Category Archives: Review

Underground Sounds: Wytch Hazel – II: Sojourn

Label: Bad Omen Records
Band: Wytch Hazel
Origin: United Kingdom

The Lancashire band Wytch Hazel has carved out a special place for their classic heavy metal sound. They trace their roots to the more pre-metal bands with a heavy and epic sound, which is an intriguing experience for those who love a good rocking piece of music. Inspired by the likes of Judas Priest, Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy, you’re in for a treat on this concept album.
Wytch Hazel are, after all, storytellers with a traditional approach to the craft of music making, which is exemplified by their coherent and solid releases. I find it should be noted, that Christian influences are clearly present in the music, which might deter some from checking them out. Don’t let that frighten you though, because it only enhances the conviction and strength of their subject matter and sound on ‘II: Sojourn’. They’re not a Christian band though, but they have religious members in their ranks.
The vocals of Colin Hendra are like honey, so smooth. Those merge with the guitars by himself and Alex Haslam, that truly have that old screaming and wailing quality with a silky touch to them. You can hear a little of Iron Maiden in their ‘Brave New World’ days too, in my humble opinion. Yet, for the influences of these gents, we can go back quite a bit, as there are some music students that take elements of Baroque and Renaissance music into Wytch Hazel, creating a diverse and captivating tapestry of wildly different music, that still resonates as classic hard rock with an edge.
Outstanding tracks are the likes of ‘Save My Life’ and ‘Come See My Demons’, where the clarity of the voice gets special attention. Surely, there are some of these well-known cliches hammered into the lyrics, but the solid bass and drums provide that stiff backbone of the song (in the hands of Matt Gatley on bass and Jack Spencer on drums). They’re even getting to a rather epic point on ‘Victory’, but always stay mellow and grounded with those languid guitar parts, simply sliding along.
The grand finale comes with ‘Angel Take Me’, where additional piano and violin enrich the song, by the hand of Rob Last and Kieran O’Malley. It opens with that soft acoustic playing but slowly unfolds into a blooming dirge. Lamenting vocals lead the way out of the magical world, crafted by Wytch Hazel. An astonishingly great effort.

Underground Sounds: Urze de Lume – As Árvores Estão Secas e Não Têm Folhas

Label: Equilibrium Music
Band: Urze de Lume
Origin: Portugal

The album ‘As Árvores Estão Secas e Não Têm Folhas’ is the latest effort of Portuguese outfit Urze de Lume. Their third album in a string of releases that all carry a particular glowing tradition with them from the Iberian peninsula with gentle guitar music that harks back to a timeless identity.

Little more is given away about the entity that is Urze de Lume. To me, they carry a feeling not unfamiliar to that of Sangre de Muerdago. The same nature-steeped, exploratory melancholy is spicing up their somber music.

The music of Urze de Lume is almost like a little babbling brook, with gentle guitar play that holds an almost tangible passion and temperament of the southern heritage. The main feature for the melancholic sound of the group is the use of the rebec, a bowed stringed instrument whose fiddle-like timbre evokes medieval ideas and emotions. It is pure magic on tracks like ‘Prenúncio de Gelo’, where ambient effects and a lo-fi timbre creates that meandering, weary effect. The sound itself tells a story.

‘Encruzilhadas’ has that classic, droning, stomping sound of traditional Celtic songs, with piping and a solid beat marching the song forwards. Its strong sound breaks the soothing sound of the guitar tracks for a brief moment. The sound effects are those of nature and traditional ways, bringing together the whole story that Urze De Lume desires to tell. Solemn spoken word passages tell the story in a stripped-down way, bare of emotion and feeling. The music though, the strings and guitars, keep making magic for the listener throughout this exceptional listening experience.

Underground Sounds: Raum Kingdom – Everything & Nothing

Label: Independent
Band: Raum Kingdom
Origin: Ireland

Raum Kingdom is a fascinating act and has been working on their very distinct sound for a couple of years now. I had the pleasure to discuss this with the group earlier and with their latest record ‘Everything & Nothing’, they definitely capture my ears once more.

The influences are the like of Deftones, Amenra and more sludge bands with a mythical vibe to them. On this record, I feel that an addition of Urfaust is in place, particularly due to the vocals and the flood of sound that just drags you along. Though they’ve been around for a few years, this is finally the debut from the Irish band and it’s a welcome one indeed.

