Underground Sounds: The Antichrist Imperium – Volume II: Every Tongue Shall Praise Satan

Label: Apocalyptic Witchcraft
Band: The Antichrist Imperium
Origin: United Kingdom

Here they are again, the all-star prog black metallers from The Antichrist Imperium, who made waves with their saucy album cover on the self-titled 2015 debut. With ‘Volume II: Every Tongue Shall Praise Satan’, they return to strength and deliver a brimming ball of dark, extreme metal to the forefront that will probably rock many socks of and so forth, because yes… it’s as good as you’d hope.

Featuring members who play or have played in entities like Akercocke, My Dying Bride, The Berzerker, Voices and much, much more, you know that there’s some talent in there. It would appear this is also the whole pile of influences that shape the sound of this project, which really feels hard to pin down with anything but the word extreme. So, let’s get into it then.

Opening with thick, punching drums that reek of death metal, the band also picks up a melodic grandeur you’ll find in the more epic melo-death and black metal bands. Ominous intermezzo’s fall in the gaps, before guttural barks unleash again on the listener. From ‘The Dreadfull Hosanna’ onwards, the band never shies away from pure, unadulterated force and complexity with guitars that cut like knives and flutter like butterflies… with wings made out of … knives? I mean, it’s proggy, yet brutal.

On ‘Liturgy of the Iconoclast / Blood Sacrifice’ we actually go in all directions. From dramatic prog passages to bludgeoning death metal destruction, with vigorous riffing. The cool, smooth complex parts show an aptitude for the bigger narrative, to really paint images with the music, which the band does very well. The playful use of the vocals is definitely also an added quality of Sam Bean and Sam Loyens, who bounce of each other like two voice actors at times.

 

Underground Sounds: GlerAkur – The Mountains Are Beautiful Now

Label: Prophecy Productions
Artist: GlerAkur
Origin: Iceland

Like Metallica covering the live half of Pink Floyd‘s 1969 album Ummagumma.’ That’s how GlerAkur, the project moniker of Elvar Geir Sævarsson, has been described. Working as the sound engineer at the National Theater of Iceland, he takes inspiration from drone, post rock and ambient, yet also far heavier stuff.

‘The Mountains Are Beautiful Now’ is the first full-length, following a 2016 EP, that was already nominated for the Icelandic Kraumur Award. This massive work features four guitars, two drummers and was recorded in the theatre basement as music for the play ‘Fjalla-Eyvindur & Halla’ by Jóhann Sigurjónsson.

Have you ever stood on a high hill or even a mountaintop, watching the snow-covered peaks as far as the eye can see? Because that is what awaits you from the first notes of ‘Augun Opin’. A slowly swelling piece of majesty that hardly knows an equal, with the humming of the earth, the cracking of ice and sonorous beauty of the void beyond. The bludgeoning sound of ‘Can’t You Wait’ and distant singing is a particular experience. It is not unfamiliar for those who enjoy a good bit of black metal or doom where the mystique and splendor of the unknown are expressed. Repetitive, yet featuring a meandering melody, woven into its sonic density, it captivates you. Setting you to dream of mountains.

The song ‘HallAlone’ feels like an intermezzo, with gentle, ambient tunes that merge into grand post-rock with that melancholy so familiar with the genre. A clarity can be found in the sound of GlerAkur, that doesn’t really know any equals. It just flows on its own, natural pace.  Massive as mountains, but with all those refined details that come with it, this piece of music becomes a piece of beauty. A work of of untarnished nature, shaped and formed not by endless tinkering, but the elements. Final track ‘Fagurt er á fjöllunum núna’ is gentle. Guitar picking, like drops, resounds. It is where the intricacies of the music are really shown again.

Underground Sounds: Schrat – Alptraumgänger

Label: Folter Records
Band: Schrat
Origin: Germany

An ‘Alptraum’ is a nightmare, a bad dream. This makes an ‘Alptraumgänger’ one that travels these nightmare-realms, lives in their dark and surreal realities. For Schrat, this is a place intertwined with the myth of nature, the old spirits and darkness of death, at least that’s the story conveyed on their latest album.

