Category Archives: Review

Underground Sounds: Huldre – Tusmørke

Band: Huldre
Origin: Denmark
Label: Gateway Music

‘Tusmørke’ translates as twilight and I think it’s the perfect word for this mysterious time when the strange things happen. It’s a time of folkore and magic, which is precisely the fit for the music of folk metallers Huldre.

Soundwise the only band I could place them near to is Eluveitie. More heavily on the folk with metal more or less an electrical boost to the impact of the sound, the group has a distinct flavor and unique appeal to them with their Danish folkloristic themes and stories. The vocals really take the center spot for this act, which I always enjoy thorougly. The songs are in Danish and I haven’t found the lyrics yet, that is a shame.

There is a lot to like about the music of Huldre, but for me it mainly is the vocals of Nanna Barslev, which are everything you’d want of a mystical northern lady on vocals. Yodeling away, but also masterfully crafting eerie lines, the vocalist is central to the folky sound of the band and to its mystic aura. That and ofcourse the string instruments that capture your heart and mind instantly.

Those are most prominent on tracks like ‘Jagt’ and ‘Varulv’ in the more melodic parts. Guitars really just serve to buff up the sound when a more powerful passage needs to sweep the listener of their feet. On a rare occasion we even hear Barslev scream her lungs out, for example on ‘Hindeham’. When the band choses for a more metal-like sound, on ‘Underjordisk’ and ‘Skifting’, their sound becomes a very typical expression that I can only compare to the experience of Skyforger, Metsatöll and maybe even some Slavic groups. The hurdy-gurdy and flutes add a distinct spice to the sound, that sets the group apart.

Folk metal is not just drinking horns and shouting. Folk and metal can create a new sound, beautiful and melancholic. Huldre does exactly that on this record, using both in full force. Folk is not a decoration of the metal here, nor is it the other way around. A great record indeed.

 

Underground Sounds: The Mass – Ghost Fleet

Label: self released
Band: The Mass
Origin: United States

Fun fact, the day I became a student, I was full of energy and life and the same night I went out in Eindhoven with a friend. We went to a place called The Bunker, which was sort of the student watering hole in the city to see a band that was playing in the AOR (Algemene Ontmoetingsruimte). One of those bands was The Mass. I bought a t-shirt, I wore it forever. Now they’re back with this EP.

The venue closed not much later with huge debt, which sucked. But that night, was a special one full of optimism and a sense of freedom. The Mass was an awesome band with a distinct sound, probably dipping into the post-hardcore sound but much more avant-garde at the same time. ‘Ghost Fleet’ is a return to form for the fourpiece.

The record kicks of with an instant hectic swirl of guitar blasts and shouted, frustrated vocals. The sound is hooky, unpredictable and lacking in cohesion it seems. It’s all there, but the listener is constantly challenged. ‘Threshing The Light’ makes the band feel like one of those experimental, gritty bands on the Dischord Records label. Unexpected element is the saxophone. That is even more present on the next song, where the band is really moving into jazzy terrain. “Neuronic Channels Driven to Agitation” is a funky, screaming instruments jazz jam that goes on for just long enough.

Both elements come together on the nervous ‘Don’t go whaling high’, with heavy, Meshuggesque guitar breaks and the spiralling crazy jazzspeditions by the band. It stays towards the heavy, creative side of music and the record this far is one with a punkrock grit to it. Sludge elements, grunge ferocity and a whole lot of rage to go berserk to during a live set. Still, there’s always that radically different aspect to the sound of The Mass. Think of bands that just sound different enough to be awesome, maybe even Refused. 

Closing the record is a true epic track. ‘Ghost Ship’ almost clocks at 20 minutes, with repetitive, threatening grooves, pounding drums and the characteristic hooked riff work that makes this band sound so particularly cool. It’s a cool, addictive tune, like this whole record of carefully distributed sonic violence. The Mass still rocks and I’m happy to find that they’re still going strong.

Underground Sounds: Nidingr – The High Heat Licks Against Heaven

Label: Indie Recordings
Band: Nidingr
Origin: Norway

It’s a provocative title, this one. It suggest that the fire on earth has been stoked high enough so that the flames lick agains theaven, creating an uncomfortable heat in the otherwise serene halls of God. That is a fitting title for Nidingr, who are creating a great album steeped into the tradition of black metal.

Nidingr started out as a solo project for guitar payer Teloch, who is now active in Mayhem (the true Mayhem, before any confusion arises). He gathered musicians, that have played live in bands like God Seed, Myrkur and even Gorgoroth and Trelldom. That explains a connection to these fundamental black metal sounds.

