Category Archives: Review

Underground Sounds: Various – Tales from the Southern Realm (Australia)

Origin: Australia
Label: Independent
Bands: Wrath of Fenrir, Stormtide, Saralisse, Trollgasm, Enviktas, Beast Impaler, Pagans Realm, Tomes Of Ruin

An album full of Australian folk metal, imagine that? Well, it exists and under the title ‘Tales From The Southern Realm’. Eight bands with varying sounds, so time to check out what Australia has to offer in a genre riddled bands that stick close to the sound of Finntroll and Ensiferum. Let’s be honest, folk metal is a genre of clichés, where a sincere and different sound is a reare found. Am I doubting this record in advance? No, because folk metal is one of my favorite genres and is often delivered with an honest love for the music. The hype around the stylistic direction has been a true catalyst for a swarm of mediocre acts in the past though.

Wrath of Fenrir – Awaken The Frost

The first track on the record is by Perth inhabitants Wrath of Fenrir. The band mixes folk and black, drawing inspiration from… the far, far northern Viking culture and the Edda. The group has released one EP and apart from that is not one you’re likely to have heard of.

Thougho offering a clean production and some tight rhythm, the screams and grunts exchange a bit too regularly. The whole thing feels a bit too formulaic. Regardless, it sounds brutal and I guess that there’s some potence here.

Stormtide – As Two Worlds Collide

Though at first I though it would go in an Amon Amarth direction, thanks to the intro, the more Equilibrium-like keys quickly followed. I don’t know if I like it better after hearing it a bunch of times yet. There’s a lot I like about both those bands, but the combination is a bit odd to me.

The band from Melbourne has by now released their full length. That puts these guys on the map, having signed to Metal Hell Records. The synths make this song incredibly catchy and cinematic, but I wonder if they really need them. Personally I dig this German approacht to the genre. A good track by Stormtide!

Tomes Of Ruin – A Knights Regret

Now, there we go with some more Amon Amarth sounding death metal, including the swooping riffs and some actual story telling. The music is tight, but stays a bit flat so to say, really sticking to that riff and running with it all the way to the end. There’s another reference that is eluding me at the moment, but this band definitely fits in with a certain style. Maybe some Svartsot is in the mix.

The vocals are quite tight, but when it’s not guttural the barks seems strangely out of place in contrast with the clean production. The distinct vocal style is that of a story teller, but with a bit of a black metal bark to it. The continuous pumping rhythm even has a bit of Bolt Thrower to it. Peculiarly enjoyable.

Enviktas – Skinwalker

Blending their extreme metal with medieval elements and segments of world music, the band Enviktas from Newcastle has a peculiar sound. The intriguing intro immediately sets the band apart from their peers. Strange sounds set a nervous mood of threat and danger. There are a lot of sounds that are tricky to place, but what is most noticable is the lack of filling. Enviktas makes the most of their instruments.

How they do that? Rhythm takes an important roll in the sound of Enviktas. Wether it’s the primitive drums or the pulsating dideridoo sound, it can stand on its own, while riffs create spaces where just rhythm is there. There’s a lot of space in the sound of this group, which allows for a peculiarly effective and different vibe.

Trollgasm – Quest For Glory

Though the name suggested a more fun sound, but this band fully embraced the more folk-oriented Scandinavian sound. Though the group has split up, there’s a good grasp of the epic and mystical to their sound with well placed keys and big guitar archs. An added value to the track are the vocals of Wulfstand from English band Forefather. His clear chants give the tune a more authentic vibe (though more British obviously).

The track is definitely one of the more reverential and grand of this compilation. I must say I didn’t expect this from a band with ‘gasm’ at the end of their name. Specially the folky instruments are well placed and balanced with the music.

Beast Impaler – Community Dinner

There we have the funny bit of the recordw, with a group that sounds a bit like Finntroll in their early days, with the party streak of Trollfest. A beat that seems to derive from polka is excellent if you need your listeners to move. The jagged pace keeps it agressive and ‘trollish’.