The band, from the south of the German lands, has been around for a number of 15 years and released a number of classic black metal albums. Their attire is much as you would expect from a black metal band, but their leanings seem to be towards a more pagan, natural mythology. Yet, this is filled with harrowing feelings and desolation.

Uncanny laughter greets you on the intro, afore the black metal blast wave simply blows over you. This is nothing but the all-consuming fire of guitars, drums, and base. You find yourself dragged into the nightmare realm of Schrat on the overwhelming title track. t a blistering pace we run screaming through their realm with the high-paced tunes, that hold a sound that seems to surround you like a dense and dark forest. The barking screams of Dragg cut through anything and always manage to find you on ‘Gräberland’.

There’s definitely something distinctive about Schrat as well. They may relish the traditional black metal sound, but it lacks the cold and clamour of the more northern bands. There’s a simple immersion by overwhelming to the sound. Who knows, it might be the Augsburg environment and it’s geographic location that shapes songs like ‘Wolf ist erwacht, Adams Sohn zerfetzt’, which has a surprisingly rocking riff going on. With a middle-of-album outro and intro, it’s like a whole different record a moment later.

On ‘Knochenkult’, we turn the corner to a more stripped down, raw sound. Taking up a mid-pace thread with a punky beat, the gritty and dirty side of Schrat comes out in the remaining tracks. Particularly worth checking out is the buzzsaw-driven ‘Kriegsgericht’, with mighty sneers and growls on the vocals. Schrat delivers an excellent burst of black metal on this release, well worth giving a spin.

 

Underground Sounds: Voltumna – Dodecapoli

Label: Sleaszy Rider Records
Band: Voltumna
Origin: Italy

I suppose it’s a first to really go underground with the band Voltumna, who are drawing their inspiration from the ancient Etruscans. The mysterious civilization was eclipsed by the Romans but left a peculiar and obscured footprint on Italy. This album is dedicated to the Dodecapoli, the 12 old cities of the Etruscans.

Wizardry, mythology and foggy history are what have been driving Voltumna for a couple of years now. With guest performances from Christian Borchi (Stormlord) and Anna Menicheschi on vocals and Thursen (Wolfingar) on ancient Italian instruments, the band aims to catch a shred of the past.

Voltumna plays a style, that reaks of old death metal, but holds on to its crisp vitality thanks to the smooth production. The sparse use of synths and other instruments helps with that on tracks like ‘Reading The Flames’, which spark the imagination of the ancient times. Haruspex on guitars, lets them weep and squeal at every opening, where Zilath Meklhum needs to take a breath with his biting and ghoulish vocals.

The mentioned odd instruments create a special vibe. For example, the song Fanum Voltumnae that moves into traditional sounds for a particular ambiance. These are mere intermissions though and while some peculiar movements are embedded in their music, all over a pretty solid and straight served piece of musical violence. Particular to the sound is the thunderous rhythm section, that hits it hard from start to finish. Bass player Fulgurator delivers excellently and Augur Veii hits the drums as if he intends to destroy them.

Underground Sounds: Kriegsmaschine – Apocalypticists

Label: No Solace
Band: Kriegsmaschine
Origin: Poland

Kriegsmaschine is the other side of the coin that we know as Mgła. Also known as KSM, the project has originally been the focus of this group of musicians from Poland. Yet, in recent years slowly this has started to shift towards the other band with big shows and a lot of attention from metal fans in the wake of the black metal resurgence.

So Kriegsmaschine had been silent since 2014 and it was with a blast they’ve returned with a new record.  ‘Apocalypticists’ is an excellent slab of hypnotic black metal of their unique blend. Highly tribal and surprising, it contains an unsurpassed willingness to evolve, to mutate and transcend boundary terms. That’s what makes this record such fun.

We jump right into it with ‘Residual Blight’, which is a surprisingly rich groovy track from the get-go. The music is highly engaging in its tribal dynamics. When the vocals come in it becomes an exertion of sweltering fury. This is a persistent element in the music, also on ‘The Pallid Scourge’, which is still seething with a harrowing threat. The rolling drums and agonized guitars, it’s like a machine that grinds and squeaks as it spits outs vitriol. In other words, it’s brilliant.