Only singer Cpt. Estrella Grasa is a slightly less known figure in the scene and also in my opinion the odd bit in the sound of the band. His hoarse bark feels a bit too ‘hardcore punk’ at times and when he is simply speaking it hasn’t got that profundity. It does give a song like ‘Surtr’ a different dimension and makes it in whole a lot more accessible. The proclamation on ‘The Ballad of Hamther’ could be a bit more imposing, but hey.

The mythological titles and dissonant sound of the band makes for a rather spectacular sounding record. The turbulent ‘Sol Taker’ for example is a great, thunderous performance with vocals coming from the center of a maelstrom. ‘Ash Yggdrasil’ has some calm, beseeching voice luring the weary traveller in on the opening chords. That is no other than Garm from Ulver singing on a track that reminds me mostly of Mysteriis era Mayhem with the blaring, ugly riffing that pass by so slowly, without ever relenting the sound. Only later in the song, when only drum and chanted vocals remain there’s break, but the wavery guitars come up instantly when the song continues… but then slowly fades.

And again the band surprises with ‘Heimdalargaldr’. A bombastic, Behemoth-ian spectacle  with big arches, arousing drums and powerful vocals, that appear to come from deep. It’s another aspect of the Nidinger sound, but in a remarkably powerful form. The high point of the album is yet to come though, with the arrival of ‘Naglfar is Loosed’. An epic song featuring the heavenly vocals of Myrkur to create an even grander, epic journey. It’s perhaps not far off to call it a dirge, lamenting the coming of Ragnarok. But what a way to go, aye?

Nidingr is surprisingly accesible on this album, a marriage of the vocals and classic black metal. Great record.

 

Underground Sounds: Alseyoung – Who Passes Through Fire

Label: Self released
Band: Alseyoung
Origin: United States

There’s a remarkable amount of good doom metal out there these days. Doom as a genre has not really changed much over the years, which is why it is often overlooked. The quality of doom metal is not necessarily in experimenting. The strength of doom is in its way of evoking feelings with their listeners. Alseyoung clearly got that point on their demo/debut ‘Who Passes Through Fire’.

So who was Alse Young? Alse Young is the first recorded instance of execution for witchcraft in the American colonies. We know little about the woman. Her husband accused her of witchcraft. He provided ample proof it seems. So Alse Young was soon convicted and executed for this crime. A faith that befell many back in the day. Like many cases the surrounding context made the accusations highly dubious and probably money was the main reason for this accusation. You kow how things like this go. The name sounds great for a band though.

The one man band has collected all the demo recordings into one collection, which creates pretty much an album. There’s a bit of variation in the sound, but the record sounds pretty coherent. We have the horror samples as well to add to the vibe of this ‘Puritan Witchcraft Doom’ album. From classic St. Vitus riffs on ‘The Shadow of a Woman’, with the big, colossal riffs, we move to a more sinister sound on ‘Thy Blood’. On this track we get creeping vocals and tremolo guitar play to create a more black metal ambiance. Another dimension of the sound is on ‘Blood, Stone, Soil, Fire’, which approaches the more raw, distorted doom of Warhorse.

Alseyoung is not the most tight sounding band, so the classic doom riffs are only now and then a part of the sound. The creeping, onholy sounds of the vocals in concert with the riffs gives a cavernous, underground feeling to the music. The recording quality varies here and there. This is only logical, since it is a collection of demo recordings.  What I find that a lot of the material lacks is a  serieus bit of storytelling. I mean that in the sense of the song, staying relatively constant and not really looking for the dramatic and epic moments that define doom metal. It’s all about the progression of the song with Alseyoung. A bit more dramatic climax wouldn’t hurt.

I think we might hear more from this Massachusets act in the future.

 

Underground Sounds: Úir – Tein​​-​​Éigin

Label: Eldritch Lunar Miasma Records/Rat King Records
Band: Úir
Origin: Scotland/England

The Scottish black metal band Úir has plenty of experience in the ranks. Members of Úlfarr, Barshasketh, Haar and Vostok. Plenty of goodness there then to make a great bit of atmospheric black metal non the intriguing record ‘Tein​​-​​Éigin’. Yes, it feels a bit like Elvish or something like that, with its peculiar cover and symbolism.

Úir is a band made up of Scottish and Cumbrian musicians, true northerners so to say. On this album the theme is the passing of seasons in the sense that ancient cultures revered the sun and the moon in its paths like this. The sun as the life giver, the moon as the teller of time. The record travels from the rise of spring to the darkness of winter in four songs. I must say, they’ve done this quite well with an attractive album here.

The album kicks of with some astounding guitar work, which feels like some prog metal actually. The title-track creates a space, with languid, soaring riffs and a crisp clear sound. It’s black metal aspects gradually overwhelm. The sound of sunrays sticks though, even when howling vocals call out in the spacious sound. Though the sound may be very stretched out, there’s also a condensed element to the track and to the general sound of Úir. There’s little in the sense of unnecessary bomast and that makes the music feel more urgent, more direct in its expression to me.

