All posts by Guido

I'm just a geek.

Underground Sounds: Our Survival Depends On Us – Melting the Ice in the Hearts of Men

Label: Ván Records
Band: Our Survival Depends On Us
Origin: Austria

Honestly, one of the most bewildering live acts I’ve seen in recent years must have been Our Survival Depends On Us. It’s a concept, an art, and the simplistic name barely makes you suspect what awaits you on stage in a pandemonium of taxidermy blood and pagan mystery. Though that last is maybe perspective from my end, or simply allegorical as it is on their latest record ‘Melting the Ice in the Hearts of Men’.

The group from Salzburg has released 4 full lengths, all with titles that undermine the hit potential due to their length and complexity. There is a light connection to Austrian black metal heroes Belphegor and many members played in Soulsearch before, which had a penchant for the medieval stories. The sound of Our Survival Depends On Us is unlike any other and well worth listening to.
‘Galahad’ sets the tone with a sonorous lament, that slowly opens up with somber tones and acoustic guitars. The band leans heavily on the folkloristic vibe of classic doom metal here, also in the vocals style, yet the music is much more atmospheric with keys and strings meandering in and out. It makes for a wonderful opener that needs a long time to get to some distorted riffing. You don’t miss that. But when it comes in, it is strong and forceful.
There’s always an apocalyptic edge to the music of Our Survival Depends On Us, something threatening. Yet even though the complexities in the lyrics, the band remains accessible, also on ‘Gold and Silver’ with its catchy guitar solos of ripping guitars. The low levels of distortion in the music really make every little bit count and that’s brilliantly employed.
We move forward with ‘Song of the Lower Classes’, which starts with samples, field sounds, and ambient tunes. The song has a hypnotic vibe with the clangy guitar sounds, that simply bewitch you. Mournfully, the words come to you as if they are a drag, carrying the world’s weariness along. “Down, down we go, we are so very very low…”. It is so powerful, it almost hurts. ‘Sky Burial’ meditates upon the topic of its title in a sonic journey that feels completely psychedelic and harrowing. It feels like a shoegaze-like track until it unleashes itself in a transcendental journey to the skies as the body dissolves. The summit of a sublime album.

Forbidden realms and forgotten places: the sound of out there

There are many places in this wide world. Some are hidden, some forbidden and some are lost in time. Music can take you there and this collection is a little tribute to that magical journey, but also a showcase for some great tunes about forbidden realms and forgotten places.

John Levy – Tibetan & Bhutanese Instrumentals and Folk Music

Origin: Tibet/Bhutan
Label: Sub Rosa Records

John Levy is a London ethnomusicologist who explores the musical materials found in the far and remote areas of Tibet and Bhutan (and many more. He explores the almost Delta Blues-like sound of Go-Te Do-Pe (immediately on the first track, by Tashi Laso). From lute and fiddle to the rattling percussions of Tibetan monks, the music takes you to a place beyond, with a meditative feeling through repetition and soft, rounded sounds. I particularly enjoy the singing by Trinlem of Tongsa, who with a slightly nasal sound, brings you to a soaring height with her singular voice. This is a collection of sounds, that take you on a journey to a sense of calm and tranquility. I don’t know exactly how (or why), but it has something to do with the repetition, the ease, and intonation and timbre of the music. For that, this collection is absolutely marvelous. I can’t get enough of the chanting, drumming and droning. Exquisite.

Rhian Sheehan – A Quiet Divide

Origin: New Zealand
Label: Loop Records

To see a composer score big with an album is an unlikely event, but Rhian Sheehan managed it. The New Zealand musician created ‘A Quiet Divide’, which is a wonderful piece of music. The cinematic qualities of this record are quite outstanding, making it substantially captivating for the listener. It takes you over the land, in that bird view perspective familiar from the epic movies as the gentle sounds evolve, grow and rescind into milder territories. At one point the music swells to major, warm proportions, while a moment later the pace goes slow again. From trickling piano to soaring synths and strings, Rhian Sheehan takes you there as the songs gently swoop over and under the clouds in a high-over way, with green fields below. It’s perfection.

Old Tower – Stellary Wisdom

Origin: Netherlands
Label: Tour de Garde

There are some undoubted masters in the genre of dungeon synth at work and if there are any rockstars (apart from Mortiis), Old Tower must be one of those. The vaporous sound of his synths, combined with crips and clear melodies, is a rarity in balance and composure, with minimal shifts and deftly statuesque delivery. The sound of Old Tower is one of melancholy and abandonement. Well, as if everyone has left the place a long time ago and all that is left is this empty, vast space with dust settling and gentle synths rolling over the place. While the gentle steps of the instruments barely disturb the dust, you traverse these halls in deep silence and deep thought. It’s music to get lost in, to take you to different realms to traverse in toughts with some absolute tranquility.

