Underground Sounds: Hellevaert – Hellevaert

Label: self-released
Band: Hellevaert
Origin: Netherlands

Drag you down to hell

A while ago I listed interesting black metal bands from the Netherlands, in what I planned to make an ongoing series. I surely missed out on one band there, because Hellevaert sounds like one hell of a sonic experience. Their album is self-titled, the name being the antonym of the Dutch word for Ascension day (which would be Hemelvaart, the journey to the heavens). I’ll let you make the translation by yourself.

Inspired by the likes of Dante Alighieri and Milton for their album, they draw up a tortured realm of dystopian proportions. The music has been enriched with samples and has not got the classic black metal feel. This is more crafted, less organic and more the creation of one brain, happening to be frontman Serpent. I know little more concerning the band, which helps to keep up the mystery.
The music is explosive, with intents blast beats and riffing that plows over you without any symptom of mercy. Apart from strange spoken samples, there’s little respite for the listener. The extreme and violent sounds rain down upon them, coalescing into massive slabs of black metal. Notable are the warped operatic vocals on ‘Hell And Apocalypse Await Eden’, which soars over the lo-fi sounding music at the start of the track. Samples from the Paradise Lost opera by Krzysztof Penderecki fill the gaps in the music.
The haze sometimes has peculiar fingerpicking guitar work breaking through the fog, like a rare sunray it is instantly noticeable. Probably due to the constant hemorrhaging fury of the music, which creates a landscape so desolate and full of grief. This must be the inferno. At times, Hellevaert approaches an almost cinematic quality with the cut and paste elements. You hear it on tracks like ‘Great Beast Of Tormenting Trials’, where jittery electronic music, samples, and explosions make up a hellish, almost Hieronymus Bosch-like soundscape. The band sounds strongly like a studio creation, but that’s where its strength lies.
Hellevaert delivers one hell of a record, that might be a bit too much in one bite. Enjoy it nonetheless, as you journey into the abyss.

Underground Sounds: Ashtoreth – Offering I

Label: self-released
Artist: Ashtoreth
Origin: Belgium

Only in the forest, true tranquility can be truly found it seems. For Peter Verwimp, the man behind the mysterious entity called Ashtoreth, this is where much of the magic comes from. In an interview, he expressed that in particular the tension between the urban and the natural matters in his work. Listening to ‘Offering I’, we mainly hear the tranquility of the verdant realm.

Aside from Ashtoreth, Verwimp plays music with urban black metallers Emptiness, whose sound finds root in the city and its mesmerizing concrete jungle. The band embraces a dystopian view perhaps, but their expression is clear. He also makes music in Building Transmissions, Maya and once made hardcore in Stifled Cries. A versatile artist with fantastic work.

This offering is a track, forming around a long, persevering drone. The effects wrap around it, coiling in languid manners to create a sense of wholeness. Balance most aptly describes the sound. This dehumanized journey resounds with what thrum of life.  Not the city-dwelling, economy-driven type, but the bustling of nature. It might be a slight murmur in the background too, that enhances the experience. The record was after all recorded live in Tinques, France.

Ambient samples and chitterings emerge as the journey goes deeper into the forest, deeper into that other realm. Dreamy chants reach your ears, as a branch is pushed aside. As the shamanic singing swells, the song takes on a transcendental air, a spiritual reaching up towards the canopy of leaves.

With the music of Ashtoreth, you are free to drift away on the stream. Let your mind latch on and take that spiritual slide of 50 minutes through a soundscape of lush green and ancient overgrowth.

Drowning in the sublime of nature

Nature has a power, that touches us in a way that defies explanation. It’s an almost sublime force that the mountains, forests and waters have on us. Many musicians have been inspired by the majesty of the outdoors, like Noctem Aeturnus, Noorvik and Slow. Their sounds bring to live the awe we are filled with when gazing upon the mighty world that surrounds us.

Normally I like to focus on one record at the time in reviews. These three albums came to me together and hence I felt it would be appropriate to bring them together in writing. Though there’s probably no connection in any way between the artists, seeing the covers side by side created a connection.

