Category Archives: Review

Underground Sounds: Grima – Tales of the Enchanted Woods

Label: Naturmacht Productions
Band: Grima
Origin: Russia

With their debut album ‘Devotion To Lord’ the band Grima definitely left an impression. Lord was not anything Christian though, it was nature in its full glory that this atmospheric black metal band worships. Now they return with their second full length ‘Tales of the Enchanted Woods’. I’d like to point out that I recommended their record as the best of the year this far for 2016 in the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch, the daily Roadburn zine.

The studio project by Morbius and Vilhelm hails from Krasnoyarsk, which is in the heart of Siberia. Krasnoyarsk is not a hovel in the snow, but a city with almost a million inhabitants. The city was a  center for the gulags and even in Tsarist times was a place where dissenters were sent to. It says a lot about the sort of place this must be, though there’s little to go on regarding Grima.

To start with this album, maybe start with the cover that immediately offers  a particularly fairy tale like design and folkloristic vibe. The album kicks of with the grand ‘The Sentry Peak’, which really works as a brief intro to the album, lining up the second song ‘The Moon and its Shadows’, which is a pleasure to behold. Atmospheric and powerful, this record fits right into the Norse nature-loving movement of the black metal genre.

The sound is tempered, let go only in minimal waves when most effective. The build-up reminds me a bit of Downfall of Nur, one of my favorite bands. It sounds like there’s even an accordeon present, but it’s probably the synths. Those help with the fairy-tale/eastern vibe of the record, giving a moment of respite and evoking images of strange towns with hospitable folk playing music around the fire.

The band really knows how to be theatrical, without sounding cheesy. The synths are everywhere to add to the overal experience, to paint the sound in many colors. The vocals are varied two, which gives you the feeling that this band is much bigger than just the two members. Noteworthy is the track ‘Never Get Off The Trail’, where we hear a deep shoegaze influence and even some postrocky soundscaping on the following ‘The Grief’. As a listener, it is as if the song bares its essence to you. It shows it’s inner magical stream of music. Excellent black metal enriched with a sense of the magical and unknown of the forest.

Grima succeeds in probably making one of the most amazing black metal albums of the year, but also a journey into nature where the true beauty of an untamed land shines through. The balanced production and the rich sonic textures offer a much bigger production than you’d imagine. I sincerely hope this album gets the recognition it deserves. It shouldn’t be lumped into the ‘archaic folk’ metal  category, much like other great music from Russia. This seems to receive little interest from the western press. This album embodies the magic that black metal music always has had for me. It embraces nature in the way only a specific branch of the genre does. A joy to listen to, while true to the genre.

 

Looking For An Answer – Dios Carne

Label: Willowtip Records
Band: Looking For An Answer
Origin: Spain

Looking For An Answer still gives you headaches

Many people will look at you with a baffled expression if you say you like grindcore. Well, it’s something special I suppose and not everyone will understand or like it. That goes for most of the stuff I write about on this blog, it’s weird music. So now I’m going to write about one of my favorite grindcore bands.f

The first time I experience a grindcore show I just didn’t know what to do with it, untill a Mike Alexander van Putrescence explained it to me. One of the first bands I enjoyed then was Looking For an Answer. This Spanish band produces some highly political grindcore with a sharp edge and has been doing so since 1999. ‘Dios Carne’ is their latest effort.

‘Dios Carne’ is a rolling, thundering keg of fury, unleashed in 14 typical short bursts of hatred. Opener ‘Deflagración’ is the longest track of the album, clocking right at 4 minutes and 17 seconds. The doom and gloom intro sets the tone for the world view the band wishes to convey on their fourth full length. The songs actually have a bit of a sludge element worked into them. Slow and steady, sticky and heavy, those are terms that aptly describe the music of Looking For An Answer.

That heavy swampy sound is a particular element on this album, the muddled sound represent the drag of society, its futile, complexities and horrors. Looking For An Answer makes that tangible in the chasm of despair that their record sounds like. Ofcourse, there’s also the blistering, all destroying grindcore tracks. Setting fire to the world on ‘Apoteosis’ or the creeping ‘Demiurgo’, the sound of war is here.