Gaetir The Mountainkeeper – Norðr

Origin: Serbia
Label: Prometheus Studio

The north has beckoned for many artists and Gaetir the Mountainkeeper is no different. The journeys his music tells of (knowingly I speak of a he, but I have no idea) are those from the ancient mysteries from the Edda. The travels of Odin, across the far and wide realms of fire and ice. This means a feeling of lengthy travel, which is captured in the dense, droning ambient and nordic mysticism of ‘Norðr’, which is delivered as 6 parts in one hour long track. At times it is really the wind blowing, the swelling drones and icy hails, but then the drums come in and take me to the Paleowolf-like sound of tribal doom. It’s a record, taking you on that heroic quest where you face the most desolate and threatening aspects of nature. This, makes it a grand experience to indulge in as you mentally traverse the great north.

Andrew DR Abbott – Live On Daisy Hill

Origin: United Kingdom
Label: Bloxham Tapes

The north of England may now have you think of chavs on street cornersrun-down down industrialism and a place where ‘Britain First’ is a popular slogan. But that’s not the only side of it, as Andrew DR Abbott explores with his baritone playing on this record ‘Live on Daisy Hill’. The former mill towns and cities have a character of their own and a simple beauty. Quaint, would be the word that springs to mind with the mild, folky tunes by Andrew DR Abbott, that feel like an origin story for the Appalachian folk medleys from across the ocean. A little Nick Drake here and there perhaps, as the tones gently caress the inner ear, like ‘Whatsandwell’. Americana, but then Britticana, with more Fairport Convention and less Johnny Cash. It’s weaving patterns remind you even more so where it comes from and what shaped its sound, making this a remarkable journey to a forgotten harmony.

Tallawit Timbouctou – Takamba Whatsapp EP 2018

Origin: Mali
Label: none

Agali Ag Amoumine’s WhatsApp cassette 2018 captures the cassette culture of the desert music in this new age of digital accessibility. Played traditionally on a teheredent and calabash, it captures the traditionally popular music and was send by Whatsapp from Timbuktu to Portland. The recording may be lo-fi, but captures the haunting repetition of the sahel sounds, as the lyrics are chanted over the clapping sounds in one rough cut. It is odd, as this tradition means the recording has an introduction and shout-outs throughout the recording, delivering a very special experience of a time past for the listener in an age of fast traveling media. Listening to it is immersive, as you have to focus. Best listened to on a cell phone, it says in the description, and this is very true as that is the means which allowed this recording to be made, send and uploaded on the same day for your listening pleasure. So indulge yourself, and venture into the desert with the twangy, scrappy, scrapy sounds of this distinct, bluesy music for a while. You’ll not regret it.

Theudho: Answering the summons from the ancient forests

Pagan times have seen renewed interest over recent years. Perhaps it’s slightly one-dimensional with a wide range of Viking themed music, tv-shows and even fitness events. But for those willing to look deeper, there’s such a wealth of ideas and cultures to be found that inspired to this very day. That is a large part of Belgian band Theudho.

Band member and founder J.S. has been making music for many years and is inspired by that remote past as well as the extreme music scene. These two have always combined well and with Theudho, he recently released ‘De Roep van het Woud’, which translates as the call of the forest. He was also kind enough to tell us about his calling, inspiration and work, with some good advice for those looking to find their own green cathedral.

Pagan past, notorious music and wandering the verdant realm with Theudho

Hi, Could you kindly introduce yourself and tell us a bit about Theudho?
I initially planned to use the name þeuđo, as I originally spelled Theudho, for a keyboard/synth project back in 2002. Things rarely go as they are planned; guitars and drums were eventually introduced and the music shifted towards black/pagan metal.
The first demo was recorded as a one-man band and released in 2003. It was a fuzzy lo-fi ordeal that nevertheless resulted in a record deal. By the time of the second album, Theudho had become a band with a full line-up that also performed live. However, for the fifth and latest album, I decided to return to the one man band formula.

As for myself, next to a passion for music, I early on developed an interest in pre-Christian Germanic mythology and culture. Next, to the appeal of the rather notorious local music scene, this is the reason why I started to spend considerable amounts of time in Scandinavia since the latter half of the nineties.

What originally inspired you to create this type of music? Which bands would you consider your inspirators?
As strange as it may sound, I actually became inspired to play this kind of music again when a friend (my partner in crime in the neo-folk/industrial/martial project Weihan) and I were backpacking in Ireland back in 2002. We visited loads of Celtic and even some Norse sites in the south, but especially some of the landscapes we witnessed just breathed the imposing atmosphere that is synonymous with a lot of classic second wave black metal. I just had to do something with these impressions.

