All posts by Guido

I'm just a geek.

The Reading of Books #31

I’ve been really picking up the pace and the pile of books appears to be dwindling at times. But there’s so much more to read. I enjoyed books by Mo Daviau, Bruce Chatwin, Ernest Hemingway and Nathan Gray these past few weeks, so here’s a bit about those.

Mo Daviau – Every Anxious Wave

source: Goodreads.com

So imagine a setting where an ageing rocker of the nineties indie kind and his failed-at-life computer programmer buddy find a way to exploit a wormhole in the first one’s closet to send people back to the past. Only to see rock concerts though, because of a sense of morality concerning the past. Then the second one by accident gets send back in time to the island of Manhattan in 980 AD, where the means for traveling back don’t work. Well, that is the mistake Karl makes when his friend Wayne wants to stop the murder of John Lennon.  So there’s the plot of this novel. Karl has to right his wrong (he forgot a number when plotting Wayne’s destination, so he finds an astrophysicist to help him. That would be Lena, who likes the Melvins. She also likes The Axis, which was Karl’s band. And then everything goes horribly wrong/right/what?.

Mo Daviau wrote this as a first novel and I for one am impressed by the way this novel unfolds. There’s romance, rock’n’roll (a lot of names get mentioned). I think Mo Daviau might have an Elliot Smith tattoo somewhere actually. Time travel, with all the moral questions that come with looking at such a concept in our time and age. The way Daviau writes is very matter-of-fact and the style feels so natural as if this was taken out of daily conversations. The eye for detail, including the unpleasant little bits that we deal with in daily life, makes the novel very lively and easy to become a part of as a reader. I like that the characters are very human, not picture perfect characters. They become very real and very tangible very soon for you as a reader and that makes this book so captivating. The time traveling is pretty cool too though.

Bruce Chatwin – In Patagonia

I don’t know how, but reading the book by Andrea Wulf about Alexander Von Humboldt has triggered a wish to read more books about travels. Pretty soon the book ‘In Patagonia’ came up. Bruce Chatwin tells the story of his youth, where his grandmother had a piece of ‘Brontosaurus skin’ that she received from cousin Charles Milward. Milward was a captain that had sailed to South-America and found the remains of a Mylodon. Later Chatwin met with architect and furniture designer Eilleen Gray, who has a map of Patagonia. He tells her he always wanted to go there. So did she, but at 93 years of age it’s a bit late for that, so she asks him to go instead of her. So a miraculous story starts from there.

Chatwin travels but doesn’t just describe his experiences, but stories from Patagonia of other bold travelers who went there like Butch Cassidy and Charly Milward himself. Through these stories, bits of history and anecdotes from people he meets, he paints a remarkable picture of the realm. Patagonia becomes one of the last places of true and thorough mistery and wildness. A place where the world is still wild and untamed. From the atrocities against the Indians to their violent revolts to missionaries and daring criminals, Chatwin puts them together in a remarkable book. Even the story of the book is remarkable and daring. Chatwin is a master storyteller and this book will make you yearn for the untamed places in the world.

Nathan Gray – Until The Darkness Takes Us

source: goodreads.com

The boysetsfire frontman Nathan Gray has had an interesting life and one well worth documenting in writing. Also, the restless soul of this converted Satanist is eager to explore new forms of expression. And so this biography was unleashed together with new steps in his artistic life; the Nathan Gray Collective (live review here). The story of Gray starts in a strongly religious community, which shaped him with the doom and gloom outlook. From that departure point, Gray takes us through is life. Finding liberation outside of the community, struggling with the self and eventually finding punkrock music.

Eventually Gray finds himself amidst failed relations, years of party life, creating meaningful music and shouting defiance at God, government, and fate. About struggling as artists to find their way and looking for new creative outlets. Gray ends his story with the discovery of Satanism. He attempts to explain this, but notes that misunderstanding is always there. He expressed this also in the project I AM HERESY. Gray has an interesting writing style, rich with words and expressions with an almost academic or theological tone at times. I guess it’s the poet in Gray that shines through in the pages. Gray writes noteworthily vague sections about very personal issues. The phrasing gets to an almost prophetic doomsayers rantings at times, filled with quotes, and lyrics. It makes for a daunting read with clear personal struggles, but also a great insight into the process of this fascinating artist becoming himself and offering that wisdom to you as a fan. This book is brave writing, if you enjoyed the music of Nathan Gray as I do, check it out.