Grindcore is still very relevant when we adress the atrocities of our world. Looking For An Answer offers the answer to what that should sound like.

Underground Sounds: Slegest – Vidsyn

Label: Dark Essence Records
Band: Slegest
Origin: Norway

Slegest

I found out about Slegest, thanks to the Cult Never Dies: The Megazine book by Dayal Patterson. I read about the multi-instrumentalist Stig Ese Eliassen, who played in Vreid before. He now does Slegest, combinging ’70’s hardrock, thrash and black metal into a unique sound.

Like many people making extreme music, Eliassen is a guy with a history. A person with conflict and a need to expres that. This is where Slegest is born from and now growing into an entity that hopefully will play live soon. The lyrics are in Norwegian, but the sound had a universal quality to it I think. The album was received well so time to share it with the world.

Dirty black’n’roll from Norway

The cover is immediatelly different, catching the attention without being anything special. Then there’s the opening riff of ‘I fortida sitt lyss’. Catchy, driven and timeless, this is music that alway works. A little like the crustpunk albums of Darkthrone, catchy bit dirty. It’s an interesting contrast, the catchy music with the gritty vocals. That gives it a dark edge and a real rock’n’roll feel. It’s got that underground edge, but also a great mix and production. Slegest doesn’t rely on grimy distortion to cover up anything, it’s a band that really knows how to deliver a great tune.

Specially on a gloomy track like ‘komfortabelt nommen midtvekes’ the formula of Slegest works. With a wicked grin, you listen to the chugging riffwork, the playful guitar loops and the trollish (yes, I used that word) vocals. This record is great stuff to listen to in the car, the clean production, the energy, it all falls into place. Would this record benefit from clean vocals? I think it would lose it’s dark shine without, I enjoy the punky, raw but still slick sound. It really fits into the tradition somewhere between Skambankt and Abbath.

I love this album by Slegest, the dirty Norwegian biker sound should appeal to a broad audience. If Speedfest was still around, this is a band that should play there. This album totally rocks.

Underground Sounds: Falls of Rauros – Vigilance Perennial

Label: Bindrune/Nordvis
Origin: United States
Band: Falls of Rauros

The band Falls of Rauros has a lot going for them. Firstly, their name is  a Tolkien reference, which always resonates with me. Secondly, their music rates as black/folk metal on various sites (though you can disagree on the terminology, I think it covers their sound well). Also they’re politically charged, citing anarchism as a theme.

This all would not even be necessary, for the Appalachian folk wink in their sound puts them on par with Panopticon and do I love that band. This is the fourth album by the group from Portland in the States, following ‘Believe In No Coming Shore’ from 2014. Artwise, the band takes a move away from their more nature depicting covers with something a bit more fantastic. Also good to have some new material, after all the re-releases ofcourse.

On opener ‘White Granite’,  you immediately hear the combination of beautiful melodies, maybe almost a bit of stadium rock, with scorching vocals. The constantly walk the thin line between beauty and grimness, somehow very akin to nature in that sense. This is not a bad thing though, because the band completely in a natural way finds their path through the different sounds and builds layers upon layers of riffs and expressions to create their specific brand of black metal. There’s  a densely emotional side to songs like ‘Warm Quiet Centuries of Rains’, something truly soothing.

Album highlight is, I think, the track ‘Arrow & Kiln’. It shows Falls on their more heavy end. More massive and cohesive than the rest of the album and therefor in 12 minutes being the song that exemplifies the album. It contains all the strong sides of the band in one go. Great stuff!

On final track ‘Impermanence Streakt Through Marble’ the band completely lets go of the black metal and trickling folky tunes, acoustic play and shoegazy meanderings lead the song forward. When the music gets some more weight after two minutes, this still feels like a beautiful postrock tune, evoking a certain sadness. Vocals come on a bit later, but for me those were not even needed (though they do give the song some body).

