Category Archives: Review

Underground Sounds: Byrdi – Ansur: Urkraft

Label: Trollmusic
Band: Byrdi
Origin: Norway

There’s no huge audience for folk music. Not when we start talking about real, authentic folk music. Sure, we’ll love a bit of Wardruna thanks to the epic Vikings series. The Hollywood experience leaves the music in itself is largely misunderstood though. That’s a massive shame because people miss out on groups that really bring it the way the gentlemen from Byrdi do on their latest album Ansur: Urkraft.

Byrdi has been around for a bit now and this is the follow-up to their debut album Eventyr. On this record, they go deeper though, more intimate and personally they approach heathen folk of the forgotten ages. Digging deep into northern history and mysticism, the group produces an album that really fascinates and tantalizes the listener on a primal level.

Though its title may be funny, the harmonious singing on ‘Blaanane blaa’ serves as a gateway into the realm where Byrdi operates. Tempered, tribal drumming comes up in the background. While minimal, it’s effect is so heavy with the rumbling in your gut. The music doesn’t need any heaviness or density. The full, warm sound and smooth production allow for an optimal expression with just simple instruments and vocals. Sometimes that can sound a bit more boisterous and manly, like ‘Myrpesten’. At other times they sound intimate and melancholic, like on the visceral ‘Celebrata’. The bass tones and eerie atmosphere takes you away.

One thing that I find surprising is how easily the mood and emotions change with the songs of Byrdi. The directness of the songs really goes straight to something inside you, tugging the heartstrings so to say and evoking images of more archetype-like experiences. The way the gentle guitar picking on ‘Ren’ focuses the attention is just magical. When the vocals come in, you’re already in a trance-like state mentally. Byrdi has made an album that puts you in the heart of the forest, in the shadow of mountains and the cold stream of a river. The magic that inspired our forefathers to make their earliest folk art and songs. This record is pure magic.

Underground Sounds: Botanist – Collective: The Shape of He to Come

Label: Avantgarde Music
Band: Botanist
Origin: United States / The Verdant Realm

Harmonious collective in the Verdant realm of Botanist

The group Botanist really functions as a group on this brand new album, which feels very different to their earlier efforts. A year after the split with Oskoreien, we step away from the numbered series of albums to create something new in the form of Collective: The Shape of He to Come. 

Though Botanist is currently touring (and I’ll be seeing them play in a week in Eindhoven’s very own Dynamo), they will not be playing songs from this record, because the band is not the same as the one that made this record. Particularly the singing of Bezaelith is key to these songs, but she’s not touring with the band.

On this record, Otrebor has shared writing responsibilities with the other members. This makes the album a more layered construction, with new aspects and more of a complete vibe. When an album is created by a solo-artist, it somehow always has a little bit of that solitary vision in its execution. The album has more now, more musicality, more wanderings down untrodden garden paths… It’s an exciting, fresh new sound. If you like to read more about that process, which so clearly shapes the sound, read about it here.

The sound of that hammered dulcimer completely enthralls me. The hitting feels firm, but also mellow to the ear, taking off the sharp edge of black metal riffing. Botanist sounds unique because of that. It can create heavy, percussive black metal, but obviously also classical sounding, melancholic music. That is immediately clear on opener ‘Praise Azalea the Adversary’, with its gentle intro. The gentle, shivery vocals on the first part of ‘The Shape of He to Come’ also are so different, but filled with the fragile beauty of nature in its very own way.

The music blossoms as one could say, slowly unfolding. Tones grow together like an unkept garden, they merge together and weave green tapestries of sound with that mournful singing in harmony. A great example is ‘Upon Veltheim’s Throne Shall I Wait’, where everything gathers in a steady stream.