Ernest Hemingway – The White Snows of Kilimanjaro

Mind, this is not a well-known bundle of work by Hemingway. It’s a Russian readers collection (English with Russian annotations), that I picked up in Vilnius. In this book, the reader receives the stories that taek take place in Africa. They are set during safari’s or otherwise in these wild and untamed lands where Hemingway went in the thirties. The title refers to one of the stories in this little bundle. This is not the first book of short stories by Hemingway that I’ve read, but definitely not the one I enjoyed most. Perhaps because I find the whole business of a safari harder to relate to. That makes sense. Regardless of the fact that they are merely the setting for the sparse narratives of Hemingway, this is a thing we simply no longer appreciate in western society.

What I love about the work of Hemingway, particularly this one, is the sense of suspense it leaves you with. The fact that a lot of the story is somehow omitted is the art. This makes it even more impressive and captivating, due to the mental engagement in the writing. On the other hand, Hemingway throws images at you in rapid succession, drawing upon your imagination to shape and color the story to the max. It’s a joyous experience, but it also makes that reading the stories in succession might be a bit tiresome. Every story reads as a good film and that is the absolute charm of this fabulous author.

Copenhagen: Cheap weed, sludge in squats and buffets

For my birthday, my lovely wife gave me a trip to copenhagen as a gift. I had been to Denmark very long ago, back in 1992 (starting my long affinity with Danish football as well), but not to the capital. I enjoyed my time here, though it’s a pricy place.

This was also the first time we used AirBnB, where you get to sleep in a persons house. Our host was a stewardess for a major flying company and gladly hosted us in her neat apppartment. Added bonus is that she owned a great coffee shop, where we could have breakfast. Extra super bonus is that this was a vegan/health shop, so we had the breakfast of dreams at the Coffee Queen.

Kristiania and Nyhavn

When you go to Copenhagen, you need to visit Kristiania. I was amazed at the long line of weed vendors, selling their wares on top of old oil barrels. Seriously, there was a liberty and randomness to it that made me feel that being Dutch was not at all what I thought it was compared to this place. I can’t say the rest of Kristiania was as impressive as the legends that precede it. It looked like a dump on most parts and others where highly commercialised.

sdr

The same you could say about Nyhavn, the hip, go-to center of the city with the colorfull houses. It looks great, contrary to Kristiania, but hardly offers the complexity and fascinating aspects of the squat settlement. The center of the Danish capital is beautiful though and you would love to be in the cyclist friendly city with excellent public transport (the trams are even fully automatic it seems). I spend an excellent first day exploring these parts , just wandering around and enjoying the surroundings.

Exploring the city

Copenhagen is a city with wide streets, winding roads and a lot of old buildings. Just wandering around those is a joy. Obviously you want to visit the little mermaid statue. Perhaps you even get a glimpse through the hordes of tourists that stop their with full busloads. The harbor is obviously a nice part of the city to visit, since a lot of live was around these parts in the past and old buildings, statues and pretty parks will surprise you.

What is well worth visiting is the national history museum. You can literally spend a day here, soaking up the history from the ancient days all the way to the present century. The museum has a vast collection and some surprisingly impressive items, such as some of the well preserved bodies found in bogs. Not saying this to be morbid, but to be able to see a person froma  different age is something particularly special.

Northern Discomfort

I went to see the cool Northern Discomfort Fest as well in Copenhagen, which took place at the Ungdomshuset, an old squat commune where often bands play. The cool thing was the atmosphere and the affordable drinks and food. I really enjoyed this festival, which had some great acts and truly no bad shows going on. You can read more about that here and here. Again, public transport is your friend, though it does stop driving at some point and then an hours walk is not so bad through the streets of Copenhagen actually.

Noteworthy acts I saw were for example Alaric, the English post-punk infused band with melodic and melancholic vocals. Another one I liked particularly is Cult of Occult.

FC Copenhagen

Denmark has a very peculiar music culture. It really is baffling to know that hooligans interact and work together with the police. For some reason the Danish league is considered small and teams fuse, merge and fold a lot. Current champion FC Copenhagen only has been around for about 1,5 decade. I have always had affinity for football in Denmark. My parents took me there on holiday back in 1992, just after the European Championship.

sdr

So I went down to Telia Parken to see the local FC Copenhagen play Lyngby, one of their historic competitors. My tickets were not for the nice seats, but right in with the hardcore fans. It was great to join in with the chanting during the game with the passionate FC Co fans. After 45 minutes the score is 0-0. A few minutes into the second half Pavlovic, the Serbian striker of Copenhagen, scores a beautiful goal. The fans explode and fireworks are lit. Pavlovic continues to score three goals and the chanting never stops. A great experience.

photo’s by Justina Lukosiute

Underground Sounds: Hair of the Dog – This World Turns

Label: Independent
Band: Hair of the Dog
Origin: Scotland

During Roadburn, you sometimes just wander into a place to see a band you didn’t know before. So I stumbled into Extase. It was very late and little people were there, but the band on stage was bare chested and completely rocking out, pushing out the most glorious hard rock sounds. I was sold at that moment to the charm of Scottish rockers Hair of the Dog. They simply rocked with raw passion.

