Category Archives: Review

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.

Underground Sounds: Slidhr – The Futile Fires of Man

Label: Ván Records
Band: Slidhr
Origin: Ireland/Iceland

Slidhr is on the rise and in its second incarnation it releases a destroyer of an album, titled ‘The Futile Fires of Man’. The band was founded by Joseph Deegan in Ireland but has come to fruition now through the land of fire and ice, where joined by fellow musicians, Slidhr is finding the form of the beast.

Though Deegan still resides in Ireland, his cooperation with Bjarni Einarsson (Wormlust) and Garðar S. Jónsson, both active in Sinmara and Almyrkvi, the sound has become a complete expression. Mixing some death influences with the black gives the sound a meaty, heavy effect. The glossy cover of the vinyl also catches the attention and quite frankly, it’s a great record.

So when we kick off with the title track, it instantly gets heated with high-pace drumming and rolling, rough sound of drum battery and ferocious vocals. It just barrels onward as well, never stopping, never a little lull or intermission, but furious black metal with commanding vocals that never tire. But that is probably what makes Slidhr so good to me, it’s a continuous flow in the most classical sense of black metal. I mean, listen to an old one by Emperor, Mayhem or Watain and that’s what you’ll get. In your face, unrelenting, but a bit more groove and fat on the bones, like Secrets of the Moon or even Mgła.

‘To Celestial Depths’ has these big, lurching guitar riffs, that seem to drag at your very soul. When you really listen to the sweeping tempest that follows, you can sense the rise and fall of the riffing, as it seems to build up to a mighty crescendo. But then the sea calms and sinks back, but there’s never a moment of ease in Slidhr’s music. It can be a boiling, explosive madness at times, like the fury-driven war drums of ‘Rise to the Dying’, with that harrowing intermezzo that only fans the flames further.

‘Through the Mouth of the Beast’ brings the whole run to a close with majestic grandeur and a sincere sense of falling deep into the abbyss. The music is slick, effective, yet also filled with brimming intensity and malice. A mighty finish to an album that’s hard to nail down, but easy to succumb to.

 

Underground Sounds: Krummholz – Rooted in Despair

Label: Naturmacht Productions
Band: Krummholz
Origin: Uganda, Kenya, USA

Krummholz is an unlikely alliance of musicians from different countries in Africa. Victor Rosewrath from Vale of Amonition (Uganda), Seeker from Nelecc (Kenya) and Noktal who is a USA-born musician of Ethiopian/Djibouti descent. Together they’ve formed this project, which rapidly garnered attention from the Naturmacht Productions with their EP ‘Rooted in Despair’.

Krummholz, in fact, refers to the gnarly, bent trees found in high places and the cover art of the record depicts that. It’s a nod to the origin, the tundras and wild of East Africa. But also the deep connection to the land.

This means you instantly submerge into the forest, with animal sounds and the babbling of a brook. Mellow synth tones that help you sink down into the atmospheric black metal of the band. And then, ‘A Morning in the Autumn Forest’ launches into an epic flow of warm, sunny black metal. Think of Panopticon or Saor, but rather different. The howling vocals and surging riffs, the steady drumming, it all feels like that natural flow.
On the second track, titled ‘To Father Worlds in the Bones of Ancient Solitude’, we hear a meandering piano, as again the music slowly unfolds, like flowers on a cold morning. In this song, we can clearly here, much like the first, the ambient black metal of Nelecc, but it comes to fruition thanks to the doomy, strong strides that make me think the hand of Rosewrath is larger in this song. The sonorous singing, reminiscent of the gothic atmospheres of My Dying Bride or Moonspell adds a layer of gloom to the whole experience. It completes a remarkably good debut EP, so let’s see what the future brings.

Underground Sounds: Ragana/Thou – Let Our Names Be Forgotten

Label: An Out Recordings
Band: Thou/Ragana
Origin: United States

I would much rather debate music than politics, but when it comes to the progressive message this may be the most punch-packing-package deal you can get. Ragana and Thou combine their strength for an exceptional split, titled ‘Let Our Names Be Forgotten’.

Thou from Baton Rouge has been prolific since 2005 with a long string of top-notch releases and a clearly voiced message. Their latest full-length ‘Magus’ has landed them a show at Roadburn even as a next highlight. Ragana is a genre-crushing duo from Oakland, who have dubbed their music witch doom. Combining the best of ethereal vocals and mystery with crushing core elements, they’re a force.