So there’s always a lot of subtlety to the music of Botanist, it doesn’t hit you in the face with force, but overgrows you gradually.  Subtle bass loops, spun out soundscapes, this record lacks every aspect of brutality and that is in fact perfectly fine. On ‘Join the Continuum’ there’s even some straight up folk music, with ladies chanting melancholic, yearning words. Most imposing track is the epic ‘The Reconciliation of Nature and Man’. An epic, rumbling track, where the percussionist elements really are the source of the feeling in your gut. Everything about this record just oozes that different method and plan behind it. Otrebor definitely holds it close to the tradition of Botanist, but this record explores new sounds and expressions. It’s a great trip and I am really looking forward to hearing this live.

Underground Sounds: Der Weg Einer Freiheit – Finisterre

Label: Seasons of Mist
Band: Der Weg Einer Freiheit
Label: Seasons of Mist

Goodbye, Cruel World with Der Weg Einer Freiheit

Der Weg Einer Freiheit offers the world a new taste of their dominating black metal skills with ‘Finisterre’.  Only two years after ‘Stellar’ the group from Würzburg is back with an absolute gem.  The solid core of the band is still Nikita Kamprad, but with some member changes, it seems that the group is gently shifting direction.

Though the sound seems to evolve in the expected trajectory, the album art is different on this record. For the first time, we see some more traditional black metal symbols adorning the cover of ‘Finisterre’. In one interview, Kamprad proclaimed that this record is their goodbye to the world as we know it.  A line in the sand, a point of saying that we have to start over instead of continuing along this line.

I’ve written about Der Weg Einer Freiheit before on this site. I have to admit that I find both listening to and writing about this band daunting. Not because I think there is anything obstructive, I just think that they’re that good. There’s something so immense to the sound of these Germans. Listen to opener ‘Aufbruch’ with is monumental drum work and eerie, out of space guitars. Launching into a ferocious machine gun drum roll at the end the song finishes in a majestic show of force.

As said, ‘Stellar’ was much more spiritual, so ‘Finisterre’ brings us back to the ground. The sound of the album is much more earthy, solid and strong. A mixture between Endstille and Wolves in the Throne room would be a fitting way to describe this band, but it lacks the nuances to fully embrace them. It is telling on a track like ‘Ein letzter Tanz’, where the mournful melody merges with the sheer inferno of a scouring verdict, of our times as the nadir of civilization. Never afraid to implement lessons from modern black metal, a calm, soothing break occurs as well after which the abyss fully opens seven minutes into the song.

As if that was not severe enough, the two part ‘Skepsis’ follows with a climactic explosion. The sound sweeps you along in all its dramatic splendor, only to be repeated one more time on the finalizing title track. There’s hints to the more melodic, blackgaze or post-black metal sound here and there, which is perfectly fine. The music needs to convey grief. The sound truly holds a sense of finiteness. Slowly the cavernous riffing fades away into nothingness.

Underground Sounds: Laiva – Laiva EP

Label: Independent
Band: Laiva
Origin: United States

The waves, the sea, the Balts

I came across this band from Seattle, because they use Latvian titles and themes for their shoegaze. Maybe a connection exists, but information is scarce on this group. What I can tell you is that they make great music. Music that overwhelms you with its calm cadence and free-flowing stream of the guitar.

The band appears to be part of the ‘dreamgaze’ scene in their neck of the woods. The band has been praised in announcements for their live shows, but more I can not say at t his point.

We hear the sound of the sea on ‘Pūt Vējiņi’, which has a sung intro performed by Edmunds and Valentine Rekevics in San Diego. The title means ‘Blow Wind’, which is a Latvian folk song. I’m not sure if the couple is part of the band or simply Latvian migrants that recorded their beloved songs. It offers a contemplative opening to this record with the beautiful song reverberating in my ears.

The band truly has an oceanic quality to them, completely submerging the listener in waves of tranquil guitar play. Wavery, warm sounds wash over you on ‘Come Now’, that beckons you to join in the water with its alluring, hazy sound. The flow keeps a steady pace, but never is it rushed. Vocals are used sparsely and even then they are hard to hear in the middle of the complete current of the music. On ‘Sea Legs’ we get a few changes, where the sound becomes a gentle trickling guitar for a moment before a complete haze overwhelms you again.