There were quite a few worthwhile examples when it came to this kind of music. The early albums of Blut Aus Nord, Falkenbach and of course Bathory and Burzum specifically because they were one man bands too (at least at some point), but there is a whole array of Scandinavian, Slavic and even some German bands that I would consider inspirational.

You’ve been active in a number of bands, lately also with a new project named ‘Slithering Decay’. Can you tell something about your musical endeavors and the latest projects you are working on?
I’ve been in quite a few bands and projects in the last 25+ years. The latest band Slithering Decay is inspired by all those great albums that were released in the Stockholm scene in the early nineties. I was in a death metal band too at the time, but we honestly lacked the skill and knowledge to write and perform music that was even remotely listenable. So this is basically a second attempt to pay tribute to that sound and feel. We released our first demo (tape!) last year and are currently writing our debut album. Hopefully, we will be able to release it later this year. We’re also looking into releasing another Weihan album.

Over the years, Theudho would appear to have embraced different aspects and themes in the realm of paganism, history and aesthetic representation on the album covers. Has this been a journey for you in a sense?
The lyrics have been inspired by themes from all over the Germanic realm, from the Bronze Age to Medieval times; that’s indeed quite a broad range. One could say that the lyrical themes gradually became a bit more obscure as obvious sources of inspiration were depleted early on. The additional issue is that a lot of bands are fishing in the same pond as far as lyrical inspiration goes, so it is a necessity to dig a bit deeper.

As for the aesthetics of the album covers, I tend to prefer actual paintings instead of photographs or digital art. We couldn’t find a suitable historical painting for the “When Ice Crowns the Earth” album, so that is the only one with a photograph as cover art. Definitely my least favorite one.

You’ve recently released ‘De Roep van Het Woud’ on Heidens Hart. What can you tell about this record and its message or concept?
The new album might surprise people as it does sound quite different compared to the old albums. The actual material is constructed differently as far as the compositions go. I use different guitar tunings and the philosophy behind the mix has changed, too. It sure sounds more “black metal”; most people seem to agree that this is the best Theudho album so far.

This time around I also chose to change the way I approached lyrics. The big change obviously is that all the lyrics are in Dutch. Instead of merely re-interpreting known tales or myths, most lyrics were conceived outside in interaction with nature or historical monuments or sites; trying to see heathenism as a living, continued tradition rather than a dusty literary one.

As I understand, you’ve done most of the work for this album by yourself. What made you chose to do that? Is it really a practical choice or is there perhaps also a sense of craftsmanship and creativity involved?
The main reason is convenience, really. The guys in the last full line-up are great musicians and people and greatly appreciate their contributions, but in general, I like to rely on other people as little as possible. The time was right to return to the original one-man band incarnation of Theudho and just do everything by myself.

How did the whole recording process and writing of the album take place? Where did you do most of the work and what sort of resources provide you with inspiration and input for the creative aspect of it?
I recorded everything at my own place. The writing and demo process was one phase where songs would get written, revisited after some months and then subsequently tweaked, re-written or even discarded.

When I finished the demos, I basically only kept the tempo tracks/metronome settings and redid the whole thing with a tighter, smoother and more convincing performance. The actual inspiration comes from a few different places, both literally and figuratively. I travel quite a bit, so there’s always new locations that leave an impression. Next to that, I tend to read a lot, so that offers a lot of new information and insights as well.

The title translates roughly as ‘The call of the forest’. Now, this may be a metaphorical forest of in general the call of a forest, but do you have a specific forest in mind and what makes it call so strongly?
The title of the album is not really meant to be taken literally. It refers to the contrast between the urbanized, Christian world versus untamed nature, which was regarded as “pagan”. The latter was obviously demonized, but ultimately still is the natural habitat in which mankind evolved for millions of years.

You specifically use the term pagan to describe your style of music. How do you relate paganism to life in this day and age? Is it a look backward or a re-application of ideas and is it more to you than a thematic vehicle for Theudho?
It is a philosophical stance in life – I hate to use the word religion because people seem to define religion by the characteristics of the cluster of Middle Eastern religions that dominate large parts of the world today. In the West, the modern consensus seems to be that being religious is synonymous with being intellectually challenged, mentally weak and inept in science, technology, … One only needs to visit countries in the Far East (where people have the highest IQ in the world, after all) to see that this contradiction doesn’t make sense and is unnecessary. It did not exist in Europe in Classical Antiquity for that matter, either.