The sound of Beast Impaler is heavy with synths and to me sounds a bit dated. Though I enjoy the time travel back, it doesn’t really stick that long in your head. Again, highly unlikely to hear something like this from Australia.

Pagans Realm – March of the wolfs head bannerman

These guys were a bit harder to trace, but they clearly take to the more showy parts of the genre, judging by their live pictures. What you hear is more a kind to Amon Amarth meets Turisas. The light instrumentals are in sharp contrast with the roared vocals.

Though I don’t entirely feel the balance between the music and vocals, I feel the energy of this band. Like AA, this is a band that you’d like to see live. The galloping rhythms and well timed breaks keep things catchy. Unfortunately this band also called it quits this year. A shame for that scene in Australia.

Saralisse – Into the sky

Closer of this collection is the Group Saralisse, who are indeed closer to the more theatrical power metal approach to the folk genre. Though that is only the opening part I found, once the track gets rolling we really more into the Ensiferium spheres of catchy, keyboard filled melodic death riffing.

Though the band has only released an EP, the group seems to still be rather active. The recording and production of this track are awesome in my headphones and feel like something that could appeal to a broad range of people. Cool!

Thoughts

I started writing this review with the wish to do a track by track of something peculiar: folk metal in Australia. It’s great to see that the country has a fascinating scene going on there, with interesting acts and good tunes. Only goes to show that metal takes root in all forms. It seems that the folk metal harks back to Europe and a fantasy-like image of the continent in ages past. This is a peculiar thing, perhaps the distance has changed the emotions attached to these images, but it’s fascinating to hear these bands do their thing in an own way, with some fresh and free aspects to it.

Underground: Armor Force – Exile

Label: Infected Blood / Kill The Light Productions
Band: Armor Force
Origin: China

Bands froms certain parts of the world just do things differently. That definitely goes for Armour Force, who combine folk with death metal vocals in a rather direct way. And by direct I mean that there’s really no blended terrain or common ground being trodden, it is at times literally death metal grunts over sea shanty passages.

This is the first EP by the Beijing band, which was originally released in 2015. Since then they only did a single, on another label from Inner Mongolia. The music the band makes seems to be an odd mix of various styles, but definitely finds some inspiration in the sword and sorcery movements, I gather from the logo.

So trust me, you won’t know what hits you when the first notes arrive. It opens like a melancholic folk song, maybe even some dungeon synth. meandering, notes that suddenly launch into a blast of bagpipes with a ripping guitar behind them. A flute takes over while the sound lowers and a deep grunt emerges. It’s as if you hear the pining Chinese traditionals with a full on metal riffs. It’s a bit much all in all, but sort of cool if you drop the genre definitions.

The following track is titled ‘Jade Horn’ and features the same flute and a more sea shanty like melody, remniscent of Alestorm. It’s sort of along those lines that the song swings onwards. Cheery folk tunes with peculiarly tight and condensed riffing, but always that almost surreal party sound. It makes for a strange album altogether, of which I can’t really detect much of the real idea and concept behind it. The recorded quality of the riffs and vocals is significantly poorer, almost sounding like midi files, particularly on ‘The Day Of Downthrow’. The band drops the synth for a moment to just get the gritty guitars to the front.

I wonder how this band is sounding on  a proper produced record, because when you really listen closely this has a promise to it. Right now, it feels like a strange gaming soundtrack, but still sort of cool.

Underground Sounds: Paleowolf – Genesis/Prehistoric Meditations

Band: Paleowolf
Origin: Serbia

Paleowolf really impressed me with their shamanistic debut album, full of beautiful, transcendental ambient music. The record was a surprise in an otherwise dense forest of mediocre interpretations of the far past. Apart from releases of the Russian Nomus Dei and Black Mara labels, not much can come clos to the work of Paleowolf in my opinion when it comes to ambient that embraces the primordial.

So, what I didn’t know is that Paleowolf is the side project of Scorpio V of Metatron Omega. With Paleowolf we travel through the world before it was civilised, when drums echo in ritual in valleys between rough mountain ridges. Where bonfires are the illumination during the night, to keep predators at bay and allowing the poeple to marvel at its destructive force. War, death and the hunt of primitive man is painted in the tones of this music.