This is the third full length of the Scottish trio from Edinburgh. Clearly getting more groove and intensity to their sound as they go. I guess the skateboarding connection also has something to do with it, because they are on a roll (pun intended)! The laid back flow and catchiness of the music is great and it is a complete pleasure to hear their tunes.

What I enjoy about Hair of the Dog is that they make essential, bare chested, ballsy rock music. Sure, when the title track launches you immediately detect the stoner and sludge influences. The group reshaped it backward in rock history to the classic hard rock vibe and feel of Led Zeppelin and Mountain. My favorite tune of the Scots is ‘Keeping Watch over the Night’, where singer and guitar player Adam Holt is truly capturing hearts in minds with his passionate delivery and the all over hugeness of the sound. What a trip!

‘Ctrl-Alt-Delete’ takes us in a  way different direction. While it holds it’s bluesy progression, the vocals are much more crooning and hold a completely different vibe. It’s remarkable how the threesome makes music that feels simple and direct, but also holds a big stadium vibe. Clean and poppy enough for your mom to enjoy, but rough enough to still make you feel cool while driving. Every note is spun out and used for it’s maximal potential, to create that wall of sound that makes them so strong sounding. For example, on ‘In Death’s Hands’ the music seems to just drift along and the notes just flow out.

On ‘4AM’ the boys show us they have quite a bit of soul as well. On the track they pour out their hearts and even the bass and drums ooze passion and feeling. This band takes it back to its essence and all I can say is that they’re simply amazing. Hair of the Dog makes me want to puff my chest, pump my fists and gently wave a lighter (yes, smartphones then) around, all in the span of one album. That makes them awesome.

 

Winterfylleth, Fen and Necronautical live in Dynamo

This week is a busy concert week for me and I decided to add one more show to the schedule when Winterfylleth hit Eindhoven. On a Wednesday night in Dynamo? You bet I have to be present at that one!

So we head down to the Dynamo basement for some fine UK black metal. Now, for those that are not aware, UK black metal has always had a distinct flavor. Winterfylleth was among the bands featured in below-linked documentary (check it out, it’s cool). The band can be considered an integral part of the Brittish sound.

Necronautical

So we kick off the night with Necronautical, a relatively young band in the genre. These guys from the northwest of England play a bit of an eclectic kind of black metal. The sound is mostly solid, but combining symphonic elements, grand clean vocals with heavy and raw passages seems to sort of clash and never find that special chemistry during this live show. Specially the intense performance of their vocalist I liked. The delivery is passionate though. The band sticks it out and plays some blistering riffs, but never really manages to get the crowd on their side. These guys have potential I believe, but I feel that they need to find the right modus for that.

While waiting for Fen to set up, I had a chat with Dan Capp from Winterfylleth and Wolcensmen (which you pronounce as ‘Wol-Ken-s-men). Dan is a very friendly guy and he informed me that Wolcensmen will be playing live. If you can be there to see this (sorta this, I hear it will be different), you’re lucky. I also got that Winterfylleth was going to play work from all their albums. Excitement rising for me then.

Fen

First Fen is up and this band makes some music that really deserves praise. On record, the sound doesn’t really get the right treatment it seems, since I found them sort of hard to get into. Like when you read some heavy literature, for example, just heavy material. They play some fierce atmospheric black metal, but here and there you can detect particular Fen-isms, like a little funky bass loop or a bit of Pink Floyd-esque riffing if I may call it that. The problem arises on parts where their sound is quite dense. On those passages, three musicians are bound to have limitations in a live setting. That is clear from the switches between clean vocals and screams, but for a bit, the band is really almost losing control of their material. Still awesome though and very happy to have seen them play finally.

Winterfylleth

Winterfylleth captured me with the album ‘Divination of Antiquity’, but obviously they’d been at it for a good 6/7 years when I found out about them. Bumping into drummer Simon Lucas and singer Chris Naughton at Eindhoven Metal Meeting a few years ago was very cool. Meeting Dan Capp and bass player Nick Wallwork this time was also cool (it led to this interview). Both sing along live, to give an extra wealth and cadence to the folkish parts. Those have become an integral part of the Winterfylleth sound.

Terrible live shot by yours truly

The band live is a continuous flow of great songs and let me emphasize how I really mean flow. The black metal of this band is not hooky and harsh, but melodic and hauntingly beautiful at parts. While Naughton takes on most vocals, a lot of harsh parts are done by Wallwork. Capp focuses on the intricate guitar parts that give the music that special polished shine. Listening to the band play, I think of the landscapes on the covers. The wide, beautiful vista’s depicted there have a lot in common with the beauty of their music, it’s stretched out candor that invites the listener to dwell in it.

