Category Archives: Review

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.

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.

 

Underground Sounds: Iluntze – Antzinako Oihartzunak

Label: Darkwoods
Band: Iluntze
Origin: Spain (Basque Country)

Illuntze is a Basque black metal band, densely atmospheric and enriched with folky textures. ‘Antzinako Oihartzunak’ is the second demo by the band, released with a medieval-referring cover, featuring 6 haunting songs.

Sole member Synder is a member of the mysterious Ignis Fatuus Collective, which connects Illuntze to bands like Sepulchral, Arvalastra and Aehrebelsethe. Synder is currently staying in Vilnius, Lithuania. One of my favorite places in the world.

Iluntze immediately grabs the imagination on ‘Itziarren Semea’, with the odd folky texture, that at times, musically, resembles the work Peste Noire delivered in recent times. The traditional sounds and ramshackle black metal combine into a peculiar, migratory experience to the Basque origins int he music. Listen to the passionate intro of ‘Suaren Garrasia’ for example, to hear something very different than the rustic, static Scandinavian sound.

The jangling sound is unnerving and rather peculiar but also carries a power. The songs like ‘Goiztiri’ hit hard with that high-pitched tremolo riffing and edgy delivery. Razor-sharp to the point of painful. From the lo-fi quality to the ragged riffs, the whole record sticks to you with its mysterious uniqueness, much like the language used for the lyrics that simply eludes me at any turn. A great second outlet by Iluntze and I can’t wait for a full-length!

Underground Sounds: Himelvaruwe – Hemelpoort

Label: Self-released
Band: Himelvaruwe
Origin: The Netherlands

Himelvaruwe is a Dutch band that has been around, releasing surprising material, over the past few years. ‘Hemelpoort’ follows in the wake of numerous EP’s and demo’s, shaping the sound to this piece of work, that captures what the project is all about.

The mastermind of the band is Tjalling Jansen, who under various monikers releases music as Ancient Morass, Kaffaljidhma, Mirre, Olxane and, thus, as Himelvaruwe. It’s a particular project with a distinctly noisy/ambient sound, setting it apart. As the title translates as a gate of heaven, the keys depicted on the cover are a quite obvious reference.

Droning, doomy church bells open up the record with ‘Aanvang’. The sound captures some horrendous, abysmal voice, but never quite clarifies its reality as we roll into ‘Morgenster’. Crushing static is crackling in the speakers as a slow, mournful dirge unfolds. In a strange way, the sound distorts and muddles so much that the origin is impossible to determine and an aura of sheer mysticism is evoked.

By the point of ‘Onderwerping’, you’ve entered a state of mind, that is completely immersed in the music. The crackle of distortion and slow melodies become a warm bath. You submerge in a cloudy realm, very different to the one we normally inhabit. Ethereal chanting emerges from that fog, as the rhythm continues like a demented train with metallic clanging and hammering. It is there, you reached the ‘Hemelpoort’ as the album slowly falls apart into an exit tune after this long ascend.

Himelvaruwe does something exceptional on this album, both with the sound and the whole of the listening experience. I recommend putting it on, turning it up and submerging in it.

Underground Sounds: Akitsa – Credo

Band: Akitsa
Label: Tour de Garde
Origin: Canada

Akitsa is considered a controversial band by some. Now, I’m really not going into that whole debate nor do I want to separate art and artist, but ‘Credo’ is simply a record that can not be denied. It’s a tour of force that rekindles the flames of what it means to create black metal, what it means to stand in defiance.

The band is part of the Quebec metal scene, hailing from Montréal, which has been rapidly gaining attention thanks to its barren, cold sound and primitive aesthetics. Band leader O.T. is also known as owner and founder of the Tour de Garde label. Het notably also sang on a Kickback album, which is pretty badass in itself. But those punk aesthetics carry deeper than that.

‘Siècle Pastoral’ has that nerve-rending buzzsaw guitar, which keeps grinding down with chilling effect. Choral singing finds harmony with that noisy sound and we’ve launched fully into the almost 10-min opening track of ‘Credo’. Slow, creepy and eerie, this is the Darkthrone-ish sound you got to love as a black metal fan. My favorite track though is ‘Voies Cataclismiques’. The bleak buzzsaw, choppy rhythm and primitive force of the song are just pure excitement and raw energy. This is pure black metal warfare, but at times it feels almost joyous in its bouncy rhythm. I don’t want to say it, but it does make you move.

The gritty, distorted sound is one of the key features of this record. Dissonant, gnashing riffs are all over the album, like on ‘Le Monde Et Ma Bile’ and ‘Espoir Vassal’. Here we really pick up the pace with some shuddering blast-beat rhythms and a surging, blurry sound. The commanding, barked vocals seem to almost disconnect from the dense structure, but the train ride remains intact and keeps barreling on in its unrelenting fury on ‘Vestiges Fortifiés’.

We say goodbye to this record of destructive, cornerstone black metal with the title track. Akitsa definitely puts their own flavor in the mix here, but it all returns to the roots of the genre. Furious, distorted music, grim sounding and icy cold, but with an atmosphere and vibe that is undeniable. It’s music for the opposition, for otherness and anger. That’s ‘Credo’, start to finish.