Category Archives: Review

Underground Sounds: Realm of Wolves – Oblivion

Label: Independent
Band: Realm of Wolves
Origin: Hungary

‘Oblivion’ is the first full-length of this Hungarian trio, Realm of Wolves. Formed in 2018, the band has moved fast in their trajectory to create a debut after a demo and EP. The album comes in at the right point in between black metal and post-rock, so probably not suitable for hardliners.

It takes little effort to connect the band Realm of Wolves to what I should call, by now, my favorite Hungarian metal artist Ferenc Kapiller. You may be familiar with his work in VVilderness and Release The Long Ships. His participation definitely is partly responsible for the meandering, warm vibe of the sound and hallucinatory effect it has on the listener om this excellent post-black metal record. Members Stvannyr and Ghöul also play in Black Hill, Silent Island, and Ephilexia.

As the melodic tunes open up on ‘Cascadia’, the title already tells us something of what to expect. Acoustic tremolo picking accompanies the swooning sound, which sounds warm and comforting. As we launch into ‘Ignifer’, we launch into something larger than life. The lyrics deal with the natural realm and clearly the Cascadian aspect runs deeper than aesthetics as the sonorous tune runs on. ‘Old Roots’ adds a bit more power to that whole sound, with some stomping rhythm and forceful delivery, but overall the listener can easily flow through this record as it just moves along.

‘Translucent Stones’ offers a beautiful little intermezzo of folkish music, with that melancholic yearning that permeates the music of Realm of Wolves. It’s all melody and storytelling, with here and there some gritty, gnarly vocals, as we hear on ‘Twelve Miles To Live’. All in all, this album is a pretty fantastic one, though there is the risk of just flowing away on the tunes. This is that ambient/post-rocky vibe in their music, which I love very much. An impressive debut for certain.

Underground Sounds: Guðveiki – Vængför

Band: Guðveiki
Label: Fallen Empire Records
Origin: USA/Iceland

A lot of stuff that comes out from Iceland is cool, but this band is partly American and that probably puts a little twist to the sound of Guðveiki. I’ve been trying to puzzle together how this group got together for their debut album ‘Vængför’, but I have to guess at that.

One of the few communal factors among the mountain of bands these gents have been involved in is Martröð, as this connects guitar player A.P. and Wormlust’s H.V. on vocals it seems. Chaos Moon then connects drummer J.B. and guitar player S.B., who both played in Accursed Moon. Other names on the resumés include Krieg, Skàphe, Vital Remains and much more. Oh, now I forgot Þ.I.from Endalok on guitar and atmosphere.

But really, nothing can quite prepare you for ‘Fóstureyðing stjarna’. The onslaught of death metal battery, unholy howling and barking are unlike anything. Solid death metal with a tinge of black and that creepy intro, it absolutely crushes! Vocally, you already know to expect utter madness with H.V. as he does with his own project. During ‘Blóðhunang’ it is almost as if his voice curls around the guitar riffs and binds them into a soggy swamp of sonic despair.

‘Hin endalausa’ continues the surge and I can’t really add anything to what I said before. The drum assault takes on a more cavernous and at times even industrial vibe as we progress into the title track. The singing almost feels like Attila Csihar’s ritualistic murmurings in some of his stranger projects. That is even more so the case on ‘Gullveigar sverðsins’, which has these claustrophobic melodies and ever encroaching riffs that make you feel trapped. We finally come to full release on the more traditionally laid out ‘Undan stormi eiturtára’, though that mad shrieking, the coiling sound is still there and, honestly, I’m almost happy to escape this utter madness. What a piece of sonic violence!

In Medieval Dreams and Pagan Hearts: Fief, Zāle, Bellkeeper, Jozef Van Wissem

Once more I delve into the fantasy music I’ve come across and that helps me divert my thoughts and dream away. This time I listened to the dreamy medieval ambient of Fief, the …

So grab an ale, stoke the fire, as darkness is clouding the world around us. Be at ease and grab a book with these tunes and simply zone out.

Fief – IV

United States, independent release

Where Fief on the first three releases, which I much loved, was still very much a dungeon synth act, I’m not so sure about ‘IV’. The cover itself is the setting, we’re in the head of a watchman, dreaming away on ‘A Daydreaming Sentry’. Every title evokes a vista that this sentry may behold, or imagine as he stands there on dreary watch duty. But what I mostly like to say is that Fief has moved on to medieval ambient. The music holds little of the droning, synthy vibes, but feels absolutely tranquil and appeasing in its simple beauty. Sure, it’s probably synth-craftsmanship, but it feels like my old video games, where I could get lost for hours in a fantasy. I envision ‘Medieval Skies’ or gaze upon the ‘Evening Market’, all is well. Fief is one of a kind and this album only underlines the singular path the mysterious artist is trodding. I will follow.