The set covers every album, with some particularly good old tracks dropped in to celebrate the 10 year anniversary. Though the band has obviously shifted their sound throughout those years, the set is cohesive and worked into a strong story. The magnificent drumming is not overwhelming, even not in the small basement of Dynamo, with a remarkably balanced and harmonious sound. Hearing personal favorites like ‘Whisper of Elements’ totally makes my night worth it. When we toast to 10 years I did get myself a beer as a little token of respect, because this band nails it every time. Closing the set with a mighty display of force.

A remarkable night with black metal that sounds just perfect to me. Thanks, guys, congrats on 10 years and onward to the next 10 I would say.

 

Aramaic: Voice of the Levant

The phenomenon of global metal keeps being a point of fascination for me. In the most interesting places you can find bands playing this type of music. Most people might know that metal has a place in the United Arab Emirates, so finding the band Aramaic playing this music there is not entirely surprising.

In the documentary film ‘Global Metal’ by Sam Dunn and Scott McFayden the Desert Rock Festival finished up the film. It showed that metal was even finding its roots in the most unexpected places. For the guys from Aramaic this is as normal as it gets though. Aramaic has been going strong since 2011 and members of the band have worked with internationally known formations like Schammasch (German drummer Hendrik Wodynski joined the Swiss giants live) and Heavenwood (guitarist Fadi Al Shami did guest vocals for the Portuguese goth veterans), while singer Serge Lutfi moved with his other band Abhorred to London and back from the UAE.

Most interesting is that the members are all from neighboring countries (apart from Wodynski of course). Most band members answered these questions about their band, the concept and what it is like to play metal music in the United Arab Emirates. A country is known for its shining city of Dubai, but also with strong religious roots. Thanks to Fadi Al Shami, Michael Al Asmar, Ahmad Rammal and Serge Lutfi for taking the time to respond. Though none of them was born there, they all moved to the country for work and find music as well.

This article was originally published on Echoes & Dust.

Aramaic from the United Arab Emirates

Could you briefly introduce yourselves and Aramaic for those readers unfamiliar with your work?

Fadi: We are Aramaic hailing from the Levant region (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and neighbors), currently based in the UAE. If you were to describe our music, I feel we do not conform to a specific type of metal genre. We prefer to avoid restricting ourselves and having the classification done by our peers.

Michael: To give you a brief summary on the name, Aramaic is an ancient language spoken by nomadic tribesmen inhabiting areas around the Tigris River (the river flows south from the mountains of south-eastern Turkey through Iraq and empties itself into the Persian Gulf) dating back to the 700 B.C. the Bronze Age. It is from the Semitic family (Arabic, Hebrew, Syriac, Maltese & Ethiopian), and adopted by Assyrians (currently known as the Middle East, including Armenia, Cyprus, Iran & Turkey), parts of Babylonia (current day Iraq), even ancient Egypt and the Canaanites (Lebanon, Palestine and neighbors).

Serge: We, however, adopted the name to best represent our origins and expose the listeners to something that is not typical to modern discussions and music. History has always intrigued us, the more we researched the more fascinated and infatuated we became with this ancient civilization, it brought us closer to our heritage and we wanted to share this with everyone through our incantations and hymns.

How did you guys get into metal in the first place?

Serge: I have to praise my sister for introducing me to metal in 1991, started with Kiss & Danzig, moved to Testament, Anthrax, Metallica & Pantera then straight to Morbid Angel, Obituary & Entombed.
The most memorable albums that I grew up with were Testament’s The New Order, Metallica’s Master Of Puppets, Danzig’s  How the Gods Kill, Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power (I still have the tapes). I started playing guitar at the age 5 and by the time I was exposed to metal (as an 11 years old), my first electric guitar was bought. The rest is history.

Fadi: My first encounter with metal music was when I was 9 yrs. old by getting introduced to Metallica’s Black Album. Yet the reason I learnt guitar was Death’s Symbolic (such a master piece). I started playing guitar at a very late age (27) when I managed to spend 3 hours every day trying to develop better techniques as I moved forward in the music career.

Michael: I got into metal because I liked a girl who listened to Def Leppard and Europe and when I went to the record shop and asked for similar music the guy gave me Metallica’s …And Justice for All and Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.

What are your main inspirations for the sound of Aramaic? There’s a hint of some traditional music in your sound, how did you manage to create this mixture.

Ahmad: We all bring our experiences, influences and capabilities to the table whilst composing the music. That’s what makes it unique, from traditional Arabic music, classical progressions, instrumentals and hymns to extreme diabolical works.

