Category Archives: Review

Underground Sounds: Fen – Winter

Label:Code666 Records
Band: Fen
Origin: United Kingdom

On Winter the band Fen is trying to really create a record that expresses their identity as a band. This is one of the reasons why this record turns out as the great piece of music it is. Perhaps the best record Fen has made this far, though that is always a matter of taste.

The story on ‘Winter’ is that of the season, as told through atmospheric black metal. That immediately sounds like a match made in heaven. Throwing different styles in the mix, the Britons have crafted a great fifth album in that English tradition. Intrigued about the name, I wanted to mention that the group is named after a region called ‘The Fens’, a flat land full of bogs and marshes with a sense of mystery. That is also something that is put in the music.

The album opens with a slow piece of music, titled ‘Pathway’, which is expressing the atmospheric postrock influences the band wishes to display on this album. Creating a long and slow build-up, the track really allows you to slide into the album gradually. Once the vocals kick in, you’re already under its spell. Peculiar is how gentle the music is at this point, even with the screams of vocalist Frank Allain. The band pulls of a grander sound on ‘Penance’, where mighty cascades of guitars push outward and expand their reach. For me their sound is close to that of an Agalloch, but also Island-buddies Saor comes close. There’s something to the sound that tells you of its origin.

Big parts of the record feature shoegazy, dreamy passages. In that sense, Fen really goes for the feeling more than the power. It gives a warm sound, remniscent of sunrays and the tremble in the air on a nice summer evening. The music paints in different colors and moods, working with long songs and complex meandering passages. The song ‘Internment’ for example offers a gentle, folky intro that lasts for minutes and could last forevermore for all I care. This record is one hell of an album, clocking over 70 minutes over six tracks.

This might actually be some of the best work that Fen has delivered. It’s warm and conveys an abstract image of the nature and land it comes from. Beautiful stuff.

Underground Sounds: Ūkanose – Ūkanose

Label:Soundage Productions
Band: Ūkanose
Origin: Lithuania

Folk metal ain’t dead, y’all! Sure, Finntroll has become a joke, Alestorm has descended into madness and I don’t even know what happened to Turisas, but there’s still hope. From countries you might not even know about great tunes are coming forth. Ūkanose is one of those bands from Lithuania who create some waves with the self-titled debut.

Lithuanian folk music is heavily characterised by ritualistic chanting and war songs, they have a special quality to them. They feel outlandish, magical and somewhat overwhelming at times. Ūkanose manages to incorporate that into their metal music. So we don’t have a band playing metal with some fiddles, but a genuine blend and that for me is the magic of folk metal.

The songs of Ūkanose offer a specific sadness, a weariness of live and look to the past you also find in Slavic bands like Drudkh. An accordeon gives a bit of a jolly feel to some of the songs, but what really it does is create that continuous flow that is so important in the Baltic music. It makes it also very easy for a listener to jump into their music and feel the passage of time in a more calm and natural way. There’s a closeness to nature in the sound, to tradition and folklore. You don’t even need to understand the lyrics for that.

Ūkanose translates as fog, which is a good metaphor for the sound of the band. The pace is slow, but constantly progressing. The vocals are easy, chanted and often in multiple voices. All in all it’s an album that is much closer to the volky sound of Ugniavijas. A favorite track for me is ‘Skrenc bitela’. The calm repetition of the vocals on such a flat tone is hypnotizing but catching. The guitars merely serve as a heavy fundament to build up the song upon.

This record is one that takes you to a different time and age. It takes you to dancing around the fire in praise of forgotten gods. Noteworthy is the song ‘Gerkime’, a Corvax Corax cover. This music comes from a genuine place, not just one where you raise drinking horns wearing a kilt. Well worth a listen.

Underground Sounds: Hey Satan – Hey Satan

Label: Cold Smoke Records
Band: Hey Satan
Origin: Switzerland

Ok, I’ll admit that I started listening to this band for the simple reason that their name is Hey Satan. Sue me, it’s a catchy name and the artwork also looked appealing. As you may have guessed, there’s nothing black metal about this record, but there’s some good sounds to get down to on this record.