Noctem Aeturnus: Ice beating on the majestic mountainside

Origin: Argentina
Label: Self-released

Noctem Aeturnus hails from Argentina, a land that has fire and ice both within its fertile body. The cover of ‘Winter Fells’ shows the mighty, rugged mountains, that can inspire any art. The cold ambient sounds combine well with raw black metal, howling vocals like the wind that beats upon the visible face of the mountains. As an unrelenting wind, the guitar soars on while blast beats imitate the snow beating down upon its brow. Slow and regal, the music lunges onwards in a grand way, emulating the beauty in all its splendor and deadlines.

Noctem Aeturnus carves out a path through the frozen waste, back straight and standing in the face of immense power and strength that the mountain holds. The mountain is solid, unbend and unbroken, but constantly facing the same hammering as we hear in the songs like ‘Winter Spells’ and ‘Diminishing Night’. The icy battering you get on ‘The Waning Moon is Fallen’ is severe but laced with the Burzum-esque synth drops, that evoke the dripping sound of ice melting. A majestic listening experience if I ever I had one.

Noctem Aeturnus is a one-man project, by a man named Ramiro. He also plays in Darker Mysteria on the drums.

Noorvik: Regal visions of the Northern frontier

Origin: Germany
Label: Self-released

The band from Cologne has found fascination in Alaska, one of those places where humans choose to live, but only thrive at the mercy of mother nature. Life is more fickle at the frontier, where the Germans Noorvik take their name from (an Iñupiat city in the north-west of Alaska). As you gaze up from the mountains, we see the essence of the land through the lens of Noorviks sound. Just a faint noise erupts, as we gaze upon the mighty landscape and the dense trees. The sheer magnitude of such a land is captured in the sonic force the postrockers with a tad bit of progressive metal in the mix. Spun out, big soundscapes create the feel of the endless forests and plains, but also the subtleties of the natural beauty and harmony are emulated by the expressive and subtle guitars.

A feeling of both clarity and sombreness is evoked by the sound of Noorvik. As if the land is slumbering under that thick blanket of snow, under which so much more is hidden. There’s even a sense of playfulness on ‘Kobuk’, which feels like a dance around the fire. The band weaves together the parts into a whole, a sonic painting of the land that beckons the listener to explore and visit it’s vast nature.

Noorvik is a four-piece. This is their debut record.

Slow: From unknown depths, down in the Ocean

Origin: Belgium
Label: GS Productions
On their latest record, Slow really captures the oblivion that rests under the waves. Deep, uncharted darkness overwhelms the listener with the abyssal black metal sound of the Belgian group. Crushing, gargantuan vocals roll over the listener as you are sucked into the depths by Slow. ‘Aurore’ is an almost funeral doom-like experience of oppressive, all-consuming music, much like the crushing of mighty waves or the absolute deep.

It doesn’t necessarily fills you with despair, but with surrender to something so much greater and stronger. Something we can hardly imagine is captured in the surging riffs of Slow, it doesn’t relent, nor diminsh. The uncaring force of nature unleashed. Drowning never felt so good as on this record. On ‘Déluge’ you tread water, and the keys allow you to gasp at air for a brief moment, as the angelic sound of singing resounds but melts away again. Then the water breaks open and swallows you again like a giant maw, with an unearthly roar that can only be caused by earth-shattering clashes as every ounce of hope is sucked out of you.

Slow is Olmo Lipani, Belgian musician, who is responsible for an incredible range of projects, from Maladie to Cult of Erinyes and a dozen more. This is the fifth album for Slow, but also the first on which Lipani cooperates with Lore Boeykens, fellow bandmember in Ter Ziele.

Cover image by Justina Lukosiute

Underground Sounds: Krallice – Go Be Forgotten

Label: Hathenter/Giliad Media
Band: Krallice
Origin: USA

How do you even get to this level of productivity, without slacking somehow in your quality? I have no idea how they do it, but here’s the new Krallice, titled ‘Go Be Forgotten’. It’s their second full length of 2017 and one hell of a record, mixing jazzy noise with black metal and hardcore-sludge or whatever.