The EP is a beautiful record that feels like a whole that stretches on a bit much. Call it shoegaze or postrock, it has something haunting. It offers a feeling of swimming in the ocean. Completely submerging in the massive sound.

Underground Sounds: Dymna Lotva – The Land under the Black Wings: Swamp

Label: Der Neue Weg Productions
Origin: Belarus:
Band: Dymna Lotva

Belarussian grief with Dymna Lotva

The band Dymna Lotva hails from Belarus, a country with a long history and traditions. They might have been obscured in the times of the Soviet occupation and maybe still under the rule of Lukashenko. Belarus has a rich and fertile soil for re-enactment, folk music and densely atmospheric projects like the DSBM band Dymna Lotva.

The group has been around since 2015 but hasn’t taken the time to relax since their inception. The band appears to revolve around their singer Ekaterina Mankevich (stage name Nokt), who writes the lyrics and is the person appearing on the press pictures. The themes the band applies to their music are nature, folklore, and sorrow, which is tangible from the artwork already.

The gentle flutes play a haunting melody. A low piping accompanies the melody, offering slow bass lines until the piano starts playing. The atmosphere grabs you immediately, with a sound filled with melancholy and darkness. The careful introduction brings us to the windswept planes of Belarus in ancient times, when the sinister voice of singer Nokt starts luring you in. Her voice can be beautiful as much as frightning in its cold beauty.

Intricate melodies are woven through the songs, that truly hold to the depressive, atmospheric black metal vibe. Slow, lingering guitar passages are like a swamp to sink away in on ‘Willothewisp’. At the same time the running piano steps are seducing you to look further. Dymna Lotva seems to use quite some synths to achieve the overwhelming, smothering sound that they produce. Sometimes the sound is a bit too polished, a little too much to handle. It’s a hard balance to find and really a personal listening experience. Next to the high pitched screams of Nokt, the growls on ‘Requim’ by Andrew Tomak from Apologeth seem unnecessary. The two singers don’t add, but just double up in a sense.

Ambient sounds fill up the voids in songs and the traditional instruments give an ethnic feel to the music of these Belarusians. A fascinating record for sure. Folky with a bit of dungeon synth, in conclusion this is a joy to listen to.

 

Klabautamann - Smaragd

Underground Sounds: Klabautamann – Smaragd

Label: Zeitgeister Music
Origin: Germany
Band: Klabautamann

Sail the unknown with Klabautamann

It’s a peculiar entity, this Klabautamann, who deliver some wonderful music with their fifth full length, titled ‘Smaragd’. The German group enlisted Costin Chorineau for the artwork, which looks as if it was inspired by the similar looking cover of Helms Alee’s ‘Sleepwalking Sailors’. There’s not much similarity in the music, though both albums allow you to just dream away in distinct manners.

Klabautamann blends black metal with elements of folk and quite a bit of postrock. Klabautamann refers to a specific type of goblin that causes shipwrecks. The nautical theme is not overly present in their work though, but the focus on nature is. The band is a two piece, with Florian Toyka (Valborg) and Tim Steffens (Skarab). So both are not strangers to the weird and experimental we could say. This project definitely has a progressive flavor.

Pecularly, Klabautamann can sound a bit Pink Floydish at times. For example on ‘In My Shadow’, where a passage feels like the trickling, playful tease of one of those tunes. That shortly shifts back to blast beats and growls though. Massive archs and thunderous rhythms hit the listener like waves. The music is filled with tiny details and as a result of this the band doesn’t need to be loud. Their loudness is in the gentle flow of the organ, the muffled drum hits. All ready to erupt in violent blasts at any time.

But there’s some doom and gloom in their music too. Check out the song ‘The Murderers’, withits creeping, death metal vibe, which morphs into cascading, clean sounding doom riffs. It’s remarkable how these guys never need the pure volume and distortion to be loud. Klabautamann is all about atmosphere. The songs slowly unfold, while all those details work the listeners imagination. It makes for a record that is a daunting listen, yet so worth your time to check it out.