Serge: The writing process takes a considerable amount of time, as we all come together to write the structure of a track and the more we embrace it, the more intense it becomes. We take our time making sure every person involved has his signature and seal on it. We also try and incorporate some native instruments to give a more distinctive element.The lyrical theme is based on myths, legends, deities & tragedies that befell the Aramaens and Assyrians during the ancient times.

Your name is derived from the ancient language, with that also bringing in a culture, history, and people. There are a lot of directions you can go with a name like that. How did that come about and what sources originally made you want to go in this direction?

Michael: Being from the Levant region, we wanted to represent our history & our people in an unorthodox way, completely straying away from religion (of any kind). We wanted to focus on apologues; documented works and myths from that era to expose the masses to our bright and rich past.

It compelled us to dive deep into the realms of these ancient civilizations to bring forth the knowledge bestowed upon us through materials lost in time.

I understand there are various mythologies you use as a theme in your music. Can you tell a bit more about that and maybe share a little light on what sort of stories you really take to put to music, since many people from other places might not be familiar with them?

Serge: The songs are all story-based; each journey talks about the plight and encounters of the protagonists (Sennacherib, Ereshkigal, Shamesh, and others) in our own interpretations. We will shed more light on these stories throughout the album’s artwork and lyrics. Footnotes will be provided for further explanations.  

We stress on this by saying that all the lyrics are based on stories we read and reinterpreted in our own way to suit the music & the image of the band.
We are also using the themes to reflect on the modern and current issues of the world, as the reoccurrence of these subjects happen throughout the millennia.

Your last record is from 2014, which is a great piece of music titled ‘The Fallen’. Are you working on something new now?

Fadi: We released a single called The King single in 2015. Currently, we are finalizing our debut album ( the title is also ready), an update will be given in due time!

How do you guys work on new music, do you start with music or a concept and how does the process follow from there?

Ahmad: We throw ideas around, and once a riff is liked by all the members, we start working on it and adding our styles and influences. The lyrics are usually written after the structure of the song is done. We research a certain topic and elaborate on it.

In a couple of weeks, you guys get to open for Paradise Lost in Dubai. How excited are you guys about this how and how did you end up filling this slot?

Fadi: We were contacted by JoScene, them being the organizers & promoters of the show, to take our place on the bill with Paradise Lost.

Serge: We had the seize the opportunity. They are one of the bands we grew up with and that influenced us musically. It is going to be a surreal feeling and one we have been looking forwards to since day one, even before the conception of Aramaic!

I would like to ask you some questions about playing metal in the United Arab Emirates. For example, I’m very curious what it’s like to make metal music over there? It seems there is quite a scene going on actually. So I guess there might be quite some misconceptions about that, right?  

Michael: Metal in the UAE has been around for 2 + decades (probably unexpected) but there has always been a following. From school kids to the older generation. Being a religious country, some might think that it is forbidden or frowned upon. The government does not seem to be particularly bothered by the music as long as its lyrical content does not offend a particular group or have explicit content. We have had many international bands coming through Dubai to play gigs, most without any issues.

Bands that have passed though the UAE: Nile, Mayhem, Hate Eternal, Katatonia, Obscura, Defiled, Metallica, In Flames, Testament, Sepultura, Iron Maiden, Mastodon, Opeth, Motorhead, Fleshcrawl, Megadeth, Korn, Machine Head, Arch Enemy, Yngwie Malmsteen, Epica, Anathema, Insomnium, Vader and countless others.

Do you have all the facilities available, like access to music, instruments and rehearsal spaces? Are there venues especially for rock/metal shows and do you get foreign bands over?

Serge: In our day and age, Internet made music readily accessible and available. There are a few decent rehearsal spaces in Dubai that are equipped with good musical equipment at reasonable prices (for this city).

Fadi: Not too many venues that appreciate this type of music. We do manage to play at various venues that are equipped to handle the heavy music.

Do you have to deal with any sorts of misunderstanding with what you are doing? Is there any form of censorship or anything?

Fadi: As long as there is no offense against a religion or faith, or against the government. No preaching about the devil, then we are all free to do what we do, within reason.

So, a bit of a history question, how did the metal scene in your country get started? Who were the pioneers?

Serge: Spyne, Eskimo Disco and Abhorred (Serge’s own band, ed.) were the pioneers (started in 1997) soon came Nervecell and we all know who they are \m/!

Nervecell is probably as big as it gets  when it comes to death metal in the UAE. The band was the first ‘local’ group to play at Deser Rock Festival and is signed currently to Lifeforce Records. You should probably check them out (particularly their latest album) (Ed.).

