Category Archives: Review

Underground Sounds: Waldgeflüster – Ruinen

Label: Nordvis Produktion / Bindrune Recordings
Band: Waldgeflüster
Origin: Germany

Waldgeflüster translates as the whispering in the forest. The word translates literally as an ancient forest, shaped by nature instead of man. At least when I look at it through Dutch. I might be filling in things here, but there’s something about the music of this German group that seems to evoke the feeling of the ancient forests in their native Bavaria.

So, ‘forest whispers’, a band that has been around since 2005, has released their fourth album titled ‘Ruinen’. The band got in my sights thanks to their collaboration on a split with Panopticon. The music of both acts evokes a strong sense of losing touch with the world and looking to nature for some sort of answers. The lyrics of Winterherz, bandleader of Waldgeflüster, in that way touch me as well:

I am part of your world but I cannot live in the here and now
I want to wander freely through my woods and I shall still carry all of my burden – ‘Weltenwanderer’

It’s in mournful tones that the band speaks of this duality, the world we live in and the world we are drawn towards. Though sometimes the music can be harsh and ragged like the dark tree tops that cast shadows downwards, it’s the melodic passages that are the part of Waldgeflüsters music that really captivate the listener. There’s a moment of freedom in those forest worshiping tones.

In that sense the record becomes quiete accesible, thanks to the many clean vocal parts with clearly articulated lyrics. Violins enrich the sound even further, giving it that particular folkish feeling. The sound of the band is rich, also thanks to a couple of guest musicians. In a way the clean production also reminds you of Equilibrium. Not that they sound so similar, but the feeling of the German bands seems to connect somewhere. The songs are notably long by the way, but that doesn’t mean the sound is stretched out over the minutes. For example, the song ‘Graustofen Novembertage’ takes a few seconds to fully get to speed. It does offer enough variation to keep you listening, but so does the whole album of organic folk black metal.

A particularly beautiful part is the outro to the album, titled ‘Susitaival’. A calm and flowing folk tune, with a nice bass punch. It shows you that foundations of the sound this band has.

Underground Sounds: Saor – Guardians

Label: Northern Silence Productions
Band: Saor
Origin: Scotland

Black metal has shown many new outings, exploring new sounds and forms of expression. Some come up with strange avant-garde outings, others go in more conservative directions. Adding folk to metal is a risky pick though, but Saor has been pulling it of for quite some time now. It’s a fine line to walk, not to let either side really take over or become a washed down version .

Back in 2014 I wrote a bit about Saor’s previous album, titled ‘Aura’. A real experience with all the good Celtic metal has to offer. Saor is still Andy Marshall on this album, with a bunch of incredible guest musicians. Where ‘Aura’ was a haunting experience of the foggy hills of the Scottish realm, ‘Guardians’ shows a slight change in direction. Marshall was also active in Falloch, but where that project just doesn’t hit me as much, Saor is the truely convincing output of this gentleman. Oh, he also just started Fuath, which you can read about here.

By this I by no means am traying to say that this is a bad turn. On the recently released ‘Guardians’, we hear more of the roots of the band. The folk aspect is more outspoken, more in your face as a listener. By this I don’t mean that the songs are more like jigs, but the instruments have a more pronounced position in the compositions, they’re simply much more identifiable and on their own. This is the instant greeting on title track ‘Guardians’ by proud bagpipes.

Never does the record sound boisterous, but it does have a sense of pride in its warm majestic sounds. ‘The Declaration’ is a praise of liberty and independence, delivered with grace and love for the land. Gentle passages offer respite until the guitars soar once more and rumbling drums offer a heavy under current.

There’s something splendidly sincere about this album, it’s thicktapestries of sound, but most of all the moments where it dresses down and speaks more directly. Often with one instrument taking the voice for a few lines, leaving the music to do the talking. The vocals are sparse but meaningful, but it’s those passages, like the final part of ‘Tears of a Nation’ that really do it for me. Saor is a project made with a lot of love for something Scottish, something pure and maybe  even conceptual. This makes the music as direct and pure as that. Lovely.

 

Underground Sounds: Arx Atrata – Spiritus in Terra

Label: self released/bandcamp
Band: Arx Atrata
Origin: United Kingdom

It’s strange how sometimes you instantly hear that a band is from the UK. I’m finding that this is in the black metal realm a very distinguished sound. Clean, nature oriented (or that’s my personal reception of it) and with little regard for the grim traditions. The same goes for Arx Atrata, who released a rather gorgeous record with ‘Spiritus in Terra’.

Arx Atrata is a one man band, from a guy named Ben Sizer. If the artwork and font used on the record didn’t give it away yet, maybe the song title ‘Sherwood’ tipped you of. The sound is very clean, stripped of a lot of distortion to create a more harmonious, pleasant feel to the music. Not too pleasant though.