Genesis (2016)

Label: Cryo Chamber

source: bandcamp

On ‘Genesis’, we hear a Paleowolf in a complete immersion in Paleolithic life. We see the fire emerge from between the trees and rise to a roaring height, illuminating the wide region like a beacon of sorts, for all wanderers. Is it fa friendly fire or is it danger? Is this then the first fire to be raised in an otherwise dark world? In that case, it would match the title. With the finding of fire, mankind enters a new era of domination.

The music is the sound of bird and the crackling of the fire, the eerie sound of wind instruments and throaty, shamanistic singing. Tribal drumming in praise of forgotten gods and to announce war or ceremony. A hurried, hunted sound forms on ‘Hunter II’. The listener witnesses the shapes running between the trees in chase of prey. This all happens in a forest filled with sounds. On ‘Eastern Tribes’ we hear more of a threatening sound. Not necessarily of war, but of seizing each other up. Of people encountering each other in the vast emptiness of the primordial world. The primitive instruments  resound in the play of power, where drums are banged and morose mouth harps resound.

Interesting fact, is that this release is different design-wise. The picture shows a shot of nature, fire between trees, with a discrete logo with runes. This differs from the self released records by Paleowolf, which are more designed and feel more abstract. ‘Genesis’ is a record that grows, that opens up and takes the listener to a different time.

Prehistoric Meditations (2017)

source: bandcamp

On the self-released ‘Prehistoric Meditations’, we enter a more meditative mood, less descriptive, more inwards and abstract. Slow droning sounds, pleasant nature sounds and dreamy passages. This is a different sort of record. Unlike  ‘Genesis’ the music is less focussed on the surroundings and more on the internal listener.

The listener therefor goes more on a spiritual journey while listening to this record. It’s made to meditate to, to relax to and explore. I’ve read about the Aborigines ‘Dream world’ and I think that this resembles most closely where Paleowolf is trying to take you to with this meditative record.

The album consists of three tracks, offering a three step rocket into the subconscious, a  gradual descent into the magical times. The droning tones, the gentle whisperings and tittering of birds touches upon something primal within you. It allows you to focus completely and try to detect the origins, it is a mind cleaner, a deep meditation and quest. Gently water is flowing, wind pipes chime and a gentle buzz fills the ear. As you come to a deep calm, deep voices chant again.

This is an album for headphones, for a solitary listener in a state of rest. It’s drony, ambient minimalism is a unique listening experience and I’ve not been able to find an artist who comes close to the sound of Paleowolf. Their attempt to reconnect with the primordial self, with the ancestor cult is something you need to be open to as a listener to truly find your way in the sound, particularly relevant on the meditative records.

Underground Sounds: Endalok – Úr Draumheimi Viðurstyggðar

Label:Hellthrasher Productions
Band: Endalok
Origin: Iceland

A whole mouthful, the title of this album ‘Úr Draumheimi Viðurstyggðar’, but a worthy new showdown in the continuous flow of Icelandic black metal. It has everything indeed to sound dark and grim in a similar way to every band from over there (without sounding the same). Endalok has found their own flavor of black metal though, heavy on atmosphere.

The members of this band are not known as far as I could find out about it, but they did drop a demo earlier, which was well received. The artwork features tentacles reaching out from utter darkness. It catches the vibe of this dark as hell record methinks. It also predicts something of what the approach is from this group.

Endalok seems to be a band that loves their slow progressions and foreboding tones. Whether it’s the introductionairy riffing, or a slow intermezzo, the haunting threat in their sound is omnipresent and very characteristic of this band. The blistering speed is lacking, but a continuous feeling of ominous looming is even conveyed through the blasted drums on ‘Afskræming holds og sálar’. You could compare the sound of Endalok to a thickish, barrel aged stout beer. It’s very full of flavor, a bit sticky and completely overwhelming.