Hey Satan hails from Switzerland, a basis for cool and catchy tunes. Bands from there often have their own approach to things and these guys sound nothing like you’d picture a Swiss band to sound like. The music the group produces is that of a sun scorched desert, with a cold beer in your hand. Oh yeah!

Blearing riffs that seem to hang in the still air endlessly, grooving vocals… this is stoner the way we love it! Fuzzy effects create that sweltering, hot sound on ‘Legal Aspects of Love’. The traces of grunge still freshly detectable in the slow, heavy guitar parts, this is some stuff to rock out to. The delivery is perfect, but with a bite when the band adds some agression to the mix.

Think Queens of the Stone Age/Kyuss, but with a little twist here and there. The continuous warm, fuzzy wall of guitars creates that feeling of everything standing still. For a moment and then it all takes of and you can almost smell the tarmac under your wheels. Vocalist Francois can switch between that static style of singing to the more energetic, pumped up style of Neil Fallon (yes, the guy from Clutch). Then again, the band can sound really big on songs like ‘Bastardizer’.

The coolest thing about this record, is that it is immensely energetic, upbeat and catcy. Sure, it’s sticking to the classic road to glory, but there’s a reason that this works. Surprising track is ‘Black Flags Down’, which is smooth and catchy one moment and harsh and violent the other. There’s a lot of skill here and this band has everything to entice fans of the genre once more with this debut.

Underground Sounds: Mord’A’Stigmata – Hope

Label: Pagan Records
Band: Mord’A’Stigmata
Origin: Poland

Mord’A’Stigmata is one of the interesting bands emerging from Poland, with a tendency to explore the boundaries of what black metal is, seeking to expand, grow and energize the genre in their own way. The band has been around for a good 13 years and has now released album number four ‘Hope’.

For a band that deals with the depressive reality of our lives, its a far flung term, but where darkness is hope lives, does it not? That seems to be the theme for this album. The artwork doesn’t spell that much good for the future though. Gnarled branches reaching upwards in the dark and smoke rising from it. Well, time to give this a spin. Out on Pagan Records, this is an album by a band within the Polish tradition, where conviction and a feeling of glow are part of the sound.

The titletrack that kicks of seems to rely on a sort of post-metal trance-state that the listeners get swallowed up in. Repetitive riffing for about 12 minutes is indeed a heavy experience. But thanks to the catchy sound, the emotional clarity and a certain less-is-more approach to the sound, this is something special to experience. The production is well tight on this first song, allowing you to sink into it almost instantly in the first minutes. The vocals slither in, offering words in a similar tone as Nergal/Johan Edlund (Behemoth/Tiamat). It gives more depth to the music, which seems to combine that hypnotic side with a gothic/doom aspect.

The commanding vocals work well with the constant build up an tension in the music. The track ‘The Tomb from Fear and Doubt’, we hear the vocalist Ion deliver with conviction. The lyrics are a bit peculiar though and seem to be more those of a love song. I’m not sure if that is what they are, but this sometimes is really the language barrier. The track maybe dwindles on some aspects too long, but following tune ‘To Keep The Blood’ gets us back to strength. Though you can feel the black metal aspect in all music by Mord’A’Stigmata, this record is much more a rock album. The way the songs balance out the slow, atmospheric guitar and drum passages and clearly articulated words.

Like the final track ‘In Less Than No Time’, this is a song to just sink into.  That I find the biggest strength of hope, the way they put those endless passages in there that completely suck you in. I really enjoy listening to this album. The music is not overly complex, but catchy. The eclectic nature of the band puts them in a much broader stream of music. This I think will be very good for their popularity. The Polish metal scene is definitely developing a more and more distinct sound.