Meandering between the warm atmosphere of ColdWorld and the organic, Brittish sound of a Fen or Winterfylleth, Arx Atrata is evoking feelings of a mystical past. Inspiration clearly is from nature, if only from the coverimages. The origin of Notthingham of the band doesn’t shine through, but with a song like ‘Sherwood’ its surrounding woodland sure does.

The single string sounds of the guitar are very distinguishable in the sound of the band, but so are the keys. When either are used, they are the most prominent part of the sound. The tormented screams of Sizer fit right in with the sound, that is higly melodic with a touch of melancholy. The guitars sound feverish, nervous and never at ease, but then there’sthe keys like drops of water in a moonlit pond.

Take away the distortion, the grimness and satan stuff and you end up with pretty much this record. It feels like a reverie of that mysterious past, of history that is lost and felt keenly. It’s about that green realm in which we love to dwell. The harmonious balance, the blistering drums like hail in autumn and that dense oppressive feeling of autumn coming on. Contemplative and rich, it’s the record you should hear right now.

Underground Sounds: Botanist/Oskoreien – Green Metal / Deterministic Chaos

Label: Avantgarde Music
Band: Botanist / Oskoreien
Origin: United States (both)

The band Botanist is a one man metal project, that steers black metal into the realm of plant life. The apt name for that side of the split is not without reason ‘Green Metal’. The sound of Botanist has captivated me, even more after seeing them perform life on Roadburn. It’s vibrant, unrelentingly different and in its own sphere of existence. It’s use of instruments is also peculiar, mainly the use of a hammered dulcimer. I love entering that verdant realm of Roberto Martinelli aka Otrebor.

Oskoreien is less familiar to me, but the band has their roots in viking metal. This is also a one man band. Jay Valena has more moved towards black metal with a slightly philosophical theme to it. The two tracks of Oskoreien are under the title ‘Deterministic Chaos’. I’m a bit puzzled why these two artists have come together, but it makes sense soundwise and lets be honest, both are fairly strange acts in a league of their own.

a0354701907_16
Oskoreien version of the cover

The tracks of Botanist are marked by a peculiarly frantic percussion and lack of the blazing guitars. The harsh barked vocals are in sharp contrast with the often harmonious and very beautiful tones. It’s a bit like drifting through Wonderland, where a mad plant-man starts barking at you in the midst of the green overgrowth. It’s rare to use the word vibrant for black metal, but the blissful tones of ‘Varkoor’ evoke no other feelings.  The epic lyrics describe plants and their reproduction in grand terms, like ‘Clathrus Columnatus’: “Lord of the flies, In pilgrimage they come, To its altar of slime, Gathering its children, Spores to arise anew”. 

The final track by Botanist is an almost shoegaze affair, where only the vocals stand as the extreme metal element.’Saprophyte’ fades into another track, where that weird, hammering percussion is again on the forefront. This playful, lively sound is in sharp contrast with the noisy, distortion laden sound that Oskoreien delivers, including some big riffs by the way, to keep the rock element high. Droning, gritty sounds with melancholic guitars woven through is what you hear on the title track ‘Deterministic Chaos’. Though it feels black metal, it has a sludge/drone sound going for it that is so utterly bleak that the harsh vocals are all that gives life to the tune.

The most surprising track is the Placebo cover by Oskoreien. It’s like a long stretched, doom-gloom version of the track with tormented howls instead of the nasal Brian Molko. An improvement many would say, but what an unearthly emptiness does Oskoreien invoke with their cold soundscapes. Harrowing and haunting, combined with those tracks by Botanist, this makes for an excellent record exploring the far of realms of black metal.

Underground Sounds: Nubiferous – Primeval Forest Hymns

Label: Black Mara
Band: Nubiferous
Origin: Russia

Nubiferous is no novice act in the ambient/folk soundscape realm and produces a sound that is akin to other acts in the Black Mara stable. It blends the elements together to create an almost soundtracky/filmic experience for the listener.  The origin of the act is the Russian town of Pyatigorsk and the man behind it seems to be called Andrey.

‘Primeval Forest Hymns’ looks like a book and I guess apart from my film comparison, that is pretty much a great way to depict and present something that has so many different stories to tell. So time to get into this I suppose.

This album opens in the most annoying way possible, by the approaching sound of a moskito as if it’s right in your ear. Luckily that immediately shifts to horns and a tribal rhythm. Obviously there’s a lot of that traditional folk with blaring horns and the rhytmic drumming, but the most fascinating part is how natural sounds are blended in together with the music. For example ‘Ridge of Fiery Owls’, where traditional instruments and birds form the sound together.