As you deal with themes of Germanic history and mythology, you are probably bound to be misinterpreted at times (as seems to be the faith of many bands doing this) or even lumped into the NS category. Has this happened to Theudho and how do you view this matter?
Trying to comply with the sensitivities or correcting the misconceptions of others is a Sisyphean task. A much wiser man than me, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, already advised: “How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.”

Are there still interesting things happening in the black metal scene today and how do you feel about the whole shift in sounds with more progressive bands moving in different directions?
I have to admit that I’m not really keeping track of what’s new and worthwhile. My tape trading days are long behind me, my shelves are bulging as is and I don’t have time to listen to a lot of music. If something survives the initial hype or buzz, I’ll get to hear it sooner or later anyway.

Which bands from your neck of the woods would you recommend at this time?
I coincidentally got the new album of Kludde last week and I would definitely recommend giving it a listen.

Do you have any advice for those wanderers who are feeling ‘the call of the forest’?
“Wit is needful
to him who travels far:
at home all is easy.
A laughing-stock is he
who nothing knows,
and with the instructed sits.”
– Hávamál

What future plans do you currently have with Theudho?
I can’t reveal too much at this point in time, but a Dutch band and I are talking about putting out some music together later this year as a split release. Besides that, I’m working on new material for the next album.

If you had to describe Theudho as a dish, what would it be and why?
Well, that’s an original and unexpected question. I guess horse meat would be appropriate. Why? Christians outlawed the consumption of horse meat because it was a heathen custom. I’m sure it still offends a fair share of people even today.

Iluntze: Basque mythology, identity and black metal

Europe has a wealth of nations with separate identities and traditions, but in some occasions even between those countries, you find identities. The Basque country, partly in Spain and partly in France, is an ancient culture with a language that differs from anything else on the continent. Iluntze is a product and an expression of that identity.

Synder is the sole member behind the band and is currently (at the time of our contact) residing in the far another side of Europe, studying in Lithuania. He was kind enough to tell something more about his project, origin and the meaning behind Iluntze.

Iluntze from Basque Country

Tell me about Iluntze, how did this project get started?

Hello there! Well, Iluntze is a music project that helps me to elaborate my music ideas. I had some other music bands in the past, from high school rock covers bands to different failed projects, from Folk to Death metal. Mostly, the main problem was the coordination with band members and the different music perspective we had. When I moved to Bilbao in 2015 to start my university studies, my interested in black metal started increasing. This events mixed with my interest around Medieval-Ancient period and my craving to record my own creations gave birth to Iluntze. Going back to 2016, when I recorded my first demo, I realize that maybe I should have waited more and work more in the songs and process of recording. I didn’t have any proper equipment to record and my skills in this field were really low. This made me simplify my songs and to don’t allow me to record the lyrics of Ama Ilargia Ama Eguzkia (Mother moon, Mother sun) and Iluntze.

What does the name mean and what is its origin?

Iluntze means dusk. The root -IL is old, even found in inscriptions from Roman times, and it can be understood as ¨Night or Death¨. This word root is really interesting for me since many words have it, such as Ilargi (Moon), -IL (Night, death)+argi (light) or Hilerri (Graveyard), -IL (Death)+ Herri (Village). This interpretation of Night and death is really related to the Basque mythology, where the Day was the daytime of the living beings and the Night was one of the death spirits. So, Iluntze basically means ¨The process of turning night¨. I just liked the name and its sonority and I think I was right choosing it.

You identify as Basque musician with lyrics in this language as well, and themes derived from it. Can you tell me something more about this and what it is your music really is telling?

I really like this theory that explains how your main language influences your way of think thanks to how the language rules interact with your brain (Probably this is quite poorly explained haha). Well, besides I speak some few languages besides Basque, when I think about Iluntze and when I play music, my mind thinks in Basque. Since I was a child, I have been into European history (and Prehistory, Paleolithic times and so on), especially, into medieval years. The city where I come from (Pamplona-Iruña) and the landscapes surrounding it probably had some influence in my music but when I focus in the storytelling, my main inspiration is my own interpretations of Basque mythology and history. You can perceive some kind of nostalgia about old times attached to some rejection of the modern world. We also have auto-parody style lyrics like in Itziarren Semea (The son of Itziar- the name of my mother), where we see some kind of medieval parody of my character.

The artwork and whole style is very typical, what bands inspired you for your sound and the mood of Iluntze? I am mostly reminded of some of the French bands like Peste Noire on their La Chaisse-Dyable.

I am very happy with the overall result of the artistic part of the last demo. The Digifile edition released by Dawn of the Murk (Darkwoods) is really beautiful and the Illustrator, Alvaro M. Buendia did a splendid job. Peste Noire, musically, is one of my biggest influences and I kinda think that this influence can be perceived in my music. But mostly, depends in what I want to share when I think about making a new song. Sometimes, Dissection, Burzum or Isengard makes a big impact at the time of creating the song but when I’m in a rancid and musty mood, Peste Noire style arises. Their first works are masterpieces and I especially love ‘Ballade cuntre lo Anemi francor’, really nice artistic style and very melodic sounds.

