Category Archives: Review

Underground Sounds: Jassa – Incarnation of the Higher Gnosis

Label: Fallen Empire Records
Band: Jassa
Origin: Russia

The Russian band Jassa hails from the St. Petersburg region. They’ve released three albums thus far, dealing with pagan themes of chthonic deities. These deities are, frankly said, quite unknown to me, but that hardly diminishes the force and grandeur of this pagan black metal band. They’re entities that are hinted at in archeological finds and myths but elude our knowledge. Jassa is a deity worshipped by the ancient Novgorod Slavs. That makes for a great mythical theme obviously for ‘Incarnation of the Higher Gnosis’.

Jassa has some experts in their ranks, who honed their skills in some fantastic bands before. Guitar- and bass player Vladimir and drummer Aeargh are mostly known for their project Sivyi Yar, where they create magnificent atmospheric black metal. The drummer additionally hits the skins in Zoebeast, Toxic Bleat, and Death Rattle. Singer Erier has tons of projects, was active in Fimbulwinter, but now is active in Khashm, Bestial Deform and Septory and more.

The bluster and rage in the sound of Jassa are quite overwhelming. From the opening track of ‘Beyond Time, Shapes and Names’ it is a pure onslaught of obliterating drums, massive riff-work, and unearthly vocals. It matches the name of the band in its subterranean cavernous darkness. This is the pagan rage at its best, bestial and abhorrent in it’s thrashing and punching. The way the drums are applied is really quite the captivating part. From a wild battering to the fierce rhythms that give the sound its backbone, Jassa keeps you hanging on for your life.

Oh, there’s also a mouth harp in there somewhere, which to me has been a great piece of instrumentation in black metal ever since Moonsorrow did it. I particularly enjoy the vocals of Erier, who has embraced a vocal range for this record that truly compliments the whole compositions. These are dense and heavy as fuck. On ‘Incarnation of the Higher Gnosis’, we hear something different though. Eerie, thin guitar lines pierce the hazy sounds and offer a base for murmured, deep spoken word passages. It offers a rare calm to the listener, with a ritualistic atmosphere that envelops you as a listener.

Another particular song is ‘Shadows Glide Quietly Among the Trees’, which has a particular sound in certain passages. They seem to drop into a more mechanic sound, more condensed and pushed together. The intensity of the sound increases as it slithers and merges. It brings you to the climax of what can only be called a fantastic record of pagan black metal.

Underground Sounds: Rebel Wizard – The Warning of One

Label: Prosthetic Records
Band: Rebel Wizard
Origin: Australia

Yeah, yeah… I’m late to the party again, but I’ve been following the Rebel Wizard for a bit now and I actually published an interview with the Australian negative anti-shamanic black metal artist before. So ‘The Warning of One’ has been an EP I’ve listened to regularly for a while, but the words just never came.

First thing you notice is the oddly colored cover. This is highly personal, but for me it strongly stands out. All songs follow a similar pattern of title and are short bursts of frantic energy and ‘wizardly’ negativity. This Nekrasov side project (if I may call it that, because Rebel Wizard seems to have become more active) is definitely not for the fans of traditional black metal. Then again… in a way it really should be.

The opening track ‘ The One I seek’ immediately rips everything apart with furious barks and screams and some of those insta-violence riffs that you’ve come to know the wizard by. The Teutonic thrash vibe with lo-fi recordings creates this gritty, raw feeling that so befits the project. Soaring guitars just hit that nostalgic passion for what makes metal so cool in the first place.
Often that’s the big contrast in the sound; the accessible and catchy riffing combined with the dirty blast beats and raspy snarls of black metal. We stay on that for the duration of ‘One I Know’. After an almost ballad-like intro on ‘One I See’, we get the full brunt of that black metal end of the stick. A distorted, hazy pounding of about 5 minutes follows, with NKSV’s voice that feels like it’s been stretched out with painful methods for an extra grim effect. We end the EP with ‘The One I Call’, which is a demonic track full of turbulent heavy black metal that keeps firing at you. With a crushing climax, this peculiar EP ends and once more Rebel Wizard delivered one hell of a tasty, rifftastic record.