Any bands from your part of the world that other people really should check out (and why of course)?

Serge: Kaoteon – Extreme Black Metal from Lebanon, it is powerful, malevolent & heavy music!

Fadi: Kimaera – Death Doom Metal from Lebanon, heavy riffs, good song writing, catchy and heavy tunes!

Michael: Ascendant – Power & Heavy Metal from UAE, a great bunch of musician with exquisite taste in music

Ahmad: Blaakyum – Coz heavy fucking metal \m/

What does the future hold for Aramaic?

Ahmad: Releasing the long-awaited Aramaic album in the near future. Of course, play gigs, and hopefully, tour Europe in summer 2018

Is there anything you would like to add that I forgot to ask?

Michael: Catch us Live on the 8th of September at the Music Room supporting the almighty Paradise Lost and on the 3rd of November (venue still unconfirmed) supporting the doom legends Saturnus.

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

Serge: Lasagna, its layers and layers of intense flavors soft, textured and velvety but certainly a deliciously heavy and intricate meal, full of spice.

 

Underground Sounds: Byrdi – Ansur: Urkraft

Label: Trollmusic
Band: Byrdi
Origin: Norway

There’s no huge audience for folk music. Not when we start talking about real, authentic folk music. Sure, we’ll love a bit of Wardruna thanks to the epic Vikings series. The Hollywood experience leaves the music in itself is largely misunderstood though. That’s a massive shame because people miss out on groups that really bring it the way the gentlemen from Byrdi do on their latest album Ansur: Urkraft.

Byrdi has been around for a bit now and this is the follow-up to their debut album Eventyr. On this record, they go deeper though, more intimate and personally they approach heathen folk of the forgotten ages. Digging deep into northern history and mysticism, the group produces an album that really fascinates and tantalizes the listener on a primal level.

Though its title may be funny, the harmonious singing on ‘Blaanane blaa’ serves as a gateway into the realm where Byrdi operates. Tempered, tribal drumming comes up in the background. While minimal, it’s effect is so heavy with the rumbling in your gut. The music doesn’t need any heaviness or density. The full, warm sound and smooth production allow for an optimal expression with just simple instruments and vocals. Sometimes that can sound a bit more boisterous and manly, like ‘Myrpesten’. At other times they sound intimate and melancholic, like on the visceral ‘Celebrata’. The bass tones and eerie atmosphere takes you away.

One thing that I find surprising is how easily the mood and emotions change with the songs of Byrdi. The directness of the songs really goes straight to something inside you, tugging the heartstrings so to say and evoking images of more archetype-like experiences. The way the gentle guitar picking on ‘Ren’ focuses the attention is just magical. When the vocals come in, you’re already in a trance-like state mentally. Byrdi has made an album that puts you in the heart of the forest, in the shadow of mountains and the cold stream of a river. The magic that inspired our forefathers to make their earliest folk art and songs. This record is pure magic.

Reading of Books #30

So here we go again with a series of brief book reviews. This time we have Jack Kerouac, Herman Melville, Alex Honnold & David Roberts and Andrea Wulf on the shelves. A series of brave, bold books

Jack Kerouac – The Dharma Bums

source: goodreads.com

Though Kerouac is mostly known for his ‘On The Road’. I personally felt more attracted to ‘The Dharma Bums’. Anyone with a love for rock climbing and hiking has to read it apparently. I think it would be good for anyone to read about a cleaner, greener America where there still was hope for a rucksack revolution. Replace America with a European state and the same story makes sense. The protagonist of this story is the Kerouac alter-ego, Ray Smith. Smith is a bum most of the time, traveling around with other poet friends, spreading the word of Buddha and trying to find enlightenment in a world that is rapidly changing into convenience, commodities, and capital-driven. It’s the last attempt at finding beauty in the untarnished nature and simple pleasures that life offers.

To me, most of the book revolves around the climb of a specific mountain, named the Matterhorn Peak in Yosemite. The ascent and descent of the mountain seem to form the pinnacle of the story. Here Smith finds absolute beauty and spiritual joy in the climbing and hiking. The simplicity of it all is the message and the book travels on like the descent is everything that comes after, just as everything before was part of the ascent. It’s at the peak where we find joy, where we are closest to the gods. The original intent behind this book might have passed me by.  Regardless, I believe in the rucksack revolution. I believe that we all should pack our bags and travel into nature, into the wild now and then to find our true selves and the simple beauty that is life. That to me tells that this book can still bring that spirituality to readers far in the future.