The connecting of the two worlds of nature and culture feels like a step back into the forest, a movement from one towards the other. The trickling of water, the chiming of bells, the sound of the forest and gentle toms, it’s all in harmony, melting together in the clean, pleasant mix. Sometimes a folk melody emerges, but more often, like on ‘Old Forest Cult \ Rise of Shadethicket Beast’, the nature elements are the most present. Sometimes the sound is eastern, sometimes very Slavic, but it always feels so natural and unrestrained.

It’s a record full of beauty, poetry and harmony and you should just let yourself be engulfed by it, like nature encroaches upon the musician.

Underground Sounds: Khemmis – Hunted

Label: 20 Buck Spin/Graven Earth Records
Band: Kemmis
Origin: United States

In an earlier write-up, back when I put four reviews in one piece, I embraced Khemmis. Their silk-smooth adaptation of classic doom, inlcuding the ‘Heavy metal’-esque artwork, was completely captivating to me. The female warrior is gone, but the foreboding wizard is still there on the cover, spurring undead hordes on for battle it seems.

Khemmis, as a reminder, hails from Denver, and this is their second full length. I’m completely baffled that they haven’t been getting as big yet as I believe they should be, but the four gents definitely got some boost after their debut ‘Absolution’. The sound of the band hasn’t changed that much in the mean time, though the heavy, dreary sound that reminded me of St. Vitus has switched gears a little.

There is still a mournful tone to the sound of Khemmis (and some deep guttural barking, if we listen to ‘Candlelight’), but the biting twang of the previous record seems to have taken the back seat. ‘Above The Water’ is instantly a more meandering, melodic track. Sure, the band leans heavy on the slow progressions, insepparable from their doomy sound, but they are really telling stories now.

We get even more down and dirty on ‘Three Gates’, where the hoarse roar of the vocalist (I know they have two, just don’t know who the grunter is) opens up the song. Exchanging the grunts with clean, soaring vocals is an emocore trick, but works great on doom as well. Shifting gears and intensity, the band makes great, captivating tracks by not caring for any standards. That makes Khemmis so liberating to listen to. You forget what genre they play or become more aware of the futility of its rules. These guys make an epic bit of music, by not giving a flying fig.

The brutal parts, the catchy passages on ‘Hunted’, it is all part of what Khemmis does. Grand doom with all the tasty sauce to make you absolutely love it and crave more.

Underground Sounds: Zaum – Eidolon

Label: I Hate
Band: Zaum
Origin: Canada

I saw Zaum play once in an obscure basement in Tilburg. The air was choking thanks to an uncanny cigarette smell and the location was ill fitted for the band that was playing. Still, Zaum was convincing and crushing thanks to their transcendental doom sound, that just takes you to another place.

Where previous album ‘Oracles’ spoke of places like the Red Sea and Parthia, also showing a desert landscape and a foreboding city on a cliff near the sea, this one takes us further into the middle-east (though the cover made me think of Maya/Inca society). The cover is a tell tale sign with Zaum where they may take you on their hypnotic journey. The title ‘Eidolon’ refers to an apparition of a spirit like being, something you’ll find in the Djinn haunted Assyria plenty

Still, their oriental favors are clear from the title ‘Influence of the Magi’. Magi traditionally refers to Zoroastrianism, but the lyrics make clear we are now in Assyria. After an almost religious chanting, the voices shift to more unearthly sounds. Everything becomes more foreboding, even before that first, threatening riff is layed down. It takes a while for the chanting to be substituted by crushing, slowly cascading riffs and hypnotic vocals. 21 minutes both tracks last, but they are epic journeys, that make you hallucinate slightly, tripping through the mysterious past.

There’s those oriental themes in the music, also thanks to the use of a sitar. That helps with the atmosphere, which is layed down thickly on ‘The Enlightenment’. The song is, as I sort of wanted to say earlier, a transcendental experience of mysterious atmosphere and tones and a playful expression with rare bursts of guitar work. Zaum brings the listener into a trance on this majestic track. When the band really hits it off, it is monumental. Crushing drums and that typical heavy, solid experience. Though I loved their previous record, this really takes the cake. I can listen to this forever.

 

Underground Sounds: Mrako-Su – Путь В Белое

Label: Black Mara
Band: Mrako-Su
Origin: Russia

Black Mara is a Russian label from Novosibirsk that has been releasing great records for a while now. The genre they fit into is dark ambient and Mrako-Su is their latest production. An ambient record that takes us far from the daily life that we embrace in our modern society.

Behind Mrako-Su is an entity known as Twilight or The Twilight (translation may not be perfect). A sjamanic explorer who retreats far into the forest on ‘Путь В Белое’. Inspiration is drawn from Chinese flute music to funeral doom metal , the music is a blend of strange, dreamy sounds.