Underground Sounds: Pillorian – Obsidian Arc

Label: Eisenwald Tonschmiede
Band: Pillorian
Origin: United States

On Roadburn this year, Pillorian was well impressive. The sound of the group is densely atmospheric, but also heavy and very much something that grabs you as a listener. The group from Portland, Oregon in the States is ofcourse the group of John Haughm, who we know from Agalloch.

Haughm gathered some experienced musicians to form Pillorian after Agalloch split. Members have gained experience in groups like BanewreakerUada and Maestus. Soundwise, the group goes in similar directions as Agalloch, but just darker and more heavy in my opinion. The complex poetry in lyrics and titles is still there though.

On opener ‘By the Light of a Black Sun’ the ingredients are immediately employed. An epic intro, with a majestic intro leads us to a song that feels a lot like the bombastic, iconoclastic sound of the great Primordial. From those big, moving intro’s, the songs move towards a frantic, high-paced black metal sound with rapid barked vocals, creating a sharp sound. There’s an urgency to the sound of Pillorian that is very noticable. The voic drags you into a narrow tunnel of sound for a moment, only to throw you out into the big chorus again.

The production is rather clean, so every aspect of the music is audible. It allows the listener to hear the tight and merciless precision of the band, not a blanket of distortion. ‘Forged Iron Crucible’ moves to a more traditional sound, but really all the effort again is in the build up, the dense atmosphere and grandeur of the music. That is the absolute strength of Pillorian, to really get the listener to immerse and be touched by the profundity and heaviness of their expressions. A bit of clean vocals would not have been amiss here, to create even more of that feeling.

Pillorian is a band that delivers black metal in a majestic manner. Everything is well balanced, polished and tells a story if the listener is willing to hear it. John Haughm is a creator of beauty, even when that beauty is grim and bleak. That is what makes Pillorian so good.

Underground Sounds: V.A. – Drums in the Deep

Label: Bad Omen Records
Band: Wretch, CC Company, Satan’s Satyrs, Wytch Hazel, Spell, The Tower, Asomvel, Flight
Origin: United Kingdom

Using classic imagery from the original Lord of the Rings films (yes, you muggle, there’s an original film with cutting edge animations in its time), the label Bad Omen Records from London presents some of its finest cuts and slices of doom metal to the peoples. A sampler then, with special attention for Wretch.

Bad Omen Records is a small label, with a particular taste for things heavy and classic. Their roster doesn’t focus on much extreme metal but sticks to the more traditional formats, which I think works perfectly fine, It gives an identity and core to the label, which is in this day and age nice and recognizable for fans. Go here for your doom, folks!

Opening up is an exclusive track by Wretch, titled ‘Sweet Revenge’.  The song sounds as if something wicked this way is coming, something just outside the door threatening the listener. The voice of Karl Simon sounds like mixture of Ozzy and Lemmy, evil and seductive. CC Company follow with a supertight, 80’s vibe track. Th rhythm is like a tense cord, with mildly raw vocals by the Swedes. Catchy as hell, this tune! Not sure if ‘World Domination’ will achieve its goal, the sound is a bit dated, but lovable nonetheless. Following that we have Satan’s Satyrs from Virginia, with fuzzy distortion and demented vocals. An change from the tight tracks before, but very welcome.

Wytch Hazel is a surprising next one, with their self titled track. It reminds me of Iron Maiden in the Blaze Bailey days (around Virtual XI). Mellow, clean sung and quite endearing to the listener. You almost want to go back when the biting vocals of Wretch follow this track on ‘Running out of Days’. A really big stadium sound can be heared when the tune ‘Dark Desires’ by Spell is unleashed. Again, Maiden… Saxon.. it has that typical NWOBHM feel to it. The vocals even feel like they’re from that era, though a bit too slick for my tastes. The same goes for the exclusive Wytch Hazel track ‘Surrender’ that follows and Flight‘s ‘Escape’, though its some mellow listening. and quite energetic stuff.

Ansomvel from England plays some sleazy, agressive heavy metal the way you know and love. ‘Shoot Ya Down’ is not a complex track, but a show of force with a Venom/Motörhead-like bite to it. Good stuff! Swedish The Tower follows with a ripping track titled ‘Wounds’. A solid boogie tune with some strict but strangely fitting vocals. There’s a solidity in the flow of the song, which I love and that peculiar vocalist really completes it.