The band has sort of just released ‘Löum’, together with Dave Edwardson from Neurosis. You’d say that we may have slightly recovered from that piece of work. This is the latest and it actually made it to various end of year lists. Good on you guys, I’d say. I was just a bit baffled after listening to it because these New Yorkers rarely make for an easy listen.

 

It seems like Krallice is moving in the direction of noise or even something akin to industrial, with the gritty beats on ‘This Forest For Which We Have Killed’. A solid layer of bass forms, like a curtain of pulverized glass or construction residue. Beyond that layer is space, for the vocals to bark into the void. Relentless aptly describes the flow of fury that Krallice directs at the listener. Frantically paced and never opening up for a breath, the band sounds more and more like a blend of hardcore, noise and black metal to me.
Remarkably, a grand experience can also be a part of that violent, abrasive sound. The title track embraces big arches and soaring synths. The wide contrast opens up a whole new space for Krallice to play in. The sound explores restlessness, dynamics, and complex structures, sometimes verging on jazz even? The 10-minute onslaught of ‘Ground Prayer’ for example, seems to meander from different pace as much as in intensity, with every new measure, while the vocals keep insistently barking at you.
Krallice may be one of the most intense and surprising bands out there and like every one of their records, this may take you some time to wrap your head around.

Underground Sounds: Eschatos – MÆRE

Label: Independent
Band: Eschatos
Origin: Latvia

The Latvian black metallers Eschatos have in my opinion never made a bad record. Sure, their production is not as high, but if you bring out stuff like ‘MÆRE’, I think we’re fine. It’s the third release by the band, that calls Riga their home and has had a steady line-up since 2012.

Interesting enough, this is their first EP. Maere offers a new look and feel to the band, driven more towards the artistic connections of the band members perhaps. More a voice of themselves, with a cover that stands out in a black and white adoring scene. Perhaps we are seeing Eschatos rise from the cocoon of the last few years here and find a unique voice in the black metal landscape.

This is immediately clear on ‘Luminary Eye Against The Sky’. The music works more as a flow, with a particular glow, seemingly moving in a more post-metal direction. The harrowing vocals of singer Kristiāna Kārkliņa are still there to raise the hair on the back of your neck, but it’s Marko Rass who really colors the sound with effects, keys, and even organ sounds. A slight folky element seeps into the song at the intro already. It’s the core of the music that changed most though, dynamic drum work by Edvards Percevs and a throbbing bass by Tomass Beķeris make the world of difference.

Guitars do much to even put more feeling and drive in the sound. Edgars Gultnieks, formerly of Grondh and also active in Protean, knows his stuff. Mārtiņš Platais, also in Pulse of Nebulae, adds work on guitars, bass, and keys to the whole array of sound as the producer. That wealth of instruments is particularly clear on the second part of the album, titled ‘The Night of the White Devil (part I, II & III)’. A big piece, filled with elements of postrock and even proggy sections as the suite spirals forwards, exploring various musical directions on its way. An interesting fact is that the mastering was done by Dan Swanö, perhaps explaining the clear and melodic sound of the record. The second song is definitely a big masterpiece, where Kārkliņa can demonstrate the full range of her vocal talent.

This is Eschatos at its best this far, I love it. MÆRE offers a journey that is exciting, every step of the way. Full of surprising elements, but in all its variety always coherent in its majesty.

Underground Sounds: Duncan Krummel – She Kills Monsters

Label: Unknown
Artist: Duncan Krummel
Origin: USA

It’s with some excitement, that I came across this piece of music, which is the soundtrack to the play ‘She Kills Monsters’ by Qui Nguyen. The play is a dramatic comedy, about a girl finding solace in Dungeons & Dragons after the death of her sister, where she enters a world that makes any geeky heart pound a lot faster.

Duncan Krummel has composed a lot of music scores, winning various awards doing so. Quite an achievement, since Krummel is still pursuing his studies, currently at the Royal Conservatoire in Scotland. This score was used for the performance of ‘She Kills Monsters’ at the Bowe Theatre, directed by Rachel Harry.

The soundtrack opens with the typical grandeur of a fantastic story, with big horns, swooping sounds and big arches. It’s no surprise to enter the realm of the story in this manner on the title track. We move onwards with captivating tunes, into the heavy metal shredding of ‘Team of Badasses’, with that pounding, gritty sound of cool…badasses? You can instantly picture it, which is really quite cool and sometimes I hear something like this in my head when my character moves in during a D&D game.