Underground Sounds: Mephistofeles – (((I’M HEROIN)))

Label: Creep Purple Promotion
Band: Mephistofeles
Origin: Argentinia

Allegedly, the doom scene in Argentina is booming and as far as I can judge from this release by Mephistofeles, this is absolutely true. The band from Parana in the southern country, have released one full length before and look like they’re into reviving the oldschool sound and look with their band. As far as I can tell, they’re doing a pretty good job at it in fact.

The trio has only been playing music since 2013, but have racked up a solid array of releases. Now, with the light shining on the regional music scene, things might pick up for them, particularly since this album ‘((( I’M HEROIN )))’ is pretty damn cool if you ask me. From its somber look to its classical vibe, it’s a joy to listen to.

The vibe of this record is totally that of an Electric Wizard record. Thick slabs or doom, catchy riffs and the vocals drowned in effects. Now and then an organ provides a bit of a horror vibe, but most of the time you can just surf the waves of the lingering riffs. The vocals display exactly that bite, that you know well from the Ozzy-style doom followers. In that sense, Mephistofeles sticks to what works in their sound.

Though there’s little originality in the sound you hear, the foreboding horror melodies, the slow, steady progression and heavily distorted sound-swamp are classics that captivate time and time again. A track like ‘Transylvanian Funeral’ is a joy to listen to. You can just hang back and bask in tracks like ‘Thrash Lord’ or in the drug haze of ‘Heroin’.

On ‘Addicted To Satan’, we even have mister Anton Lavey playing some calliope, which is a fitting addition ot the ound of Mphistofeles. A great record, lots of fun, but nothing new under the sun.

Underground Sounds: Vindland – Hanter Savet

Label: Black Lion Records
Band: Vindland
Origin: France

Though it came out in 2016, ‘Hanter Savet’ is seeing a re-release which brought it to my attention and I felt it would be fine to cover it then. It’s the first full length for the band Vindland, who hails from Brittany, the coastal region in France with a dense history and distinct culture. Vindland embodies that.

The sound of the band must make some people think of another group from Sogndal, Norway and smile with a certain melancholy. A noteworthy fact is that all lyrics are in the native Celtic dialect of the region, which is carefully preserved and expresses the Breton identity. Members of the band are or have been active in the grand-sounding Belenos too, so they know how to spin a tale.

It’s a bit odd to hear a band sound so much like Windir did back in the day, but that’s exactly what the epic sound of Vindland promises with the big, majestic riffing. It’s soaring, heroism is catchy and warms the heart of a passionate fantasy-reader like myself. The keys and crisp production really help to emphasize that side of the band. Particularly on songs like ‘Serr-Nozz’ and ‘Treuzwelus’. The tight, battle-ready rhythms of songs like ‘Skleur Dallus’ do their part in turn.

It’s the melodies that really work their magic in the sound of Vindland. Those are the story tellers, that illuminate castle ruins and forgotten wisdom of the ancient Breton lands. Sometimes the downside of the keys and production is the lack of certain organic aspects to the music. Never is Vindland dull or insincere, but the fade in sometimes lacks the natural feel (like on ‘Skorneg Du’). On the other hand, the Breton language offers a whole different dimension and the rock’n’rolling sound definitely catches on easily.

As we move towards the end with ‘Kreud Ar Gwez’, we hear meandering, acoustic tones and the Atlantic winds. The beautiful shores, from where brave ships have sailed and where so much vital history took place. It tells its own story, while we still remember.

Underground Sounds: qqqØqqq – Burning Stones Of Consciousness

Label: Casetta
Band: qqqØqqq 
Origin: Italy

qqqØqqq is a project dedicated to silence. It’s a creation by Tomasso Busatto (Plasst) on synths, who also runs the Casetta label and Carlo Mantione (Contemplatio) on guitar and pedals. Their sound is a dedication to silence, to meditative calm and the serenity that can be found in there.

The duo hails from Italy and has a certain affiliation with murmur mori. Their music could be described as minimalist and meditative. Their record is out on Casetta, but also on E’ Un Brutto Posto Dove Vivere , Contemplatio, Dreamingorilla Records and Insonnia Lunare Records. This is the sound to immerse yourself in and simply drift away.

The music feels like triphop meets postrock, with plenty of audio samples. The sound has a certain flat flow to it, which just carries you along without ever deviating from its continuation. At times the sound swells to a more violent timbre, but never leaves the current where it is in. Particularly ‘All this Heaviness is just my monolithic self’ stands out by its intensity.