You are currently located in Lithuania, has that made the desire to make music about your land of origin more strong? And how did you end up there?

Currently, I have been living in this country for almost a year, although I’m coming back to Basque Country in a few weeks, to finish my studies and continue working on Iluntze. Well, firstly I came here to continue my studies but it seems I have found a deeper feeling towards this country, its forests, and people. Lithuania is a big musical inspiration, by its landscapes, history, and culture. For future Iluntze’s work, I will try to reflect this influence, maybe with Lithuanian Folkish influences or even singing in the language.

Iluntze was born in Basque Country and developed in those lands full of mountains. But this time expended in Lithuania is understood as meditation and inspirational. In this time, even though I haven’t created any music for Iluntze besides a few lyrics, I’m trying to improve my clean voice and focus Iluntze’s future.

You’ve recorded 2 demo’s this far, Antzinako Oihartzunak being the latest. What can you tell me about this release and the effort behind finding your sound with Iluntze?

The effort given and done behind this last release has been much bigger than in the first demo. I think that I have evolved the quality of the composition and started defining a sound direction. I was lucky to made contact with the label Darkwoods who has supported me a lot. I wanted to work in a proper way the artistic part of Iluntze so I contacted with Alvaro for that. Finally, I tried to improve my skills with music production, so overall, I think that this last demo has been a big step for Iluntze. To summarize, better songs, better production, beautiful physical edition, and nice collaborations have been archived this year. I hope that my next demo will at least as big improvement compared with the previous one.

How do you go about the recording and writing process for these records? Do you do everything by yourself and is it in one session or over multiple? And how do you craft the songs?

Till this last demo, I have done everything, from playing to recording, besides the mastering of Antzinako Oihartzunak. First of all, I create the melodies and riff with the guitar and later I start with the drums (by computer), that helps me to give a structure to the songs. When the drums are done, I start making the bass line and recording it. Later, I record the final version of the guitars with a shitty microphone and my amp. In the meanwhile, I think and write the lyrics so when all the instrumental parts are recorded, I record the voice. Quite a lot of work, so for futures demos, EP or LP I will try to search for collaborations.

Can you tell me more about the Ignis Fatuus collective?

We are a powerful lobby with the only objective of world domination through money control. In our free time and good days, we just name our self as Ignis Fallus.

Regional identity in Spain is very important. As you identify as Basque can you tell me how you view this and how it works through in Iluntze?

Well, since my mother language is Basque, my culture and traditions are Basque and my ancestors were Basque I obviously identify myself as Basque. This does not mean I do not like Spain or France. Both are beautiful countries with many positive (and negative) things to say about them. Being part of the Spanish state, I should not be fool rejecting this fact and reality. Iluntze has received a lot of support from Spain and I really appreciate that. But, on the other hand, Iluntze’s reality is Basque, from the atmosphere I try to create to the message of the lyrics, and probably that’s one of the most important characteristics of the band.

Can you tell me a bit more about Basque metal? Particularly that which employs the Basque language. When did this get started and which bands were the first to do it?

I would say that the metal is still popular in Basque Country, probably by its side relation with the Punk. Personally, I don’t know much about the Metal status in the French Basque Country. I know that Gojira is from there but they may not identify themselves as Basques. Besides that, I know plenty of basque metal bands that sing in Basque. I’m not an expert on this topic but probably one of the most influential bands has been SU TA GAR, classic speed heavy metal. Taking it to my terrain -black metal- Triarchy of Vasconia split is really important. It was a nice collaboration in 2001 between 3 Basque Black-Folk bands –Ilbeltz, Adur and Aiumeen Basoa.

Which bands from your region should people really check out?

Since the beginning of the century, we still have other good black metal bands, as Nakkiga or Numen. From Iginis Fatuus we have Aehrebelsethe, who recently released its first work. And finally, last week I discovered a new death metal band that sounds really brutal, Bullets of Misery.

Going out from metal, I would recommend folk artist as Benito Lertxundi or Mikel Laboa. I cannot forget about other bands as Hertzainak or Kortatu. Well, thinking about this in a deeper way, there is a strong local music environment in the Basque Country so I recommend everyone to check it out.

What future plans do you have for Iluntze?