The tones that you hear on the opening track are bells in the wind, blaring drones and unearthly vocals. This is the sounds you hear in the night, when you magnify your senses and fully embrace your surroundings. It’s the mind working on full energy in the darkest part of the forest, creating a forceful experience for the listener.

But the sound can also be harrowing and rather unpleasant, like the sharp sounds on ‘Чёрная Зима’, which is like standing next to a horrible machine. There’s a lot of dissonant, eerie sounds on the record, that seems to traverse from song to song to darker realms than before. The endless repetition puts the listener in a trance that doesn’t easily subside.

All in all this record has a more grimmer approach to the sjamanistic experience. Screeching sounds, buzzing drones and an almost unearthly experience await you. This makes sense, looking at the description with the record. It’s an escapist record, mournful about the loss of human nature and thus trying to cling on to it by recording it. It’s a record that will move the listener and maybe help you look at the green world differently and with more respect.

Underground Sounds: Sangre de Muerdago – Os Segredos da Raposa Vermella

Label:Neuropa Records/Música Máxica
Band: Sangre De Muerdago
Origin: Spain

When I read of the origin of this band, I had to look it up. Though I’ve heard of Gallicia, I never really knew where it was. Now, it is that strange corner of Spain north of Portugal, where legends roam. It’s a land that is green and filled with rivers, haunted by myths and legends and very ancient. No wonder that this band speaks about that.

Sangre De Muerdago is a forest folk group, as they describe it. Which means that their inspiration is nature and the little stories derived from it. The words are in Gallician, which is closer to Portuguese and the music is traditional and in its own way ancient and primitive. Primitive I would normally use for rough, unsophisticated music, but in this case I mean something different, I mean its voice, its timbre and all over harmonious, natural vibe.

Oh, and they like Motörhead. This album tells a story of a fox, which you can find out about all by yourselves. The music is a swirling collaboration of acoustic instruments, that weave together this story. It tells of old tales, the forests and hills, of men gathered around the fire or under the moon to make music (and women, obviously). The thrumming of the bodhran and the continuous flow of the hurdy-gurdy are excellend instruments to create the atmosphere of a forlorn age. Continuously pumping out sounds, while a bouzouki is played and other traditional elements come to play.

The record is a mixture of traditionals from Galicia and Bretagne. Also the work of folk band Milladoiro is used, for example the swooning ‘Agullas de Agarimo’, with its harder tones and dancable energy. Different is the fragile ‘An Dro’, which meanders through an eerie forest in the early morning, when the lush green is still moist and awakening. It’s music that takes you away from the concrete jungle, to a place more simple and easy. It may just be a small taste of the Gallician group Sangre De Muerdago, but offers a wide array of folkish enjoyment.

Underground Sounds: Martröð – Transmutation of Wounds

Label: Fallen Empire Records, Terratur Possessions
Band: Martröð
Origin: Iceland, United States, France, Italy

So, as a fan of the genre, I have to get in on Martröð. I think it’s a great record. Not phenomenal, but definitely great, if only for the way this has come together and how the result combines the strenghths of the partaking artists. But it is always tricky finding that right blend. For example, I really like baklava and fish & chips, but chucking it together might not work out as great as you think. There might be a secret combination, but finding it is hard, even more so with five artists.

So we take Wrest (Leviathan) and A.P. (Chaos Moon, Krieg) and add Thorns from Italy (Blut Aus Nord) and H.V Lyngdal (Wormlust), D.G.(Misþyrming) from Iceland. Finally MkM from France (Antaeus) takes on the vocals. The full resumé of these gentlemen I’ll leave out, it’ll take too much. The trick is how to put all of that together, over distances nonetheles, without starting to sound ‘a bit like everything’. Well, in that respect I have no answers, just that they did it wonderfully.

So what you get feels a lot like a cooking experiment, where everything is put in a big cauldron, where it starts to swirl around into a chaotic stream of dissonant noise and unholy sounds. ‘Draumleiðsla’ opens with blaring horns and a lot of strange bells, alerting the listener that something wicked this way comes. The track unfolds as a nightmarish, spiralling descent with bellowing vocals guiding you in your downward swirl. All obliterating chaos.

‘Draumleysa’ feels more static, more straight forward, instead of circular. The heavy drums suggest a marching beat, while the guitars create eery arches above on higher tones. With an enthrancing rhythm, this is one hellish track to go down with, mainly thanks to the irregular drums, that pound as hard as you could imagine. Mostly it’s just layer upon layer of intense heavy blackness and that is just awesome.

Martröð brings everything you expect on ‘Transmutation of Wounds’ and that is slightly disappointing. Such a collection of talented artists together, should not just do what is expected, but create something overwhelming. If this project continuous to record, I’m absolutely certain that this will be what it’ll do, the parts fit nicely together we now know, so let’s see how far it can go.