The power of the soundtrack is how it totally makes you see the things happening. On ‘Farrah The Fairy’, the twinkling piano clearly resembles the fluttering of the wings and frantic energy of a fairy. The last songs of the album, leading up to climax ‘Tiamat’, appear to be the deep dungeon part of the story, where you crawl further through danger and risk, onwards to that final boss fight. The epic scale of the music is very befitting the setting and rather enjoyable. I say, check it out!

Underground Sounds: Auðn – Farvegir Fyrndar

Label: Season of Mist
Band: Auðn
Origin: Iceland

Auðn is that one band from Iceland with members that are not a part of every other band. Yeah, the island of ice and snow has a unique, small black metal scene, with passionate musicians. These gents have been active since 2010 and now are finally returning with their second album. ‘Farvegir Fyrndar is an absolute gem in the modern black metal landscape and from its artwork to sound oozes a unique flavor.

Not just within the black metal realm is Auðn a noteworthy name, even within the Icelandic scene they stand apart. Their first self-titled album came out back in 2014 and in my humble opinion, it simply stands apart from the scene at large thanks to its refinement in the sound of the Hveragerði band.

There’s something vibrant and lush in the music of Auðn. Their atmospheric music often simply relies on generating just that, the feeling of an environment full of life and with a flourishing energy to boot. At times the band can sound utterly melancholic, like on ‘Skuggar’, but the best version of the Icelanders to me is when they create such a throbbing, invigorating burst of energy and warmth. This is what you get on ‘Lífvana Jörð’. The piercing vocals of Hjalti Sveinsson have a fire in them that really hits the mark.

‘Prísund’ is another stand-out track, because it utilizes the wall of guitar, that creates the sensation of rain. Coming down like showers, on one of those miserable days when everything feels grey. At times Auðn moves in an even more and more postrock-defined direction, pushing together the elements to create an almost tapestry of sound. Then a slight tremolo shimmer emerges in the pattern and shakes it all apart again.

It’s a remarkable record, that shows how the right soil produces greatness.

Underground Sounds: Rebirth of Nefast – Tabernaculum

Band: Rebirth of Nefast
Label: Norma Evangelium Diaboli
Origin: Ireland (now Iceland)

Stephen Lockhart is a man of dedication and after leaving his native Ireland, he has hooked up with the Icelandic scene ever since. The man played in Sinmara but has also returned to his own project Rebirth of Nefast after almost 10 years. The album ‘Tabernaculum’ is an extraordinary work of art and one that has been in the making for years due to the desire of Lockhart to make something monumental.

Rebirth of Nefast has not released a full length before ‘Tabernaculum’, but a demo and a split. Lockhart has in the meantime also played in Myrkr, the epic Wormlust and Haud Mundus. There’s a reverie with which to approach a record, that took so much honing of the craftwork to make. I feel awed by it’s magnitude and force, but what a great listen it is!
Great, but not easy, because ‘The lifting of the Veil’  opens with an 11-minute bombardment, introduced with eerie tones, which surges over you like a tidal wave. As the abyss itself slowly unfolds, the warped, guttural words creep out. Whispers and soft picked notes create an even more dense atmosphere as if fumes rise up and envelop the listener. And then… you go off into the deep end with Rebirth of Nefast.
The trick is not to rely on sheer ferocity, but the suggestion of that. When this band has swallowed you whole, everything starts to sound huge and foreboding. Sure, when ‘The First Born of the Dead’ kicks of, the blast beats are heavy and hitting where it hurts, but they’re balanced, controlled and carry the atmosphere with them. The sound simply flows, like a dark horde in the night. Full of strength, but never needing to fully put it on display, the record is one of the best things I’ve heard in a while.
Closer ‘Dead the Age of Hollow Vessels’ feels ashen grey, full of vitriol and with a mild hint of melancholy. It’s all there on this album, ready to be absorbed into your bloodstream and cool your heart.