Exiting question! There are many plans going on. First of all, I will start recruiting members so we will be able to play live. Second of all, I’m coming back home in the following weeks so I will start creating Iluntze’s next demo. This demo is gonna be something big, some kind of double demo where we will find my own songs in one side and black metal covers of traditional Basque songs in the other one. In the meanwhile, I will probably record a couple of songs for a split between the bands of Ignis Fatuus. I will reprint the design of the first t-shirt due to its success and at the same time, work in a new one with the singer of No Sanctuary. Many more things are in my mind but probably it’s too soon to reveal them

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

Roasted chestnuts (and if there are worms inside, more protein for the body haha). Well, you need to fight to open them but once it’s done you find something really tasty and hot ;).

 

 

 

Underground Sounds: Wrang – Domstad Swart Metael

Band: Wrang
Label: Tour de Garde
Origin: Netherlands

With this album, Wrang is dedicating the music to their home city of Utrecht. It’s also known as the Domstad and as you can see, that’s what the title refers to. This is their first full-length, titled ‘ Domstad Swart Metael’. Truth be told, it’s quite the remarkable display of Dutch black metal!

Members from the group have also been active in Weltschmerz, Grafjammer, Nevel and Iron Harvest, but of course many, many more. Their debut full length is only five tracks, but what a pummeling force of violence it contains.

Well, let’s destroy everything today with a wry smile on our faces, right? Wrang launches into the anthemic title track with gusto. ‘Domstad Swart Metael’ is an 8-minute show of force with an overwhelming opening and visceral patterns, all interwoven in violence. The music is particularly tight, with here and there some surprising chanting passages by the Utrecht black metallers. Singer Galgenvot is particularly present throughout the record, but on ‘Propaganda der Afvalligen’ we also hear some kick-ass guitar riffs with a bit of a classic heavy metal vibe coming on.

Regardless, the band sticks to doom and gloom, with heavy sizzling passages, like that fire and brimstone intro of ‘Stormend naar de Nietigheid’. It’s a song full of capturing melodies and darkness, delivered very meticulously once more. The driven pace is whipping the song up in a frantic bit of violence, but how good is that? The song builds to its rabid crescendo and then it simply falls apart. It’s only a prelude to the violent upheaval that is the final tune of the album. This record firmly establishes Wrang as one of the slickest and bad-ass black metal bands from the Netherlands, and that’s saying something!

Underground Sounds: Iron Void – Excalibur

Label: Shadow King Records
Band: Iron Void
Origin: United Kingdom

I’ve actually seen Iron Void play and I think they are absolutely awesome with that slow, classic doom sound they produce. The group sort of revolves around John ‘Sealey’ Seale and Steve Wilson, who continued playing together in Iron Void after So Mortal Be fell apart. The group has been around and is woven into the classic doom network of bands that is still very active and playing live frequently.

I’m a bit astonished to find the group has been in existence since 1998, but only since 2998 is there a steady flow of output with this record ‘Excalibur’ being the third full length available to the listeners. I saw then knock it out of the park (or of the island) during the Malta Doom Days in 2015, which was brilliant. And so is this record, I can tell you that with some confidence.

Indeed, that’s the famous Anaal Natrakh introduction from the ‘Excalibur’ film, this time spoken by Simon Strange from Arkham Witch, before we launch into some absolute classic doom metal on ‘Dragon’s Breath’. Epic vocals with a bit of that folky drama to it, following a repetitive riff that feels sort of easy-going. Not the most fierce track, this opening, which has a bit of the classic fantasy metal vibe to it. Same goes for ‘The Coming of a King’, where I have to restrain myself and not pump my fist in the air as the epic riffage bursts loose and that voice swells in pride and splendor. There’s even a certain tranquility to ‘Lancelot of the Lake’, which fits the narrative well. Similarly, ‘Forbidden Love’ has a gloomy foreboding tone, which is delivered with music that goes very quiet and very loud, taking the listener on an emotional journey.

But this is mostly a storytellers album, yet with a lot of riffs. I really catch up again with songs like ‘The Grail Quest’ and ‘Enemy Within’. Both offer thick slabby riffs, with a crushing weight. The soaring vocals really do their work, even though they’re not that marvelous in reach, they work well within the parameters of the band. But here we come to the climax of the album, with ‘A Dream to Some, a Nightmare to Others’ as the peak. It brings us to ‘The Death of Arthur’, which is a slow-paced track with a sense of finality to it, as it describes the end of the story. The weary, yearning vocals, the big cascading riffs, it’s beautiful. Think of all your doom classics, that’s it.

‘Avalon’ is an outro, our final farewell and it has a tinge of folk to it, like most tunes. A sadness and a traditional side that is well appreciated after this magnificent piece of music. All hail Iron Void!