It’s peculiar how spacious the sound can be of qqqØqqq, because the sound at times feels so immense as if you are completely getting lost in it. Ethereal and earthy at the same time, the lazy beat and eerie soundscapes offer a profound expression. The titles appear to refer to states of mind, which are invoked by the sound. For example ‘Crumbling plains and burning stones of consciousness (Feat. H!U)’ has a certain forlorn sound to it. The slow beats crush anything that is still out there, untill only void remains.

This is how qqqØqqq completely blows you away with abstract sounds and immersive beauty. Classify this as ambient or drone, it doesn’t matter, it’s music for the mind.

Underground Sounds: Blencathra – These Bones Became The Roots of the Forest…

Label: Unsigned
Band: Blencathra
Origin: United Kingdom

Blencathra is a hill in the north of England. A beautiful part of the country that immediately makes you think of the rich past the nation has. It’s also a band, that plays black metal with sole member Nicholas Fry in the lead. This is the first album, titled ‘These Bones Became The Roots of the Forest…’.

As an artist Fry, and therefore the sound of Blencathra is inspired by British bands like Fen, Winterfylleth, and Saor, which makes sense. The pictures he shares on Facebook show the landscapes that inspire a particular sound. Densely atmospheric black metal, with a slight sense of melancholy from the British Isles. You have to love that (and this awesome cover).

With a pleasant acoustic tune opening the album, we’re soon moving into a dense blanket of blackish metal. There’s a particular element of distortion in the sound that may not be to everyone’s appeal. It’s almost annoying how woolly the album sounds at times. That doesn’t take away the absolute beauty of a tune like ‘As the Shadows Rise’. Big blistering walls of guitar, but also the melancholic twangy intermissions that reverberate.

The meandering folk tunes now and then offer respite, like the haunting ‘Drifting Through Autumn Trees’. With only a distant cry of guitars, the song seems to give a little intermezzo, until a tide of distortion floods everything once more. For me, the biggest downside of this record is exactly that. The brisk nature sounds, samples, and acoustic parts are hauntingly beautiful but often drown in the reverb and distortion. It’s possibly a choice, but I’d like to hear a more crisp production Blencathra personally, so the riffs shine even brighter.

Dungeon Sounds: Fief – III

Label: Independent
Band: Fief
Origin: United States

Fief seems to generally have been hailed as the new king (or kings) of dungeon synth. Maybe that’s a stretch to state, but the releases of this unknown outfit are much adored in the genre. Now Fief returns with their third offering of folky music and it seems to have even gotten better on ‘III’.

The artist from Salt Lake City in Utah makes what I consider the best bit of dungeon synth, due to its particular foresty sound. There’s a lightness to Fief, a peaceful joy, and gentle vibe. It’s the thing we often lose when we stop reading books and playing video games that beckon.

On this record, a new layer appears in the music of Fief. The sound becomes richer, fuller and all without ever losing the tranquility of early digital worlds. Remember those video games, where you could walk around rather peacefully? Or build your own settlement without the pressure of time and resources? I always enjoyed the calm and peace of those and I find them in this music.

Listening to the music brings you to that state of reverie. Of simply allowing the tones to wash over you, calm you down. There are two layers of music, dancing around each other in a swift-paced dance that fits best in a tavern or an inn for your RPG game. It’s never overly present, but also interesting enough to capture your ear. It’s just so darn pleasant.

Underground Sounds: Black Kirin – Nanking Massacre

Label: Cold Woods Productions
Band: Black Kirin
Origin: China
Black Kirin makes a bold statement with their latest album. Earlier I listened to their acoustic album, which I found rather pleasing, but I can’t use those words when we speak about ‘Nanking Massacre’. The Chinese band appears to be particularly productive, but this takes their expressions a notch upwards.
The ‘Nanking Massacre’ is also dubbed the ‘Rape of Nanking’ and can only be described as one of the great atrocities of history. This is the name for a series of events, following the taking of the Chinese capital of Nanking by Japanese troops in the Second Sino-Japanese War. Earlier I also checked out their ‘Xiao Shiao’ album.
Thunderous metal greets the listener, spiced up with mournful strings from Chinese folk music and the wailing singing associated with the same musical heritage. Combined with the quite heavy, rhythmic music, it offers a quite different listening experience. Another aspect is the operatic sections, but all parts seem to find harmony on this album. Black Kirin uses contrasts for maximum effect.
It’s weird for western listeners probably, to hear radical shifts between classical passages and intense, full on heavy metal. Apparently that’s not such a big deal for bands from the far east. After the melancholy of ‘Da Qu’, you’re thrown into chaos on ‘Evocation’. Blistering, crushing riff work assaults you on ‘II. The Song’, with wild sound effects, singining, and screams. Brutal death metal pounds away, in that typical chaotic manner. Personally not my favorite style, but well fitting in this conceptual display of human horror.
And then there’s calm again with ‘Nai He’. Weary guitar picking and chiming sounds in a more free flowing way, never actually trying to build a song structure. The simple expression is enough to convey thoughts and feelings. I am filled with ideas and thoughts at the end of ‘Thousand Years’, the outro of the album. Again, Black Kirin has enchanted me with an amazing record.