The opener ‘Inviolate’ opens with sensitivity and slow passages. It’s almost hauntingly beautiful, which makes the launch into screams even more powerful and hard-hitting on this short exertion by Ragana. The band has a penchant for a sort of witchcore or witch doom, full of seductively beautiful music and harrowing bursts to contrast. I’m making up that term as I go, but it also refers to the Baltic origin of the name. That aspect returns on ‘The Void’, with vocals that have that desperate tone you hear in the work of Chelsea Wolfe and the like. The doomy riffing, the totured screams, it goes to the marrow of your bones with Ragana, as if clawing towards ‘The Sun’. A particular spin on the classic, most slowly progressing doom legends. It’s magnificent.

But Thou is no lesser force obviously, and ‘The Fool Who Thought He was King’ is an instant demonstration of that. Vitriolic screamed vocals over crunchy doom, with that right level of distortion and melodic mournfulness. A dirge-like texture, that weaves onwards as the voice snaps at the listener. The song than starts unwinding into a wavery, post-rock track, that drags the listener along as everything seems to slow down into a sticky, pulling motion. ‘Death to the King and all His Loyal subjects’ closes the record, with a threatening, ominous note. It’s a gritty, drudging tune that drags you down and down with it. We definitely end on a great not here with Thou. Excellent.

Underground Sounds: The Antichrist Imperium – Volume II: Every Tongue Shall Praise Satan

Label: Apocalyptic Witchcraft
Band: The Antichrist Imperium
Origin: United Kingdom

Here they are again, the all-star prog black metallers from The Antichrist Imperium, who made waves with their saucy album cover on the self-titled 2015 debut. With ‘Volume II: Every Tongue Shall Praise Satan’, they return to strength and deliver a brimming ball of dark, extreme metal to the forefront that will probably rock many socks of and so forth, because yes… it’s as good as you’d hope.

Featuring members who play or have played in entities like Akercocke, My Dying Bride, The Berzerker, Voices and much, much more, you know that there’s some talent in there. It would appear this is also the whole pile of influences that shape the sound of this project, which really feels hard to pin down with anything but the word extreme. So, let’s get into it then.

Opening with thick, punching drums that reek of death metal, the band also picks up a melodic grandeur you’ll find in the more epic melo-death and black metal bands. Ominous intermezzo’s fall in the gaps, before guttural barks unleash again on the listener. From ‘The Dreadfull Hosanna’ onwards, the band never shies away from pure, unadulterated force and complexity with guitars that cut like knives and flutter like butterflies… with wings made out of … knives? I mean, it’s proggy, yet brutal.

On ‘Liturgy of the Iconoclast / Blood Sacrifice’ we actually go in all directions. From dramatic prog passages to bludgeoning death metal destruction, with vigorous riffing. The cool, smooth complex parts show an aptitude for the bigger narrative, to really paint images with the music, which the band does very well. The playful use of the vocals is definitely also an added quality of Sam Bean and Sam Loyens, who bounce of each other like two voice actors at times.

 

Underground Sounds: GlerAkur – The Mountains Are Beautiful Now

Label: Prophecy Productions
Artist: GlerAkur
Origin: Iceland

Like Metallica covering the live half of Pink Floyd‘s 1969 album Ummagumma.’ That’s how GlerAkur, the project moniker of Elvar Geir Sævarsson, has been described. Working as the sound engineer at the National Theater of Iceland, he takes inspiration from drone, post rock and ambient, yet also far heavier stuff.

‘The Mountains Are Beautiful Now’ is the first full-length, following a 2016 EP, that was already nominated for the Icelandic Kraumur Award. This massive work features four guitars, two drummers and was recorded in the theatre basement as music for the play ‘Fjalla-Eyvindur & Halla’ by Jóhann Sigurjónsson.

Have you ever stood on a high hill or even a mountaintop, watching the snow-covered peaks as far as the eye can see? Because that is what awaits you from the first notes of ‘Augun Opin’. A slowly swelling piece of majesty that hardly knows an equal, with the humming of the earth, the cracking of ice and sonorous beauty of the void beyond. The bludgeoning sound of ‘Can’t You Wait’ and distant singing is a particular experience. It is not unfamiliar for those who enjoy a good bit of black metal or doom where the mystique and splendor of the unknown are expressed. Repetitive, yet featuring a meandering melody, woven into its sonic density, it captivates you. Setting you to dream of mountains.

The song ‘HallAlone’ feels like an intermezzo, with gentle, ambient tunes that merge into grand post-rock with that melancholy so familiar with the genre. A clarity can be found in the sound of GlerAkur, that doesn’t really know any equals. It just flows on its own, natural pace.  Massive as mountains, but with all those refined details that come with it, this piece of music becomes a piece of beauty. A work of of untarnished nature, shaped and formed not by endless tinkering, but the elements. Final track ‘Fagurt er á fjöllunum núna’ is gentle. Guitar picking, like drops, resounds. It is where the intricacies of the music are really shown again.