Underground Sounds: Realm of Wolves – Oblivion

Label: Independent
Band: Realm of Wolves
Origin: Hungary

‘Oblivion’ is the first full-length of this Hungarian trio, Realm of Wolves. Formed in 2018, the band has moved fast in their trajectory to create a debut after a demo and EP. The album comes in at the right point in between black metal and post-rock, so probably not suitable for hardliners.

It takes little effort to connect the band Realm of Wolves to what I should call, by now, my favorite Hungarian metal artist Ferenc Kapiller. You may be familiar with his work in VVilderness and Release The Long Ships. His participation definitely is partly responsible for the meandering, warm vibe of the sound and hallucinatory effect it has on the listener om this excellent post-black metal record. Members Stvannyr and Ghöul also play in Black Hill, Silent Island, and Ephilexia.

As the melodic tunes open up on ‘Cascadia’, the title already tells us something of what to expect. Acoustic tremolo picking accompanies the swooning sound, which sounds warm and comforting. As we launch into ‘Ignifer’, we launch into something larger than life. The lyrics deal with the natural realm and clearly the Cascadian aspect runs deeper than aesthetics as the sonorous tune runs on. ‘Old Roots’ adds a bit more power to that whole sound, with some stomping rhythm and forceful delivery, but overall the listener can easily flow through this record as it just moves along.

‘Translucent Stones’ offers a beautiful little intermezzo of folkish music, with that melancholic yearning that permeates the music of Realm of Wolves. It’s all melody and storytelling, with here and there some gritty, gnarly vocals, as we hear on ‘Twelve Miles To Live’. All in all, this album is a pretty fantastic one, though there is the risk of just flowing away on the tunes. This is that ambient/post-rocky vibe in their music, which I love very much. An impressive debut for certain.

Underground Sounds: Guðveiki – Vængför

Band: Guðveiki
Label: Fallen Empire Records
Origin: USA/Iceland

A lot of stuff that comes out from Iceland is cool, but this band is partly American and that probably puts a little twist to the sound of Guðveiki. I’ve been trying to puzzle together how this group got together for their debut album ‘Vængför’, but I have to guess at that.

One of the few communal factors among the mountain of bands these gents have been involved in is Martröð, as this connects guitar player A.P. and Wormlust’s H.V. on vocals it seems. Chaos Moon then connects drummer J.B. and guitar player S.B., who both played in Accursed Moon. Other names on the resumés include Krieg, Skàphe, Vital Remains and much more. Oh, now I forgot Þ.I.from Endalok on guitar and atmosphere.

But really, nothing can quite prepare you for ‘Fóstureyðing stjarna’. The onslaught of death metal battery, unholy howling and barking are unlike anything. Solid death metal with a tinge of black and that creepy intro, it absolutely crushes! Vocally, you already know to expect utter madness with H.V. as he does with his own project. During ‘Blóðhunang’ it is almost as if his voice curls around the guitar riffs and binds them into a soggy swamp of sonic despair.

‘Hin endalausa’ continues the surge and I can’t really add anything to what I said before. The drum assault takes on a more cavernous and at times even industrial vibe as we progress into the title track. The singing almost feels like Attila Csihar’s ritualistic murmurings in some of his stranger projects. That is even more so the case on ‘Gullveigar sverðsins’, which has these claustrophobic melodies and ever encroaching riffs that make you feel trapped. We finally come to full release on the more traditionally laid out ‘Undan stormi eiturtára’, though that mad shrieking, the coiling sound is still there and, honestly, I’m almost happy to escape this utter madness. What a piece of sonic violence!

In Medieval Dreams and Pagan Hearts: Fief, Zāle, Bellkeeper, Jozef Van Wissem

Once more I delve into the fantasy music I’ve come across and that helps me divert my thoughts and dream away. This time I listened to the dreamy medieval ambient of Fief, the …

So grab an ale, stoke the fire, as darkness is clouding the world around us. Be at ease and grab a book with these tunes and simply zone out.

Fief – IV

United States, independent release

Where Fief on the first three releases, which I much loved, was still very much a dungeon synth act, I’m not so sure about ‘IV’. The cover itself is the setting, we’re in the head of a watchman, dreaming away on ‘A Daydreaming Sentry’. Every title evokes a vista that this sentry may behold, or imagine as he stands there on dreary watch duty. But what I mostly like to say is that Fief has moved on to medieval ambient. The music holds little of the droning, synthy vibes, but feels absolutely tranquil and appeasing in its simple beauty. Sure, it’s probably synth-craftsmanship, but it feels like my old video games, where I could get lost for hours in a fantasy. I envision ‘Medieval Skies’ or gaze upon the ‘Evening Market’, all is well. Fief is one of a kind and this album only underlines the singular path the mysterious artist is trodding. I will follow.