Zāle – Vina

Latvia, Nabakmusic/Melo Records

This Latvian group started as a duo but developed in a full band with a wide range of sound, yet all of it connects to something ethnic and pure. From the opening track ‘Smilšu Laiva’ on, we start with ritualistic singing in mild, droning voices. It’s something that instantly grips you with an innate magic and wonder, and I keep thinking of a Latvian Clanned perhaps. The vocals are soothing and timeless, while the instruments only emphasize the gentle nature of the music throughout the album. But part of that charm comes from the interaction between the male and female vocals, both focussing on that particular timbre and repetitive vibe, so much a part of the ritualistic side of traditional folk music. Zāle however, keeps heaping layer upon layer in a complex and beautiful piece of music, that works as a pleasant blanket after a long day.

Bellkeeper – The First Flame of Lordran

United States, Dungeon Deep Records

Rolant the Recluse is the man behind Bellkeeper (I hope I’m not presumptuous, but I assume Rolant is a man). A dungeon synth project with the classical dusky and dusty nature that evokes images of ancient tombs and dungeons. Though there’s an instant intensity to the track ‘Rekindled’, with a vitality unlike your run of the mill DS sounds. It’s slightly more what you’d expect from a high-end game soundtrack of now… or maybe a few years back. I’m not super up-to-date. Though as we progress to songs like ‘A Sanctum of Ash and Ember’ I’m getting those eerie dungeon vibes, thanks to the languid tones and slow, meandering sound. But what Bellkeeper adds is some ambiance with dripping sounds and pebbles rolling over the floor. It boosts the mystique and immersive quality of the song. On ‘Uchigatana’ we even have a little eastern vibe going, which also sounds mildy unorthodox, but captivating. Though after its energetic start, Bellkeeper sticks to traditional DS, it is an album that carries a promise of something new and exciting. Looking forward to more!

Jozef Van Wissem & Jim Jarmusch – An Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil

Netherlands/USA, Sacred Bones Records

It’s a peculiar combo of musicians. One is a weaver of mysteries in tone, the other in film. Yet together, they create magic with droning guitar tones and a slowly emerging theme through the heavy and sparse drums accompanying the sound. On this record, the duo explores the theology of William Blake and Emanuel Swedenborg, this time including Blavatsky in the mix. The music sort of merges slowly into this wall of sound, slowly blocking out everything as it gradually unfolds. It’s almost a sound of mystique unfolding, with the gentle lute and movie-soundtrack like ambiance. Half way between folky melodies, religious music and sturdy experimental doom music, it’s a record that drags you under its spell.

Underground Sounds: Iahsari – Shrine of the Ancient Gods

Label: Independent
Band: Iahsari
Origin: Georgia

It seems that the creation of ‘Shrine of the Ancient Gods’ has been a process of multiple years for the Georgian band Iahsari. The first songs were released back in 2016 and without a labels backing the band steadfastly worked on the creation of their masterpiece. And what a grand piece of work it has become.

‘Shrine of the Ancient Gods’ takes a page out of the books of melodic death metal, folk, operatic metal and what not, to create an epic work of great proportions. Taking a number of musicians, guests and the old stories of their native land, they’ve created a piece of storytelling that can’t be denied. An album that captures, rocks and tells the story.

String instruments set an urgent intro to the record, connecting the vibe to the ancient lands they hail from with flutes and all. There’s a cinematic quality to the music of Iahsari, because after these three minutes you’re deep into the story already when the blaring horns welcome you to ‘Unbowed (Blood of Colchis)’, referring to an ancient Georgian kingdom from Hellenic times. It helps that the track stays in the flow of the intro for a while, before one tasty guitar lick and the synths take up the story. Operatic vocals are the surprising first singing entrance, with traditional drums following in the outro. By this point, I have to state that this record is something special.

As the journey continues with ‘Sirenum Scopuli’ and ‘Shatilis Asulo (Maiden Of Shatili)’an experience follows that most closely resembles the big, operatic performance of Therion on their Gothic Kabballah. Big vocal parts, choirs chanting and guitars that hark back to the traditional heavy metal days of Iron Maiden and Saxon. The vocals of Marian Chakvetadze and the male backings do most of that, but the intricate melodies and complex musical structure add a layer of grandeur to that. Moving onwards, we go into more tempered waters with ‘Gelino’ up to ‘The Dream’. The music is simply soothing, the voice angelic and never is it really getting rowdy or more intense.