In some respects the band reminds me of Dragged Into Sunlight. Not for the ferocity, but the haunted feeling of something lurking nearby. The mix is highly distorted, creating bigger, cohesive sounds in which the elements sometimes merge together. Endalok is more one dimensional, but does have the chaotic sound of nightmares ready and waiting for their listeners. Like the cover predicts, it is that thing reaching out from the darkness. The lurking danger from beyond. The wavery riffs, the rolling drums and the guttural barks that form within the foggy sound are a harrowing experience. The haunting, peculiar sound is something special on this first real release by this band. Can’t  wait to hear more like ‘Holdgerving Andskotans’. Fear of the dark.

Underground Sounds: Hounds of Bayanay – Myyc

Label: Independent
Band: Hounds of Bayanay
Origin: Russia

Russia is an immensen country, so it is not surprise to find separate identities in the far corners of the wide realm. A band like Hounds of Bayanay from far of places is therefor even more interesting. Yakutsk is one of those far of places. The city functions as the capital of the remote and frozen Sakha Republic, an autonomous region of Russia. The regions inhabitants are the Yakuts, a Turkic people who find this their most northern living region.

The muddled original history of the region is much coloured by the deportation of dissidents to the Sakha region. From the tsarists times to the soviet days, many Russians ended up on the remote, eastern land. The band Hounds of Bayanay therefor mixes  cultural influences, which you can hear on their first EP titled ‘Myyc’.

The beauty of people creating a blend of music with metal and indiginous music, is that it always sounds new. There’s a piece of music there, which hasn’t been made before and often free of a lot of the conventional elements. The same goes for the Yakuth themed metal of this young group, with Russian progrock influences, hardrock an chanting on ‘Mountains of the North’.  A catchy track with singalong potentian and a very open, accessible structure. The folk features are definitely prevalent.

Interesting follow up ‘Lost happiness’  kicks of with a postrock passage, before morphing into fierce metalcore. The vocals on this song remind me a bit of the sound certain Japanese metal bands have, with a contrasting tension btween the vocals and the riff heavy metal parts. But what an ungodly scream does  vocalist Aina Keres have! Arkona anyone?  Good stuff, though the band really captivates me on the final track. With some ethnic vocal delivery and folky lines woven into the guitar play, this song stands out as the most peculiar and interesting track of the album. Delivered with a certain passion, the vocals appear tribal, so does the drum.

The band has released two demo’s in the past, but does the right thing with an EP. It’s uncertain certain how much attention their music will gather, but I’m definitely intrigued by their far off land now. Hopefully they get the attention they deserve with this magnificent EP.

Underground Sounds: Molodost – نسيم جبل صنين

Label: self released
Band: Molodost
Origin: Lebanon

This record collects music made with the project Molodost. Molodost takes its inspiration from Slavic folk metal, particularly Alkonost and their song with the same name as the band. Molodost is however a one man project in the southern land of Lebanon, far from the Russian realms.

Originally Molodost started as a vehicle for poetry, but the one man metal band has become more than that.  Finding an own sound and inspiration in the Slavic folk/black metal scene. There’s a clear ethnic element present, but also a worship of nature and the land. Though oft critisized for being very primitve and lo-fi sounding, this is definitely a choice by the artists that simply fits the need to express. The sound of Molodost is something different, something unique and highly personal. That makes this a record to check out.

The album opens with a calm piano intro, which is strangely free of a clear origin. It’s mystical sounding with synthesizers adding a dungeon synt-y feel to the whole. The blistering riffs on the second song have a metallic twang to them, which resonates with the origin of the music. The noisy drums add another layer of effec to that, which is ever so subtly present. The artist spits out the words like an enraged demon. It’s the typical Arabic pronunciation that really takes it to a new level. As many know, the Oriënt has many mysteries and strange spirits. The vocal style and meandering synths immediately invoke that feeling.

No, I’m not turning this record into a cliché, it’s way to specific and captivating for that. What I particularly like is how the artist blends in the intermissions of dungeon synth to create an aura befitting the record. The Slavic inspiration can definitely be noticed, but it meets with a very own sound on a track like [ازرع الصحراء]. The riffs sound very peculiar here, but are also very intriguing and offering another different taste of the mystique of the eastearn landscapes, also the desert under a blazing sun, the mountains when the sun crests the top.