Zāle – Vina

Latvia, Nabakmusic/Melo Records

This Latvian group started as a duo but developed in a full band with a wide range of sound, yet all of it connects to something ethnic and pure. From the opening track ‘Smilšu Laiva’ on, we start with ritualistic singing in mild, droning voices. It’s something that instantly grips you with an innate magic and wonder, and I keep thinking of a Latvian Clanned perhaps. The vocals are soothing and timeless, while the instruments only emphasize the gentle nature of the music throughout the album. But part of that charm comes from the interaction between the male and female vocals, both focussing on that particular timbre and repetitive vibe, so much a part of the ritualistic side of traditional folk music. Zāle however, keeps heaping layer upon layer in a complex and beautiful piece of music, that works as a pleasant blanket after a long day.

Bellkeeper – The First Flame of Lordran

United States, Dungeon Deep Records

Rolant the Recluse is the man behind Bellkeeper (I hope I’m not presumptuous, but I assume Rolant is a man). A dungeon synth project with the classical dusky and dusty nature that evokes images of ancient tombs and dungeons. Though there’s an instant intensity to the track ‘Rekindled’, with a vitality unlike your run of the mill DS sounds. It’s slightly more what you’d expect from a high-end game soundtrack of now… or maybe a few years back. I’m not super up-to-date. Though as we progress to songs like ‘A Sanctum of Ash and Ember’ I’m getting those eerie dungeon vibes, thanks to the languid tones and slow, meandering sound. But what Bellkeeper adds is some ambiance with dripping sounds and pebbles rolling over the floor. It boosts the mystique and immersive quality of the song. On ‘Uchigatana’ we even have a little eastern vibe going, which also sounds mildy unorthodox, but captivating. Though after its energetic start, Bellkeeper sticks to traditional DS, it is an album that carries a promise of something new and exciting. Looking forward to more!

Jozef Van Wissem & Jim Jarmusch – An Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil

Netherlands/USA, Sacred Bones Records

It’s a peculiar combo of musicians. One is a weaver of mysteries in tone, the other in film. Yet together, they create magic with droning guitar tones and a slowly emerging theme through the heavy and sparse drums accompanying the sound. On this record, the duo explores the theology of William Blake and Emanuel Swedenborg, this time including Blavatsky in the mix. The music sort of merges slowly into this wall of sound, slowly blocking out everything as it gradually unfolds. It’s almost a sound of mystique unfolding, with the gentle lute and movie-soundtrack like ambiance. Half way between folky melodies, religious music and sturdy experimental doom music, it’s a record that drags you under its spell.

Underground Sounds: Iahsari – Shrine of the Ancient Gods

Label: Independent
Band: Iahsari
Origin: Georgia

It seems that the creation of ‘Shrine of the Ancient Gods’ has been a process of multiple years for the Georgian band Iahsari. The first songs were released back in 2016 and without a labels backing the band steadfastly worked on the creation of their masterpiece. And what a grand piece of work it has become.

‘Shrine of the Ancient Gods’ takes a page out of the books of melodic death metal, folk, operatic metal and what not, to create an epic work of great proportions. Taking a number of musicians, guests and the old stories of their native land, they’ve created a piece of storytelling that can’t be denied. An album that captures, rocks and tells the story.

String instruments set an urgent intro to the record, connecting the vibe to the ancient lands they hail from with flutes and all. There’s a cinematic quality to the music of Iahsari, because after these three minutes you’re deep into the story already when the blaring horns welcome you to ‘Unbowed (Blood of Colchis)’, referring to an ancient Georgian kingdom from Hellenic times. It helps that the track stays in the flow of the intro for a while, before one tasty guitar lick and the synths take up the story. Operatic vocals are the surprising first singing entrance, with traditional drums following in the outro. By this point, I have to state that this record is something special.

As the journey continues with ‘Sirenum Scopuli’ and ‘Shatilis Asulo (Maiden Of Shatili)’an experience follows that most closely resembles the big, operatic performance of Therion on their Gothic Kabballah. Big vocal parts, choirs chanting and guitars that hark back to the traditional heavy metal days of Iron Maiden and Saxon. The vocals of Marian Chakvetadze and the male backings do most of that, but the intricate melodies and complex musical structure add a layer of grandeur to that. Moving onwards, we go into more tempered waters with ‘Gelino’ up to ‘The Dream’. The music is simply soothing, the voice angelic and never is it really getting rowdy or more intense.

That greater flow of the record helps in the story, which climaxes with ‘Old Man’s Grief’. A gentle tune, that swells in intensity to operatic proportions and riffs that claw at the sky. The synths really do the atmospheric work here to get one final swing at eternity before it fades away.