Underground Sounds: Green Druid – Ashen Blood

Label: Independent
Origin: USA
Band: Green Druid

Doom Against The World

Green Druid is more than just some music, it’s an expression of its times and a way to deal with the world for the members involved. I like that sentiment, even more so because it produces some excellent traditional doom music by this Denver, Colorado group. The band seems to be most amazed themselves by their output.

In 2015 Green Druid releases an EP with some interesting artwork, which would not have really promised the music you’ll find on this amazing release with great artwork. Brad Smalling at Evergroove Studio did a great job in making this record sound as solid as it does now.

Three slabs of songs, clocking a good 30 minutes in total take you along for a ride with some excellent riffing and heavy hitting drums. Opener ‘Pale Blood Sky’ comes on slowly with the toiling, massive riffs. The vocals for amoment seem to not live up to the expectations, but as soon as they catch on to the harmony of the guitars it all melts together in its crestfallen, bleak unity. For almost ten minutes you ride those waves. The sound grabs you with force and does not allow you to tame it.

You can taste the stoner roots in the full, hazy sound of the band and comparisons to the mighty Trouble are therefor not so strange, though I’d add the great Cathedral to that mix. ‘Agoraphobia’ picks up on that thread, but the vocals here sound even more desolate and tormented at times. The slow progression and sheer heaviness of the sound is intoxicating. Green Druid might not be doing completely new things on their debut, but what they deliver is very, very well made.

Crushing riffs take you to the end of ‘Dead Tree’, the final track of the album. The track also had some more gentle passages, but never losing that looming threat in the sound. I think this band might be one you’ll hear about more in the future.

Underground Sounds: Emyn Muil – Elenion Ancalima

Label: Northern Silence Productions
Band: Emyn Muil
Origin: Italy

Dreaming of Tolkien

Some people take their Tokien fandom to extreme lengths. Emyn Muil from Cassano delle Murge is one of those bands.  The band is an epic black metal project of Saverio Giove (Valtyr, Ymir). As you probably guessed, the sound is very close to the masters of this sort of music Summoning. This is the second full length by the Italian artist and it is a grandiose spectacle indeed.

It took four years after ‘Túrin Turambar Dagnir Glaurunga’ for ‘Elenion Ancalima’ to manifest itself. The album theme is accordingly a particular section of the Silmarillion book, titled Akallabeth. Sometimes the story is published in Lord of the Rings books. The story tells of the lost land of Númenor, a Tolkienesque version of the Atlantis myth.

The lyrics seem to come straight from that piece of literature and the music really is Summoning worship at its best. Finding a spot somewhere between black metal and dungeon synth, Emyn Muil is a dreamy, intoxicating experience that easily entices its listeners to travel to strange lands. The right mixture of eerie synths (including pipes and flutes), bombastic drums and proclaiming spoken word, immediately takes you in on ‘Under A Silvered Star’. The black metal part is really restricted to a few passages, like on ‘The Lay of Númenorë’. In fact, the synths really take the upper hand in this 14-minute epic and the guitars only serve to give a bit of menacing tang to the song. Therefore it’s actually quite easy listening.

The record is more a strange soundtrack with storytelling. Listening to ‘Ar-Pharazôn’, it feels like you’re watching a grandiose spectacle in your mind. An element of remorse seeps into the sound, it’s the grandeur of ruin that is described in this song. The hubris of Icarus, of a King that wanted too much. This is the absolute magic that Emyn Muil evokes with this music, without ever overdoing it. Emyn Muil either moves you, or it bores you I suppose. You probably feel equally passionate about Dungeon synth in that case or similarly disinterested. In all honesty, I think that Emyn Muil is a beautiful project, particularly for the fans of fantasy and film. Providing that you are one of those, this is the record for you.

