere at the start of their written history. In England and in France, where post Roman Empire some sort of civilization is arising. The sails they see at the horizon will test their mettle. Fierce plunderers and raiders arrive, who come from a shrouded history. The roots of the vikings are in the north, in their land that spawned them forth. What really starts the history we want to know, is their first raids.

Brownworth takes the reader down a  history that is part fact and part probably fiction, but how else do you tell the tales of Ragnar Lodbrok and his sons? How to speak of Ivar the Boneless and King Rurik of the Rus? The Viking age is an age of dragons and monsters, of  worlds unknown and undiscovered land like Iceland, Greenland and Vinland. The story of reconnecting the old empires and finding glory in Constantinopel and Kiev. Brownworth writes in different directions and picks up on other branches in following chapters. This allows him to create a story that is as diverse and spread out as the Viking influence. To really close the story, we end at Stamford Bridge, with the dead of the legendary Harold Hardrada. The sun then sets on the viking age in a beautiful history, really worth your time to read.

Power Trip - Nightmare Logic

Underground Sounds: Power Trip – Nightmare Logic

Label: Southern Lord Records
Origin: United States
Band: Power Trip

I’m perfectly aware that Power Trip does not need one of my Stranger Aeons reviews to get them some attention, but ever since hearing this band, I had to pen a bit about them. Why? Have you heard  ‘Nightmare Logic’? A master piece of crossover thrash that seems to come to us now as a relic of the eighties, right when its needed.

This album is the second full length from this band, which has been around since 2008 and hails from Dallas, Texas. There’s definitely a flavor of hardcore to their sound, hence the notion of crossover, but they are also battle ready and heavy enough to carry a tune at a death metal show. In fact, I have to think of Bolt Thrower now and then, listening to these upstarts play. They do nothing really new, but like Skeletonwitch and maybe Iron Reagan they bring back some simple, primitive thrashing to the forefront in an era when we need these sounds.

This record moves about and groves in all directions. Live the band actually is even more entertaining, with a high energy performance befitting of a bunch of rabid dogs playing thrash metal. The casual vibe of the guitar play, the fun that just displays in the tunes, it makes this band so incredibly catchy and entertaining to hear. At the right moments, they add elements like gang shouts to make it even more awesome. But just listen to that ballzy intro of ‘Soul Sacrifice’, which is a tune for raised fists and feet stomping.

The pace is frantic, the energy high and boundless on a track like ‘Firing Squad’. I really thought that thrash was dead, but this band has awoken the genre from its slumbers. This makes me want to jump around and beat stuff. Not in a violent way though, this music is just so brimming with vitality, with contained and directed fury, that you need to move your feet to it. The rabid screams and shouts of Riley Gale, the riffs like razorblades and the awesome artwork, it all makes sense.

This is one of the coolest records out there, I’m sure.

New Wave of Dutch Black Metal Part 3

This is the third part, where I attempt to highlight some of the names that make up the blossoming (well, withering if you prefer that) Dutch black metal scene. Dutch zine Never Mind The Hype coined the phrase ‘New Wave of Dutch Black Metal’, due to the bookings at Roadburn last year. This prompted this investigation.

This will not be the last installment.

Secret Alchemists: Kaffaljidhma, Himelvaruwe, Voidspell, Kraggsygh

Black metal has its share of underground musicians, who work on their own, zealously producing music according to their own vision in relative isolation. Musicans that only release music through obscure means, like tape labels. Who remain faceless and don’t play live. Well, we have some gems in the Netherlands too. And I’m not jus talking about the dark wizardry of Mories with Black Mouth of Spite and Pyriphlegethon

Three numbered releases is all we can really tell about Kaffaljidhma, named after a distant star system. The musician Olibanum (that in turn is a type of resin) is inspired by the stars and his music sounds as distant and estranging as you might expect. Think of Mesarthim and Mare Cognitum, but then more underground, darker and at times barely audible through the grey noise. Releasing tunes on The Throat, the artist is also active in some other acts, but this one is definitely one of the most fascinating ones.

The Throat is a label with some unexpectedly, excellently odd releases and the latest effort by Himelvaruwe definitely puts them in that category. The sound approaches dark ambient or even just noise. A grey fog envelops the listener, who just sinks into the swamp that is Himelvaruwe. Occasional high pitched screams come through the fog, distorted and grim, but the weary drag really is getting you too much down to really look up anymore. Everything is grey and all is lost, that is the feeling this act evokes on the majest ‘CCIII’, give it a listen.

Another strange entity is Voidspell, who draw their listeners down into the pitch black of the absolute void with their noisy, abrasive sound. Let them take you along for an eternal trip into the endless with their debut release ‘The Eternal Voyage Through The Eternal Void’. A meandering descent with despair seeping into every note the band plays. It’s a spiralling fall with these guys, who sound truly dark and foreboding. A real recommendation!

For the one-man metal fan, there’s quite some gems to be found in the Netherlands. Another taste of ravishing grimness we get with Kraggsygh, a project that has been around for only a few years, but has been highly productive. A lot of releases, including this little gem with Russian band Wounded Orb. Sole bandmember Count Azathoth creates a gurgling, formless mass, a dark creeping sound that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Well worth your time again.