All the tunes from Kriegsmaschine have that same, churning heaviness. A solid slab of rhythm with those rolling drums and a dense network of guitars is ever present on tracks like ‘Lost in Liminal’ and even on the title track. I love how each song just rolls on like that, full of tension, complexities, but also yielding itself directly tot he listener with all its slithering darkness. The vocals are barked in a commanding tone, as the instruments coil around it in a vast, complex carpet of sound.

The record finishes with ‘On the essence of transformation’, another dark and foreboding track with vocals akin to a spoken word delivery. It’s not really a tune to bang your head to, but to just wait. Wait like a rabbit gazing into the approaching headlights…. And let the darkness embrace you.

Underground Sounds: Friisk – De Doden van’t Waterkant

Label: Independent
Band: Friisk
Origin: Germany (Frisia)

Friisk translates roughly as Frisian, and though many people think this is a distinct region in the Netherlands, it actually also concerns the north-western part of Germany. The Frisians were and are a Northern people with a culture connected to that of Scandinavia, but also very distinct on their own. They were the hold-outs on Christianity in this region and have claimed stubborn independence

ever since.

The band Friisk is very much steeped in the Frisian sound and makes me think of bands like Kjeld from the Dutch parts. Members have previously been active in the group Friesenblut, so as you may be able to tell, it goes deep for these guys. This is their debut and I’m very excited to hear it.

After a brief intro ‘Flut’, we instantly address the Nordic roots with ‘ ‘ ‘Ægir’. A piece of stampeding, roaring black metal, with a continuous rampaging rhythm and those screams and shouts above the turmoil, colliding with he sonic chaos. But the band also knows their subtleties, as the intro of the title track betrays. But soon we launch in typical Nordic riffage, where the band harkens to the Norwegian tradition more and more. I think, after listening to this record for a bit, that it is a typical hybrid sound that emerges, which I feel is very typical for this part of the world (including the Netherlands here actually). The bellowing vocals, the flat flow of the song, the immersion in a sea of gray, it sounds like the land in a way.

One of the highlights of the record is the track ‘Dämmerung’. An eight-minute epic, with big emotional movements and vocals that are clawing and grasping for the light. Every bit of tremolo riffing is rife with that sense of doom and that is what makes the track exceptionally strong. ‘Kein Heiland’ then merely has to offer a final swing of the axe to finish the album with another classic sounding hymn to the sees in best black metal fashion. Friisk may be a new band on the block, but those who love their metal traditionally and seeped with tradition should give these guys a listen. You’ll not be disappointed.

Underground Sounds: Asgrauw – Gronspech

Label: Hidden Marly Production
Band: Asgrauw
Origin: Netherlands

For such a small country, the Netherlands has a wild range of dialects. Not even that far removed from my home, the band Asgrauw at times sounds very alien to me as the titles and idiom offer exciting, unknown ideas on this album ‘Gronspech’. Featuring a foreboding vista of the Dutch countryside in oil painting as cover, an album that shows its roots proudly.

Asgrauw translates as ‘the color of ash’, but also refers to the scythe-shaped shining of the moon. The bass and guitar are handled by Kaos and Vaal, who added Batr to the line-up in 2012, who played in Sagenland and Meslamtaea amongst others in the past. Bands that explored the same mysteries of the past from regional sources in their Scandinavian-inspired black metal.

It’s not the music that sounds refreshing thus, as it is the standard fare of tremolo riffs, ripping guitar salvos and blast beats that rock your desk chair. Still, by implementing some of that Immortal epicness, the sound catches on quickly and easily gets you involved on tunes like ‘Wolvenbloed’, which has a bit of a rock’n’roll groove when the murky atmosphere fades for a moment here and there.

At times a punk feeling shines through in the sound, as the buzzsaw guitars just keep growling and the screamed vocals take on a pitch of frustration and shouts defiance at the listener on ‘Duitenpact’. At times the waters seem to grow calm, but the next outburst of hateful fury is always lurking around the corner. If ever needed, the synths provide an additional layer of atmosphere to their sound.

Asgrauw might be the thing you should check if you dig the more pungent, visceral black metal with maybe a hint of Haïve and Vreid.

