Category Archives: Review

Underground Sounds: Black Kirin – Xiao Shao

Label: self released
Band: Black Kirin
Origin: China

‘Xiao Shao’ is a reference to a musical movement in the mythological Emperor Shun’s time. The album is an acoustic, unplugged version of predecessor ‘National Trauma’. That means this is an almost pure folk ablum delivered by the Chinese group, which is mighty interesting to listen to.

Black Kirin has been around for a while and has members in the ranks that have been active in The Samans, Skeletal Augury and Anthelion for example. China may have one of the most unexplored scnenes, partly thanks to the language barrier, so finding this gem is a greatly exciting thing for me.

The music features traditional instruments and an overal vibe you’d associate with the Chinese sound. Unfortunately my best reference seem to be attractions in theme parks and the Pandaria expansion for World of Warcraft, but the tranquility of the sound, the swooning, wailing instruments (instead of vocals) that take the center stage and the playful, natural way of delivery seems mighty familiar.

Some parts of the album feel more like listening to a Spanish guitar, but what is most stunning is how the beautiful songs emerge when you strip them completely down. Melancholic and fragile, the songs appear to have a strength of their own to them and evoke an imagery that is timeless and unbound by cultural components. It easily fades to the background, but if you focus on the intricate guitar play, this is a marvelous record to experience. The way the songs break down and lift up again, the tremolo guitar and purity of it.

This is some definitely beautiful music from another world. It opens up the roots of the black metal the band creates normally to the listener and it’s a little miracle what you find then.

 

Underground Sounds: Anturgle – Oursgaard

Label: Howling Griffons Music
Band: Anturgle
Origin: ?

I know virtually nothing of this one man project, apart from that I suspect that is a French project. The maker must have an affinity with a wide array of music, because the sound of Anturgle betrays a lot of interesting elements, ranging from folk and black metal to maybe even a classical element.

While there’s only little information available, it becomes clear that the recordings were done in the Savoy Region in the south-west of France. Unfortunately who is behind the project is a mystery. A mix of English, French and Norwegian makes up the vocals and with little editing in the studio the songs  are just put together. The directness of this record is audible instantly.

The record opens with bombastic drums. Deep sonorous chanting accompanies the banging percussion on ‘Licou’. Then an eerie bit of distortion seeps into the sound and  harsh vocals can be heard. Heavy and very foreboding it’s hard to realise that these are mostly recorded sounds. It’s like a demonic string instrument is creating a dark bit of swing music. The manner in which the sound shapes up hardly feels like ambient, but in essence that is what you hear.

That feeling of a nekrofolk sound remains on the next tracks on the album. The ‘Cadaver Chute’ swings up and down but suddenly stops in a weird way at the end. There’s something playful with a dark twist to the sound of Anturgle. The vibe is an almost sardonic one, when the tune unfolds out on ‘Ours Deniers’. A noisy wave overtakes the melody and lisped vocals  by the musician, suggesting dark things. Speculative fears and mystery make this record what it is.

Dissonant riffs and howling screams delivered in a most peculiar way,help in unnerving the listener. The whole record assaults the ear and lacks the expected and comfort and also, in case I didn’t emphasize it, rather strange. Densely atmospheric and undeniably tribal like on ‘Back To The Forest’, the music remains an object of fascination. You should give this a spin.

Underground Sounds: Dissimulation -Juodo Mėnulio Archyvai

Label: Ledo Takas Records
Band: Dissimulation
Origin: Lithuania

Lithuanian black thrashers Dissimulation are one of the longest running bands in the genre for the Baltic country. Internationally the scene is little known, with rare exception for bands like Obtest and Luctus. Having been around since 1993, the band has plenty to show for it, which is released on this record ‘Juodo Mėnulio Archyvai’.

The record is a collection of their work, but therefor also a good introduction into the work of this band. The three piece from Kaunas plays a mixture of black metal and raw thrash. In the early days that was much more pure black. An interesting other fact is that as far as I know there was little time for other projects.

Listening to the album, you notice that the band clearly has that messy thrash element to them. That is interestingly combined with synths, creating folkish peculiar songs like ‘Būk Prakeiktas’. The energetic tune is captivating and fun for the listener and a little remniscent of Finntroll in their early days. The blistering, gritty sound features bleak lo-fi sound, blast beats, unearthly barks and an overall break-neck speed. The thrashy elements are easily detectable in the overall messy sound of the Lithuanians. That is, I think, what gives Dissimulation its unique dark flavor and raw fury. Peculiar vocals now and then are even adding to that sense of begin unnerved.

‘Mūšis Rūke’ is a typical track, with the heavy synths giving of the sort of epic dungeon vibe that is actually prevalent in all the work by Dissimulation. A typical looped synth jingle gives that special fantasy-feel of later ’90s black metal. It’s not sticking to that though, a few songs futher we get the blistering blackened thrash again, mayb exemplified by the cover of ‘Countess Bathory’, originally by Venom.

The quality on this record varies between some tight materian and rather distorted, gritty demo tracks (like ‘Pilnaties Kerai’, which sounds completely demented with its frantic, nervous roaring vocals). The all over impression of this record is a career spanning overview of extreme metal. Dissimulation definitely has their own flavor of raw, straight up black metal.

Underground Sounds: Bròn – Ànrach

Label: Kunsthauch
Band: Brón
Origin: United Kingdom

The word Ànrach hails from Gaelic and means as much as forlorn person, which is very much the mood of this debut album by the Brittish band Bròn. Apparently a liking has been taken to the Gaelic Scotland by its member, since the bandname is also in the language, meaning sorrow.

Bròn is the project of Krigeist, also known from his band Barshasketh. Where that project is relentless black metal, Bròn appears to be much more focussed on the atmospheric with a lot of synths and keys in the sound. After two demo’s is this the first full length album for the project.

The eerie sound with which the record opens, is more akin of a haunting ambient album. Gently droning, it grows and it feels fitting to the mesmerizing artwork. A nature depiction of mountains and trees and the majestic play of light in the sky by Diana Tuchs. It smoothlymelds in with a piece of blistering black metal, holding the dense atmosphere of the keys intact. This is only the title track yet, a wavery, majestic piece that lasts about 20 minutes. The synths are prevailing here

‘Lutalica’ comes from Serbo-Croatic and means wanderer. It’s also the second track, where static guitars announce the opening of another long tune. The slow reverberation is like the ripples on a lake with the mountains in the background, before it all truly unleashes with a frantic burst of guitar work, laced with synths again. The vocals come from deep, they’re almost squeeled as if constricted, choked off and offer a strange contrast with the peaceful trickling of the synths. The final track is ‘Tipiwhenua’, which means pretty much the same, but then in Maori. Another slow thredding, thickly atmospheric track that seems to drag you to the Abbyss with a vibe that comes close to some Burzum albums. Nature beckons.

It’s funny how an album can sound almost desperately blissful and make those two into one. I have to say it feels very fitting. If you take a walk in the forest, drifting by yourself through the nature, there’s always a risk or danger to it. But there’s also the bliss of being free of the constraints around you. I think that this album perfectly illustrates that feeling.

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.

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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.