That greater flow of the record helps in the story, which climaxes with ‘Old Man’s Grief’. A gentle tune, that swells in intensity to operatic proportions and riffs that claw at the sky. The synths really do the atmospheric work here to get one final swing at eternity before it fades away.

 

Underground Sounds: Iluntze – Antzinako Oihartzunak

Label: Darkwoods
Band: Iluntze
Origin: Spain (Basque Country)

Illuntze is a Basque black metal band, densely atmospheric and enriched with folky textures. ‘Antzinako Oihartzunak’ is the second demo by the band, released with a medieval-referring cover, featuring 6 haunting songs.

Sole member Synder is a member of the mysterious Ignis Fatuus Collective, which connects Illuntze to bands like Sepulchral, Arvalastra and Aehrebelsethe. Synder is currently staying in Vilnius, Lithuania. One of my favorite places in the world.

Iluntze immediately grabs the imagination on ‘Itziarren Semea’, with the odd folky texture, that at times, musically, resembles the work Peste Noire delivered in recent times. The traditional sounds and ramshackle black metal combine into a peculiar, migratory experience to the Basque origins int he music. Listen to the passionate intro of ‘Suaren Garrasia’ for example, to hear something very different than the rustic, static Scandinavian sound.

The jangling sound is unnerving and rather peculiar but also carries a power. The songs like ‘Goiztiri’ hit hard with that high-pitched tremolo riffing and edgy delivery. Razor-sharp to the point of painful. From the lo-fi quality to the ragged riffs, the whole record sticks to you with its mysterious uniqueness, much like the language used for the lyrics that simply eludes me at any turn. A great second outlet by Iluntze and I can’t wait for a full-length!

Underground Sounds: Himelvaruwe – Hemelpoort

Label: Self-released
Band: Himelvaruwe
Origin: The Netherlands

Himelvaruwe is a Dutch band that has been around, releasing surprising material, over the past few years. ‘Hemelpoort’ follows in the wake of numerous EP’s and demo’s, shaping the sound to this piece of work, that captures what the project is all about.

The mastermind of the band is Tjalling Jansen, who under various monikers releases music as Ancient Morass, Kaffaljidhma, Mirre, Olxane and, thus, as Himelvaruwe. It’s a particular project with a distinctly noisy/ambient sound, setting it apart. As the title translates as a gate of heaven, the keys depicted on the cover are a quite obvious reference.

Droning, doomy church bells open up the record with ‘Aanvang’. The sound captures some horrendous, abysmal voice, but never quite clarifies its reality as we roll into ‘Morgenster’. Crushing static is crackling in the speakers as a slow, mournful dirge unfolds. In a strange way, the sound distorts and muddles so much that the origin is impossible to determine and an aura of sheer mysticism is evoked.

By the point of ‘Onderwerping’, you’ve entered a state of mind, that is completely immersed in the music. The crackle of distortion and slow melodies become a warm bath. You submerge in a cloudy realm, very different to the one we normally inhabit. Ethereal chanting emerges from that fog, as the rhythm continues like a demented train with metallic clanging and hammering. It is there, you reached the ‘Hemelpoort’ as the album slowly falls apart into an exit tune after this long ascend.

Himelvaruwe does something exceptional on this album, both with the sound and the whole of the listening experience. I recommend putting it on, turning it up and submerging in it.

Underground Sounds: Akitsa – Credo

Band: Akitsa
Label: Tour de Garde
Origin: Canada

Akitsa is considered a controversial band by some. Now, I’m really not going into that whole debate nor do I want to separate art and artist, but ‘Credo’ is simply a record that can not be denied. It’s a tour of force that rekindles the flames of what it means to create black metal, what it means to stand in defiance.

The band is part of the Quebec metal scene, hailing from Montréal, which has been rapidly gaining attention thanks to its barren, cold sound and primitive aesthetics. Band leader O.T. is also known as owner and founder of the Tour de Garde label. Het notably also sang on a Kickback album, which is pretty badass in itself. But those punk aesthetics carry deeper than that.

‘Siècle Pastoral’ has that nerve-rending buzzsaw guitar, which keeps grinding down with chilling effect. Choral singing finds harmony with that noisy sound and we’ve launched fully into the almost 10-min opening track of ‘Credo’. Slow, creepy and eerie, this is the Darkthrone-ish sound you got to love as a black metal fan. My favorite track though is ‘Voies Cataclismiques’. The bleak buzzsaw, choppy rhythm and primitive force of the song are just pure excitement and raw energy. This is pure black metal warfare, but at times it feels almost joyous in its bouncy rhythm. I don’t want to say it, but it does make you move.