The same feeling sticks with the following ‘Mi na Grianstad’, which deals with the summer solstice. The song clocks over 8 minutes and starts as a full on blasted flow of black metal, but after a few minutes it dwindles down to a gentle part with reverberating guitarplay. I have to put a little Opeth comparsion here, in the way Uír is so completely balanced in their sound. In the final part the vocals take on a more profound role, due to sounding more demented and fierce at one time and the next very much ritualistic. ‘Am Damhair’ refers to oktober, or the season of the deer. It’s a more calm, traditionally progressing atmospheric piece with some clear guitar elements again, creating that right vibe at the right time.

The maddening howls and the torrent of guitarplay are truly the final descent into darkness in winter, as you can hear on the final track ‘Ruiros’. There’s something extremely saddening in the guitar play. The vocals by singer Afallach are truly out of this world on this particular song though. It finishes of a great black metal record.

 

 

 

Underground Sounds: Deafest – Ephemeral

Label: self released
Band: Deafest
Origin: United States

Deafest was once called DunkelSkog, which means dark forest in Swedish. Though they only played one show, they made sure it was special. As Deafest the band has been rather productive through the years and also has dared to venture into new directions, like on this rather particular EP.

Chase Ambler from Denver is the brains behind Deafest, using various other musicians to creat the art itself. On Ephemeral the band is playing acoustic music, for which Ambler did everything himself. Well, apart from designing the logo it seems, which is something that has changed a lot over time. Inspiration for this record was derived from the four seasons and though this is in a way a musical experiment, I think it is beautifully done and a true, rich bit of music.

The gentle folk music is much like the glowing green hills on the album cover. A wide, hilly land, fully in its sparkling glow of life and awakening. The guitar tones trickle by slowly in a carefree manner, like a mountain river flowing. The chiming of small bells, the piano parts and xylophone all are such sounds that put the listener at ease, offering a sense of comfort and peace in an otherwise way to busy world. With that I think we come to the most important aspect of this record by Deafest, it’s praise of nature.

In nature you can find a specific calm and peace. In black metal this often is reflected in the music with ponderous, contemplative sounding music. Those are the elements that are embraced on this EP, which is further stripped of the typical riffing and violent sounds. There’s the repetition, which creates an almost tranquil, meditative mood. It’s a beautiful experiment and a very pleasant record to just drift away with for a short while.

Underground Sounds: Hermóðr – The Howling Mountains

Label: Wolfspell Records
Band: Hermóðr
Origin: Sweden

The man behind Hermóðr is Rafn, a man who has been active in dozens of black metal projects in the past (like Mist, Deadlife and Vredesmod but an uncannily long list more). This one has been one of the longer running ones. Atmospheric black metal with a focus on nature, the north and the ancient times when the world was still younger and more close to us.

In the music of Hermóðr the listener finds something grand, the uncharted nature and the wide stretches of uninhabited ground. On the cover alone the cliffy coast beckons in a golden morning light, while calling the brave and bould to approach. I’m immediately pulled in by that imagery. There’s definitely a strain of folk music present here too.

The trickling intro promises mystery and adventure as well, but also the feeling of autumn in the air. The music never really transgresses into the tremolo and blast beat grounds of more traditional black metal and remains a more ambient metal-like soundtrack to the season. The slow progressions on songs like ‘Summer Ends’ are more inward. Introspective tunes that make the listener look back at himself. Thoughtful and with a haunting beauty the songs wander by, with an odd guitar riff spinning out or a bass line clinging to the inner ear for a moment.

Even on ‘The Mystic Forest’ the leaves are turning and icy vocals reach out to you. They’re buried deep in the mix, which I don’t always get. Lyrics should be audible atleast I feel, but it works here. The repetitive shimmering guitar parts lull the listener into a dreamy state, enjoying the natural state of the world around them. It reminds me a bit of Falkenbach, though maybe with that modern element of Drudkh. The slow, pastoral progressions, the laborious toiling of nature. The music falls in with the current movement that takes out the human part and shows nature in a pure, unspoiled way. A tradition harking back to the ‘Dunkelheit’ video by Burzum even.

A good example of really going in that direction is the song ‘Snow and Ice’, which really fades in a noisy snowstorm towards its end. The dirge-like sound just fades away due to a hazy cloud of noise. This album is one that is special. It certainly possesses its own darkness an depressive qualities, but these are just the shifting elements of nature. There’s  a simple grandeur to a track like ‘The Howling Mountains’.  There lies its beauty, in its uncomplicated appraisal for the natural.

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.