Waylander: The Spirit of Northern Ireland

Waylander was one of the first bands to pioneer the sound of folk metal. They’ll refuse any credit for it though,  nor for the movement it spawned.  They are the real deal, genuine in their art, their expression and, as it turns out, their love for beer.

The band sparked my interest in the genre years ago and the fact that they’ve been around for 25 years now is a testament to the lasting quality of their work. Having seen trouble in the line-up through the years, the band has released a number of records and is working on the latest, following in the steps of 2012’s ‘Kindred Spirits’.

Hailing from Northern-Ireland, the band is relatively isolated. This has allowed them, and many other bands on the green island to develop their distinct own sound. This, and much more, I got to ask Ard Chieftain O’Hagan about.  As founder, singer and original member, he was kind enough to answer my questions.

Pagan souls and ancient hearts: Waylander

I want to take you back to 1993 and ask how you came up with the musical direction and style that became Waylander. Where other bands inspiring the connection between folklore, folk music, and metal or was it something outside of music?

We certainly had no grand plan in the formative stages, I’d go so far as to say that, we didn’t have a plan at all. In retrospect, I might have named the band a tad prematurely as several months after stabilizing a working lineup the pieces of the jigsaw fell into place when Born to the fight was penned and we realized we’d perhaps stumbled across a path we could follow. Of course, mixing folk music with Metal was no fluke, it was in the subconscious of my brother. the guitarist and had been in my mind since I was 13 years old, when I first heard Horslips. They were a 70’s band who crossed progressive rock with traditional Irish music and used a lot of Irish folklore and mythology. Growing up, folk music was always on the radio in the house, even though by the age of 10 I only heard it when one side of my Metal vinyl had finished. I’d always had a huge interest in the folklore and history of my land, so you can see all the threads which later joined together to point us in a certain direction. In many ways, it was simply meant to be.

What do these legends and myths that you put in your music mean to you and how do you feel they are relevant today as topics for your music? I’ve also noticed you referring to traditional religious occasions, how deep does this run for you?

They mean everything to me, every time I write lyrics I bare my soul. I have been fascinated by the folklore of my land from a very young age and it certainly helps that Emain Macha [which features heavily in the myths and legends], is located a few short miles outside the city of my birth. When you have a background like mine I suppose it is inevitable that I write and have written about this particular subject matter. Of course, the stories and folklore are every bit as relevant today but I am definitely more into seeking out the hidden meanings than simply retelling the tales.

I began following the Druid’s path in 1996 so the references to the ancient festivals and religion run as deep as my soul. The new album, Eriú’s wheel, is actually a concept album incorporating the festivals and solar observances of the year, the four fire festivals the two equinox and the two solstices.

You’ve been active in the pagan metal genre for years now. Waylander is one of the early bands to pick up this style. How do you feel this genre has changed over the years, having started out with it, witnessed the popularity and peak with the Pagan Fest tours and its decline (where we also saw a lot of cheesy bands)? I’ve read some less than lofty thoughts from you on certain bands for example.

In the beginning, it seemed that the bands playing pagan and folk influenced metal were genuine and were doing what came natural to them.At that time there was no internet and bands were a million times more isolated than they are in this day and age, which meant that there was no trend to follow. To discover bands of a similar philosophy meant getting actively involved in the worldwide underground metal scene which involved a lot of letter writing, tape trading and no little expense. There was a lot of mutual respect around in those embryonic days. As time marched on some bands saw the opportunity to perhaps make a living from a genre that went from ridicule in the early years to quite well known by the 2000s. Did these bands sell out or compromise their sound? In many cases yes, the more ridiculous ones even being content to be some kind of joke bands which is anathema to someone like me. I’ve been told more than once that I cut off my nose to spite my face in this regard and maybe they are right but my response is, my nose is quite big enough to endure a few more cuttings yet. It was ironic that when the trend got huge that Waylander were more or less inactive at that time, due to a serious amount of lineup changes. My bottom line is that integrity can never be compromised, no matter what the reward but it’s down to individual choice really. There are so many bands now it would make your head spin, it’s hard to keep up.

Ireland, and in your case (Northern Ireland), appears to have been an early adaptor of the genre with bands like Primordial and Cruachan and yourselves. Why do you think it emerged so strongly there and not in a different country (for example, Greece, where black metal firmly took root, never had this folk tradition)?

