Label: Season of Mist Underground Activists
Mystifier is one of the originals, one of the first bands to play what we now call black metal in their very own, distinct way. All the way in Brazil nonetheless, a country known for its vibrant extreme metal scene. Never shy to voice their opinions, the band took an anti-right stance in their early days and not much has changed in any part of their approach, ethically and musically.
For the last 18 years, however, Mystifier was quiet on the creative front. A box set and compilation were released, but their fifth full length took a long time to make. ‘Protogoni Mavri Magiki Dynasteia’ is finally here and offers those who love traditional black/death metal a tasty slice. Under the guidance of founding member Beelzeebubth, the band is going to war again. I saw them play in Tilburg, they were awesome! I have to mention Paolo Girardi, the legendary album cover producer. He made a piece that captures the cavernous, occult nature of the album very well.
The opening title track has something very remarkable to mention and that’s guest vocals from Proscriptor McGovern from Absu and Jim Mutilator from Rotting Christ. The second has not done much music in… forever. It leads to a dark invocation, with slow music and a fantastic vocal interplay. ‘Weighing Heart Symphony’ stays in the mumbling, ceremonial vibe, but also blasts some waves of tremolo guitar work in between the theatric interactions in the dark cave of Mystifier’s music. Melodic parts bounce off the walls with a lot of reverb as rackety vocals resound. I love how the vocals create this weird atmosphere and otherworldliness. Take ‘ Witching Lycanthropic Moon’, where the unearthly rasps and ambient sounds make you feel to have landed in an evil world, with a gibbering moon.
There’s definitely a sense of barbarism to the record, where the drums, bass, and guitars are purposely pronounced. At times, they hardly seem to work together in weaving the songs and go in their own ways. As the vocals and bass go into a doomy break on ‘Six Towers of Belial’s Path’, drums are like an anxious reminder of speed and intensity just there. But that’s exactly what works so well for Mystifier, their approach to black metal is almost tribal, expressionistic and I would argue a kind of storytelling. Rarely do they simply blast you with riffs, but heavy metal licks spruce up the flavor of the whole instead. The pace may be slow on tracks such as ‘Demoler Las Torres Del Cielo’, the explosive force of demonic winds is just one breath away it seems as the band launches into brief salvo’s throughout the song.
As the album comes to a close, you get pummeled around the head by ‘Al Nakba (666 Days of War)’. Sure, there’s a tasty guitar lick, but most is repetitive violence. The title shares some political engagement with the Palestinian cause, but it’s also a damn good track. Similarly, the feisty ‘Chiesa Dei Bambini Molesta’ is a piece of force and that means the album ends on a high note. Let these Brazilians not take too long for their next offering!
Label: Tartarus Records
Band: Grey Aura
Grey Aura kind of dazzled me with their first release, which I reviewed for Echoes & Dust. The record series is based on a book, created by singer Ruben Wijlacker’s novel De Protodood in Zwarte Haren (The Proto-dead in Black Hair). The records are full of references to cultural pillars like Malevich, the De Stijl movement and this time in title with ‘ 2: De Bezwijkende Deugd’ also Gustave Flaubert.
Label: Iron Bonehead Records
Band: Pa Vesh En
Pa Vesh En has been remarkably busy in 2018, releasing a demo, an EP and a split record. Now the mysterious entity adds the full-length ‘Church of Bones’ to the mix, which is a dark and lugubrious record full of unholy black metal in the darkest form.
Hailing from Belarus is a fact that simply adds to the charm and aura of darkness surrounding this grim sounding act. The title is an obvious reference to the Ossuary, the underground places filled with bones and remnants of the deceased. Something that today fills us with horror and dread, but what once was simply a practical solution to an issue of space.
You’d think the mood would be sunnier on the Côte d’Azur in France, but Woest is a band which sounds particularly dark. Hailing from Marseille, the trio, takes their honey from the likes of Mysticum, Blacklodge and Aborym. Yet they sound like their very own type of beast on latest release ‘Le Grouffe’. That translates as ‘The Abyss’ by the way.
Woest has been around since 2016 and has been quite prolific with two released this far. Both sound dense and oppressive, but definitely strong. Their main pitfall might be that they sing in French, yet by supplying English lyrics they kind of tackle that issue and judging by this release, that should be no issue. It’s an absolute killer record, unique sounding and particularly distinctive in this day and age.
The intro ‘Éveil’ is a peculiar reminder of the Mayhem classic as this martial ambient track. It shows a little of what direction Woest has turned to on their new album. And that is a direction that is more industrial, more direct and punishing as is instantly clear on title track ‘Le Gouffre’. The drumming is crushing, pneumatic and reminds me a bit of the Mysticum live shows. Absolutely terrific, as are the joint chants.
Yet, songs like ‘Ô vide éternel’ also have that hatchet, militant sound of the later Satyricon. Threatening, but not in a figurative sense. It’s close, in your face in all intensity. At the same time, there’s so much happening. It’s an exciting narrative on ‘À la gloire de l’immonde’ with interactive vocals, intensifying rhythms and an overall sense of grandeur. The computerized drums have to be something you can get behind though, it has to be said. If you’re a sucker for the traditional bashing, you’ll likely enjoy ‘Spasme de haine’ slightly less. We move onwards to the ‘Tous restera carbone’ and ‘Vagues de Styx’, which carry a steady pace and even mellow sound due to the synths. The vocals are ghoulish, but very in opposition to the haggard emulation of a string section. his is hardly extreme, yet it’s a singular point of rest in an otherwise intense album.
Woest does something remarkable in a stale scene with ‘Le Grouffe’. You should probably listen to it.
Previously, Crimson Throne released an EP focused on Hegelian philosophy and history, but on ‘Of Void and Solitude’, we focus on human suffering and, as the title may suggest, the futility of it all. This is done by setting of a freight train of intensity down a hillside, rolling towards inevitable doom with harsh, fierce black metal.
Label: Ván Records
Band: Our Survival Depends On Us
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’.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Label: Tour de Garde
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!
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!