This cool collection ends with ‘Die Screaming’ by Satan’s Satyrs. Screams of despair over a slowly progressing track, that sounds as if it is sliding down into a pit of despair. Wow, just wow this stuff. Bad Omen really wove together a collection that ignites the imagination with an oldschool feel, exactly what you’d take from the cover. Drums from the deep!

 

Underground Sounds: Fen – Winter

Label:Code666 Records
Band: Fen
Origin: United Kingdom

On Winter the band Fen is trying to really create a record that expresses their identity as a band. This is one of the reasons why this record turns out as the great piece of music it is. Perhaps the best record Fen has made this far, though that is always a matter of taste.

The story on ‘Winter’ is that of the season, as told through atmospheric black metal. That immediately sounds like a match made in heaven. Throwing different styles in the mix, the Britons have crafted a great fifth album in that English tradition. Intrigued about the name, I wanted to mention that the group is named after a region called ‘The Fens’, a flat land full of bogs and marshes with a sense of mystery. That is also something that is put in the music.

The album opens with a slow piece of music, titled ‘Pathway’, which is expressing the atmospheric postrock influences the band wishes to display on this album. Creating a long and slow build-up, the track really allows you to slide into the album gradually. Once the vocals kick in, you’re already under its spell. Peculiar is how gentle the music is at this point, even with the screams of vocalist Frank Allain. The band pulls of a grander sound on ‘Penance’, where mighty cascades of guitars push outward and expand their reach. For me their sound is close to that of an Agalloch, but also Island-buddies Saor comes close. There’s something to the sound that tells you of its origin.

Big parts of the record feature shoegazy, dreamy passages. In that sense, Fen really goes for the feeling more than the power. It gives a warm sound, remniscent of sunrays and the tremble in the air on a nice summer evening. The music paints in different colors and moods, working with long songs and complex meandering passages. The song ‘Internment’ for example offers a gentle, folky intro that lasts for minutes and could last forevermore for all I care. This record is one hell of an album, clocking over 70 minutes over six tracks.

This might actually be some of the best work that Fen has delivered. It’s warm and conveys an abstract image of the nature and land it comes from. Beautiful stuff.

Underground Sounds: Ūkanose – Ūkanose

Label:Soundage Productions
Band: Ūkanose
Origin: Lithuania

Folk metal ain’t dead, y’all! Sure, Finntroll has become a joke, Alestorm has descended into madness and I don’t even know what happened to Turisas, but there’s still hope. From countries you might not even know about great tunes are coming forth. Ūkanose is one of those bands from Lithuania who create some waves with the self-titled debut.

Lithuanian folk music is heavily characterised by ritualistic chanting and war songs, they have a special quality to them. They feel outlandish, magical and somewhat overwhelming at times. Ūkanose manages to incorporate that into their metal music. So we don’t have a band playing metal with some fiddles, but a genuine blend and that for me is the magic of folk metal.

The songs of Ūkanose offer a specific sadness, a weariness of live and look to the past you also find in Slavic bands like Drudkh. An accordeon gives a bit of a jolly feel to some of the songs, but what really it does is create that continuous flow that is so important in the Baltic music. It makes it also very easy for a listener to jump into their music and feel the passage of time in a more calm and natural way. There’s a closeness to nature in the sound, to tradition and folklore. You don’t even need to understand the lyrics for that.

Ūkanose translates as fog, which is a good metaphor for the sound of the band. The pace is slow, but constantly progressing. The vocals are easy, chanted and often in multiple voices. All in all it’s an album that is much closer to the volky sound of Ugniavijas. A favorite track for me is ‘Skrenc bitela’. The calm repetition of the vocals on such a flat tone is hypnotizing but catching. The guitars merely serve as a heavy fundament to build up the song upon.

This record is one that takes you to a different time and age. It takes you to dancing around the fire in praise of forgotten gods. Noteworthy is the song ‘Gerkime’, a Corvax Corax cover. This music comes from a genuine place, not just one where you raise drinking horns wearing a kilt. Well worth a listen.