There must have been something in the water in the early 90s. It’s no surprise really, Ireland has a folk and literary tradition, which is second to none and yes I am biased. To be honest, though, I remember in 1994 finding out about Pimordial and a little later Cruachan and I was initially unpleasantly astounded that other people on our small island had a similar vision to mine. The reality is that there is just so much history, folklore, literature and tragedy to supply 50 bands with inspiration and subject matter never mind the half dozen or so who have existed over the decades. As for Greece, I seem to recall a few bands who referenced Greek mythology, maybe they played black metal but at least it was there.

Also, being from Northern Ireland has your music ever caused controversy or mixed reactions in your home country, as it would appear it leans to Irish identity. Or have you ever been accused of any political sympathies of ideas? For example, the title of your debut record ‘Reawakening Pride Once Lost’ might in this day and age be lumped in a particular corner

Most of the controversy has been because we have the cheek to mix folk music into our sound. Suffice to say that folk metal wouldn’t be the most popular of genres in Ireland. There have been a few incidents, not all of them negative, over the years but they are a rarity, to be honest. If I’ve been accused of certain political leanings it is news to me, there isn’t a political party here who represents my views anyway. Reawakening pride once lost was more of an affirmation of my Pagan path and a dig at the Christian society we have endured over the centuries, so if that lumps us in a particular corner, well, quite simply, I couldn’t care less.

All your album titles seem to refer both the old and the new, what would you say is the overall message in Waylander’s music?

The message is straightforward enough, look to our past to learn how to live today, if you don’t know where you came from how can you hope to know where you are going.

I understand you are working on a new album. Can you tell something more about this and what has changed in your way of approach since 2012’s ‘Kindred Spirits’?

We’re just about to begin mixing the new album, Ériú’s Wheel. A decision was made to attempt a concept album incorporating the Fire Festivals, the Solstices and Equinoxes, each with their own piece of music and hopefully create something which does justice to the concept. It wasn’t as easy as we’d imagined, and a few false starts took place, but we’ve had the songs more or less ready for almost a year now. It’s been a different writing experience this time around due mainly to the fact there are 6 people in the band who all have lives outside of the band. Getting all of us together at the same time was quite difficult at times and impossible at other times. We had a member who had a serious illness and others who had work commitments but we somehow persevered and slowly pieced together this album. It will be a huge relief when it’s finally mixed and sent off to the Label.

You’ve had some struggles with the line-up through the years, particularly with one member. Now, I don’t mean to drag that up, but what is in your opinion key to keep a band running for such a long time?

I think the key is to be mentally unwell, why else would you put up with the heartache? It’s a very difficult question to answer as each problem scenario is unique.

As one of the ‘original’ wave of pagan metal bands, which acts do you currently see carry the torch for what the music originally meant and captured? What do you think it means to play extreme metal in 2018?

The likes of Saor and Skyforger and Negura Bunget are bands who immediately spring to mind. To be honest, I’m no expert on our scene at all, I’m much more likely to pick up a cd by a band we play with then use mailorder. Yes, I know I could use the internet but I don’t, I’m way too old school for that. Are you asking if the extreme metal is relevant in this day and age? I hope so, most of my musical tastes involve various levels of extremity and I see no signs of things being on the downturn.

I want to ask you about your albums and their separate identities, but in a way that is interesting to you. I read that you are fussy about your beers, so my question is this: If you had to compare each of your albums to a beer, which beers would they be and why?

Reawakening Pride once Lost – old school, yet novel, a beer that has lasted the test of time, let’s go for, OLD SPECKLED HEN
The Light, the Dark, and the Endless Knot – an attempt, though heartfelt maybe doesn’t have the subtlety or refinement to last the test of time, HOBGOBLIN
Honour Amongst Chaos – Has to be something strong, something that takes a bit of effort to appreciate but worth it in the long run, DUVEL
Kindred Spirits – Something more immediate but still packs a punch yet decidedly moreish – FRANCISCAN WELL REBEL RED
It’s too early to say about the new album, will know for sure after mixing

I wonder, would you make the same music, if you lived anywhere else than in Northern-Ireland?