[مائدة الفقير] is a dense song, full of synths and trickling, Burzum-esque elements. The vocals are performed by Lord Dark from the band Tears of Regret. It’s a remarkably peaceful tune, with the ever present synth elements to keep that eerie vibe up. Nonetheles, Molodost packs a punch without ever really firing up. Maintaining a steady atmosphere and an indpendent voice, make this a record I can listen to over and over.

Underground Sounds: Coume Ouarnède – Celui Qui Vide Les Arbres

Label: Nomos Dei
Band: Coume Ouarnède
Origin: France

I’ve been intrigued by the releases of Russian label Nomos Dei, since I found out about them. This is another mysterious release, that is in fact a quest of discovery to find our ancient roots in the mighty mountains of the Pyrenees through music, ritual and ambient sounds. Something profoundly archaïc can be found for those who dare search for it.

Yan Arexis is a percussionist, who also has been active in Stille Volk (pagan folk) and Sus Scrofa (pagan black metal). He pretty much founded all those, but also La Breiche and Cober Ord. Another set of projects unveiling archaic Pyrenean folk. So, all in all Yan Arexis is at home in the field of music he is practicing on this record. This explains the compelling force of the record for sure.

The name of the record translates as ‘those who the empty trees’ and the purpose is to create music, like it was 10.000 years ago. In awe and respect of nature, to please the gods. The percussion you hear is natural. In the description Arexis claims to use stones and rocks. The forest sounds surround the central musician, who murmurs ancient words on a whispering tone, while tribal drumming sounds softly. The sound of howling birds sounds in the background as the listener is slowly talked into a trance.

Sometimes the music is barely audible, but it’s a constant trickle of sound. Mild ambient, softly blaring sounds and the echo of something akin to bells. In particular the track ‘La Coume Ouarnède’ is a track to sink into and let go of all other things. The tribal drones are the leading element, helping the listener to find a calm. This whole record is hard to describe as a rational experience. It’s a primordial expression of spirituality and offers a meditation gateway for the listener. One needs to be open for that. If so, you’ll find a wealthy, rich album of ancient folk.

 

Underground Sounds: Emptiness – Not For Music

Label: Seasons of Mist
Band: Emptiness
Origin: Belgium

It’s not my habit to pick out just any black metal band and truth be told, I have been struggling to write about this record for a while. Emptiness is not your average black metal band and their music is quite something else, specially on their latest feat of strength ‘Not For Music’.

I saw them play live at Eindhoven Metal Meeting,  so I knew I was in for something different with this album. Featuring members of Enthroned, ProPain and drone-bient act Ashtoreth, you have some eclectic flavors mixed in your bowl. The result balances ambiance and darkness. A dish full of flavor you might say, this spectacular album. Combinging postrock, black metal and something akin to goth into a dark but accessible pool of intriguing and wonderful music.

Inhale deep and dive into the music, which opens with eerie synths with a peculiar nineties vibe. ‘Meat Heart’ takes its time to get going, but does so with a dark tapestry of processed electronics and a calmly booming drum. The whispered voice is a bit remniscent of the goth rock scene. The voice combines with the synth waves wafting through, which is also peculiar. It works very well though. The musicians build up tension and a oppressive atmosphere. There may even be a bit of nostalgia woven in there (the synths are Burzum-esque, the  dull drum evokes images of shady eighties video clip settings). The languid tones, the continuous tension and gruff, deep vocals are perhaps not your average brutality, but it does do the job of captivating listeners.

It’s peculiar how the band simply drags you along into their soundscapes. It takes you to where only the vocals offer you that true darkness. The patterns in the music may be a lot like black metal, but it is as if every bit of void between the riffs has been filled with sonic clay to create a thick, condensed series of melodic slabs. What comes close to the feel of this music is the last Katatonia album, although that’s more organic than the urban despair of Emptiness. Everything about the album triest to get you on edge, like that eerie opening riff of ‘Your Skin Won’t  Hide You’. The music really stays in the shoegaze/ambient spheres. It doesn’t need to move to any agressive riffing. This is so peculiar regarding their live sound, which is much more metal. On record these guys make you feel like you’re doing something secret, something sinister.