Alex Honnold en David Roberts – Alone on the Wall

source: goodreads.com

Alex Honnold has become something of a legend in recent years for free-soloing mountainsides. Free-soloing means going up there without a rope, just with climbing shoes and a chalk bag. That’s some hardcore stuff, so reading his first book is well worth your time regardless if you love climbing, know about climbing or are just fascinated. Though hardly a biography, the book offers a glimpse into the mind of a man who climbs with the ultimate risk and still earned the nickname Alex ‘No Big Deal’ Honnold. The book follows him through a series of expeditions and extreme climbs that were undertaken during his career.

We get a glimpse into the person that is Honnold, from his own perspective and from people around him. It’s weird that Roberts manages to pull out a lot of really personal stuff out of the climber. An example is Honnold’s relationship in the past that seems to really have been an emotional rollercoaster at times, without every bearing the man’s soul to the world. The explanation is simple. Honnold, like an artist, shows his soul when he climbs the big walls. When he speaks of climbing it’s not super exciting, it’s his action that is that of a true poet and monk at the same time. The spirituality of climbing you glance from his eyes in some of the videos and interviews, but rarely from his words and that is perfectly fine.

Herman Melville – Bartleby the Scrivener

source: goodreads.com

“I prefer not to” is what Bartleby responds to his boss and benefactor when he is asked to review his work. Bartleby is a scrivener, basically a copyist in the era when duplication of documents was work by hand. The simple, though not forceful, negation holds a message for today. Melville wrote this in protest, in frustration about the lack of success of his writing, but it’s that voice of dissent that still rings true today. I read this on the airplane, coming home to a situation I was not entirely happy within the work sphere. The simple story in this book felt strangely powerful.

So Bartleby refuses to do work that doesn’t appear to him. He starts negating more and more and protests in an almost Buddhist-like non-action way. This inevitably leads to his death in the end of this strange story. The simple words keep ringing: “I prefer not to”. Melville wrote a story worth reading, even if only consisting of 50 pages. It has a power of its own, like any good short story and should be read more widely.

Andrea Wulf – The Invention of Nature

Source: goodreads.com

It is a strange thing, the way time obscures certain people. Andrea Wulf illuminates the figure of Alexander Von Humboldt in this biography, an explorer, scientist and thinker of the 18th and 19th century with a profound effect on the way we think and look at nature. Wulf names him in the title already the forgotten hero of science and nothing seems to fit better than this. The book follows the life of Von Humboldt in all its imperfections, creating storylines that sometimes overlap and revisit each other. It reads like one of those adventure novels I loved to read when I was a little boy and Von Humboldt soon becomes your hero when you’re reading these pages. Through it all, the figure takes shape and form and becomes real to the reader.

But Wulf does more than just telling the story. She also explores the how and why of Von Humboldt’s emission from our history books took place. After connecting his work and influence to some of the most pivotal thinkers of their time, from Charles Darwin to Símon Bolivar, she explains that part. Germany has lost a lot of popularity due to the two world wars in the 20th century and this simply lead to omitting the German from street signs, libraries and the like. Only in South-America, his name seems to be as revered as it was back in the day. This is a huge shame, but it is the way of things. Thanks to Andrea Wulf this great man of the sciences, arts and the inventor of nature as we know it now has the biography that brings him back to us.

Underground Sounds: Botanist – Collective: The Shape of He to Come

Label: Avantgarde Music
Band: Botanist
Origin: United States / The Verdant Realm

Harmonious collective in the Verdant realm of Botanist

The group Botanist really functions as a group on this brand new album, which feels very different to their earlier efforts. A year after the split with Oskoreien, we step away from the numbered series of albums to create something new in the form of Collective: The Shape of He to Come. 

Though Botanist is currently touring (and I’ll be seeing them play in a week in Eindhoven’s very own Dynamo), they will not be playing songs from this record, because the band is not the same as the one that made this record. Particularly the singing of Bezaelith is key to these songs, but she’s not touring with the band.

On this record, Otrebor has shared writing responsibilities with the other members. This makes the album a more layered construction, with new aspects and more of a complete vibe. When an album is created by a solo-artist, it somehow always has a little bit of that solitary vision in its execution. The album has more now, more musicality, more wanderings down untrodden garden paths… It’s an exciting, fresh new sound. If you like to read more about that process, which so clearly shapes the sound, read about it here.

The sound of that hammered dulcimer completely enthralls me. The hitting feels firm, but also mellow to the ear, taking off the sharp edge of black metal riffing. Botanist sounds unique because of that. It can create heavy, percussive black metal, but obviously also classical sounding, melancholic music. That is immediately clear on opener ‘Praise Azalea the Adversary’, with its gentle intro. The gentle, shivery vocals on the first part of ‘The Shape of He to Come’ also are so different, but filled with the fragile beauty of nature in its very own way.