I’d like to think if i lived anywhere on the island of Ireland a similar sound would emerge but living in the north and growing up during the dark days of the troubles has undoubtedly had an impact. For a band meant to be of the land it would be hypocritical not to be influenced by that land.

What future plans does Waylander have?

We plan to begin gigging towards the end of February 2019, i’m organising a uk tour at the minute and so far we have 2 festival confirmations, Celtic Transylvania in Romania and Dark Trolls in Germany. Hopefully, we get out on the road more often than usual, which is certainly the plan.

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

We’d be that dish in your cupboard which refuses to break and becomes useful every now and again for lapping whiskey out of it like a dog.

YES YES, i cheated on a few but i hope you find the answers meet your requirements, amy thanks for the interrogation. All the best.

Underground Sounds: Ancestral Vision- Akītu

Label: Mospharic Recordings
Band: Ancestral Vision
Origin: Italy

Ancestral Vision is a one-man project by Warrior. On his activity list, you can also find acts like  Peridexion Tree, and Stige, but his roots seem to be in crust/blackened hardcore. This is a solo project and it is coincidentally the debut record, titled ‘Akītu’.
The album title refers to the Mesopotamian new years’ celebration, where the poetic texts, derived from the ‘Enûma Eliš’, would be read. That would be the creation myth from these ancient lands. Musically, Ancestral Wisdom combines black/death metal with noise, industrial and drones, to paint a harrowing sound.

Abyssal murmurings emerge on the opening track ‘Erēbu’, where a crunching riff and primitive, almost industrial drum beat create a strangely subterranean atmosphere as the backdrop for the almost religious chant. When the sound swells, the darkness permeates everything. The atmosphere is dense and earthy, yet offers a glimpse into an otherworldly realm that inspires the band in their efforts. You simply drown into their music, bit by bit, through the hypnotic songs.

The industrial aspect of their sound is strangely effective. Hooky rhythms feel like a machine and have a calming effect. I hardly can make out the words though, but since my Babylonian/Akkadian is not really fresh at this time, that is probably not so much an issue. The idea itself though provokes thoughts and makes the noise element of Ancestral Vision’s music strangely inappropriate. Yet, it works. Titles like ‘Tiāmat’ and ‘Marduk’ obviously spark the imagination, due to their metal ánd myth connotation.
Crushing death metal, hammering beats and grim, forgotten words. Great for a record!

Underground Sounds: Spleen XXX – ‘Poems of Charles Baudelaire’

Label: Nomosdei
Band: Spleen XXX
Origin: France

Some labels instantly convey a sense of wonder and Nomosdei is one of them. Otherworldly sounds, uncommon music, regardless of trends, and fashion. Their recent release of Spleen XXX is a great example. Did you ever imagine the poetry of Baudelaire set to chilling post-punk music? I didn’t, but it makes a ton of sense.

The French band has dabbled with some themes and directions, but for this they’ve they’ve embraced the abject in art on ‘Poems of Charles Baudelaire’. The wanderer through the storms of the modern world, the delirium of these times and despair of the hopelessness it brings. Cold beats, cold hards, magical words. Let’s go. If you are keen to read the poetry of Baudelaire along with the tracks, find it here.

Notable is that the band has chosen to deliver their lyrics in English, instead of the original French poetry. It adds to the post-punk vibe the cold, distorted beats already display on opener ‘The Possessed’. The neurotic riffing keeps buzzing around your head as the repetition captures the listener. Slowly the sound swells on a track like ‘Spleen’, towards a more grandiose and rise of hope, but soon falls back on the solid bass lines and beats. After the intensity of those tracks, ‘The Hair’ offers seething lust, a yearnful idolation under the flat surface of the song.

It’s not too hard to see the connection of the Spleen XXX sound to that of their main progenitor, which is Joy Division. Maybe there’s a bit more of that goth swagger of The Sisters of Mercy in there. The hard-hitting beats, twangy, polished guitars and monotonous vocals always hit the spot. My favorite Baudelaire poem would have to be ‘A Carcass’, which is a sung in a gibbering tone (with a peculiar pronunciation). It guides the listener to the end of an intriguing record, that may or may not be your thing. I’m at the end of it still in doubt if I feel the full richness of the poetry in the coldness of the sound.