Underground Sounds: Clandestine Blaze – City of Slaughter

Label: Northern Heritage
Band: Clandestine Blaze
Origin: Finland

The raw, artistic brilliance of Mikko Aspa can’t be denied as he spews out a new Clandestine Blaze album shortly after his last endeavour with Deathspell Omega. The Finnish one man band had been a quiet since 2015’s ‘New Golgotha Rising’, but now is back with ‘City of Slaughter’

Aspa is a fascinating character and has been producing massive amounts of music through the years. I would recommend reading this Heathen Harvest interview with the man if you’d like to know more. Other musical avenues he’s been working on is Vapaudenristi, Grunt, Creamface and D.O.M., all exploring different directions of extremity.

The album is out on his own label, so Aspa is in full control of this release. It feels like this record returns to the roots of the dirty punk sound that makes up Clandestine Blaze. From opener ‘Remembrance of a Ruin’, a lazy rhythm rambles onwards with repetitive arching riffs. This creates the feeling of something freakish, while barked vocals roar over the tunes. It’s a remarkable side of this release, it never feels that much like a black metal album. The second part of this song becomes much more of a doomy/sludge passage. The whole record from there on sounds particularly muddled, sticky and grimy, not with the clean, cold riffs you’d associate with black metal.

Still, the blast beats are there and the bestial growls from Aspa are nothing less than ghoulish, unearthly growls. The production is just precisely right to create that feeling of a formless, crawling abject entity that is the sound of Clandestine Blaze. So yeah, I love this album, it makes me feel like bashing stuff and spray painting the office walls at work. Primitve fury oozes from this record, particular favorite is ‘Return Into The City Of Slaughter’, which feels like a crusty Darkthrone in a tar pit tune. Simple, pitch black and really captivating. Raw hatred in the vocals, blistering riffs and a good pace to let loose to.

‘City of Slaughter’ recaptures the spirit of oldschool black metal in its ferocious primitive fury. A record to fall in love with the genre to again.

Underground Sounds: Spaceslug – Time Travel Dilemma

Label:
Band: Spaceslug
Origin: Poland

I got to know Spaceslug thanks to their amazing album ‘Lemanis’ (read the review here). The Polish band truly embraces the spaced out stoner sound like not many band have done in recent years. Unlike the Bongzilla’s of this world, Spaceslug really let’s every riff ride out its trajectory, not trying to go for that constant hitting the heavy riffs.

The  group has now dropped the follow up, titled ‘Time Travel Dlilemma’. On the cover we see the Space Slug travelling into the great beyond. The great print really fits the futuristic, dreamy sound of the band. What I love so much is how this all seems to come so natural to the guys, like a walk in the park. I felt that same thing when I published this short interview.

The trio seems to be taking things a bit more serious on this album. The previous record sounded great, but it is clear that more work went into this new effort. The sound is more balanced, more purposeful. Languid, easy going riffs really float by, nowhere does it really touch that solidity that is familiar from most stoner. It’s really meandering and drifting through space on the heavy but somehow mellow riffs on the titletrack ‘Orion’.

The mis seems to be on purpose a bit hazy on tracks like ‘Living the Eternal Now’, to make the interplay between the notes as smooth and dreamy as possible. Spaceslug have found their niche along bands like Mantra MachineSungrazer and maybe even some Colour Haze. On the title track Sander Haagmans from Sungrazer actually sings. There’s no real propulsion, no earthiness to their sound on this record, which distiniguishes them from the feisty, driven stoner bands with sand between their teeth. When Bartosz Janik is singing, he’s never doing that biting, agressive thing, he just sings to the void. The reverberating bass, the soaring riffs…

In space there is no wind, no weight, no direction and that is translated into the music of Spaceslug. This album definitely connects with the genre at large, but melts in shoegaze and postrock to create a new dimension. Spaceslug measures their force and slowly slides onward to stardom.

 

 

The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets – The Dukes of Alhazred

Label: self released
Origin: Canada
Band: The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets

Not every band that deals with books or games is automatically a gimmick. When done well, an act can truly be an addition to the original experience. So it is with a lot of the Lovecraft tributes and The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets is one of the coolest I’ve come across this far.