The howls on ‘Summon’ are the main reason I mentioned the Dutch black metal band a moment before, as they make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The music is more meandering, more Isis than the bombastic torment of Amenra for this song, but the similar force is undeniable. Heavy and full of that channeled rage, the music just keeps pumping on tracks like ‘Dig’ and ‘Winter’, featuring Mia Govini from Makavrah.

The word you look for when describing the sound of Raum Kingdom on this record is ‘flow’, because that is what the sound does. It’s an endless flow of energy and barely contained emotional tension. The deception of calm and harmony on a tune like ‘Walk With Reality’ is exactly the line that Raum Kingdom likes to walk. Playing with the smooth movements and then harsh, bursting riff-rife explosions, full of tremolo waves, the band sets itself apart in the more blackened sludgy corner. Not particularly driven, the music follows its own path. Lyrically, the songs are personal, highly contextually valid and fierce in their bared essence.

Raum Kingdom has found its place with this record and it is merely a matter of time, before their due recognition is there I hope.

Underground Sounds: Verval – Wederkeer

Label: Tour de Garde
Band: Verval
Origin: Netherlands

The Dutch black metal scene is brimming with life and creativity but lacks the exotic splendor of the Icelandic movement. I wonder if that is why so much of the creativity here is overlooked, by bands like Verval on their debut record ‘Wederkeer’. An explosively colored cover and fresh approach, that stirs the sound in a new way.

Members of Verval have been active in Sea of Trees, Nevel, Wrang, White Oak and notable name Laster. Having shared many projects, they’re obviously used to collaborating and adding vocals to this project is singer Galgenvot, known from some of the same bands. That makes the record a cohesive and well-conceived effort.

The intro to ‘Uit As Herezen’ is a folky, gloomy tune, reminiscent of a Game of Thrones tune. It takes some time for black abyss to open up and swallow you whole. Melancholic black metal with grand yearning blasts out, unleashing tremolo guitars, big, lumbering rhythms and wildly frantic passages of eerie black metal in a track that lasts over 13 minutes. There’s a certain pop-sensibility in the music of Verval, which is immediately audible.

The daring guitar in ‘Vervreemding’ particularly stands out with its haunting melody, but also clean sound. The riffs are clear and never muddled away in a haze of riffing as most common in black metal music. During a calm intermezzo, fingerpicking guitar play really steps away from the assault of a more common sound, creating some fragile beauty.

On the final track, titled ‘Diepten Eeuwig Zwart’, we get even more classical, hauntingly beautiful passages. The music spirals onwards endlessly as the poetic, profound lyrics are howled at the heavens.

 

Underground Sounds: Trees, Clouds & Silence – Let me die on your roots

Label: The Moon on a String Productions
Band: Trees, Clouds & Silence
Origin: Spain

It’s pretty great if your name can tell it all about your sound and inspiration. I suppose that this is why Trees, Clouds & Silence chose theirs back in 2015. This one man project by Ocram is an ambient/post-black band with a focus on the natural realm (don’t we call this blackgaze now?). This is the second record by the band, titled ‘Let me die on your roots’.

The appraisal of nature has tempered the eerie fire of black metal in many occasions. The sound of bands like Winterfylleth, Grima or many other bands who draw upon that verdant realm, have a sound that is milder and more harmonic than anything inspired by the more human resources. The climate in the south of Spain, around Andalusia, definitely has that effect even stronger. Musically, however, this act may drift more towards the postrock sound.

The sound is mellow and flows like a cool breeze in the warm summer sun. Lyrically, the songs by Trees, Clouds & Silence, are personal, full of craving and hints to the majesty of nature. Clean guitars guide the listener onwards, like one of those appealing forest paths that invite you down further into the woods. Gently meandering keys provide a soothing path through the tremolo guitar sounds as the sound envelops you.

When vocals come in, like they do on ‘Echo’, I would not call them the strength of the record. Not a perfect singer, the voice is more a proclamation or an expressive dirge. The lady who adds chanting here does a bit of a better job. The screams of Ocram do a much better job in their biting and bitter tones on the same tune. The music is a continuous flow, a harmonious whole, but cut into various parts. A joy to listen to, regardless if simmering heat warps your vision or the cold hurts your face. It captures tranquility in sound.