The album gets really dark dark on the atonal flurry of sound of the song ‘Let it fall’, bringing the album to its logical conclusion. Trust me, black metal has still not finished infesting other genres and combining into great materials. Emptiness delivers one hell of a record here!

Underground Sounds: Bantha Rider – S/T

Label: Vintage Records
Band: Bantha Rider
Origin: Poland

Do you remember that glorious cover of ‘Dopesmoker’ by Sleep? The procession through the desert? Amazing artwork, is it not? Now… don’t those guys look like the sand people from Star Wars? You get where I’m going, because Bantha Rider clearly takes inspiration from the Star Wars universe (where a Bantha is a beast of burden) and the reknowned stoner kings.

This group doesn’t hail from a desert region though, but from Poland. The country seems to have a fair share of wacky stoner bands on offer. I’ve previously enjoyed the work of Spaceslug for example, which is one of the most puzzling names in the extreme metal scene. But it’s good stuff and that goes for Bantha Rider too.

‘Sandcrawler’ opens this instrumental journey with a bass heavy trajectory of glowing, sandy hills. There’s the bleakness of endless sand captivated in the music. Repetitive, captivating riffs guide the music through the waste land that makes up the home of the sand people. The bumpy ride on a Bantha must sound pretty much the way this tune does.

‘Uta tuta Solo (Greedo’s Funeral)’ just continuous on the same trod. A dry, unpolished sound is mostly the result of the production, but that actually works in favor of the band in this cace. On ‘Jawa Juice’ we get some spaced out sound, where apparently the juice is causing some ruckus it seems. Soaring, floating guitar work seems to incoherently roll forward, without much of the tightness  we heard before. It’s a cool moment of lingering in the sonic haze.

Closer of the EP is the stomping ‘Sarlacc’s Pit’. A furious assault of thunderous drumming and growling guitars. It’s the feisty stomping sound to send the listener of. The sand people raise their sticks above their heads and shout it out in victory!

Underground Sounds: Fiave – Dall’alto Di Una Roccia

Label: Self released
Band: Fiave
Origin: Italy

Fiave has spun a remarkable story on this atmospheric black metal album, which deals with the plague in the 1630’s, which wiped out large parts of the Italian countryside. This album deals with that concept, as the Italian town Irone is completely wiped away except for one man.

Standing on a rock (as the title says) he as a guardian of the dead proclaims his last wishes and finally finishes his own life. It’s a grim enough story and it is tangible in the art work. A huddled group of faceless people on a snowy hill side. There’s a sense of despair, with one figure standing apart in a different robe.

There’s definitely something local to this record, something closely related to its locale. A gentle guitar plays on the intro song of tree minutes, while the sound of scuffling feed through the thick packed snow sounds. Dark and cold seems to fill the room in the mean time as the setting takes hold. A bombastic sound reverberates from the speakers, when ‘E Il Custode Accoglieva Con Sè Cenere E Morti’ kicks in. While the song initially opens fiercely, the song tones down rather rapidly to a more midpaced, mournful tone. The sound is still very full and powerful, with odd chanting filling up little gaps in its aural assault.

The guitars are somewhat lower tuned, creating more room for the vocals to find a space for sincere, fierce expression.  After spoken parts the song melts into another short intermission. There’s a sense of fatalism to the music, it all leads to the unavoidable death of all. In that sense the record really follows its narrative delivery. At times the music can be really primitive sounding, like the drum intro on ‘Delle Parole Restava Il Silenzio’. The chanting actually reminds me a bit of Amenra. The Belgian band also tends to put that religious experience into the music. So do the Italians. Thanks to a great story and an overal appreciation of the way music can tell all that, this is a rather great album. It’s highly entertaining and perhaps a bit loose in its delivery, but well enough to enjoy the languid passages and drama that unfolds.