Underground Sounds: Jupiterian – Terraforming

Label: Transcending Obscurity
Band: Jupiterian
Origin: Brazil

Brazilian masked marauders Jupiterian are back with a bang…and another bang… and another bang… Their heavy death doom (or doom of death maybe?) has shaken up a stir in the music world and I wouldn’t be surprised to see these gents appearing at the cooler, underground festivals very soon. ‘Terraforming’ is the second full length from the prolific music-making gang. São Paulo must have shuddered and shivered…

If you want to know more about this band, check out the interview I did with them not too long ago. Noteworthy is their continuous collaboration with Mories. The man is known for his project Gnaw Their Tongues (and a dozen other projects)  and he helps to create that eerie, atmospheric sound that makes their doom more than just pummeling violence. Add to that the label Transcending Obscurity from India and we sort of have a global project going on.

Jupiterian is a megalithic sounding monster, that delivers massive slabs of doom. Their atmosphere is much more complex though, mixing something very earthy with the plumes of smoke,like a ritual  or seance might offer. I’d describe the sound they blast out on ‘Unearthly Glow’ as cavernous, but it’s simply too big and massive to fit that description. Their music is densely atmospheric to the point where it is really much like a mysterious gathering. It matches with the hooded live show of the band.
The dark chanting on ‘Forefathers’ is one of those special, heavy moments. At other times, the band sounds like an eruption, as if the earth underneath your feet is cracking at the sheer impact of their heavy riffing and bellowing vocals on a track like ‘Us and Them’. Most of the times, the band sounds massive, but the crushing impact of every riff somehow hits where it hurts. Never does it seem like any hit of the bass drum or drop is reckless bashing, it always is just right. The calculated playing makes this album so exquisitely heavy.
Jupiterian has taken some spices from other genres and made a punchy dish of doom for your listening pleasure. This is a new highlight for the band.

Underground Sounds: Krolok – Flying Above Ancient Ruins

Label: Hexencave Productions
Band: Krolok
Origin: Slovakia

I have to admit, that this record struck me as a little odd at first. The cover artwork and title were a bit strange, but the music didn’t need any of that to be convincing anyway. Krolok is a project by HV from Malokarpatan and Remmirath, that has been stewing for a good 6 years. This is the first record, titled ‘Flying Above Ancient Ruins’.

The title embodies themes that Krolok seems to revolve around. Mysticism, vampires, nature and the night create a particular sound, with a certain tangible aspect to it. Peter and Miroslav from Malokarpatan assist HV in this project and it’s well enjoyable if you like your black metal to be down to earth, but also filled with a folkloric wonder.

Interesting enough, this reminds me instantly of early Mayhem and Darkthrone. The rhythms are jagged, raw and sound pretty much the way they must have come out in the rehearsal space. The vocals on massive reverb sound cavernous and ghoulish, slightly detached from the music, not even trying to find a melodic click there. Then there are quiet parts, where you can just bask for a moment in the creepy atmosphere the band throws about.

Krolok is not so much into the hyperspeed blast beats, but sticks to a formula that has worked since the early days in Norway. That’s also pretty much the vibe they’re sticking with. Static guitars create this feeling of solid waves of sound assaulting the listener, while you always feel slighlyuncomfortable due to the unpredictable vocals. What I do like, is how they put in these short breaks here and there. Nothing is as boring as hearing the steady guitar riff for 40 minutes consecutively and those albums are around too. This is a fierce and exciting record, the way I like them.