Underground Sounds: Uuntar – Voorvaderverering

Label: Heidens Hart
Band: Uuntar
Origin: The Netherlands

The Netherlands is flat, which is its distinguishing fact and trait. It also means that most of our predecessors were farmers, working the flat, endless fields… That’s what the cover of the new Uuntar album shows, which is aptly titled ‘Voorvaderverering’, which translates roughly as “ancestral worship”.

The record was on the shelf for a while, after being recorded in 2010 by Herjann (Heimdalls Wacht, Cultus, ex-Countess, ex-Mordaehoth) and Nortfalke (Kjeld, ex-Lugubre, Tarnkappe, Standvast). In this project, they focus on a more pagan black metal approach with vast epic movements and a sense of the grand.

The record opens with meandering synths and tribal drums on ‘Intrede’, which translates as intro, so it makes perfect sense. Nature sounds enrich the pasture on which we tread, as the music slowly swells. There’s a sense of the dramatic in the atmospheric black metal tunes that open up ‘Een Germaansche Grafheuvel’. The flowing melody is not even overpowered by the blast beats and grim vocals, sung in old Dutch, and ever streams onward.

The vocals contain a trace of yearning and despair, as they beckon to the olden days of our ancestors. Praising and hailing them as from beyond the grave, which is what the title ‘Ganggraf’ refers to as well as ‘Lof op ‘t Hunebed’. Though the sound rarely shifts from its initial modus, the topic does on ‘Bloed om Bloed’, which is more battle ready and speaks of taking up arms against the enemy. The rhythm does punch harder and more densely, creating a more fierce and heated sound. An urgency takes over as the guttural barks bellow forth. German deities are appraised as we reach these calm, flowing pieces of utter static guitar play. An aural bath almost, with a heavy distorted sound form the strings.

The slow progression of ‘Uittrede’ (you can guess what that means) takes us back from the past to the here and now. With a sense of regret and forlorn emotions, we come to the end of this fantastic record by Uuntar.

Underground Sounds: Warren Schoenbright – Excavations

Label: Vacant Fulfillment
Band: Warren Schoenbright
Origin: United Kingdom

Inspired by the Egremont region in Cumbria, Warren Schoenbright created an exceptional record after a residency at the Florence Art Centre, situated on a defunct Haematite mine. It captures the environment, the depressive mood of an industrial site fallen out of use, leaving its remnants behind. This is captured on the record ‘Excavations’.

The band is three-piece, consisting of Daniel McClennan on drums, Alex Virji on bass and vocals, and Iker Ormazabal Martínez on Guitar. While they create drone/noise, their music is quite easy to listen to. Imagine something in between 5F-55 and Godflesh, and you kind of have it. Add the human nihilism to a sort of found organic sound in the industrial decay, and there we have Warren Schoenbright.

The album opens with minimal sounds and a more ambient like atmosphere, up until the droning sound swells and unleashes in a torrentuous, sludgy mass of guitars. A massive, industrial water slide, that is both heavy and hypnotic, disgusting and harmonious at the same time. No wonder that the group collaborated earlier with Caina on their ‘Christ Clad in White Phosphorous’ album to add a heavy foundation of urban despair of nauseating, gritty firmness. Exactly that is what they bring to this release too.

The album only contains one, ongoing track, so it is like being caught in the worst and most grim water slide you could ever imagine. The clanging sounds of metal, the pulsating beats of machinery and the constrictive nature of the music emulate the work that once took place on the location that served as inspiration for this record. For just under 25 minutes, you are stuck, completely held in thrall by the beating, surging rhythm, and darkness of Excavations.

Underground Sounds: Gaerea – Unsettling Whispers

Label: Transcending Obscurity
Band: Gaerea
Origin: Portugal

Portuguese band Gaerea may be a rather new name on the block, but their album ‘Unsettling Whispers’ doesn’t show any reluctance or unjust humble beginnings. It’s a piece of work, forged like steel. The album has been out for a little while, but there’s no need to let that stop a review of this piece of sonic defiance.
The debut by the band comes rather soon, as they’ve only been at it since 2016. An EP precedes this slab of black metal and little effort is spared to make this something special as a release, including a booklet that gives context and contours to this project, that embraces the arts as much as the heavy and brutal of the music.