The music blossoms as one could say, slowly unfolding. Tones grow together like an unkept garden, they merge together and weave green tapestries of sound with that mournful singing in harmony. A great example is ‘Upon Veltheim’s Throne Shall I Wait’, where everything gathers in a steady stream.

So there’s always a lot of subtlety to the music of Botanist, it doesn’t hit you in the face with force, but overgrows you gradually.  Subtle bass loops, spun out soundscapes, this record lacks every aspect of brutality and that is in fact perfectly fine. On ‘Join the Continuum’ there’s even some straight up folk music, with ladies chanting melancholic, yearning words. Most imposing track is the epic ‘The Reconciliation of Nature and Man’. An epic, rumbling track, where the percussionist elements really are the source of the feeling in your gut. Everything about this record just oozes that different method and plan behind it. Otrebor definitely holds it close to the tradition of Botanist, but this record explores new sounds and expressions. It’s a great trip and I am really looking forward to hearing this live.

Underground Sounds: Der Weg Einer Freiheit – Finisterre

Label: Seasons of Mist
Band: Der Weg Einer Freiheit
Label: Seasons of Mist

Goodbye, Cruel World with Der Weg Einer Freiheit

Der Weg Einer Freiheit offers the world a new taste of their dominating black metal skills with ‘Finisterre’.  Only two years after ‘Stellar’ the group from Würzburg is back with an absolute gem.  The solid core of the band is still Nikita Kamprad, but with some member changes, it seems that the group is gently shifting direction.

Though the sound seems to evolve in the expected trajectory, the album art is different on this record. For the first time, we see some more traditional black metal symbols adorning the cover of ‘Finisterre’. In one interview, Kamprad proclaimed that this record is their goodbye to the world as we know it.  A line in the sand, a point of saying that we have to start over instead of continuing along this line.

I’ve written about Der Weg Einer Freiheit before on this site. I have to admit that I find both listening to and writing about this band daunting. Not because I think there is anything obstructive, I just think that they’re that good. There’s something so immense to the sound of these Germans. Listen to opener ‘Aufbruch’ with is monumental drum work and eerie, out of space guitars. Launching into a ferocious machine gun drum roll at the end the song finishes in a majestic show of force.

As said, ‘Stellar’ was much more spiritual, so ‘Finisterre’ brings us back to the ground. The sound of the album is much more earthy, solid and strong. A mixture between Endstille and Wolves in the Throne room would be a fitting way to describe this band, but it lacks the nuances to fully embrace them. It is telling on a track like ‘Ein letzter Tanz’, where the mournful melody merges with the sheer inferno of a scouring verdict, of our times as the nadir of civilization. Never afraid to implement lessons from modern black metal, a calm, soothing break occurs as well after which the abyss fully opens seven minutes into the song.

As if that was not severe enough, the two part ‘Skepsis’ follows with a climactic explosion. The sound sweeps you along in all its dramatic splendor, only to be repeated one more time on the finalizing title track. There’s hints to the more melodic, blackgaze or post-black metal sound here and there, which is perfectly fine. The music needs to convey grief. The sound truly holds a sense of finiteness. Slowly the cavernous riffing fades away into nothingness.

Underground Sounds: Laiva – Laiva EP

Label: Independent
Band: Laiva
Origin: United States

The waves, the sea, the Balts

I came across this band from Seattle, because they use Latvian titles and themes for their shoegaze. Maybe a connection exists, but information is scarce on this group. What I can tell you is that they make great music. Music that overwhelms you with its calm cadence and free-flowing stream of the guitar.

The band appears to be part of the ‘dreamgaze’ scene in their neck of the woods. The band has been praised in announcements for their live shows, but more I can not say at t his point.

We hear the sound of the sea on ‘Pūt Vējiņi’, which has a sung intro performed by Edmunds and Valentine Rekevics in San Diego. The title means ‘Blow Wind’, which is a Latvian folk song. I’m not sure if the couple is part of the band or simply Latvian migrants that recorded their beloved songs. It offers a contemplative opening to this record with the beautiful song reverberating in my ears.

The band truly has an oceanic quality to them, completely submerging the listener in waves of tranquil guitar play. Wavery, warm sounds wash over you on ‘Come Now’, that beckons you to join in the water with its alluring, hazy sound. The flow keeps a steady pace, but never is it rushed. Vocals are used sparsely and even then they are hard to hear in the middle of the complete current of the music. On ‘Sea Legs’ we get a few changes, where the sound becomes a gentle trickling guitar for a moment before a complete haze overwhelms you again.

The EP is a beautiful record that feels like a whole that stretches on a bit much. Call it shoegaze or postrock, it has something haunting. It offers a feeling of swimming in the ocean. Completely submerging in the massive sound.