Dark artistry: Grey Aura, An Autumn For Crippled Children, Moenen

The band Grey Aura from Utrecht is exploring the boundaries of what black metal can be. They are currently working on a four demo series, which will shape up to be a 2,5 hours piece to accompany a novel one of the members is writing. In the music they’ve integrated even flamenco music and traditional flamenco singing. The record is a mixture of fierce black metal, conversations and ambient passages. It says alot about the new direction some bands are taking the music in these days. Greay Aura is definitely turning this music into art.

The most peculiar and often misunderstood project from the Netherlands must be An Autumn For Crippled Children. In nine years the post-blackmetal band spat out 6 albums of the most harrowing atmospheric music. The band has been moving to a more postrock-orientated sound, which they do pretty well actually. This probably will alienate listeners, but their bandname was doing that anyways, so this is not for any real purists. It’s an engrossing sound , completely captivating and full of warm hope of this mysterious group, check out their latest to see if it’s something for you.

Another one that stood out for me is Moenen from Dordrecht. Moenen may not be one of those mysterious one-man metal bands in the traditional sense, but it is the side project of a Arminus member, creating atmospheric black metal with some synth elements. The sound is particularly smooth and mellow, but with an ever present dark edge. Moenen might not be that far out from what is common use of black metal these days, but there’s something really catchy to the sound. On bandcamp the krautrock tag is listed, which makes sense.  Really worth listening to if you like some shoegaze with your black.

Stranger Gods: Solar Temple, Hellevaert, Slechtvalk, Cultus

Solar Temple worships at the altar of the otherness. They’ve just released a very first demo, with the song ‘Rays of Brilliance’. It’s out on Haeresis Noviomagi in conspiracy with Fallen Empire Records and offers something quite peculiar. The sound is a continuous barrage of lo-fi black metal, blasting and riffing away to get this static, continuous sound of hypnotic, psychedelic music. Pious chanting can be heard and ever so gently does the sound shift. Alluring and charming the listener into submission, this is a band that may be close to Urfaust on some fronts, but totally distinct in its otherworldliness.

From the southern part of the Netherlands hails the band Hellevaert and though the artwork might appear to be traditional in the Dutch black metal scene, we hear a distinct sound here. Blasting drums and wavery, melancholic guitars lead the way in a dreamy and dark descent on their debut album. There are no vocals most of the time, therefor the music needs to do the work and the storytelling.
On the song ‘Hell And Apocalypse Await Eden’ we do hear samples and some operatic singing, but mostly it is just music. The drums sound a bit computeresque, but overall this is something to just sink away in.

When we talk of stranger gods, the band Slechtvalk comes to mind. Regardless how you feel about a band implementing Christian themes, they were boldly different and bravely defiant of the norms in the black metal world. That Christian thing was actually never a thing, but it has tainted the band for the rest for their carreer. Unfortunately this happens. The band from Deventer plays black metal for a good 18 years now and has released many excellent albums. Sure, they’ve moved into a more viking metal direction, but their solid sound, excellent production and powerful presentation make them impossible to ignore. Their latest album came out in 2016 and though it is much more accesible, it sounds damn good in my opinion.

If we stick to these different divinities, other than Satan I mean, then Cultus definitely should be here. Not only are they one of the long standing names in Dutch black metal, yet they sound as roaringly angry on ‘Gezeteld in Zegeruïnen’ as they did 20 years ago. The themes of their music revolve around the old Germanic history. There was a period of inactivity before, but this album must be one of the most powerful releases in a while and it has a certain bombast and strength to it, that is hard to emulate. It feels epic and powerful, like a sky filled with thunder.

The Verdant Realm: Irrwish, Wilds Forlorn, Flooded Grave

Nature is a theme of worship in black metal. With longing we think of the dark forests of old and Irrwisch expresses that. The band name refers to the forest spirits of yore. You might considered the sound quite traditional. There’s a more to it though. There is a melancholy of beautifull melodies interwoven in the songs. The production left a lot of hazy noise in the songs, which really works on the slower parts. Irrwisch is like a black metal snow storm. It completely overwhelms you, batters you and cradles you in the heart of the natural realms at the very same time. They haven’t released anything since 2014. I’d love to hear more from this group from the Nijmegen region, releasing material on Those Opposed records in France.

Another band drawn to the wilderness is Wilds Forlorn. A one man project playing black metal from Utrecht with sole member Yuri Theuns (also active in Ascese and Eater of Souls). The band has been silent for a few years. Now with the single ‘Upon The Horns’ the project is back alive. A twenty minute epic with roaring black metal and classic piano intermezzo’s to boot. It sounds like a bit of a Primordial vibe on this release, yet that might be a bit far fetched to other listeners. Powerful, roaring passages with a visceral effect on the listner definitely hit home. We can definitely hope for more from this musician, it’ll be well worth it.

Final entry in this edition is Flooded Grave. A solo endeavour of Adonai Nero of Heavens Fall, also inspired by nature and myths. The band has not released that much work yet, but this tune is very promising. The latest release is an odd three way split record, which you can pick up from Zwaertgevegt. The band is very new, while sticking to traditional sound. Check this band out, because thisis good stuff!