Gaerea embraced the big and bombastic sound, aligning themselves musically with the likes of Behemoth and Dimmu Borgir, maybe with a little Blut Aus Nord thrown in there for good measure. Abyssal bombardments of drums and bass, with a sense of the infinite behind it At times the sound effects add interesting tones to the palette, but also the vocals switch to something more hardcore-like during ‘Whispers’, which functions very well within the dense repetitions and cataclysmic riffing.

The sound combines into a solid entity, yet allows for plenty of subtle nuances and clear energy flowing through the guitars and vocals. The risk of a sound like that of Gaerea could be that becoming a lumbering, hard to steer behemoth. That clearly has been avoided, creating a brimming sort of vitality in the sound. Massive and unrelenting, this is an album that completely blazes it’s own path, from start to finish. Disregarding genre rules and black metal clichés in order to create an all-devouring, black hole of sound. A sonic baptizing in their own bleak battering sound.

Gaerea claims their spot with this debut release, no doubt about that.

Underground Sounds: Thirst Planet – The Essence

Label: Independent
Band: Thirst Planet
Origin: Israel

For some reason, having a band from Israel playing stoner metal makes complete sense to me. Thirst Planet has been around for a few years and after an EP, they now dropped their first full length, titled ‘The Essence’.

There’s really not so much background for me to divulge here, but let’s suffice that these gents have found a sound of their own in a land that definitely lends itself for this style, with a grim little edge to it for the sake of things. Leaves you thirsty as well.

Opening with stiff, rugged riffs, ‘The Chain’ is a stoner classic with a feisty little nuance in the flow of the sound. Something is slightly off, creating a restlessness in the listener at times. Vocal efforts by Leonid Mickoliuk remind me a little bit of that top-of-throat squeeze you hear with bands like Conan and maybe even a little bit of Weedeater.

The music of Thirst Planet has an unmistakable groove to it, catchy and easy to dive into. Some samples are used, but overall you just surf on those excellent riffs and imagine sand between your teeth as a strong gale blows it up on tracks like ‘Into The Unknown’ and the bone-dry ‘Planet of Thirst’. One track that particularly stands out, is ‘The Arrival’, with its hooky riffs and build-up. The song seems simple, but really builds up some excellent tension, supported by the angst in the vocals.

Perhaps Thirst Planet never really pushes the envelope and brings in some new sound. I’d gladly take a second glass of this though.

Underground Sounds: Cosmic Church – Tättymys

Label: Kuunpalvelus
Band: Cosmic Church
Origin: Finland

The final chapter in the remarkable career of Cosmic Church is finally there. Erratic, devoid of conventions and solitary, the Finnish project has found its own place in the pantheon of the northern black metal and ‘Tättymys’ is the last and posthumous release.

The band has always been a singular effort by Luxixul Sumering, who also created his art under the banners of Frozen Grave, Asymmetrical, and Aura Saturnal.  This project has always projected a different experience, an uncanny cosmic journey and this is an amazing one to embark on.

We enter a strange world of beautifully woven black metal with a variation of folk elements injected into the fabric of the sound. Dense, yet full of space the tunes unfold with an easy grace. That definitely goes for opener ‘Aloitus’, but the almost nine-minute long ‘Armolahja’ is a spectacular display of soundscapes. The cover of the record does its work to, playing on the imagination of the listener. At times that means some faerie-like atmospheres with the eerie singing on ‘Sinetti’.

There’s definitely something otherworldy about Cosmic Church, but also a classic grandeur and sense of decorum on the beautiful ‘Huuto’, which feels like a symphony, played with such gentle movements and warm tones. That doesn’t mean the band can’t put a bit of raw, straight-forward material in there with ‘Vangittu’. Yet, it also holds a piping madness, that you’d sooner connect to Oranssi Pazuzu and the like.

After a brief intro, we then find ourselves at the final song, wich is a mournful dirge for its opening part. From a low, churning riff we then start the ascent to the climactic ending of Cosmic Church. Densely atmospheric, almost aetherial, the last notes die away after a good while. Ascending, we find a highlight of this remarkable band, that I found out about way too late I believe.