Underground Sound: Slaegt – Domus Mysterium

Label: Ván Records
Band: Slaegt
Origin: Denmark

German elegance meets Northern Darkness

And with some great, folkish riffs you’re immediately captured by these Danes. Slaegt caught some mild controversy on social media with their peculiar cover design. Any PR is good PR, right? Funnily enough, the symbol is a combination of a 4 times the same symbol from Astrid Lindgren’s book ‘Brothers Lionheart’. It’s the symbol of the tyrant Tengil and the band has made it their own. The group feels a connection to the story, the opposing of said tyrant. Hence the symbol.

For the Danish group, this is their second full length after 2015’s ‘Ildsvanger’. The sound of the band has clearly shifted from the black metal sound to a blend with a heavy metal flavor. Unlike bands such as Rebel Wizard, the sound of Slaegt moves in a much more regal direction. It is as if their music connects the epic German sound with Northern black metal on this record.

The guitarwork is often very clean, so you can hear how the riffs weave the pattern of some kick ass songs. Slaegt sounds vital, urgent and surprisingly catchy at times. Sure, the vocals are of the barked, ferocious sort, but you get both worlds here. At times the band sounds pretty much like a black metal band, with the thick waves of atmospheric minor tones. Those lingering bits of darkness, tremolo guitar play and drum battery you hear for example on ‘Egovore’. Still the mix is slightly different, which leaves  a lot of space for some melodic passages.

I just have to highlight some songs for you, because those illuminate the splendid formula of these Danish musicians best. ‘The Tower’ is definitely one of their coolest songs; weeping guitars, a foreboding bit of play to rival Metallica and Opeth. There’s nothing showy about it though, no weird complexities. Just great metal music.

On ‘Burning Feathers’ we have an omnious piano intermezzo. It holds up the atmosphere, without trying too hard. Maybe my favorite track is the final one (the title track). The galloping rhythm, the fierce singing and the oh so catchy guitar lines. And it lasts almost 14 minutes. The speed dwindles a bit later in the song, for some of those screaming guitar parts, that remind you of classic heavy metal. This album is just a joy to listen to really.

Underground Sounds: Romowe Rikoito – Namawār

Label: Dangus
Band: Romowe Rikoito
Origin: Lithuania, Old-Prussia

Forgotten words, forgotten places

I’ve penned something about this band before. I was intrigued by their approach of a forgotten language, the dedication and bravery in trying to put these ancient pieces back together and reinvoke a culture. The group Romowe Rikoito has done five albums this far. I’ve not managed to grab a hold of those first two, but it is on the third where they immerse themselves in the forgotten world of the Prussians.

Let me give you a little background, since Prussia often makes people think of Germany. Prussia was a Baltic nation though, but washed away by German immigrants from the 14th century onwards. The language disappeared in the last century. A people forgotten so to say. Brave revivalists put new life in the language. Romowe Rikoito is instrumental to this effect. We can actually call this modern Prussian.

The gentle opener is ‘T T T’, with the soft voice of Alwārmija resounding warmly over the trickling tones. Main man Glabis Niktorius has a certain bite to his voice, a particular tang when he pronounces the words in this ancient tongue with conviction and resolve. The music of Romowe Rikoito is like a gently trickling brook in a hidden grove somewhere in the ancient lands of the Prussians. Gentle bells and other metallic instruments play a pleasant song for the weary wanderer.

On songs like ‘Rōma[nā]wa’ we hear the percussion work its magic, weaving a song without ever really hitting a melody. It creates the feeling of ambient, of something natural in harmony with the universe. The music holds on to something meditative, something ritualistic that soothes the mind when listening to it. It’s melancholy is also hard to miss on songs like ‘Waīstis waistā’. Even the voice of Niktorius has an element of desire to it, an almost gasping hunger for life of the forgotten ways of the Prussians.

This album tells you secrets, it whispers in forgotten tongues and takes you away to a different place. I really recommend you listen to this closely, because it is one amazing record.