Underground Sounds: Hey Satan – Hey Satan

Label: Cold Smoke Records
Band: Hey Satan
Origin: Switzerland

Ok, I’ll admit that I started listening to this band for the simple reason that their name is Hey Satan. Sue me, it’s a catchy name and the artwork also looked appealing. As you may have guessed, there’s nothing black metal about this record, but there’s some good sounds to get down to on this record.

Hey Satan hails from Switzerland, a basis for cool and catchy tunes. Bands from there often have their own approach to things and these guys sound nothing like you’d picture a Swiss band to sound like. The music the group produces is that of a sun scorched desert, with a cold beer in your hand. Oh yeah!

Blearing riffs that seem to hang in the still air endlessly, grooving vocals… this is stoner the way we love it! Fuzzy effects create that sweltering, hot sound on ‘Legal Aspects of Love’. The traces of grunge still freshly detectable in the slow, heavy guitar parts, this is some stuff to rock out to. The delivery is perfect, but with a bite when the band adds some agression to the mix.

Think Queens of the Stone Age/Kyuss, but with a little twist here and there. The continuous warm, fuzzy wall of guitars creates that feeling of everything standing still. For a moment and then it all takes of and you can almost smell the tarmac under your wheels. Vocalist Francois can switch between that static style of singing to the more energetic, pumped up style of Neil Fallon (yes, the guy from Clutch). Then again, the band can sound really big on songs like ‘Bastardizer’.

The coolest thing about this record, is that it is immensely energetic, upbeat and catcy. Sure, it’s sticking to the classic road to glory, but there’s a reason that this works. Surprising track is ‘Black Flags Down’, which is smooth and catchy one moment and harsh and violent the other. There’s a lot of skill here and this band has everything to entice fans of the genre once more with this debut.

Underground Sounds: Mord’A’Stigmata – Hope

Label: Pagan Records
Band: Mord’A’Stigmata
Origin: Poland

Mord’A’Stigmata is one of the interesting bands emerging from Poland, with a tendency to explore the boundaries of what black metal is, seeking to expand, grow and energize the genre in their own way. The band has been around for a good 13 years and has now released album number four ‘Hope’.

For a band that deals with the depressive reality of our lives, its a far flung term, but where darkness is hope lives, does it not? That seems to be the theme for this album. The artwork doesn’t spell that much good for the future though. Gnarled branches reaching upwards in the dark and smoke rising from it. Well, time to give this a spin. Out on Pagan Records, this is an album by a band within the Polish tradition, where conviction and a feeling of glow are part of the sound.

The titletrack that kicks of seems to rely on a sort of post-metal trance-state that the listeners get swallowed up in. Repetitive riffing for about 12 minutes is indeed a heavy experience. But thanks to the catchy sound, the emotional clarity and a certain less-is-more approach to the sound, this is something special to experience. The production is well tight on this first song, allowing you to sink into it almost instantly in the first minutes. The vocals slither in, offering words in a similar tone as Nergal/Johan Edlund (Behemoth/Tiamat). It gives more depth to the music, which seems to combine that hypnotic side with a gothic/doom aspect.

The commanding vocals work well with the constant build up an tension in the music. The track ‘The Tomb from Fear and Doubt’, we hear the vocalist Ion deliver with conviction. The lyrics are a bit peculiar though and seem to be more those of a love song. I’m not sure if that is what they are, but this sometimes is really the language barrier. The track maybe dwindles on some aspects too long, but following tune ‘To Keep The Blood’ gets us back to strength. Though you can feel the black metal aspect in all music by Mord’A’Stigmata, this record is much more a rock album. The way the songs balance out the slow, atmospheric guitar and drum passages and clearly articulated words.

Like the final track ‘In Less Than No Time’, this is a song to just sink into.  That I find the biggest strength of hope, the way they put those endless passages in there that completely suck you in. I really enjoy listening to this album. The music is not overly complex, but catchy. The eclectic nature of the band puts them in a much broader stream of music. This I think will be very good for their popularity. The Polish metal scene is definitely developing a more and more distinct sound.