The band from Vancouver in British Columbia has been around for an astonishing 25 years, setting the tales of the horror master to catchy rock tunes. The group is well deep in their matter and sadly I missed them in my quest for Lovecraft inspired acts as a soundtrack to reading the books. The sound of the group is catchy, up-tempo rock music, with a penchant for the over the top antics. I really enjoyed this album, be warned. Oh, here’s those Lovecraft bits.

Opener ‘You Fool! Warren is Dead’ is a reference to the short story ‘The Statement of Randolph Carter’. It’s a supercatchy, clap-along, hitting that high-hats driven tune. You can’t sit still to that track, while the story is really one that freezes you in your bed/seat/wherever you read that haunting last line. There’s something nineties rock vibe to tunes like ‘Ararchnotopia’. Early Foo Fighters cute rock tunes almost.

Smooth, sunny tunes I can hear on ‘Coelacanthem’ that remind you of the waving palm trees and coconuts. Calm drums and the thick surf guitars complete the picture. It shows something of the variety the band manages to offer. On ‘The Great Molasses Disaster’ we get some shredding guitar again. I really dig the vocals of this band, they’re particularly versatile. The group itself is just really a talented bunch of musicians, creating catchy tunes. No two songs are the same and you’ll easily stick with them for the whole album.

There’s more though, on the track ‘Erich Zahn’ we have a little gipsy orchestra playing. If you like some catchy rock with your cosmic horror, The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets are your guys!

Underground Sounds: Scáth Na Déithe – Pledge Nothing But Flesh

Label: Self released / Metal Defiance Productions
Band: Scáth Na Déithe
Origin: Ireland

The name Scáth Na Déithe translates, if I’m correct, as ‘Shadow of the Gods’. The band consists of Cathal Hughes (Dúnmharú, Nautilus) and Stephen Todd (Astralnaut). The Irish band has found a spectacular distinct sound on their second endeavour. The duo previously planted their flag with the EP ‘The Horrors of Old’, but now unleash their full length ‘Pledge Nothing But Flesh’.

The record was recorded at the start of the harvest season, or as the band puts it ‘Meitheamh agus Lúnasa’.  Though dubbed black metal, the sound of these gentleman is distinctly Irish to me. A country that seems to have an ever growing black metal scene, as goes for Scotland. In the music you find elements of its origin, In this case, the unnerving cover art may speak of darker parts of Irish history. The only other clue is the reference to the time of recording and two songtitles in Gaelic.

From the start it is clear that the two members have affinity with the slow and steady, since doom and stoner are clearly in their arsenal due to other bands they’ve been a part of. The heavy rhythm parts are accompanied by abbyssal vocals, which work well with the burbling, grimy bass. The murky, dark forest on the cover is fairly well depicted in the heavy, oppressive atmosphere this creates after intro ‘Sí Gaoithe’ on ‘Bloodless’. The pummeling drum feeds vitality into the song. A fearlessness and strength that allows the brittle tremolo guitar to soar and set apart a new atmospheric trail in the songs path.

Lyrically it appears that the band connects somehow to Primordial in the take on the self and the one sided-dialogue setting of the words. In defiance screaming at an uncaring deity. The record is filled with atmospheric parts, particularly the guitar play. A little intermission in the form of ‘Fáilte Na Marbh’ therefor fits in and offers a moment of respite for the listener. The continuous string of tremolo riffs really does its part in contrast to the sometimes almost foggy sound. At times that part just overtakes the whole sound, like on ‘the Shackled Mind’. When the torrent really unleashes, nothing can stand in the way of the thick haze of sound. The song also contains a meandering, calm guitar passage towards it’s end. Offering once more the atmospheric antics of Scáth Na Déithe in glorious beauty.

The mastering of the record took place in the Swedish Necromorbus Studio by Tore Stjerna. No surprise that the sound becomes so heavy then. With bands as Watain and Funeral Mist in his portfolio, the Swede knows the impact of extreme heaviness on music. ‘Pledge Nothing But Flesh’ is a daring entry in the current black metal world. Hopelessly atmospheric and bluntly heavy, the record is not aiming for any middle grounds. Scáth Na Déithe produced another vital stepping stone for the expanding Celtic black metal realm.

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.