The gritty, distorted sound is one of the key features of this record. Dissonant, gnashing riffs are all over the album, like on ‘Le Monde Et Ma Bile’ and ‘Espoir Vassal’. Here we really pick up the pace with some shuddering blast-beat rhythms and a surging, blurry sound. The commanding, barked vocals seem to almost disconnect from the dense structure, but the train ride remains intact and keeps barreling on in its unrelenting fury on ‘Vestiges Fortifiés’.

We say goodbye to this record of destructive, cornerstone black metal with the title track. Akitsa definitely puts their own flavor in the mix here, but it all returns to the roots of the genre. Furious, distorted music, grim sounding and icy cold, but with an atmosphere and vibe that is undeniable. It’s music for the opposition, for otherness and anger. That’s ‘Credo’, start to finish.

 

Underground Sounds: Downfall of Gaia – Ethic of Radical Finitude

Label: Metal Blade
Band; Downfall of Gaia
Origin: Germany

Rarely does a band blow you away so much as Downfall of Gaia does. The Germans have just released ‘Ethic of Radical Finitude’ and its a towering piece of powerful black metal. Atmospheric doesn’t do it justice, because this record rocks with accessible, grand guitar play and convincing showmanship throughout its 6 songs.

As a band, this is their fifth full length since their inception in 2008. Though the base structure is very much lying on the foundation of black metal of the atmospheric type, the band leans outward to the post-metal and crust scene in their stylistic wanderings. In that sense, they’ll probably never really leave their roots behind. The result is a colorful piece of extreme metal, full of consciousness and meaning.

Lyrically, it’s abundantly clear that Downfall of Gaia focuses on more abstract and complex topics. It explains their wordy titles I suppose. The looming darkness descends as we start with the intro ‘Seduced by…’, setting the scene. But then the veil is lifted on ‘The Grotesque Illusion of Being’, with ascending black metal, that ever pulls you up higher onto your toes. The crusted, grimy vocals really add to the feeling of unworthy beckoning of the heavens, as crisp clear sound contrasts heavily with that hoarse bark. But the track to really fall in love with is ‘We Pursue The Serpent of Time’, with that tribal drumming intro, that just keeps going as the song slowly builds up. It turns violent and the guitars move faster all the time, but always it follows a wavering pattern, like that of mountain peaks in its brilliance.

‘Guiding Through A Starless Night’ is a whole different beast. Unleashing a torrent of tremolo guitars, it just rages on and on, till al lull in the sound comes on. Spoken word passages follow with dark, melancholic words. Spoken by a woman in clear tones, with a slight tremble. But it also has these uplifting waves, those sonic enhancers of your mood and state of mind. But there’s also definitely a romantic side to Downfall of Gaia. ‘As our Bones Break to the Dance’ captures that in lyrics, but also in its melancholic vibe. yet this is one hell of a track for the rhythm section, as the blast beats just reign supreme here with a pounding, pavement cracking intensity. Hell yeah! It even falls into some horrendous barking and shouting, like barren, blazing black metal for a bit there. Good stuff!

By the time you get to ‘Of Withering Violet Leaves’, you’ve been beaten up enough. You’d think, right? Sonorous singing and wavering guitar work, an ocean of sound to dwell in, to float away in as the music is gentle and swooping, slowly fading out. A beautiful record for sure.

Underground Sounds: Witte Wieven/Reiziger – Vlucht

Band: Witte Wieven / Reiziger
Label: Babylon Doom Cult
Origin: Netherlands

Witte Wieven refers to ghostly apparitions of wise women, their lamenting ghosts. They are incorporeal, but overwhelming when in presence and so is the music from Sarban and C. on this split. The duo has released one EP before, but ‘Vlucht’ is the first majorly grasped release by the band and it is a truly strong debut.

‘Met beide benen in het niets’ is a good match with the cover, of a classical attempt at flight. The music is silky, tender at times, in particular when the vocals of C. are clean and in harmony with the tremolo riffing. Densely atmospheric, as falling into a warm bath, the music just flows on beautifully. Never rushing, never forceful, but always sounding natural and pleasant even at its most harsh and violent.

Not to be confused with a different band named Reiziger, this band hails from the Netherlands and its name translates as ‘traveler’. It’s a project by N. from Laster and a much more liberal, freespun project, though also rather unknown till this point. Hopefully, the split changes this, because the contribution on this record is excellent in my humble opinion.

Though the fundament of drums is heavy and dense, the melodies are free-soaring and tender. There is a sense of sophistication int he music. Yet, it also sounds cavernous and dark, shy of light and air. Never really bombastic, though there are some signs of grandeur in the underground realm. The nothingness here is bottomless and deep, cold and unforgiving, but even more so uncaring. Abyssal howls chase you through the darkness on a song that does not relent.