Underground Sounds: Yellow Eyes – Immersion Trench Reverie

Label: Gilead Media
Band: Yellow Eyes
Origin: United States

In the cabin of Yellow Eyes

I don’t know every band, but sometimes names just keep hanging in that ‘need to listen to’ list. I never got around to Yellow Eyes, but the frequency of them being mentioned around me definitely makes me excited to get into ‘Immersion Trench Reverie’. The latest album by the New York group, two years after their last effort ‘Stick With Bloom’.

Featuring Mike Rekevics of Vanum, Sleepwalker and Fell Voices, expectations rise. Other Yellow Eyes members play in various other projects too. This means that this band is a particular project with a clear sonic direction. For recording this album, the band went into a cabin in Connecticut and stuck with similar methods as on their previous album. Yellow Eyes are not an iconoclastic breaker of bonds in the black metal scene, but they definitely are pushing the genre in new directions. This new record is a testament to that.

The inspiration for this album was also drawn from a visit to Siberia. After the gentle sounds of the bells ringing out over a sleepy town, the record launches in earnest with ‘Old Alpine Pang’. The guitar sound offers an urgency, a need for movement and action. The tremolo playing style and high notes give a sound that is slightly of the beaten path for the listener. The tortured screams are a bit muddled away in the mix but stick to a more traditional expression. The band likes to put in some atmospheric interludes here and there, that convey an otherness. An almost ritualistic vibe, which expands in songs like ‘Blue as Blue’, which is a vibrant, bombastic assault.

At times you could really put this band in the post-black metal corner, thanks to its smooth flow and post rocky vibe, but every time you feel getting comfortable the fun ends. Blistering guitars and frantic blast beats hit you with an uncanny ferocity. The field recordings from Siberia in between tracks offer moments of respite, before the doom and gloom of a tune like ‘Velvet on the Horns’ launches once more into big, arching glory. Sometimes the band sounds truly estranging and off-beat. It works in making the listener feel a bit more uneasy. Fortunately, the traditional black metal assaults in torrentuous force are still just as much a part of the Yellow Eyes sound.

Yellow Eyes combines forward-thinking, almost experimental black metal with the traditional narrative. That makes them exciting and daring. The use of the field recordings adds an organic vibe to the complete image. A great piece of music for sure.

 

 

Underground Sounds: Isa – The Sky in the Salty Wells

Label: Shadowplay Records (album released independently)
Band: Isa
Origin: Russia

It seems that Russian act Isa has now determinedly started to move away from their black metal sound on ‘Небо в солёных колодцах’, which translates as ‘The Sky in the Salty Wells’. Not only in sound, but also in artwork and track titles. From the first release onward, Isa numbered their tracks in a continuous sequence, stringing the songs on four releases together into one descriptive piece of art detailing the pastoral Russian country life.

Previous releases would feature covers with landscapes. An almost still life of rural life depicted on them. This record shifts to a new dimension, where it seems like the human aspect takes the forefront. The cover features a collage of images of people land and nature, cut and paste together in an odd manner. It feels like a logical next step in the career of this Novosibirsk band, who constantly amaze with their beautiful music.

The result is a shimmering, brooding record full of melancholy. It is as if the winter has covered all the land, all life, and passion submerged by the mercy of a white blanket over its soil. Warm tones creep by, never really taking on any sort of force. The drums sound muffled, buried in the music that flows like a warm bath. Noteworthy is the collaboration with Lesnoy Tanets on the track ‘Poplars’, where hushed vocals speak raspy words over

On ‘Blind Man’ it is as if an accordion is woven into the sound. It feels folky, but also hazy. Almost as if you’re listening to memories of the past in abandoned streets.  Yet, streets where only the ghosts of a better time dwell. The gentle murmurings never feel urgent. The music progresses slowly, which feels a lot like the daydreaming on a winters day, staring out over the frosty landscape. The melancholic sound of Isa is a mellow swamp of keyboards, guitars, and drums, all melting together. As a result, the music  becomes an immersive dream. Melancholic and cold, most noteworthy on ‘Singing Skyline’ with its wonderful intro, is a highlight.

Isa has made a remarkable new album and found a direction to explore musically. I’m keen to hear what new works may come in the future, but this one is a record to keep coming back to.